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Cheslyn Hay mom's kindness to a German prisoner of war far from home

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: January 15, 2014

By Dan Shaw

  • The latest book from Trevor McFarlane and the Cheslyn Hay and District Local History Society

  • Kind hearted Ethel May Matthews

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IN Bugle 1111 we printed Jonathon Shakespeare Taylor's story My Great Gran and the German POW and this has prompted Trevor McFarlane of the Cheslyn Hay and District Local History Society to send us the following story.

It is taken from Trevor's book Tales of Cheslyn Hay, published last year and priced at £5. It is a fascinating collection of photographs and stories about the mining town on the northern fringes of the Black Country and our story Mom, Ethel May Matthews is by her daughter Betty Taylor.

"Mom was an extra special loving lady. She was genteel, with olive skin, naturally waving brown hair and brown eyes, slightly pink cheeks and a very quick smile for everyone. She never raised her voice to anyone, she was just a quiet lady getting on with life.

"Mom was known for her generous nature and often being 'put on' by people who knew her. She would wash, knit, clean and help anyone in a practical manner and her services were for the love of another human being, never, ever for money, apart from washing and ironing for our local midwife, Nurse Price of Station Street, with whose family we shared a lifetime's friendship.

"Coming home from work to our cottage in Dundalk Lane at teatime, it would be no surprise to see a complete stranger sitting in the chair nearest the fire, having a sandwich or sharing our dinner. I remember at different times there being a young soldier, a Wren, and also a Land Army girl in that armchair.

"How it happened would be that Mom, popping up the lane to the shops, would see these young people waiting outside the Salem Church to see the fantastic classical concerts that used to be held there with well-known orchestras and singers from the wireless. Seeing them waiting and knowing the hall would not be open, Mom would invite them to our cottage for a cup of tea.

"But our most frequent occupier of the 'warmest seat' was a young German POW stationed at Penkridge and working at the council yard in Dundalk Lane. The reason for his coming to our house was simple. Auntie Westwood, next door, did not like to answer the door to strangers. His only want was boiling water to make his billycan of tea. Although we never at any time received more than our ration, a few more tea leaves found their way into that billycan and of course, while waiting for the kettle to boil, he was always invited to have a warm and a drink out of the pot of tea that was waiting for my sister and me to come home to.

"At one time, this 'poor lad', Mom's words, had a really bad cold. His piece of rag was thrown onto the fire and he was given one of Dad's hankies. Now, Dad didn't mind Mom giving one of his hankies away but, really, did it have to be his very best white one, the one he always kept with his brass band uniform? The answer from Mom was that this lad was someone's son and she would do her best to show him friendship until it was time for him to leave – and she did.

"However, what she did not expect was this lad, before he left, came to say 'goodbye' and 'thank you' and he presented her with a toy dachshund made of wood. Its body was made in three pieces, then hinged together with leather. This caused it to wobble along on wheels when pulled. He said, 'for your baby', her baby being our younger cousin, daughter of my mother's sister, as Auntie, Uncle and their two girls stayed with us for a while, awaiting a council house.

"After all these years, I wish we had not felt so shy at what Mom was doing, because wouldn't it have been nice to have known that lad's name and written, maybe just one letter, to his family in Germany? That is something I have always regretted."

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