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Sweetheart letter that was 'never delivered'

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: May 08, 2014

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I WAS moved to send this in after reading The Bugle appeal for WW1 memories and the article on the One last letter from the front – that never reached the girlin the March 13 edition as it reminded me of our family story

My father had been a German P.O.W. since early March. 1918. He had been sent somewhere in Germany to work in the fields as all fit Germans were sent to their retreating army.

The P.O.W. camp was attached to a German barracks. Each morning at dawn they were woken, given a small piece of black bread and a mug of water and marched under armed guard to fields, where they foraged and dug for any vegetables available, until mid afternoon.

Then they carted their produce back to camp for the German soldiers' evening meal.

Back in camp they peeled the vegetables and were allowed to boil the vegetable peelings for their own meal. This, together with their dawn meal, was all the food they were allowed.

A P.O.W. working next to my father was so desperate, he had attempted to eat a raw carrot in the field and had his head shot off. From a robust 12½ stone my father had lost half his body weight by Armistice Day.

When the Belsen survivors were shown on TV my father said: "We looked like that!"

Suddenly on Armistice Day, the Germans vanished and the gates were open. The sudden silence was eerie.

The N.C.O.s quickly took over and organised the long trek from Germany through Belgium to the Channel Ports. Once, my sister and I asked Dad how he got back home and he said: "In a wheelbarrow until the wheel fell off." We laughed, thought he was joking, but all the horses had been killed or eaten, the Germans had taken everything useful for their own retreat.

The fitter P.O.W. had put my Dad and another soldier side by side in the barrow and pushed them.

The journey must have been dreadful. Every night they sheltered in any building with half a roof on – and ate anything available.

Reaching Belgium they had their first contact with the Red Cross, and were given three Red Cross postcards to send home. My father sent one to his mother, one to his sister and one to my mother, his then girlfriend.

As they travelled on through Belgium, people were so sorry for these living skeletons that they gave them their own precious food. This was not really a kindness because the P.O.W.'s shrunken stomachs couldn't take it, they swelled up like balloons. They should have had a controlled diet. They got even sicker and eventually an ambulance that had been shuttling back and forth from the ports picked them up. They arrived in an English hospital around Christmas time.

At last my father could write to Mom. He wrote a letter saying how much he loved and missed her. She wrote back saying she knew he'd had 3 Red Cross postcards and he'd sent his mother and his sister one, who had had the other one? She thought he didn't love her any more and she was courting someone else now.

When he finally got home about Easter time, he went to see her and persuaded her he loved her, so they got back together and all was well. But – what did happen to the missing postcard?

Well! My Grandad's house was an end one with the front door at the side, opening into a square lobby, with the stairs opposite and a living room door each side. The lobby had linoleum with a parquet floor design and a rug on top. Many years later the lino wore out, and when it was replaced there was the Red Cross postcard underneath it, together with another postcard with 'Greetings from Rhyl' from Mom's friend.

But, how did it get there? Grandad finally worked it out. A little way before the house was a pub where Grandad had his lunchtime pint. He sometimes met there Pat the Postie, who had popped in for a pint, a warm, a smoke and a chat. During their 12-2 lunch time, little boys hung around the pub trying to earn a copper for sweets. Jobs like: "Can I hold the pony (milkman), Can I mind the baby, Can I hold the dog? Do you want to buy a bucket of horse manure for your rhubarb? (collected free)."

Obviously, against the rules. Pat had handed the mail to one of these boys whose accompanying little brother couldn't reach the letterbox so had pushed it under the door. Postie would have made the arrangement with the trusted boy before coming in to the pub. He wouldn't have seen the little brother. Mystery solved!

Doreen Harris,

Sutton Coldfield.

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