From 1943 to the end of 1944, the prisoners of Stalag 344 at Lamsdorf produced a regular camp newspaper called 'The Clarion'. It is fascinating reading, and gives a real insight into what life was like for these prisoners. Some had been there since the start of the war (and would be there until the end), and rather than let themselves sink into apathy they got on with life as best they could, with sports, education and many other activities. That doesn't take away from the terrible hardships they faced daily, not the least being constant hunger. The autumn edition of The Clarion from exactly 70 years ago had this report about an Arts and Crafts Exhibition they organised - with 750 entries! Whatever happened to all those pieces of artwork? Especially the chessboard and pieces made out of toothbrush handles! I suspect they were all abandoned when the camp was evacuated for the Long March of January 1945.
For some years I have been helping people to research and preserve the
memory of their Prisoner-of-War relatives from the Second World War. I have been
astonished by their stories of courage, suffering, resourcefulness and
determination - stories too little known. They deserve to be discovered,
remembered, commemorated and honoured, and 12th November, the day after we
honour those who fell in war, seems a most appropriate date.
We rightly remember and honour those who fell in war, particularly on 11th November each year. May
it always be said: "We will remember them".
But remember too those men - often the forgotten victims of war - who still served their countries and who often suffered greatly - the Allied Prisoners of War. Let's make 12th November the day to remember and honour those POWs so that their names, their stories and their sacrifices will never be forgotten by this or future generations.
12th November: Remember POWs
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I first knew Charles Saunders 22 years ago. Then, he was a mere 72 years of age. Retired and a widower, he lives alone, although nearly 94 now. He looks after his little house and cooks for himself. He finds the garden more difficult to manage now, and is grateful for some help with this. He also gets some help with cleaning. But Charles is a very busy man, as he always has been. His life is centred around music. He learnt to play the violin when he was young, and he has been playing violin for more than eighty years! He also plays the viola and double bass. He is the bass player in the Broadstairs and St Peter's Concert Band, plays in two local orchestras and also a string quartet. From time to time Charles and his musician friends tour the local retirement and nursing homes to play for the 'old folks', most of whom are up to twenty years younger than Charles.
All this makes him remarkable enough - he, more than most, would surely qualify for some sort of award for services to music! But what is equally remarkable are his experiences as a Prisoner of War - and what happened afterwards.
You can read Charles' story by clicking on his name on the 'Names' page of www.lamsdorf.com.
In a nutshell, in 1940 Charles was stranded in Boulogne with four comrades from the Welsh Guards. Hiding from the Germans, they were found by a Frenchman, whose mother hid the five soldiers for about three months, at great risk to herself and her family. Relatives and friends helped with food and clothes. Unfortunately they were discovered by the Germans and sent to Stalag VIIIB for the remainder of the war. Charles spend much of that time on a working party doing forestry work. This photo is of the music group he helped to start there (Charles is on the extreme left). You can find out how they got the piano when you read his story. In due course Charles had to suffer the long march in 1945 along with so many of his POW colleagues.
Some years ago I was working for a large travel company in Kent. The leader of the Broadstairs and St Peter's Concert Band approached me and asked whether the company might sponsor the band to make a visit to Boulogne. The idea was to give a concert for the people there as a thank you for the help that they gave to Charles, his comrades and other allied servicemen during the war. The company agreed to do this, and along with the Mayor and Mayoress of Broadstairs, a party of about 50 made their way to Boulogne for the event.
What surprised everyone, I think, was the reception given to Charles. We had not appreciated that he was already quite well known in Le Portel, the district of Boulogne where he had been sheltered in 1940. The reason is that as soon as he was liberated and got back to Britain, Charles and the family who had helped him made contact again, and Charles was able to go to Boulogne in person to thank the family for their bravery and kindness. Those who had hidden him had suffered imprisonment in a German labour camp for the remainder of the war, and perhaps they were luck to have returned alive.
Over the years Charles has visited the family many times, and he still does occasionally; and they have visited him too. For the visit of the Band, the Mayor arranged hotel accommodation for everyone, wonderful meals and a grand reception, with French TV and radio in attendance.
In this picture you can see Charles with the Mayor of Le Portel, and Marie Christine, who in 1940 was a small child, the daughter of the man who discovered Charles and his comrades hiding in a warehouse in Boulogne docks.
I was the compere for the concert, which was held in the church. During a break in the music I spoke about Charles and the story of the events of 1940. The audience of local people stood and gave a long and enthusiastic ovation to this modest, unassuming English gentleman. He had found friends when he most needed them, and he has been determined to show his gratitude ever since. A truly remarkable man.
Charles has taken part in two of our trips to Lamsdorf, and you can see him talking about his POW experiences in the 'Video' section of www.lamsdorf.com