Crowle at War: Part 4. Prisoners of War, School – submitted by Bill Goldthorp
Every body had a bicycle, even my mother. Wicks the Cycle shop sometimes had a new one but many second hand plus numerous spare parts. Inner tubes and tyres could be ordered probably with the area being rural the authorities were more generous with cycle parts than in the towns. Garages, barns, old farm buildings were searched and ancient thirty-year old cycles were resurrected or cannibalised to provide spare parts.
There was very little traffic, my mother took and collected me on my first day at School and that was it. I would join a group of children walking to school and back home for lunch. By time the war started I went to the infant school on a small bike which was upgraded to larger boy’s bike when I was 8. It was of the type that could be adjusted as you grew taller. That bike was the reason for my only caning at school. I certainly deserved it. There was an absolute ban on riding bikes down the lane past the infants’ school leading to the main entrance to the Senior School. I had been talking and was late, I went belting down the lane at a high rate of knots, when Pinky Green the headmaster stepped out of the door. I ran slap bang into him and sent him flying. When he got up, he limped to his study pulling me along by the ear and I got three of the best on my left hand. My hand stopped stinging after 10 minutes. Poor old Pinky was limping for a week.
PRISONERS OF WAR.
The Spivey family 2 or 3 years before the war started built the Regal Cinema. Three changes of programme a week, two houses on a Saturday night and a children’s’ matinee on Saturday afternoon. Suddenly to our horror the matinee was cancelled. Late 1941 up Mill Trod, now known as Mill Road, just above the cemetery a prisoner of war camp had been built.
Following the early successes against the Italians in North Africa, a camp holding about 100 prisoners had been built. The matinees were cancelled so that the Italian prisoners could go to the pictures on Saturday afternoon. The local urchins animosity to prisoners suddenly knew no bounds.
The prisoners had to be exercised, so they were taken on route marches 2 or 3 times a week. A hundred prisoners with a platoon of infantry and a sergeant, all armed with bayonets attached to their rifles. It remained like that for about 6 weeks, then size of the platoon began to shrink, the bayonets disappeared, and then the rifles until at the end an elderly sergeant with a walking stick accompanied them. They started to work at the local farms and then farther away so that they had to be accommodated on the farms. Gradually they were all living on the farms and the camp was virtually empty.
Then the process began all over again this time with German prisoners of war. Route marches with numerous armed guards who gradually disappeared. Until the Germans themselves were running the camp with an elderly British captain and sergeant in charge. The Germans were employed locally on the farms and businesses, but unlike the Italians they were not distributed about the area. In order to make some spending money they started small businesses, a group started to weave slippers out of rope, which were tastily decorated. Others did part time gardening or helped out in local garages or joiners’ at the weekend. Many were adopted by an English family and allowed to stay with them on a Sunday. They were just ordinary German soldiers no fascists or SS among them. They knew which way the war would end and were glad to be out of it.
A few of both groups never went home. The Italians married some of the Roman Catholic girls. Some of the Germans stayed, skilled and reliable workers were offered partnerships in local businesses and eventually married locally. Their grandchildren are now dispersed around England having families themselves.
This went on as usual but their was one period when we only went to school for half the day. This was when the first large groups of evacuees arrived. We went to school in the morning one week in the afternoon for the other week. The evacuees attended for the other half. This did not last long, most parents wanted their children back as soon as the initial panic was over. only a few children stayed for long periods, especially at Ashdale, a large house in Ealand, where about 12 boys stayed. They formed another rival gang to our gang, the Tetley gang.
Other wise it was everything as usual. At 8 we moved from the infants to the senior school and at 10 into the scholarship class. The examination for a scholarship to the Grammar School (The Green School) or the Technical College (The Brown School) was taken during that year. The school leaving age was 14. Oranges were rarely seen, but every Shrove Tuesday every child was given an orange to take home to squeeze onto his or her pancakes.
In May for three weeks we had every Wednesday afternoon off. This was the season when the chapels had their children’s anniversary of which more later. Having passed the scholarship I started at the Grammar School in 1944, with that and subsequent university I moved into a different world and left many of my friends behind.