Amongst a fine collection of covers and cards I bought at auction some time ago, I came across one which – on first viewing of the image – could be mistaken for an early 20thC hotel somewhere in Europe. It shows an imposing building in the background with rows of trees leading away towards the camera, with groups of people lounging around in deckchairs.
However, on looking closer, it is an all-male assembly and looking under the magnifier, some of them are wearing uniform. It turns out to be the Pforzheim (a town in south west Germany) Prisoner of War camp for Allied Officers, and the back of the card has the sender name 2nd Lt. HB Watson of the North Staffordshire Regiment who was sending the card to Mrs Watson in Lincolnshire. There are giveaways, such as a censor mark for the camp and the words “Kreigsgefangenen-Sendung” printed across the top.
A difficult time for the prisoners, no doubt, but some way removed from the horrors of the trenches.
While researching the camp for location details etc, it then led me to stories of some pretty terrible events that occurred in this town in World War 2.
It started with a massive allied air raid on the town on February 23rd 1945, targetted because the centre was thought to be one of the main German centres for manufacture of precision instruments. As a result of the raid, up to 18,000 people were killed (over 30% of the town’s population) and the centre of the town was almost completely destroyed.
So when a group of Allied airmen (who thought they were baling out over Allied territory) parachuted out of their burning plane near the town a few days later, they were arrested and placed under guard there. Unfortunately, local sentiment was so inflamed a group of Hitler Youth personnel were ordered to overpower the guards and take the prisoners away for “summary justice”. Five of the airmen were murdered by the Hitler Youth and only two escaped death.
While studying this further I found that one escapee had spent the intervening years hating all things German and vowing never to go back there. But a chance reading of a magazine article in which groups of people from both sides had preached and campaigned for reconciliation and forgiveness over the years, led to him visiting the town for a service of reconciliation, and he has subsequently gone back there every year since. Amazingly, he also met the German woman who – when he was eventually captured to be taken to a POW camp – had sent him her dead husband’s boots. He also met up with the son of the German soldier who had fed him and cared for him “as per the Geneva Convention” when he was escorted to the camp. This story about RAF airman Tom Tate can be found here and my postcard is for sale in my Reynard Collectables delcampe website here with the card itself for sale here.
The burning plane they had all baled out from eventually managed to limp back to the UK with, I believe, just the pilot on board.
And all that from looking at one postcard, it is a wonder I ever get any work done!