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Village History

Our German gentle men

Posted on August 31 2017 at 3:22:58 0 comments

Ernst

Cofton Hackett resident Marian Gallagher shares memories of the German POWs who became part of the village.

Recently in the Daily Mail, there was an extract of an article taken from the paper’s archives for July 11, 1946, which reported that the parish council of Cofton Hackett at that time were critical of the behaviour of German prisoners of war who were at liberty to walk and work in the village.

The council had complained to the War Office that local women were being pestered by the POWs, who were apparently blowing kisses to them and trying to arrange assignations.

I was a child, nine years old, at the time and I would like to redress the balance a little.

Our POWs were called George and Ernst, and they lived in a camp at the top of Groveley Lane, adjacent to Nuthurst Road.

George was a family man and Ernst was a young uncommitted man, and they seemed to have appointed a local newsagent/tobacconist as their agent, finding them work and providing the not-necessarily-legitimate cigarettes that were the principal currency of such engagements.

The rules at the time were that POWs were not to be paid in cash for work done, but could be paid in kind.

My mother was working in that tobacconist’s during this time and was in a prime position to secure George and Ernst’s services and the means with which to reward them.

It was this regulation that was at the base of the majority of the intrigue. For instance George had, by dint of much work and more barters, secured a brand-new pair of children’s lace-up shoes.

However, brand-new items could not be sent home to Germany.

So, because I had the biggest feet in our family (excluding my mother), I was charged with wearing the shoes while I walked up and down the Rocky Road (properly called Parsonage Drive but as it was unadopted and unfinished it was known locally as Rocky Road).

When the soles were sufficiently scuffed to look “not new” they were returned to George and sent to Germany for one of his children, along with soap wrapped in flannel.

Our house, which was at the corner of The Grove, had only a dirt path leading to the front door.

George and Ernst were commissioned to lay a concrete path using sand and cement also procured from the newsagent/tobacconist. This they did for the usual fee.

It was about this time that George made some slippers for me from some hessian sacking and dyes made from plants.

I was thrilled with them, and I wish I had them still, to remember two gentle men who shared a difficult time with us and became part of our village.

The thought occurs that maybe reconciliation between nations can start with a handful of cigarettes and a pair of hessian slippers.

Above right: A photograph of Ernst, given to Marian’s mother.
Below: Marian Gallagher (née Giles) as a child, and Marian’s mother next to the concrete path laid by George and Ernst.

Marian and mum


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