- Contributed by
- Audrey Lewis - WW2 Site Helper
- People in story:
- Kathleen Wilkinson
- Location of story:
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 21 July 2004
Kathleen with three of four brothers.
There was a shortage of farm workers in the UK during the war years. Men and women had been conscripted into the fighting forces and related industries leaving many of thee farms short of manpower. The government transported the lighter catagory of prisoner to help fill the gap. A Prisoner of War Camp was built on land adjacent to the Wilkinson's farm in Yorkshire to house prisoners from Italy, Germany and Austria.
Kathleen Wilkinson and her four brothers were born on the large farm. They were young, hard working, but welcomed the help that came from the prisoners.
Every harvest the prisoners would stand at the perimeter wire saying little but holding out their hands for the freshly picked plums. Kathleen remembers when her chickens began to go missing and her brothers coming to the rescue. It was decided by the brothers to lay in wait during the night. At the sound of breaking glass they all converged on the chicken sheds, drove off the thieves and were never a chicken short again!
Eric Duncalf has lived and farmed in and around the village all his life. Speaking about the prisoners he commented, "I never met a bad one. They were at large always, and different ones were sent to collect milk and eggs from the farms. Excellent workers and good-natured by and large, the villagers reacted well to their presence. We were glad to have them around. I expect they were pleased to be out of the firing line."
Some of the Italians made a great impression on the local scene because of their artistic nature; the exquisite murals they painted on the walls of the Officers Mess and the crafting and painting of toys from odd bits of wood or anything they could find. They gave these to some of the local children who have treasured them ever since.
Some of the German prisoners of war particularly became family friends with the Wilkinson's, have revisited the farm and correspond with Kethleen to the present day.
Fritz Encke wrote in one of his letters, "I am still grateful for the time I could work for you on the farm. I know what work is but hardly ever met such hard workers as you were. And not in vain - Sandhill was a great farm."
Writing again, "Today is the 10th of November 1989, and I am writing this with tears in my eyes. I have never been a nationalist, and not even now am I longing for reunion of the two Germanys and yet - I feel that today I have not only witnessed a historical event but a miracle. The Berlin Wall, still a fact, still there, has ceased to exist, at least for a day. Perhaps you too have seen the news on TV, when people from the two states that once had been one nation after one generation almost, quite unexpectedly, hardly believing it themselves, came to meet again. The scenes in Berlin were simply overwhelming for one who saw the Second World War, the Iron Curtain and all it stood for. Fully aware of all the problems ahead of us I don't hesitate saying that I have been moved to tears and maybe caught a glimpse of what the future - not of Germany but a NEW AGE - could be like."
In the same letter Fritz also wrote, "Another most unlikely thing happened around Easter. One night I got a phone call from a woman I had never heard of before who said she was searching for a Fritz Encke who had been friends with a French prisoner of war during the last year of World War Two, I almost jumped with joy! This man and I - he 27, me 14 had worked together on a farm and despite strict laws against any sort of fraternization had become close friends. During the last weeks of the war he had been moved and all attempts to find him again after armistice were in vain. I assumed he had been killed. As it turned out, his letters hadn't reached me either and finally he too thought I was dead, as German boys of 14 had to go to the front and fight in 1945."
"And then this fairytale-like thing happened. This woman, on a trip through France happened to stop in a tiny, lonely village of about fifteen houses to get some bread. She spoke to an elderly man who had recognised the German License plate the first letters of which was an F - standing for Frankfurt (which he only guessed!)And he told her that since the war he had been trying to find - Well, you can guess the rest. The lady was so impressed that back home she started investigating (my address having changed three times after the war and he slightly misspelled my name, not so easy!) So after exchanging two letters in a horrible mix of French and German, three weeks later and with my wife, I drove down 800 miles to, 800 miles back - just for the weekend! What a reunion! The whole village took part in it, an unforgetable experience. After 44 years, within minutes the old feeling was there again. Now, small wonder it is a story 'to be continued'."
In his latest letter Fritz Encke following the death of Kathleen's last remaining brother, Bob, wrote in 2004, "I really don't know what to say, we are so sad at Bob's passing away. I know it's a terrible loss, now you had to see all your brothers go and you are all alone. I still think of you all as a wonderful, close family and before my eyes, all of you are as you were in 1951, more than fifty years ago in happier times, and how warmhearted and kind you were to me, never letting me feel that I came from a country that quite shortly had been a deadly enemy doing terrible things. You were a great example of reconciliation and forgiveness and I will be grateful for that as long as I myself will live. And that is the way I will keep all of you in my memory; You, William, Henry, Kenneth, and Bob."
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