"What! No rice?” A man in khaki scowled at the menu and then burst into a merry laugh.
He was one of the guests at the concerted Welcome Home Party to ex-war prisoners at Rushden Windmill Hall last night, and there was no mistaking where he had spent some of his precious years
The sally and the laugh were justified. It was a great evening for the ex-captivesmen of Rushden, Higham Ferrers, Raunds, Irthlingborough and the villages, who had come eagerly to celebrate their regained freedom. A happy evening, for sweethearts, sisters, mothers, wives who came with them, and for those who played the part of hosts.
Whatever else may have succeeded, the atmosphere was supremely right. It came naturally out of a common experienceon one side the men who had known loneliness and ill-treatment: on the other side the women who had waited and prayed for their return.
Well over two hundred people joined this unique party. They were awaited and received by the chairman of Rushden Urban Council (Coun. Horace Waring), the Mayor and Mayoress of Higham Ferrers (Ald. and Mrs. H. R. Patenall) and the managing director of the Northamptonshire Printing and Publishing Co. (Mr. R. P. Winfrey), to whom they were announced by Mr Geoffrey Knight, an able and thoughtful Master of Ceremonies.
Their first impression was of colour and gaiety, for the big hall was roofed with varied lights and walls and windows were ablaze with flags. Daffodils (prepared by Mrs Knight) were on the four long tables branching off from the top one, and the stage was banked with flowers and fern.
When the company had settled at the tables, Mr. Waring offered a brief but hearty welcome to the guests and proceeded to disclaim any credit for the arrangements, insisting that certain "keen and discerning minds" on the "Evening Telegraph," accustomed to devising schemes of public interest and welfare, had produced the idea, and then proceeded to ask the civic heads of the district to give the scheme their blessing.
Having expressed the great pleasure with which he had co-operated, Mr. Waring explained that as he was unable to stay throughout the proceedings, he had asked the Mayor of Higham Ferrers to be "G.O.C." after his departure.
"I wish all of you here the happiest evening you have had since your return" added Coun. Waring, "and I am sure you are in for a very good time."
Dinner was the first answer to that prophecy. Instead of rice, the courses included soup, chicken, ice-cream and fruit, with plenty to drink and smoke, and a cup of coffee. The souvenir menu card was dominated by an "Evening Telegraph" newsboy shouting the news of the Welcome Home.
The speeches that followed the Loyal Toast were few, yet met the occasion in all respects.
Offering "with the greatest pleasure" a toast to the prisoners of war "who by the grace of God have returned safely to their loved ones and to their old country," Ald. Patenall said: "I am not unmindful of your many comrades whose absence this evening reminds usif anything were necessary to remind usof the heavy and in many cases supreme sacrifice they made.
A Great Gesture
"I wish first of all," continued Ald. Patenall, "to tender the thanks of our local authorities to the directors of the Northamptonshire Printing and Publishing Co. for organising this most delightful evening, especially remembering the great interest that the managing director of the company, Mr Winfrey, and his able lieutenants, Mr Joy and Mr Elliott, have taken in doing everything in their power to arrange every detail and make this a very pleasant and happy entertainment.
"It is a great gesture on their part, and one which, I am happy to say, has been supported so liberally by the manufacturers in the district and by the public at large.
"Now let me tell you," continued Mr. Patenall amid laughter, "that we have not been in the habit of entertaining ourselves so lavishly as this during your absence.
"When you left these shores you left with that priceless gift of freedom and liberty surging through your veins. You had been nurtured in the land where those lines of William E. Hickson. 'Home of Brave and free, thou land of liberty' and those words of James Thompson, made so familiar in the song, 'Britons never shall be slaves,' were part of your very life and being.
"We can well imagine what agony of mind the lack of liberty and freedom meant to you during those long and weary years of your confinement. I hope that Time, the great healer of all things, will blot out of your minds the horrors of the hardships endured, the lack of news from home, the insufficiency of food, and the constant strain of body and mind, and place in their stead the knowledge that you are once again free British citizens to whom we are looking for help to build a better and a happier world.
Rushden or New York
"I am sure you must often have mused as to what was happening in your old home town.
"We were groping about the streets in complete darkness, running into numerous obstacles, and indeed sometimes wondering whether we were in High-street, Rushden, or First Avenue, New York.
"We were pondering on how many ounces of meat we might get for our Sunday dinner, because rationing was certainly very tight.
"We were rushing after our day's work to do our A.R.P. or Home Guard duties, knowing while we were doing them that our few pints of beverage might be consumed by our Allied friends before we were dismissed.
"But of this I am surethat 'in the morning and at the going down of the sun' you lads were all remembered.
"Now let me say in proposing this toast that we can never amply repay you for your great service and your great sacrifice, but we can at least do our best to see that you are justly and liberally treated, and all represented here to-night the local authorities, the British Legion and the Presswill give gladly all their support in that direction.
"I mentioned being rationed a moment ago. I want you to recall that during the whole of the war there were some priceless gifts that remained unrationed and freethe gifts of love, of goodwill and of comradeship.
"And so I say to you in wishing you good health and good fortune, treasure these gifts with the freedom for which you have so bravely fought, and this will be a better world and your sacrifice will not have been in vain."
Mr. R. P. Winfrey, who seconded the toast observed that after Mr. Patenall's moving speech there was really little that it would be proper for him to say.
"You boys," he continued, "have been through experiences which those of us at home can only imagine. You have survived the beastliness of the Hun and the Jap, and it is very difficult to give you an adequate acknowledgment of what you have done for us. But it did seem to us that we must do something to put into effect the many expressions we have had from that there should be some acknowledgment, and we could not think of any better welcome home for you boys than a festive eveningas festive as Lord Woolton and his successors would allowand for you to be accompanied by the lady of your choice.
"We hope that you will enjoy yourselves. We want to assure you of our most sincere gratitude for what you have done, and we want to make sure that we shall all use our resources to see that the prize of freedom which you have fought for and secured shall be used so that we advance to a nobler and higher standard of life.
"Our readers all wish each and every one of you the best of good health, many, many years of life in which to enjoy that good health: and they wish you every possible prosperity."
The scene was an impressive one as half the company rose and drank to the health of the men who came back from captivity.
Wearing his R.A.F. uniform, Flight Lieut. J. R. Upton, of Rushden, made an excellent speech in response, first expressing the thanks of the men to all who had helped while they were prisoners of war and since they had returned.
In particular, he said, they would like to thank Coun. Waring and the "Evening Telegraph" for providing a feast for them. Many of them had been out of touch with their home town for a long time, and when they came back and met people they knew that they were never forgotten.
Those Who Did Not Return
Having thanked all who contributed toward the evening, Flight Lieut, Upton went on;
"We cannot let a gathering of ex-prisoners of war go by without mentioning the magnificent work which is done and is still being done by the Red Cross Society. When we became prisoners of war we became absolutely dependent on the help which could be got to us through the Red Cross. It is solely due to the wonderful work of the Red Cross Society that so many of us are here to-night.
"Many of our lads, because of the inhumanity and treachery of the Japanese in not allowing the Red Cross to go into the camps, did not return. I am sure all who got back would like me to express their sympathy to the relatives of those who did not come back.
"Less than a year ago we were all in prison camps in enemy-occupied territory. We who were in Germany had just been on the march across Germany, for the Russians were overrunning the camps in Poland and the Germans were moving us across."
Flight Lieut. Upton told of his meetings with Don Parker, Hugh Warburton and others during those days. Thanks to the magnificent work of the fighting forces, he said, the war ended sooner than they expected and they were freed.
Since they had been back everyone had been extremely good to themeven the Services were quite decent in giving them extra leave. It was good to see everyone againtheir friends and relations who had held the fort while they were away and had comforted each other and written to them.
"They suffered all that we suffered, and they had their own pains as well."
Then Flight Lieut. Upton added:
Four Towns' Tribute to P.O.W.s
"We wasted a lot of time in those prison camps, and we don’t want to waste any more. I want to say “Thank you to all those who have helped us.”
The young officer’s speech was loudly applauded and made a great impression.
Light music had been played during the dinner. Immediately on the completion of the speeches attention turned to the stage, where the Three Imps made bright and skilful use of pianoforte, accordion and drums. Winston Foxwell brought on some unusual feats of jugglery and Gracie Victoria appeared in a comedy turn.
The menu and entertainment
Gazeka, the magician, was prolific in chatter and clever tricks and by some mysterious means enabled Sgt. Don Parker to beat all speed records in cookery. Dressed for the part in cap and apron, Sgt. Parker must have thought of the days when he cooked for the Northamptonshires in Ireland.
Dancing and a continuous buffet service filled the remaining hours. The bandDave Murray'swas a good one, but the guests could not spare all their time for dancing. As they sat around the small tables they had much to discuss with comrades of the war, and many introductions to make. In one group were found Douglas Mantle, Ronald Coles and Gordon Hanger, talking about the old days spent together in a German camp. In another, men who suffered terribly under the Japs had got together.
All declared themselves delighted with the occasion, and many were able to report a great improvement in health since their return from captivity.
Some are already back at their old jobs in civil life, and some had wounds to show as their reason for sitting quietly as spectators of the dancing.
Attractive prizes were given for spot dances, and the first batch of winners included Flt/Lt. Groome and Miss Curtis, Mrs. Hudson and Mrs. Gilbert, Mrs. Dix and Miss Bennett. Among the prizes were a spray and a buttonhole given by Mr. B. R. Palmer.
Among those who supported Coun. Waring and Ald. Patenall as representatives of the public were Coun. A. O. Fox, chairman, Raunds Urban Council, Coun. George Langley, chairman of Irthlingborough Urban Council (with Mrs. Langley), Ald. C. W. Horrell (director, Northants Printing and Publishing Co.), Mr. Robert Denton, chairman of Rushden British Legion Branch (with Mrs. Denton), Mr. W. L. Joy, editor-in-chief of the "Evening Telegraph," Mr. P. A. Cooper, secretary of the Northants Printing and Publishing Co., and Mr. L .V. Elliott, of the Rushden office. Flt/Lt. Upton was accompanied by his fiancee, Miss Groome.
Practically all the local branches of the British Legion were represented by their chief officers.
Three buses conveyed the out-of-town guests to their homes after the merry winding up of the party at midnight.
In making the detailed arrangements on behalf of the "Evening Telegraph," Mr. J. J. H. Westmacott had valuable help from many quarters, notably the staff of the Windmill Club.
The hall was a journalist's paradiseevery other person had a story to tellbut to many their memories were so painful that it was almost cruelty to ask them to recall their experiences.
But, so that the public may taste a little of what some of these men have been through, here are the stories of a few selected at random during the evening.
A survivor of one of the best-known naval actions of the warthat in which the Exeter was sunkMusician E. C. Jones, of the Royal Marines, had many vivid memories of the days when the Japs with overwhelming forces in the Far East seemed to be carrying all before them.
Mr. Jones met another naval friend at the partyMr. J. Byford, of Robert-street, Rushden, whom, he said, he previously met as a prisoner at Macassar. Mr. Byford, he said, arrived there after being picked up when the destroyer in which he was serving was sunk after using up all her ammunition.
Stoned by Italians
How the Italians robbed British prisoners of cigarettes which they had been given earlier by their German captors in Libya was a story told by Mr. A. Bayes, of 138, St. Margaret's-ave., Rushden. A trooper in the Royal Tank Regt., he was captured by the Germans in Libya in 1942 during a bad sandstorm. "A German general who spoke good English said he was sorry we had been taken prisoners, but promised to do his best for us," he said. "Then we were given cigarettes and told that we should remain in charge of German guards until next day, when we should be handed over to the Italians.
"When we were transferred to the Italians, they stoned us, spat at us and jeered as we passed. When we gave the victory sign, they started throwing bigger bricks."
The party must have brought back many mixed memories to another ex-prisoner, Mr. Gordon Hanger, for in peacetime he was a well-know local boxer and often fought in contests at the Windmill.
When the war came, he joined the County Regiment, then went into the Queen's Royal Regiment with which he went overseas, and was captured on the first morning of El Alamein.
He was taken to Italy, where he spent some time in hospital, and the conditions of the prisoners were made worse by the fact that food was very scarce and the Italians appeared to be opening Red Cross parcels and using the contents for their own men.
"By all accounts they were using the supplies for their own men," he said, "and they would not use them for us unless it were a case needing a major operation."
Food consisted chiefly of macaroni twice a day and one and a half loaves a day, the loaves being about as big as a penny bun, and their Christmas dinner in 1942 consisted of a bowl of ... macaroni!
A fighter pilot among the ex-prisoners was Flight-Lieut D. L. Groom, of Raunds, who was lucky enough to spend only a few months in enemy hands before being liberated.
While on patrol over Bologna in January last year his Spitfire was hit by light "ack-ack" and brought down and Flight-Lieut. Groom spent the rest of the war "on the deck" at Nuremberg and Moosberg, until the arrival of the Americans.
Crashed in Mid-Air
Another of the Air Force men present, Flight Sgt. D. A. Bass, of 38. Crabb-street, had to bale out of a bomber in which he was air gunner when it collided with another machine over the Austrian Tyrol.
"The six of us in our machine all got away with it," he said, "but only one of the crew got out of the other. On the whole the treatment we were given was not too bad, but, practically nothing was given to us in hospital from the medical point of view". He dislocated a knee in the crash.
Flight Sgt. Bass is still serving in the R.A.F., and is stationed at Hornchurch.
Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Taiwan, Yokohama and Sendai was the tour of Japanese prison camps covered by one of the Far Eastern prisoners, Mr. R. Lewis, of 77, Wharf-road, Higham Ferrers.
A Royal Artilleryman, he was captured when Malaya was overrun, and was put on a variety of jobs by the Japs, including railway building in Malaya, loading stones for road construction, labouring in the Yokohama shipyards, and working in a coalmine at Sendai.
Compelled by the Germans to work in a Polish coalmine, Mr. Douglas Mantle, of 86, Irchester-rd., Rushden, received a spinal injury when a pit prop fell on him.
Taken prisoner in Crete while with the R.A.O.C., he was transferred to Salonika and later to Munich before being sent to the mine, where the accident fractured four bones in his back and put him into hospital for two months.
An almost incredible story of the conduct of some German troops towards prisoners who were patients in a hospital was told by Mr. A. J. Cox, of 32, Wharf-road, who was captured in the German advance which led to Dunkirk.
While he was in hospital with a leg wound, he said, the Germans were convinced that they were going to win the war, and were in such a frame of mind that they would tip patients out of bed, and although he had an injured thigh, he was tipped out on one occasion.
Altogether, Mr. Cox was in five hospitals before being discharged, and put to work in a factory preparing tobacco for chewing. Later on, he went to a button factory, and then an electrical assembly works.
A Far Eastern prisoner who knows what it was to be forced to help cut the Thailand-Burma railway through the jungle and to suffer from beri-beri and cholera was an ex-Royal Norfolks man, Mr. K. A. J. Maple, of 49, Spencer-road, Rushden. When the Japs took Singapore he was lying helpless in hospital.
"The Japs treated us pretty rough, but the Korean troops were the worst," he said, "beating-up was nothing, and it was quite usual for them to deal out blows with a shovel or pick."
While in Changi camp he met two more local men who were prisoners at the timeMr. Len Hart, of Wymington, and Mr. George Smith, of Higham Ferrers, and all three met again at the party.
On "demob" leave was Mr. Edmund Short, of 96, Wellingborough-road, Rushden, who was captured in the Dodecanese by the Germans while serving with the County Regiment.
The Germans sent him to a factory where he had to work seven days a week making pre-fabricated houses which they had designed to replace houses blitzed by the R.A.F.
"Our job was making concrete slabs which were intended to slide into grooved supports and thus form the walls," he said. "Afterwards I was sent to Magdeburg and put to digging salt in a mine, but this was not so much to obtain the salt as to clear the bays, in which the Germans planned to build aircraft".
Captured after his truck was blown up in a minefield at Mersa Matruh, Mr. W. C. K. Knight, of 39, Grove-road, Rushden, was handed over to the Italians by the Germans, and was taken to an Italian hospital.
"Treatment was pretty crude and the doctor was a butcher" he said, "but after six weeks of that I was taken to Naples in an Italian hospital ship."
When he was discharged from hospital his captors found that he knew German, and eventually he became interpreter in a sugar factory, then worked in a copper mine and on a railway.
Among those present were the following (names of prison camps in which they were confined are given in brackets):
Mr. E. C. Jones (Macassar, Celebes); F/Sgt. D. Bass (No. 21 Krieg Lazarette, Tarvis, Italy); Mr. E. C. Papworth, Wymington (Campo 59, Italy, Stalag IVB, Germany); Mr. S. F. Attley, Ringstead (Camp No. 6. Tai Hoku, Formosa, and Changi, Singapore); Mr. G. Worthington, Irthlingborough (Hiato, Formosa and Changi); Mr. C. H. Ludlam. Raunds (Changi), and Mrs. Ludlam; Mr. C. W. Cave, Rushden (Luft 1, Barth, Pomerania); Miss J. Senior, Batley; Mr. H. F. Dickens, Rushden (Mony Pladuk and Ubon, Siam); Mrs. J. Galland, Rushden; Mr. H. Austin, (Stalag 7A and 17A), and Mrs. Austin; Mr. E. Bennett, Rushden; Mr. R. Dix (Ube, Japan); Miss E. M. Bennett, Miss S. Fensom; Mr. P. J. Neal, (Stalag 344); Mr. W. A. Neal (Stalag 17A) and Mrs. Neal; Mr. C. Homan (Stalag 398) and Mrs. A Homan; Mr. J. Sanders (Stalag 398), Mrs. F. Sanders; Mr. K. Mitchell (Stalag 9C), Miss Ruth Sykes; Mr. E. Harper (Stalag 20A) and Mrs. Harper; Mr. T. King (Stalag 20A), Miss D. Ruggles; Mr F. B. Bird, Irthlingborough (Stalag I8A); Flt. Lieut. D. L. Groom (Stalag 18D and Stalag Luft 3); Mr. V. E. Curtis, Mr. S. Wright (Kamburi, Siam) and Mrs. Wright; Mr. E. A. Short (Stalags 9A and 11A); Mr. K. A. J. Maple (No. 2 Camp, Siam) and Mrs. Maple; Mr. W. C. K. Knight, Rushden (PGN 73, Italy, and Stalags 4B and 4D): Mr. H. Cox, Higham Ferrers (Stalags 9C and 4A) and Mrs. E. Cox; Mr. Denton, Higham Ferrers (Tamucin, Siam); Mr. H. Welsford, Rushden (Stalag 8B); Mr. J. Fountain, Rushden (Konan, Korea); Mr. H. Aicheler, Raunds (Stalags 4B and 4F, Germany, and Campo 54, Italy), and Mrs. D. Aicheler, Mr. A. Harwood. Raunds (Stalag 11B) and Mrs Harwood; Mr. E. W. Green, Rushden (Batavia); Mr. A. W. Watts, Higham Ferrers (Stalag 9B, Germany); Mr. Bridgeford, Rushden (Tunis); S/Sgt. Parker (Stalag Luft 7, Italy); Mr. E. D. Desborough, Rushden (Singapore and Thailand); Mr. R. Bird (Stalag 7A, Italy), Miss V. Correll); Mr. G. Dowsett (Stalag 13C) and Mrs. Dowsett; Mr. Kilmister (Stalag 4B) and Mrs. Kilmister; Mr. L. Mole (Stalag 4B), Miss I. Green, Mr. D. W. Taylor (Stalag 344), Miss M. B. Ball; Mr. A. Rowthorn (Stalag 2A) and Mrs. Rowthorn; Mr. E. A. Edwards (Stalag 344) and Mrs. Edwards; Mr. F. Seamarks (PG57 and Stalag 18A), Mrs. A. Seamarks; Mr. Morris (Stalag 20B) and Mrs. Morris; Mr. A. H. Watts (chairman, Higham Ferrers Branch of the British Legion) and Mrs. Watts; Mr. Bayes (Campos 65 and 70, Italy, and Dresden) and Mrs. Bayes; Mr. Shatford (Campos 66, 53 and 133/13, Italy, and interned in Switzerland) and Mrs. Shatford; Mr. R. Churchman (Stalag 383) and Mrs. Churchman; Mr. Joe Eakins (Austria 18D land 18B, and Bavaria, Stalag 383), Mrs. V. Hardwick; Mr. R. Denny, Rushden (21D, Posen, Poland); Mr. D. Mantle, Rushden (Stalag 7A, Munchen and Kafctocwicz); Mr. G. Hanger, "El Alamein," Ravensthorpe (PG25, Bari, Altomuro, Castel Pietro, Italy, and Stalag 344); Mr. A. Cox, Rushden (Stalag B.A.B 20); Mr. E. G. Lawman, Raunds (Singapore); Mr. H. R. Cox, Raunds (Valdenburge, Germany); Mr. J. E. Allen, Irthlingborough (Japan); Mr. P. E. Smith, Rushden (Malaya); Mr. A. Sears, Rushden (Stalag Luft 6, Stalag 357); Mr. F. B. Hall, Rushden (Stalag 20B, Marienburg); Mr. G. E. Evans, Ringstead (Campo 59, Italy); Mr. P. W. Bates, Irthlingborough (Stalag 20B, Germany); Mr. R. C. Dean, Irchester (Campo 66, 65, 52, Italy, and Stalags 8A and 11B, Germany); Mr. O. Horne (chairman, Irthlingborough Branch of the British Legion) and Mrs. Horne; Mr. R. Lewis, Higham Ferrers, Mrs. E. M. Lewis; Mr. D. H. Woods, Podington (Bangkok, Siam), Mrs. B. Woods; Mr. F. L. Hart, Wymington (Malaya) and Miss M. Hart; Mr. G. Smith, Higham Ferrers (Siam) and Mrs. Smith; Mr. W. H. Asher Higham Ferrers (Teschen, Silesia) and Mrs. Asher; Mr. R. A. Coles, Higham Ferrers (PG70, Fermo, and Stalag 344); Mr E. W. Hall, Irthlingborough (Trorchan, Thailand); Mr. T. Steer (Moto Yama, Japan); Mr. G. L. White (Italy and Germany) and Miss Mary Cave; Mr. C. Mackness Italy and Germany), Miss Kathleen Denton, Mr. W. Smith, Mr. J. W. Reynolds and Mrs. Reynolds; Mr. A. J. Lewis (Austria and Germany), and Mrs. Lewis, and others.