British prisoners held in Germany kept their chins up, a repatriated prisoner from Manchester tells the Guardian.
A picture of the happier side of prison-camp life in Germany was given to a Manchester Guardian representative by one of the repatriated civilians who disembarked at Liverpool on Saturday. He is a Manchester man - a mechanic by trade - but he would not disclose his name, for, as he said, he did not seek self-advertisement through his experiences. Nor would he discuss the difficulties and discomforts of camp life. “My heart,” he said, “is full of joy. I want to remember only the good and pleasant things that we did during our captivity.”
He went on to describe how at Tost, in Upper Silesia, some twelve hundred British subjects built their own Little Britain right under the eyes of Nazism: how they had their own diminutive but democratic Parliament of “Lords” and “Commons,” their own flourishing “university,” and their friendly but fiercely contested international games on the cricket and football fields. The picture which he drew should be a consolation to the relatives of people who are still interned, just as the reality was an example to the Germans themselves. They marvelled that an apparently defeated people could bear themselves like conquerors. The artist of this consoling canvas summed up with modest pride: “We kept our chins up,” he said.
It was his first contact with his own country for ten years, over four years of which have been spent in prison camp. Sunburned, sturdy, with a practical set about him, he settled easily into a corner seat in the railway compartment, after first making sure that a fellow-repatriate - a woman who spoke little English - was just as nicely installed. He might have been returning from a holiday at Blackpool, but as the train neared Manchester he began to pick out familiar landmarks - playgrounds of his boyhood; his first school. His excitement grew, and as the train ran into Manchester this practical man who had been talking so sensibly and unsensationally about imprisonment under the Nazis was just succeeding in holding back the tears.
He was grim only for a few minutes. That was when, at the beginning of the conversation, he referred directly to the war. Belfort, he said, was an astonishing example of precision bombing. Every vital target, it seemed, was destroyed, yet the residential property stood up unharmed excepting for blast. He paid a reluctant but genuine tribute to the Germans. They could “take it,” he said. When Britain was being bombed the internees longed for reprisals. And when the reprisals came they were overjoyed, but when, on their long journey through Germany, they saw the widespread havoc caused by the Allied ‘planes all feelings of gloating were extinguished. This, they felt, was just and right, but they were sickened of the sight of almost endless vistas of desolation.
Tost had apparently the best of mentors in sport. Among the internees were Healey, the former Leicestershire cricketer and one of the pioneers of the game in Holland; Jock Jennings, the Leeds United footballer; two other well-known footballers named Leavey and Reynolds; Ragless, the golf champion of Holland; and Arthur Grant, professional of Le Touquet club.
There were two-day test matches between the cricketers of Australia and England - the “Ashes” are at present in England’s keeping - and, so far as the giants of the game were concerned, other, less stern encounters with the representatives of Scotland and the cricketing novitiates of France, Belgium and Holland. The wicket was in an open space, but the outfield was dotted with trees so that every match produced a crop of casualties - bumps, bruises, and even minor fractures as a result of collisions with the trees. When the ball was hit over the barbed wire fence it was a four boundary. Sometimes the ball would be returned by a thoroughly mystified German urchin.
“I must say that the Scots were very poor at cricket,” said the Manchester man. On the football field, however, Scotland was invincible. They stayed dourly at the top of the football league. Nothing could dislodge them; they always beat England.