MEMORY LANE: Botesdale girl’s PoW camp work experience
Many teenagers’ first jobs involve working in a shop, restaurant or office.
Beryl Churchyard was 15 when took a job at Botesdale’s prisoner of war camp, making her the only female at the site.
She responded to an article in the Diss Express in January about the camp, and was happy to share some more memories.
Mrs Churchyard worked at the camp for the War Agricultural Executive Committee, or War Ag, which worked to increase productivity on British farmland. Her job was to aid the administration of German prisoners of war working our land.
Aged 85, Mrs Churchyard has lived in Botesdale longer than anyone else, nearly since birth. She is 86 in October.
When aged 15, a knock on the door at her family home in Botesdale came from Lt Col Wallington of the Royal Artillery, who was also in command of the War Ag.
“He came to the door and just asked me, I suppose,” said Mrs Churchyard.
“That’s how I went up there.
“I worked to 1948. I was put in front of the typewriter and I had to answer the phones.
“I’m one of those types who would have a go at anything.
“It was rather unusual to be asked to go up there, but I loved it.”
Although the Second World War was all but over when Mrs Churchyard took the post, prisoners of war remained in Britain for several years after 1945.
According to a BBC report, Clement Attlee’s post-war government deliberately ignored the Geneva Convention by refusing to let the Germans return home until well after the war was over.
During 1946, up to one fifth of all farm work in Britain was being done by German PoWs, and they were also employed on road works and building sites.
About 24,000 Germans actually elected to stay on and live in Britain, instead of opting for repatriation.
Mrs Churchyard knows someone in the village who was unfortunate enough to have been a prisoner of war in Japan, where the men were often subject to terrible treatment.
The Germans and Italians who were held at Botesdale experienced nothing like the same hardships.
“I should think they had it quite good, really,” said Mrs Churchyard.
“England’s a bit of a soft touch. The prisoners could walk through the village.
“They had a lot better life here than our boys did over there.”
And, as Mrs Churchyard says, the presence of young German and Italian men was not exactly unwelcome for some of the young women of the area.
Mrs Churchyard was invited to stay on and work for the War Ag, but it would have meant leaving Botesdale, so she declined.
The camp, on the Botesdale side of Redgrave Park’s picturesque lake, later held Ukrainian prisoners, before being used as temporary homes, until it was finally reclaimed as farmland.