14:19 Thursday 26 December 2013

Pictures of German prisoners of war in Ely seen for first time show how they celebrated Christmas

Written byRAYMOND BROWN

Pictures showing how German PoWs in Ely celebrated Christmas have been released for the first time.

With faint descriptions on the back, the pictures give a new and fascinating insight into how 1,000 or so Nazi prisoners stationed in the city spent their Yuletide.

There were two PoW camps in the area – one holding German forces at Barton Fields and another holding Italian troops at West Fen Militia.

The photos are believed to be from the Barton Fields camp, and were taken in 1947 – two years after the war ended.

Many PoWs had to stay for a few years after the war because they were unable be repatriated quickly due to their vast numbers – and others chose to stay because they were treated well and had made a life in England.

One picture shows a group of prisoners at their camp next to a humble-looking Christmas tree, with the other capturing them at a Christmas concert supposedly recorded by the BBC.

Frank Crosby, project manager of Rich Soil Rich Heritage, was sent the photos by Stefan Schuster, from Germany, whose father Michael Schuster was in one of the snaps.

In their free time, Mr Crosby says the prisoners were encouraged to take up activities to “keep them sane” and were always allowed to celebrate Christmas.

Mr Crosby, who has spent years researching war history, said: “On the back of the photo of the concert it says it was for a radio concert.

“Well the only radio station at the time was the BBC, so it must have been recorded and sent to London to be broadcast.

“We know little about this concert so it’s very exciting, and I’ve now had an email from a man who says his father recognises the venue and it is the old cinema in Ely.

“The concert appears to be made up of Germans and Romanian prisoners of war.

“In many ways the conditions they lived in were not far removed from regular British Army camps.

“They were allowed to indulge in crafts and we know they had bands.

“At Christmas, some locals gave the prisoners gifts and some then gave gifts back.”

Many spent the war working on the surrounding fields.

Evidence also emerged that the PoWs helped stem the waters during a flood in the city in 1947.

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