Neville John William Day 7 March 1922 - 26 November 1990
I believe this to be an absolutely true story without embellishment or exaggeration. The person who told me had no reason to lie. It was also independently corroborated by another witness many, many years later.
It is another tale about my dear old Stepfather. Told to me first by one of his farm workers and when I was just a child. I also had the sad task in December 1991 of telephoning one of Dad's ex POW charges, since returning to his homeland, that Dad had passed away. It was therefore not the time to ask the man who had become a lifelong friend to also confirm the story.
During the Second World War Dad had farmed a smallholding in the Fens. He had rented just twenty eight acres of windswept and wet land. For him it meant as a farmer he held a ‘Reserved Occupation’ status and was thus exempt from National Call-up to serve in the armed forces.
Essential to the war effort in helping supply the besieged nation with food Neville did his bit for his country though. Immediately the home defence force, later called The Home Guard, was formed he joined up. He quickly found favour with his commanders and was promoted. Towards the end of the war and also after the end of hostilities but before prisoners were allowed to be repatriated, my Stepfather volunteered to accommodate a few German Prisoners of War. As indeed did many farmers in the region at the time. The date around 1945.
It must be said that only the more convivial of German soldiers were selected as suitable for ‘farming out’ but the far greater majority were. Equally history shows that most enemy prisoners were none too keen to escape and return to their homeland either, given the deprivations in their war ravaged country. History also records that no German prisoner ever succeeded in escaping, from the UK at least, though there are no generally available records of how many, if any, attempted to do so. Many POWs as they became known, knew they had nothing and no families to return to. Nonetheless looking after POWs was a job involving a high level of responsibility and therefore theoretically at least, some risk.
A prisoner hut was provided and erected by the state on Dad’s rented land. It was designed to house two to four prisoners in very basic but clean, dry and secure accommodation. Dad had to lock the prisoners in each night and every morning wake them early, provide them with breakfast then march them, under protection of a Lee Enfield rifle, into the fields to work.
One day in Autumn and during apple picking time, my Dad along with a couple of his regular workers and also his two prisoners, were all walking from the farmyard down the lane to the apple orchards. Fuel was still rationed so rather than carting ladders, apple boxes and baskets by tractor and trailer, as would normally have been the case, everything was carried by hand.
Along with various other officials such as health care people, British Red Cross representatives and so forth an officer in the Home Guard would regularly visit to check and see everything was in order. Imagine how the conversation ensued when Dad, who was bringing up the rear of his little band of merry men was caught up by the unannounced visiting Captain. Dad was carrying a treasured lightweight, best spruce and ash, twenty two foot harvesting ladder. A valuable commodity in those austere days.
One has to imagine the scene therefore as the Home Guard Captain caught up with Corporal Day and his merry men walking towards the orchards.
Captain: "Corporal Day. Why aren't you in uniform? Where's your rifle man?!"
Corporal Day: "We aren't fighting a war today, Sir! We're picking apples! Sir! I can't carry both a gun and my best ladder at the same time and I'm not trusting Fritz with either. Sir!"
Captain: "You're on a charge!"
Post Script: Fritz sent a Christmas card every year to my Stepfather right up to Christmas 1991. The year after Dad died. Obviously staying in contact for more than 45 years and through two house moves. I realised the poor man did not know my Stepfather had died as no one had thought to inform him. I found Fritz's German telephone number in a couple of letters Fritz had written, in halting English, to my Dad and so I phoned him to break the bad news. He cried during the call.
Chris Latham-Smith 2022.
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