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Through German Eyes

Barwicker No. 24 December 1991

Werner Kimpel on the left and Franz Kamp on the right on 20 July 1947, with Mrs Thornton of Bradford
As we have already reported, we had the pleasure in July 1990 of meeting three German ex-prisoners of war who spent some of their internment in the Barwick area after the Second World War. Franz Kamp and Ewald Feldhaus remained in Britain but Werner Kimpel returned to Germany in 1948. He now lives in Aurich-Kirchdorf. The photograph above shows 'Werner on the left and Franz on the right on 20 July 1947, with Mrs Thornton, a friend they had made when working in Greengates, Bradford. Werner used to help Mrs Thornton's son Derek with his homework and they have kept in contact ever since. Werner has written to tell us some of his experiences whilst working at Dransfield's farm and we are pleased to be able to publish his unique view of life on the land at that time.

The most interesting article 'Down on the Farm' by Mary Freeborn (see 'The Barwicker' No. 20) brings back to me so many memories of my relatively short spell of farming experience at Potterton Grange.

I started my unskilled farm labourer career on a Saturday morning at 7.30 hours in April 1946. I was welcomed by Ernest Wilson, the farmhand in those days, who banded me a fork, guided me to the fold yard where a buggy stood and with a friendly 'Get cracking, laddie!' he invited me to start loading the buggy. 'Well, having been on road building in the Bradford area before, I knew how to use a spade. But r did not know then that there is a big difference in band ling a spade than a fork. So far so good. I tried my very best to comply. Perspiration ran down my forehead, the first blisters pained my bands and the buggy was still far from what one could call full.

After about an hour of desperate struggle on my part with the fork, good old Ernest turned up with a smile on his face and in his best broad Yorkshire he explained that loading a buggy with muck (I am not sure if that's the right spelling; it's not in the dictionary) - apart from the smell - is not as hard when one knows how to use the fork. 'Look here, laddie', he said, 'dig the fork in but not too deep and roll the muck up to a heap. By doing so you save a lot of hardship to your bands and your back.' How right he was; good old Ernest! Thanks to his tip, muck leading and muck spreading in the fields did not do much harm to me apart from the backache. Later on when I took over from Ernest the job at feeding the bullocks and calves and putting on a new layer of straw in the fold-yard, I understood what he meant by 'roll it up'. For me, haymaking, harvesting, cutting and leading and the threshing season when the threshing machine from Kiddal Hall came, these were the highlights of farming for the simple reason there was an extra sandwich or two and a cup of tea at about 10 o'clock in the morning and about 3 o'clock in the afternoon. An extra feed meant a lot to a young lad at my age who always seemed to be hungry.

I will always remember Miss Richardson, the Dransfield's elderly housekeeper, a dear, dear soul. I do not think she is still alive but I wish she could be here and take my gratitude. I was only 18 years old and she was very good to me. When I arrived at the farm from the camp in the morning, before the Dransfield family was about, and she would ask me if I would like tea or coffee or chocolate and she would say 'I'll get it for you, luv'. I was not allowed in the kitchen, but she would bring my drink out to the cow shed with a sandwich and, with a little touch of the hand, she would say 'I hope you enjoy it'. She was like my Granny, who used to tell me tales when I was a little boy.

Well, I started off with Ernest Wilson, so may I continue with some more episodes. Once when we were familiar with each other, we were on really friendly terms, not to forget the most constructive and informative tips he gave me to make farm labour easier tor me.

One nice spring day he and I were on the field singling turnips. Following Ernest's advice that pipe tobacco is much more economical than buying cigarettes, I started smoking a pipe. His way of looking at things and his experience at life convinced me of his argument. 3/4 of a penny per working hour was a POW wage made it a hard job to make both ends meet. Well, on that day I had run out of tobacco due to lack of money. I sucked my empty pipe and Ernest puffed his pipe. Down the row and up again we worked our way through the field. All of a sudden, he asked me 'What's up with ye have ye given up smoking?' I explained my problem to him. He called me all sorts of names for not having asked him for a pipe filling. He took his pocket knife out of his pocket and cut off a slice of his twist tobacco, which looked like a bar of chocolate. Well, I rolled it in my hands like I had seen many a time Ernest doing it, filled and lit my pipe and tried to enjoy it. But not for long. Smiling Ernest told me when I recovered that I had been flat on my back for about a quarter of an hour. That cured me for all and ever, never to smoke twist again.

There is another episode that is perhaps worth mentioning. In Autumn 1946 there was lots of rain and mud all over. I wore Wellington boots supplied by the camp store, whilst my pal Ernest was wearing his old worn-out army surplus boots. His right boot had a big hole on the right hand side. I felt sorry for my mate so I asked him why he did not buy a new pair of boots or Wellingtons to keep his feet dry. Too expensive he said. As he had done me so many favours I suggested I would try to change his old army boots for a pair of new ones at the camp store. He agreed to my proposal. He said he would let me have his old boots the next day for the transaction in the clean standard I had asked for. Wearing old and worn-out boots - I am sure - must have caused some headache to Ernest. He had never been in the forces so he knew nothing about army regulations.

I was successful with my transaction. Of course I had to explain matters to the chap in charge of the store for my size was 8½ and Ernest's 7. Well two days later Ernest was the owner of a pair of brand new army boots. He put them on straight away, paced about 5 steps forth and back, took off the right boot, used his pocket knife to cut a hole exactly at the same place as in his old boot, put it on again and with a 'that's better, by gum! That boot was about killing me', that was settled. I did not know that his small toe of his right foot was sort of crippled.

To express his gratitude for his boots, one Saturday afternoon, he invited me to his home in Barwick for tea. (He lived in an old cottage now demolished behind Poppy's shop. Ed.) It took some consideration from my side before I accepted his invitation. I knew Ernest was not well off (a farm hand in those days earned about £4 a week) and living on his own. He had nobody to look after his household as he could not afford it. Anyway the old chap managed to do his cooking, washing and keeping the place tidy on top of his farm work. 'Jell, we had a very good tea and a most interesting natter in front of the open fire place in his sitting room. Thinking back, I am very grateful for that lovely afternoon.

Not for all the tea in China would I give away the remembrance of that remarkable afternoon. I take it for granted that would good old Ernest have the chance to read about our little episodes he would forgive me for giving his secrets away and would have a good laugh. It is a pity Ernest is not with us any longer. I am sure he would have been delighted to have me back in Barwick after all these years.

There was another gentleman in Barwick I was very fond of, Harold Evans the blacksmith. I loved taking the horses for shoeing to him. It was most interesting for me to watch him during his skilled job. We always had a cup of tea served in a tremendous big mug - and a dot of whisky to follow it and a good natter before we started work. I used to give him a hand pulling a chain which operated the wind-pipe thus keeping the coke fire going which enabled him to give the red-bot horse-shoe the proper shape to fit. 'Whenever I had to collect the horses from the meadow to get them harnessed for field work, I had a close look at their iron shoes, hoping one or two had come loose thus giving me a chance to see my old friend, the blacksmith.

I remember the very cold winter in 1947. 'Winter came all of a sudden, with temperatures well below freezing point, bags of snow and the turnips still in the field. At Potterton Grange there were four cows for milking and calves. One of these cows was poorly and did not feed for some days. So Mr Dransfield told me to take a shovel and a bag to the turnip field and try to get some turnips, which he thought might cure the cow.

I set off, trying to work my way to the field. Snow was not too deep near the farm but the nearer I came to the turnip field the more lost I felt. The strong wind had piled up the snow to a height of about four or five feet. Many a time I was in the snow up to my shoulders. Well, finally I managed to reach the area where I supposed the turnip field was. I was lucky. When I had removed some of the snow I was able to collect about 20 turnips. So with my harvested turnips in the bag on my back I worked my way back, which was not quite so fatiguing as I could follow the markings of my trail out.

Well, I managed to get back to the farm wet through and exhausted and all Mr Dransfield had to say to me was that it had 'taken quite some time to collect them turnips'. I had spent about four hours on that mission. When I gave the cows their feed that night, the cow patient did accept some slices of my turnips. The next morning she seemed to be waiting for her extra ration of turnips. Well, the cow recovered and when I entered the cowplace, the cow - in my imagination - gave me a welcoming moan. Perhaps she wanted to express her gratitude her master forgot all about. Whenever we have a spell of frost, my big toe of my left foot which was frostbitten on that turnip field, reminds me of that poorly cow at Potterton Grange.

There is another event that I have in mind. One morning I was on my way to the grass field to count the cattle and check if the fencing was alright. On the right hand side of the lane rises a slope like a bank covered with trees and bushes. Well, I heard some faint squeaking noises. I did not bother but walked on to do my cattle check. On my way back I heard the squeaking noises again. Getting into the bushes I discovered three tiny little animals bigger than a bird with yellow flimsy feathers. I put them in the jacket of my brownish dyed battledress and buttoned it up to keep the little ones warm.

Back at the farm I informed Mr Dransfield about what I had found. He gave me a telling off and told me to 'take them ..... goslings back where you found them'. My argument that they would starve to death or be killed by cats or dogs did not change his mind. To my suggestion to take the poor little things to Sherburn camp he finally agreed.

Back at camp I had an interview with the camp commandant who was a sergeant from Sheffield, which ended with a gentleman's agreement - one for him and two for me. He really cared for them. They must have accepted the good old sergeant in mother's stead. What a sight it was to see the sergeant in front and the three geese in trail parading the camp-ground, all four of them as proud as Spaniards. When the camp was closed down in September 1947, he took his share to his family in Sheffield. My share, thanks to the cook, gave a luxurious meal for my mates and me. Thank you sergeant.

I shall never forget Christmas Day 1946. Three of us were on a stroll through Sherburn when a lady opened her front door, handed some Christmas cake to us and wished us a Merry Christmas. Overwhelmed I thanked her on behalf of my comrades and imagining what was the reason for her kindness she answered. Her only son was killed in action during an operational flight over Germany. She was sure that if he had been taken prisoner of war instead of being killed, a German mother would have acted likewise.

Please regard this article as a thank you to the people of Barwick-in-Elmet who were so friendly, kind and gracious to me and my comrades during our compulsory stay in Yorkshire.


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