My Friends – the Enemy!

Story by: Brian Ballard, Friends of the Aldershot Military Museum

At the end of WW2 it was decided to build a concrete road on the rough, sandy track which ran alongside Government Siding and the R.E.M.E. Workshops and which connected North Lane to Ordnance Road at the Field Stores level crossing.

In 1946, when I was eight years old, a number of German prisoners-of- war waiting to be repatriated were allocated the task of constructing the new road.

The men must have been thoroughly screened and were trustees who worked without guards or, as far as I knew, supervision.

This area was a favourite playground for North Town kiddies and thus I soon became aware of the work going on and that the men carrying it out were not British soldiers.

Being an inquisitive lad, I spent a lot of my time watching the work in progress and asking the men many questions which were always answered in good humour.

There were three prisoners in particular with whom I became quite pally and with whom questions were exchanged, about our families and way of life. They were, what I later came to regard as, typical Germans.

Otto, forty-ish perhaps, red faced and jovial, who wore steel-rimmed glasses and the standard forage cap on his head. My lasting memory of Otto was watching him, seated at a trestle table outside the small, wooden hut built for the men’s meal breaks, cutting a thick slice from a freshly-baked loaf held under his arm and plastering it with butter from a sardine type tin and tucking into it with a look of ecstasy on his face! We civilians rarely enjoyed butter in those days but I don’t think that Otto knew that as he did not offer to share!

Next there was Heinz, a tall, stocky fellow with blonde hair and in his twenties who enjoyed the physical work and was a happy soul, often singing. I remember asking him, quite innocently, why he had fought for Hitler! (I did not fully understand the war but I knew that Hitler was a very bad man!) Heinz flushed slightly and looking at me, told me that he had had no choice and I know that he spoke the truth, he was a gentle giant.

The third man in our “group” was Hans, probably in his late forties and very much the fatherly type. He was quiet and “laid-back” and spoke the best English and we talked about our families, I thought him a kind and gentle man, I hope that he got to see his family again.

One day, one of the prisoners, who I did not really know, presented me with a ship-in-the-bottle, made especially for me with my name, “Brian”, painted on the bow. I suspect that my friends had him make it for me. The road was completed and my friends there no more, but, they had inscribed in the concrete road surface their P.O.W. unit and the date, now hidden under layers of tarmac.

Many years later, when I had a young family, I tried to contact them but the Ministry of Defence informed me that all their documents had been returned with them to Germany upon their repatriation. Their details are under tarmac and the ship-in-the-bottle long ago disappeared – but I have my memories still!

Road Today.

Above: The road today.

Copyright © 2015 Brian Ballard.