Video: Prisoner of love
THEY risked their lives to snatch just a few precious moments together. HE was a German prisoner of war forced to work in Fenland fields. SHE was the girl from March who fell in love with him. I said to my girlfriend: I know he s German, b
THEY risked their lives to snatch just a few precious moments together.
HE was a German prisoner of war forced to work in Fenland fields. SHE was the girl from March who fell in love with him.
"I said to my girlfriend: 'I know he's German, but he has the most lovely face,'" said Margaret Stratton. "There was just something about him."
Peter Roth hated the English but his chance encounter with Margaret changed his world for ever. He abandoned plans to escape from the camp at Friday Bridge and instead went regularly under the wire to meet her.
It was war time and fraternising between local women and German PoWs was forbidden. Neither knew what the future held.
When his British guards found out he was seeing Margaret, they switched him from working in fields at Floods Ferry to Wisbech- but their courtship continued.
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He found six tiny snow drops which he made into a posy for Margaret and later gave her a handmade cigarette case decorated with a heart with the rising sun surrounded by barbed wire on top of the lid.
Theirs is a remarkable love story from a time and place few can now recall.
But Margaret and Peter do remember. In 1948 they married at March Roman Catholic Church, with crowds lining the street out of curiosity and disbelief.
Next week Peter, 88, and Margaret, 94, will be joined by relatives as they celebrate their Diamond Wedding Anniversary.
IT is a remarkable love story which survived impossible odds but one which has lasted more than 60 years for Peter and Margaret Roth.
Peter was a soldier from the village of Erbach near Frankfurt and after being captured in Normandy in 1944 he found himself a prisoner. He was eventually brought to a camp at Friday Bridge - now the agricultural camp.
In January 1945 he was sent with a working party to dig carrots on a farm at Floods Ferry. Across the road were a group of local women, one of them was Margaret Stratton who lived in March, and some Italian men riddling potatoes.
Peter said: "I had to go across the road to fetch some empty bags. In true German fashion I shook hands with the Italians and the ladies. The following day I made a bold dash across the road with my bread and cheese in my hand. I tried very hard to speak to them but the women did not speak French or German."
Back at camp Peter managed to find six tiny snow drops which he made into a posy for Margaret. This was later followed by a present of a handmade cigarette case decorated with a heart with the rising sun surrounded by barbed wire on top of the lid.
Peter said: "She was so taken a back she did not know what to say and I would not have understood it anyway."
Margaret also remembers their first meetings. She said: "When I first saw Peter, I said to my girlfriend: 'I know he's German, but he has the most lovely face'. There was just something about him."
The couple saw each other every day. Peter said: "She would bring me things, materials to make toys. The money I made from selling toys helped me to get things for hygiene and cleanliness."
But when it was discovered Peter and Margaret were seeing each other every day he found himself working in Wisbech.
He said: "I was heart broken, I hated everything and that night I decided to break out. I made my plan and watched the guards and their patterns for several nights."
Peter was able to send out notes from the camp with another prisoner and anxiously waited for a reply from Margaret.
Armed with a stolen pair of pincers, Peter tested his escape route several times before convincing himself he could do it for real and meet Margaret.
He said: All went well but our time of bliss was too short, the time between the next bus coming. From then on we met twice a week. On dark nights things were all right. On clear nights it was very dangerous."
Peter was not the only one to get out of the camp. Two German sailors made regular trips into Wisbech planning to escape by boat. However, unable to find out how they could negotiate their way to open sea they eventually gave up. A plan to blow up the railway at Whitemoor was also discovered. Peter was later transferred to a small camp at Manea.
Peter spent Christmas 1945 with Margaret and her mother, the war was over but prisoners were not allowed to visit private homes. The police had been tipped off but decided to take no action. Years later a police sergeant confessed to Peter: "Margaret worked tirelessly for our fighting boys, raising money for them, doing concerts after a hard days work on the land. I knew she was a good girl. I could not harm that girl, her only sin was falling in love with you. With a clear conscience I made sure you had a fighting chance."
Margaret's mother, Annie, liked Peter from the start and told her daughter: "If you love him and you want him then marry him."
Peter was given permission to stay in this country as a trusted employee of Maurice Crouch of Manea. After their wedding they settled down to life in the Fens.
The couple, who now live in Peterborough, have one daughter, Anita, two grandchildren and a great granddaughter. They will be celebrating their anniversary with their family.
They have never regretted the risks they took during their secret courtship and their marriage has been very happy. Peter is now full time carer to Margaret.
As for his part in the war, Peter said: "The British like to think they are always the goodies. There is no doubt that the Nazis and the SS committed many atrocities, but I didn't fight for Hitler, I fought for Germany, my homeland, which had been so badly treated after World War 1. I like to think that I am one of the goodies too.