Wartime memories

PUBLISHED: 11:10 16 May 2008 | UPDATED: 08:27 02 June 2010

WORKERS at the workshop in Pilgrim’s Garage, March, worked hard to repair damaged aircraft sections during the war.

WORKERS at the workshop in Pilgrim’s Garage, March, worked hard to repair damaged aircraft sections during the war.

THOSE with a good recall of wartime March and Fenland are now few and far between. But the events of that period are vivid in the memory of Trevor Bevis, local historian and author of numerous books on the Fens. Here s some of his memories from that perio

3rd Platoon, 2nd Btn March Home Guard.

THOSE with a good recall of wartime March and Fenland are now few and far between. But the events of that period are vivid in the memory of Trevor Bevis, local historian and author of numerous books on the Fens. Here's some of his memories from that period.

I WORKED as a printer's apprentice at the Cambs Times and we all had to do a paper round on Friday.

It was 6am as I cycled over the town bridge and saw a group of airmen leaning on the bridge. They seemed quite happy. My foreman reckoned I had imagined it until a compositor, George Wilkinson, told him that he had just seen the airmen and thought they were German.

He proved to be right and Mr. Skinner phoned the duty sergeant who walked to the bridge and formed the airman into a crocodile formation and marched them into the police station.

There they were given mugs of coffee and biscuits until the military arrived and took them away for interrogation. As far as I know that was the only time March had been "invaded?"

ON another occasion a German crew member who had been shot down walked into March during the night and hid in the entrance of Marcam House at the junction of Broad Street and Station Road. he then ran out in front of a cycle and indicated to the cyclist to get the police to pick him up. He feared civilians might lynch him on the nearest lamp post!

GERMAN and Italian prisoners of war at Friday Bridge POW camp had a pretty good time. The entrance was guarded by a solitary British soldier armed only with a bayonet, a bit Dads Army-ish. No one, I recall, tried to escape.

I cycled to Wisbech a lot and would meet with prisoners casually walking along the road to Coldham for a pleasant constitutional outing. They always waved as I weaved in and out of the strollers and were sent out to farms and were said to be good, conscientious workers and took the jobs of English agricultural workers away fighting in the war. Several later married local girls. Some prisoners reckoned that Germany had suffered so badly there was not much to go home to.

A GERMAN aircraft belly flopped not far from March. The crew survived but one had injured a limb. Imagine the surprise (and alarm) of a farmer and his wife when they knocked on their door. The lady, with medical knowledge, made a splint for the injured man and everyone had a hot drink.

When the military arrived to take away the crew they saluted their "hosts" and said they were very grateful for the attention.

A SEARCHLIGHT and its crew were stationed along Burrowmoor Road and another at Thorney. At the latter place an interesting and unusual incident occurred. A German bomber dived down the beam no doubt with the intention of destroying the searchlight and crew. Soldiers armed with small arms fired along the beam and astonishingly brought down the aircraft which veered and crashed, killing everyone abroad. The pilot had a bullet trough his head.

NEAR Thorney a prisoner of war was killed when the haystack he was resting in caught fire presumably from his cigarette.

SOME prisoners-of-war gave good accounts of themselves and eventually were allowed to live in farmhouses. This occasionally resulted in prisoners becoming friendly with farmers' daughters and later getting married.

WILLOW Hall, Thorney was earmarked by the Gestapo as headquarters for the Peterborough region. Hermann Goerring Chief of the Luftwaffe reserved Burghley House, Stamford for his English home.

OCCASSIONALLY German and Italian prisoners of war from Friday Bridge came to March and watched films at the Hippodrome. Apparently they liked Roy Rogers and his horse trigger and also Laurel and Hardy.

A MESSERSCHMITT 109e was out on display in Wayman's Garage, March, for Wings for Victory Week. For sixpence visitors could look into the cockpit but for a shilling they could sit in it. I paid a shilling and climbed into the cockpit but a terrible smell drove me out. The plane had been forced to land in Kent and the pilot caught a bullet in his back and bled to death.


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