Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Pamela Howe Taylor: The Germans We Trusted

Since this is the season of goodwill (allegedly), it seems appropriate to describe a book which features goodwill in abundance.

The Germans We Trusted tells the story of thirty-six friendships which developed during or shortly after the second world war. These friendships were between German prisoners of war and their 'enemies', members of the British public.

I am old enough to remember prisoners of war. When I first went to school, in 1943, I walked past a prisoner-of-war camp both going to school and coming home. These particular prisoners were Italians, and were not heavily guarded. They were behind wire, and the occasional British soldier with a rifle could be seen. But it was generally believed (and rightly so, I suspect) that the Italians were not in any hurry to escape; neither were they seen as any sort of terrorist threat. They often spoke to us children as we passed on our way to school, and seemed both friendly and harmless enough.

After the war, a fair number of these Italians remained in England, and were soon absorbed into the local population.

German prisoners of war seem to have far out-numbered the Italians. When peace was declared in May 1945, 400,000 Germans were housed in 1,500 camps in Britain. And they certainly didn't disappear overnight. Although some went back to Germany, the numbers were kept up by other prisoners returning from the USA and Canada. Many of these prisoners were put to work: in 1946 169,000 were employed in agriculture, and 22,000 in the construction of roads. 'Fraternisation' was only officially allowed in December 1946.

The probability is that the prisoners who remained here were slightly better off than they would have been at home. Food and fuel were in short supply in England in the late 1940s, but they were even scarcer in Germany, where many tried to exist on what was, effectively, a slow-starvation diet.

Pamela Howe Taylor was the daughter of a Methodist minister, the Reverend Joseph Howe. The Rev. Howe was the British padre to a German prisoner-of-war camp near Blackburn, and, being a good Christian, he tried to ensure that the soldiers whom he met were treated as honorably as possible. This involved, among other things, inviting them into his own home, and the homes of members of his congregation.

These experiences, as revealed in the papers which came into his daughter's possession after his death, were the basis for Pamela Howe Taylor's first book, Enemies Become Friends (1997). They were also used in a BBC Timewatch programme, The Germans We Kept, and the German television documentary film Wie aus Feinden Freunde werden (How Enemies Became Friends).
The first book reveals how a simple act of kindness could make a profound impression. One Englilsh family invited a couple of battle-hardened Germans into their home, only to find that the men burst into tears when they got there.

That 1997 book is now out of print, and is rare. Secondhand copies purchased via Abebooks will cost you £25-45. However, over the next few years Pamela Howe Taylor explored her subject further: hence The Germans We Trusted. This was sufficiently well written to attract a foreword from the former Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd.

Take a trip to, and you can read the first couple of chapters of the book for free. There is also a lengthy review, written by an Italian.

Shortly after the book's publication, the author died of leukemia.


Anonymous said...

re Pamela Howe Taylor.
The book strikes a chord in me.
I was in London as a kid just after the war and was surprised to find so many German-speakers. My family had come out of a different kind of camp in Germany where they housed displaced persons there following a pretty serious European misunderstanding.
The Germans in London wanted to know all about Bonn-Rheinland where we had been interred and I could feel the nostalgia for castles and riverboats.
I did write a novel about my family's actual wartime experience,
"The Black Icon", but that's another story.

Bernita said...

I once had a beautiful neighbour.
Her father was a German POW from WWI.
He loved the country; he loved how he was treated.
He applied to emigrate and got his family out before Hitler.