The Clerk in the Country

Thursday 4th June 2020

One German POW, who had lived and worked on a farm a few miles from here, sent a letter of thanks to the farmer after his return home. Lacking confidence in the English he had picked up and believing there would still be prisoners there able to translate, he wrote in German. But all local POWs had by then been repatriated, no one on the farm spoke the language, and the letter was put in a drawer and remained there, unread, for half a century.

After all that time I was privileged to be invited by the farmer’s granddaughter to help translate it. Deciphered with difficulty, the old-fashioned German script revealed telling insights into life in a war-torn land. The writer looked back to working on the farm as a happy time. He remembered regular meals and the farmer’s kindness in getting his watch repaired. Now life was much harder, there were shortages of everything, cigarettes were not to be had. “My everyday suit is also my Sunday suit”, he wrote.

We had, of course, no further knowledge of that particular POW, but it is good to think that men like him were sustained by memories of the Yorkshire countryside, as they rebuilt Germany.