Somerset Photo Restoration

Born 170 Years ago…

An amazing photo of people who experienced life so different to what we know nowadays. This couple are Edward Glover, born 1848 and his wife Sarah (nee Wheadon) born 1856 down the road from us in Aller, Somerset. Both born to Agricultural labourers, Edwards life would follow the same path. During their early life photography was in its infancy, with photographic images slowly making it into newspapers. It wasn’t until 1888 that George Eastman patented the Kodak roll film camera, 1900 before the 1st mass marketed “Brownie” camera went on sale and this photo would have been taken, albeit professionally sometime around 1920. It would be safe to say that photography never played a major part in their lives. Yet here we are in 2020, photography has shaped my life and I have cupboards full documenting several generations of family history.

Photo restoration Somerset - BeforePhoto restoration Somerset - After

These are my 2nd great grandparents… my grandfathers grandparents – that boggles my mind in terms of the scale of time. I was lucky enough to know my grandfather, and he knew his grandparents, and I have their photo – now in colour.

Curry Rivel Prisoner of War - JV FOSTER

April was a breeze…

For us anyway… despite how hard staying at home might seem, we’ve all found ways to manage our time. We can still contact our friends and families. We know this will come to an end. As mentioned in a previous post – my granddad spent 5 years as a prisoner of war. He wrote his memories down… Very little news traveled in and out of the camps and as each year passed the conditions worsened. I have since been researching his war and have managed to put some dates to his story. This is April 75 years ago for my granddad after nearly 5 years as a prisoner of war, He was 25.

5th April 1945 – A German officer informed us that the next day we would be leaving Stalag X1D.

6th April 1945 – It turned out that we were loaded with what kit we could carry, given a loaf of bread (no margarine), and marched out going eastwards. We did not cover many miles per day, as we were too weak to walk very fast. At night we slept mostly in farmyards. Some chaps ate their loaf of bread in next to no time! I made mine last as long as possible; Jerry never fed us again. We would raid potato dumps, bordering the roads, Тhe guards were old men who had seen service in World war 1. One night we slept in a large barn containing bales of straw; that was lovely. Another occasion, we found some leeks growing in a farmer’s garden. we started pulling them up, until fired on by a guard – probably over our heads.

17th April 1945 – We came to the River Elbe, which was very wide at this point. A large bridge spanned the river with a small village nestling on the Eastern bank. We had to wait some time before crossing, to let Jerry tanks over going west. Soldiers were riding on top taking up every available space.

19th April 1945 – We were informed that a convoy of Lorries had left Switzerland with Red cross parcels looking for POWs who were being marched East. We were going to get one parcel between two and would collect them from the next village we came to. This was marvelous news and we paired up to collect, then marched some two miles and stopped alongside the road to open them. The chap I paired with, who I did not know, said he hoped we would get chocolate in ours because that was something we could eat right away.
We had not got it completely open, when a cry went up that aircraft flying overhead were coming down in a dive. They were English RAF Typhoon bombers. In the first dive, they dropped a bomb and fired cannon shells. The instinct is to run, which I did – out across this arable field, together with most of the party. On the second dive, they fired cannon shells, so we suffered eight attacks from the four aircraft, killing lots of men. Two chaps I knew very well came over to see how I was. I had some shrapnel in one hand, but not bleeding much. One of the chaps who came over was limping; he took his trousers down to see an unexploded shell which had traveled up under his skin almost to his groin. When I got back to where had left my beloved satchel, I found a hole through it, no sign of the parcel or chap I was sharing with. I went to a dressing station where they were collecting the badly wounded.

My mate with the cannon shell near his groin told me after it had been taken out, that he stuffed a blanket up between his legs hoping that might help if it went off. Two horses and carts picked up the wounded and started off across country to a small town which had cobbled streets. We were placed in a corridor with seats down one side. An airman who played football in Stalag Luft 1 and was called Twinkle Toes, was lying on the floor moaning and saying that he was dying. My hand stopped bleeding and at that moment I felt a bit of a fraud for being there, but of course it could so easily have become infected. After it was bandaged I was sent upstairs to a ward and shared a two-tiered bunk with a New Zealander who was also slightly wounded. We were the only two able to walk. I well remember being given a large bowl of macaroni.

April 20th 1945 – a German officer told us to follow him. We went outside the building to a door where an oldish woman, dressed in black, was waiting. We went inside to find several coffins and German soldiers lying dead. The woman took us to a coffin beside which lay Twinkle Toes. We lifted him in and put the lid on; there was also a Sergeant Brown who had died. We returned to the ward slightly shaken.

April 21st 1945 – We were again told to “Follow me”. This time to a courtyard where a horse and cart lay stacked with several coffins. When we moved off across the uneven cobbles, I remembered being afraid that some would fall off, as they were not tied down. We reached the cemetery where they were unloaded. A German civilian was directing where each coffin should go. Unfortunately our two had to go up a slope, and it was a struggle for us; we were as weak as kittens. Then began the job of digging the graves. An odd shell would come screaming over; the ones you hear have already passed, it’s the ones you don’t hear that get you. The Guard said we were going back for something to eat. I sized it up in my mind and decided that I would not be coming back to dig graves.

Later, after eating some more macaroni, I looked around for somewhere to go. I found some stairs leading up to an uninhabited floor and found a row of toilets which made me think it was formerly a school. I went in one, sat down and went to sleep. It was dark when I woke up. I went down to the ward and no-one said where have you been? That night, the shelling became heavy; those who could, went down into the cellar, nurses, German soldiers, myself and the New Zealander lay on the stone floor and went fast asleep.

April 22nd 1945 – I was woken by a Welshman with a rifle over his shoulder, I jumped up a free man after four years and eleven months. I went up into the ward where there were several soldiers highly amused at the state we were in, different uniforms, etc. One asked how long I had been a POW; when I said five years he said he was still going to school then.

I went out the front to see the troops going by. A German woman, who was crying, came running by saying that Russki Kommt ambulances had arrived to take the wounded away. We came to the bridge which we had crossed some days before. It was now lying in the river, and the houses on the east bank were flattened. We crossed over in an amphibious tank, then on again to a large former German barrack block. We stayed the night here.

April 23rd 1945 – We traveled on to an airfield where we saw the first jet fighters and later that day, we boarded a Dakota which had been adapted to carry stretchers. It was wonderful when we crossed the English coast and saw the green fields.

“Oh to be in England now that April’s there”

We landed at a small airfield near Swindon, and sat down to egg and chips, then headed to an R.A.F. Hospital, called Wroughton, where a nurse took our names and addresses to send to our parents by telegram. My mother later told me that the local postman had told the postmistress that he was going to be the one to deliver it, and that he did.

April 24th 1945 – I was put back into an ambulance to travel up into the Birmingham area, to another R.A.F. hospital. The nursing sister ordered me to bed as she said the shrapnel would be taken out the next day. I did not get into bed, but went for a walk instead, out into the countryside. This I really enjoyed; not having been able to do this for a very long time. When I got back the sister was waiting. I received a dressing down which affected me not one little bit. I had no time for authority at that period of my life. I wish it had stayed with me.

Eventually we were issued with new uniforms and given the all clear to go home, traveled to Paddington, then to Taunton and caught the bus to my home, fourteen miles away. My younger brother met me off the bus, my parents had arranged some decoration for my homecoming.

We’ve had it good really.

Military POW Stalag Luft Postcard

Letters from a POW

A more personal post from me… For a long time I have been researching my own family tree as well as helping others with theirs. There are usually months if not years between “amazing” discoveries. A large number appeared after my DNA test results came back from Ancestry. Others simply by scanning through ancestry’s records. This one discovery in particular knocked me off my feet.

I’ll start with a bit of backstory. My Grandad, John Victor Foster (Jack) was born in 1920 so was only 19 when WW2 began. He enlisted in the RAF at West Drayton and was trained at RAF Cardington and RAF Yatesbury. He was sent to France supporting the B.E.F but in June 1940 he was captured by the Germans at St Valery-en-Caux and spent the next 5 years as Prisoner of War No.89.

Jack was known for his sense of humour. Should you utter anything remotely funny people would say “You must get that from your grandad”. I remember him saying “If you were hungry you’d eat grass.” I was probably a little too quick to brush this off as his sense of humour.

My searches of Ancestry don’t tend to include the generations of family I have met, no hints are offered outside of the usual Birth, Marriage and Death results so they are left and what images and important documents exist in your own collection are added. A good while before he passed away he wrote down his memories of the war and produced a small book that was distributed amongst friends and family. I was re-reading this one day and decided to type his POW number into Ancestry. Several records appeared.

A chap called Rob from Boston, Massachusetts had uploaded the text from some postcards he’d found in his Grandmother’s belongings. I messaged him immediately and thankfully he replied. His grandmother was a red cross volunteer and plane spotter in the war, she was sending parcels to her assigned POW… and he was writing back! Here is what those postcards said…

4-1-43

“Dear Mrs. Frye,

Thank you so much for your welcome letter received today. I must first apologise for the postcard but we are rationed every month, and the letters I send to my people in England. My greatest need here is food. I have plenty of clothes. Such articles as coffee + tea, tinned meat + biscuits are very valuable. Also cigarettes. I will write again next month and tell you more about myself and my life here. In the meantime, cheerio.

Sincerely yours, J.V. Foster”

Letter from Prisoner of War 89
First handwritten postcard by J V Foster to Mrs Frye

6-3-43

“Dear Mrs. Frye,

I hope you received the card I sent last month. Since then you will be pleased to hear I have received Three parcels from you in less than a month. The first was dated 16-10-42. The second, 16-11(42) and the third 1-12-42. They all arrived in good condition. I was surprised to see the amount of food you were able to pack into such a small box, and especially so much of the (…missing fragment)… articles. That ultimately we never see … I haven’t told you much about myself up to the present. I expect you know I am English. My home is in the West country, in the county of Somerset. I have three brothers, one is in the navy, the others are still at school. I joined the Air Force before the war, and unfortunately was taken prisoner in June 1940. I am thoroughly fed up with prison life but manage to keep up a cheerful outlook. I would like to be home for next Christmas, but I have learnt not to be too optimistic. We have a lot of American boys here. They have been busy playing baseball during the past few days. Well I must thank you before closing for the very welcome food parcels, and I hope to hear from you shortly.

Yours Truly, J.V. Foster”

Letter from POW 89 - J.V Foster
POW Letter from Stalag Luft 3 written by J.V Foster
Letter from POW 89 at Stalag Luft 3
Second Letter from J.V Foster prisoner of war at Stalag-Luft 3

16-7-43

“Dear Mrs. Frye,

I received your letter today dated 21st May, also the food parcels you sent. So pleased you received my letter, they sometimes go astray. I find your letters very interesting, especially about the garden. I can picture you all together. We live in the country also, in Somerset (where the cider apples grow.) How I wish I could be there now. Our slogan is “The day will dawn.” We have moved to another camp, please note address.

Sincerely Yours, Victor Foster”

Letter from John Victor Foster to Mrs Frye from Stalag Luft 6
Third Letter from J.V Foster to Mrs Frye from a German POW Camp

8-7-44

“Dear Mrs. Frye,

Have received three big parcels from you, and also a book parcel in the last two months, but have been unable to send a card until now. I am still waiting for this war to end. Since I last wrote you we have had a lot of Americans here in another compound. Thanks again for all you have done.

Jack”

Postcard from Stalag Luft 3 by J.V Foster
Final postcard from J.V. Foster from Stalag Luft

I must say a big thank you to Rob who took his time to dig them out again and photograph them for me. It’s so lovely to have found them and at the same time it fills me with sadness that my grandad had to suffer. It was a shame that he wasn’t reunited with his letters, I wonder what he would make of them? I have no idea if he ever tried to make contact with Mrs Frye on his return, but I’d like to think he did.

Jack’s memories of the war are available in a short book called Sauerkraut and Boiled Potatoes which covers his time from enlistment through training, capture, his time spent in prisoner of war camps, his brush with death on the long march through to his return home.

A kindle edition is available.