18 Allied PoWs scrawling their names into history in Normandy
This the story of 18 Normandy PoWs. Allied Prisoners of War – who for a short while during the fighting following the D Day landings in 1944 were held in a wooden shed in Normandy. Whilst there, they scrawled their names & details on the inside of the shed wall.
Here are photos of some of the men – I’m still tracking others down!
I found out about these 18 Normandy PoWs from a friend who knew I was interested in Military History. He had bought the former bakery in the village of St Vigor des Mezerets – the shed whose wall they annotated was that bakery’s grain store.
Since I first started compiling the site & writing the blog, I’ve had the pleasure of contacting & speaking to a number of direct family members & wartime colleagues of these Normandy PoWs. Some of whom I have had the gratification of taking to places that their relatives went on their travels. These visits are recorded within the blog.
What do we know of these Normandy PoWs?
Some of the pages, for example those relating to Flt Lt John Worthington Harder , have lots of content & details as his family have not only retained large amounts of memorabilia, but have kindly allowed me access to it. Similarly, pages for Pte Thomas Blunt, Cpl Tom Caldwell, Pvt Gerald Willen and M/Sgt Morris Sheppard have a reasonable amount of detail, again shared by family members. However, many of the other pages have limited information (as yet) as I have been unable to trace relatives or find out much more about them other than some basic details.
The information provided by the family of Major Raymond P Elledge Jr included a 140 page manuscript written by him. This covered the period from, what turned out to be, his last combat flight until his return home following liberation. The manuscript has been absolutely invaluable in tracing the route that some of these Normandy PoWs travelled trying to evade capture & return to Allied lines. It tells of how Raymond Elledge escaped from “The Monastery” with Francis Gillespie, Morris Sheppard and Gerald Willen. How together they roamed the country-side trying to get back to their units – but that’s getting ahead of ourselves!
At the moment, the men are grouped into 4 categories…
- Those we know nothing about other than their signature on the shed wall,
- A group that we know something about, even if this is only a copy of their “Returning PoW Questionnaire”
- The ones that we have a little more information for, perhaps family photographs or War Diary entries
- And finally, those that we have lots of information about which has been generously shared by their families
Thanks and things…
During my research into this period in our history, I’ve been helped by a large number of people who have freely given of their time, knowledge or memories to help me build this picture. There is always a danger in naming names that you miss someone important. So to avoid this, I’m just going to say a huge “Thank You” to everyone that’s been involved in helping me move this from “just” a series of names on a shed wall to what you are now reading.
However, I must express special thanks to certain people. Firstly to those friends & families of the men who have been so generous with sharing their memories and memorabilia. And secondly, to my friend Stuart & his dad Barrie. Who, having spotted the signatures in their shed, had the presence of mind to protect them behind a thick sheet of Perspex.
I’d also like to specifically thank the following people. Arthur Brett – one of the people who posts on to the World War 2 Talk website. He kindly spent the time in researching through some of his resources to provide many of the PoW details that you see on the site. Stuart Hadaway of the RAF Museum at Hendon who has been really helpful in researching information on Flt Lt John Harder. John Levesley who provided much of the information on the two American pilots – Elledge & Gillespie – and who built the invaluable Winkton Website . Finally, Stephen Fryer who pulled together the information on the RAF Harrowbeer website .
The shed is in a small village in Normandy, France. It is named St Vigor des Mezerets and lies to the North West of Conde sur Noireau, and South West of Caen.