'Dear Little Welsh Mother' - peace builders uncovered

“My Dear Little Welsh Mother…”

(hidden peace builders uncovered)

HH caernarfon pow letters.jpg   HH caernarfon pow signatures.jpg

Wales for Peace is searching for the hidden histories of the peace builders of Wales. We depend on you to furnish us with these stories which will vary tremendously. They could include people who were never famous, who were never mentioned in a newspaper, who weren’t acting in their professional capacity, who never expected any recognition – people who worked with quiet dedication for the simple reason that they believed in building peace between people. Such is the story that came to light this week in the Wales for Peace office in north Wales.

 

Anna Jane Evans, who may be familiar to you from her work at Christian Aid, appeared in the office with a box containing tidy envelopes from the Second World War era. She explained that these treasured family letters formed part of the correspondence between German POWs and her grandparents. Her grandfather, the Reverend Stephen O Tudor, was highly regarded and was the minister for Capel Moriah from 1935 to 1962 as well as being the chaplain to the locally-based prisoners of war during the Second World War. But the focus of the history revealed in the correspondence was ‘Mrs Tudor’, or ‘mam’ to some, because of her evident kindness to the prisoners of war in welcoming them to her home.

 

Mrs Tudor would invite the prisoners for meals and to relax in front of the fire with her children: Gwen, John, Huw and Elizabeth. It emerges that her home, Tŷ Fry, became a sanctuary to these young soldiers, who were full of anxiety and far from home. The respect for Mrs Tudors’ guidance is evident in the letters, but what is also interesting is how she and ‘Miss Williams’, who translated the letters, corresponded with the lads’ mothers and wives in Germany. Both show empathy in their attempts to lift the spirits of the German women, by praising the men’s behaviour and morals. We glean the contents of Mrs Tudor’s letters mainly from the appreciative responses from Germany. The German women also express relief that their menfolk have received a homely welcome especially over Christmas. Furthermore we see evidence that the German women are yearning for peace to get on with their lives, with one commanding her husband to never again fight the ‘good folk’ of North Wales.

 

We share this story in the hope that others, inspired by this example, will likewise search in their family papers for historical evidence to shed light on the peace heritage of Wales. There are still unanswered questions before we get the full story. How common were these kinds of links in other parts of Wales? What were the motives? Did others object to the family’s friendship with the Germans? What was the background of the translator, Miss Margaret Williams, who formerly taught at Ysgol Tanybraich school? Who was the girl amongst the Germans? Have the descendants of these POWs heard of the welcome at Caernarfon? Are Mrs Tudor’s letters to be found somewhere in Germany? Yet although there’s more to uncover, here is already enough to indicate the peace-building efforts involved:

Prisoners would write updates to Mrs Tudor from the Bontnewydd POW camp:

  • “Last week we had a football match against the RAF of Llandwrog. We won the game with 5:1.” Heinz 28/2/1947

From the mothers/wives in Germany:

  • “I would like to thank you and your ‘Herr’ husband for all the love that you have shown and are showing to my son … That I am almost passing away with longing for my boy, I need not tell you… I thank you for all the goodness which you have shown my son and to other POWs.” Gerdina Balsters, Emden, 11/11/1947.
  • “I really don’t know how to thank you for your goodness to my son Alfred and for receiving him so affectionately into your home…we are an old couple and one doesn’t know for how long the dear God will let us live… my husband has been ill…he weighs only 94lbs with his clothes on… (our son) is our only hope of happiness in our old age.” Elizabeth & Konrad Clausen, Koblenz, 5/8/47.
  • “My son wrote that he has spent Xmas with you. We thank you with all our hearts for being so good to our boy.” Elizabeth & Konrad Clausen.
  • “I’m glad to know that my husband is in good hands, and that he is not left lonely and forsaken, - also that he has found people who understand him and can help him to live through this difficult time… thanks to your goodness and friendliness, and with God’s help, he can get through this last period of our separation. … It is not pleasant when in these hard times one has to live alone (with her child Dieter). We have indeed lost all, and it is very hard to find a new home again. Everywhere, people dislike seeing us fugitives and only few people have understanding for us.” Clara Miarka, Seemühl 17/8/47.
  • “Today I received your kind letter…I think, you will understand me, when I say you, that I always was afraid about Heinz. But when I received your letter I was much happier. I suppose Heinz told you about me and our two little children….sometimes it looks all very desperately. But I have big hope. I am waiting for Heinz and then we will start our life. We only want piece (sic) to live with our families.” Hertha Freynick, Buchholtz 2/8/47.

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From the POWs after their return to Germany:

  • When I left Bontnewydd on 8 of July I could not know that I knocked on my door on the 21 of August. My wife and Lila (daughter) were very surprised because I came as unexpected as welcome. We couldn’t speak the first minutes. Tears and kisses were the conversation between us. We looked us together in the eyes and tried to read what happened the last 6 ½ years. And I can tell you my wife is a real German wife, she wasn’t in the hands of the Russian soldiers… my wife said always: very good people must live in North Wales, Fritz never again fight against such a good folk!” Fritz Stahn, Glasow, 26/8/1947.
  • “I did not forget all the good you have given me in the short time I have spent in North Wales.” Stefan Bohnert, Haslach, 24/8/1947.
  • “I am still in the PW Transit Camp…I am full of hope once I’ll be together with my parents… Many thanks for your dear letters to my parents who pleased them so much. I talked to everybody about the little country Wales, not England.” Hans-Joachim Schweizer, Berlin-Adlershof (Russian Zone) 21/4/48.
  • “It was very very heavy I got away from Caernarvon, then Caernarvon was my second home and I can say, my dear family Tudor, never did I feel by myself, that I was a stranger, when I was at your house…. Your ever true friend and thankfully, Gunter or George, and say my greetings to all whom I did know in Caernarvon.”  Günther Miarka, 23 PWC Sudbury 17/10/47.

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A German girl was also hosted at Tŷ Fry, she shows her appreciation in a sequence of letters on her return to Germany via south Wales. It is interesting to note that at one stage she stays with a widow in Cardiff who, despite losing her only son in the war, is hospitable to this young German girl:

  • My Dear Little Welsh Mother, I am so often in Tŷ Fry sitting around the fireplace talking and joking…I thank you with all my heart that you gave me a real home in Wales.” ‘Doris’ Kanning 10/2/1948 Merthyr.
  • “Now I am in Cardiff since yesterday, I am staying with a very rich lady. She lost her husband (illness)... She lost her son in the war three years ago. Now she is quite alone. But dear Mrs Tudor I never found such a home as yours.” ‘Doris’ Kanning 13/2/1948 Cardiff.

Dutch sailors also found refuge in Tŷ Fry and it would seem that the young man named ‘Cor’ left Wales with a real dose of Welsh ‘hiraeth’ (longing) as he writes to Mrs Tudor, whom he calls ‘mam’ (mother):

  • My second mother…I shall speak about you and your heartily welcome always” Joop, HMS Glendower 29/10/1945.
  • “I am unhappy I can’t come to Caernarfon to see you for the last time…I send my regards to my brothers, sisters mam and father here in Wales… God bless you mam, from your son Cor.” Cor, HMS Glendower, 20/2/1946.
  • “It is very nice here…but I am missing home in Caernarvon mam, now when I go out I can’t go to mam for supper in Caernarvon.” HMS Valkyrie, Isle of Man, 3/3/1946.

One often has to read between the lines with these letters, but it is in the additional notes from the translator, Miss Williams, that we find the finer details of how Mrs Tudor set about to welcome the men, and how Miss Williams operated to raise the confidence and hopes of the despairing women in Germany.

Remarks by Miss Williams in various correspondence, sometime before 5/8/1947:

  • To Günther’s wife:

“We find him serious and God-fearing and you may well be proud of the fine bearing of your husband….Mrs Tudor has taken Günther under her wing and among the pastor’s family he feels himself at ease and at home. ...I am much interested in these War Prisoners in a strange land and have become friends with many of them. … Be of good spirit dear Frau Miarka.”

  • To Alfred’s parents:

“I have often been in your beautiful country, the Rhineland included. So I can readily understand the longing of the ‘prisoners’ for their home. In the meantime I will do my best for them and there are many kind people in this town who will do the same. Mrs Tudor is outstandingly good to them and it is through her that families have been found who will invite them to their homes occasionally to tea & supper.”

  • To Heinz’ wife:

“Here follows a kind of P.S. As you will have gathered from the handwriting, I am acting the part of translator for Mrs Tudor … some of us have been able to show a friendly regard for our German friends so we hope that they feel as happy among us as can be expected in the circumstances…God grant that in the future, only friendship will exist between our two nations. The common man in all lands desires only peace and a cozy family life.”

  • To the Clausens in response to their letter of 5/8/1947:

“I saw your Alfred a few days ago at the Tudors. He looked extremely well and was naturally delighted to be with the Pastor’s family again. When I got there he was settled in a comfy armchair with the Little One (Elizabeth Tudor) in his arms…. He is highly thought of by the family and you have every reason to be proud of such a son.”

 

Such moving stories emerge from the letters that they merit a film about Tŷ Fry and its visitors. The stars are Mrs Tudor and Miss Williams, with their conviction and dedication in building post-war bridges of peace with the people of Germany. Was this a common view? Did the soldiers returning from battle feel the same way? For comparison, it would be interesting to see evidence from other communities.

 

But a fundamental question remains, namely how do you define a peace builder? The more resources available – whether those be power, wealth or publicity – the greater the potential impact on peace building. However during the Second World War, these women had limited resources at their disposal: a home, family, food, fuel, pencil and paper, and for Miss Williams at least three languages. Yet the letters show that these women used all the resources available to them for maximum impact to promote reconciliation and peace between Welsh people and Germans. If we pause on the subject of women’s contributions a while longer and consider the resources available to them in the First World War, we note again that, despite limitations, it was the women who got 400,000 signatures for the peace petition sent to America in 1923/4 and it was women who organised a peace march across north Wales in 1926, armed only with banners and umbrellas. Dr Elin Jones’ argument is an important and pertinent one: the history of women in our country has for too long been ignored and so we should make even greater efforts to uncover their contribution. Yet as this story shows, the chances are that a lot of the evidence needed to achieve this remains in women’s homes, in their diaries and letters.

 

In the meanwhile we are reminded of an invitation by Caernarfon community to join them in a Peace March to commemorate the 1926 women’s peace march through the town. It will be held on International Peace Day, 21st of September, starting at the Galeri at 2pm, moving along the harbour side past the sailing club towards the ‘Maes’, in front of the Post Office. There will be speakers and music, including by Dafydd Iwan.

 

Wales for Peace offers support and training to capture any aspect of the peace heritage of Wales over the past 100 years. You can send an outline of a story for a blog and link the story with a picture on the Wales peace map. These histories can then be used for further research or adapted into stimulating teaching resources.

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