I will not say it was a good camp, but, as camps went, it wasn’t bad : Freddie Brown at war

The time lag between my having a thought (a rare enough event in itself)and it turning into a post on this blog is increasing rapidly – largely because my daughter is back from her Ibizan jolly and spends every evening communicating madly via Facebook, MSN and so on (and we’re a one – functioning – computer family).  If  Pepys had been writing his diary on a computer and he’d had a teenage daughter, the diary would have been a great deal shorter.

So, I’m afraid my report from my fact-finding tour of Luton will have to wait for another day (though it’s going to be good stuff, believe me  – well worth returning for).  However, to prevent the blog dying on its feet,  let’s indulge in a feeble Mike Read style link and bring together two of my preoccupations.

On last week’s Who Do You Think You Are? Kate Humble discovered that her grandfather had a distinguished war record in a POW camp.  Someone else who spent part of the war in such a camp was … Freddie Brown.  I’ll allow him to narrate his own story, with a minimum of editorial interference. 

(FRB was, by the way, serving with the RASC (aka the Galloping Grocers)).

“In June, I was put in the bag at Tobruk along with Bill Bowes and Tim Toppin, a fellow Musketeer.  One of the many South Africans caught with us was R.H. (Bob) Catterall, who gave us hours of pleasure with his ukelele.  In due course … we were flown to Italy, and finished up at Chieti, half way up the Adriatic coast.  I will not say it was a good camp, but, as camps went, it wasn’t bad.

[They manage to obtain some cricket gear through the Red Cross and arrange a match] on the tarmac road which ran through the middle of the camp … Some batsmen went in with ordinary gloves, but there were no refinements such as abdominal protectors.  Not that this worried Tim Toppin, who always bats without one, and moreover in gym shoes and without gloves at all.  Unarmed in this fashion, he once batted for Worcestershire against that great Australian fast bowler McDonald [McDonald and Gregory were roughly the 20s versions of Lillee and Thomson], and seemed to think nothing of it. 

To capture the right atmosphere at the match, we had a band playing … the umpires wore white coats; and the crowd sat in deck chairs.

We had time for only two cricket matches at Chieti, and I recall that in one of them the Italian Orderly Officer, flanked by his two guards, walked right down the middle of the tarmac – and the wicket – seeking to discover the cause of these mysteries … Throughout his walk he was hooted down by the spectators who told him in no uncertain terms what he and his guards could do with themselves.

Until books of a general nature started coming through, some of us played bridge from 9.30 in the morning until 9.30 at night.  Bridge is a wonderful game [oh no it isn’t – ed.], but when you play it solidly for three years you begin to tire of it …

[When the Allies invade Italy, Brown and his men are moved to Germany, and then Czechoslovakia – where they have] a small hockey pitch which we used for seven-a-side soccer and eleven-a-side rugger, the Red Cross providing us with shirts, shorts. stockings and boots … we started a series of  games, soccer and rugger alternately, at 9.30 in the morning and carried on with an hour’s break for lunch until 4 o’clock.

The last year of our captivity was spent at Brunswick, where the camp was more comfortable …

[No doubt as a result of all this sporting activity] when I was captured in 1942 my weight was 15 st. 3 lb. ; when I was released it was down to 10 st. 5 lb.  I  put on a stone in my first month of freedom, and was back to normal in about six months.  In June I was married ; in August I played in Lord’s again, for a Lord’s XI against Central Mediterranean Forces.  Happy days indeed”.

No doubt, things weren’t always this jolly, but, as an exercise  in making the best of a bad job, this strikes me as fairly heroic – and an example to the younger generation!

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