Prisoners of war
As the war progressed captured prisoners both Italian and German became a daily sight. They were dressed in chocolate coloured uniformed, similar to normal British Ary battledress, but with large round patches on the back, in a contrasting and vivid colour like red or yellow. Our local prisoners were encamped at Ely on the site now occupied by the golf course. First came the Italians many of whom were captured in North Africa following the Battle of El Alamein and the subsequent defeat of the Axis forces in that area. I first met the enemy whilsts going to school on the train to March every morning.
A contingent of about 20 prisoners travelled each day to work in the Railway marshalling yards at Whitemoor and used the same trains as us. We treated them with deference at at first as we had been taught to believe that the hated enemy ate children for breakfast. However with the natural curiosity of children we eventually fraternised with them and were surprised that they were human, like us. One of them an ex-teacher from Milan was a gentleman, a father figure who helped me with my Latin homework and had taken the trouble to learn English which he spoke remarkably well. His name was Alfredo Misianni.
In lighter moments Alfy would perform a feat of strength-with his hair! He would put one foot on each seat of the carriage compartment and invite us lads, one at a time of course to grab a handful of his curly hair, while he was bending down. He would then straighten up and lift us off our feet and we must have wieghed about a hundredweight each a the time. Not wishing to be upstaged and having hari of a similar nature I attempted to emulate his act. In this I was successful but I am now bald!
Many of these Italians were employed on local farms; they seemed to enjoy the work and indeed some of them stayed here when their compatriots were repatriated at the cessation of hostilities. Following the Italians came the German prisoners also encamped at Ely. My father employed a gang of twelve for two days to harvest the onions. They came from all walks of life, a circus strongman named August Knoop, an aged man-well probably 45, ex-submarines, but a textile worker by trade ("I make towels to wash my hands and face"). The youngest of the party kept crying for no apparent reason. I learned that it was his eighteenth birthday and he had been a prisoner for two years. I think he was missing his mum.