Prisoners of War at The Manor
In the early years of the Second World War there were few prisoners taken by British forces, and rather than being held in Britain, they were generally sent further away to parts of the British Empire, but this situation changed dramatically following the North African campaign which began in June 1940. The Desert War, as it became known, culminated in the surrender of the Axis forces in May 1943, leaving the Allies with tens of thousands of German and Italian prisoners. More than half of these were shipped to the USA where they remained until the end of the war. The German troops held under British jurisdiction were housed in camps in the Middle East, but German officers and all Italian prisoners were shipped to the UK.
This influx of Italian POWs presented one way of alleviating labour shortages, particularly in agriculture. The prisoners were housed in hundreds of camps and small hostels spread right across Britain. Many of the camps have been identified in recent years, but the smaller hostels, like the one at Goadby Marwood, are known about only because of the recollections of local residents. In some places, prisoners were billeted directly on the farms, and by 1944 there were an estimated 157,000 Italian POWs working in the UK. These were later joined by German prisoners who underwent a programme of political re-education or 'de-Nazification' that partly determined how soon individuals were repatriated following the end of the war.
In the late 1930s, The Manor on Main Street in Goadby Marwood, previously owned by the Holmes family, was purchased by Lord Digby who used it as a hunting lodge but visited only very occasionally. In the early 1940s, the large, empty property in the centre of the village was requisitioned by the War Agricultural Executive Committee, to initially house conscientious objectors, and later Italian and German prisoners of war.
War Agricultural Committees were formed immediately on the outbreak of war in September 1939. Their members had been selected before the war and were appointed directly by the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries. The Committees consisted of around a dozen members, predominantly landowners and farmers, who were given delegated powers by the Minister under the wartime Defence Regulations. The Committees were tasked with getting full production from the land in their particular county.
After performing surveys of rural land in their area, each Committee was given the power to serve orders to farmers requiring work to be done, or, in some cases, to take possession of the land. Committees could decide, on a farmer's behalf, which crops should be planted in which fields in order to best increase the production of foodstuffs in their areas, and they administered the various grant and subsidy schemes, the rationing of feedstuffs and fertilisers, and the provision of goods and services on credit.
The War Agricultural Committee installed an experienced farm manager to run the POW hostel at Goadby and to ensure that the prisoners were taken out each day to work on the surrounding farms. The appointed manager was Walter Leonard Casey.
Walter was born on October 12th, 1909, in Gedney Dyke, Lincolnshire, to farmer, Walter Charles Casey and his wife, Nellie Amy Kitchen; he grew up on the family farm with his two sisters and two older brothers.
In the summer of 1930, Walter married Lucy Maud Mary Hutchinson, a farmer’s daughter from Holbeach, and the eldest daughter in a family of seven children. The 1939 National Register, taken on the outbreak of war, recorded the couple living in Gedney Dyke with their nine-year-old son, Tony Leonard. As an agricultural worker, Walter was in a reserved occupation, so instead of being drafted into the armed services, he was sent by the War Agricultural Committee to Goadby Marwood to manage the POW hostel.
Whilst Walter’s time was taken up arranging the day to day work schedules for the prisoners, Lucy was responsible for maintaining the hostel and cooking for the entire Manor household. Walter was assisted by fellow War Agricultural Committee draftees, including Fred Dann, and Lucy had help from local members of the Women’s Land Army.
In the summer of 1943, Walter and Lucy were blessed by the arrival of a second child, a daughter whom they named Sandra June. Although a very young child at the time, Sandra has fond memories of her life at The Manor and in 2020 she kindly shared her recollections with The Goadby Marwood History Group:
I was born at The Manor in Goadby Marwood in June 1943. My brother, Tony, now deceased, was 13 at the time. I lived at the Manor until I was five when our time there came to an end. In fact, I started school at Waltham and my brother worked at the garage there.
Albert Brewin is a name I remember as he was about my age. I also recall Mr. and Mrs. Price who lived opposite and had a son called Philip in the Navy and a daughter, Barbara. She later lived in Leicester when I was in my teens. Mr. Price was the Butler at Goadby Hall and Mrs. Price sometimes used to look after me when mum was busy.
Dad used to take me sometimes to 'The Hall’. I remember the woods and it was the only time I ever saw red squirrel. I’ve still not seen another!
My mum told me how reluctant many of the POWs were to leave, especially the Italians. She told me that they said to her "Madam, we have no bread." Presumably they were hungry at home; a lot of them came from poor areas of Naples. They were mostly conscripts, and probably reluctant soldiers. Mum was in touch with some of them for quite a time after the war but unfortunately any correspondence has been lost. Some of them spoke a little English but they spoke to each other in Italian, and mum used to say I had more Italian words than English when I was two.
The German prisoners were great wooden toy makers and I can remember them celebrating Christmas at The Manor. One of my earliest memories is of rows and rows of sausage rolls and mince pies on a long pine table in the kitchen. The kitchen had oil lamps and a big range cooker.
I think it was 1947 when there was a big freeze, the drifts were higher than my head and dad walked across the fields to Scalford for bread.
Sometime near the end of the war I recall there was a fire at the back of the house. I think it was a haystack on fire, but was caused by an aircraft dumping bombs. I was quite small and remember being terrified. I stood at the bottom of the steps near the back door of The Manor watching the light from the flames.
The last POWs in Britain were released in 1948. Following the closure of the hostel, Walter and his family left Goadby Marwood, and The Manor was occupied by civilian tenants. Unlike camps in Germany which were kept hidden, the prison camps and hostels in Britain became well known locally and in effect were settlements forming part of the wider civilian landscape. POW labour made a significant and valuable contribution to the agricultural economy. Many prisoners formed close bonds within the communities in which they worked and lived, and elected to stay after 1948, joining the British civilian population.
When they left Goadby Marwood, Walter and Lucy Casey moved to Nether Hall near Leicester and then to Foxton near Market Harborough, where Walter found work on a local farm. In the mid-1950s, the family moved to Horninghold in Leicestershire, where Walter was employed by landowner and amateur race horse trainer, Frank Gilman, working the land and helping to care for some of the horses. Walter retired in October 1974, but tragically, the day after his retirement dinner, he and Lucy drove to Lincolnshire to visit relatives, and on the way back they were involved in a car accident in which Lucy was killed. Sadly, the couple enjoyed just one day of the retirement they had worked so hard for and were looking forward to enjoying together. Walter carried on working in Horninghold for a couple of years, but he never fully recovered and he died at his daughter’s home in 1977; he was just 68 years old.
In 1982, Frank Gilman famously won the Grand National with his home-bred, nine-year-old gelding, Grittar, an achievement that would no doubt have made Walter ecstatic had he still been alive to witness it.