Nazi swastika found on Broads village house suggests German POWs laboured there
- Credit: Nick Butcher
German prisoners of war left their mark in a Broadland village with phrases like “I’m cold” and “seig heil.”
Among the newly discovered messages etched on slate roof tiles in Acle are a Nazi swastika and the German phrase “Arbeit macht das leben suss”, which translates as “work makes life sweet”.
The inscriptions are being hailed as valuable because they reveal a forgotten chapter in wartime village life.
They were discovered by builders doing work on Coburg House in The Street, the village’s first telephone exchange and now a private home.
Brian Grint, chairman of the Acle Community Archive, said they were fascinating and poignant messages from the Second World War.
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Since being alerted to the find Mr Grint had scoured the records but found no trace of German POW’s ever working in the village.
However, Acle did suffer its share of war damage and was targeted by bombs and incendiaries in March and October 1943 and on one occasion a German plane machine gunned the village street.
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Therefore he speculated it was more than possible that POWs from camps in Mousehold, Norwich, and in Diss, could have been commandeered to carry out repairs – the scratched messages being the only evidence that it ever took place.
“I am just really surprised,” he said. “And I hope somebody will come forward who remembers them coming here or knows something about it.”
One other unknown person writes simply “George” – possibly an inscription left by a British supervisor.
Mr Grint said the personal messages indicated the work probably took place in the winter and it is known that the telephone exchange was reinforced for protection during the war.
The comment about work possibly indicated that the prisoners were happy to be out and away from the routines and restrictions of camp life and maybe doing something more akin to their life in civvy street before the army.
Under the Geneva Convention prisoners of war could not be forced to work while in captivity.
Given the choice, many chose to work harvesting, digging ditches or repairing fences or in the construction industry, rebuilding homes damaged by bombing, or clearing bomb damage.
German POWs in Norfolk
According to English Heritage there were over 1,000 prisoner of war camps across the UK and Channel Islands.
In Norfolk and North Suffolk there were estimated to be around 600.
Many were hastily assembled and just as quickly pulled down after the war, making it difficult to be precise about location and scale.
Airfields and stately homes were among places that put up prisoners, often in Nissen huts.
Kilverstone Hall, in Thetford, Mousehold Heath, Wolterton near Aylsham, Uplands at Diss, Ellough Airfield at Beccles, and Flixton airfield at Bungay all helped the nation to accommodate the influx of prisoners, estimated at around 400,000 nationally.
German prisoners of war were allocated the same food ration as British servicemen but they had no information about their families, the state of their country, or when they would be released.