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Cockermouth Post Article June 2014 – World War II and a German POW’s story

As well as marking the outbreak of WWI, this year also commemorates the D-Day Landings of WWII. By the time you read this, ceremonies will have taken place to remember the crucial D-Day landings which began on June 6th 1944. This marked one of the greatest war-time invasions in history. Operation Overlord, as it was called, had had to be put back twenty-four hours because of bad weather. Many soldiers were hit by gunfire as they tried to wade ashore from the landing-craft. Once onshore they had to contend with hidden mines and other explosive devices, together with very little cover for protection from gunfire. There would have been many Cumbrian soldiers amongst these troops – was a relative of yours there? We would very much like to hear about their experiences. Or maybe they were involved in the Battle of Arnhem, another crucial battle, which took place in September 1944. Please get in touch if you are able to pass on information or photographs.

About a month ago I visited a small village in eastern Germany to interview a German former prisoner-of-war, Wolfgang Koeppe, who was held at Dalston Camp, near Carlisle from 1946 until early 1949. His is quite an unusual story in that he was encouraged to attend the School of Art in Carlisle, then based in Tullie House, once his talent as an artist had been recognised by the Camp Commandant and an Education Officer in Carlisle. Interestingly, he told me that he had been captured, aged just eighteen, at the D-Day Landings. He, like some of his colleagues, was in control of a very large cannon, pulled by a team of twelve horses. He had had very little training and recalls one incident, prior to the fighting, when they were taking the cannons to be put in position, but the team of horses in front of him could not hold the weight of the cannon as it went down a steep hill and tried to negotiate a bend in the road. The horses and cannon were pushed right through a house, demolishing it and killing many of the horses. When they reached their emplacements and the landings began he remembers the intensity of the shell-fire and noise, and the terror of waiting to be killed. He survived but was taken prisoner, shocked by what he had experienced and plagued by recurrent nightmares. His eventual return to the Russian-occupied sector of East Germany was difficult for many years but he eventually was able to earn a living as an artist.

Gloria Edwards

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