Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Book Review: Sojourn In Silesia 1940-1945 - Arthur Evans CBE

Synopsis - Arthur Charles Evans was born in 1916 in the Wirral, Cheshire.  The first years of his employment were at Lever Bros, soapworks at Port Sunlight, and then with the New Zealand Shipping Company.  One voyage to Australia and then another to New Zealand convinced him he was not meant to be a sailor.  To further his ambition to become a policeman, he enlisted in the Irish Guards in 1936.  In May 1940, he was wounded and taken prisoner in Boulogne and spent the remainder of the war in prison camps in Upper Silesia.  He returned to England in May 1945 and upon demobilisation, joined the Kent County Constabulary.  Whilst still a Police Constable, and from 1956-1967 he was the General Secretary of the Police Federation for England and Wales, and it was in this capacity that he was appointed C.B.E.  He was married to his wife Freda for 62 years, and they have 3 daughters.  He retired aged 65, and spent much of his time gardening, bowling and cooking in his Kent home, and in later years caring for Freda.  In March 2010, both Arthur and Freda moved into a local nursing home and where Arthur sadly passed away 3 days short of his 95th birthday.  Freda remains in the good care of the Nursing home.

Profit from the sale of this book will be donated to The British Red Cross at the expressed wish of Arthur in the days before he died.  He never forgot their role in his survival during his imprisonment.

Review - I have highlighted the last paragraph above, because I think it is important to flag this to my readers.

I was honoured to be asked to review this book by my RISI and Facebook friend Jo Harrison, Arthur Evans granddaughter, who is the editor of this story.  Shameless plug here for Jo's website.  Yes, I use the word story because it is Arthur's story and it is special not only to those close to him, family and friends, but because it is a humbling reminder of what our forebears went through during the World Wars of the 20th century.

I found Arthur's story very interesting partly because I had not read any accounts of POW's.  This story is not full of terror, it is told in such a way that it keeps the reader interested.  It does not dwell on horrors but gives a rounded view.  The German officers were described as ordinary humans just carrying out their jobs and you could sense that many of them did not actually like keeping these men prisoners, they were not the Gestapo.  Many of the POW's friends and comrades were killed and stories reached the inmates of Stalag VIIIB that some of those who had already left the camp had subsequently died.  The POW's weren't treated too badly, compared to many of the atrocities we read about in the German prison camps and Arthur Evans was fortunate to build up a relationship with the German officers which helped his fellow inmates.  A special man, he taught himself to speak German to not only help himself and the other prisoners, but it also made it easier for the Germans.  His story shows that the Germans respected him.  Of course, the POW's would not have had parcels of food and clothing if it were not for the work of the Red Cross and later on we hear that Mr Evans own family and friends in his home town contributed financially to ensure that he received clothing and food.  He was fortunate to survive after his illnesses and surgeries and ironically, we hear later on that had he remained in London serving in a desk job he would have been killed.

It is hard to imagine what these heroes went through, although my late 'older' Mother (born the same year as Arthur) had provided clerical services in the war as a typist she did not seem inclined to enter discussion on the subject, this was something my family wanted to forget.  My uncles did not discuss their war years either. The closest to stories I ever got were from my late father-in-law who had kept an album of his photos from the Royal Navy.  It is important that our children learn these important historical facts and I would recommend this book to all - it is quite an insight both into the camp at Lamsdorf and into the part that Arthur played in being a major part of the POW community.  I don't think it is fair to rate a book like this, how can you give a star rating to such an autobiography. I want to jump on the promotional bandwagon here and recommend it, read it to your children, grandchildren, pupils etc.

The book has been published by Completely Novel ISBN: 978-1-84914-463-5 or you can buy it from Amazon ASIN: B0058KTHL0.

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