Graham Armitage is a resident of Stoney Middleton, he is a published author who said he had for some time wanted to write a book about the village. The heritage project along with funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund is to make that a reality. The book is to be a comprehensive writing on the village, its history and its people. Below is a small and early extract from the book, he reminds us that this may not be the final draft.
By popular demand (well Colin asked me to,to be exact) I am placing some more material from “The Forgotten Village on the Centre website.
Readers should bear in mind that this is still a Work in Progress and there may be some revisions before the final version.Indeed I would entirely welcome the input of anyone who feels I have got something wrong.
Equally we have more material on World War 2 to be transcribed and would welcome still further information from anyone who can supply it.
Also we are understandably short of World War 1 information and if anyone can remember anything from recollections perhaps told to them by parents and grandparents that would be invaluable.
FIRST WORLD WAR
Throughout the towns and villages of Derbyshire (and most other counties too to be fair but we are concerned with Derbyshire here) if you walk into either the town/village square or to it’s churchyard you are almost certain to encounter a monument to the dead of what became known as the Great War.
If killing people in unprecedented quantities for no obvious good purpose is a qualification for greatness then it could be argued that the term can be justified but “Great” is not the word that comes most readily to my mind.
In any event Stoney Middleton is no exception to the rule and our monument is located in St.Martin’s churchyard and lists the names of the dead.
Sadly my research skills do not extend to been able to provide biographical details of each of these men but it is still worth reproducing the names here.
One of the questions that interested me most when I began to talk to long time residents of Stoney Middleton was whether any personal recollections of the First World War might be forthcoming-albeit given the passage of time since that conflict any such recollections would obviously be at one remove-the people I was talking to repeating memories passed to them by their own parents or grandparents.
Recollections,as we shall see, did emerge but from the first interviews done with the “Men in the Moon” it was apparent that this was not going to be the easiest of seams to mine.
Several of the men around the table in the Moon had had fathers,uncles and other relatives in the Great War but time after time the phrase “he never talked about it” was used.
One exception was Norman Bettney (?) who said that his father had been in the trenches and was still pulling shrapnel out of his leg in 1935.This was due to the landing of a shell in the trench he was occupying at the time in a group of six people five of whom were killed outright.
SECOND WORLD WAR
In structuring this section of the book I could think of no better way to begin than with the fascinating recollections of Cesare Dinari,who was a POW in Stoney Middleton during the war and then to move on from these memories to those provided by village residents living at the time.
For a full account of the life and times of Cesare Dinari particularly during his sojurn in the UK in the Second World War I would refer the reader enthusiastically to the recordings available from either the Stoney Middleton Heritage Centre or its website.
As far as this book is concerned we are mainly interested in the information Cesare can provide regarding Stoney Middleton when he was a prisoner of war in the village during World War Two,but there is no harm in including a little background on his life.
Cesare was born in Italy in 1922 and lived variously in Rimini,Naples and Moderna before joining the Italian Army in January 1942.
Eventually shipped out to Tunisia in January 1943* he appears to have arrived at a point where the war in that part of the world was swinging against Italy and in May 1943 he was captured by the English.
Cesare still speaks English with a heavy Italian accent and it can be a little difficult to fully understand absolutely everything he says but it does appear that in his brief exposure to warfare he saw some horrific things, including the beheading of a fellow soldier during the bombing of a truck in which they were both travelling.
*[Apropos of nothing in particular I was ,by coincidence,working my way through the highly entertaining six volume history of his Second World War experiences penned by Spike Milligan when I listened to Cesare’s account.It is an interesting curiousity that Spike’s war seems for a considerable period of time to have mirrored that of Cesare.Spike also spent over a year in barracks before been posted to Tunisia.Ironically Spike eventually ended up in Italy but in both accounts one feature that emerges is how much time soldiers,even in wartime,can spend without seeing any action or firing a shot.Both accounts gel with other wartime accounts given by former World War Two British soldiers to whom I have spoken.No disrespect intended to anyone in any way incidentally-but it is an interesting point that it seems quite common for warfare to consists of long periods of sitting around doing not much of anything punctuated by occasional spells of brief,although no doubt intense,action.]
In relative terms it is probable that for his future welfare his capture may well have been a stroke of good fortune as,following a journey to Algeria,he found himself on a ship heading for England-albeit he didn’t know he was UK bound until he arrived.
His greatest fear during the journey,not without irony,was the threat from German U Boats!
After setting foot on English shores for the first time he was given fresh clothing (a great relief as what he had been wearing was by this time thoroughly infested with insect life) and put on what he charmingly describes as “a very nice train with a Red Cross lady”.
Alongside around 700 other men he was eventually offered the opportunity of either simply marking time in a prison camp or working and thereby earning at least a nominal amount of money.
Together with approximately 500 of his compatriots he opted to take the latter option and found himself in the POW camp by now constructed in Stoney Middleton.
The camp,as we have observed elsewhere, was located at the entrance to the village (assuming you are travelling from the Sheffield side) in what is now the housing development on the right directly opposite the football ground.
The work for which Cesare had been “recruited” was mainly in the local quarries-he recalls been driven around Dove Hall Quarry in a jeep-and on the whole he enjoyed the outdoor work despite finding the cold English weather less than amenable.
In addition he supplemented his income by offering to work for a local farmer who rewarded him with renumeration in the form of £1(worth a lot more in those days than now to be fair) and a glass of beer.
More generally it is clear from both Cesare’s account and stories related by local residents around at the time that the treatment received by Italian POWs and Displaced Persons (who, as recounted elsewhere, also spent time in the Stoney Middleton camp) was very different to that extended to German POWs.
For example Cesare recalls playing football both in the camp and against a team of locals-including one containing Norman…who’s own recollections of this and many other matters appear elsewhere.
He also refers to taking part in singing with British troops and also acquiring a bicycle and riding it around the Derbyshire countryside.
In fact the governing regime seems to have been incredibly relaxed and,no doubt to Cesare’s great delight,included having Saturdays and Sundays “off” and been allowed to travel a distance of 50 miles without hindrance from the authorities.This freedom extended to romancing the “local” young ladies some of whom were more than happy to come over from Sheffield to spend time with the exotic and,presumably,attractive young Italian men.
Reading “between the lines” of his narrative Cesare and ,one would guess,many of his compatriots seem to have had the time of their lives and was probably sorry to have to go back to Italy when eventually repatriated in 1946 –by then 24 years of age and in very many ways (some perhaps best not dwelt on in detail in these pages) going back as a man having arrived as a boy.
If nothing else his amorous adventures provided him with a couple of entertaining anecdotes.
One of these involved a young lady of his acquitance bidding him farewell one Saturday with what he understood as the single word “Abysinia” .
Baffled as to why his amour had chosen to end a pleasant afternoon by suddenly mentioning the name of a country his home nation was currently occupying.
In fact she had said “I’ll be seeing you”-a “breakdown in communication” to use a modern term-although overall Cesare and the ladies appear to have achieved a more than adequate level of mutual understanding.
A second story entails Cesare deciding to ask the farmer he was helping if it was OK to borrow his “ knife for five minutes”.
Unfortunately English is apparently not an easy language to learn for non-residents and Cesare mistakenly used the word “wife” instead of “knife”.
The “Abysinia” misunderstanding would have created nothing worse than confusion but one can only imagine the farmer’s reaction when this virile young Italian was apparently asking for the loan of his spouse.
If the lady herself was privy to the conversation she may well have felt disappointed that this potential Latin Lover wanted her attentions for no more than five minutes.
In the event all was clearly resolved without bloodshed and Cesare was left with another fond memory of his stay in England.
For those wanting to hear more of Cesare’s adventures the recording mentioned above goes on to recount his subsequent moving on to Nottingham and then London followed by his return to Italy and eventual spending of time in the Yukon,Canada.
A fascinating story from a man who ended up seeing a great deal of the world but who still remembers and returns to Stoney Middleton.
Other anecdotal and personal recollections of the Second World War were understandably easier to obtain than those of the First as many interviewees had gone through it and experiences from both the conflict itself and the Home Front were readily forthcoming.
Thankfully the Second World War did not extract anything like the toll in lost lives that the First did and in fact the village monument shows only four names:-
Of these apparently Mr.Pinder in fact lost his life whilst aboard a tram in Glasgow which was hit by a German bomb.
John Nugent I understand was shot down during a bombing raid on Mannheim.
Turning to individual recollections Norman Bettney spent two years in Palestine whilst another of the “Men in the Moon” was actually an RAF navigator and took part in the Dambusters Raid as well as the “dry runs” that took place over Ladybower Reservoir.
He is also able to recollect the creation of the reservoir and the flooding of the village of Ladybower which made this possible as well as the official opening of Ladybower by the king in 1945-albeit work on the dam had not been fully completed at this time.
Back on the Home Front the first German bomb to land in the vicinity of Stoney Middleton was dropped on Hucklow.If Hitler imagined that anyone in the area was going to be intimidated by this he was to be proven mistaken.Norman Bettney ,along no doubt with many others,hurried over to the bomb site to collect some shrapnel as a souvenir.
Members of the Longden family also recollected collecting shrapnel as a souvenir following the dropping of a bomb which contrived to land in a local tar pit.It is tempting to wonder just how much Second World War debris is still hanging around in the village.
Norman also recalls been on the local football field when two German bombers decided to dispose of excess materiel they had not used in a raid on Manchester by dropping it on the Stoney Middleton Quarry.
The Germans were then shot down by a Dutch Fighter Squadron-once again demonstrating the foolishness of “messin’ “with Stoney Middleton.
Equally members of the Mason family recall been machine gunned by German planes whilst making their way across local fields whilst the Longden family remembered similar planes flying low enough for the wind of their passing to whip leaves off the trees.
As well as manned bombers the Germans were also fond of sending over V1s and V2s and Doodlebugs.
These were principally aimed at Manchester and Liverpool and were recognisable by the “bang,bang,bang” sound made by their engines-apparently though you could reasonably relax as long as you could hear them-it was when the sound stopped that you might have cause for concern.
An interesting postscript to all of this is that a UXB was actually found in the village brook a few years ago with the Bomb Disposal Squad having to be called in to take the appropriate action.
Notwithstanding these assaults the British were fighting back undeterred and everyone was “doing their bit” for the war effort-the “Men in the Moon” recalling that the water wheel adjacent to the village waterfall was taken so,presumably,it could be melted down.Given that it was described to me as a metal wheel,albeit with “wooden doings”, no doubt it served some worthwhile purpose in the defeat of the Axis powers.
On a more serious note food was genuinely very much in short supply and from the “Ladies in the Chapel” interview came the information that village residents frequently made sandwiches containing only Dandelion leaves to add some relative “spice” to their diet.
Similiarly meat was of course heavily rationed during the war but the village was permitted to keep a communal pig.
It was fattened up during the year and on Christmas Day a man “from the Ministry” came over from Dronfield to slaughter the unfortunate beast.
Once this was done the animal was then roasted and the meat sub-divided equally amongst all the villagers.Apparently everyone received a plate and,for whatever reason,you were required to return your plate unwashed.
Notwithstanding the general nastiness going on elsewhere memories of the local Internment Camp confirm the version of events supplied by Cesare Dinari that local residents treated the POWs well.
It was generally true that the Italians were let out of the camp readily and the Germans were not but Norman recalls playing football against both and that all POWs got tea,coffee and sugar at half time.
In a similar vein Peggy Jones recalls going carol singing on Christmas Eve, Christmas Afternoon and Christmas Night (something she still does to this day) during the war and singing “Silent Night” for the German POWs. They responded with a carol in German, sending a shiver down Peggy’s spine that she can recall to this day.
As the war progressed the camp initially housed Italians,then added Germans and towards the end became a centre for Displaced Persons.
Amongst these were people from a wide variety of nations-including Ukrainians and Latvians-two of the latter choosing to stay and marry local village girls.
Indeed in the chaos that followed the end of the War many prisoners on both sides did not get home until some years after hostilities had formally ceased.
People could recall German prisoners helping to dig snow during the bad winter of 1947.
John Hancock also remembers forming a friendship with a prisoner called Kurt Selser and continuing to exchange letters with him after he had returned to his home in Balenbach, Germany. This correspondence continued until Kurt’s death approximately ten years ago.
Peggy likewise remembers the POWs making toys for the village children-including a wooden dacshound constructed in three parts.
This experience was echoed by the Longden family who spoke of been helped at their farm by POWs Joseph and Hans. Joseph also enjoyed constructing wooden toys-for example excelling in the carving of pecking hens.
Joseph and Hans were apparently so well treated in the village that they showed little or no enthusiasm for returning home-reinforcing the impressions of the “Men in The Moon”.
Possibly my favourite World War Two related story,however, concerns two young men who had survived the war and returned home to live in their parents home.
One of the pair had been a Staff Sargeant and both had no doubt successfully defied the might of the Wehrmacht,the Luftwaffe and the Gestapo.
On this particular evening they had been to a dance in a nearby village and on the bus home met two young ladies who were holidaying in a caravan based at Calver.
Invited back the two young heroes apparently stayed until 4.00 a.m. before returning home to be confronted by angry parents with the inevitable “where the bl**dy hell have you been?”.
Their status as fighting men cut no ice with their respective mothers and the Staff Sargeant found himself grounded for a week.
Fighting Hitler must have been a doddle by comparison!