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Two Germans and Harry Taylor, my Father

JohnT

Warstock Boy
I wonder if anyone can help me achieve a special goal? I want to find the family of two German prisoners of war and thank them for saving the life of my late father. If I am ever to do this, I need to start by finding basic information that I do not have - my father's army number, regiment, hopefully his medical record from WW2 and some kind of incident report that will lead me to the surviving family of these Germans.

My father was one of those men who preferred not to talk about his time serving in the War, and when he was still alive, I was too young and distracted by my own path in life to take a deeper interest in what he had been through. Would that he was here now for me to tell him my regret about that, but also to laugh at the foolishness of both of us! We loved one another and both knew it - I guess we both settled for that.

Anyway, all I have to go on is my father's date of birth and the knowledge that he was in the army, and his service during WW2 took him through Italy and to Egypt. To those of you who might be interested, here is the story:

MY FATHER'S DETAILS:
My father was HARRY TAYLOR (no middle name, but nicknamed "Acker"
or "H"). He was born 11th July 1916; he died in 1973 aged 57 years.

Harry's family address was 111 Arlington Road, Birmingham 14.
However, he married Ann (ne Rathbone) in August 1939 so he may have
given the Army her parents house (where she lived while he was away in the war), as his home address. This was 84 Arlington Road, Birmingham 14.

Harry was the eldest of 11 children and effectively the 'man' of the family when his father's health broke down from years labouring in a foundry. In fact, Thomas Taylor, the father, died while Harry was away in the war, followed by Violet (ne Rainey), his mother, about 4 months later. The Army would not allow Harry compassionate leave as they now regarded his wife Ann as the next of kin.

THE STORY I HAVE OF THE GERMAN POWs SAVING MY FATHER'S LIFE:
Harry Taylor was a corporal (possibly sergeant) cook responsible for feeding a battalion of 1800 men. He was in Cairo in 1942 and/or 1943 and at the bottom end of a long, L-shaped food storage hut, checking stocks against a tick-list. According to what my mother, Ann Taylor (ne Rathbone) once told me, he came to the part of the hut where large drums of cooking oil where stacked up and - amazingly - a spark created between the concrete floor and the metal studded sole of his army boot ignited some oil that had seeped from the drums onto the floor. The whole lot blew up, covering him in flaming oil, which of course stuck to him.

The two German POWs heard him screaming, ran into the hut and pulled him out of the fire, already very badly burned. They carried him outside. One of them rolled him in the dirt or sand to douse the flames, wrapped some kind of fabric material around him and tried to deal with his shock symptoms, while the other ran for medical help. The helpers and doctors that came said Harry would have perished in the fire if not for the extraordinary and rapid actions of these two men.

It seems the two Germans already had a high regard for my father. As non-Nazi POWs they had been put under his supervision to carry out menial catering work. On one rare occasion when my father did speak of all this he said he regarded and treated these POWs as "ordinary family blokes", just caught up in the war like him. Apparently he used to occasionally disguise them with spare overcoats and hats and sneak them past the camp's Military Police Guards during dark evenings, taking them out of bounds for a drink and bit of 'entertainment' in downtown Cairo. Little did he know how this kindness would be repaid to him in such a dramatic way.

It seems my father received some kind of emergency treatment first in Cairo, then was flown back (I think possibly stretchered in a bomber aircraft) to a hospital somewhere in south-east England [which I am trying to identify through research], where he spent about 10 months and had to have 18 skin graft operations, some major. I don't think anyone from his or my mother's families in Birmingham were able to visit him there. He saw none of them until he was finally transported home to Birmingham.

My mother told me that when he got back to Birmingham, he was still on crutches and had to walk some distance from wherever he was dropped off. He came slowly along Arlington Road (to my mother's parents' house, where she was living, and I was later to be born), with many neighbours along the road coming out, house after house, to greet him as a returning 'hero'. When he reached number 84, my mother was standing at the front gate, speechless with emotion, and with shyness. Although they had married shortly before the war, they hadn't seen one another for three years.

What happened next I learned about in confidence from my mother, years later. What she told me had a profound impact on me. It has stayed with me my whole life.

My father refused to enter our house at 84, and instead insisted that my mother escort him to the graveyard (some distance from Arlington Road) where his mother and father were buried. They had both died within a few months of one another while my father was serving abroad. My father was the eldest of 11 children and for some time before the war had become the surrogate patriarch of the family, his father's health and spirit having been broken by illness contracted from years of gruelling foundry work. The family wanted my father to be at his parents' funerals and to come home to support them in their shock of double-bereavement. He was desperate to come too. The army refused him compassionate leave on the
grounds that my mother was now his primary next of kin.

When my mother and father reached the cemetery containing his parents' grave, my father asked my mother to stay outside while he went in alone. She complied at first but then crept around the back of the church to watch what he did. He never knew about this and my mother only ever told me that she did this and what she saw. My father reached his parents' grave and stood for some moments transfixed. He then dropped both his crutches to the ground and struggled to stand to attention. Proudly, but clearly bursting with emotion, he then made a long soldier's salute. When he came out of the churchyard my mother was of course back at the entrance. He said nothing of what had happened and neither did she. Ever, apart from the one time my mother told me about it.

The image of this simple but poignant moment, and what it says to me about my father, is scorched in my mind, heart and soul. He was a working-class young man, a cook, a man who could serve in but also see through war, and yet a dutiful soldier. I am so fiercely proud to be the son of such a man.

I believe the two German prisoners who saved him recognised his qualities too, and they surely demonstrated their own when they did what they did. I would not be here were it not for their action. I would be grateful if anyone could help me along the trail to my father's records and beyond this to find these Germans, or more likely now, their sons and daughters, to say so.

Thanks
 

OtherHalf

posher half
blimey when you tell a story you do tell great:) sounds like your dad was a bit like mine never talked about the war all I know for certain is he was a royal marine served in egypt malta gibraltar and a few other places and all he would say was he spent most of his time in the Glasshouse:)
 

john70

master brummie
Hello John. I have my fathers war record which I got from the,
Ministry Of Defence
Bourne Avenue
Hayes
Middlesex UB3 1RF
tele. 020 8573 3831 ext.320

My dad fought in Egypt and Italy in 1942/43 also, with Montgomerys 8th. army, the Desert Rats, so its possible that your father was with the same lot. and we lived in Highters Road, Warstock, very close to you. if you get in touch with the address above they may be able to help you. John70
 

Lloyd

master brummie
What an amazing story, John, and how rightly proud you must be of your father.
If you can find out which unit he was in, their archives might just have details of the POWs allocated to work there, if you are very lucky there might be a report of the incident where he received his injuries, naming his helpers. How you find them in Germany - ????
The only other way is an article in a German newspaper or magazine - and I'm not sure how keen they are on WW2 history, even in cases like this.

I live less than half a mile from Arlington Rd, and in fact my ex-wife's family lived at 116 for many years from the late 60's onwards.
 

jennyann

master brummie
Staff member
Hi JohnT:

What an amazing story and very well recounted by yourself.
Perhaps the hospital that your father was transferred to was the
Queen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead, Surrey.
The famous Burns Surgeon from that era Archie McIndoe, whom I believe was knighted after WW2, was at that hospital. You can read about him
at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archibald_McIndoe
He was unique at that time and it is more than likely that your father was sent to that hospital.
 

JohnT

Warstock Boy
Thanks for the compliments OtherHalf. This is a story that tells itself well really, but I'm glad the strength of my feeling reminds you of your own dad. I'm sure every one of those that served were amazing in their own way.

John70 I'm really pleased to hear from you, as a fellow 'Warstock Boy'. I'll certainly follow up on the address you give me and I'll post some feedback here as to how I get on. I'd be delighted to discover that both our dads were in the Desert Rats. Actually, I have a couple of desert-style photos of my dad and some of his mates, taken in Cairo before his accident. If I can get a reasonable digital version of these I'll post them here.

Very nice to hear from you too Lloyd, and to make an indirect link with Arlington Road! 116 Arlington Road can only be 50 or 60 yards along from 84 where I was born, and my dad's family were even nearer but across the road at 111. If your ex-wife's family had been there earlier than they were, in 1953 to be exact, they would have had their kitchen table out on the street, lined up with no. 84's and everybody else's, all the way down the street. It was the coronation - a most amazing street party that I can still remember to this day. All of us kids were dressed in red, white and blue, party outfits that our parents had made specially. There was simple food and cakes galore, and old and young alike spent all afternoon in the centre of the road competing in egg and spoon races, sack races, three-legged races etc. I'm not a Royalist, but this celebration allowed the ordinary Brummies to show themselves as England's 'real' people at their best, knowing and showing what true fun and sharing could be after the dreadful dehumanisation of Hitler's war. .... Going back to what you say about the Germans still being uneasy about WW2, I agree with you, but I think that's all the more reason to get even my little story across to them, however I can. I think the young generations of Germans have mostly got themselves sorted, but there's plenty from the older generations that deserve to be constantly told that they weren't all hitlerites, because a great many of them weren't.
 

JohnT

Warstock Boy
Hi Jennyann

Thanks for your kind remarks.

Interesting that you thought of the East Grinstead Burns Unit, as another friend did too (who has a nursing background) and she put me on to this trail last year. I followed it up and got very good help from the present-day records keeper at the Unit, and from an elderly gentleman who was one of the original WW2 patients and even now is the Secretary of the very exclusive ex-Guinea Pigs Club (there's a small number of them still going, though pretty old now!).

Unfortunately, EG was mostly treating RAF Pilots who got burned in cockpit fires etc., so they found no records of my father having been a patient there. I was rather disappointed as I thought this could have been where he went for the 'mysterious' 10 months treatment. But EG have told me about a couple of other less-well-known hospital units in the South-East of England that were known for treating Army and Navy burns victims at the time, so I'm about to see if I can track down anything on these. It's a sure bet he will have been at one of them.

So watch this space!

John
:)
 

jennyann

master brummie
Staff member
Hi John: Just a try with EG. As you say there are a couple of other hospitals
that could have treated your father and I hope that you can find out some info from those sources. I will certainly"watch this space" as you say. Good luck.
 

JohnT

Warstock Boy
Just turned up my file note Jennyann and thought you might be interested,

It includes the hospitals I'm chasing:

"..
In 1938 as part of the preparations for War, four surgeons were assigned
civilian consultancies to the various military services.

These were:
Harold Gillies (Park Prewitt Hospital, Basingstoke),
Rainsford Mowlem, (Hill End Hospital, St Albans),
Tommy Kilner (Roehampton Hospital)
Archibald McIndoe (Queen Victoria Hospital)

Harold Gillies was in overall charge

In addition to the designated military casualties, all four were
expected to deal with the predicted mass civilian casualties from German
bomb attacks.
.."
 

jennyann

master brummie
Staff member
Great John. It has to be one of these hospitals that your Father received
treatment from. Hopefully, something will come up from digging around.
When you get the Army records you will have some more ammo to work with. If I come across anything relevant I will let you know.
 
W

Wendy

Guest
If you want any help with German my son speaks it fluently and knows the country well.
 

john70

master brummie
Hello John. I hope you can find out about your fathers war record, if he was in Egypt in 1942 theres a possible chance he was a desert rat with the 8th. army the same as my dad, he never spoke much about the war allthough he was at Dunkirk in 1940, at Allamien with Motgomery in 42/43, Sicily, Italy and then over to Normandy in 1944 finishing up in Berlin at the end of the war. and then came back unharmed thank god to Warstock. have a couple of photo,s of him in Egypt here he is the second from the left in the football team pic. on the back it says, how we won the war. John70
 

JohnT

Warstock Boy
Thanks Wendy. I may well take you up on the offer of help with German (and another list member who has private messaged me) as, although I speak decent French, I'm a zero with German!

Love the pics John70. I'll do my best to get the ones I have posted here too.
 
W

Wendy

Guest
Smashing photo's John 70.

Its no problem John T my son lives in the same road as us.
 

anniekei

master brummie
what a truly amazing story it bought tears to my eyes a truly remarkable man
i wish you the very best of luck with your research

regards annie
 
B

Beryl M

Guest
Hi John Although I can't really help you I just hope against hope that somehow you find these two Germans who saved you dad's life - they would be in their eighties now and oh my how it would make both yours and their day - All the Best Sincerely Beryl
 

JohnT

Warstock Boy
Thankyou Beryl

I see you have entered straight into the good 'heart' of this story. There's been a lot of heartfelt support offered to me - also matched with offers of practical help from some with links with Germany - so if it can happen I think it will. Even if it can't, I am already much cheered by the way you are all responding and trying to work with me on this. There's plenty to value in just that.

I don't hold out great hopes that the two German men are still alive, but there's a very good chance that they returned home to have daughters or sons who would now be of my age. Imagine how special it would be for us to meet in the shared pride and awe of this story?

John :)
 

jennyann

master brummie
Staff member
Hi John:
I was having a look on Google Earth doing some research for a friend
in who lives in King's Heath. I saw Arlington Road where you lived. Was it the Brandwood End Cemetery where your father went after he came back from the hospital?
It certainly was a brave thing for him to do.
 

JohnT

Warstock Boy
Very good question Jennyann, and one I have asked myself many times. I think it is Brandwood End, but I have never known for sure. If not, it would be Yardley Wood Church/graveyard - where my dad and mom married, I was christened, and they are now buried themselves.

Dad's parents were Thomas and Violet Taylor, so its a question of getting hold of whoever keeps the respective graveyard records, and I've somehow never managed to do that. Do you (or anyone reading this) know if this can be done online in anyway?
 
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