Sunday, February 20, 2005

Homesick PoWs kept up spirits with hand-made Post

"Andrew Robinson

AMONG the memorabilia handed to Bullecourt Museum is an issue of the Kriegie Edition of the Yorkshire Post, written by inmates of Stalag Luft VI, a prisoner-of-war camp at Heydekrug, Lithuania, on the bleak Baltic coast.

It was produced by Yorkshiremen in the camp – 254 in all – who had formed a White Rose Club in February 1944. (Kriegie was adapted from Kriegesfangene – prisoner-of-war).

During his time at the camp, the newspaper's former employee Richard Pape compiled and edited the book, drawing on the talents of White Rose Club members.

Mr Pape worked as an artist in the Yorkshire Post publicity department before joining the RAF. He later described in his bestseller, Boldness Be My Friend, how he hit on the idea as a way to keep spirits high among the fellow homesick PoWs.

Although spurred on by camp leader James 'Dixie' Deans, producing it was easier said than done. Pen nibs had been confiscated by the Germans due to the large amount of forged documents, so a resourceful former instrument maker made some "superb, flexible" nibs from steel tape binding from Red Cross crates.

Mr Pape told how it became an obsession. He spent from dawn until dusk compiling its contents and editing by hand the 30,000 words into 93 pages, most nights falling exhausted into bed and still wearing his boots.

Wily lookouts kept watch for German guards, calling out codewords as a warning. "Goons up" meant he had to quickly remove three floorboards to hide his papers and lie on his bed complaining of chest pains. A cry "Goons gone" and the work resumed.

It was finished in five weeks, bound using two sheets of plywood, polished with brown shoe polish to give it "the look of seasoned oak" and carved with the Yorkshire Rose. Once completed, it reached England in a little over five weeks, via Sweden by undisclosed means.

After vetting by military authorities, it went to the Yorkshire Post, which printed souvenir copies for the next-of-kin of the fliers of the White Rose Club.
Winston Churchill praised the Kriegie Edition, writing: "It is an interesting and moving record of the talent shown by these prisoners during the years of their captivity."

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