MARBURY Hall is being brought back to life as volunteers carefully unpick its past.
Friends of Anderton and Marbury (FoAM) have been researching the history of the former stately home, which was demolished in 1968.
Its use during Second World War has proved particularly fascinating as FoAM member Clive Brookes explains.
“Following the invasion of France on D-Day June 6, 1944 Allied forces found themselves having to fight very hard to break out of the French province of Normandy,” he said.
“American soldiers who had previously been based at Marbury Hall and Pettypool sustained very heavy casualties in recapturing the vital port of Cherbourg.
“Eventually the Allies did breakout of Normandy and encircled many German troops in the Battle of the Falaise gap.
“About 100,000 prisoners were taken in one month alone and were rapidly shipped out of France to prisoner of war camps, including Marbury Hall, which was hurriedly given back by the American army to the British Prisoner of War Division.
“Approximately 50 army camps the size of Marbury Hall were needed just to house the prisoners from this one battle alone.”
Marbury Hall was classified as a main working camp and housed ordinary soldiers, rather than officers.
It also became the administrative centre for 16 satellite camps, or hostels, across Cheshire and housed a variety of prisoners.
These included ‘black’ prisoners, classified as hardened Nazis who were still pro-Hitler and including the SS, Hitler Youth troops and paratroopers, ‘grey’ prisoners, whose views were unclear, and ‘white’ anti-Hitler prisoners.
Clive said: “This split in attitudes was soon clear.
“Four prisoners escaped from Marbury in December 1944 and reached Burtonwood airfield, in Warrington, where they were recaptured trying to steal an aircraft.
“Almost simultaneously, other prisoners were making and sending Christmas cards to British camp staff and some were preparing a concert and setting up a camp orchestra which gave a concert on 24 February 24, 1945.
“The programme was written in English and featured several English and American songs.”
A camp education department was established, staffed by ‘white’ Germans, and lessons were given in English.
English and German newspapers and magazines were available and there was a programme of guest lecturers to stimulate debate.
Fraternisation with the neighbouring community was encouraged from Christmas 1946.
“Re-education did largely succeed,” Clive said.
“Sergeant Bert Trautmann, who was later the famous Manchester City goalkeeper, arrived at Marbury just a few days after Hitler died in 1945.
“He was at first classified as a black prisoner and put in West camp, next to Comberbach village.
“When Bert's black team played the white team on their pitch they were abused and barracked by the white supporters.
“Bert even took a swing at one abuser and the match was a very rough affair.
“It took all the efforts of the Polish prison guards to keep the two sides apart.
“Bert eventually changed his outlook radically and in November 2004 was awarded the OBE for helping to improve Anglo-German relations.
“In late 1947, just before the camp closed and all prisoners were either repatriated or released to live in Britain, the German leaders of Marbury camp education department and the camp organised the creation of a book of drawings.
“This book was reproduced and it seems every prisoner leaving Marbury and its satellite camps was to receive a copy to take home.
“ Its title was ‘Underway with a Drawing Pencil’.
“A copy has been recently discovered by Stephen Cohu an antiques dealer in Jersey and very generously donated.”
Anyone with any more information can contact FoAM by visiting firstname.lastname@example.org or writing to FOAM c/o The Rangers’ Office, Marbury Country Park, Comberbach, Northwich, Cheshire, CW9 6AT.