Different experiences of being a PoW in Germany

……from one family, in two World Wars!

Valery Hollier is the grand-daughter of Edgar and Alice Teresa Blake. Edgar Blake was the manager of The World Stores in East Street, in Alresford, at number 15, which is now the hairdressers. The World Stores (or, looking at the picture, maybe it was called the Worlds Stores) was in East Street from around the 1920s until the 1950s: Pat Bentley and Audrey Chalk remember the World Stores in the 1950s, Pat from his paper round (See Alresford Articles Number 4) – and Audrey worked in the shop for a time.

Edgar and Alice Blake, probably in the 1930s

Edgar and Alice Blake, probably in the 1930s

Edgar and Alice had four children, Kenneth, Marjorie, Primrose [Valery’s Mum, known as Peggy] and Barbara. Barbara is still alive, living in Winchester, aged 92, and Valery, born in 1946, lives in Bournemouth, but returns to Alresford to visit whenever she can.

Edgar Blake in WW1

In WW1 Edgar Blake was in the Royal Hampshire Regiment, fighting at the Somme. A shell exploded close to him, and it blew half his face away: these very bad injuries led to his comrades leaving him where he lay, believing he would die. The advancing German troops found him and took him back to a field hospital – this led to a series of 22 operations on his face, rebuilding it and using skin grafts from his chest. Valery says that each operation was photographed and written up in German: at the side of each photograph each procedure was described. This album is now to be passed to a museum from one of her cousins in Hertfordshire. During his treatment Edgar heard one of the Doctors say that “This one will not make old bones”, implying a short life expectancy. In this diagnosis they were wrong, in that he lived until March 1977, achieving the age of 89. His face was always disfigured, and he had to eat what Valery calls ‘sloppy food’ – like shepherd’s pie, home-made soups etc. Alice died in 1963, and both of them are interred in St John’s churchyard: in their retirement they lived at 8 Bridge Road.

Peggy Blake and Len Swatton in WW2

Peggy Blake was living in Alresford at the outbreak of WW2, and was courting Leonard (Len) Reginald Swatton, from Winchester, at the outbreak of WW2: he went off to France with the 51st Highland Division of the Royal Horse Artillery. Early in February 1940 Peggy received a telegram saying “See the Vicar , we are getting married!”. With leave from France and a special license they were married, on 14 February 1940 in St John’s Church. Only 3 days later Len went back to Europe via Chideock in Devon: he was captured by the Germans in late May/early June 1940 at St Valery en Caux. Because, despite the events, he liked the name of the place, this is why Valery, who arrived after the war in 1946, was given the name, with the unusual spelling. She was christened by Canon Robertson Len was a POW for five years, held in the Stalag VIIIB camp near Auschwitz in Southern Germany. When he was released in 1945 he told Valery [as a child] that the Germans marched them round and round in circles, but later she discovered this was what was known as The Death March, with prisoners trudging around Germany between January and March 1945.

Strange comparison

It is ironic that two members of the same family could have had such contrasting treatment as POWs of the Germans in the two wars. But at least both survived the war to come home.

And the Worlds Stores as it looked today:



Comment from Valerie, August 5th 2014:

Thank you, thank you, SO much for the wonderful “Write up” with regards to my Grandfather and my own Father during World Wars I and II, in your reminiscences.


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Len Strong. on July 7, 2014 at 9:32 am

    Lovely story Valery. Truth often stranger than fiction. We were brought up to respect Mr. Blake at the World Stores and not poke fun at his ‘funny face’. Little did we know of the circumstances and the good treatment he had from the Germans.


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