Zelda Dunlop gave a warm homecoming to liberated POWs who were not, in fact home at all. Queensmead House in Windsor provided provisional quarters for ex-POWs from the far reaches of the British Empire. Liberated but not yet home, the men found freedom at the House and a friend in Zelda.
How did you become involved?
“After Germany surrendered and the camps were being liberated, these men came over. The POWs came from Germany first of all.
I would say 15 was probably the most we took. It wasn’t that large, the house.
As nurses we were very excited. It brought us very much more into the front line, in a way. We thought that it was marvellous to have these chaps come back. They were in khaki uniforms. Having soldiers was quite exciting.
They weren’t English, of course. They were chaps from what we called the Empire in those days. This was the point: they came to the centre because they had nowhere else in England to go to.
We had one or two who were Anglo-Indians. One chap was from [what was then] Rhodesia and one man from Guernsey. There were people who came from Hong Kong: the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Force. Quite a few chaps belonged to that.
Well, they weren’t expected to go straight [back] into the Army once they were liberated from the camps. They weren’t really fit for that.”
Any special memories ?
“My first diary entry about it was 25 April 1945, when we’d already got eight prisoners of war. [The house] had a doctor who was on call. And one of our local GPs came when he was needed. He didn’t have a definite routine of seeing them all.
We nurses [did] the housework and the cooking and the serving of meals. But in point of fact we did a lot more with them in our off-duty hours, like playing tennis with them; going to church with one or two of them.
We used to have them home to tea at our own homes. I remember one night having 11 people to my home. We used to go to the cinema with them. There was a party given for them at the Guildhall in Windsor, a POW party.
The ex-POWs were with us for several months. One was involved in whether they wanted to talk about what they’d been through. I honestly can’t remember much in the way of conversations like that. I think maybe they didn’t want to talk about it.
[But I had] got a map of German prisoner of war camps. This map is of Germany and it has all the different prisoner of war camps marked on it.
Life in most POW camps was frustrating, uncertain, boring and depressing. POWs would either be confined to camp, dealing with a monotonous daily routine that quickly became unbearable, or they would be kept busy in working parties, undertaking heavy manual labour. Find out more about Life in a POW Camp.
The Joint War Organisation had a Comforts Collection Department for POWs. This attracted gifts from home and overseas sources. Some of the gifts were distributed to convalescent homes and auxiliary hospitals. Treasure bags, containing stationery, pencils, soap, face flannels, handkerchiefs, chocolate and sweets came in considerable quantities and were sent to liberated POWs and to the wounded.
There were a number of different types of POW camp in Germany. Every POW would first go through a Dulag, a transit camp where they were processed. The camps they could then be sent to were Marlags for naval servicemen; Milags for merchant seamen; Oflags for army officers; Stalags for officers and army men and Luftlagers for airmen.