THE CHATEAUX SILVER
A remarkable story of bravery and coincidence from World War 2.
Albert Harris was an English soldier captured by the Germans very early into the start of World War Two and interned in a POW camp near the Austrian border in the Munchen region of Germany, where he spent the duration of the war.
He was one of a family of five brothers and one sister, and he was my uncle. On his release with the end of the war he returned to Folkestone, Kent,, the town of his birth, where he married Eileen and raised a daughter Valerie.
Albert had the gift of being a natural comedian. He was a very likeable man always quick with a joke and quick to find humour in any situation - perhaps a legacy of his years as a POW. When I was a small boy, my parents would holiday at Folkestone and we would stay at his home in Wear Bay Crescent, until such time later as my own father earned sufficient money to allow us all to stay in boarding houses when on holiday.
I remember Alberts dog, Patch a large creature most disagreeable towards young children but perfectly well behaved otherwise and a great friend of the family, and Valerie, my cousin, a few years older than myself.
Whenever the family got together at my grandmother's home in Oakengates in Shropshire, there would ensue many hours of joviality and memories shared between the brothers, two of whom, Ray and George and the sister Rita in addition to my own father Norman lived in Shropshire and close to each other by just a few miles. The other brother, Claude, lived in Birmingham's Selly Oaks area.
Yet one story escaped any mention until many more years had gone by and I had grown into a man with my own children in the world.
Albert had gone on a day trip to France with his wife Eileen and they were sitting at a table outside a street café in Paris in the early 1990s when they were approached by a woman.
Astonishingly the woman had recognised Albert from his days in the POW camp. She had been employed by the Germans as a civilian cook at the camp and had one day approached the camp officers with a plea for help.
She was a maid at a chateaux close to the prison camp and had learned that the German high command had intentions of taking over the property. The family owners were worried about the safety of the contents of the chateaux, particularly the family heirloom silver. Alerted to the predicament by the maid, the allied officers of the camp hatched a daring plan to try and secure the safety of the silver.
The maid was to smuggle the silver into the camp, which proved a simple enough task as she was not under any suspicion. Once inside, it would be buried within the camp and its whereabouts known only to a select few prisoners. Albert was one of them. And there it remained, forgotten, until long after the end of the war.
Despite attempts made by the family and relatives of the chateaux owners to locate the buried silver heirlooms, they remained undetected and the family was also unable to trace any of the officers or prisoners who knew of its exact whereabouts. Until the extraordinary encounter in the Paris street.
That encounter led to an expedition to the site of the former POW camp and to the successful recovery of the buried silver, still intact and unharmed.
Sadly, just a few years later Albert began to suffer with what he and doctors believed at first to be a 'frozen shoulder'. A fit and healthy working family man then retired and who neither smoked nor drank except for the occasional Christmas pipe or cigar and tipple, Albert's painful shoulder proved to be a particularly virulent form of cancer and within a very short time it claimed his life, and the bulk of the story was lost with him.
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