Gunner Harold Forden of the Royal Artillery, at Arbeitskommando 227, Hartha. Copyright: Paul Forden. Gunner Forden's son, Paul, has written the following about his attempt to uncover details of his father's captivity:
Searching for my Dad: Gunner Harold Forden Royal Artillery 886934
04/01/39 to 11/07/46
Prisoner of War: Italian POW camp unknown, Stalag IVB & IVG
P.O.W. No. 248123
20/06/42 to 13/05/45 "The journey that led back home"
I have been researching my dad's army career for over five years; he died when I was very young so I never got the chance to talk to him about any of his army service. The journey has been a mix of many emotions, frustration, excitement, happiness sadness, respect, pride to name but a few. The search started long before I began looking, it started with an image of a photograph in my head of a man stood next to a field gun, on the reverse of which was the word Stalag.
I lost my dad to cancer when I was eight, as a teenager I remember looking through old photographs and seeing this picture of a young man in uniform - sadly the photograph is now lost. I have always had an active interest in history, several years ago I was given an old WW1 medal by my mother in law. The medal was to a man named Butler which happened to be my Mothers maiden name. I did a bit of searching on the internet etc and with the help of a military researcher was able to find out a bit about this mans service. My wife suggested I should try and see if I could find anything about my dads army service and so began a quest which would lead to me having contacts all over the world including several POWs who I now count as friends, a trip to Germany, me giving a number of talks to both the Mothers union and womens institute and the highlight of all of this for me: I received his uncollected medals which I keep with great pride and honor. I started with nothing apart from my dads name and an idea he was in the R.A or R.E. My first search led me to the MOD who after several months was able to send me his army service including the following information:
Overseas service British Expeditionary Force 02/10/39 to 01/06/40
France - Dunkirk, 21 years old
Middle East Force 19/05/41 to 30/11/41, 22 years old
Iraq 01/12/41 to 12/02/42
Egypt 13/02/42 to 19/06/42, Tobruk / Battle of Gazala
Prisoner of War 20/06/42 to 13/05/45, 24 years old
124th Field Regiment, 50th Infantry Div. (Northumbrian)
At the time this was all the information you got. You now receive a full copy of all they have which if you are lucky will give details of enlistment etc. This was really the turning point for me. I was able to gather information from various sources: books, museums the internet - veterans including an Afrika Korp member. I became an associate member of the prisoner of war association - receiving help and support on several occasions from Phil Chinnery including supplying me with a Red Cross report from Stalag IVG. I posted my dads details on several internet websites and gradually built up a number of contacts.
Two years ago after making contact with a fellow son of a POW - Graham Howard I made the trip to Germany and visited the sites of Stalag IVG and IVB. This is where I felt a true connection to my Dad - it was possible to get a feeling of what it was like for him as a young man all those years ago - a captive for almost 3 years. The memories of the trip will stay with me for ever. Returning from Germany I continued on with my search always hoping to find a picture of my dad from this time. I made contact with several POWS we spoke on the telephone; several sent me items to look at through the post, even though they did not know me. I found this very humbling that these men, including Robert Harding, Lew Parsons and Fred Sivewright would do this for me. The result of this was last year when my wife and I attended the Stalag IVB association reunion. For me to be in a room with over 20 POWs who had shared the same experiences as my Dad was truly amazing. They immediately made you feel welcome and a part of something very special. Throughout all of this I have always envied other people who had items from their relatives' pasts, as I mentioned I had nothing of my Dads from his war time service. I promised I would never give up the search for a photograph.
Unfortunately in February 2006 I lost my mum suddenly and unexpectedly. This has left a great void in my life that will never truly be filled. When sorting through my mums papers and effects I came across two photographs of my dad hence the title "The journey that led back home". The first shows a proud young man in his R.A. tunic taken 29/02/40 the second shows dad in Stalag IVG (above).
On the reverse of the Stalag picture it mentions Arbeitskommandos 227 Hartha. From the Red Cross report I have this work party was involved in loading and unloading railway wagons for approx. 8 working hours daily. They had no proper shelters in case of air raids but they were allowed to build slit trenches. Parcels were kept in a nearby school. No official wood or coal issue, but POWs did not go short as this is one of the things they would unload during their working day. This was the life my dad had, it took me a long time to get this information, if anyone has any details relating to any of the above or if they knew my dad, alternatively if I can help anyone trying to do research would they please contact me: my email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org. This is written in memory of both my mum and dad Monica and Harold Forden. I hope it helps someone in their quest for information, my journey lead me home and was worth every minute - it goes on still.
Paul Forden, proud son of a POW.