Part 6 Margaret Cook remembers Greens Norton Youth Hostel


The hostel on Towcester Road was built originally for the Land Army. It must have been quite early in the War, as it was already built when we came to live in Greens Norton in 1940. My first recollection are of a crowd of tough, well'-built young women, who worked on local farms in cold, wet winters and long, hot summers, very often in bad conditions, trying to do the work of men who were away fighting. Some of them were very glamorous to my 14-year old eyes, but I certainly didn't envy them, having had one or sessions of potato picking, for which we had leave from school 

When the Land Army left, the Italian prisoners-of-war arrived ('Eyeties' as we called them) -they were regarded with interest and suspicion by the villagers. There were 33 of them: one cook, one medical orderly and one man who did the cleaning. The others worked on farms or followed the 'threshing tackle' around. On Sundays they were taken for walks by their guards. Dressed in dark brown battle dress with brightly coloured patches sewn on for identification purposes, they were mainly a happy-natured crowd of men, glad to be out of the War.

I remember that they had some old bikes, issued to get them to the surrounding farms where they took over, I suppose, from the Land Girls. They would spend hours of their spare time just riding and round the compound, even doing 'wheelies' like our present-day BMX boys. 

No-one really could dislike them and some of the farmers treated them almost as family, albeit with a certain amount of reserve -after all, they were enemies, weren't they ? I seem to recollect that some of my school friends who were daughters of farmers, had crushes on the more handsome lads. 

The Germans, who succeeded the Italian prisoners, were quite different -much more sullen and with none of the Latin exuberance we had grown used to. They were not glad to be out of the War -at least, if they were, they gave no sign. During these years, our dislike in this country was really for the Germans, they were truly the enemy. Perhaps that is difficult to understand now, but that's how it was. 

However, near the end of the War or maybe just after, when Germany no longer posed any threat, the Government allowed those families who wished to take a P.O.W. into their homes for Christmas. I don't know how many did so, but my mother applied to the Camp Commandant and we were informed that one, Werner Neubauer, the camp cook, had been allocated as our 'guest'. I think we were all a little nervous that Christmas Day, my father, mother, and myself, all except our German guest, who appeared on our doorstep completely poised, with presents for all of us! There was a green decorated tobacco box made of wood for Dad, a matching smaller one for me for my dressing table, and a small wooden candle holder for Mum. He had made all of these himself out of scraps from the camp and they were really beautiful. He also brought some pastries for our tea, and in those times anything that supplemented or varied our diet in even a small way was much appreciated, as food was scarce and very dull. After that, the day went well. Werner spoke quite good English; at least we managed to understand him by signs and much laughter, although he was quite a serious young man of 19. But my father and mother soon made him feel at home and I remember that when he found that Dad's favourite carol was 'Silent Night', he sang it to us in German, quite unselfconsciously, and it was lovely to hear.

Some of the P.O. W's made other articles which they sold in the village; we bought a ship in a bottle and an oil painting -done on wood -of an imaginary lake. Eventually, they were all repatriated and the camp became a Youth Hostel under the wardenship of Phyllis and Bill Berry. It was mostly full up at weekends. It was very nicely kept In those days, with a garden and rose bushes.

There are many recollections of 'The Hostel' -it has seen many interesting happenings in its time up to present, when part of it has a new lease of life as the offices of a Greens Norton builder.

To make way for the German prisoners in Greens Norton, the Italians were sent to London, some then being returned to a hostel at Daventry. One of them, Vincento d'Armo, had been so happy working on John Brown's farm that he walked there from Daventry on several Sundays. After giving him a good dinner, Mrs Brown would drive him back to his hostel (this despite the problem of petrol rationing).

Mr Brown applied for Vincent (as Freda Broan decided he should be called) to be allowed to live on the farm as an agricultural labourer. This was not allowed as all Italians had to be repatriated in 1946. In 1951, however, Mr Brown obtained his permission and Vincent returned to Greens Norton and has farmed on the Bradden Road ever since.

Starling Invasion 

During the last World War, when Canadian troops were camping in Kingsthorn Wood, that the phenomenon of the starling invasion occurred. There were thousands of them wheeling and turning over Kingsthorn just before dusk, suddenly, dropping like stones into the trees and then up again for more wheeling and circling and sudden turning, until they finally settled for the night, after many murmurings. The noise was like a distant waterfall. The Starlings visit lasted perhaps a couple of weeks and people came from miles around to witness something they had never seen before. The stench was appalling.

Local opinion has it that the birds had been driven before the soldiers as they advanced in the same way that game birds fly before beaters.