Football brought communities together after ravages of war

North West non league Burton-in-Holme fielded 3 German POWs during the post WW2 seasons

Burton-in-Holme, 1948
Burton-in-Holme (1948-49) pictured in front of the Kings Arms. From left, back row: Ted Crayston, Guss (a German POW), Tommy Illingworth, Arthur Dixon, Eric Neill, Bob ‘Bandy’ Bolton, Bob Flemlut, AN Other (a German POW); front row: Otto (a German POW), Jack Molyneaux, Harry Jackson, Alan Bleasdale, E Butler

by Terry Ainsworth

Football was built upon tight-knit communities of British working-class life and the village of Burton in Westmorland was a perfect breeding ground for the game and this club is part of the rich fabric of grassroots football in the North West.

Local teams could provide a focus for community consciousness, linking together disparate groups of individuals in a common cause every week and Burton could certainly be described thus with three German POW’s in their ranks.

In season 1948-49 there was a huge surge in interest of clubs wishing to put World War II behind them and get back to playing football. Consequently 29 clubs sought entry into Division II and the League Council decided to split them into an “A” and “B” section with new entries being Bentham United Reserves, Burton-in-Holme, Burton-in-Lonsdale, Warton Reserves, Lancaster YMCA, Bolton-le-Sands Reserves, Newton Rangers, Heysham Reserves, Heysham LMS, Morecambe Grammar School Old Boys, Morecambe Post Office Savings Department, Lancaster NALGO, Warisons and Arnside United Reserves.

At this time there was a great shortage of football pitches and North Lancs League secretary, John Bagot, made an appeal to Lancaster City Corporation to provide more for both senior and junior clubs adding that Lancaster had always been short of such facilities compared with other towns of a similar size. The City Engineer promised to look into whether a third pitch could be constructed on the Far Moor and Ryelands Park would have three pitches laid out. As a temporary measure the old stables and the cleansing station would be used as dressing rooms on Ryelands.

They would enjoy only nine league wins in the season but true to the ideals of the game never lost sight of the fact that representing their community and striving for victory was the foundation stone of football. Every defeat left them anticipating the next challenge and the Burton lads were always ready for that. Finishing 10th in a 13-club league behind champions Heysham Reserves was an encouraging start and they would progress further in the next season before changing their name to Burton Thistle for season 1950-51 and dropping out of the league at the end of season 1953-54.

There were hundreds of prisoner of war camps in Britain during World War II and a huge number of people found themselves as POWs.

Being a prisoner was better than being killed in action, but POWs did not have an easy time.

They had a very uncertain future because they had no idea when they would be returned home. As the war came to a close there were more and more prisoners and they were less and less likely to try to escape. The solution to the problem was to put them to work and they actually preferred to be working rather than sitting in a camp doing nothing.

Because Germany was in a state of chaos after 1945 they were not allowed to go home so many stayed on, some until 1948 as can be seen from the photograph of Burton football team containing three German soldiers. Some of them even met and married local girls and settled in England, an example of that being Bert Trautmann of Manchester City fame and another Bela River POW.

Wilhelm Hackl was a POW at Bela Camp and he recalled the kindness he was shown when he worked in a quarry near Coniston.

Every day one of the English workers would give him a bottle of milk and this simple gesture rekindled in Wilhelm his belief in humanity that remained with him for the rest of his life.


For more on the history of grassroots football in the North Lancashire area between1892-1970 visit:



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