Letters to Ken . . . Briefe an Ken

A collection of letters written by German soldiers after they arrived back in their homeland is now in the care of Banstead History. Some were written in English, others have been translated. All of them were addressed to Ken Bulled and his family who lived in Sandersfield Road, Banstead. Wendy Henningsson tells the story.

Ken Bulled, a popular teacher at the Junior School in Banstead High Street, was remembered for his warm and friendly regard for his pupils. During the mid-1930s he was my brother's teacher at the school, but by the time I started there in 1940, he had moved on. Even so, as a very small child I often heard his name mentioned at home in a favourable way.

Ken Bulled regularly attended the Friends Meeting House in Sutton in 1939, at a time when he wanted to register as a Conscientious Objector. His own account of those days, held by the Friends' archive in Sutton, lets us know that he was loyal to the Friends for many years; his attitude to life in general matched the spiritual nourishment that he found there.

Thus he and his wife Kathleen welcomed to their home some of the men who were spending time at the Prisoner of War Camp in Park Road, Banstead.

After being repatriated, several of these now ex-PoWs wrote regularly to the Bulleds, remembering at the same time other Banstead friends who had entertained and supported them, such as the Savidges, the Purdues and Mrs Heath, all of whom were known to my parents; the Purdues lived near us in Croydon Lane.

Ken was very concerned with, and interested in, spiritual and political matters. At the age of 80, he noted down his life story which is now in the archives of the Friends Meeting House in Sutton, together with his many contributions to the Friends' newsletter. He was born in Axminster, the fifth child of 'wonderful Christian parents', his father being a local Preacher with the Wesleyan Methodists. After leaving the University College of the South West in Exeter, Ken obtained a teaching post in Banstead.

After the end of WW2, prisoners of war were housed at the Camp in Park Road, and many Banstead residents, including the Bulled family, welcomed them into their homes.

Letters written from Germany after the men were repatriated describe how they appreciated being made welcome by Ken and his family. One of the earliest, written in May 1947 by 'Henry', described the return journey to Germany. Thence to Moreton-in-Marsh and eventually to Hull, followed by an overnight sail to Cuxhaven in north Germany. Henry added that he would always remember 'all the kindness and love' received from Ken and his family.

Back in Germany, Henry reported that his wife and four children were all very happy to see him at home again. But they all looked very thin and there was not enough food. His breakfast that morning consisted of a slice of bread without butter or jam, and a cup of coffee.

A few months later, Henry wrote that food was scarce and he was grateful for parcels from England, especially baking powder, tea and 'sticky stuff for soles for slippers'. There are many references to the hospitality he enjoyed at Ken's s home – and, he wrote, Ken was 'the best man and my best friend too. I don´t forget [him] and his good heart'. He hoped they would meet again.

Another prisoner welcomed into the Bulled home was Bernhard Pieper. His description of leaving Banstead was similar to Henry's. It had taken 20 days 'without occurrence'. Although his home town, Berlin, had been mostly destroyed, his own home was in quite good condition. He wrote about foraging for wood in the forest nearby as there was no fuel for heating his house during the coming winter.

Watching English films reminded Bernhard of the time he had spent in Banstead. He mentioned 'the special type of people, landscape, houses and your kind of life and humour'.

Almost three years after his return home, Bernhard was still feeling nostalgic for his time in Banstead. He wrote about the route from the PoW camp in Park Road, cycling past old trees, fields and slopes, then turning right at the traffic island in the High Street, past the Post Office and straight ahead towards Sandersfield Road, where he could still picture Ken cementing the drive up to his garage.

In 1956, Bernhard wrote a long letter with news of his family, and that he had work as a draughtsman. Also in 1956, plans were being made for a reunion in Bremen, Western Germany. Ken had announced that he would attend, bringing his wife and two daughters.

This get-together was a success; Bernhard overheard his wife telling a friend afterwards that it had been hard to part with the Bulleds after the visit; 'it was as if she was taking leave of dearest relatives'.

The years went by, and later letters from 1972 and 1985 contained items of family news and described holidays abroad and boating on the Baltic Sea. The final letter was written by Bernhard´s son Klaus, with news that his father had been partially paralysed after a stroke, but was able to live at home.

Ken himself died on New Year's Day in 1999.

For me, two main themes arise from this collection of letters: one is that Ken Bulled had a gift for making all he met feel cherished; the other is about the struggle and gradual return to some sort of normal life among the men who had been POWs at the Banstead Camp.

PICTURE CAPTIONS

A typical envelope from Germany sent to Ken Bulled in 1947.

The various postmarks indicate that it was opened and read by official censors in the British Occupation Zone of Germany.

POW letter to Banstead

POW letter to Banstead

POW letter to Banstead

POW letter to Banstead

Extract of a letter from Henry, signed by himself plus his wife and four children.

'I thank you very much for all your love to me'.

POW letter to Banstead

POW letter to Banstead

POW letter to Banstead

POW letter to Banstead