May 1945: Back in the Colliery Inn

In early May 1945, after reaching US troops of the 104th Infantry Division at their frontline positions on the Mulde River at Duben, Pte Tom Tunney was one of several thousand Allied POWs who were flown from Halle to Brussels aboard USAAF C-47 transport aircraft. That part of his experiences is covered in the Prisoner of War section of the site. Here we take up the story in Brussels, in early May 1945.

'They had these trucks, took us to, it was like a club, a Montgomery Club, a Union Jack Club, or something. You could go and stay there, you could get a room and everything. If you were on leave from the Front, you used to go there. And we went there and we got bathed, haircut, new uniform, boots, shirt, the bloody lot. Got a meal, a couple of meals and then we got a ten shilling note and so many francs. They paid us out and then we were free--we could go out. We had to go back there to go to bed. We had a room with a bed, like a dormitory.

'So we went out. Why, we were getting plied with bloody beer and all sorts all over. We finished up bloody drunk, me and Taffy.' Benny Lewis, POW friend in Bad Schmeideberg, Germany in 1943-45.

'Next morning they had us on parade. All the NCOs and Officers were there organising everything. And then they took to this airfield and we got on the bomber. Oh, there were hundreds of POWs. They were keep loading them on, loading them on, onto these bombers. Taking off and the buggers coming back. The next thing we knew, this bloke he was up the ladder, he was looking out of the turret in the middle, he was telling us where we were going. "Now we're just going over the coast of France." "We're going over the coast of England," and all this. And we just landed on this airfield and they put us in these huts.

'We landed about tea time I reckon it would be. It was on a Sunday, the 13th of May. And we were away the next morning. Trains. Took us to the station. I don't know where the hell it was, but it was a special train, it was full of POWs. It must have come up through the Midlands. They kept getting off right up to Darlington. Darlington was where I got off. It was probably going to Scotland. I got off at Darlington. I went down to where the bus station used to be and I got a bus, the Triumph bus, back home. We were on the bugger all day--the train. Why, from about nine in the morning. Every station we stopped, these WVS people were there and you got a little bag with a toothbrush, a bar of chocolate and a packet of cigarettes, things like that. I had a bloody dozen of them when I got home!'

And the POWs were allowed to send a telegram.

'They did, they asked our names and addresses and they sent a telegram. From England, I think. When I got home, it was all Union Jacks and that on the house. "Welcome Home!" My mother came running down the street. She saw us coming up. You know the kitchen window in the old house?'

Theodore Cottage.

'Why you could look out, you could see down the street, down to the Colliery Inn and the Police Station. She was standing looking out there and she saw us coming. She came running out. She was half way down bloody School Square!'

'And then I was out and I was down the Club with my Uncle Paddy. We were there until 10 o'clock and we came up and we were standing in the Market Place and Joe was closed on Monday.'

Joe Colby, the landlord of the Colliery Inn.

'And it was a nice night, you know, May. A nice night and Joe used to stand upstairs. He used to open the window and he used to lie on the window, just like that above the front door there. And I saw Joe and Beattie his wife and I was standing talking to Peter Baldersera. There was three or four of us standing talking and I hears this voice:

"Is that Tommy Tunney?"


'Yer bugger, he's straight down them stairs! Shaking hands and that you know.'

"How way!" he says, The's comin' wi' me! The's ganna have a drink wi' me!" He says: "There's nee beer in the pub, but we always have the bugger upstairs!"

'Yer bugger! I was up there 'til about 1 o'clock in the morning! You know the Police Station? I was going along the bloody Police Station wall like this. Why I'd never had a drink of beer for bloody years! How the hell I got into bloody bed I don't know!'

NEXT: Back in the Old Routine