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VE Day 75: Celebration stirs memories of Beckton man reunited with family after five years in POW camp

PUBLISHED: 16:30 08 May 2020

Colin Johnson, pictured with his wife, was reunited with his family after imprisonment in a POW camp during the Second World War. Picture: Colin Grainger

Colin Johnson, pictured with his wife, was reunited with his family after imprisonment in a POW camp during the Second World War. Picture: Colin Grainger

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One of the most amazing stories from VE Day in 1945 was revealed 50 years ago in a letter from an ex-serviceman.

How Colin's story was told back in 1970. Picture: Colin GraingerHow Colin's story was told back in 1970. Picture: Colin Grainger

Colin Johnson lived in Winsor Terrace, Beckton, back in 1970, and 25 years after the event told how he spent five of his seven years in the Army as a prisoner of war.

He was captured near Dunkirk and taken to a POW camp near Danzig in Poland, where he existed on a litre of soup and half a pound of bread a day.

Mr Johnson was 51 in 1970, and was married with three children.

He was a representative for North Thames Gas.

Huge crowds at Trafalgar Square celebrate VE (Victory in Europe) Day in London, marking the end of the Second World War in Europe. Picture: PAHuge crowds at Trafalgar Square celebrate VE (Victory in Europe) Day in London, marking the end of the Second World War in Europe. Picture: PA

“The thing I remember about VE Day was that I had just put five years in a POW camp behind me,” he explained.

“I had walked 1,400 miles in nine days, travelling from Luneberg. The last time I had heard from family was 14 months earlier.

“I had sent a card and a telegram through the Red Cross and had no idea what I would find – if anything.”

He started off on the wrong foot back in London – by getting on the wrong bus!

But he finally made it back to Newham – or West Ham as the county borough was called then.

He arrived at the corner of Randolph Road, Canning Town, hoping to find the family home. “But nearly every home was flattened,” he said.

“Then I saw a flurry of colour and suddenly spotted children having their VE Day party. Someone shouted (to everyone present) that there was a soldier.

“The first one to meet me was a little girl. She was my five-year-old daughter whom I had never seen.

“She looked at me and said: ‘Have you got any chocolate?’ I knew there and then that I was home and all the children were safe.”

Colin told his remarkable story in a letter to the Newham Recorder.

The paper had run a competition for readers to tell their best VE Day story.

Mr Johnson’s story was the winner and scooped £25 – nearly £400 in today’s money, thanks to inflation.

Other readers were also rewarded with a crisp £1 note, worth about £17 now.


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