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Hunt to find Shropshire family of wartime POW

By Toby Neal | Church Stretton | Features | Published:

A scribbled name in a notebook found in a box of memorabilia hidden in an attic has sparked a quest to trace relatives of a former prisoner-of-war who ended his days in Shropshire.

Jack, left, working in a farm field in Austria. The other prisoner is Fred Lang.

Ian Jardine is trying to contact the family of Albert Armitt, who during dark days of wartime captivity was a pal of his late father, Royal Marine John Jardine, also known as Jack to his friends.

Albert died in Church Stretton in 2008, but until the discovery of that notebook Ian had never heard of him – hardly surprising, as whenever he tried to get his dad to open up about his wartime experiences he would reply: "You don't need to know son."

He appears as "Albert Armitt, 99 Longden Road, Longsight, Manchester," but Ian has tracked him down to Shropshire as part of a voyage of discovery to unlock his father's experiences which has taken him to Austria and the farm where he was forced to work, guarded by German soldiers.

Albert Armitt's name in a notebook.

He wants to trace Albert's relatives so that he can share with them what he has learned. He can be contacted at ianjardine@mac.com or 07979 592664.

That box of Jack's military memorabilia included many photos of fellow prisoners-of-war.

"Albert will most certainly be in the images and when we were in Austria three separate locals identified Albert, but they pointed to different men," said Ian, from Wilmslow in Cheshire.

"They can be forgiven for that as all were in their late 80s or early 90s, and with over 70 years having gone by, it was understandable. I’m hoping a family member/relative will confirm which is the correct man."

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Jack Jardine, right, with fellow prisoners.

Ian said his father was captured on the island of Crete on June 1, 1941.

"He served four years as a POW and, like many men of his time, he would never discuss this period of his life with the family.

"When he died in 2000 we thought that his story was lost forever. However, we recently found a hidden box in the attic which contained all his military memorabilia. Included in this was a notebook with a number of names and addresses for POWs that he was with and Albert Armitt was one of them.

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"We also found in the box a great number of POW photographs.

Could Albert be on this photo? One of the many photos of prisoners of war.

"Originally from Longsight, Manchester, research tells us that after the war Albert married a Laura Cardoza in 1945 and subsequently had two daughters, Suzanne and Diane. At some point they moved to Shropshire as we have discovered that Laura Armitt died in Ludlow in 2002. Albert, then residing in Stretton Farm Road, Church Stretton, died in 2008.

"Our research also told us they were POWs at Stalag 18A near Wolfsberg, Austria, and also at a Workcamp 565/L which was a farm in the village of Hausemannstatten, near Graz.

"My wife and I have recently visited the area as well as the actual farm they laboured at under German guard.

This photo, bearing the names Legat and Hausemannstatten on the reverse, proved a vital clue.

"The owner as well as other locals remembered the POWs and were able to tell us the whole story of this period. It transpires that Albert and my father were good friends.

"Naturally, we would love to try and trace the relatives and family so we can share all we have learned."

Ian knew his father had been a prisoner, but says: "The name Albert Armitt was news to us. In fact, the names and addresses of all 42 servicemen and POWs in my father's notebook was a surprise find. I often tried to get him to open up without success, particularly during my own 22-year Royal Air Force service, but the answer was always 'You don’t need to know son'."

One of the photos shows Jack working in a field, and another was a critical clue to Ian and his wife's researches, as it showed a family with the names Legat and Hausemannstatten written on the reverse.

A photo from Jack's collection showing the Austrian farmhouse as it was in his POW days.

"We discovered that the little boy is Erwin Legat, then aged six, and that he is still living in the family farmhouse today. Without hesitation, we travelled to Austria.

"We spent four wonderful days with Erwin and met quite a few locals during our visit who recalled their memories of the POWs, who they were, where they were billeted, and so on.

The farmhouse today.

"Erwin was absolutely delighted to see us. In fact he cried as he hugged us. I can tell you, it was quite an emotional moment. Erwin along with other locals were able to tell us quite a bit of information and to our delight the town mayor also hosted us at a small reception at the town hall.

"We also visited the museum in Lavanthuas, Wolfsberg, which has an area dedicated to Stalag 18a. Altogether, we were able to piece together their life as a POW and learned of the connection dad had with Albert Armitt as well as other POWs."

An emotional meeting for Ian, right, and Erwin Legat.

Ian's father was born in Edinburgh in September 1921.

Following the war, he returned to Edinburgh and married Beryl in 1952. They had two sons, John born in 1952, and Ian born in 1960.

Jack worked the remainder of his life as a docker at Leith Docks, Edinburgh. He died of a stroke in September 2000.

Toby Neal

By Toby Neal
Feature Writer

A journalist in Shropshire for 40 years, mainly writes features and columns, especially about aspects of Shropshire history. Lives in Telford and is based at the Ketley headquarters.

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