Leeds nostalgia: day prisoner of war passed me knife through fence

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When the Yorkshire Evening Post ran a recent nostalgia column mentioning the former prisoner of war camp at Butcher Hill in Horsforth, it stirred up some old memories from one reader in particular.

John Knights, 79, who grew up in the area recalls visiting the camp as an youngster and his inquisitiveness resulted in a surprising turn of events, after he was given a knife by one of the prisoners.

“He passed it to me through the wire fence,” recalls John, a former wagon driver and window cleaner, who also went on to be a pub landlord.

“I must have been about seven or eight at the time. Me and a friend went there to look at the prisoners and while we were there, one of them gave me a commando knife. I wasn’t sure if they were Italian or German prisoners but I think he must have passed it to me in case he got caught with it inside.

“I remember taking it to a farm round the corner called Parker’s Farm - they had one of those sharpening stones which turned and went in and out of a trough of water. Then I took it home to show my mother and she went potty.”

John then forgot all about the knife and got on with his life, passing through school and leaving and eventually marrying and having children, although it was not the last he would hear of it.

He looks back on his childhood fondly, adding: “There was no electricity where we lived at 14 Regent Road - it’s all gone now, torn down - but there was gas and the living room was below ground and the bedrooms above, which meant you could open your bedroom window onto the street. There was also no inside lavatory - it was all outside.”

Today he has three children, eight grandchildren and two great great grandchildren and has been together with his wife, Norma, 77, for 50 years.

Judging by the accounts which come down to us today, security surrounding these camps was far less rigorous than we might expect today, with many prisoners being set to work in the countryside.

Many years later, following the death of his mother, Edith, 79, in about 1990, John’s past came back to surprise him once again.

“I was going through her things when I suddenly came across the knife. She must have kept it all those years and I still have it today. There are no markings on it as such, although I have looked very hard to find some but it is a flick knife about 6 inches long with a wooden handle.”

John also has some other interesting objects from the war period, including some items his own father, George, brought back while serving in the British Army.

He said: “He was in about six year and he travelled everywhere, all over Germany and Europe and Egypt. He brought me back a crocodile skin picture album and there was also a book [like a catalogue] containing pictures of a famous German artist called Wilhelm Wessel.”

For about 18 years of his life, John worked as a pub landlord, first for around six years at the now long demolished The Sheepscar pub, which stood at the corner of Scott Hall Road and Sackville Street and which was once the headquarters of an army general, with pigeon cotes in the loft. After its demolition around 1982, John went on to be landlord at The Hampton Pub, East End Park and The Black Horse, Mabgate.