TWO days before his 19th birthday, German infantryman Willi Rothemund was captured by the British at Caen in France.

He was eventually taken to Appleby, where he spent the remainder of the war as a farmworker.

Repatriated in 1947, Willi decided to return to Cumbria to continue the job he had pursued while a POW.

In 1968, then a builder and living in Kirkby Stephen, Willi began chatting with his postman, Ray Myers.

The pair discovered they had much to discuss - because Ray had also been a POW, at Stalag 7A at Moosberg, a few miles from Willi’s birthplace.

Ray and Willi went on to become friends and, later, neighbours. And it was together that they travelled to Kendal in 1988 for a special reunion organised by the Cumbria branch of the British Red Cross Society.

Former POWs from all corners of the county gathered at Sizergh Castle to renew acquaintances, rekindle memories and remember the role of the Red Cross in helping them survive those difficult years.

The reunion was also a wonderful way of marking national volunteers’ week and a golden opportunity to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the Red Cross movement.

One of the former POWs attending, Cyril Fleming, from Kendal, summed up the Red cross in three words: “They were life”.

Cyril, a member of the Border Regiment, was captured at Inchville in 1940 and sent to Stalag 8Bb near the Polish border town of Lamsdorf.

The Sizergh reunion gave him the chance to share some lighter moments which carried them through those dark days with fellow POW Bill Wilkinson, from Arnside, such as the rabbit-breeding programme which was seriously threatened when its organisers got down to one buck!

Jim Moot, 79, of Bowness, met Bill Gilpin, 69, from Kendal, for the first time in 45 years.

Oldest ex-POW at the luncheon was Frederick Wyatt, 94, of Arnside, who was captured in 1915 while serving in Belgium.

He said: “The Red Cross was vital to all of us in the prison camp. It was our saviour.”