Spies in Collyweston

SPIES IN COLLYWESTON?

 

During and just after the second World War, my parents, Mary and Arthur Sauntson, played host at The Hermitage to a numerous RAF personnel (one of whom, Reuben, would appear to have been a pilot with 1426(Enemy Aircraft) Flight at RAF Collyweston) as well as a USAAF officer with his wife from RAF Kings Cliffe. That’s another story in itself!

 

Just after the war, one of the strangest characters was a small, mysterious, lady dressed in black and with a pronounced limp; her name was variously Mrs Freeman or Freiman and she occasionally had with her a young, redheaded German. This obviously gave rise to speculation as to who she was and what was she doing in Collyweston? The mystery deepened when a letter was received in October 1951 from an address in London to: “Mr Sauntson, near The Engine Inn, Collyweston”. I am sure that the author would not mind this correspondence being published now and here is the letter;

 

“As it is desired to contact my sister, Mrs Marie Freiman, regarding the estate of our late father, and we have no news since 1948, can you please inform me if her present whereabouts are known to you, (or those of the son of her first husband, Carl Schaefer). It would be appreciated also, in view of the clause in Father's will regarding morality and employment etc., (he being a strict Puritan) if you could give us (in absolute confidence) any particulars regarding her behaviour and living whilst she resided with you and her reason for leaving. My sister was a woman of very strong character and views and after an unfortunate quarrel after her

husband's death in 1941 she declined any further communication with her father or the family and we only heard from her very rarely. However, she is entitled to the same share of his estate as the rest of the family and I should be very grateful for any news you can give. Thanking you, I am Sir, Yours Faithfully,

(Mrs) Karol Thorwith.”

 

My Mother must have made a prompt reply but no copy was kept. However, at the end of that October, the following was received;

 

“Dear Mrs Sauntson,

Many thanks for your letter on Saturday, the day following the posting of my letter to you. I received news through the Salvation Army Bureau that Mrs Freeman was found to be employed at International Red Cross headquarters in Switzerland and had been contacted by them and was writing to me. Today the letter arrived and the long suspense is over. With regard to the second half of your letter, I do feel it is only right that you should know that Mrs Freeman was a recognised voluntary worker on the Foreign Relations staff of the I.R.C since 1946 and that her work in the Norfolk camps during 1946/7 tracing the missing families of PoWs was well known to the authorities and was publicly commended by Toc H, various religious bodies and the newspapers as the cuttings and photographs in Father's possession clearly show. Since 1948 a large number of letters received from repatriated ex PoWs and their families and reports from the German newspapers prove the esteem in which she was held and prove that her patient and often long drawn out work succeeded in reuniting a total of 289 families who, because of war conditions, had lost touch with one another. So please do not misjudge her association with the Collyweston and Blatherwycke Hostels.

 

We received yesterday a visit from a former PoW from Blatherwycke (now married to an English girl from Brigstock) who is working in London now and who was amongst those contacted by The Salvation Army. He told my husband and I that the whole Hostel simply worshipped “Der Liebes Muttchen” (Our dear little Mother) for all her kindness to them, involving as it did, a long walk from the bus each way or the (for her disabled condition) major effort of a cycle ride after a long day's work and was only too anxious to give us all the information he thought could help us. So she has nothing to be ashamed of although I know everyone cannot be expected to approve of her work on behalf of our former enemies. It is still necessary for it to be done, however, and as we ourselves have come to be exceedingly grateful to the IRC people, we are very glad to find that even war's loss to her of home, husband and elder sons had not made her bitter, or blunted the fine courage she has always been known for.

I myself, married years ago to a son of a well known Lithuanian family, Count Karl Thorworth of Kaunas (?), was, with my husband, a refugee from Russian forces in 1948 and it is thanks to the IRC's help that my late father succeeded in bringing us both safe back to England and its freedom of speech, living and action. Although my husband speaks seven languages he still finds English a bit difficult at times, but is steadily making headway again with his work as Church Artist and Master Gilder and now finds the quality of his work is gaining good commissions.

Carl Schaeffer, the little redheaded PoW you mention was Capt. Freeman's son by his first marriage with a German girl during the Occupation years after the First World War. Paula Schaeffer died when Carl was born and the child was brought up by his Grandparents first and, after their death, by his mother's sister Marie. After his marriage to my sister, action in the German courts failed to regain possession of the child for him and though correspondence between the families was always maintained til 1939, Carl had to join up with the German army in 1944 and promptly gave himself up at the first opportunity. He was traced in 1945 by Maria Schaeffer who then wrote and informed my sister of his

whereabouts and led to the meeting between them and the resulting decision of Mrs Freeman to transfer to working in the Northants area instead of the East Anglian camps.

One of the many letters received by us during our search for her was from the former Commandant at Wansford, Capt. Sturgess and another from the Deputy Commandant at Collyweston, Lieut. Haycraft. Owing to the disability caused by her war wounds in leg and back, none of the family thought that Mrs Freeman would again travel overseas, so we did not expect to find her at Geneva.

However, she is well and happy though very upset to hear of Father’s passing and we hope soon to be able to welcome her home on leave. So please don’t feel ashamed of having given her shelter, for which I say a very heartfelt “Thank you” on both her and our behalf.

 

With all good wishes, I am, Yours Sincerely, (Mrs) Katherine Thorworth

 

PS. A letter has just arrived from Canada from Carl himself. He is married, with a baby son and living in Hamilton Ontario with relatives of Capt. Freeman and he too sends us the Geneva address. Wonders will never cease!!!”

 

So, there it is, not a spy or a witch after all, just a lady whose life had seen many trials and tribulations and who had done great deal of good work over many years.

Peter Saunston

©2019 by Collyweston Historical and Preservation Society