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Taking a walk in my dad's shoes

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posted on 2024-06-05, 18:59 authored by Their Finest Hour Project Team

My dad was one of many foreign nationals that came to this country after the war. I've grown up with stories about where he came from, and some of his wartime exploits but they were only snippets of information. My dad made it sound like some big adventure. It was only when I was much older that I began to appreciate there was so much more that he was not telling us. I wanted to write his story, take a walk in his shoes and discover what led him to leave his country, the former Yugoslavia, and end up here in England.

He was born in Serbia, in the former Yugoslavia. He began his working life as an apprentice tailor when the Germans invaded Yugoslavia. His older brother helped many British servicemen evade capture from the Germans, taking them over the mountains to safety in Greece. When my dad's cousin was executed for helping the resistance, my dad lied about his age to join the Royalist Serbian Army. As the war was coming to a close, outgunned and outnumbered by Tito's communist forces, the Royalist Army had to escape to Italy. They were hoping to join up with the Allies and help restore the monarchy but the Allies had already thrown their support behind Tito. They were told if they surrendered their weapons first then the Allies might be able to help them. Instead, they were sent to internment camps, in Italy. The food rations were extremely poor, sometimes my dad and his friends had barely enough to eat. Because he had been a tailor, he was able to put that to good use in the camps in exchange for food. They built up a good rapport with the British, working alongside them and helping them to set up refugee camps for the huge numbers that had been displaced during the war.

All was well until the authorities decided to send them back to Yugoslavia, with only one possible outcome, certain death. All those previously sent back had been executed as soon as they arrived on Yugoslav soil. As my dad and his fellow soldiers were loaded onto a train, crammed into cattle trucks, questions were raised here in Parliament and across in America by President Roosevelt's wife. Because of that, the train was diverted to an ex-POW camp in Munster Lager, Germany. For several months they were treated like hostile prisoners, with their fate in the hands of a few decision makers. According to my dad, the United Nations took a vote on whether they should be classified as displaced persons. The vote passed by a majority of 1. They were taken to Schleswig in Northern Germany until arrangements could be made for their permanent resettlement. Several months later they were told they were going to be re-settled in England. As they walked up the gangway to board the ship to Harwich, a gentleman from the welfare office gave them a pound note to ensure they wouldn't be penniless when they arrived in England.

My dad and his fellow soldiers from his regiment were taken to Peterley, Prestwood in Buckinghamshire. The camp's accommodation was a series of Nissen huts. They were formally welcomed by the farm Manager, a Welfare Officer and a gentleman from the Department of Agriculture. They would be offered paid work on the farms as well as accommodation at Peterley for eighteen months. Then they would be entitled to apply for housing and British citizenship should they wish it.

Shortly after their arrival at Peterley, they had arranged a celebration for their Serbian Christmas. Some of the local Land Army girls were invited, including my mum who was in the Land Army at the time. One year later, they got married, and as they say, the rest is history.

On his arrival in England, my dad made the conscious decision to adapt to the English way of life. He was a very pragmatic man and believed that if the English were good enough to welcome him into their country, then he should make every effort to become a good citizen. Overcoming prejudice against foreigners wasn't easy for him and those in the camp. Initially my mum's family weren't happy that she had taken up with a foreigner. But my dad was an easy man to love and he soon won them over. He was a wonderful man with a strength of character, great sense of humour and a very easy-going nature, going out of his way to help those who needed it. He worked hard to make a new life for himself, teaching himself to learn the language, to read and write in English. It couldn't have been easy but he managed it in a relatively short space of time. He enjoyed collecting books such as the Encyclopaedia Britanica and the hard-backed books of Reader's Digest short stories.

My dad's story is one of many untold stories about refugees who came to our shores after the war and it's an incredible piece in the puzzle of unique World-War 2 stories. Most people are unaware of what happened to members of the royalist army in the former Yugoslavia. I wanted to tell my dad's story to shine a light on the fate of those royalists forced to leave their country.

The novel A Safe Haven is based on my dad's experiences and can be found at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Safe-Haven-Angela-Lambourne/dp/1781768358

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Safe-Haven-Angela-Lambourne-ebook/dp/B00943OGRM/

You can also view the trailer for the book at:
A SAFE HAVEN by Angela Lambourne - Book Trailer (youtube.com)

History

Item list and details

1. Dad in his Royal Christian Serbian Army Uniform 2. Dad at Peterley camp on a bike 3. Group photo at Peterley camp 4. Dad at Peterley camp with water tower in background 5. Dad with two friends ready for Christmas day celebrations (in borrowed ex-US uniforms) 6. Dad when he first met mum at Peterley

Person the story/items relate to

Dragoslav (Barney) Pantic

Person who shared the story/items

Angela Lambourne

Relationship between the subject of the story and its contributor

He was my dad

Type of submission

Shared online via the Their Finest Hour project website.

Record ID

117678