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When Carrow Road paid tribute to a true Norfolk hero

PUBLISHED: 14:12 14 January 2018

Arthur and his companion Brent Greenwood at Carrow Road, where the war hero was the special guest before a Norwich City-West Ham Premier League game. Picture: Paul Chesteron

Arthur and his companion Brent Greenwood at Carrow Road, where the war hero was the special guest before a Norwich City-West Ham Premier League game. Picture: Paul Chesteron

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He was a local hero who became a national hero and international hero... his man was Arthur Brough. Derek James pays a personal tribute to a remarkable man.

A compact and smartly-turned out gentleman, he could charm the birds off the trees... but there was an tattoo on his arm which proved he had been a troublemaker – a right handful.

He was “marked” by his German guards during the Second World War as a sign to others that this young lad from Norfolk had escaped from his PoW camp and had refused to work.

The last time I shared a coffee with Arthur he was wearing his blazer, regimental tie and medals as he had just been to a civic event. I realised that I was sitting with a VIP, as people of all ages approached him – to say hello, shake his hand – and thank him.

Arthur Brough died before Christmas, aged 98. I shall miss him and so will many others.

He wrote a book called My Wasted Years 1940-1945. Arthur may have considered them wasted but it was thanks to people like him that we take our freedom for granted in the 21st century.

While he was in the Jarrold store with his book he was spotted by renowned Norfolk artist Liz Balkwill and they became friends. Her portrait of Arthur took pride of place in the Armed Forces Art Society’s exhibition at the Mall Galleries in London.

Accompanied by his companion Brent Greenwood, Arthur returned to Poland where he had been held during the war. He visited the places and camps which had haunted him for decades... and was welcomed with open arms by the Polish people. How they loved and respected him.

When I wrote about the visit in 2013 it resulted in Arthur being invited to Carrow Road at the time of Remembrance and when he walked on to the pitch at half-time with the fans, home and away, shouting “ARTHUR!, ARTHUR!”

“I have been a Norwich City supporter all my life but this was the first time I had ever been to the ground. It was a wonderful day – and the Canaries beat West Ham,” said Arthur, who was also honoured on Sky Television.

“The whole experience and walking on to the pitch and hearing the crowd was quite overwhelming,” added Brent.

So who was Arthur Brough?

He was born in October 1919 in Macclesfield and the family moved to Great Yarmouth. He joined the Royal Norfolk Regiment in 1938 and after training spent a year at Gibraltar. At the outbreak of war he was among the troops to be shipped over to France.

“As the evacuation of Dunkirk was in full swing we were doing our best to hold back the so-called cardboard tanks, or so the propaganda led us to believe, but we soon found out differently as my pals were getting killed all around us,” said Arthur.

“The tanks thundered closer and closer. We were running alongside the dykes by the side of the road like rabbits: a bit degrading for professional soldiers, but then what else could we do against tanks?”

He was hit by shrapnel in the leg and went down... and that may have saved his life. Many of his comrades were dead or taken off to the notorious Le Paradis where they were massacred by the Germans.

Arthur was among those bundled into cattle trucks and sent to PoW camps in Poland.

Always a stroppy prisoner, he refused to work and then escaped... only be to caught, beaten and tattooed. He was in for harsh treatment for the rest of his captivity.

And when the war turned, with the Germans being pushed out of Poland, their prisoners were forced to march into Germany.

“We walked for about three months. Wearing just rags and pieces of wood for shoes, we slept rough in the snow. I would often wake up to find the man next to me dead.”

They were starving and if they saw any crops in the field they would try to eat them raw – while their guards took pot shots at them... and laughed.

Somehow little Arthur, just skin and bone, survived.

“I never forgot my experience of being a PoW. The degradation, the humiliation, the lice, the horror I felt when I was handcuffed and chained.

“The long and enforced march with the added misery of dysentery and the friends who died because of a lack of sufficient food, warm clothing and medical requirements. I think: ‘But for the grace of God.’”

Arthur eventually got back to Norfolk to discover his brother Joseph (Sonny), who served with the Royal Artillery, had been killed in France and his family had been bombed out of their home in Yarmouth and were living in Norwich.

After the war he worked as a crane driver in Norfolk and was married to Vera, who died a few years ago.

Although dear Arthur has gone there are still copies of his book My Wasted Years 1940-1945 at Jarrold in Norwich.

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