Prisoner of War – Artist

Year 1947. Acceleration of the demobilisation of British troops throughout 1946 and re-employment into their former occupations brought about the need to complete the repatriation of Axis troops held in the British Isles.

One such internee was Arthur Braun who was taken prisoner by American forces in Normandy following the successful ‘D’ Day landings.

Arthur Braun was one of many German soldiers taken back to the USA to be held for the duration of the war. As part of the repatriation process he was returned to the UK and it is thought to the Park Lane Methley POW camp, rather than the Pinfold lane site until his clearance to return to his homeland was complete.

Like many of his compatriots he was colour graded enabling him to work on construction or agricultural work. Many of the prisoners experienced friendship from the villagers and in turn contributed to this acceptance by making wooden toys and other trinkets in return, also the stories of the POW’s Christmas Carol Service in St Oswalds church were experienced at many other sites in the country.

Arthur Braun, being of the Roman Catholic faith was allowed with others to walk to St Joseph’s RC church at Castleford to celebrate mass. It was at this church he was able to converse with the nuns (teaching) where he must have told them of his interest in art at his home in Freiburg in Germany. It would also be about this time that he would have received correspondence regarding the death of his wife during bombing operations.

His desire to create a painting dedicated to his wife would have been treated by the nuns with the utmost sympathy and consideration, and to this end provided him with colouring pigments enabling him to mix these with linseed oil to create artistic oils. They also obtained a bed sheet which he used to cover a full sized mirror within an ornate frame and then proceeded to paint a copy of a picture introducing his wife as the Madonna with child within the background of war damaged scenery.

It is claimed that the mirror came from the church presbytery and that the painting was then retained by the nuns in their convent accommodation. In the late 1960’s, the nuns on retirement were recalled to their mother house in Rochdale, Lancs and the painting was transferred with them.

We take up the story now to 1990 when the painting was put up for sale and purchased by Dr. and Mrs David Milnes of York. During this period the couple have committed themselves to in depth research about the work and also about the artist including visits to his hometown in Germany in order to complete the background.

More recently the BBC have learned about the painting and the background story. They have filmed the characters involved, including the painting, and the programme was broadcast on Monday 5th, December in their ‘Inside Out’ series at 7.30pm. The producers were also interested in Methley Hall as the camp site was within the grounds of the Hall at Park Lane.

E-mail from Michael Toole, former pupil at St. Joseph’s school dated 16.12.2011

The story about the painting which was painted by Arthur Braun, a German P.O.W. shown on “Inside Out” BBC1 on Monday 5/12/2011, brought back a lot of memories from my childhood.

Sister Patrona (featured in the BBC programme) was my teacher at St. Josephs Catholic School when I was 6 years old. I remember 20 or so German POW’s coming to church from Methley each Sunday morning, marching in 2 columns along Aire Street and Bridge Street to St. Joseph’s Catholic Church. They were not in uniform but all similarly dressed. They each wore a soldier like hat, an armband indicating they were POW’s and a big diamond shaped patch sewn on their backs.
The front 2 or 3 pews on the girls side (right hand side facing the altar) were reserved for them. They were given some time during the service to sing their own hymns and say their own prayers, I presume in German or Latin.

The Nuns from St. Joseph’s School lived at The Rectory, 57, Ferrybridge Road, Castleford. The house had a Private Chapel which would be the chapel where the painting was to hang.
At about the same time as the “Our Lady of the Ruins” was painted all the statues in St. Joseph’s Church were also painted. From being dull and stoney they were painted in bright vivid colours which really “brought them to life”. They also could have been painted by Arthur Braun.

I have since read her story
“My Long Journey For Africa” on the internet. She must have been a special person to devote her life to what she believed in.
It has been a delight for me to see Sister Petrona on TV. and to read her story after all those years. There must be lots more people who went to St Joseph’s School between 1937 and 1948 that were taught by her and would have liked to have seen the “Inside Out” Programme.

I know my letter is more about St. Joseph’s and Castleford, but I thought it may be of interest to your Methley Village readers.
I would like to know if there has been any other response to the story of “Our Lady of the Ruins”.
Michael Toole.

John Bowden, also a former pupil at St. Joseph’s, in conversation (20.11.2011) was able to confirm much of the above provided by Mick Toole. John remembered visiting the convent as a youngster on family funerary business but was unable to say that he had seen the painting. John did however, add that the church at this time was also used by visiting POW’s from the Wheldon Road area where he thinks they were attached to a tarmac road repair company.

Further E-mail from Mick Toole 5th January, 2012
I received an e-mail from Sister Petrona (via Dr. Judith Campbell, a very close friend of hers) and she confirmed that the painting did hang in the convent chapel on Ferrybridge Road and that the nuns also lived in Leake Street. Sister Petrona said “I feel I have entered the historical realms of Castleford because of the painting.”

She asked me where she could get a copy of the “Inside Out” program so I sent her a link to “You Tube” to view “Inside Out – Madonna POW Painting” which had been uploaded by “MethleyKev”. She has now seen the video!

When I attended Whitwood Technical College. in the 1950’s we had a German student who was several years older than me, his name was Alphonse Johann Omilian. He worked at Water Haigh Colliery as a ripper and a deputy, then went on to be Undermanager at Kellingley Colliery. He could have been one of the POW’s, but I didn’t see the link at the time. His story was that he couldn’t go back to Germany because his family was on the other side of the Iron Curtain and that he would have been detained. He never said how he came to be in England. I don’t think he ever went back to his homeland. He emigrated to Australia about 1975.

My Brother-in-law remembers the German and Italian POW’s living on Pinfold Lane. He also told me whilst on holiday in Cologne he went into a shop for a newspaper and the shopkeeper said he had been a POW. in Methley. He remembers travelling by train (to Methley) not knowing where he was going or what was going to happen to him. He said he sometimes wished he had stayed in Methley.
Yours truly,
Mick Toole

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