As a child my husband David and his sister Jennifer, couldn’t understand why his father never liked dogs.
Although Ted allowed his wife, Brenda, to have two small rescue dogs at different times, Ted would never have anything to do with them and David remembers that the dogs always ignored his father. Even more confusing was why they never went to holiday camps. As a child growing up in the 50s David always felt left out and it wasn’t until he was much older that he finally understood.
David’s father, Ted Taylor, had been conscripted into the Rifle Brigade in September 1939 and sent to Calais in May 1940 to open up the road to Gravelines and deal with a small enemy force. On arrival in France Calais Force found themselves heavily outnumbered by the Xth Panzer Division, half their equipment wasn’t unloaded and was sent back to the UK and after three days of heavy fighting Ted was captured and spent the rest of the war as a POW in Stalag XXA and XXB in Poland.
Ted’s father Harry Taylor
Unlike Boulogne, the troops in Calais were deliberately sacrificed to aid the mass evacuation in Dunkirk. Even more astonishing, at the same time Ted was fighting in Calais his own father was in Dunkirk, on the beaches, waiting for rescue with thousands of other men. As a child David knew some of this but it meant very little to him as his father never spoke of it.
I was fascinated by a part of history that was never mentioned in any documentaries, and always overshadowed by Dunkirk so I decided to research Ted’s story. It was only then that I discovered that the five years he’d been a prisoner were far from easy, most of it being used as slave labour for the Germans. Ted had spent time in Majdanek Concentration Camp and been forced to work in a salt mine. He had then taken part in one of the death marches back across Europe in the depths of winter in temperatures of minus 40, arriving in Holland on the eve of VE day.
This picture was taken in one of the POW camps. Ted is in the back row, 5th from the left
This explained why Ted never wore a coat, even in the depths of winter.
We also found out that while being marched through France as a prisoner of the Germans Ted somehow managed to smuggle out a message to his mother saying he was alive and a prisoner, a note she received after France had fallen and weeks before she was told officially that he’d survived. Because the fighting at Calais was always excluded from documentaries Ted and the other men who died or were captured there were never really given any recognition, so before he died I promised Ted that I would do my utmost to bring the fighting there to people’s attention so that when people spoke of Dunkirk, the brave men who fought and died at Calais were also included.
Fiancé Brenda c1940
Whilst Ted was enduring hell on earth, David’s mother Brenda, Ted’s fiancée, was a trainee nurse in Lambeth Hospital and in May 1940 she had no idea he had even gone to France. Brenda continued as a nurse throughout the Blitz while she waited faithfully for Ted to return. Ted and Brenda’s story fascinated me. They did not have the benefit of hindsight. Brenda waited for him even though she had no idea how long it would be or even if Ted would ever come home. Ted had somehow held onto the belief that he would come home even though he had no idea how long that might be.
Ted, Brenda, David (my husband) and his sister Jenny c1950
I decided to not only write up Ted’s story as a military history book, but to also write up Ted and Brenda’s story as a fictional love story. Ted was one of the country’s forgotten heroes. The action at Calais is still unknown to most people but he, and others like him, should always be remembered.
Ted was also my personal hero as his story inspired me to start writing and all my books are dedicated to Ted.
Lead photo is of Rifleman Ted Taylor c1939