The son of a former mayor of Grantham is writing a book about his father’s wartime exploits, which included his incredible escape from a prisoner of war (POW) camp.
The story of Frederick Foster is a poignant one which only recently came to light when his son, Steve, a former naval commander, was looking through letters and documents belonging to his late father while researching the family tree.
Steve learned that his father had made one of the most incredible escapes of the war. Fred escaped from POW Camp XXA in Poland with his friend Antony Coulthard in 1942. Antony, a former Oxford student, had tried teaching Fred German but, having grown up in Newark, Fred could not get rid of his Nottinghamshire accent. They boarded a train with fake documents, pretending to be advertising executives, and travelled across Germany. They even had the courage to walk around Berlin gathering military intelligence.
Eventually they reached the Swiss border. Antony managed to get past the border guards, but Fred was stopped. Antony gave up his bid for freedom and went back to help his friend. Ultimately, Fred would survive the war, but Antony would die on a ‘death march’ in 1945.
After reading through his father’s letters, Steve decided to try and locate Antony’s grave. He spent months trawling through the National Archives before finding out where he had died. Eventually, he located the grave in Becklingen in Germany.
Steve say it was very satisfying to find Antony’s grave as it helped to tie up the amazing story of how the two friends made a bid for freedom across Nazi Germany.
Steve, who was born in Grantham Hospital in 1949 and attended King’s School, said: “ I am extremely proud of my father, although I was even before I knew the story. I hadn’t realised what a good soldier he was – rising above the squalor of a Nazi work camp to plan a perfect escape and then to conduct intelligence gathering in Berlin, even though they must have been frightened.
“Can you imagine, two British soldiers in the heart of the Nazi regime walking around making notes of all of the military installations? He was also a very young borough councillor and became Mayor (of Grantham) at the age of 41.
“Margaret (Steve’s sister) and I were brought up at 59 Harrowby Lane by a loving mum and dad who never mentioned the war, yet it must have been very raw in Dad’s mind.”
Steve added: “As Dad got older, he would talk to me about fighting in Norway in the snow with just rifles against German tanks and ski troops and how his battalion had made a stand at the Norwegian village of Tretten.
“However, like all of his wartime generation, he was very reticent and would only tell me when I asked him. His battalion was the Newark-based 8th Sherwood Foresters which was a TA battalion and was destroyed on April 23 at Tretten. He was a platoon sergeant and was wounded and captured as German tanks overran his position on the outskirts of the village.
“Very few of his battalion got home to Newark and mum met every train to meet the survivors; one of them told her he had seen Dad lying dead in the snow which is what she believed until she received his first letter home from his POW camp some months later. He was wounded but the man thought he was dead. Mum told me that part of the story after dad died.
“I was aware he had made three escapes whilst a POW and had once made it to the Swiss border, but was not aware of the ‘back story’ of Antony Coulthard walking back from freedom to try and help Dad.
“What made it even more poignant was the fact Antony died on the death march in 1945 and Dad got home. They had been split up after their escape and Dad was not aware Antony had died.
“Waiting for him was a very poignant letter from Mrs Coulthard asking Dad what happened at the Swiss border. It must have weighed heavily as he replied the very evening he returned home to Newark. I have all of Mrs Coulthard’s letters but could not find copies of Dad’s letters to her. However, last year the archivist of Antony’s college in Oxford University contacted me after he had seen the article in the Telegraph (about Steve’s research) to say he had them all! An amazing find which completed the picture.”
After being demobbed, Fred joined the family building company Fosters on Wharf Road.For many years he was company secretary and later became the sales director.
Fred became Mayor of Grantham in 1957. He was made an alderman after leaving the council and was also chairman of the governors of Kesteven and Grantham Girls’ School. He knew Margaret Thatcher and her father, Alf Roberts, very well.
In 1980, Fred and his wife, Peggy, retired to Dorset.
Steve left Grantham in 1966 to join the Royal Navy as an artificer apprentice. He worked his way up to chief petty officer and was promoted from the lower deck in 1983 to become an engineer officer. He left the Royal Navy in 2003 as a commander.
Steve says his book is progressing well. He added: “The final chapter was missing until the recent re-dedication of Antony Coulthard’s grave which will be a suitable ending.”