On 25 January WERFA welcomed retired Naval Commander Stephen Foster who presented us with an unforgettable story. After researching the contents of an old suitcase found in an attic belonging to his father, Stephen has uncovered a remarkable piece of history, linked to events so sensitive that certain documents have only recently been released under the official secrets act.
It largely concerns L/Cpl Antony Coulthard, a highly educated man who chose to remain in the ranks. He befriended Stephen’s father Sgt Fred Foster when they were prisoners of war in Poland. The German POW camps Stalag XXA (theirs) and 312 were located in Thorn (Torun). They held more than 60,000 allied POWs and existed from 1939-45.
The audience in the Pavilion were spellbound and felt privileged to witness the emotional journey taken by Stephen in the retelling of his astonishing detective work and discoveries of events in the Second World War. Some likened the history to a Shakespearean tragedy.
Stephen’s story-within-a-story was illustrated with documents, photos and maps found while unravelling the web of clues. It movingly revealed military mayhem, heroism and the reticence of a generation of young men.
It included the search for the final resting place of Coulthard, the modest hero who worked in military intelligence, was captured as a PoW and made repeated escape attempts. It revealed the story of a remarkable escape from Stalag XXA that so very nearly succeeded thanks to the skills and imagination of Coulthard. The heroic act of turning back to help Foster at a checkpoint meant he was recaptured.
A difference in rank had fatal consequences for the lower ranking of the two friends. Coulthard was returned to a PoW regime of malnutrition and forced labour. He finally succumbed during a brutal forced march just as the war was ending. Separately, Fred Foster survived to a successful post-war family and business life. Meanwhile Coulthard’s grave was only discovered thanks to Stephen’s work decades later.
The story continues as Stephen is determined to use his findings to seek out the graves of other soldiers who died on the march.
Thanks again to the WERFA Social Club for organising a very special event. It made an even bigger impact than anything we’ve seen from a film studio.
Several people have contacted Stephen to thank him after his presentation. News about the story is spreading.