Prescot’s POWs

This is another story that I have been aware of for some time, but had found difficulty in “fleshing out”. A trip to the Archive section at Kirkby Library led me to the local newspaper microfilm files, which filled in much of the detail. 

The story was featured in the match programme for the Prescot Cables v Newcatle Town game on 13th April, 2019 – meaning that I had two historical features published in the same edition – very proud!

The story of Bert Trautmann’s journey from German prisoner of war to Manchester City goalkeeping legend and Wembley hero, is probably one of the most well-known in football circles, and it will gain a new audience thanks to the release of the new movie, The Keeper. 

With the film in cinemas now, it is topical to look at Prescot Cables’ own story of German ex-prisoners of war.

More than a year after the end of World War II, there were still over 400,000 German prisoners of war (POWs) being held in camps across Britain. They were mainly put to work in agriculture and on other tasks to rebuild Britain, such as brickmaking, construction and road repair. POWs even helped to construct Wembley Way for the 1948 Olympics.

Public sympathy for the POWs was growing steadily. The freedoms for which the war had been fought were being denied to the German POWs. Treating the defeated men in this way was considered cruel, and behaviour which might be expected of the Nazis. By the end of 1946, repatriation had started, but criticism of the slowness of the process continued until it was completed in 1948.

However, a significant number of the POWs were reluctant to return to Germany because, for example, their original home was now within the Soviet-controlled sector, or they had formed a relationship with a British woman. The UK Government introduced a scheme under which men could be discharged from their prisoner status and could apply to stay on in Britain, as civilian workers. About 25,000 men were granted this status.

The trial game for Prescot Cables prior to the 1948/49 season, featured three former German prisoners of war, who were now living locally.

One of them, Albrecht, particularly caught the eye. Writing in the Prescot Reporter, correspondent, “Winger” noted, “Not big, he is nevertheless an obvious athlete and his play is tireless, intelligent and altogether admirable, He thinks ahead, and before he gets the ball has the situation ‘taped’. His passes, accurate and effortless, are invariably directed with the idea of systematic progress. Albrecht is certainly a good footballer.

The only fly in the ointment as I see it, is that in defence, Albrecht relies almost entirely on intelligence whereas a good brisk, clean tackle is, at times, the only effective method.”

However, “Winger” was not so fulsome in his assessment of the other two Germans. “Countryman Marschallek’s energy and physique would be a Godsend if it wasn’t for the fact that his idea of the game is somewhat rudimentary. Time and again he passed the ball back towards his own territory when he could have had a crack at goal with advantage. Little was seen of the other German, Lobedan. I do not think either of the other two Germans are worthy of consideration for a place in the first team – just now at any rate.”

Despite, “Wingers” assessment, only one, Walter Marzchellech, made the breakthrough into the Cables squad. Described as a big, gangling, awkward looking forward, he made his Cables debut away at New Brighton Reserves in September 1948, before marking his home debut with a first minute goal in a 3 – 0 win against Ashton United, four days later.

The Prescot team was, Alf Hobson, Sid Stanley, Harry Topping, Bill Rogers, Bert Jelly, Bill Rainford, Terry Garner, Walter Marzchellech, Jimmy Veacock, Sandy Lyon, and Bobby Middleham.

Contemporary newspaper reports variously referred to him using substitutions of s, z, e, a, ch, gh and k. It seems that many also struggled to pronounce the unfamiliar name, leading Cables’ tannoy announcer at Hope Street, Bill Martindale, to helpfully report that, “For the benefit of our supporters, may we announce that the christian name of our German friend, is Walter”!

There does not appear to have been any post-war, anti-german sentiment towards the player, and Marzchellech soon won a place in the hearts of the Cables’ supporters thanks to his enthusiastic play and goal scoring. He was especially popular with the younger fans. After one match he was so much the target of juvenile autograph hunters that police officers deemed it necessary to intervene and escort him to the dressing room.

Walter celebrated his engagement to a local girl, Vera Riding, by scoring a hat-trick (including two penalties) in a 7 – 0 home victory over Stoneycroft in the Preliminary round of the FA Cup in September 1948.

By October 1948 the Hull Daily Mail was already reporting that “Another attraction for the scouts at Prescot is the German inside forward Marzhellch (sic) of Breslau, who is 28. A strong marksman and a player who is considered well above the Lancashire Combination standard.”

However, his sparkling early form soon deteriorated. A newspaper report of the time noted that “Marzchallek shows little sign of developing into the right kind of inside forward and appears to have lost his greatest asset – speed. His falling off has been as unusual as his quick rise.” In the FA Cup defeat at Rhyl, Walter was cautioned by the referee for foul play. On being spoken to by the official, his reply was, “Me don’t play dirty, me play hard.”

Despite a switch from inside forward to centre forward, he was quickly dropped from the first team.

Because of the agreement with Liverpool FC, Cables were not running a reserve team, and this lack of playing opportunity was causing disquiet amongst players not in the first eleven. Consequently, players of the calibre of Sandy Lyon, Freddie Kilshaw and Harry Boydell were all seeking moves away from Hope Street to secure regular football.

In December 1948, Walter joined the exodus and was granted permission to play for St Helens Town, where played 5 games, scoring 2 goals, including one on his debut, and actually played in the same side as Bert Trautmann.

He returned to Hope Street in April 1949 during their congested run-in to the season. He appeared in just a couple more first team games for Cables, but his football still failed to impress the reporters, being described as, “a trier, but no more”.

Walter moved from Prescot Cables to newly promoted, Bootle in August 1949, along with teammate Eddie “Jock” Anderson. He later played for Ellesmere Port Town.

He married his fiancée in 1949 and settled in the Longview area of Huyton. In March 1955, the London Gazette reported that he had been granted a UK Certificate of Naturalisation. By this time he had anglicised his name to Walter Marshall, and was working as a welder.

Walter was involved in local junior football for many years, including a couple of spells as manager of Huyton United.

Roy McDonald