The nephew of a distinguished prisoner-of-war (POW) from Barrhead has come forward to share the emotional journey he undertook to trace his uncle’s life.

The remarkable story of Private Frederick Ratcliffe was published in the October 23 edition of the Barrhead News last year, in the hope of finding out more about the Scottish soldier who was tragically shot dead in Czechoslovakia in 1945.

Using photographs and information collected by Czech museum curator Roman Janas and Matthew Drennan of the Neilston War Memorial Association, an appeal was launched.

Within a couple of weeks, we received a response from Pte Ratcliffe’s nephew.

READ MORE: Czech man on hunt to trace life of WWII POW from Barrhead

George Ratcliffe, a funeral director who now lives in North Yorkshire, contacted the Barrhead News after being alerted to the story by a family friend.

In a fortuitous twist of fate, George had just returned from “a pilgrimage” to his uncle’s war grave in Olsany, Prague, with his wife Jane when he read the article.

Barrhead News: Pte Ratcliffe (front left) with fellow POWsPte Ratcliffe (front left) with fellow POWs

“It was jaw-dropping,” he said. “We’ve known about Fred all of our lives. We had the idea to go out to Prague and then, three or four weeks later, his story appears in the newspaper.

“We visited with the sole intention of paying our respects to him, so it was an amazing surprise that, so soon after this visit, we were to read the Barrhead News article.”

George, who was “born and bred” in Barrhead and still has family in the town, was the first of his family to visit Pte Ratcliffe’s grave.

“It’s been a very moving and humbling experience,” he continued.

Barrhead News: The war grave in Olsany, PragueThe war grave in Olsany, Prague

“Seeing his name and the names of many others being so well tended to and preserved brought home to us how young those who had lost their lives were and who are buried there.

He added: “To lose your life so young and so far away, it’s unthinkable.

“His mother saw him before his 21st birthday but then she never saw him again.”

Pte Ratcliffe was a soldier in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, 6th Battalion, 93rd Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Artillery.

Barrhead News: Pre Ratcliffe in full uniform before the warPre Ratcliffe in full uniform before the war

In 1940, he left his parents, James and Margaret Ratcliffe, at Carlibar Road, Barrhead, to join the British Expeditionary Force in France.

Sometime around May 1940, before the Dunkirk evacuation, Pte Ratcliffe was captured and sent to Stalag VIIIB – an infamous German prisoner-of-war camp in Lamsdorf, now  known as Lambinowice, in Poland.

From there, he spent four gruelling years at various camps along the Polish-Czech border.

After the Long March of 1945 – a forced POW march during the final stages of the war – Pte Ratcliffe was stationed at a work camp in Velka Kras, in Jesenik, in what was then Czechoslovakia.

Records show that, along with three other prisoners, he was shot while on the run during an escape attempt.

However, this version of events differs from the one passed down through his family.

Barrhead News: Pte Racliffe's grave (second left) with the three other POWs he was shot along side.Pte Racliffe's grave (second left) with the three other POWs he was shot along side.

“We were led to believe he was shot on the Long March,” said George. “The story we have been told is that he had been shot while picking up a turnip or a swede during the march.

“We did know Fred had been captured early on in the war and that he had been to Stalag VIIIB but we had no knowledge of what other camps he had been sent to.”

In March 1946, PteRatcliffe was posthumously awarded a gallantry medal by King George VI for distinguished services in the field – a conciliatory honour to mark his war exploits.

However, George, whose father George Snr was around 13 years younger than his brother, “Uncle Fred”, describes Pte Ratcliffe as “a man we had never met but had known of all our lives.”

Barrhead News: A Christmas card from Fred to his family from the Stalag VIII B camp.A Christmas card from Fred to his family from the Stalag VIII B camp.

He added: “We knew very little about what he was like as a person.

“He is one of that generation – he was a son and a brother who was sadly lost to war.

“He was also an uncle, great-uncle and great, great-uncle who we are learning more about but never met and whose memory shall not be forgotten.”

George has thanked Mr Janas and Mr Drennan for their research and hopes to keep working with them to discover more about his uncle.

“As a result of your article and the research undertaken, we are thrilled to have learned far more than we ever thought we would know,” added George.
“What Roman and Matthew are doing is fantastic for families like ours – and all just to keep these memories alive.”

Breaking the news to Fred's family

People living in Barrhead today still remember when news of Frederick Ratcliffe’s death first broke.
After the war, Sam Brown, a fellow POW who walked with Fred on the Long March, had the unenviable task of telling his family that he had been shot.

Sam was joined by his young nephew, Adam Watson, when he told Fred’s mother, Margaret Ratcliffe.
Adam, who is now 81, lives in Brownside Avenue and recounted the story to his son David Watson. 

“After the war, Sam broke the news, along with my dad Adam Watson, to Mrs Ratcliffe that her son had been shot and died,” said David, 5, who lives in Gleniffer.

“My dad was seven years old when Sam arrived home. The following day, Sam took my dad to see Mrs Ratcliffe. They walked from Ruffles to Commercial, walked behind the white buildings, up the stairs and went in to see Mrs Ratcliffe. My dad remembers Sam saying that Fred got shot on the march – that’s all he remembers.”

Fred had two brothers, James and George, as well as a sister Jane, who lived as a family at Number 101 Carlibar Road. 
George remained in Barrhead and went on to serve the area as a local councillor.

Sadly, all of Fred’s siblings have now passed away.

Roman reflects on Fred's story

Barrhead News: Roman Janas began investigating Pte Ratcliffe's story last yearRoman Janas began investigating Pte Ratcliffe's story last year

Researcher Roman Janas has told of his pleasure in tracing the family of Frederick Ratcliffe, who died near his home in the Czech Republic.

Mr Janas, who runs an exhibition in his home province of Jesenik in Cezh Republic which commemorates soldiers who perished in Czech prisoner camps during the war, was hopeful for a positive outcome.

He was particularly pleased, therefore, when he was contacted by Pte Ratcliffe’s nephew, George, via the Barrhead News.

“I am very glad that we managed to establish communication with relatives,” he said.

“It helped me a lot personally, for my exhibition and also for the book I am preparing.

“It is necessary to remind the younger generation of the horrors of World War Two.”

Mr Janas has invited George Ratcliffe to Jesenik to meet the families of other POWs.

“I’m pondering it,” said George. “Some time in the future, we will need to visit where Fred died. It would be nice to visit Roman out there and see his museum.”