Press Releases 2014-2015

The Liberation of Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp, April 1945

15.04.2015

It’s 70 years since the liberation of Bergen-Belsen Concentration camps.  Below Peter Hopkins and Sarah Edwards of UWTSD Lampeter’s Roderic Bowen Library and Archives note the role played by Thomas James Stretch, a former student of St David’s College.

Thomas James Stretch was born in Goodwick, Pembrokeshire on the 17th January 1915. His father, Thomas George Stretch, was a Dock Porter.

Thomas attended Fishguard County School before enrolling at St. David’s College, Lampeter in October 1934. Thomas was a fine student, winning College prizes for History and writing articles for the College Magazine on subjects including the Coronation of King George VI. Thomas also played sports, playing right-back in the College Hockey Team and taking up golf.

Thomas Graduated from St David’s College in 1937 with a BA in History. Following his ordination in 1938, Reverend Stretch served as curate of Holy Trinity Church in Aberystwyth until he enlisted as a British Army Chaplain in 1943.

Thomas served as a Chaplain to the Forces on an Emergency Commission from 1943 until 1947, and in April 1945 Thomas was one of the first people to enter Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp when it was liberated by British troops from the German SS.

Reverend Stretch was filmed describing the ‘damnable ghastliness’ that they found:

http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/media_fi.php?ModuleId=10005224&MediaId=161

Following the end of active army service, Thomas returned to parish life but in Lancashire, rather than in Wales. Thomas served first in Chatburn and later in Preston and Poulton-le-Fylde, where a former parishioner recalled that “Sunday morning services were so well attended; thanks to the Rev. T. J. Stretch”.

However, Thomas remained close to the army throughout his life; in 1963 Thomas received the Territorial Efficiency Decoration, and he did not resign his commission from the Territorial Army Reserve of Officers until 1967, at the age of fifty-two.

Thomas clearly never forgot what he had seen in Bergen-Belsen; years later, Thomas’ great-nephew recalled the ‘eye watering stories’ he’d been told as a boy and as a result felt compelled to visit the camp for himself. Only by visiting could he truly appreciate the impact of what Thomas had witnessed first-hand, seventy years ago.