Press Releases 2014-2015

The Liberation of Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp, April 1945


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:

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.