Christmas Day will mark the 50th anniversary of the most memorable festive season in a town's history.

In December 1946, families in Oswaldtwistle shared their Christmas meal with men who had been their sworn enemies for more than five years.

The tale of how townsfolk welcomed German prisoners of war into their homes to celebrate Yuletide is a shining example of the famed Northern hospitality.

And Pamela Taylor, the daughter of a Methodist minister, was so moved by the remarkable story of human kindness she has written a book based on the real-life events called "Enemies Become Friends".

Pamela's father, the Rev Joseph Howe, was padre of the German POW camp in Stanhill and she can still remember the inmates making her a doll's house for Christmas.

The last traces of the Stanhill camp have disappeared to make way for the M65 extension but the echoes of the past still linger on.

Oswaldtwistle Civic Society is in the middle of putting together an exhibition which will go on display when their new centre opens in March. Although now living in Devon, Mrs Taylor, housing officer for the Young Women's Christian Association, has spent eight years piecing together the forgotten Christmas of 1946.

She visited the town and spoke to families who have kept in touch with their unusual guests.

She said: "There were over 300,000 German POWs in Britain and until December 1946 they had not been allowed to make contact with local people.

"The Government regulations were relaxed and for the first time prisoners were allowed to go into local homes by invitation if the camp gave its approval."

Around 60 POWs shared Christmas with local people and many have stayed in touch with their hosts.

Mrs Taylor added: "This was the first time prisoners entered a private home of any kind for four or five years.

"Simple things like a white table cloth brought tears to their eyes as it reminded them of home.

"To share in the Christmas fare, even in the simple food available in those days of long term rationing, was a joyful experience and one which left a lasting impression on their lives."

Fred Haworth is featured in the book and the former mechanic can still remember the Christmas of 1946. Fred, who lives in Fielding Lane, Oswaldtwistle, was 24 at the time and had just returned home after serving with the RAF.

He said: "We were at church and there was an appeal for people to take in POW's for Christmas.

"It seemed the right time to build bridges. The war had finished and the time had come to forgive and forget.

"Some people who had lost sons, brothers and husbands were still bitter but it didn't seem right to dwell in the past.

"At the end of the day we were just normal people, not the Government. We wanted to do our best for these people."

Fred's family took in two men during the festive season.

He recalled: "One of the Germans was a big, strapping lad, very keen on football.

"The POWs were not allowed on buses but he really wanted to see Blackburn Rovers. We had to walk to Ewood but he loved the day out."

Fred added: "The other German was a family man. He had two daughters at home who he hadn't seen for five years.

"He got very attached to the children in the house and he was obviously missing his family very much."

One of the Stanhill camp inmates fell in love with a local girl and still lives in East Lancashire.

Hans Vallentin, 69, was in the German Luftwaffe. He came to Lancashire via North Africa, America and Liverpool.

Hans was not officially released until 1949 but, in the meantime, had met and married Irene. The couple have five children. He did not stay with a family for Christmas but can still remember the early post war period.

Hans said: "It was a very difficult time for everybody. There was some ill-feeling but most people were sympathetic towards us.

"For a long time we were not allowed to go out in daylight or into private homes because of restrictions.

'It was hard for some people to forget about the war. A lot of the younger people were still bitter.

"But the men who had fought knew what position you were in and sympathised."

Pamela Taylor's book will be published in May but people can place orders now.

Anyone wanting a copy of "Enemies Become Friends" should write to Book Guild Ltd, Temple House, 25-6 High Street, Lewes, East Sussex BN7 2LU.

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