Author of Nazi-ordeal autobiography from Barking dies

A Barking-born former prisoner of war has died just weeks after publishing a book about his ordeal at the hands of the Nazis.

Charles Waite, who was held captive between 1940 and 1945, released his autobiography Survivor of the Long March last month. Sadly, he passed away on Thursday night. He was 92.

Charles was captured by German soldiers in France in May 1940.

While a prisoner of war he endured a spell in solitary confinement for sabotage.

In January 1945, he was being held at a farm camp in East Prussia when his Nazi captors forced him and his fellow prisoners to march westwards as the Soviet army approached.

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Charles walked for four months until he reached Berlin, a distance of 1,600km, in a pair of boots his mother had sent him. Temperatures fell as low as -25C and he was ravenous with hunger.

On his return home, he married his sweetheart, Lily Mathers, and they set up a business selling greengrocery round from the back of a converted delivery van.

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His only child, Brian, was born in 1946. Charles went on to work as a van driver for Romford pharmaceutical company Macarthys for 34 years, before moving to Kidderminster in 1972.

He kept silent about his experiences for 70 years, until he joined the National Ex-Prisoner of War Association.

In 2010 he returned to France for the making of television documentary Dunkirk: The Forgotten Heroes, and last year he appeared in another such programme, The Long March to Freedom.

The book begins with Charles’ memories of his formative years as the son of a greengrocer – his father set up a business called W Waite & Sons Fruiterers in Movers Lane, Barking, in 1928.

Dee La Vardera, who wrote the book with Charles, said of him: “He was going downhill but he kept going because of the book.

“He was a fantastic chap. The story told itself and everybody was enriched by it. He achieved his goal which was to have his book published. He said: ‘It added years to my life.’

“In the first week of publication, Charles signed and sold over a hundred books from his own front room in Sutton Park Road in Kidderminster. He has had a wonderful life.”

Charles died peacefully at his home in Kidderminster after becoming ill with pneumonia.

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