During both First and Second World Wars,Newbury racecourse was requisitioned and used to house Prisoners of War, some of whom were held in the stables area.
In the Spring of 1990, builders refurbishing the stable lads’ hostel made a startling discovery. Underneath the layers of old wallpaper, they found a series of hidden paintings on the walls. One of the murals, depicting scenes of American soldiers tending the wounded on the battlefield, was signed “Karl Schultz, Wien (Vienna) Nov 1944”.
The Newbury Weekly News covered the story in its 5 April 1990 edition. Reporter Ian McLoughlin, ever up for a challenge, determined to trace the war-time artist. He contacted the Royal British Legion and with help from other ex-servicemen’s associations, in just a couple of weeks (in the pre-internet age) the artist Karl Schulz was traced to Vienna, where, aged 78 he was alive and well, and still painting. He was keen to revisit Newbury where he had been held prisoner for a year,having been picked up by the Americans near Mons in northern France. Until the end of the war, he lived in the stables with three other prisoners. On his arrival at Newbury racecourse in 1944, there were over 900 Prisoners of War in captivity there.
A trip was hastily arranged and at the beginning of May 1990, Karl Schultz took his first ever aeroplane flight and set foot once more on English soil. The visit was recorded in a series of photographs taken by Peter Bloodworth, and an exclusive story in the Newbury Weekly News.
Later that week there was an emotional re-union with one of Karl’s old comrades, Heinz Heimsoth.
Karl and Heinz were prisoners together at the racecourse and had not seen each other since 1945.
They were reunited at Newbury racecourse and shown round by then racecourse estates manager Richard Osgood, with Newbury youth worker Gunter Schwarz acting as interpreter.
After the war Heinz Heimsoth had stayed on in England and established the Thatcham Glass Centre. A well-known and respected member of the Thatcham community,he lived in the Bath Road in a house which older readers may remember seeing covered annually in brightly-lit Christmas decorations, many years before such things became commonplace. Thatcham Glass Centre is still run by the family.
Karl told our reporter “The guards sorted the prisoners out according to our professions. I told them I was a painter, and they got me painting the hospital walls. Then I did some some sign-writing, in a Gothic script which impressed the Major; so he asked me to paint the murals. I was lucky to have a profession which was so much in demand. There were hard times in the camps, and prisoners were often hungry. I was well-fed and well-looked after.” News of Karl’s talent soon spread, and he was tasked with painting portraits of the officer’s wives and families.” People would ask me to paint either from live sittings or from photographs. The camp authorities were quite happy for me to wander around the countryside- but I was always accompanied by a soldier with a rifle”.
“His work was brilliant” said Heinz Heimsoth, who remembers driving a lorry into Newbury one day, with Karl, to pick up some paint. “We used to call Karl “Opa”, which is German for grandad” Heinz said. “All the other prisoners were very young solders- I was only 19 when I was here. Karl was 32, and we thought he was really ancient”.
During his May 1990 visit, Karl, with his friend Katrine Mailer, also attended a reception hosted by the NWN and met civic dignitaries including the Mayor Mrs Christine Fairbrother, to whom he presented one of his paintings, a view of Schubert’s house in Vienna- to be hung in a civic building in Newbury. He also spent a day in London where he met the Austrian Cultural Attache at the Austrian Embassy. Later in the week he and Katrine were guests of Highclere Castle,and Englefield House. Reflecting on their visit before departing for Heathrow and the plane home, they said ”Newbury is a lovely place. You are very lucky to live here. The motorists are polite to each other, everywhere is clean and tidy and the countryside is so green. It is quite delightful”.
The original paintings in the racecourse stables have been wall-papered over, but photographs of them were lodged with West Berkshire Museum. Heinz Heimsoth died in 2001, and Karl Schultz died the following year, aged 91.
Click through our gallery of photographs from the 1990s.