A long-standing friendship between a German Prisoner of War and a young girl began when he was invited to a simple Christmas Dinner.

Fritz Kübler became a prisoner of war at Lippits Hill base in Loughton after he was captured by the British in the Jersey Islands.

It came as a relief to the 19-year-old after he was reduced to eating grass when his supplies ran out.

He had dark red hair and freckles that made him self-conscious and he would stay smart, in the camp, by pressing his trousers under his mattress every night.

During his imprisonment, Fritz managed to find a gap in the fence but instead of escaping he would go to market to buy fresh Herring, something he couldn’t get in his land locked village in Germany.

East London and West Essex Guardian Series:

Fritz as a prisoner of war in Lippitts Hill

He was very lively, keen on teasing people and would often descend into fits of laughter, according to Joan Francies of Scotland Road, Buckhurst Hill,  the daughter of a pacifist who welcomed the German soldier into his home.

At Christmas in 1946, Joan’s father, Henry, led a group to the POW camp and invited a select few for Christmas dinner in his Loughton home, Joan was 13-years-old and Fritz 22.

Fritz did not speak a word of English, but he was a trusted member of the POW camp and had become personal assistant to the Commandant at the base.

At the dinner, Fritz was startled when he bit into the traditional six-pence in the Christmas pudding, “it was a puzzle to him,” says Joan, who felt, even without language, an enormous sense of goodwill at the table.

After the war Fritz picked up English very quickly thanks in part to a string of English girlfriends, who he would often take for walks around Connaught Water in Chingford.

With British men still in the army and a labour shortage in the UK, Fritz started working at Harker’s tomato nursery in Sewardstone Road so he could send money back to a war ravaged Germany.

Joan is unaware of any trouble between Fritz, a former Nazi soldier and local men, she said “there would be serious trouble in the POW camp if he had misbehaved” and he formed a great working relationship with his boss.

The Francies’ took in the young daughter of another German POW, Rosi Ottinger who had suffered from malnutrition in famine-stricken Germany.

Her hair had all fallen out and she was completely underfed, but she stayed in the house for a month until she had recovered.

During this time Fritz continued to visit the family every Sunday arriving by bicycle and bringing handmade toys.

He became a keen Tottenham Hotspur fan and would go to White Hart Lane with Henry Francies most weekends before he eventually returned to Germany.

In 1953, Joan and her family visited Fritz in his hometown village of Unterheinriet on the edge of the Black Forest.

East London and West Essex Guardian Series:

Joan and Fritz in a visit to Germany in 1953

She said: “It was a different world. All the villagers were peering at us through the windows when we visited. There were cow sheds under the houses and dung heaps by the door, but everyone welcomed us because we had looked after Fritz like a son.”

Fritz married and re-settled in Germany.

He managed to return to the POW camp, when it became a Metropolitan police training centre in the early 80s, and was given a tour visiting his old haunts around Waltham Abbey and Loughton.

East London and West Essex Guardian Series:

Joan, Fritz's wife Helga and Fritz having dinner in Germany

In his remaining years the families sent postcards and letters between them until Fritz passed away five years ago.

Joan was devastated, she said: “I phoned him and his wife answered she didn’t speak much English but she said the German word for death, and I knew instantly what had happened.

“He was always such a fit man and he was so proud of his grandson when he was born, he would always send me photos of him.

“Our relationship shows how important friendship is between nations and individuals.

“It opened my mind to a world of new possibilities.

“The world is not black and white- these young men were forced to go to war even if they didn’t believe in it.”

“His village appreciated what we did for Fritz, taking him in and looking after him, and it probably changed their perception of us too”.