Town was ‘a district of pubs and TV sets’

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JUST 12 years after victory in Europe a Hartlepool teacher was in Germany on a mission of peace.

Ronald Copeman, then aged 25, of Miers Avenue in the town, set off with £50 in his pocket and a “schoolboy’s” command of the language to help rebuild the shattered country.

He spent eight months as a labourer helping to build hostels, roads and gardens for refugees and also organised “sports, games, singing and dancing evenings”.

But he told the Mail that the refugees arrived at the camp in Steinkimmen, north Germany, with a “terrific inferiority complex” and sometimes “wanted no part of the various activities”.

At first he supplemented his few words of German with sign language but quickly picked up enough vocabulary to make himself understood.

After a while the camp leader left and Mr Copeman, who was part of the United Nations-backed International Volunteer Service (IVS), took over.

He later found himself in Berlin, taking part in a “discussion camp” for those who had been camp leaders – with the main topic for discussion problems between East and West.

Mr Copeman came into contact with many Communists and told the Mail that students from the east of the Iron Curtain had a “twisted” idea of the British and their way of life.

They would say they had a sound knowledge of English literature but “it usually turned out this was confined to Charles Dickens and similar authors who showed the country in a bad ‘Imperialist’ light”.

He also said he thought the communists were using human beings merely as child-producing machines.

Mr Copeman had returned to Hartlepool by April 1958, and was working as a teacher again at Hart Road Junior School.

But he remained part of the International Volunteer Service and had just gone to Newcastle, where there was a branch of the IVS, to help spruce up the home of a blind couple who were getting married and could not afford decorators.

His efforts to found a branch of the IVS in the Hartlepools, as the town was known at the time, had so far proved unsuccessful, as “it is a district of public houses and television sets in which few seem to have time for other activities”.

But he was hoping the Mail article would attract like-minded recruits.

Did a branch of the IVS ever form in Hartlepool? What are your memories?

Contact Andrew Levett by emailing or write to him at Hartlepool Mail, New Clarence House, Wesley Square, Hartlepool, TS24 8BX.