The family of a World War Two hero have been reunited with one of his POW dog tags – after it spent more than 70 years in the hands of American veterans.
Royal Artillery Gunner Joseph ‘Joe’ Spendelow spent most of the conflict being moved between prison camps after he was captured in Libya by the Italians in 1942.
In 1945 he was transferred to the notorious Nazi camp Stalag 344, near the town of Lamsdorf – now Lambinowice – in Poland, where he was issued with a prison dog tag.
The metal tag, which measures 2ins by 4ins, was stamped with the word “Stalag 344′ along with Joe’s prison number 31255.
Shortly after arriving at the camp he was forced to take part in the ‘Lamsdorf Death March’, where prisoners of war were marched west in front of the advancing Soviets.
He was eventually freed by the US Third Army, under the command of General George S. Patton on May 10, 1945.
During that time, the tag ended up in the hands of an American oral surgeon, Nathan Berkow, who was attached to the Third Army.
It is believed Joe gave the tag to Mr Berkow as a thank you gift for treating him following the liberation of the POWs.
When Mr Berkow died aged 100 he left the tag to his nephew Derek Seltzer, a Vietnam War veteran.
Mr Seltzer then handed it to his friend US Army colonel John Jacobi as a gift 15 years ago.
Mr Jacobi, based in Huntsville, Alabama, posted a picture of the tag to a Facebook page associated with www.lamsdorf.com in a bid to find its original owner.
Incredibly, the ad was spotted by Joe’s daughter Lynn Swinson, 67, and her husband Dave, 69, while they researched their family tree.
The couple, who have been married for 47 years, exchanged a number of emails with Mr Jacobi who posted Joe’s tag back to them.
The family have finally been reunited with the tag after it made the 6,665km (4,141 miles) journey from the US to the couple’s home in Forsbrook, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffs.
Grandmother-of-four Lynn said: “I saw an advert in the local paper asking if anyone had any information about prisoners of wars in Stalag 344.
“I emailed the man and said we had information my mother had saved.
“She had the telegram saying my dad was missing.
“He was posted missing on March 16, 1942, and then my mum received a telegram saying he’d been found and was a prisoner of war in Italian hands in September 1942.
“This was the last thing I expected. We’ve done a lot of ancestry searches as a family and it is very special to get everything.
“Once Dave had found it, it all happened so quickly.
“John understood its importance and the fact he said he was honoured to pass it back to us was overwhelming.
“We are very proud of Joe and I can’t begin to imagine what he would have made of all this.
“It is a sign of what he went through, which must have been horrendous.
“We have saved everything of Joe’s and we cherish it.”
Joe, from Blurton, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffs., died of an aneurysm at the age of 73 in 1987.
Dave, a former copper factory worker who has two children with Lynn, said: “Joe was captured in 1942 in Libya. He was in the Royal Artillery.
“He was originally shipped to southern Italy in May 1942 and then moved up the northern Italy in May 1943.
“The Germans moved all the prisoners to Germany and he ended up in Lamsdorf camp in Poland in October 1943.
“It was a massive camp and there were lots of workstations so they needed an ID and he was given the tag.
“He didn’t talk a lot about his experience.
“He kept a diary but it was very sketchy.
“He said he was very cold and hungry and lots of people died.
“The only thing I can recall him telling me was the way the Germans treated the people who were forced into labour.
“I remember he saying they treated them far worse than prisoners of war.
“He also told me how cold it was.
“He must have seen some horrific things in his time.
“He came back from Brussels on May 10, 1945.
“Nathan Berkow was a dentist by training and he was checking over prisoners in the army.
“It is such a mystery that he ended up with Joe’s tag as well as three other peoples’ tags.
“Whether Joe gave it to him as a token of thanks or whether Joe wanted to give it away because he didn’t want a constant reminder of the terrible things he saw, we don’t know.
“Nathan Berkow came home and died at the age of 100.
“Joe was checked out and very quickly was processed and flew home.
“When Berkow died, he passed his possessions, including the tag, onto his nephew Dereck Seltzer.
“Out of friendship, Dereck gave John the tag, which he sat on for 15 years, before he decided to go on the internet and share the fact he had it in his possession.
“I went on the site out of curiosity and saw Joe’s name. I emailed John and he was delighted to be able to return the tag to Joe’s daughter.”
“I go on lamsdorf.com once every six months to see if there’s anything new on there.
“I saw someone had asked about Joe, so I sent him an email and told him Joe was my father-in-law.
“We exchanged emails and he sent the tag over from Huntsville, Alabama.
“It’s a massive coincidence as out of the four tags Berkow had, we have ended up with the right one.
“The tag itself isn’t anything special, but it’s so sentimental.
“Joe died in 1987 and he was 73 when he died.
“He had an aneurysm.
“He had three children, one who was born before he was posted out to Libya.
“He has four grandchildren and he would have had six great-grandchildren, but he never met them.
“We were in amazement that something like this has resurfaced.
“We were both shocked, and Lynn was very emotional.
“It’s nice for her to have another memory of her father.”
Mr Jacobi said: “It was wonderful to have been able to repatriate the tag. Seeing Dave’s email gave me goosebumps. Returning it to the family seemed destined to happen.
“It was also special to know Joe had lived a good life on his return, as so many never came back.”