Truth about ring road tramp Fred

The truth about the secret life of Wolverhampton's famous ring road tramp can today be revealed for the first time.

Truth about ring road tramp Fred

Fred the TrampThe truth about the secret life of Wolverhampton's famous ring road tramp can today be revealed for the first time.

Josef Stawinoga, affectionately known as Fred, fought alongside the German army in Africa in the Second World War and switched sides to join the Poles after being held as an English prisoner of war.

The fascinating insight into the life of Fred, who lived in a tent on the city's ring road for more than 30 years, has been unveiled by one of his surviving relatives in Germany, who has also revealed the identities of the people who will inherit his pension, unclaimed for decades, which is believed to amount to tens of thousands of pounds.

Fighting in Africa and working in the full heat of the Egyptian sun as a prisoner is believed to have affected Fred's mind but it was decades later that the full consequences emerged, when he abandoned his home in favour of a life on the streets.

The Pole lived on the city's ring road for more than 30 years and died in the tent he called home in October last year, aged 86.

He previously worked at Stewarts and Lloyds steelworks in Bilston and colleagues believed he had been married for a short time.

After many years spent wandering the streets pushing a pram, Fred took to his tent on Ring Road St John's and received visits and meals on wheels because he refused to move to indoor accommodation.

But Fred never claimed his pension or benefits in all that time and his family stands to inherit a substantial sum.

A nephew and two nieces in Croatia and Germany have come forward following coverage in newspapers around the world. At the same time Treasury solicitors asked London probate company Fraser and Fraser to find the true heirs.

The son of Fred's half-brother has told the Express & Star how the tramp served with the German army in the Second World War and was a prisoner of war when he was captured by the Allies.

Self-employed lift engineer Roland Stawinoga, who worked on the elevators for Aragon Tower, the tallest apartment block in London, lives in the German capital of Berlin and is the grandson of Josef's father Robert Stawinoga.

Robert married three times. A son, also called Robert, was born from his first marriage to Anna Glawaty and it is Robert junior who is Roland Stawinoga's father.

In an email exchange with the Express & Star written in German, the 68-year-old said: "Josef was in the German armed forces and had to go to Africa under General Rommel.

"After the defeat at El-Alamein the campaign was stopped in November 1942. Josef was then in an English prisoner of war camp in Egypt and had to work even in the heat of the midday sun. In these conditions many prisoners of the English did not survive.

"Someone noticed that he spoke good Polish and that he had a Polish mother, so he was allowed to join the Polish army in England.

"That was how he survived, but he had suffered mental problems because of his experiences in the war.

"He told me he was not sent to fight against the Germans but I find it very unlikely that he had been in the war so long and, as he told me, had become an officer.

"He also told me that as a foreigner in England, he had to report every week to the authorities. He slept with a pistol under his pillow, even when he came to see us."

Fred, or Josef as he was then known, was Robert senior's son with his second wife Josefa Pohl, a Pole. He spoke German with his family but went to school in Kepno in Poland, which was occupied by the Germans during the Second World War.

Because Roland is only a half-blood relative he will not inherit the money.

It is the three children of Josef's sister Angela, who died two years ago, who stand to inherit his fortune, according to Roland, who revealed how he last saw his uncle in 1960.

"Josef's sister Angela moved to Yugoslavia, now Croatia, after the war and got married," he said. "Her three children Donata, Renata and Armin Anic are the next of kin. Donata and Armin live in Croatia while Renata, aged 60, lives in Munich.

"Josef visited our family at the start of 1960 when we lived in Wiesbaden. He had tried to gain a foothold in Germany. It was the only time we had ever met and he told me things about his life.

"When he returned to England we received one more letter from him but it was confused and gibberish and eventually our letters were returned saying the address was wrong.

"Years later I found a news report from Wolverhampton on the internet and in that old man I recognised my uncle.

"I believe Josef had a serious nervous breakdown."

In the absence of anyone to correct them, people who heard about Fred, as he became known, speculated about his past.

Some of the more serious allegations suggested he rose to a position of power with Hitler's Schutzstaffel, the notorious black-shirted paramilitary guard which carried out the Fuhrer's racist aims. "There are many stories about Poland's stake in the Second World War and when I next go there I will try to find out more", Mr Stawinoga said.

"On the internet a number of people say that Josef was in the SS.

"This is completely untrue. I also find it unlikely that he had anything to do with being a Russian spy.

"His nieces and nephew knew only that they were related to him. They had no idea how much money they would inherit. Polish media have suggested it is millions but that is not possible. His nieces and nephew are poor people and this inheritance could not have come at a better time for them.

"Since his death I have found lots of information about Josef over the internet and it makes me very happy that so many people had such positive things to say about him. He was a poor old devil, but he was a good man. Everyone has their own eccentricities and their own ways. He found a lifestyle that suited him." Case manager Frances Brett, of probate firm Fraser and Fraser, said: "There was another man called Stawinoga who lived in Wolverhampton but is now deceased.

"His wife's family suggested he may have been Josef's brother but this claim did not turn out to be true.

"People even tried to tell us he grew up with the Pope and that they played together as children.

"Our research took us to the births, marriages and deaths archives in Poland.

"They are not the sort of family who would have had access to the internet so they would never have known about Facebook or been able to find him on the Express & Star website.

"As it happens, when we tracked them down they were already aware of it and had been in touch with the Treasury so we will not actually get any fee for our work on this.

"But it has been a fascinating case to work on."

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