German Prisoners of War in Britain
Waffen SS prisoners of the 12th SS Panzer Division taken at Caen 1944. These were some of the very first prisoners taken by the British during the fighting for Caen who's number included Luftwaffe personnel including both Fallschirmjäger and Field Division troops.
It is a fair assumption that the vast majority of German soldiers who survived the war spent some time in captivity, be it either Allied or Soviet. There were vast differences between the conditions endured by Germans captured by the Allies and the Soviets however and the main reason for this difference was the fact the Allies complied with the Geneva Convention and the Soviets did not. The Geneva Convention of 1929 was a bill of rights for every prisoner of war taken by an opposing side and should have been displayed openly in every PoW camp. The protecting Power which was a neutral government appointed by a belligerent to look after it's interests in enemy territory until the normal restoration of diplomatic relations was restored. Delegates from these countries were permitted to visit the camps and to investigate complaints. As well as these appointed delegates the International Red Cross were permitted to visit the camps and this soon became standard practice.
Article 79 of the Geneva Convention entitled the International Committee to enforce the opposing powers to set up an Central Information Agency for the reception, recording and forwarding of information and replies to enquiries about prisoners of war and this agency was set up in 1939. There were two main powers who were not bound by these terms and did not apply these regulations to their prisoner of war procedures. These powers were Japan and the Soviet Union. Japan had signed but had not ratified it so in effect was not bound by it's terms. Russia had applied the terms of the Hague Convention of 1907 (which the Geneva Convention superseded) but failed to meet any of the requirements of the Geneva Convention during W.W.II and as a result no information was released on captured German troops and camp visits were not allowed for German prisoners in Soviet captivity. Germany followed suit and no visits or information on Soviet PoWs held on German territory were allowed to be released.
Waffen SS prisoners taken by British troops at Caen in July 1944.
Each German PoW has a different story to tell and certainly no generalisation can be made about either Allied or Soviet captivity as conditions varied greatly from camp to camp. Factors such as weather conditions, supplies of food and medicine, the period of the war when captivity was spent and indeed the individual personality of the camp commandant were all deciding factors to the conditions endured by prisoners. Conditions of camps varied too with there being purpose built camps in use as well as requisitioned and converted premises which served as PoW camps.
The first German prisoners to be taken were by Polish forces in the opening stages of the war but as was to be the case in France as well these prisoners were quickly liberated by the invading German forces. This changed however when Luftwaffe aircrews and U-boat crews operating in British territory were captured and imprisoned in Britainand as early as 1939 there were a number of captured air crews and U-boat crews held prisoner on British soil. The U-boat crews who survived being sunk could count themselves very lucky as many U-boats were sunk with all hands lost-a statistic which states that out of around 40,000 members of the U-boat arm of the Kreigsmarine who saw service only around 10,000 survived the war. It was a U-boat crew who were the first prisoners to be imprisoned in Britain and they came from U-27 which was depth charged in the North Sea in September 1939-the entire crew including the commander were rescued safely. U-27 captain Gerhard Glattes was captured by Lord Louis Montbatten - they kept in contact and remained friends for many years.
Eventually Luftwaffe aircrew outnumbered the Kreigsmarine sailors being taken prisoner and these prisoners were eventually in turn shipped to the USA and Canada. This provoked some violent demonstrations from the men earmarked for transportation and not unduly so. Their main fear was that they would fall victim to their own U-boats and made their feelings known in no uncertain terms by smashing up furniture in their camp. Their protests were eventually overruled and they were shipped from Liverpool in Northern England to ports in Canada and the US shortly afterwards. One of the men to sent to America from England was the most successful U-boat commander of the war Otto Kretschmer who was in command of U-99 and was captured March 17, 1941 with all but one of his crew. They were shipped to Bowmanville, Ontario (just east of Toronto).
Although a steady trickle of German prisoners found their way into PoW camps in Britain from 1939 to mid 1943, it was not until the victories in North Africa and later after the invasion of Normandy that the camps in Britain started to fill up with German prisoners of war. After the defeat in Africa, Italian as well as German prisoners were interned in camps across England, Scotland and Wales. After the fall of the Afrika Korps in early 1942 most of the POW were shipped via the Cape directly to New York. Approximately 25,000 were sent on to two large camps in Alberta at Ozada-Lethbridge and Medicine Hat which held 12,500 POW each.
The first prisoners in Britain were interned in two camps, ordinary soldiers being held at Glen Mill Camp in Oldham, Lancashire (Camp 176) and Officers interned at Grizedale Hall Lancashire (Camp 1). Grizedale Hall was a stately home which at the time was expensive to run and prompted a certain Colonel Wedgewood to complain in a speech to the House of Commons that "...would it not be cheaper to hold them (German PoWs) at the Ritz Hotel in London?" Soon however more camps sprang up that were a lot more modest with huts, barracks and tents providing the accommodation. The number of camps in Britain was to change drastically though and from it's humble beginnings of just two camps in 1939 the network of PoW cams was to grow to 600 by 1948.
The map above shows the network of PoW camps in Britain and Northern Ireland at it's peak. The camps further north housed the more ardent Nazis and members of the Waffen SS as well as Fallschirmjäger and U-boat crews.
Not all were held in Britain though and many were sent to distant parts of the British Empire in an effort to reduce the cost of feeding them as well as the fact that at the time (1940) a German invasion was imminent. The last thing Britain wanted was prisoners (although at this time the number of German PoWs was in Britain relatively small) helping the invading Germans. Many were sent to the USA and Canada.
The camps themselves on mainland Britain varied form site to site but the majority (if not situated in existing premises such as disused factories, hotels, colleges or stately homes etc.) were constructed from corrugated tin and wood. These structures were known as Nissen huts and can still be seen today in rural parts of Scotland and Wales.
Above: Plan of a typical POW camp used to house German prisoners on the British mainland. This particular camp shows the plan of Stanhill Camp which was situated on the Stanhill Road in Knuzden between Blackburn and Oswaldwistle in Lancashire, Northern England.
The numbered parts of the camp are as follows:
1. Pill Box
2. POW Barracks
4. Ammunition Stores
6. Camp Office
10. Guard Barracks
11. POW Barracks
After the Allied invasion of western Europe took place in 1944 prisoners that were taken would be transported on large barges (along with wounded Allied troops) over the English Channel and would dock at a major ports such as Southampton and Portsmouth. Sometimes discipline would break down and officers would be jostled and abused by enlisted men although in general this was not the case. Here they would be deloused and board trains which would take them to one of the nine Command Cages which would be set up in racecourses such as Kempton Park Doncaster Catterick and Loughborough in Leicestershire or football grounds such as Preston North End's ground in Lancashire, Northern England. A cage was a place where PoWs would be held before being sent to a PoW camp and during their stay there they would be interrogated by the Prisoner of War Interrogation Section (PWIS) under the command of Leutnant A.P. Scotland who's main base was in No. 8 Kensington Palace Gardens which was a former stately home. It was near here, in Cockfosters, that prisoners who were thought to have vital information as well as Luftwaffe flying crews were sent for special interrogation. Interrogation methods were very thorough and employed various means to extract information from prisoners. One such method was to "plant" an undercover soldier who spoke fluent German (usually a Pole who joined forces with the British) to glean as much information as possible from other prisoners.
German prisoner disembark from a train under the watchful eye of British troops at Kempton Park Holding Camp where they would be interrogated and eventually be despatched to other camps.
Here they would be interrogated on military matters and a good idea could be gained of the prisoners loyalty to the Nazi regime. They would be graded by a colour patch which was worn on their uniform. A white patch meant the person in question had no particular loyalty and was indifferent to National Socialism. A grey patch meant that the prisoner, although not an ardent Nazi, had no strong feelings either way wore a grey patch. The real hard-core Nazis wore a black patch and this usually meant most Waffen SS prisoners (as well as Fallschirmjäger and U-boat crews), not because they were hardened Nazis, simply because they were SS. They would then be sent to various camps around the country and for the feverant Nazis this would sometimes mean a camp in the wilds of Scotland where they would be put to agricultural work on farms.
The Vanquished. A seemingly endless column of German prisoners are marched under guard, through an English street on their way into captivity. Scenes like this were common in England in the months following D-Day.
A description of the journey endured by German POWs is given here by infantryman Kurt Bock who was captured in Holland in 1944:
"...hours later, a train took us elsewhere. It was not just an ordinary train; we sat on upholstered seats. There was no screaming and spitting at us like in Holland.
Hampden Park (a large Football ground in Scotland ): long rows of tables. Interrogation:
your name, your rank, your company, your papers. Delousing station. Shower & bath...
Next day: Nottingham. A huge camp consisting only of tents. Of course, this caused a great disappointment. Here we received cigarettes, a bag and a white handkerchief, which made a great impression on me. But I already had one valuable extra possession: a second blanket...
The next camp was Crewe Hall, Cheshire (Camp 191). My first days there I felt only relief at the narrow escape out of hell. And this hell was still going on on the other side of the Channel. My family did not know I was safe and I did not know if my parents were alive. I had already learnt of the death of my younger brother Martin".
Hans Reckel who was captured in France recalls:
"On 24th July 1944 on a dull almost foggy morning we stepped onto English soil at Gosport. In the streets almost all we saw were women in working clothes smoking cigarettes who barely noticed us".
Lieutnant Kurt Bock remembers:
"I had nothing but my uniform. Consequently when I caught my first cold I did not have my handkerchief. through the wire a soldier from my company passed me a small red handkerchief...Our daily diet was tea with milk and sugar twice daily poured into an empty corned beef tin-if you had one!"
The screening process at the holding cages which separated the hard-core Nazis from the moderates was, to begin with pretty thorough but towards the end of 1944 the process was hurried somewhat due to the large volume of prisoners arriving in Britain. This led to some Nazis being mixed in camps with the moderates. Also, another phenomenon was the increasing number of eastern troops who had volunteered for service with the Germans as well as many Poles who were pressed in to service with the Germans being taken prisoner in France falling into British hands.
Each camp had what was known as a Lagerführer who would normally be a fluent English speaking "white" German. He was detailed to liaise between the prisoners and the British and also enforce some sort of discipline in the camp. He would also be in charge of the work detail. Every prisoner could work if he so wished and would usually be detailed to do farm work, which would involve hedging, ditching and harvesting, construction work or clearing bomb damage etc. During their working hours they would (if working on farms) be under the direct command of the farmer to whom they were employed. Construction work was also carried out by the prisoners as within their ranks were tradesmen who before the war worked in the construction industry. In Britain at the time there was something of a housing crisis due to the recent bombing campaign by the Germans and it was estimated that 4 million homes were destroyed which would have to be replaced.
The German prisoners were put to work on the construction of new homes within the localities of their camps and they were paid the current union rates of pay which worked out at around between three and six shillings for a 48 hour week. This worked out fine until some of the local population became annoyed at what they saw as foreigners taking their jobs and as a result in London repair gangs went on strike, in Newcastle men volunteered to work two hours per day extra rather than receive help from the German PoWs and dockers threatened to walk out if German PoWs were sent to work at their docks but the government assured the locals that PoW labour would only be used when local labour was not available. Even today many of the locals recall men in dark uniforms with the letter "P" painted on their trouser leg working on the construction of houses or repairing roads. By 1946 22,000 prisoners were involved in construction work in Britain and around 169,000 prisoners were involved in agricultural work. At one time it was considered that one quarter of the total workforce in Britain came from POW labour. What should be remembered though is that under the Geneva Convention officers could not be put to work and the British chose not to let ardent Nazis work either. Only good conduct prisoners were allowed to work outside the camp.
Life in a British POW camp was not easy but compared to other nations treatment of POWs was on the whole fair. An account of life in Featherstone Park Camp is given here:
"About eighty men lodged in each hut. Apart from the beds, the only furniture consisted of two tables and four benches. Prisoners squatted on the edge of the bed or lay in bunks. There was not a single moment of real peace because one was surrounded by games of cards, stories, discussions, lessons and other noises...always the same faces".
A scene inside a Nissen hut. Note the wooden bunks and the heater in the middle of the room. This was the only source of heat in the hut and in winter temperatures dropped considerably inside.
Also ongoing on the camps were lectures, concerts, gardening and handicrafts and particularly carving (sometimes of the bedposts!). Sport was popular with football, boxing and wrestling being the main activities with chess and playing cards also proving popular pastimes. There were opportunities for education as well in some camps with lessons in English (which proved very popular), shorthand, mechanics, physics and forestry. Paper was in short supply but the inmates of the camp improvised, using blackout material for blackboards, toilet paper and the backs of labels from tinned foods as exercise books. There were jobs to be done in the kitchen and in health care too and letter writing and the making of toys for the local children were another feature of life as a POW. Work was optional but most elected to as it passed the time more quickly.
Another strange aspect of life in a British prison camp was the fact that prisoners received the same amount of daily rations as British servicemen, which turned out to be more than the civilian population received. So in effect the German POWs were better fed than the civilian population of Britain! The German working prisoner recieved weekly: 42ozs of meat, 8ozs of bacon, 5½ lbs of bread, 10½ ozs of margarine as well as vegetables, cheese, cake, jam and tea. These amounts were increased slightly in June 1945. A typical daily menu (this one came from camp 197) consisted of the following:
Breakfast: A quarter of bread, margarine and tea.
Dinner: Pork with potatoes
Supper: Milk, Soup and a fifth of bread.
The physical condition of prisoners was on the whole pretty good with regular meals and reasonable medical care being available to all. The mental condition of a lot of prisoners was however a different story. Many were moved around from camp to camp, not just on the British mainland but some had originally been sent to America or Canada from large camps in Europe and then shipped to Belgium. It was a genuine concern to the Germans that they might fall victim to their own U-boats who, although clearly unable to win the Battle of the Atlantic in 1944, were still sinking a lot of Allied shipping towards the end of the war and there was one case of a ship transporting Italian PoWs being sunk by a U-boat with a great loss of life. It was then thought by the prisoners that they would be sent home to Germany but to their dismay were sent to Britain instead, all the time not knowing when they would be released. This had a demoralising effect prisoners who also had little knowledge of the welfare of their families and relatives and the state of their homeland. Many also suffered from nightmares and other symptoms of what is now known as post tramatic stress disorder.
In Britain there were hundreds of camps and each one was assigned a number. The accuracy of these numbers is somewhat dubious as there were no accurate records kept and as well as this some camp's numbers were asigned to other camps when they were closed down. Below is a list of all the known camps in Britian and Northern Ireland. The list is quite extensive and readers who livein The UK may be surpried to the proximity of a camp to them. (I know certainly was!). There are over 600 in all and the list will updated in time.
LIST OF POW CAMPS IN BRITAIN
1. Grizedale Hall, Hawkshead, Ambleside, Lancashire
2. Toft Hall, Knutsford Cheshire
4. Scraptoft, Thurnby, Leicester & Gilling Camp, Richmond N. Yorkshire.
5. (Unknown Camp) Northern Ireland
6. (Unknown Camp) Northern Ireland & Long Marston Stratford-on-Avon Warwickshire & Doncaster / W.Yorks
7. Winter Quarters, Ascot, Windsor Berks
8. Mile House, Owestry, Salop & Sheriffhales, Shinfal, Salop
9. Kempton Park Race Course, Sunbury on Thames, Middx & Quorn Loughborough, Leicester
10. Gosford Camp, Markethall, Armagh, Northern Ireland
11. Island Farm, Bridgend, Glamorgan & Trent Park Camp, Southgate, Middx
12. Elmfield Camp, Gilford, Portadown, Northern Ireland & Bury , Manchester, Lancashire
13. Shap Fells Hotel, Shap, Penrith, Wales
14. Bun Camp, Doonfoot, Ayr, Scotland
15. Donalsons School, West Coates, Edinburgh, Midlothian, Scotland
16. Gosford Camp, Aberlady, Longniddry, East Lothian, Scotland
17. Lodge Moor Camp, Sheffield, Yorkshire & London W2 (GPC), London
18. Featherstone Park, Haltwhistle, Northumbria
19. Happendon Camp, Douglas, Lanarkshire, Scotland
20. Bickham Camp, Yelverton, Tavistock, Devon
21. Comrie, Perth, Scotland
22. Pennylands Camp, Cummnock, Ayr Scotland.
23. The Marchent Camp, Devizes, Wiltshire & Sudbury, Derbyshire and Shrewsbury (GPC), Salop
24. Knutsford (MH) Cheshire
25. Lodge Farm, Farncombe, Down, Lambourn, Berkshire & Leamington (GPC), Warwickshire
26. Barton Field Camp, Ely, Cambridgeshire
27. Ledbury, Herefordshire & Nottingham (GPC)
28. Knighthorpe Camp, Ashby Road, Loughborough, Leicestershire
29. Royston Heath Camp, Royston, Hertfordshire. Ormskirk (GH) Lancashire & Abergavenny (GPC), South Wales.
30. Carpenters Road, Stratford, East London E15 & Aldershot (GPC) Hanpshire
31. Ettington Park, Newbold Upon Stour, stratford-Upon-Avon
32. Wormwood Scrubs, Shepard's Bush, London, W12
33. Dancer's Hill, South Mimms, Barnet, Hertfordshire & Shorncliffe Camp, Folstone (GPC), Kent
35. Boughton Park, Boughton, Nuneaton, Northhamptonshire.
36. Hartwell Dog Track, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire & Bridgewater (GPC), Somerset.
37. Sudeley Castle, Winchcombe, Cheltenham, Gloucester
38. Pool Park, Ruthin, Denbighs.
39. Castle Maxstoke, Coleshill, Warwickshire
40. Somerhill Camp, Tonbridge, Kent.
41. Ganger Camp, Romsey, Hampshire.
42. Exhibition Field Cp. Holsworthy, Devon
43. Harcourt Hill, North Ilnksey, Berkshire
44. Goathurst Camp, Bridgewater, Somerset.
45. Trumpington, Cambridgeshire
46. Kingsfold Camp, Billinghurst, West Sussex
47. Motcombe Park, Shaftsbury, Dorset.
48. Greenfield Farm, Presteigne, Radnor
49. Harrington Camp, Farndon Road, Market Harborough, Leicester
50. Garswood Park, Ashton-in-Markerfield, Wigan Lancashire
51. Allington, Grantham, Kesteven, Lincolnshire
52. Nether Headon Camp, Retford, Nottinghamshire
53. Sandbeds Camp, Brayton, Selby, Yorkshire
54. Longbridge Camp, Hampton Lovett, Droitwich, Worcester
55. Shalstone, Buckinghamshire
56. Dotesdale, Diss, East Suffolk.
57. Merrow Downs Camp, Guildford, Surrey
58. Belper, Derbyshire & Swanwick, Derbyshire
59. Wood Walton Lane, Sawtry
60. Oerdale Camp, Skipton, Yorkshire & Huddersfield, Bradford, Yorkshire
61. Wynolls Hill, Broadwell, Coleford, Gloucestershire
62. The MoorCamp, Thankerton, Lanarkshire, Scotland
63. Balhery Est. Camp, Alyth, Perth, Scotland
64. Castle Rakine, Denny, Stirling, Scotland
65. Setley Plain, Brokenhust, Hampshire & Preston (GPC) Lancashire.
66. Calvine, Blair Atholl, Perth, Scotland & Dundee, Angus, Scotland
67. Sandyhillock Camp, Craigellachie, Banff.
68. Halmuir Farm, Lockerbie, Dumfries, Scotland.
69. Darras Hall, Ponteland, Newcastle Upon Tyne.
70. Henllan Bridge Camp, Henllan, Llandyssul, Cardigan, Wales
71. Sheriffhales, Shinfal, Salop, Newmarket (GPC) West Suffolk.
72. Ducks Cross Camp, Colmworth, Bedfordshire
73. Storwood Camp, Melbourne, Yorkshire
74. Racecourse Camp, Tarporley, Cheshire
75. Northern Hill Camp, Laurencekirk, Kincardine
76. Merry Thought Camp, Calthwaite, Penrith, Cumberland.
77. Aunsmuir Camp, Ladybank, Fife, Scotland.
78. High Garret, Braintree, Essex,
79. Moorby, Revesby, Boston, Lindesy, Lincolnshire.
80. Horbling, Sleaford, Kesteven, Lincolnshire
81. Pingley Farm, Brigg, Lindsey, Lincolnshire
82. Hempton Green Camp, fakenham, Norfolk, & Aldborough, Norfol
83. Eden Camp, Old Malton, Malton, Yorkshire
84. Sheet Camp, Ludlow, Salop.
85. Victoria camp, Brandon Road, Mildenhall, Bury St. Edmunds, West Suffolk
86. Stanhope Camp, Ashford, Kent & Woodchurch, Ashford, Kent
87. Byfield Camp, Rugby, Warwickshire
88. Mortimer, reading, Berkshire
89. Easton Grey Camp, Malmesbury, wiltshire
90. Friday Bridge, Wisbach, Cambridgeshire
91. Post Hill Camp, Farnley, Leeds, Yorkshire
92. Bampton Road, Tiverton, Devon
93. Harperley Camp, Fir Tree, Crook, Co. Durham & Oaklands Emergancy Hospital, Bishop Aukland, Co. Durham
94. Gaulby Road, Billesdon, Leicester
95. Batford Camp, Harpenden, Staffordshire
96. Wolseley Road, Rugley, Staffodshire
97. Birdinbury, Bourton, Rugby, Warwickshire
98. Little Addington, Kettering, Northamptonsire
99. shugborough Park, great Haywood (GH) Staffordshire
100. St. Martins, Owestry, Salop
101. Glandulas Camp, Newton, Montgomery
102. Llanddarog, Camarthen
103. Moota Camp, Cockermouth, Northumbria
104. Beela River, Milnthorpe, Westmorland
105. Brewery Road, Wooler, Northumbria & Colinton Camp, Edinburgh (GPC) Midlothian
106. Stamford, Kesteven, Lincolnshire
107. Penleigh Camp, Wookey Hole, Wells, Somerset.
108. Thirkleby, Thirsk, Yorks
109. Brahan Castle, Dingwall, Ross and County
110. Stuartfield, Mintlaw, Aberdeen
111. Deer Park Camp, Moneymusk, Aberdeen
112. Kingendengh Camp, Mauchline Ayr, Scotland & Doonfoot, Ayr
113. Holm Park Camp, Newton Stewart, Wigtown.
114. Eden Vale Camp, Westbury Wiltshire
115. White Cross Camp, St. Columb Major Cornwall
116. Mill Lane, Hatfield Heath, Bishops Stortford, Essex
117. Waiderslade camp, Chatham, Kent
118. Mardy, Abergavenny, Wales
119. Pabo Hall Camp, llandudno Junction, Caernarvon
120. Sunlaws Camp, Kelso, Roxburgh
121. Racecourse Camp, Ripon, Yorkshire & Knaresborough Yorkshire
122. Raynor's Lane, Harrow-on-the-Hill, Middx & Hatch End, Harrow-on-the Hill, Middlesex.
123. Dalmahoy Camp, Kirkwenton, Midlothian, Scotland.
124. Wapley Camp, Yate, Bristol
125. Newland House, Tooting Bec. Road, Tooting Bec Common, London SW17.
126. Mellands Camp, Gorton, Manchester, Lancashire
127. Potters Hill, HighGreen, Sheffield, Yorkshire.
128. Meesden, Buntingford, Hertfordshire
129. Ashford Lodge Camp, Halstead, Essex
130. West Fen Militia, Ely, Cambridge.
131. Uplands Camp, Diss, Norfolk
134. Loxley Hall, Utoxeter, Staffordshire
135. Stanbury House, Spencers Wood, Reading, Berkshire
136. High Hall, Bishop Burton, Beverly, Yorkshire
137. Hazeldene Camp, Elburton, Plymouth, Devon
138. The Rectory Camp, Bassingham, Kesteven, Lincolnshire
139. Wolviston Hall, Wolviston, Billingham, Durham
140. Racecourse Camp, Warwick, Warwickshire
141. Beeson House, St. Neots
142. Gloucester, Gloucestershire
143. Carlton Hall, Carlton, Worksop, Nottinghamshire
144. Ruskin Avenue, Kew, Richmond Surrey
145. Normanhurst Camp, Battle, East Sussex
146. Newton Camp, Preston, Lancashire
147. Boar's Head, Walgherton, Nantwich, Cheshire
148. Castlethorpe Hall Camp, Castlethorpe, Brigg, Lindley, Lincolnshire
151. Pendeford hall, Codsall, Wolverhampton, Staffordshire & Coven, Wolverhampton, Staffordshire & Halfpenny Green, Wolverhampton, Staffordshire
152. Old Liberal Club, Charnwood Road, Shepshed, Loughborough
153. Fulney Park Camp, Spalding, Lincolnshire
154. Minister ofWorks Camp,swanscombe, Dartford, Kent.
155. Hornby Hall Camp, Penrith, Scotland
156. The Heath Camp, Wellingore, Kesteven Lincolnshire
157. Bourton Camp, Bourton-on-the-Hill, Moreton-in-Marsh, Gloucestershire
159. Butterwick, Yorkshire
160. Lydiard Park, Purton, Swindon, Wiltshire
161. Grangefield, Gloucester (MH) Belfast, Northern Ireland.
162. Naeburn (MH) Yorkshire
INCIDENTS DURING LIFE IN THE CAMPS
Camp 168, Glen Mill Camp which was a disused cotton mill in Wellyhole Road in Oldham, Lancashire and possessed a large number of Russian volunteers who had been captured fighting for the Germans in France. It was at this camp also that a number of Fallschirmjäger were also sent who, coming straight from the battlefields in France and with their strong sense of discipline intact, were enraged at the behaviour of the ill-disciplined Russians. At mealtimes they would violently push the German prisoners out of the way and eat with their bare hands straight from the serving pots, shovelling as much food into their mouths as possible. Feldwebel Gerald Hanel who was among the number of Fallschirmjäger remembers that this was a very turbulent time at Glen Mill with discipline non-existant among the prisoners and on their arrival decided "...these Russians must be taught the sharpest lesson!" He relates that the next mealtime, at a hand signal from him, his tough Fallschirmjäger comrades descended on the Russians who were like pigs feeding at a trough. Using their fists, elbows and knees dragged the Russians away from the food back to the other end of the hall. This enraged the Russians who hated the Germans far more that the British guards and they planned their revenge. Two nights later the German prisoners had planned a concert but the Russians seeing this as a chance for revenge decided to smash the stage up shortly before it was due to begin so no concert could take place. Word got back to Hanel's paratroopers about the Russian's plans and they decided to ambush the Russians and armed themselves with iron bars, wooden staves and planks of wood with nails hammered in to the ends. The Russians were taken by surprise and the stage remained undamaged-which is more than can said for a large number of Russians who required medical treatment for their injuries! Needless to say there was no reoccurance of such incidents again.
Hanel and his paratroopers imposed a strict Nazi-style type of order and the anti-Nazi contingent among the German prisoners were quick to fall into line. Kangaroo courts were set up for offenders who could expect severe beating when found guilty. They encouraged other prisoners to be awkward with the British guards and when ordered to salute a British officer, did so with a Nazi salute. They stated that under the Geneva Convention, flying crews were not allowed to work and as they were part of the Luftwaffe they were not going to work. The British replied with a "No work, No food" policy but although this forced the paras to work they practised a go-slow so very little productivity was gained from them. Another method of causing annoyance to the British guards took place at night when the prisoners would throw paper aeroplanes from the top floor of the camp into the streets below. The guards (much to their anger) had to pick up every single one in case they contained secret messages. Also when the prisoners went on work duty early in the morning they would sing Nazi marching songs at the tops of their voices and occasionally spat at the locals they passed. More than once the guards were forced to separate enraged locals and German prisoners who had come to blows with each other.
There was in December 1944 an audacious plan hatched by Waffen SS officers and some Fallschirmjäger troops to break out of their camp in Devizes, Wiltshire and seize weapons, including tanks from a local army depot and march on London, all this was to coincide with the Ardennes offensive which was taking place in Europe. The Ardennes Offensive lifted the moral of many German prisoners as they though this would lead to their liberation but they were very much mistaken. Although the plan sounds ludicrous it caused the British some concern and not unfoundedly as there were around 250,000 prisoners in Britain (the equivalent of 48 divisions) at that time and the British and American forces stationed in Britain numbered considerably less as they were fighting in Europe and the Far East. The plan was fortunately discovered and the perpetrators were dealt with, being sent to Comrie Camp in Perthshire (Camp 21) in the wilds of Scotland which housed hard-line line Nazis (mainly young Waffen SS, Fallschirmjäger and U-boat crew prisoners) out of the way of other moderate prisoners. This did lead to one very unfortunate incident where Feldwebel Wolfgang Rosterg-a known anti-Nazi was sent by mistake. He was believed to have informed of the plot to march on London and after a severe beating was hanged in the latrine. Five prisoners were caught, tried and hanged in Pentonville Prison in North London on 6th October 1946. Another prisoner- Unteroffizer Gerhard Rettig was beaten to death for his open criticism of the plan and was beaten to death after being chased round the camp and two other prisoners were executed in November 1946 in Pentonville Prison.
There were several escape attempts made and various methods were employed such as tunnelling and breaching the wire fences although most ended in failure with the escapees being re-captured within a few days. The local around the vicinity of the camp were alert to the possibility of escaped German prisoners and many were turned over by the locals to the authorities. There was one case however of two German POWs escaping from Glen Mill prison camp and making it back to Hamburg. From there they sent a rude letter to the camp commandant stating that they would not be coming back to enjoy any more of his kind hospitality!!
THE END OF THE WAR
With the wars end many prisoners were soon on their way back home but a programme of re-education was devised to supposedly prepare the prisoners for a new life in a different Germany. The full horrors of the Holocaust were put on show and one prisoner who was at the time a hard-line Nazi remembers that many of his comrades did not believe that the Holocaust had taken place thinking it was British propaganda designed to shame the German people even more. This process of re education determined whether a prisoner would be sent home early or not and interviews took place to determine the prisoners attitude. Many who at first showed contempt for the British realised that the war was now over and the only way to secure their release was to change their attitude. Many did and the first repatriations took place in 1946. Some were less flexible however and at these interviews (which took place every six months) would show their loyalty to the Nazi regime by marching in to the interrogation room and giving a Nazi salute to the British officer present which would mean a further six-months in captivity. Among Waffen SS prisoners this was common and later after the Nuremberg trials when the Waffen SS was deemed a criminal organistation many prisoners were held for longer periods simply for being a member of the Waffen SS.
The last prisoners repariatriations took place in 1949 but many prisoners did not want to return to Germany as their hometown was in the Soviet sector and fearing another spell of imprisonment in Soviet hands, decided to stay in Britain where they became known as "DPs" or displaced persons. Others married local girls and stayed in Britain where many still live today with the girl they married over fifty years ago. The opportunity to meet local people was given to the German PoWs after the war where Christmas would be spent with a local family and regular visits would be made to present local children with toys that had been carved from wood during their spare time. By all accounts there was little animosity towards the German prisoners who by this time had become a familiar sight in several towns ad villages in Britain.
Far left: German prisoners spend time at Christmas in the home of an English family in 1947. Next: Willi Einrichs who was a Fallschirmjäger captured in the hell of Monte Cassino marries Irene Farndell of Chichester on 29th November 1947.
There is today in England an extraordinary case of Fallschirmjäger Obergefreiter Hans Teske who still remains a PoW to this day! He was taken prisoner in Tunisia in 1943 and imprisoned in Hill Hall Camp (Camp 116) near Epping, Essex and during his time there made several escape attempts. At the war's end he did not want to return to Germany as his home was now in Soviet held territory so the British allowed him to live outside the camp on a 12 monthly parole basis. In June he applied for a transfer to Kent and the officials removed his name from the list in Epping but for some reason did not put his name on their records in Kent. When he discovered the error he asked for his name to be put on the repatriation list but was refused. He continued his protests and lobbied his local Member of Parliament and several German ambassadors but to no avail and in 1970 decided not to pursue the matter so technically he is still a prisoner of war to this day!
The German Government passed a POW compensation bill which awarded those imprisoned after 1st January 1947 one mark per day and increasing to five marks per day after 1st January 1949.
Today in Britain most of the camps have disappeared although the holding cages at racecourses and Football grounds still exist. I personally interviewed an ex-German PoW who belonged to a Whermact signals unit and was held in in a PoW camp in Wales. He ended up becoming the groundsman at Kempton Park racecourse and although now retired he remembers occasionally finding buttons from uniforms which had been burned on the grounds of the racecouse due to the infestation of Lice.
German prisoners being taken to a football match at West Ham United's Boleyn Ground in East London. There is no better way to spend a Saturday afternoon than watching the greatest team in England play football and these Germans are very privileged indeed to be allowed to behold such an event!
A useful source of information on German POWs can be found on this site which belongs to Pamela Taylor who is the author of the book "Enemies Become Freinds" which details the everyday lives of German POWs in Northern England after WWII.
Another good site is based on the camp at Island Farm. This was an extremely significant POW camp which was in South Wales called Camp 198 and later called Special Camp 11 after a successful escape by the Germans.