Sunday, 15 March 2015

What Happened To British WW2 POW Camps?

As part of my history degree, which I completed some 20 years ago, I was tasked to write a 20,000 word dissertation during my final year on a subject of my choice.

I chose what was then a relatively little-studied subject of UK prisoner of war camps during the second World War. At the time the 50-year rule had just lapsed so many a happy hour was spent in Kew's National Archives studying and documenting WW2 official top secret documents which had just been released.

Although the history of the British in German POW camps is more familiar to us, not least through popular films such as The Great Escape and The Wooden Horse, less well known is the fate of the Germans and Italians, their treatment and the escape attempts in camps based in the UK.

Indeed the subject was so bereft at the time of books on the subject that much of my dissertation had to be derived from primary sources such as; official documents, site visits such as to Easton Grey Camp based at Malmesbury, Wiltshire and personal interviews across England, Jersey and France.

With this in mind I thought I would mention this piece on the BBC website which has an interesting, albeit rather brief article, on this very subject.


  1. My step-grandfather was a POW at Maresfield (Uckfield). Originally on the Scharnhorst he was (luckily) transferred to a minesweeper before capture. He told me that they used to work on local farms etc. He had no intention of trying to get back to Germany during the war and neither did most of the others that he knew. Far better a semi-free life as a prisoner here.
    After the war he decided to stay here with my grandmother.
    I wish I had asked so many more questions while I had the chance.

    1. Thank you very much for your comment, it's very interesting. I love comments like this.

      When I undertook my dissertation those I interviewed who had worked within the camps, similar sentiments were made.

      Camps that held the most antagonistic Germans or Italians etc could be determined by how far north in our country they were based.

      Those based in the south and nearer the English channel were far more relaxed to the extent they were they open - pows could come and go as they pleased.

  2. I lived in Tonbridge, Kent during the last war and 1/4 mile up the road was a heavily wired POW camp, now a girl's grammar school.The first prisoners were German, who wore grey untiforms with a foot diameter yellow patch across their back and a smaller one across one leg. Those were targets to be shot at in the event of an escape. They decorated the inside of one concrete hut beautifully as a Christian chapel, angels, stars clouds; the lot. They did not seem to be let out, but after a year or so they were replaced by Italians who wore a chocolate brown uniform similarly marked. They did go out and many worked on local farms, though others used large suspended nets to fish in the local lake, caught and trained magpies as pets, made rings and bracelets from scrounged aluminium and perspex. One of them accepted an inviation to come to tea and as a teacher helped me with my Latin homework. Guillame Guilliomo was his name I think.
    At least three of the Germans remained behind locally that I know of and married English girls

    1. Thank you Paul Oliver-Smith, a great comment and much appreciated.

      With the camp at Easton Grey Camp based at Malmesbury, Wiltshire there was one hut which had been lovingly and meticulously decorated - it had been turned into a church.

      Now it forms part of an industrial estate and the hut in question is used to store chemicals with no respect to the building. It saddens me that a part of our history is no longer preserved properly.

  3. i was honord with a stay at the vindicatrix training camp in sharpness for 10 weeks although this was a training camp we all felt it must have been a pow camp at sometime

  4. Is the photo Eden Camp near Malton North Yorkshire?

  5. In the Sixties I travelled on business to Cumberland quite often. One place I stayed was a former POW camp at Moota, done up as a Motel. As I recall, it was pretty adequate and a change from my usual guest houses, B & Bs etc. However, they did it up and put in new beds which had come from Japan which were just too short for me ( and I'm only 5' 8" ) so I didn't stay there after that.
    I can just remember an Italian POW working in our family animal feed mill. We lived in the mill house and he was stacking logs in the cellar. He was called Tony. We couldn't understand each other although we tried!