Prisoner of War Camps
In Shropshire, there were 6 Prisoner of War (POW) Camps during the First World War for Germans and 18 in the Second World War for both Germans and Italians. Most of these were purpose-built, with a water tower, offices, officer's mess, canteen, guard room, barrack huts, ablution blocks, cell blocks, medical facility or hospital, cookhouse, dining rooms, recreation rooms and living huts or tents. Initially, many of the POWs held in the UK were Italians who had been captured in North Africa. It was only towards the end of the war that Germans arrived in large numbers, before being repatriated. At the peak there were 402,000 POWs in the UK in 1,000 camps.
All PoWs received a weekly allowance that could be spent at the prison shop for things like toothpaste, cigarettes, etc. The non-commissioned POWs were also allowed to earn extra money by working on local farms, industry or on the roads. It used to be a common sight to see men working with coloured patches sewn onto their jackets and trousers to show that they were PoWs. The Government charged the farmers Agricultural Wages Board rates to have a prisoner but they only got paid about 15/- a week. Despite this, one Italian PoW said that he was much better off working here than he had been working on the land in Sicily before the war. Half was paid by a token, with the number of the camp stamped on it, and they were only allowed to exchange this at the prison shop. The other half was paid into a bank account in Germany, which they could access when they were finally released. The Geneva Convention set out the terms for PoWs who worked :-
Article 27 - Belligerents may employ as workmen prisoners of war who are physically fit, other than officers and persons of equivalent statue, according to their rink and their ability. Nevertheless, if officers or persons of equivalent status ask for suitable work, this shall be found for them as far as possible. Non-commissioned officers who are prisoners of war may be compelled to undertake only supervisory work, unless they expressly request remunerative occupation.
Article 29 - No prisoner of war may be employed on work for which he is physically unsuited.
Article 30 - The duration of the daily work of prisoners of war, including the time of the journey to and from work, shall not be excessive and shall in no case exceed that permitted for civil workers of the locality employed on the same work. Each prisoner shall be allowed a rest of twenty-four consecutive hours each week, preferably on Sunday.
Article 31 - Work done by prisoners of war shall have no direct connection with the operations of the war. In particular, it is forbidden to employ prisoners in the manufacture or transport of arms or munitions of any kind, or on the transport of material destined for combatant units.
Article 32 - It is forbidden to employ prisoners of war on unhealthy or dangerous work. Conditions of work shall not be rendered more arduous by disciplinary measures.
Article 34 --
Prisoners of war shall not receive pay for work in connection with the
administration, internal arrangement and maintenance of camps. Prisoners
employed on other work shall be entitled to a rate of pay, to be fixed by agreements
between the belligerents. These agreements shall also specify the portion
which may be retained by the camp administration, the amount which shall
belong to the prisoner of war and the manner in which this amount shall be
placed at his disposal during the period of his captivity. The remuneration
of the work of prisoners shall be fixed according to the following standards:
(a) Work done for the State shall be paid for according to the rates in force for soldiers of the national forces doing the same work, or, if no such rates exist, according to a tariff corresponding to the work executed.
(b) When the work is done for other public administrations or for private individuals, the conditions shall be settled in agreement with the military authorities. The pay which remains to the credit of a prisoner shall be remitted to him on the termination of his captivity. In case of death, it shall be remitted through the diplomatic channel to the heirs of the deceased.
Because of his knowledge of the German language, guard Harold Saunders was put into a camp where they took in new German prisoners. They used to interview them and split them into three groups, Black, White and Grey. He said that they could quickly tell who were Nazis and who were not but sometimes mistakes were made. One of the prisoners went missing and soon after the kitchen staff complained about the drains. The stench became unbearable around the camp and the drains were found to be blocked with raw meat and bones. It was the remains of the missing prisoner, who had been placed among the wrong lot. In accordance with the correct procedure, a trial was held. Not knowing who were the culprits, they found a man guilty and he was punished. Apparently they just picked the one who caused the most trouble.
A Ukrainian worked on one farm and he had been in the German Galician (Ukrainian) SS Regiment. He told the farmer that they were sent into battle (probably at Brody) dressed in white with no weapons, simply to draw Russian fire away from the Germans. They were real cannon fodder as there were about 50,000 killed. The white uniform had to be kept clean in the muddy conditions. The Germans hosed them down in the uniforms and forced them to sleep straight so as not to crease them.
(The above two paragraphs were provided by Kevin Murphy)
Although the war ended in 1945, it was not until 1949 that the last POWs were repatriated. Some of their homes now lay in the newly formed East Germany and many decided not to return, preferring to settle permanently in Britain. Many of the prisoners felt they were kept in England simply as cheap labour long after the war had ended. There was some truth in this as the Government was in a difficult position. Britain was short of manpower, aggravated by our military commitments all over the world, especially in Germany, Greece, Palestine and India. The prisoners were desperate to go home but even 18 months after the war ended the PoW camps were still full.
All of the PoWs were released by 1949 but about 10% wished to stay in Britain. Those who were allowed to had to promise to work on the land or down the mines. Many of those who stayed married British girls and built successful lives and businesses here.
In 1940, the Government ordered the internment of all male 16-70-year-old refugees from enemy countries. These were referred to as friendly enemy aliens. Their internment usually only lasted for short period, generally a few months, until they were processed by the government and released.
Many German children who had arrived as refugees in earlier years were now young men and so they were also interned. These were referred to as “prior-kinder” and were either interned in makeshift internment camps, many on the Isle of Man, or transported overseas to Canada and Australia. As prior-kinder reached the age of 18, they were offered the chance to do war work or to enter the Army Auxiliary Pioneer Corps. About 1,000 German and Austrian prior-kinder went on to serve in the British armed forces, including in combat units. Several dozen joined elite formations such as the Special Forces, where their language skills were put to good use during the D-Day Invasion and afterwards as the Allies progressed into Germany.
Acksea POW Camp 34 (SJ35401938)
Second World War prisoner of war camp at Kinnerley that took over an existing camp used by the US Army. Later during the war it was renamed as Camp 1018. Although it was co-located with ammunition stores at Wilmott, the PoWs were not allowed to work there under the Geneva Convention. It was in use up until 1948 and the area is currently used as a military training area.
Adderley Hall POW Camp 192 (SJ657401)
Second World War prisoner of war camp near Market Drayton for about 2,000 Italians. It was in use up until 1948 and Adderley Hall was demolished in 1955.
Bromfield POW Camp (SO492775)
First World War prisoner of war camp.
Clee Hill Ddu POW Camp (SO5876)
First World War prisoner of war camp.
Cleobury Mortimer POW Camp (SO688752)
First World War prisoner of war camp.
Cluddley POW Camp 1004 (SJ631103)
Second World War prisoner of war camp at Wellington set up towards the end of the war when it took over an existing US Army camp. An older prisoner from here, Alwin Gross, hanged himself in 1947 in the woods near Wrockwardine. It was in use up until 1948.
Condover Airfield POW Camp (SJ505045)
Second World War prisoner of war camp set up towards the end of the war at the western end of Condover Airfield. The former WAAF accommodation was used to house shot down and captured Luftwaffe airmen. It was in use up until 1948.
Corfton Hall POW Camp (SO492849)
First World War prisoner of war camp.
Davenport House POW Camp 272 (SO754954)
Second World War prisoner of war camp at Worfield in use up until 1948.
Ditton Priors Conscientious Objectors Camp (SO612878)
First World War camp on the outskirts of Ditton Priors for 25 conscientious objectors, who were housed in wooden huts and worked at Brown Clee quarry. They were burnt down in 1918 as a result of arson but fortunately nobody was in them at the time.
Donnington POW Camps 651, 659 & 1004 (SJ69711392)
Cluster of 3 Second World War prisoner of war camps around the military base at Donnington, known as South (651), North (659) and East (1004). It is reputed that they dug an escape tunnel but it was never used. They were in use up until 1948. Hermann Ganter was a prisoner at Donnington and fell for an ATS sergeant, Monica Cann, who was teaching English in the camp. They married in February 1947 at the Registry Office in Wellington and honeymooned at the Charlton Hotel. She was the first Englishwoman to marry a German PoW and, since it was against the law to fraternise with the enemy at this time, they were both taken to court and fined. The Army split them up but the marriage was still legal. Public opinion was so strongly in the couple's favour that the law was changed in the summer of 1947.
Ellesmere POW Camp (SJ414349)
First World War prisoner of war camp.
Green Fields POW Camp 23 (SJ492138)
Second World War prisoner of war camp on Ellesmere Road, Shrewsbury in use up until 1948.
Hawkstone Park POW Camp 240 (SJ567288)
Second World War prisoner of war camp near Weston later renamed as Camp 285. It was co-located with the US Army Disciplinary Training Centre No 7, who may have provided the guards. It was in use up until 1948.
Merrington Green POW Camp (SJ465208)
Second World War prisoner of war camp set up in 1945 using an existing US Army camp. It was in use up until 1948.
Mile House POW Camp 8 (SJ31172825)
Prisoner of war
camp near Oswestry used in the First World War. One of the German prisoners,
Friedrich Thomas, recorded in his diary that it hadn’t been so bad but there
were privations in winter such as wading through the ankle deep mud to the
privy at night, frozen water in the wash house and the lack of acceptable
cocoa. The rank and file prisoners were used as work parties on the local
farms or plantations but the officers tended to keep to their camp, usually
making their own entertainment. They set up a choir and put on recitals,
organised art exhibitions, played football, handball, hockey and tennis and
organised a festival of sport. They were also allowed to drink beer and wine
and read English newspapers.
Prees Heath Alien Internment Camp 16 (SJ55823544)
Alien internment camp with a capacity of 2,000 men and boys over 16. The internees lived in tents and the facilities, including the camp hospital, were also canvas structures. It closed on 4th October 1941.
Sheets Farm POW Camp 84 (SO53167408)
Second World War prisoner of war camp near Ludlow in use up until 1948. The only surviving element is a water tower.
Sheriffhales POW Camp 71 (SJ757115)
Second World War prisoner of war camp for around 2,000 Italians until Italy surrendered in 1943, after which it was used for Germans. As the first batches of Italians were marched from Shifnal to the camp, the locals booed them through the town. Opinions slowly changed, however, and PoW Angelo Toffanin recorded that he was treated like a son by the farmer who employed him. Local women bought hungry-looking PoWs packets of fish and chips, much to the displeasure of the English soldiers guarding them. However, those who had lost family members in the war were a lot slower to forget and forgive. One prisoner, Wilhelm Kunz, killed himself by jumping onto the railway near Shifnal. One of the guards (who also acted as translator/interrogator) was called Harold Saunders and he used to go to local people's houses for baths and to spend time on Sundays. It was here that he met his future wife Grace. The camp was in use up until 1948.
St Martin’s POW Camp 100 (SJ311363)
Second World War prisoner of war camp for around 600 Italians until Italy surrendered in 1943, after which it was used for Germans. On February 18th 1945, a number of German PoWs escaped and one managed to get onto Rednal Airfield, a big Spitfire training base. He fell asleep in a Spitfire cockpit and was discovered in the morning by a WAAF flight mechanic called Margery Lamb. "One of our jobs was to empty the planes of petrol every night. In the morning the first thing we did was to fill them with petrol again. I struggled up this icy wing to open the cockpit and there he was, a very beautiful blond German pilot, who was asleep. I let out a bloodcurdling scream that brought everybody running to the spot and also woke up the fugitive. While they awaited the arrival of the Military Police, the Group Captain invited the German into the crew room for a drink of hot cocoa. He conveyed to the Group Captain he would not go until he found me. By this time I was hiding at the back of the crowd. He found me and beckoned me. He said 'You cocoa with me'. So I found myself drinking cocoa with a German escapee. As I left, he clicked his heels and bowed. He gave himself up without a fight and on being searched was found to have in his possession a half pound of black pepper in a tin and a knife handle sharpened to a razor's edge. The prisoner was returned to the POW camp. Later in the day it was reported that all the escaped prisoners had been recaptured." The camp remained in use up until 1948 when it became a light industrial estate that uses many of the original camp buildings.
Wem POW Camp 679 (SJ523294)
Second World War prisoner of war camp at Soulton Road, co-located with the US Army 83 Ordnance Supply Depot. It was set up on an existing camp comprising 9 groups of six curved profile huts enclosed by an irregular-shaped fence. On May 1st 1945, when the end of the war in Europe was only days away, Corporal Friedrich Wolter and Grenadier Erich Mullenhord tried to escape and were shot dead as they rushed a guard at the US base as he was opening a warehouse door. They were buried at Wem Parish Church. It was in use up until 1948.
Wilcott POW Camp 591 (SJ37491831)
Second World War prisoner of war camp that was set up on an existing camp next to an ordnance depot. It was in use up until 1948 and is now used by the army as Nesscliffe Training Camp.