by Colin Dean
"Curiosity" is, largely, the cause of tonight's talk. It's because of all the Italians in Scotland!
As many of you know, my wife Marjorie comes from Fife in Scotland. From a small town called Leslie that is, today, almost absorbed by the new town of Glenrothes.
What is noticeable about Leslie, to this day, is the number of Italian families that have businesses and have lived in the area since before WW2 and after. My curiosity about the resident Italians started years ago. Marjorie's father had bought the pharmacy in Leslie in 1946 from its Italian owner, Mr. Gonnella. The pharmacy side of the shop had been closed down when Mr. Gonnella was interned in 1940. The pharmacy was right next door to a fish-and-chip shop that also sold Italian ice cream. This shop was owned by a Mr. Venturini.
Also in Leslie was a Mr.Gaira who ran an ice cream shop, a fish-and-chip shop and a fruit-and-veg shop. The Zanre brothers each ran a fish-and-chip shop in Leslie.
Despite being a small town (pop. +1- 4000) the Italians didn't talk to each other very much as they came from different parts of Italy!
Caira, Zanre, Gonnella and Venturini were well known names in Scotland before WW2 started; as were Bratessani, Malocco and Demarco. Thousands of Italians immigrated to Scotland in the 1880's. Every Scottish town and village had at least one Italian café (an Italian café is, an ice cream shop that also sold fish-and-chips); places like Glasgow had over 300 café's before the war.
By the time the war started there were thousands of second and third generation Scottish-Italians - whilst many were interned (Churchill ordered them all to be "collared" when Italy declared war on the side of Germany) - others, believe it or not, served in the Allied forces.
Many of those that were interned were held on the Isle of Man and Northern Ireland, some were even shipped off to Australia and Canada.
The 157,000 Italians that were captured during the war were dispersed to a number of UK PoW camps.
There was one of these camps near Leslie (Fife) - it was Camp 77; it was at a place called ANNSMUIR near Ladybank. After the war, many of the inmates chose to remain in Britain. The Annsmuir camp was demolished and the site is now one of the qualifying golf courses for the British Open.
There were very few POW camps in the UK at the start of the war. These camps were primarily "holding" and "interrogation" facilities before the POW's were shipped off to Canada. In the first few years of WW2 the British authorities were worried about possible paratroop landings to free the prisoners - who were almost entirely airmen or naval personnel. The land-based war, at that stage, was not going so lekker for the Allies, so there weren't many Wehrmacht POW's!
You can see from the text across the middle of some of my pictures tonight that I got them off the Internet, - from the Hulton Getty Picture Library. It's a very good source of photos - they've got thousands of them, it just takes a while to work their search engine to find what you want.
Coming back to POW's - Canada was considered a more secure country than Britain for holding POW's.
Later on in the war, the USA also became a storage place for Axis POW's. Eventually there were 666 POW camps in the USA and 21 camps in Canada. But the N. American story is best left for another time.
Most of the Italian prisoners worked on farms. From these pictures they seemed to be enjoying the life - they were obviously pleased to be out of the fighting zones. These ones are working on an apple orchard.
Most of tonight's talk is based on two documents:
"Prisoner of War Camps (1939 - 1948" by Roger Thomas; published in 2003 by the National Monuments Record Centre (the public archive of English Heritage)
"Temporary settlements and transient populations. The legacy of Britain's Prisoner of War camps" by Dr. Anthony Hellen; published in 1999 by the German University publication called Erdkunde (the archive for scientific geography).
To date, very little has been written about WW2 POW camps in the British Isles. This is surprising given that a large volume of documentary material exists in the British National Archives. Even less work has been undertaken to identify the total population and location of the camps.
How many British POW camps do you think were in place at the end of WW2?
This map shows the location of Roger Thomas's 446 "resolved" camps.
Thomas gives a detailed identification of some 456 camps, of which the location of 10 are "unresolved". A further 11 have question marks against them because they used existing buildings in towns.
This leaves us with 435 identified and confirmed camp locations at the end of the war. The table at the left-hand, bottom corner of the chart shows how these sites are distributed around the parts of Britain.
It is important to recognise that Thomas was investigating all the known POW camps with a view to seeing whether any of them should be restored or preserved by the English Heritage organisation. He got his information from the National Archives in Britain and from the Red Cross archives in Switzerland.
Each POW camp was allocated an official number during the war, ranging from Camp 1 (Grizedale, Ambleside) through to Camp 1026 (Raynes Park, Wimbledon). This numbering sequence presents some problems as some sites have different numbers at different dates (Quorn Camp, Leicestershire - Camp 9 & Camp 183); the same camp number can be used for different locations (Camp 17 - Lodge Moor Camp, Sheffield & 22 Hyde Park Gardens, London); some sites have a letter suffix rather than a distinctly different number (Camp 139b, Coxhoe Hall, County Durham). Thomas could not decide whether the inconsistencies were the result of a deliberate policy or of the "fluidity of the situation".
"There is certainly documentation held in the National Archives to show that the British were unwilling to release the location of POW camps to the Germans due to the fear of possible paratroop raids to refease them. The Germans on the other hand indicated that they were seeking the information to ensure that they did not bomb the camps by mistake."
Defining exactly what constitutes a POW camp in the UK is difficult, because of the immense variety of types, sizes and classes of buildings used. The number and types of camp varied throughout the war. In addition to the base camps, a large number of semi-autonomous hostels were established out in the country, and a large number of POW's were billeted on farms.
You will notice that there are very few in N. Ireland - I suspect that this was due to the nearness of Eire (S. Ireland). You will recall that Eire did not directly join in WW2 and was sympathetic to the Nazi regime. The possibility of escape to Fire and thence back to Germany was very real.
Please note that the majority of these camps came into existence firstly after the Italians surrendered and secondly following the D-Day invasion when the number of captured German forces increased.
The early camps were of four distinct classes, according to their purpose:
The internment camps were built to hold civilian aliens detained in Britain or captured abroad; the remainder were built to detain captured military personnel. Command cages were either in existing buildings, or else little more than fenced holding enclosures.
These early camps included pre-existing structures, huts and tents. Once the German prisoners had been interrogated and classified according to their political views - Grey, Black or White, they were transported to camps in Canada.
The situation began to change following the 8th Army's North African Campaign against the Italian Army. The large number of prisoners taken during this campaign were initially held in camps in North Africa, but eventually a large proportion were brought to the British Isles to be held in purpose-built "Standard" camps. Although British construction companies were involved in building some of these camps, the prisoners built many of these Standard camps themselves (living under canvas until the accommodation was complete).
As the need for camps grew, the siting of the camps began to vary considerably. By the end of the war the British were placing camps in:
Most of the camps established during the early war years were sited on places drawn from this list on the screen, - for example, this Mill was being used for Italian POW's in 1939, when this photo was taken. Many of the late wartime sites were located in all manner of buildings, none of which were definable as POW camps on a map.
Only the purpose-built mid-war sites can be clearly identified nowadays.
The mid-war camps (the so-called 'Standard' Camps) were largely built by Italian prisoners that were captured during the 8th Army's North African Campaign in late 1942 and early 1943. The prisoners lived under canvas until the accommodation huts were built. This is typical of a tented camp - although this particular photo shows German soldiers stretching their legs.
The most common type of building was the Ministry of War Production (M0WP) standard hut [[ 18'6" span]], although some Nissan huts [[16' & 24' span]] were used at a number of sites.
If you look carefully at the tented camp, you can just see the hump of some Nissen huts in the background.
Camp 81 (Pingly Camp) at Brigg, Lincolnshire, is a typical example. It was built to house 750 prisoners and consisted of a tented camp, guards' compound, prisoners' compound, prisoners' garden plots, recreation ground and a sewage disposal works. An outer plain wire fence supported by concrete posts and an inner barbed wire fence enclosed the prisoners' compound and recreation ground. Within the prisoners' compound a "sterile" area was established between the inner fence and a further coiled barbed wire entanglement. Contrary to popular belief there were no guard towers at the majority of these camps, as prisoners held in them were considered "low risk".
The complex was accessed from a public highway by a single-track road. The guards' compound consisted of a group of some 15 huts and a brick water tower occupying a rectangular parcel of land immediately north of the main gate to the prisoners' compound.
The prisoners' compound occupied a six-acre square of land and contained 35 huts, including a cookhouse, grocery and produce store, two dining huts, two ablution and latrine blocks, a camp reception station (sick quarters), a living and carpenter's hut, and 23 living huts.
The majority of the living huts, at Pingley Camp, were the M0WP standard huts containing 10 living-in bays. The huts were built using pre-cast reinforced concrete frames and wall panels, but 8 were composite timber-framed huts clad externally in corrugated iron that was coated in bitumen. The inside wall surfaces were covered by plaster board.
The M0WP huts that were used for domestic purposes, such as cookhouse, ablutions and latrines, were built of hollow clay blocks rather than concrete panels.
After 1944 and particularly following the surrender of Germany, many camps were hard pressed to hold the number of prisoners that had been taken; additional accommodation was provided in bell tents erected within the prisoners' compound. In May 1946, the Pingley camp was responsible for 1,862 prisoners (you will recall that it was designed in 1942 to hold 750 POW's).
Of the 1,862 in 1946, 984 were housed at the camp and the remainder were either billeted out or lived at one of four hostels (Elsham Hal), Elsham Mount, Elsham Manor & Scawby).
At some camps the capacity was substantially increased by the erection of new prisoners' compounds, with accommodation mostly under canvas, but a few sites like Camp 86 (Stanhope Camp) at Ashchurch, Kent, eventually acquired Nissan huts to replace the tents.
In terms of the plan (or layout) of the camps, the sites in the sequence 25 thru' 122 conform to a common basic shape, giving a total of 97 "standard" camps (like Pingley Camp that I've already described).
Thomas has positively located 53 of these "standard sites" and has categorised them in terms of their current physical state.
Of the 53 "standard sites", 33 have been demolished (although foundation footings are still there for some of the sites). 9 sites are what Thomas calls semi-extant (which he defines as "at least 20% of the structures have been demolished"). 11 are extant ("over 80% of structures remain standing").
Before you all go rushing off to the UK to visit the surviving POW camps, let me tell you that the terms "semi-extant" & "extant" do not mean "in good condition". The standard of maintenance at these sites has been minimal or non-existent after they fell into disuse when all the POW's that could be repatriated had been dealt with.
The buildings had been originally designed for speedy, low-cost, non-skilled construction and were intended only for a short-term temporary use. There appear to be 3 POW sites that can be visited, and they each provide a reminder of the presence of POW's in Britain during WW2.
At Bridgend in south Wales Camp 11 (Island Farm) can be found.
The drawing shows how the site looked prior to 1993. This was before vandals trashed the place and the local authorities removed everything save for one hut.
You can see from this recent photo how little is left for you to see - just the one hut in the lower right-hand corner.
But, the camp has quite a varied history.
In the months leading up to the start of WW2, an overspill country branch of the Woolwich Arsenal was built on the outskirts of Bridgend.
The Royal Ordnance Factory (ROF) was opened in 1938 a year before the outbreak of the war. It was constructed in two distinct sections, one as a shell-making factory for the Navy and another used to fill the shells and store them in underground chambers ready for distribution to the front lines. During its peak production 40,000 people worked in the two factories making it the largest employee factory that has ever been in Britain!
When the factory was built, the authorities felt that it would be difficult for the many women employees to travel back and forth to Bridgend (especially during the blackouts, from as far a field as Monmouth, Carmarthen and distant parts of Glamorgan). The authorities therefore took a large triangular shaped piece of land (close to the A48 main road from Port Talbot to Cardiff) from Island Farm and on it built a wooden, hutted camp for the employees.
Due to the lack of interest from the ROF workers in staying at Island Farm, the camp remained empty until October 1943, when the Americans (in the shape of the 2nd Battalion of the Americam 109th Infantry Regiment) came to Bridgend in preparation for the D-Day landings.
The Americans weren't there long before they departed for the invasion and once again the camp was empty.
Soon, Island Farm was home to large scores of German prisoners as the Allies progressed with the invasion. Island Farm was designated Camp 198 and held almost 2,000 prisoners by the end of the war.
The camp though was far from being secure and if any of the prisoners had been escape-minded they would have had little trouble. However, the early prisoners were mainly "other ranks". These Germans were docile and gave little trouble and were soon set to work securing the camp; most of them glad that they were out of the front line and would at least be alive at the end of the war.
When the camp was secure, the war office decided that the camp was too comfortable for the "other ranks" and the population changed. A large contingent of German officers arrived one evening in November 1944 with shouts of "Heil Hitler". Finding that there was no transport to take them the 2 miles to the camp and that they would have to carry their own luggage, they stubbornly refused to move.
It was then that the Stationmaster arrived on the scene dressed in the uniform of a senior stationmaster, ie. long coat, and gold braided peaked camp. It is believed that the German officers mistook him for a high ranking officer, perhaps even a general, because as soon he instructed them to move they picked up their luggage, formed up, and singing, they goose-stepped all the way to Island Farm.
The surviving hut has some interesting WW2 graffiti done by homesick German POW's.
The best of the "extant" sites is Camp 93 (Harperley Camp, near Crook in County Durham). In July 2002 English Heritage declared the site a "Scheduled Historic Monument" and it is currently a thriving tourist attraction.
Camp 83 (Eden Camp) at Malton, North Yorkshire is a museum dedicated to "The People's War 1939-1945". This site has also won at least 2 awards.
I mentioned just now that one purpose of the interrogation of German prisoners, when they arrived was to categorise them as "white, grey or black". Prisoners would progress through a series of camps, where their political allegiances were determined.
Non-Nazis were graded "White"; dubious cases were "Grey"; and hardened Nazis were "Black".
As a general rule, the "Blacker" the grading, the further North the camps where prisoners would be housed. Prisoners were also shipped to camps in Canada, and later the US, to safeguard security as much as a lack of space.
This why most of the German officers were dispatched to camps in the Lake District and North Yorkshire.
The biggest problem facing any prisoner is boredom. So, as you might expect, it was important that they be given work to do. The rules of the Geneva Convention regarding POW's prohibits their employment in direct war-related tasks. For example, the manufacture of weapons or munitions; or, indeed, being forced to fight as soldiers for "the other side" against their own people.
Britain scrupulously adhered to the Convention. The POW's were mostly used as farm or forestry workers, or to dig ditches or drains - at least the rank and file POW's were so used. The German officers in places like Grisedale in the Lake District could only be taken on forced exercise marches to allay the boredom and to prevent physical deterioration.
It would be natural to think that, with all this outside labour on the farms or in the forests, escape would be a constant thought and involve much planning and activity. Obviously we can't know about all the plans for escape that were thwarted or just did not happen, but the results are quite fascinating.
Despite the large numbers of prisoners, there was not a single successful escape from Britain itself.
There were, however, several escape attempts. The biggest of these occurred in December 1944 at Camp 112, Doonfoot in Ayrshire, when 97 Italians escaped through a tunnel. All were quickly recaptured.
In March 1945, 67 Germans escaped from Camp 11 at Island Farm, Bridgend, but again were quickly recaptured.
The most spectacular plan had to be that hatched by German prisoners in December 1944 at Le Marchant (Camp 23, Devizes, Wilts) and Lodge Moor (Camp 17, Sheffield, Yorkshire) Camps. Hard-core Nazis at both camps planned to break out, arm themselves and march on London in an attempt to support the Ardennes offensive. In the event, the Allies learned of the plan, and thwarted it by stationing paratroops armed with automatic weapons at highly-visible locations around the camps.
There was one outstanding escape from an Allied POW camp in Canada, - this was after an incredible escape adventure in Britain.
How many of you remember the movie they made, called "The One That Got Away"? It starred Hardy Kruger as Oberlt. Franz von Werra
On 5 September 1940, during the Battle of Britain, von Werra's Me l09 was shot down over Kent in combat with Spitfires of 41 Squadron. He successfully crash-landed in a field, was captured by the unarmed cook of a nearby army unit and eventually sent to the London District Prisoner of War Cage. He was interrogated for two weeks and four days and eventually taken to POW Camp No.1, at Grizedale Hall in the Lake District, Cumbria.
On 7 October von Werra tried to escape for the first time during a daytime walk outside the camp. He had arranged the cooperation of other prisoners in the group, At a regular stop, and while a fruit cart provided a diversion and other German prisoners covered for him, von Werra slipped over a brick wall into a meadow.
When von Werra's escape was discovered, the army alerted the local farmers and the Home Guard. On 10 October two Home Guard soldiers captured him from a hoggarth (a small, stone, farmyard building) but he escaped again. On 12 October a search party re-captured him when he was trying to hide underwater. Von Werra was sentenceu to 21 days of solitary confinement for trying to escape but on 3 November was transferred to Camp 13 in Swanwick, Derbyshire.
In Camp No 13, also known as the Hayes camp, von Werra joined a group calling themselves Swanwick Excavations,Inc. (Swanwick Tiefbau A. G.), who were planning to dig an escape tunnel. They worked in the tunnel for a month until it was completed on 17 December 1940. The camp forgers had equipped them with money and forged identity papers. On 20 December von Werra and four others slipped out of the tunnel under the cover of anti-aircraft fire and the singing of the camp choir. The others were recaptured only a few days later.
Von Werra decided to go it alone. He had taken along his flying suit and decided to masquerade as Captain Van Lott, a Dutch RAF pilot. He spoke to a friendly locomotive driver and claimed that he was a downed bomber pilot trying to reach his unit, and asked to be taken to the nearest RAF base.
In Codnor Park Station, a local clerk treated him with suspicion but eventually agreed to arrange his transport to the RAF aerodrome at Hucknall, near Nottingham. The police also questioned him but von Werra convinced them he was harmless. At Hucknall, a Squadron Leader Boniface asked for his credentials and he claimed to be based at Dyce near Aberdeen. While Boniface was confirming this, von Werra excused himself and ran to the nearest hangar, trying to tell a mechanic that he was cleared for a test flight. Boniface arrived in time to arrest him at gunpoint. He was sent back to Hayes and put under armed guard.
In January 1941 von Werra was sent to Canada alongside many other German prisoners of war. His group was to be taken to a camp on the north shore of Lake Superior, Ontario, so von Werra began to plan his escape to the United States, which was still neutral at the time. On 21 January while on a prison train that had departed Montreal, he jumped out of a window, again with the help of other prisoners, and ended up near Smiths Falls, 30 miles from the St. Lawrence River. Seven other prisoners tried to escape from the same train but were soon recaptured. Von Werra's absence was not noticed until the next afternoon.
Von Werra made his way over the border to Ogdensburg and turned himself over to the police. The immigration authorities charged him with entering the country illegally, so von Werra contacted the local German consul. Thus, he came to the attention of the press and told them a very embellished version of his story. While the US and Canadian authorities were negotiating his extradition, the German vice-consul helped him over the border to Mexico. Von Werra proceeded to Rio de Janeiro where he traveled to Barcelona, then Rome and arrived eventually in Germany on 18 April 1941.
Von Werra became a hero. Hitler granted him the Iron Cross. Von Werra returned to the Luftwaffe and was initially deployed to the Russian front but later flew fighter patrols over the North Sea.
On 25 October 1941, (with his personal tally at 21 planes shot down - 13 of them Russian) von Werra's plane disappeared on a routine patrol from the Netherlands north of Vlissingen, probably due to engine failure.
He was the only German aviator to escape from British custody and return to fight for his country again.
Very few German prisoners seem to have been placed in the Scottish camps, as they seem to have been filled mostly with Italians. These were either the pre-war internees or were POW's taken in the North African campaign.
Mention of the Italians brings me "full circle", - I want to spend a little time on this next piece as I have found it quite fascinating during my research for tonight's talk.
In early 1942 around 550 Italian prisoners of war (captured in North Africa) were brought to Orkney. They were needed to overcome the shortage of labour working on the continuing construction of the Churchill Barriers - these were the four structures designed to block eastern access to Scapa Flow following the sinking of HMS Royal Oak by a German U-Boat in 1939.
All POW's were prevented by treaty from working on military projects, so the barriers became causeways linking the southern islands of Orkney together, which is what they remain today.
On a bare hillside on the north side of the little island of Lamb Holm - if you look hard at the little island you can see the red road lines which show where the causeways join Lamb Holm to the neighbouring islands - on the north side of the island, overlooking the most northerly of the Churchill Barriers, is what has become known as the Italian Chapel.
The Chapel, together with a nearby concrete statue of St. George killing the dragon and an Italian flag fluttering at the top of a pole are all that remains of Camp 60.
Camp 60 was home to the Italian prisoners from 1942 until early 1945. The camp comprised 13 huts, which the Italians improved with concrete paths (concrete was never in short supply during the construction of the Churchill Barriers) and gardens, complete with flower beds and vegetable plots.
In the centre of the camp, one of the prisoners, Domenico Chiocchetti, produced the statue of St. George, fashioned from barbed wire covered with concrete. The prisoners also worked to produce a theatre, and a recreation hut with a billiard table made, perhaps inevitably, from concrete.
The one thing Camp 60 did lack was a chapel. In 1943 the camp acquired a new commandant, Major T.P.Buckland. He liked the idea of a chapel, as did Father Giacombazzi the Camp Padre. Late in 1943 two Nissen huts were provided. They were joined together, end-to-end, with the intention of providing a chapel in one end and a school in the other.
The work of turning the Nissen huts into a chapel fell to the prisoners themselves, led once more by Domenico Chiocchetti. (He was assisted by several other skilled artisans including Bruttapasta, a cement worker; Palumbo, a metal smith; Primavera and Micheloni, electricians; Barcaglioni, Battato, Devitto, Fornasier, Pennisi and Sforza) The interior of the east end of the huts was lined with plasterboard and Chiocchetti started work on what is now the sanctuary. The altar and its fittings were made from painted glass. The gold curtains either side of the altar were purchased from a company in Exeter, using the prisoners' own funds.
Chiocchetti then set to work on the painting of the interior of the sanctuary. The end result is a work of art that is magnificent even to jaded 21st Century eyes. It must have been utterly stunning to those imprisoned there in 1943. Another prisoner, Palumbo, who had been an iron worker in the USA before the war, spent 4 months constructing the wrought iron rood screen, which still complements the rest of the interior today.
The contrast betwen the east end of the double hut and the remainder was so stark that the decision was taken to improve the whole interior of the structure. This, in turn, was lined with plasterboard, before being painted by Chiocchetti and others to resemble brickwork.
The contrast was now between the interior of the huts and their exterior, so a number of prisoners built the facade you can see today, again largely from concrete. This had the effect of concealing the shape of the Nissen huts behind it, and came complete with a belfry, decorated windows, and a moulded head of Christ above the door. At the same time the metal exterior of the huts was thickly coated in concrete.
The end of the war meant that the chapel was only in use by the prisoners for a short period of time. It was still not fully finished by the time the prisoners left the island early in 1945, and Chiocchetti stayed behind to complete the font. Before the Italians departed the Lord Lieutenant of Orkney, who also owned Lamb Holm Island, promised that the Orcadians would look after the chapel they had created.
During the years after the war the chapel increasingly became a visitor attraction, and in 1958 a preservation committee was set up. In 1960, the BBC funded a return visit to Orkney by Domenico Chiocchetti. His restoration of the paintwork was followed by a service of rededication attended by 200 Orcadians, and was broadcast on Italian radio.
Domenico Chiocchetti returned to Orkney again in 1964 with his wife, and gifted to the chapel the 14 wooden stations of the cross on view today. Fifty years after the Italians were originally brought to Orkney, 8 of the former prisoners returned in 1992, though Chiocchetti was too ill to be with them.
Domenico Chiocchetti died on 7th May 1999 in his home village of Moena, aged 89. He did so in the knowledge that his masterpiece will live on as a tribute to his artistry and to the spirit of all those who worked on its construction and preservation.
There is no doubt in my mind that the Axis POW's in Britain had been well treated during the war. Certainly, their treatment was far better than that received by the captured Allied forces in Europe.
One aspect of the POW's lives was very controversial - the prisoners received the same quantity and quality of food as the Allied forces training in the UK or fighting overseas. These rations were somewhat better than those available to the civilian population. This, as you can imagine, caused a lot of argument and unhappiness across Britain - especially among the urban civilian population.
The story of the UK POW camps in WW2 does not end when the European fighting stopped. Once the European war ended, in May 1945, the formidable task of repatriating the prisoners began.
The first repatriations were the Italian POW's since, after the surrender of the Italian forces, they had the status of "Co-operating Troops". There were some 150,000 of them held in Britain or in Canada.
Most of them were returned to Italy, but some 2,000 opted to stay in Britain - I would guess they joined up with the released Internees, - many of them staying in Scotland.
The German POW's returned to the UK from Canada and the USA until, as you can see from this chart, there was a peak of some 355,200 German POW's in the UK at the end of 1946. All who could be repatriated were processed and by June 1948 there were only some 2,790 remaining in Britain.
Most of the Officer class prisoners and many of the "black"-category "other ranks" (eg. SS troops) were retained pending being shipped to Germany for the war crimes trials. Many of the "other rank" Germans could not be satisfactorily repatriated - either because their place of origin no longer existed or because it was part of the Russian occupied territory. In either case, some of them were permitted to stay in Britain, - others went to Australia, New Zealand or back to Canada or the USA.
During the 3-year repatriation process the prisoners were put to all kinds of work. This chart shows the percentage of German prisoners in Britain that were working. You can see that during 1945, 46, 47 & 48 the proportion of working POW's rose from 25% at the end of the European conflict to a peak of 85% in the 3rd quarter of 1946, thereafter the percentage declined as the repatriation processing made them unavailable for work.
They were employed on farming and forestry work - and those in urban areas were used to dig drains, clear bombsites & other municipal-type tasks.
The winter of 1946/47 brought Britain the worst blizzards in 50 years and many prisoners found themselves clearing heavily snowed-up roads all over the country.
Some even had the opportunity to appreciate British Soccer!
By April 1948 the repatriation process was complete. Those going home to Italy were long-gone; the last few for Germany were on their way to the remains of the Fatherland; those sailing to North America or Australia, or New Zealand had departed.
Now was the time for Britain to count the cost of winning the war!
Thank you for exploring my curiosity with me.
Address to SAMHS Jhb branch on 08 June 2006
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