Page last updated at 16:39 GMT, Thursday, 20 May 2010 17:39 UK
Shropshire's prisoner of war camps remembered
The Italian chapel at St Martins
The chapel was created by Italian prisoners of war at St Martins

There were 18 camps in Shropshire during World War II, holding Italian and German prisoners of war (POWs).

Many of the camps have been destroyed leaving hardly a trace of their existence.

However, one at Nesscliffe, today used as an army training camp, still has many of its original buildings.

A former POW camp in St Martins near Oswestry is also practically complete, with prisoners' quarters now being used as an industrial estate.

Phil Fairclough from Telford has always been fascinated by the camps and the men who lived there. He has written a book about them, yet to be published, and has also written many articles about the war and its impact on Shropshire.

The former POW camp at Bank Top, St Martins
The POWs' quarters at Bank Top are now light industrial units

A couple of years ago he met up with two former prisoners of war who had been interned at Bank Top at St Martins: "They said the place looked a little bleak compared with what it was like when they were there.

"They said they had cultivated little garden patches outside the huts and grew flowers and tried to make it as homelike as possible."

St Martins housed 600 prisoners and was a satellite camp to the large establishment at Mile End near Oswestry where 2,000 men were based.

The idea of the smaller camps was to make it easier for the men to go to work on nearby farms and Ifton Colliery. Many POW farm workers ended up living with the families of the farmers they worked for.

Mr Fairclough said initially, many of the POWs held in the UK were Italians. It was only after 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."

A POW camp voucher. Photo:  Courtesy of Shropshire Regimental Museum, Shrewsbury Castle.
POWs were given vouchers to spend in the camp shop

The POWs were paid for their work, but not very much: "The government charged the farmers Agricultural Wages Board rates to have a prisoner, so they didn't come free."

"They got about £4 a week. That's about 75p. Half was paid in a token with the number of the camp stamped on it and they were allowed to exchange that token only at the prison shop for things like toothpaste and cigarettes and things of that kind.

"The other half got paid into a bank account, but not in England. The bank account had to be in Germany which they could access when they were demobbed, when they were finally released. Some never claimed it. It was just left there."

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.

A letter sent to Germany from Park Hall Camp near Oswestry. Picture: Courtesy of Shropshire Regimental Museum, Shrewsbury Castle.
A letter sent by a POW from Park Hall Camp near Oswestry

One man who stayed was Theodor Terhorst. He had been a paratrooper before being injured in a jeep, stolen from American soldiers in France. He was taken to the Channel Islands - treated in a hospital on Jersey and then sent to Guernsey to man the German garrison there.

He told Phil Fairclough they were cut off from the retreating German army and could not get any supplies. They were starving and resorted to killing and eating seagulls, pet goats, rabbits and even a military police dog.

On arrival at Mile End he weighed about five stone and was put on a special milk and white bread diet to build up his weight.

He was later sent to work on a farm near St Martins and eventually married the farmer's eldest daughter, settling down and establishing his own building business in the village.

European Voluntary Workers

The huts at St Martins still have their original roofs
The roofs on the huts are exactly as they were more than 60 years ago

Once the German POWs had left, Bank Top became a European Voluntary Workers Camp. Something which Phil Fairclough had not previously realised.

It was Bruce Raybould, who runs his engineering business from the hut which used to be the Italian chapel, who said workers from all over Europe had come to St Martins. Many had settled in the area, married local women and brought up their families in Shropshire.

Mr Fairclough said the country needed more workers: "The government was a little bit unhappy when all the Germans went home because it lost them nearly half a million tough young men who were giving very valuable labour to this country.

"So they advertised round displaced persons camps and labour exchanges in continental Europe and 100,000 people were invited over. They were called European Voluntary Workers and often they were put in the camps the Germans had just vacated."

When the camp finally closed it became a chicken farm and is now part of the Brynkinalt Estate owned by the Trevor family. It has recently been refurbished and is now used as light industrial estate.




SEE ALSO
The German POW who stayed
20 May 10 |  History


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