From 1938 to 1948 some 400,000 PoWs mostly German and Italian were held in England Scotland and Wales with numbers peaking in 1946. The principle question asked by all PoW was;- when will I, or if at all be repatriated home.
The majority of the camps used to hold the PoWs were originally private land or property that was taken over by the Military as Compulsory Purchase or Lease. Thus with the repatriation of the PoWs and the closure of the camps the landscape itself was also repatriated.
The inspiration and impetus of this work is derived from a combination of a simple article in a local newspaper stating that planning permission had been granted to build houses on a former PoW site close to my current home, the existence of which of I was unaware of.
In my former professional life, I served in the Royal Air Force and defence industry. If I can be said to have a specialism it is that of Airborne Surveillance because at one time or another I have worked on or had connections with most of such systems used by the UK Armed Force. In fact, my final role prior to retirement was that of a design engineer on the Watchkeeper large unarmed drone for the Royal Artillery.
This work seeks to locate and photograph the various former WWII PoW sites that were scattered throughout the UK. I advise use the word “Seek” as for an event and period of time that has just begun to fade from human memory it has provide to be extremely difficult and in the course of my own work I have come across people that have been doing similar research over many years. There are several principle issues behind the inability to locate the various former site:
UK Military and Government records: Information dating back to the war refers to the various PoWs sites by address or simply the name of a town or village. Whilst adequate when the sites exist this is just a symbolic reference and not an actual location.
Catalogues and Indexing: The Imperial War Museum holds many million individual images that span 1939 to 49. However, the majority are simply not catalogued.
People’s Attitudes and Memories: Most if not all the PoW Camps started life as camps of various types for allied forces. Memorials and people’s memory is highly selective. Whilst allied troops may have utilised a site for 6 months and PoWs were there for five or more years any memorial and local relocation will normally be confined to the allies.
The Landscape is in layers and in flux. We can view these layers though the study of geology and though archaeology. In looking at former military sites in the UK, archaeology has been used on a number occasion, specifically on PoW Camp 17 Lodge More Sheffield and PoW Camp 1022 Bradninch Devon.
My own approach to the various sites is limited to simply inspection as I do not wish to cause harm. In fact, one of the aims is that this work may allow other more skilled than my self to undertake formal archaeological investigation.
This project simply would not have been possible a few years ago. Both the research and execution has required the use of airborne photography. Likewise, access to airborne images in the research has been made by use of the Internet. The initial search for records has been made using the net. Cooperation and collaboration with other researchers has been enabled via the net. A special thanks here to Peter Woods and Malcolm Sanders two follow researchers.
The most significant personal usage of technology has been the use of a commercial drone, namely, DJI, Mavic Pro 2. This drone has enabled me to take on a different perspective and view point of the various sites. As a secondary issue it has enabled me to obtain images that i could not owning to my having limited mobility and at times not being able to fully access a property. UK Law is such that whilst you do not own the airspace above your property there are set limits as to how close you me fly over builds and crowds. In addition in the UK the maximum height for a drone is 400ft. This means that many of the drone images are actually panoramic or merged and are created by the drone either flying a set pattern or in congested areas by making repeated launches from slightly different launch point.
There were some were in the region of 500 or so main PoW Camps during the Second Wold War along with around 2,000 smaller Sub Camps often referred to as Hostels or Satellites. I have to data vised around 250 sites of which I have documented 200 on this site as being comfortable that i have correctly located the camp. However, if you know better and or have information on any of the camps then please contact me.
Flat 93. 276 Checkland Road
Masters of Art Degree in Photography
This project in addition to the other items and issues formed an integral part of my Masters of Art Degree undertaken with the University of Falmouth.
Although I have now completed the MA, the intent is to keep this project running including the possibility of an Exhibition at former PoW Camp 21 Cultybraggan when the site reones post CV19.