Dunham POW Camp
Links for Altrincham, Bowdon & Hale History
1. Dunham Massey American Army & German POW Camp
|Map of the New Park area of Dunham Massey showing the site of the American army and German prisoner-of-war camp, the tracks, the football pitch, and the castle; as well as Dunham Hall, Dunham House, St. Margaret's Church and St. Mary's Church Bowdon.|
British Prisoner-of-War camps
At the start of World War II there were only two Prisoner-of-War (POW) camps in Britain and no standard design. By the end of hostilities the number of camps had reached over 400 holding over 400,000 prisoners. Because of security and the large numbers many POWs were sent to Canada (and later the USA) after interrogation and classification.
There are relevant records at the National Archives, London, but German POW records were handed to the German Federal Government and are archived in Berlin. The only useful documents in the Dunham Massey Stamford Papers in Manchester University's John Rylands Library archives are Lord Stamford's war-time diaries. The best local records are held in Trafford Local Studies but information has also been gleaned from local residents. Much of this article is based on written and verbal reminiscences of POWs, guards and residents of the area.
The national background to POWs
In July 1941 the first of an intended 50,000 Italian POWs, mostly captured in North Africa, were sent to Britain. Many were suffering from malaria, typhoid and dysentry, needed specialist care, and there was a danger of spreading malaria to the local population, particularly on the south and east coast where the mosquito involved in the spread of malaria thrived.
Barry Sullivan’s book Threshholds of Peace gives a substantial account of Prisoners of War in Britain generally. It was thoroughly researched from published and unpublished British and German sources, and from interviews and correspondence with about 250 individuals including 60 Germans.
POWs started their interrogation in several Home Counties’ camps sometimes called ‘cages’, often football stadia. They were sometimes persuaded to collaborate on a voluntary basis before being sent to other camps. Ardent Nazis were sent to Canada and remote parts of England or Scotland. Combs, razor blades and knives were confiscated and POWs were not allowed to keep diaries. Once in a camp the Germans were often allowed to make their own rye bread which suited their digestion better.
The Geneva Convention forbade forcing POW officers to work but about 85% of all POWs did work. They were generally employed on the land but some were involved in building access roads around Wembley Stadium for the 1948 Olympics and on other preparatory work.
The Schutzstaffel (SS) were part of the Wehrmacht and had a reputation for prowess in the field of battle but also for atrocities. They could be distinguished by a tattoo of their blood group on their upper left arm, a practice used by the USA in World War I. In Russia some SS were beaten up by comrades and there were attempts to disguise tattoo marks, including by amputation.
The war in Europe ended at midnight on 8 May 1945 by which time over 3,700,000 Germans were in British hands in several countries. Of these only 500,000 were detained and the rest released in time for the 1945 harvest.
At the end of the war the USA and Canada returned prisoners to Britain and British camps were hard pressed to accommodate them. POWs were re-interviewed to assess their Nazi loyalty and given a re-education programme. POWs were returned to Germany from 1946 but if they remained loyal to the Nazi cause a few remained as late as 1949. Of the 400,000 POWs dealt with by Barry Sullivan, about 25,000 elected to stay in Britain.
In early 1946 a quarter of the agricultural force in Britain was made up of POWs but fraternisation with locals was not allowed. By December 1946 this attitude had been relaxed and POWs were allowed to visit private homes, walk within five miles of the camp, and accept small gifts such as sweets and tobacco. Some were invited into British homes for Christmas. Amorous liaisons were still forbidden.
After the war, repatriation was said to be urgent because the national cost of keeping POWs was £90,000 per day (20p per day per POW). POWs were selected for release using several criteria, including length of stay, occupation, health, hardship in the family and political leanings. The repatriation rate was quickly stepped up from 2,000 to 15,000 per month with the object of returning all POWs by the end of 1948, usually on the same trains used to bring British POWs home. However, government policy was to hold them back because of a shortage of agricultural labour. Most were returned by August 1948.
Newletter for Germans
From 1946 to 1948, to help German POWs to understand English, the government produced a fortnightly eight-page newsletter entitled English for All, subtitled Fortnightly for German P.O.W. from issue 31. Number 1 was dated 2 April 1946 and publication continued until at least number 48 of 24 Feb 1948. Passages were classified as A=Advanced, B=Intermediate, C=Beginners and the front page usually contained an 'A' article. Some parts were in English and German and difficult words were always translated. Articles included: Art, Australia, ballet, biographies, Christmas, coal mining, crafts, cricket, crosswords, English & American phrases, English grammar, football, gardening, historic houses, horseracing, humorous anecdotes, Hyde Park speakers, jokes, lifeboats, medicine, New Zealand, pantomimes, parliament, plays and music, police, public schools, Quakers, radio, railway stations, sayings, South Africa, stories, street scene, the boat race, the free press, the home, and the postal system. A few camps produced their own newsletter and camp 184, Llanmartin, Newport, South Wales, got special praise. The Control Office for Germany & Austria also awarded English diplomas.
POW Camps in Cheshire
By late 1942 substantial permanent camps were needed to hold POWs from North Africa and several large building firms were commissioned to build them in concrete, timber and corrugated iron. Some were built by the POWs themselves while sleeping under canvas. There were about twenty camps in Cheshire including in the north: Delamere Forest, Dunham Massey, Great Budworth, Knutsford, Marbury Hall Northwich, Mobberley, Nantwich, Oulton Park, Tarporley, Racecourse, Toft Hall, and Warburton. Toft Hall was said to hold 38 nationalities of which the British recognised 26, each segregated and many POWs there were on a list of probable war criminals. Dunham Massey was camp number 189, which number it shared with the Northwich camp.
In the UK there were many escapes from POW camps. In 1949 there were over 50 escaped POWs still at large and at least two reached Germany. The attempted escape from Grizedale Hall (POW Camp 1) in the Lake District, famously filmed as The One That Got Away, is the story of Oberleutnant Franz von Werra who eventually escaped from Canada to the USA and back to Germany. There was a similar escape attempt from Marbury Hall when four POWs reached the United States Army Air Force base at Burtonwood, Warrington and were apprehended at the controls of a Marauder bomber.
Parts of a few camps around Britain have been preserved as part of our heritage but nothing remains in Cheshire.
2. Dunham Massey US Army Camp
|The main entrance to the Dunham Massey camp from Altrincham on the corner of the Dunham Road and Bradgate Road, looking southwest (DM).|
Dunham Massey American Army Camp
Initially, what became the Dunham Massey Prisoner-of-War Camp, was set up as a base for American troops. Many of the buildings were of timber construction on brick foundations but later ones were corrugated-iron Nissen huts.
The site of the present Dunham Massey estate is mentioned in the Domesday book as a manor belonging to the Saxon earl Aelfweard. It consisted of a hall at Dunham Massey surrounded by what we now call the Home (or Old) Park, the later New Park to its north, the Devisdale (the lord’s rabbit warren) to the east and 3,500 acres of farmland. Along with many other manors spread around the country including about 36 in North Cheshire, South Lancashire and North Wales, it was given to the Norman Hamo de Masci in 1070 and passed to the Booths in 1427.
In 1758 Mary, Countess of Stamford inherited the Dunham Massey estate on the death of her father, George Booth, the second Earl of Warrington. She had married Harry Grey, the fourth Earl of Stamford and they created the New Park (originally called the High Park, now sometimes called the second or upper park) in 1765. They planted it with oaks and built a drive for the family’s Sunday visits by coach from Dunham Hall to St Mary’s Church, Bowdon crossing the Chester Road (the A56) into Green Walk (originally Sparrow Lane). It also contained a wide ride from Dunham Hall towards St. Margaret’s Church at the Altrincham end which became the main track through the camp. All rides and Green Walk were gated and the whole of New Park was fenced in split oak palings.
In 1941 there was already a substantial army presence in the Altrincham area including at The Devisdale and New Park, and Lord Stamford was hard-pressed to prevent the destruction of Home Park surrounding Dunham Massey Hall. In April 1941 he agreed to release more New Park land to extend the Army Vehicle Park. After a storm at the end of December, 100 oaks and beeches were felled and new roads laid in the camp.
In April 1942 The Devisdale, just across the Chester Road from the New Park, was being used for troops under canvas, as it had been in medieval times and in the English Civil War in the 17th century. In July the British Army authorities were considering requisitioning Home Park for a troop camp, cutting down all the trees and draining the ponds.
Senior British Army officers and US Army officers inspected the whole area on the 9 September and the Army wanted 155 acres of Home Park for a camp with huts. None of this suited Lord Stamford who had to work hard to get support for its preservation. On 2 October 1942 the War Office inspected New Park and declared it ideal for a US camp. They proposed that it be used for US troops for 12 months which was confirmed on 8 October. Home Park was spared and the Devisdale rejected. Preparation started immediately and it was expected that by December new roads would have been laid out and New Park occupied.
On the 28 March 1943 Lord Stamford inspected the site for a proposed hospital camp and its associated sewage system. On the 7 October US officers stated that they were very enthusiastic about the camp, the best they had seen since arriving in England. American troops arrived in October. On 4 January 1944 Lord Stamford toured the US New Park camp and on 7 January was relieved to hear that the proposal to build a hospital had been dropped.
3. Charles Frame
|Charles Frame during the war (with his permission).|
An ex-US soldier’s memoirs
Charles W Frame was an American soldier who was billeted at Dunham for just four months from January 1944. He emailed to say “We had gone to Iceland on the 27th July 1941 to relieve some British soldiers who were needed in Egypt. We left Iceland on the 28th December 1943 on the ship Empress of Russia and took 48 hours to get to Greenock, Scotland. It was beautiful going up the Firth of Clyde. We were pale looking compared to the GI's coming from the States who all had deep tans from much sun exposure. We landed on the 30th December and were put on a train directly to Altrincham and trucked up to the camp at 7am. We were the first troops in the camp but later everyone referred to us as ‘the Black Tie Boys from Iceland’.”
Charles explains: “When my radar unit, the 1st Aircraft Warning Co., left the USA for Iceland, the US was not at war and we were dressed in the clothes of the old peace-time army. Our dress uniform included a woven-knit black tie. After Pearl Harbour in December 1941 and the draft was started, they changed much of the dress uniform. Because we were in Iceland they didn't issue us any change of uniform. The new dress uniform had a tan-colour tie, so all the American's coming to England directly from the States had these tan ties and we from Iceland were wearing our black ties. So all men from Iceland were referred to as the 'Black Tie Boys'. We also still had the old pre-war steel helmets which were taken away and we were issued with the new style helmets.”
While stationed at Dunham, Charles met Jean Bunnell from Sale at a dance at the Altrincham Stamford Hall (now demolished) and for their first date they met under Altrincham Station Clock, as many generations have done. They were married in May 1944 and remained so for 56 years.
Unsurprisingly there is no mention of the Dunham Army Camp in the local newspaper, Altrincham Guardian, but in the Guardian of 18 February 1944 two American soldiers were reported to have been stabbed to death in the Woolpack Hotel at the bottom of Regent Road, Altrincham, now demolished. Initially the police dealt with the incident and the possible culprits handed over to the US Army Police 'of a northwest camp'. Charles Frame confirmed this saying that "the Woolpack was used by American troops from Iceland and that the culprit was a US soldier."
4. Dunham Massey POW Camp
|The Dunham Massey POW camp drawn from a Russian map of the area of about 1954 which shows about 190 huts of various sorts. |
Dunham Massey POW camp
The US troops moved to Aldermaston in May 1944 at very short notice to prepare for the Normandy invasion leading to D-Day on the 6 June. On the 18 October 1944 Lord Stamford was informed that the empty camp was to become a POW camp holding 3,500 prisoners and an inner, stronger fence would have to be constructed to contain them and that this involved felling trees.
The first POWs brought to Dunham in the first week of November 1944 were said to be Italians captured in North Africa. Security was strict but local girls were able to talk to the prisoners through the fence and threw them chocolate and cigarettes. The Italians built a shrine in the camp.
The loss of men in the home agricultural force to the forces was a problem, partly solved by the training of Land Girls. In addition the Army had traditionally helped to get the autumn crops in. This was solved by employing trusrworthy Italians. When the Italians joined the Allies, Italian POWs were moved to the WWI camp at Sinderland then used as an ammunitions depot and non-Fascist prisoners put to work, mainly on farms where their agricultural skills could be utilsed. They proved to be hard workers and were very popular.
The Italians and the Germans soon to arrive had to be kept separate because of friction between them. All POWs had patches on their back and legs and Italian POWs had different uniforms to distinguish them from Germans. Germans had white or yellow round patches if no Nazi sympathy, grey if some sympathy, or black if Nazi. Italians usually had a chocotate brown battledress which had ITALY within an oval patch.
German POWs arrived and two German Jews assisted with interpretation. Initially there was hostility between the prisoners and their guards until both realised that there were advantages from co-operation, and a black-market in cigarettes developed.
The POWs were guarded by Polish Army soldiers who patrolled the perimeter fence. There were two watchtowers equipped with searchlights. British troops were only concerned with administrative duties. Later more SS prisoners arrived, ranging in rank from lance-corporal to sergeant-major. There were regular random searches of the huts and POWs were counted two or three times a day which took about an hour each time. POWs called it an Appel. No-one ever escaped.
If a POW needed to be transferred to another camp this would be by train with the POW handcuffed to his kitbag. An orderly room sergeant received the following after one delivery to Northumberland: “Received, one live body of one prisoner of war.” POWs had a strict code of conduct and dealt with theft themselves. At the end of the war security was relaxed and POWs used to lock themselves up at night.
At its height in 1945 there were about 220 buildings in the camp, housing 6,000 POWs, well above the average of under 1000. The POWs had closely-shaven heads and highly-polished boots. The many SS troops could be identified by tattoos of their blood group on their arms. A former orderly-room sergeant said “they were Rommel’s men.” The British camp adjutant was called Fisher and the commander was Lieutenant-Colonel George W Kilby. POWs said that they were well treated by him and the other British officers.
Reliable POWs were given the opportunity to work on farms, in market gardens, at Dunham Hall, and in other occupations and were said to be very efficient. Most usually volunteered to ease the boredom. Local builder Alan Gibbons used to drive POWs to nearby farms. Some worked behind the bar in the British Officers’ mess.
On the 23 November 1944 the camp commandant Colonel Buisserat toured the camp with Lord Stamford and by then there were 4,000 prisoners, some as young as 16.
At the end of the war Albin Bellauf, who had directed the laying of mines in Guernsey, helped to dispose of them and was then transferred to Dunham Massey POW Camp.
5. 1945 OS map
|A 1945 Ordnance Survey map of the New Park area of Dunham Massey. The Oldfield Brow estate is at the top. The Dunham Road (A56) crosses the bottom diagonally. The camp is in the bottom left with about 180 huts visible. There were a couple of dozen or so more to the left. The road through the huts is the main track through the camp. The red spot is where the castle was built. The circle on the left is said to be a tumulus and the football pitch is to its right.|
6. 1948 aerial photo
|Part of Dunham Park in 1948, showing some 60 POW huts at the bottom left. There were around 200 buildings in total. Most of the huts were about 60 feet by 20 feet with some smaller, some larger. The football pitch is at the bottom left surrounded by huts. The track through the camp is below the football pitch with the Dunham Road (A56) to its right and below. Bonville Road runs up the centre, crossing Bradgate Road, to Oldfield Road with the Oldfield Brow estate beyond. The Bridgewater Canal is at the top left. A section of Roman road is at the top right as a track across a field. Just below centre right is St. Margaret's Church (John Davidson).|
7. Model castle
|The model of a Bavarian castle made by German POWs from scrap material, which used to stand just inside the camp fence on the Chester Road (A56) opposite to the entrance to Denzell (Altrincham Guardian).|
The Germans constructed a substantial model Bavarian castle about six feet high with realistic turrets, close to the bend in the Chester Road, next to the path from the Chester Road opposite to the entrance to Denzell (which was used to house war evacuees). The castle was made of bricks, concrete blocks and earth with a moat fed by natural drainage (the water is still there). It had a section of railway line running into a tunnel and was surrounded by a flower garden. Lamb's Gardens (at Denzell) were open to the public at weekends which made a walk to see the castle more enjoyable, and there would often be someone working on it. At least one other castle was built, close to Charcoal Road but not visible to the public.
|Workbox produced by a POW (Joan Morris).|
In their spare time POWs used their skills to produce craft work. They produced high-quality Christmas cards printed from home-made woodcuts. They also made toys which were sent to German children via the Red Cross. After hostilities ended POWs made toys and wooden items to exchange for cigarettes with the guards (money was not allowed). Pokerwork was a speciality and included peacocks about nine inches high made out of timber and decorated using a red-hot poker. They were very popular in the Oldfield Brow area. A Hale man has a delicately-carved wooden box decorated with a cap badge of the Royal Army Service corps, a Timperley woman has a cigarette box and a Hale woman has a folding work box, all carved by POWs. Locals often donated scrap timber to them.
A theatre had been built by the Americans and the POWs put on several concerts including a Schubert Evening on 28th February 1945 and a Mozart Concert consisting of excerpts from The Magic Flute on 16th April 1945. An invitation was issued: “The Lagerfuhrer of No. 189 POW camp has the honour of inviting RSM Mr Tilly and his sergeants to a Mozart concert” (Altrincham Guardian 15.12.83). After the war ended POWs were allowed to bring their male employers to see the shows but they had to be dressed in uniform.
9. Oral history
|Ex-POW Nissen Huts in Malta put to modern usage.|
A photographer’s memories
In 1944 sixteen year old Mike Arron started working for the Northern Press Photo Agency from their offices at 189 Ashley Road, Hale. The agency had a contract to photograph 4,000 POWs at Dunham Park Camp which meant extra supplies of scarce photographic materials, a help for their main business of weddings and commercial photography.
Initially Mike went with Edward Chorlton, the owner of the business, but after a while Mike worked alone, travelling to the camp on his bike on a regular basis. His photographic equipment in a large, heavy leather case, included a Reflex camera and many glass plates and slides, all balanced on the handle bars of his bike. The camera was made by Thornton Pickard who had a factory in Atlantic Street, Broadheath. Mike used to report to the main camp entrance on Dunham Road where he was taken into the camp with a guard. Most of the guards were Polish, though some of the troops were British.
Mike says that most of the time one guard was considered enough but on one or two occasions the guard was doubled following an intake of SS troops. Much of the time POWs were a quiet group. He thought some could have been Italians, happier to be in Altrincham rather than at the Russian front. Mike photographed 10 or 12 POWs on one plate, each prisoner holding his number in front of him, full face and profile. Private photographs were not allowed. The plates were processed in Hale and the prints sent off. Over time Mike became familiar with the routine and so did the POWs and he used to have tea with them. He was surprised to find how sweet the tea was as sugar was in very short supply.
Mike's visits became social events, a change from routine for the POWs and opportunities to talk to someone from the outside world. Two or three POWs were photographers and they tried to carry on a conversation with him. He had no set routine and just went when required because the camp had a regular turnover. Hostilities in Europe ended on 8 May 1945 and arrangements for the repatriation of POWs were put into place. Mike remembers that after the POW camp closed it became a British Army camp for a while.
Mike was called up into the RAF in February 1947 and by May was in Germany as a photographer. He still joins annual reunions with 60 others.
Mike also recalls that the first and second battalions of the Manchester Regiment amalgamated at Dunham Park on 1 May 1948. On the 1 June 1948 this new battalion, together with the eighth and ninth Territorial Army Battalions of the Regiment, were inspected at Dunham Park by Queen Elizabeth, performing her first public role as Colonel-in-Chief.
Ronald Trenbath remembers
Ronald has lived in Bowdon all of his life and remembers many incidents about the wartime.
The first prisoners-of-war were Italians captured in North Africa and brought to Dunham in the first week of November 1944 after the Americans had left. When the Italians did a U-turn during the war and joined the Allies in defeating the Germans, the Italian POWs were reclassified as ‘co-operators’ and were released to work, mainly on farms where they proved themselves to be very hard working and very popular. The Italians wore brown outfits including a brown shirt and tie, different from German POWs. They were greatly missed when they were repatriated after the war. The Italians held a bitter hatred towards the Germans and were always kept separate.
Near the end of the war Ronald was walking along Black Moss Road from Oldfield Brow towards Dairyhouse Lane when he saw a high-ranking German officer in full regalia, exercising with two guards marching behind him.
Towards the end of the war many prisoners were found to be disillusioned and fearful that the Russians might take over Germany if Britain did not succeed in gaining a strong position there first, and some were prepared to bring an early end to hostilities by cooperating with the Allies. These soldiers were code-named ‘Bonzos’ and trained at York House in Timperley, a Special Operations Executive house, to rejoin their army and spread disinformation, but the operation came too late to be of much assistance because the German Army surrendered before the plan could be very effective. A group of them was sent to retrieve Hitler’s hoard of art work taken from galleries, museums and private collections in Europe
Ronald recalls meeting an Italian ex-POW in Rome after the war who said "Staying at Dunham POW Camp was the best holiday I ever had.” He was also told that as a result of the war many Sicilians married British women and went back to Sicily.
In the mid-1990s Ronald took a party of ex-German POWs around Dunham Hall and the former POW camp site (now part of the Dunham Forest Golf & Country Club).
Chris remembers that Italian POWs were later put in charge of German POWs. He remembers one ex-POW who worked with him at the Gas Board who said that there were hard-line Nazis in the camp who were tried by an unofficial German POW court. Another POW named Otto worked in the walled garden of Dunham Hall and married the sister of a friend of his from the Lord family who had a wool shop in Oldfield Brow. He later moved to Canada with the Lord family.
Once the POWs hung a swastika on a flag high over the Chester Road and a fire engine had to be called to remove it.
Bob & Elizabeth Jones
Bob’s brother used to sell cakes to the American Army at Dunham from outside the main gates and was left embarrassed when they vanished at short notice. Bob remembers Italian POWs with yellow patches on the back of their overalls and Elizabeth took lunch from her aunt and uncle’s market garden in Baguley to POWs working in fields nearby.
Derek lived in Oldfield Brow as a child and he and friends used to visit the American Army Camp. One day they arrived to find a hut 'blistering hot' with a roaring fire in a metal stove and the soldiers trying to make chips by boiling 'a pound of best butter'. At the time the civilian ration for butter was two ounces per week. They were attempting to emulate the chips made in the local chippy at Oldfield Brow which they reached via a short cut next to Judge Hogg's house on Oldfield Lane (which later became the golf clubhouse). On several occasions they were invited to Derek's house for a cup of tea with their chips.
One day there was a small ammunition explosion in the camp and a few soldiers were taken to Park Hospital at Davyhulme. Derek's father went on his bike to visit them since he knew several of them. The hospital had been transferred to the US Army in 1943, having become a British Military hospital in 1939.
Keith recalls that American troops had rifle practice at Hale Drill Hall (demolished), bringing scarce chocolate drink. He also remembers school friend Geoff Lovatt taking a severely-wounded POW, Hans Kisbert the brother of Andy, back to Nuremburg after the war and helping in his pub for a while.
Dennis lived over the tripe shop in Railway Street and recalls a tipper wagon bringing POWs back from the fields losing its load in the street.
Kath married Altrincham teacher and Garrick Playhouse member Howard Curry and the family met up with former Dunham POW Johannes Buchholtz in Austria in 1965 and have kept in touch with the family to this day.
As a teenager working at Woolworths, Flo remembers that some evenings the Americans organised a coach for the female staff and would take them back to the camp as dancing partners with the latest American music and refreshments laid on.
Joan says "Every day as I went to work in Altrincham on my bike I would pass the entrance to the compound where the prisoners were kept. Some would call out ‘Guten Tag’. This compound was not in the main park itself, but in what we called the second park, on the northern side of Charcoal Road. After the war some of the Germans settled in the area. One who I only ever knew as Hans worked on a farm and later worked for the Roads and Bridges department of Cheshire County Council. I knew Polish guard Waclaw Piekarski well."
Alan recalls that he learned German at Altrincham Grammar School just after the war and the teacher obtained German pen-friends for the class from the POWs.
BB and her sister remember the Americans at Dunham. Her sister was an officer in the Women’s Junior Air Corps (the WJACs) who occasionally still have a reunion. Her commanding officer was approached by the American padré to ask if any of the girls would be willing to join the men for church services on Sunday evenings at the camp and a truck was used to pick them up in Altrincham. He also got permission for them to go to dances held at the Stamford Hall. The girls also helped out at the American Donut Dugout in two empty shops near the Post Office on Stamford New Road, Altrincham. Her sister used to come home reeking of fat and had to bathe, wash her hair and change her clothes. The family became friendly with a private and a colonel and they visited their house occasionally, both very well mannered and courteous. They both survived the war and the colonel came from the States to visit their parents after the war. He was a surgeon by profession and a talented pianist. Officers were billeted on Booth Road and the GIs used the Vine Inn at Dunham Woodhouses. Betty remembers the latter in their glamorous uniforms, all looking like officers which seemed very unfair on British soldiers. Naturally some local girls became GI brides.
In December 1946 my mother met two soldiers from Dunham at St. John's Church and invited them for Christmas dinner and as a present they brought a toy made by a POW which consisted of a ‘table tennis’ bat with four pecking hens on strings with a lead weight which was swung around. It had good hen figures and was brightly painted. I also remember walking through the park between rolls of barbed wire and seeing a football match taking place to the northwest of the path in a natural hollow. Sadly, at about that time, one POW hanged himself from an oak tree.
10. The football pitch
|The site of the Dunham Camp football pitch in a natural hollow, looking north from the main track (DM).|
The POWs converted a large hollow used as a roll-call area into a football pitch with terraces. Bert Trautmann was temporarily stationed at the Northwich POW camp before moving to a Lancashire camp. At the end of the war he took part in a football match at the Dunham camp between German POWs and a Manchester team. Bert, who was famous for his big hands, later played for St Helens and was goalkeeper for Manchester City Football Club from 1949 to 1964. He died in 2013.
11. Alfred Paeserack
|A sketch similar to one by a Dunham POW. The drawing is based on the wartime American cartoon character Chad who often said "Kilroy was here" (DM).|
Although ex-POW Alfred Paeserack didn’t remain in the area he retained links with several families for at least 50 years. He hand-wrote his memoirs in 1995 when he was 75, in capitals in German, and these were translated and typed as twenty-four A4 pages. They are held in Trafford Local Studies together with sketches of POW camps in Cheshire produced by a Dunham POW (it has Herausgegeben im camp 189 England 1947 on the front), and include a cartoon and several photographs, donated by Alfred, and correspondence with Trafford Council and contacts in the area. These substantial well-written notes give a valuable insight into conditions at the camp.
In this memoir Alfred tells of his capture in 1944 and the journey to Dunham Massey POW Camp in 1945 where he says he remained until 1948 before being released back to Germany. He described the camp as “a very fine park with oaks and rhododendron bushes whose flowers scented the camp.” The Perimeter was guarded by barbed-wire rolls with lookout towers and searchlights, patrolled by Polish soldiers who were not allowed into the camp. Alfred says that men from POW camps around the country were transferred there, especially paratroopers, submarine personnel, pilots, soldiers, Waffen SS and the airforce. He says that there was no interrogation, a statement contradicted in Wartime Cheshire which says that POWs were interrogated for information by skilled linguists and the process of de-Nazification carried out to enable POWs to be repatriated.
Alfred remembered that rations were small (they were supposed to be the same as those received by British soldiers). The food consisted of about 1500 calories per day for those who worked, otherwise 1000, probably barely half of their needs and not enough to maintain body temperature. Breakfast was one slice of bread and one third of a bowl of porridge. In the afternoon soup was served on a flat tin plate with a thin slice of bread. For the first few months only cabbage soup was available.
Supper was a cup of tea and two slices of bread with a very thin layer of spread made from a small allowance of cheese snacks ground together with milk powder and spices. Ground raisins also made a tasty spread. POWs developed the ‘Kalorien-Spargang’, an energy-saving shuffle. Later the POWs were allowed to build a bakery to make German grey bread which they preferred to the British white. Showers were allowed on Friday or Saturday when clothes were washed as part of the process.
The huts were mostly half-round corrugated iron but the sleeping barracks were concrete with asbestos-cement roofs. There were 50 men in a barracks which had tables and chairs in the middle. The mattress, blanket, kitbag and towel, had to be kept folded with plates etc on top. Rooms were checked constantly. No photographs were allowed and sleeping was not allowed during the day. There were three roll-calls per day with the POWs in columns of five. Eventually POWs built flower beds and grass areas around the huts, the paths were improved and the huts painted white. Alfred assisted other POWs to convert a large hollow used as a roll-call area into a football pitch with terraces.
The camp offered courses in languages, business studies, engineering, history, etc. A theatre group was formed and performances with proper sets and costumes were given. One dress was made of hearts cut from tin cans and sewn together. A choir and orchestra were formed, with all the music played from memory. One performance was of the operetta Glückliche Reise (Bon Voyage), with a railway station set, wagons and good costumes.
A pastor and a priest were given rooms for church activities and later prisoners were allowed to attend local churches. Mail was read aloud by comrades and Alfred received his first letter at the end of 1946, dated December 1944; it had been chasing him around POW camps from his home town of Elbing in Poland which was overrun by the Russians. POWs were allowed to send search cards to the Red Cross to find their families.
The German camp leader was staff sergeant Hans Doneck who encouraged POWs to respect the British camp commander. As a result the latter negotiated with London for better food and POWs went on to normal rations.
In 1946 the camp was given the status of labour camp. Ten men were allowed to work as a trial and soon POWs went out to farms, companies, road builders, market gardeners such as Clibrans and Caldwells, and Cheshire County Council. Most POWs worked and Alfred got a job as a pipe layer with nine other POWs and ten locals who all got on well. Plenty of tea was available and any remaining was exchanged for bread. POWs were given one bonus cigarette per day for good work, which was worth a meal. Later a small amount of plastic money was issued which could be used to buy necessities. He also mentions Guenther Rakow, paratrooper and staff sergeant, who was in charge of 300 Dunham POWs on a construction site, probably the Grange Estate, Timperley.
One day Alfred was sent on his bike without a guard to work on a farm. He made contact with the family next door. There he met six-year old Julia Roberts, who lived at Raingill Cottages near Red Beech Farm on Henshall Lane, and was invited back to her house for tea and cake after work each day where Julia taught him English. In later years Alfred contacted Julia (now Whitelegg) in North Wales and they visited each other.
Alfred was then allocated to a large farm next to the Bridgewater Canal where another POW lived who was a hard worker. Both had ‘POW’ on their trousers. The winter of 1945-46 was hard and at that time he worked on a potato farm next to the Manchester Ship Canal. It was very rare to get potatoes in the camp so a few were smuggled in and eaten. In the autumn of 1946 Alfred was sent with several others to Gorton each day to work for the Military Police as a painter. From there much food was smuggled into the camp. After some time quarters were found for the POWs and supervision was reduced.
Alfred remembered Willy Nellesen, an art painter who produced a poster for a dance in Gorton. Four POWs were allowed to go to the dance where Alfred met local girl Margaret and courted her every night for several weeks. Other POWs included Airforce Sergeant Heinz Fischer who trained Alfred in boxing; Heinz Peters a married painter and professional dancer; and Willi Wiegmann who stayed in England and went to work in London.
In 1946 POWs from the USA arrived. Their conditions had been better in the USA and they negotiated better rations including cake. Towards the end of the life of the camp there were no guards on the perimeter fence and the public came in to see it, especially at weekends. Alfred made several English friends whom he continued to meet after the war.
12. Arno Scholz
|Arno Scholz in 1988 (courtesy of Living Edge).|
An ex-POW who stayed in Altrincham
Arno K Scholz (or Arnold, possibly Arnaut originally) was born in Garstewitz near Leipzig, East Germany, and brought up to a hard life on a small farm. In 1930 he joined the army and worked on the autobahn from Leipzig to Munich.
Arno wanted to enter the navy and in 1934 he joined his first ship. In 1936 he worked in the Olympic Village in Berlin and saw the games. From 1936 to 1939 he was in the Spanish Civil War and was on the Bismarck when it was scuttled in 1941. He was 18 hours in the water before being picked up by a Spanish collier and taken to neutral Spain. He was divorced from his German wife.
On returning to Germany, in August 1944 he was captured by the Americans near Paris and taken to an orchard with only a blanket and water and was later transferred to Dunham. His memories included the brass bands that the prisoners formed and played for the local people. He was a keen football player and helped to build the terraced ground in a natural hollow.
He worked at Dunham Hall in the rose garden and there met Florence Ivy Shakeshaft. On his release at Easter 1948 he went to lodge with her and her husband on Ashley Mill Lane. Her husband died and Arno moved away but he met Florence again some years later and eventually they were married. They lived on Ladybrook Avenue and Park Road, Timperley and for 15 years he worked for Clibrans, the local market gardeners, now closed. He is remembered as always working with his shirt off, being kind to the apprentices at Clibrans and riding a Douglas Vespa smoking his pipe upside down. After the war he recalled that it was easy to slip out of the camp and go to the cinema in Altrincham.
Arno finally met with his younger sister after nearly 60 years apart. He was always open about belonging to the SS. He left a recording of his life with the North West Sound Archive before he died in 2001.
13. Kurt Lasch
|Kurt Lasch from Seifesdorf (Brenda & Dennis Lasch)|
Kurt Lasch was born in Seifesdorf, Saxony, Germany in 1913 to Klara and Bruno Lasch and later lived in Chemnitz. He was in the Afrika Tank Corps and was captured in France by the Americans and sent to Hyde Park in London, then on to Dunham Massey POW camp. After the end of the war he worked in the rose nurseries of Clibrans of Hale for a couple of years and then went to work for Hallman's, market gardeners on Hallman Lane, Heyhead, Ringway. On a visit to the Tatton Cinema in Gatley he met Florence Scott with whom he settled and they had five children. After the market garden closed he became a car park attendant at Manchester Airport and later a steward at the airport club. Flo and Kurt lived in a tied cottage on the Hallman estate until he died in 1984. He never spoke German to any of his children and rarely spoke of his past in the German Army. Flo continued to live in Hallman Lane until 1990 when the houses at Heyhead were pulled down to develop more car parking space for the airport. Flo died in 2005. There is a memorial plaque for them on the site of the old Heyhead Church.
14. Other ex-POWs
|Wilhelm Freitag, Charlie Hutchinson, Karl Heinz Einsiedel and Heinz Galinnus, Dec 1946 (Gina & Ron Hutchinson).|
Charlie Hutchinson from Dunham Massey worked for Bucklow RDC and was allocated three POWs from the Dunham camp to assist him: Wilhelm Freitag, Karl Heinz Einsiedel and Heinz Galinnus. They all kept in touch after the war.
Heinrich Nadig was the subject of an enquiry from a German historian to Altrincham History Society. Nadig was a German POW, a married man said to have been held at Dunham Massey Prisoner-of-War Camp until 1948, who returned to Germany in 1951. In his absence he was tried in Germany for sending a local priest to a concentration camp and aquitted. The late repatriation may have been because of lingering Nazi loyalties. No further information on Nadig has emerged.
Andy Kisbert was ex-Waffen SS and had the blood group tattoo. He joined the army before the war and was in the Battle of Stalingrad in late 1942 but survived. He was captured at the Battle of the Bulge in January 1945 after being surrounded by US Army flame throwers. He was brought to Dunham Camp and eventually worked at Oak Farm in Hale and later as farm manager at Cussons' Farm on Chapel Lane in Hale Barns. Finally he worked on the Manchester Airport extension project. He married Sheila from Hale Barns and they had two daughters. They lived in Acresfield Road, Timperley and Andy brought his sister Marie over in the 1950s to live in the same road and she married a local. Andy had a brother Hans also stationed at Dunham who was severely wounded.
Ottomar F A L Kruse met local girl Muriel Weetman at St Mary’s Church, Bowdon. Muriel was one of seven siblings and worked in her father's Weetman’s Ironmongers, Hale and despite losing her brother Tom in the war, they married in June 1948. They settled in Timperley and Ottomar worked at Walkers Ironmongers on Deansgate Lane and had an ambition to buy a boat on the Mediterranean. They were later divorced and he returned to Germany; Muriel has died.
August Schmitt visited the McKenzie family regularly for tea and the family sold tin boxes and toys made by POWs on a stall in Altrincham Market. He continued to keep in touch after the war ended.
Gunther Kelle married Bridget Quinn in 1948. They kept The Grapes public house on Regent Road, Altrincham (now a restaurant).
William Feick was a groundsman for many years at Timperley Cricket Club.
Johannes Buchholtz didn’t stay in Altrincham but the Buchholtz family still keep in touch with a former local family, the Currys. Johannes said he was in the Dunham camp until 1949 which differs from the account in the Altrincham Guardian.
Gerhard Hasenkrug attended Altrincham Baptist Church including. There he repaired, restored and polished an old table which is now the communion table. In the 1990s he ventured out of East Germany for the first time after the war and returned to Altrincham to see it.
Hans Nossky worked at Ash Farm in Dunham Woodhouses in the 1950s and 60s and after that for Cheshire County Council while living at Plumley. From his experiences archived by the BBC, he doesn't appear to have been in the Dunham Camp.
Gunther Platz worked at Hilston House on Green Walk, Bowdon and for Ormsons the builders in Bowdon.
Ernst Stauffer was in the paratrooper medical unit and served on the Eastern Front. He married Mary Cooper who was a teacher and whose family lived in Grappenhall. Mary was born in the early 1920s in Hull and her father was a tanner and later managed a tannery in Warrington. Mary and her mother were keen supporters of the Peace Pledge Union. After they married Ernst and Mary ran a poultry farm in Witherslack, Grange-over-Sands. Mary pre-deceased Ernst by a few years.
Albin Bellauf was responsible for laying mines on Guernsey and remained on the island after its liberation on the 9 May 1945 and worked with the bomb disposal team who had the plans of the mine laying from Germany. In April 1946 Albin was sent to the Dunham Massey camp but returned to Germany after release.
Franz Wagner was born in Cessky Krumlov, Czechoslovakia in 1922 and at the age of 16 was taken by the occupying German forces to labour on a farm in Austria for a year. However he ran away and returned home where he was allowed to remain and work in a local saw mill. At 19 he was drafted into the German airforce for service in Russia and France. He was wounded in France in 1944 and, after being sheltered by a French family for several days, he finally reached an American field hospital near Cherbourg. As a POW he was then taken to New York then a Boston camp and later to North Carolina to work in fields and plantations until the end of the war. In 1946 he was moved to Glasgow, then Peterborough and then the international camp at Toft Hall, Knutsford. He was allowed to do gardening at Crewe Hall and then, as a farm labourer, in various parts of Cheshire. At the end of the war Franz was offered the options of returning home, working on bomb disposal or farming and chose farming because of the Russian presence at home. He developed a friendship with Jean, a librarian at Altrincham Library who helped him with books and English. After he was offered work by Stanley Morton at Dairy House Farm she found him lodgings at Whitely Place, Broadheath. He married Jean in 1950 and worked at Brookside Farm. They had a son Paul and Franz became a naturalised British subject with the help of Mr Morton who was a JP. He worked for Mr Morton for 20 years then moved back to Whitely Place and worked for the Linotype until his retirement. He now lives in Dunham Massey.
Others. In January 2010 there were still two ex-POWs living in the area. Other POWs, of which very little is known, include Karl a joiner who married a Hale Barns girl. Several others who worked for Clibrans in addition to Arno Scholz and Kurt Lasch are remembered as Young Kurt, Old Joe (40 with blond hair), Little Joe (17 with curly red hair), Ferdinand who always wore a long-sleeved union shirt in summer and winter and married a schoolteacher from Sale, and another who later became a cook in Knutsford. Others are known to have stayed but their names have been forgotten. Statistically there should be many more from the Dunham Camp who stayed in the UK.
15. Larkhill, Timperley
|Larkhill Red Cross hut and plaque (found by Roy Griffiths).|
Lady Ashbrook of Arley Hall, Cheshire and the Countess of Dunham both belonged to the British Red Cross and they arranged for two ex-POW huts to be brought from the Dunham camp to Larkhill, on Thorley Lane, Timperley to be combined into a single large hut with metal posts down the centre, and to be used as a Red Cross club house. Eric Williams has a film of the hut being erected in 1950 and it was officially opened by Lady Ashbrook as an Old Folks’ Club. Arno and Florence Scholz belonged to the Timperley Over-60s Club who met there and Arno believed that one hut was the one he had lived in as a POW. The hut was demolished in 1999 to build the new community centre which was opened by Lady Ashbrook's son the 11th Viscount Ashbrook, the Hon. Rowland Francis Warburton Flower, and contains the original plaque commemorating the opening of the hut.
16. Waclaw Piekarski
|Waclaw Piekarski, sketched in chalk by a German POW at Dunham Massey camp (Roman & Maz Piekarski).|
An ex-Polish Guard’s experiences
Waclaw Piekarski (his forename is pronounced Vatswaf in Polish) had a remarkable adventure before arriving in Dunham Massey as a guard. Brought up in Chojnice (pronounced Hoyneetsa) within sight of the corridor between Germany and East Prussia, he became a professional musician, playing many wind instruments and led his own band which included his two brothers. When Poland was invaded he was interned in a POW camp and forced to work for the Germans.
While there his first wife was killed (they had three children) and he escaped in civilian clothes to attend her funeral. He was captured and threatened with being shot as a spy but he kicked out the window of the police station and, with three others, took an engine from the fire station opposite and, with bells ringing, was waved over the nearby German border. They drove to Berlin where he gave himself up.
Since he spoke fluent German and his father had fought for the Germans in World War I he was allowed to join the German army. He was posted to Belgium and then France where he was badly injured by an American shell in 1944, damaging his foot and loosing his hearing, and was captured near Caen in Normandy. His German dog tags confirmed his Polish origins and he was taken to Scotland and then Dunham to serve as a guard.
17. The Polish Band
|Waclaw Piekarski was brought up in Chojnice and became a professional musician, playing many wind instruments and led his own band with his two brothers. Waclaw is on the right in this Polish Army band (Roman & Maz Piekarski).|
Polish soldiers used to like a beer at the Orange Tree pub in Old Market Place. Altrincham, and worshipped at St. Vincent’s Roman Catholic Church where Waclaw met Teresa Dalton. They married in 1948 at St Vincent’s Church after he was demobilised, and lived in Manor Road then Orchard Road, Altrincham. They had four sons: Zdzisiek (pronounced Zgeeshek), Eugene, Roman and Maz.
After the war Waclaw ran the Dunham Woodhouses Band whose members met at the Downs Hotel, Altrincham. He worked for Hawkers Men's Outfitters in Altrincham and later as a gardener for Cheshire Education Committee. He became a naturalised Briton and died in 1997.
18. The Dunham Woodhouses Band
|The Dunham Woodhouses Prize Band, led by Waclaw Piekarski, at the back of the Downs Hotel, Altrincham about 1950. Waclaw is on the right. Other members include Robert Morris, Dennis Winkly, Arthur Dawson, Doug Lord, Frank Crystal, Roy Sherbourne, Les Baxter, Bob Beaty and Tom Crystal. (Roman & Maz Piekarski, Joan Morris).|
Roman and Maz, Waclaw's two youngest sons, attended St Vincent’s School and Blessed Thomas Halford. The boys were inspired by clockmaker Dennis Blackwell in Orchard Road and both became apprenticed to clockmakers. They ran clockmaker’s shops together in Sale and Broadheath from 1983 to 1989 when they moved to the near-derelict school at Tabley, Cheshire, then part of the Tabley estate, to set up their cuckoo clock collection. The building is listed and now belongs to the Crown. The Piekarskis own a collection of over 600 antique cuckoo clocks, the largest collection in the world, together with five fairground organs and antique motorbikes and sidecars. The brothers are recognised by the Germans as the world experts on antique cuckoo clocks and own another exhibition in the Black Forest.
Roman Kukulski was another Polish guard who later ran a barber’s shop near Manchester Cathedral.
19. The camp closes
|On the southern edge of the camp site, next to Charcoal Road, are the remains of three huts concealed in the woodland. Each is about 60 feet by 20 feet. Two have doorsteps and one has a ramp. There are several other smaller buildings visible. A local says that they were used by the British and guards (DM).|
The camp closes
On 16 December 1948 Altrincham MP Frederick Erroll asked the Secretary of State for War what decision he had reached regarding the future of Dunham Park Camp, Altrincham. In a written reply Mr Emanuel Shinwell replied, "It has been decided to hand back the North Camp of Dunham Park as soon as possible on condition that it can be restored quickly to the War Department in the event of an emergency."
After the camp closed there was an auction, but as some of the huts could not be sold they were left, resulting in Lord Stamford complaining that the site was left in a mess.
When the POW camp was being closed villagers in Dunham Town saw two wagons full of seats passing through one morning: it turned out that they had been stolen from the theatre.
Several British solders, Polish guards and German POWs from the camp stayed on in the area. POWs were initially allowed to live in the huts and many became gardeners. Some had contact with Oldfield Brow residents, selling small items of homemade bric-a-brac and several married local women.
The Bavarian castle was said to have been broken up by Joe Wyatt of Tadman Grove, Oldfield Brow, who used some of the contents to build a rockery in his back garden. In 1955 just a mound of earth remained and the huts had gone, leaving a few foundations and concrete floors showing.
As one would expect there is nothing in the Altrincham Guardian referring to the POW Camp during the war but a few references afterwards. It reported on 24 November 1944 that "Farmers face 1945 Labour Shortage," and this was reflected in the Government’s view after the end of the war in 1945. On 27 July 1945 the Guardian reported that German POW labour was to be used in the construction of half of the 300 new houses to be built on the Grange Estate in Timperley.
The Guardian also reported that Altrincham Council wanted the camp to rehouse 1075 homeless people on their waiting list. The camp was ideal with a good water supply and a sewerage system laid for the Americans. The War Department argued that the camp was needed to continue to house German POWs. However the mayor of Altrincham was informed by Col. Fisher, the commandant of the camp, that the camp would be free of POWs by the end of August. On the 20 September 1946 there were still 400 POWs remaining in the camp, mainly working in agriculture. The POWs had a good name from farmers and were expected to return to Germany after the harvest since none was a Nazi.
An Altrincham Guardian reporter visited the camp and said that "It was laid out as a charming sylvan retreat. The sentry box and other buildings were ‘spick and span’ and newly whitewashed. There was evidence of Teutonic thoroughness and attention to detail. The POWs had just finished their day’s work and were washing. The only eyesore was the barbed-wire fencing. There were about 40 POWs per hut, compared with 22 for British troops in similar conditions."
The Secretary of State for War said that there were plans for a permanent army camp at Dunham because it was the only suitable site meeting their needs in the Manchester area, and that the council would be contacted before anything happened. On 5 December 1946 the first British troops arrived at the camp for training. The use of the camp finished at the end of 1948.
The camp site today
Today part of New Park near to Denzell has two large underground reservoirs and much of the rest is now the golf course. Walking through the camp site using the footpaths little can be seen except a few bricks but the woodland is unchanged on the track from the main entrance. The hollow where the football ground was created was partially filled with tree roots when the golf course was laid out but is still visible.
20. Tony Glynn
|Tony Glynn, Lance Corporal Royal Ordnance Corps, 1949|
Memories of the last intake of British soldiers at Dunham.
Tony, who now lives in Southport, was stationed at the Dunham Massey Camp as a young man of 18 carrying out his National Service training. He says:
I first arrived in Altrincham in June of 1944. The Americans were well established at the camp but they departed then, giving way to the German POWs as the invasion of France gathered momentum.
I remember huge lines of the Italians marching down to Mass at St Vincent's Church every Sunday morning. They seemed to require very little supervision. I remember the Donut Dugout in the middle of the town and the GIs marching to it in squads, I think they took their meals there. My cousin, Eileen, told me about the murder by stabbing at the Woolpack pub which had occurred before my arrival. Ever afterward, I shuddered when passing the Woolpack but I had known GI stabbings elsewhere.
Near my school in Ardwick, there was a Victorian mansion, turned into what was grandly called 'The Cotton Club' for the use of black GI's. There was strict segregation in the US Army and black and white units were kept well apart. One night, a fight broke out there and and one man stabbed another to death. I remember going to school in the aftermath of it and seeing the premises guarded by black US military police in their white steel helmets - the police were called snowdrops. Even the name of the Cotton Club was a nod to racism. The original Cotton Club in Harlem had only black performers - the great Duke Ellington's band was the main attraction for years, but the patrons were all white. Blacks were not permitted to enter. Incidentally, the club was operated by gangsters, one being the vicious Owney Madden, born in Liverpool but taken to the US as a baby. An enduring tale in Manchester when I was a kid, which became almost an urban legend had it that the Saturday dance at Belle Vue which was taken over by white GIs, was invaded by black troops and there was a furious and bloody battle. I can't remember that there was any press coverage but it seemed to be very widely believed.
I left school in the summer of 1945, just after the war in Europe ended and the war against Japan ended when I was on my last summer school holiday. My sister and I celebrated VE Day and VJ Day in Southport where we stayed with my grandparents. Then I returned to Manchester to live with my father. I was called to Dunham Camp in February 1948 to do my National Service.
The map showing Charcoal Lane brought back memories. We were trained to salute on the march, pounding up and down Charcoal Lane with a Captain named Taylor (somewhat foul mouthed, which was rare in officers), bellowing at us. I want to see your arms go up and down at the same time, like a row of chorus girls' legs.' The officer in charge of our squad was a certain second lieutenant whom. being Mancunians we called 'Mr Farridge' he was not much older that the rest of us and like all with a single pip on the shoulder, he probably thought he was a budding Napoleon. I have since thought that his name might properly have been 'Farage' and could he have been the future father of the Farage of UKIP fame? Already, Russia was being seen as the next potential enemy. I recall trying to handle the now obsolete Bren gun in the deep snow on the edge of the canal. I was clumsily trying to change the barrel of the weapon. It had to be done with one man manning the gun, lying down, and his mate lying beside him changing the barrel speedily. I remember Mr F standing over me and roaring : 'Faster, faster. You can't fiddle about like this when your weapon seizes up on the Russian front.' Lying in the snow, I had the gloomiest of thoughts that war with Russia would be no picnic. Again in the snow, this same Mr F was marching us along beside the canal when he gave the order to turn towards the canal. 'You'll keep marching until you hear my command to halt. Until your hear the command, you continue marching into the canal. He waited until the first men in the squad were on the the very edge of the canal before gave the command.
At that time, in the camp was Private Paddy Connor, the last soldier to have taken Queen Victoria's shilling in my grandfather’s war, now called the Second Boer War but to my grandfather's generation it was always 'The South African War'. Paddy was written up in the Manchester Evening News just before I went into the army and he was waiting to become a Chelsea Pensioner. He was a sprightly little redheaded Irishman who must have been very young when he joined up. He had charge of the band boys, the boy soldiers who were training to be musicians. You could then join the army as a boy soldier at 14 which to me now seems positively evil.
Dunham Camp gave me the worst experiences of my time in the army but that was probably because we were all raw and scared stiff most of the time. There were no comforts or organised entertainments or sports except the physical training under the PT instructors. The rest was endless drilling and weapon training.We were not treated with kid gloves, though my crowd had a great squad sergeant, Joe Kyte, who scared us at first but he later proved to be a true gentleman. When we left, we had a whip-round of our meagre cash to make a presentation to him but he nipped it in the bud. He said that sort of thing was not done in the army. He merely did as he was ordered - to knock us into shape.
The legend of a ghostly White Lady grew out of the presence in the camp of the tumulus, the burial mound of very ancient origins which we were not allowed to trespass on but she certainly made an appearance in the gossip columns of the Manchester Evening News. She was of course, totally fictitious, no doubt dreamed up by the old sweats of the 1st Manchester Regiment who trained us, to put the wind up us callow youths. I remember that a certain Corporal Todd claimed to have seen her and she scared him stiff - and Todd, who had been a prisoner of the Japanese, was regarded as a real tough guy. On my first night on guard, having to walk around the inner perimeter of the camp, I laughed off the White Lady yarn but I kept a firm grip on my pickaxe handle (the only weapon we were allowed to carry) just the same. The deeper I got into the darkness and the trees the more scared I became.
I was startled to see Dunham House was on Charcoal Lane and I might even have seen it. I've long been interested in SOE and I knew about the women agents living in Dunham House while training at the parachute school at Ringway. I wondered if it was near the camp. The book and film Carve Her Name With Pride telling the tale of Violette Szabo have been slammed by SOE historians. The book was written by R J Minney, who once edited the film weekly Picturegoer’. As I remember it both book and film make no mention of her end in Ravensbruck concentration camp. But that might have not been known when they were created. I think the truth was discovered by Vera Atkins who was Maurice Buckmaster's right-hand woman. She toured Europe well after the war to find out what happened to various SOE agents who were captured. I think it was she who discovered from former prisoners and ex-guards that Szabo and others were put to death in Ravensbruck, probably by hanging. A very detailed book worth reading is The Women Who Lived For Danger by Marcus Binney.
We were the last intake to be trained at Dunham. The personnel selection officer told me that because I was physically fit and almost six feet tall, I could go into either a guards regiment or the Royal Military Police but only if I chose, otherwise I would be posted to some other unit. My father, ever the proud Irishman, urged me to go into the Irish Guards but I wanted none of that guards' discipline and the constant meaningless ritual would drive me nuts and to be in the Military Police meant being hated by the whole army. Thus, I was posted to Portsmouth and into the old Royal Army Ordnance Corps now called the Royal Corps of Logistics, the lads who defuse unexploded bombs, though. Mercifully, I did none of that.
We left the camp on April 1 1948, the day the army came off its wartime footing and went onto a peacetime basis. The First Manchesters who had trained us, went off to Germany and the camp closed.
21. Sinderland Camp
|The RAF No. 2 Maintenance Depot at Sinderland showing the railway sidings to the munitions buildings and the connection to the Broadheath-Lymm line. Later a connection was also made to the more northerly line. (From a Russian map of the area of about 1954).|
Part of Dairyhouse Farm at Sinderland (about a mile away from the Dunham POW camp but still part of the Dunham Massey estate) was used in WWI as a POW camp for Germans and Austrians, and in WWII as a depot for munitions produced in Broadheath where explosives were stored. Around the camp was a high barbed wire fence patrolled by guards with machine gun posts and pill-boxes at strategic points. This was known as the No. 2 Maintenance Unit RAF Altrincham. Two diesel locomotives were used to move wagons and train loads of munitions were shunted on to the main line at night and moved around the whole country.
In April 1944 a small camp was built just outside the unit to receive 75 Italians from Hednesford in Staffordshire by removing airmen from the Sinderland camp and housing them under canvas. In May one of the four huts was converted into a dining hall and cookhouse, and 100 Italians Co-operators arrived. 16 were sentenced to 21 days' detention for failing to report for work and were transferred to Tarporley, whilst a further seven were transferred back to Hednesford on account of their detrimental influence on Italian Co-operators and a desire to revert to POW status. In July the number of Italians was increased to 201 including one officer by erecting four more barrack huts. A canteen and recreation room were constructed using Italian labour with material from aircraft packing cases.
In October it was reported that work continued on extensions to the NAAFI airman's cookhouse, dining hall and ablutions, and that work at the Italian camp was nearing completion. In November nine men were returned to Hednesford Holding Unit prior to repatriation and a further nine in December. Fourteen were repatriated in January 1946, eleven in February and 134 were transferred to RAF Kirknewton, Glasgow in March. The accommodation was then used by the RAF, enabling the derequisitioning of requisitioned houses in April.
When the Italians were repatriated Germans were used on the land and building projects. They were paid at the same rate as the British but this generally was in tokens to be spent at the camp.
After the war, the maintenance depot continued to store and supply munitions until about 1952. The farm land has now been restored.
22. Dunham House
|Dunham House, Charcoal Road, Special Training School STS51a, opposite to the southern edge of the Dunham prisoner-of-war camp and within view of the above three huts, is where Special Operations executive agents were trained, including Odette Churchill GC and Violette Szabo GC (DM).|
John Chartres, a journalist for the Times, wrote several books on the war including The Training of World War Two Secret Agents in Cheshire about Special Operations Executive agents trained at Dunham House for operations in France, at two other locations nearby, and at Ringway Airport (STS51).
Early in the war Colonel Maurice James Buckmaster OBE, Legion d'Honneur, leader of the French section of Special Operations Executive, needed a training centre for Allied agents operating in occupied territory. On 19 February 1941 Lord Stamford was visited by a Captain March-Phillips who was looking for a large house for ‘very secret work’. He toured Dunham Hall and decided that, while it was secluded, he "would not consider Dunham as it was more of a museum than a house." Instead nearby Dunham House, a large country house on Charcoal Road, was chosen. Odette Churchill who survived the war, and Violette Szabo who died in Ravensbrück concentration camp, both of whom were awarded the George Cross for their bravery, were trained there.
It is said that an enemy agent once penetrated Dunham House but was apprehended. The matter was kept secret at the time and little reference to it has been made since.
Agents used the Royal Air Force base at Ringway both for training and operational purposes and General Sikorski, Prime Minister of the Polish Government in exile during the war, trained there.
Before the POW camp was established Ronald Trenbath and his father were walking through New Park when there was a bracken fire on the north side of Charcoal Road at a house backing on to the camp near to Shepherd's Cottages and they were asked to go to Dunham House to ring the fire brigade. There they were abruptly stopped by a guard with a rifle and told that this was a military area and they needed to keep out. However a young officer came to deal with the request and escorted them to the gate very politely. A number of houses around the area had been requisitioned by the Armed Forces and it was many years before Ronald found out what was really going on at Dunham House.
At the end of the war Dunham House was used as an officers' mess for the POW camp.
23. East Chinnock Church
|East Chinnock Church, Somerset with the Gunther Anton inscription and one of his windows (DM).|
Two hundred miles from Dunham another story of reconciliation was played out after the war ended. Gunther Anton was shot down over Southampton when he was 18 years old. He was sent to a POW camp at Houndstone, Yeovil but was allowed to work on a farm in East Chinnock. He attended the local church and conceived the idea of giving the church a stained glass window after the war for the kindness shown by villagers. On his return to East Germany in 1948 Gunther joined the family stained glass window business and in 1962 returned to Somerset bringing his gift of the window showing scenes of Christ’s life and ascension, now in the south wall of the nave near the chancel. By 1982 he had replaced all of the plain glass windows in the church. Finally in 1988 he filled in the arch between the nave of the church and the bell tower with glass bricks overlaid by a design of the lamb of God and the flag of victory in stained glass. In all Gunter had spent 26 years donating the stained glass windows to East Chinnock Church. When Gunther died in 1989 eight people from the village attended his funeral in Germany (see sources).
24. Acknowledgements & sources
My thanks for their contributions are due to Mike Arron, Stephen Birchall, Dennis Brookes, Derek Cardin, Beryl Chartres, George Cogswell, Colin Cooper, Kath Curry, John Davidson, Esmé Duckworth, Charles Frame, Alan Gibbons, Tony Glynn, Keith Gowing, Roy Griffiths, Chris Hill, Don Hines, Gina & Ron Hutchinson, Bob & Elizabeth Jones, Terrence Jones, Peter Kemp, Rebecca Killingley, Dennis & Brenda Lasch, June Miller, Joan & Geoff Morris, Peter Morton, Flo Payne, Anthony Pennington, Roman, Maz, Zdzisiek & Hannah Piekarski, Derek Pierce, Hazel Pryor, Doug Rendell, Muriel Stockton, Len Swift, Ronald Trenbath, Paul Wagner, and Pat & Eric Williams. I am also indebted to David Eastwood for the dates from the war-time diaries of Roger Grey, the 10th Earl of Stamford, which he has accessed by permission of the National Trust.
Sources & further reading
Altrincham & Sale Guardian, 1943-1948 and November/December 1983, Trafford Local Studies.
Bayliss, Don & David Miller (eds), Dunham Massey, Cheshire: A History, Country Books (2009).
Birchall, Stephen, Dissent in Altrincham 1870-1905: Politics, Religion and a Touch of Scandal, AuthorHouse (2010).
Chartres, John, The Training of World War Two Secret Agents in Cheshire, Bowdon History Society.
Eastwood, David, The Stamford Hospital, Altrincham History Society Journal 28 (2008).
English for All, Imperial War Museum, London.
Hansard, December 16th 1948,
Exton, Brett & Shawn Bohannon, Island Farm; WWII background; history of camp 198, Bridgend, South Wales; list of British POW camps; www.islandfarm.fsnet.co.uk.
Jackson, Sophie, Churchill's Unexpected Guests (2010).
Kemp, Peter, Wartime Cheshire 1939-1945, Cheshire County Council.
Living Edge, Friends from Foe, interview with Arnaut Scholz, Living Edge, p19 (1998).
Lord Stamford’s Diaries, extractions by David Eastwood, in the Stamford Papers in the University of Manchester John Rylands Library.
Miller, David, East Chinnock Church, Somerset, Altrincham History Society Journal 30 (2010).
Moore, Bob, Glen Mill: The International History of a Local POW Camp During World War II, www.mcrh.mmu.ac.uk/pubs/pdf/mrhr_10_moore.pdf
National Archives, London: there is an entry for a proposed camp site in Dunham Park, for the War Office (not investigated).
Paeserac, Alfred, Prisoner of War Camp Dunham Park, An Eyewitness Report (1945-1948), unpublished, Trafford Local Studies (1995).
Pryor, Hazel & J Hitchens, 2003, Altrincham Gardeners’ Society (2003).
RAF Altrincham Maintenance Unit Commander's Monthly Reports (includes Italian Co-operators) in the National Archives.
Rendell, Douglas, Photographers in the Altrincham Area (2006).
Russian Maps of the UK, www.old-maps.co.uk, 1975.
Scholz, Arno, Oral History, North West Sound Archive, Clitheroe.
Sullivan, Matthew Barry, Thresholds of Peace, 400,000 German Prisoners and the People of Britain 1944-1948, Hamish Hamilton (1979).
Thomas, Roger JC, Prisoner-of-War Camps (1939-1948),
German Ex-POW records are held at Deutsche Dienstelle (WasT) Eichborndamm 167 - 209, D - 1000 Berlin, Germany
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