Captives in our Midst: Local Prisoner of War Camps

In 1941 the British government decided that the initial policy of transporting prisoners of war (POWs) to America and Canada was no longer practical, as there were simply too many. Instead, a plan was proposed to bring 50,000 Italian POWs to Britain, not only to contain them, but also in the hope that they could help to alleviate the nation’s labour shortage. Following the D-Day landings, there was also a large influx of German prisoners.

Dunham’s Prisoner of War Camp

Map of New Park, Dunham Massey

Detail: Ordnance Survey map showing New Park, Dunham Massey. Trafford Local Studies Collection, cat. ref. 96271655. 

Dunham Massey’s prisoner of war camp (number 189) was located in the New Park (to the north-east of Dunham Massey Hall), mostly on land which is now Dunham Forest Golf and Country Club. Like a great deal of the surrounding area, the land belonged to Roger Grey, the 10th Earl of Stamford.

The camp was originally designed to house American troops, who arrived in October 1943, but soon left for Aldermaston in May 1944. In October 1944, Lord Stamford was informed that the camp was to be used for prisoners of war, who occupied the barracks around a month later. US troops were initially housed in structures of timber and brick, while corrugated huts were added later. At its peak, in 1945, there were more than 200 huts. 

Both Italian and German POWs stayed at the camp, although they were housed separately. The Italians relocated to a camp at Sinderland, and those considered trustworthy were put to work on local farms. German POWs were categorized when they entered Britain, based on how loyal they were to Nazism. Each prisoner was assigned a colour patch of white, grey or black: black identifying those who were either probable or ardent Nazis. These patches feature in many local people’s memories of the prisoners. The German prisoners at Dunham were made up of many different factions of the armed forces: from submarine pilots to paratroopers and members of the Waffen-SS.

Polish guards watched the perimeter to prevent escape, but only British soldiers were allowed in the camp. Prisoners were said to have been treated well and life was not all hardship. Leisure activities were allowed and German POWs even built a model Bavarian castle and rockery within the camp which, years later, was discovered in a local resident’s garden.

The camp stayed open until 1949, although many prisoners were repatriated before this time. In December 1946, they were allowed to visit homes and go for walks. Friendships were formed between prisoners and local residents that lasted for decades.

Alfred Paeserack

Drawing from 'Prisoner of War Camp Dunham Park, Great Britain: an eyewitness report 1945-1948' by Alfred Paeserack

This drawing is stored with the material relating to Alfred Paeserack in Trafford's archive. The speech translates as "What, no beer?" and "What, I should translate all of this?" Trafford Local Studies Collection, cat. ref. LHC/773.

Alfred Paeserack was a German POW who had been captured in France in September 1944. He was held at the camp at Dunham from 1945 to 1948. He wrote down an account of his time there when he was in his seventies, and a translation of this is stored safely in Trafford’s archives.

Although he speaks of the ‘misery of being a prisoner of war’ and his worry about not having heard from his parents for three years, his account is largely positive and he has fond memories of his time there.

He characterises his first few months in the camp as ‘counting, eating, shuffling’, in reference to the regular roll calls, eating of cabbage soup, and shuffling around the park. Later, there were activities that the prisoners could partake in, such as courses which taught prisoners business, languages, engineering, and history, amongst other subjects. They also constructed a football pitch and staged performances with intricate sets and costumes.

I especially remember a set showing a German railway station with a platform, passengers, train wagons, baggage porters, railway officials and the fine ladies and gentlemen from the 1910’s in their beautiful costumes.

Handwritten version of 'Prisoner of War Camp Dunham Park, Great Britain: an eyewitness report 1945-1948' by Alfred Paeserack

Alfred was struck by the beauty of the camp and the ‘huge, age old trees and the many large Rhododendron blossoms’. He called Dunham Park ‘one of the most beautiful parks I have ever seen’. Trafford Local Studies Collection, cat. ref. LHC/773.

From 1946, when prisoners were able to work away from the camp, Alfred laboured on local farms and for a time worked as a pipe layer on the country roads. In his memoir he wrote ‘we really did enjoy going to work. Especially once we realised how well we go on with our English employers.’

On one farm he was befriended by a 6-year-old girl named Julia, who decided that she was going to help him with his English. Years later, when he was back in Germany, some English friends of his helped him to get back in touch with her.

Since then she has been in Germany to visit me and my wife several time already and we have been to Wales to visit her too. She is a wonderful person. She had opened up the gateway to the English language for me, and I always did my best to speak clearly and properly so that one could understand me well.

Davyhulme Prisoner of War Camp

Kingsway Park, Davyhulme

Detail: Ordnance Survey map of Kingsway Park, Davyhulme, 1968. Trafford Local Studies Collection.

The Davyhulme camp was located on an area of land that today spans part of Kingsway Park and Queensway. It started life as an army camp, set up to defend the local area from air raids. When the threat of air attack diminished as the war went on, the large anti-aircraft guns were replaced with wooden replicas, to fool enemy photographers.

The area was turned into a POW camp and, like Dunham’s camp, it housed both German and Italian prisoners. They were transported by lorry to work on farms in Flixton, Carrington, and Barton. Later the area was used as a resettlement camp for Polish servicemen, displaced by the war, and was known as the ‘Davyhulme hostel’.

Artwork in Kingsway Park, Davyhulme

A commemorative artwork in Kingsway Park marks the location of the anti-aircraft gun emplacement.

Sources

Alan Crossland, Davyhulme Anti-Aircraft Gun Site and Prisoner of War camp, (1990)

‘WWII US Army/PoW North Camp (site of), Dunham New Park, Dunham Massey’ <https://heritagerecords.nationaltrust.org.uk/HBSMR/MonRecord.aspx?uid=MNA118654> [accessed 24 March 2020]

Sophie Jackson, Churchill’s Unexpected Guests, (The History Press, 2010)

Manchester Evening News, 13 September 1946

Manchester Evening News, 19 April 2010

Manchester Guardian, 3 August 1945

Manchester Guardian, 4 September 1952

David Miller, ‘Dunham Massey Prisoner-of-War Camp’, 2014, <https://docplayer.net/52199255-Dunham-massey-prisoner-of-war-camp.html> [accessed 24 March 2020]

Alfred Paeserack, Prisoner of War Camp, Dunham Park, Great Britain: an eyewitness report 1945-1948.

Sarah Paterson, ‘A Short History of German and Italian POWs in Britain’, 2018 <https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/a-short-history-of-german-and-italian-pows-in-britain> [accessed 24 March 2020]

David Smith, The Urmston Urban District, (2015)

Captives in our Midst: Local Prisoner of War Camps