Camp 42 Exhibition Field Camp, Holsworthy - Detail from Western Command War Diaries?

Discussion in 'Prisoners of War' started by brimacombe, Feb 1, 2018.

  1. brimacombe

    brimacombe Active Member

    Hi guys,

    I wonder if I can pick your brains...

    For many years I have been piecing together the story of the above camp. Sadly as in the majority of UK camps, few records survives, and those that do I have obtained (from NA, ICRC and Swiss Archives), HOWEVER, I have never employed a researcher to look through documents such as the Western Command War Diaries - I'd really appreciate you opinion on whether this would be a valuable and worthwhile task?

    The prompt to do so happened today when talking to a couple of locals, both of whom recall the arrival of the first Germans in Oct 1944, only to see a large number of them return back through the town down to the railway station, all singing and in marching as if they were the occupying force. Now, I've got no reason to question the story - I've heard the same story from a number of sources now (one mentioning that he believed the prisoners had, on arrival at Holsworthy, been resorted with the majority of Black category prisoners being shipped off to, one assumes, Scotland - though he mentioned Tavistock).

    I'd really appreciated your thoughts, and also any suggestions of other documents that might be worth searching. Unfortunately, still living in Holsworthy, means the NA is a long and expensive trip, so I would look at employing a researcher so the more specific I can be the better!

    Thanks for your help!

    Lindele likes this.
  2. CL1

    CL1 116th LAA and 92nd (Loyals) LAA,Royal Artillery

    Last edited: Feb 1, 2018
  3. Osborne2

    Osborne2 Well-Known Member

    Firstly, this camp is not in Western Command as its Devon. I have researched several camps and generally speaking the files are in the FO (foreign office sequence). All you will find from my experience,[ but you may be lucky] are the reports of the inspectors from Whitehall who checked the screening of prisoners and later re-education efforts. Other inspectors checked teaching and English language standards. I have never seen camp records per se retaining at any of the five or so camps I have researched. You may wish to check out this site, [where you will have to pay] as often the guards, as separate from camp administrative troops and officers, were Pioneer Corps and Lt Col Starling has made notes on PC units and people. This might be a way into their separate war diaries as guards and have more detail . The reason I suggest this is that I spent half an expensive day at TNA and could not find out which pioneer group looked after my POW camps. I am hoping this site will give me a reference I can follow up. Read also Ian Hollingsbee "Inside the Wire" about Gloucestershire camps and you can get an idea of a recent researchers success in dredging TNA. Also Roderick de Normann "For Fuhrer and Fatherland" who seems for Devizes to have had a rich seam of material. Some lateral thinking looking at other people's references can sometimes give you a clue.
    In Western Command diaries, which are not your target, I have found material sometimes, but rarely. If I did, it was in Adjutant. Or Adjutant and quartermaster for 1944. There were hardly any Germans in the UK before D Day. See M. Kochan Prisoners of England for stats. My references just had the orders dealing with escapes or riots. POW Camps were not administered by army commands but the war office as far as I can see. Whether or not I am right there is little in WC and its districts files, but you may be lucky. War Diairies turn up where you least expect.

    try local newspapers and asking at your local Probus club. There are a lot of elderly members who might know something. My local ones did.

    Good luck, let us know whether this answer proves to be a help or a hindrance and what you eventually got. I always want to learn.
    CL1 likes this.
  4. brimacombe

    brimacombe Active Member

    Thanks Clive

    Thanks Osborne - your answer is certainly not a hindrance - unfortunately (of fortunately, depending on which way you look at it I guess!), I've previously exhausted almost all your suggestions and, like you, have found that, in the main, the majority of surviving records pertain to the re-education of prisoners, and date almost entirely to the post-war period. I have been fortunate in obtaining a few visit reports from the Protecting Powers (the ICRC and the Swiss Archives) but again, they date to 1945 onwards (although they refer to earlier reports, which have apparently not survived).

    Sadly there are no references to the camp or its staff on the site you mention (although I did find a couple of new references to Pioneer units who were in the area in 1941 - pre camp period).

    Thanks for the publication list - I have, indeed, read "Inside the Wire" as well as almost all the other books written within the last ten years or so on specific camps (many of which seem to be 'padded out' with an awful lot of unrelated, or tenuous information). I have a copy of "For Fuhrer and Fatherland" and have had it on the book shelf for a long time, but have not referred to it for years, so will fish it off the book shelf!

    I have been fortunate over the years to obtain numerous anecdotal records from locals and a few former prisoners - and was delighted to be contacted by relatives of the last camp commandant in the past few weeks, who were able to provide some great pieces of ephemeral detail.

    Very few reports of the camp appeared in the local papers, even after 1945 - although there is an interesting, but brief report on an inquest into the suicide of a prisoner in late 1945.

    Local council minute books and letters proved to be a reasonably rich source - particularly regarding initial objections to the camp and also regarding the employment of POWs on building projects.

    What your post has confirmed to me Osborne, is that I have tapped into almost every available source and that, apart from being extremely lucky in finding some little nuggets within the pages of Southern Command diaries, there's little else to find. Although I have considered trawling through the Ministry of Works files in the hope of finding reference to the camp (specifically about the building of the camp etc), and also the DAEC (Devon War Ag) records, though the records I'd like to have survived (the allocation of prisoners to farms and employment etc) have not survived.

    How have you got on regarding finding information regarding the mid war period - when camps were occupied by the Italians? Frustratingly, I have had very little success here, and have not even been able to confirm if the camp was used as a base for cooperators (formed in Italian Labour Battalions) or remained a prison camp - anecdotal evidence has muddied the waters here, with different individuals recalling different things!

    I'm sorry, I'm beginning to waffle! Thanks again to you both - it really was a great help.

    Osborne, I'd love to hear more about how you've got on, feel free to message me if you prefer.

    Kindest regards

    CL1 likes this.
  5. Osborne2

    Osborne2 Well-Known Member

    Shawn, sorry for the delay in replying.

    There are even fewer records concerning Italian POW camps themselves but there are many pages about the policy decisions of bringing Italians over and who wanted them besides agriculture. Besides building trades they wanted chemical workers, railway rolling stock repair men and other surprising but understandable trades given shortages. Something I read in my notes yesterday said the Eastern Command need for labour for the Bolero building programme alone (mostly airfields obviously) exceeded the whole of the registered building tradespeople in that region.(CAB 81 I think). In among this I remember seeing odd references to camps and whether or not they were cooperators or not but my memory is poor as to whether or not I have photographed any of them and which references they were. All is not lost as I am coming up to have to write up my Italian material and if I have got it I will post here for all, as to what references I did look at. I tried to photograph all camp lists I saw so I could compile a time line. I think the link I posted above might be a tin opener for you of later records than you seem to have.

    I did not go as far as ICRC and protecting power inquiries but I note you say their pre 45 material is missing. Well, when I get to it, there is a bound set of inspection reports given to the UK Foreign Office by the Swiss as bottom copies with a covering letter after the inspections of camps. I have the reports for 43 for Glen Mill and Tarporley by Dr Wirth. I have translated the french Tarporley file and it is quite detailed on life and the conditions , about 6 pages long. It was critical only of the mildewed plasterboard ceilings, that were only a year old. The commander volunteered that they were being replaced. Morale high. The file is about 75mm thick and there are reports on many camps.Try FO 939/469. The reports are years 43-44 of the photos I have. It would take a day to photograph properly as the paper is thin and so there is plenty in there. Please consult the NA Discovery and see if you can get someone to check this before a trip, my computer download of the camera was poor and I cannot find the photo of the title page.

    I get the impression that the first prisoners in were construction tradesmen in the main and they went into tented camps and then built permanent camps for themselves and then hostels for following agricultural labour prisoners. Construction workers then worked for the Admiralty in the Orkneys (obviously well known) but also built UK and USA army barracks.

    I have not looked at County Ag Board records.

    I found that you have to plough through files whose unpromising descriptions do not relay the actual content in these National Archives FO prisoner of war series. The title may only say "inspection" or something anodyne and it doesn't really say what. I do not think many people have worked in them but there is plenty more to be extracted. Sadly, having spent a couple of days on this part of my research I did not read one equivalent to a conventional war diary. I think the Pioneer Corps guards records will be more likely to give what remains of the inside story, rather than looking for the camp administration.

    A rather sensationally written journalist book is "A Taste of Freedom" by Robert Jackson (1964) about POW escapes in the UK by both axis countries POWs. its not directly about your area of interest but it does give first hand accounts which seem credible about life and attitudes in the camps especially in 44-5 before VE Day. Classic escapes Island Farm, Von Werra etc in there but plenty of lesser known material. Vivid stuff that does seem to be in line with the historian generated material later.

    Good luck with your research and I will post my references when I can sort them out.


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