|Extracts from "Haversham Estate And the Parish I Grew Up In" by David C. Brightman April 2000
THE PRISONER OF WAR CAMP
The P.O.W. Camp was first proposed in 1943, this was supposed to be out of bounds during the war, but us kids wandered in and out without any problems and were sometimes given gifts of sandals made of rope and the pecking chicken toy and the wooden aeroplanes, I had one of those for many years after they had all gone home. At the beginning it was Italians but later all Germans, and was in 1945 three years before its closure, called the B.A.E.C. Hostel, what that stands for I don’t know, unless it means British Army Educational Centre.
Anton Cadman pointing the camp boundary in his garden
The P.O.W. camp was one of 1,500 built between 1939 and 1945. These camps from October 1939 to July 1948 had housed 402,200 prisoners. Many of the camps, and I should imagine Haversham was the same, had a compound surrounded by barbed wire fencing on 18ft wooden posts, a single strand of barbed wire was strung across at 9 inch intervals with additional cross wires, at the top of each post was an overhanging of 18 inches into the compound, this usually had 3 strands, inside this fence was coiled barbed wire and then a low single strand marking off a No-Go area.
The P.O.W. Camp buildings most of which were of wooden constructions, were where Chalmers Avenue is located and their sports field was about where Rowan Drive is, and stretched to the Old Allotments, now Keppel Avenue and to the rear of the gardens of Wolverton Road.
Some of the P.O.W.s used to work on the local farms, they cleared out the ditch which runs into the river East of the railway line, this was done to take water away from the sewage ditch which used to overflow into the field and which still runs at bottom of the New Allotments, or rather trickles, though this brook was there long before The Estate was built or thought of it comes under the railway line and connects up with the brook which starts near Salcey Forest and runs through Tathall End hamlet, hence Brookfield Road.
The P.O.W.s in the summer used to grow huge tomatoes at the Sewage Works, (The answer must be in the soil) which they stored in the tops of the willow trees to ripen. If the local kids found them, there used to ensue messy tomato fights, much to the anger of the P.O.W. but my recollection of are, the Italians made good model and did good work on the local farms. This was probably after they surrendered and came over to our side late in the 2nd World War. Some Italians from the P.O.W. Camp, who by then were working on local farms, and soon after the war went to Bedford and other to Bletchley Brickworks. Mum and Dad received Christmas cards for many years from a few in Italy, but these stopped arriving in the late 1960s, I know some locals still get cards and visits.
In December 1997 I received a letter from a German ex-P.O.W. living in Hanover, a Mr. Heinz Bartschies who was at the Camp when he was 20 years old, he kept a diary during this time there and says, in his letter to me; ‘I came to England on the 1st May 1945 (Colchester) and went on 9th June to Camp 55 at Shalstone, Bucks, on the 1st August 1945 I went to the Hostel at Haversham, an offshoot of Camp 55. At the Hostel were 140 P.O.W. We worked for the Ministry of Agriculture digging ditches and hedge cutting and helping with the harvest. I worked on Mr. Reynolds Green Farm at Newport Pagnell, who had a son and daughter daughter (Mr. Reynolds and his son are both deceased, the daughter is still alive) and farms near Olney.
I worked on several farms including one at Stony Stratford owned by Mr. Jack Canvin, (the butcher) his family lived opposite the Camp, his son John had a German P.O.W. as his friend, his name was Heinz Collin. In 1947 we had, by work about 4/- a week to spend outside the camp. Sometimes we got invitations from English families to visit their homes, especially Gwen and Arthur Casebrook, and the Crane family of 31 Brookfield Road opposite the Camp. A discussion group of about 10 prisoners was held every Thursday at the home of Mr. Morgan. (He was headmaster of Wolverton Grammar School at the end of Moon Street, now Bushfield School).
We were allowed to go to local dances, and this time I became acquainted with three nice English girls (names given) two from Church St. and one from Maria Drive. On the 2nd March 1948 I left the Hostel and on 13th May was repatriated to Germany. I had a good time in England and English people were very fair to the German P.O.W.’s’ (I have managed to trace the girls whereabouts).
This unaltered letter wishes to thank especially Gwen and Arthur Casebrook who lived in New Bradwell. I have seen mementos and photographs of Heinz or Harry at Gwen and Arthur’s who still correspond with him. He is coming to England in May and I hope to see him and show him and his wife Inge the site of his old Camp.
Judging by this letter the Camp was used more as a rehabilitation centre for Germans from late in the War, rather than a proper P.O.W. Camp with armed guards and machine gun towers. Perhaps someone has more information on this, even a photo or two, as I have never seen one of the Camp, and certainly on our forays into Camp I can’t remember seeing armed guards or any military presence, perhaps they had been demobbed and gone home.
Heinz or Harry and his wife called on Sunday evening 10th May for a short visit to arrange a meeting place for the next day, which he suggested to be the site of the old Camp after he had visited Mr. & Mrs. Cadman, this we did and after a few photos departed to do the grand tour. I had previously arranged with a friend from Baldock, Heinz Gollan whom I had met many years before in the Railway Works, and spoke German to come along to translate for the benefit of Harry’s wife who spoke no English, this was a huge success and helped us all to have an enjoyable afternoon and evening.
First stop was Camp 55 at Shalstone near Buckingham, where through the generosity of Joe Koracevic who now owns part of the old P.O.W. Camp, we were met there by Ann the resident caretaker who showed us around and unlocked various old buildings.The last time Harry was there was in 1945 when he arrived from Colchester after being captured on the Dutch/German border after D-Day. The first prisoners at this Camp were Italians who were in tents and later had to erect the concrete building themselves, these were slotted together similar to today’s garages. I believe a Mr Tofani of Hanslope was here at one time. The first building we entered was, by the look of it was a canteen about 60ft long with 8 roof ventilators and massive concrete roof trusses. Outside was a crumbling brick base for a water tower. All the huts we entered still had the original electric conduit and light switches, and even a standard issue Artic stove. The next building was a different type and had what looked like cubicles down each side, I think this was a ration store. None of the other buildings contained any wartime relics except the electrics, I looked hard for graffiti but could not find any. According to Harry most of the buildings had disappeared, but many concrete base slabs and overgrown paths were in evidence, and gave an idea of this camp of over 100 huts. Harry pointed out the roll-call area and the guardroom, he opened his diary and showed me a drawing of the Camp entrance in 1945, this depicted a large water fountain and some huts which are now demolished. The fountain has long gone but you could see where the base was. He also had a drawing of Haversham Camp.
We then departed for Stony Stratford to view the old Scala Cinema, for which Harry had a 1945 press cutting showing the week’s films, then onto the Palace Cinema, and another press cutting, and then past the houses of his old female friends in Church Street, Anson Road, Maria Drive and Stacy Avenue onto the Empire Cinema, he was quite pleased to see these three old haunts still standing. The Science & Arts Institute (demolished after the fire in May 1970) has gone where he went dancing, but the Drill Hall remains, and has not changed much, then onto The Park where he watched Wolverton when it had a football team, the park is now very neglected and overgrown, even the tennis courts have gone he remarked. We all returned to our house at Westcroft for refreshments where he remarked the English tea was far better than German (must be the water).
I then asked him to read out some of his diary entries, this I think would make a fascinating booklet, from this I gathered he worked on quite a few local farms, and had all the farmer’s an children’s names down and local residents, he had lists of all his hut companions and English staff at the Camp and also had various press cuttings from the Wolverton Express dated 12th July 1947 one of which stated;
‘P.O.W. were now allowed to ride on buses and to spend at local shops. On Saturday last many of the German P.O.W. stationed at Haversham Camp visited Wolverton and went to the ‘pictures’ and spent money in shops, and looked in at two dances. This added freedom to the relaxation recently announced Government restrictions. Haversham is a White Camp and there are 141 P.O.W. housed there. A White Camp indicates that all the men there are anti-Nazi, and about a third of them speak English. They have between 4/- and 4/6 a week to spend outside the camp, and the maximum allowed in their possession is 30/- ordinary rank and £3 officers.
A Wolverton Express reporter spoke to a German interpreter at the Camp and said the men were pleased with the additional freedom. But they must be back in by 10pm or lighting-up time, whichever is earlier and they must remain within bounds. The only public resorts that the P.O.W. were not allowed to enter were those where intoxicants were sold. Cigarettes and newspapers were the most sought after items’.
Harry also had the words in English of the song Lili Marlene, so at least I know what that’s all about!
I vaguely remember a tethered fox which was reared by the P.O.W. from a cub, this ran up and down the line between two posts. The P.O.W. also built a model castle with a moat and drawbridge, and also a 3ft diameter concrete star which for many years lay on the left kerb by the entrance to Chalmers Avenue disappeared only a few years ago.
When the P.O.W. departed, though many chose to stay in England, the Camp became a wonderful playground for the local kids. We used to have cycle races around the huts, and even had kids from Bradwell and Hanslope come to race us. The cycles were all fixed wheel and made all sorts of models with many odd wheel sizes and no brakes until you back-pedalled, crashes and bruises were many!
The numerous buildings were ideal for all sorts of games and clambering around on, there was even talk of using it as a school, eventually it all came to an end when Mr. Tompkins from Wolverton and Mr. Tarrant bought the camp for development and the building of Rowan Drive and Chalmers Avenue. Before this took place Mr. and Mrs. Silson moved in as caretakers. The Camp was called the Hostel by then. Mr. Silson used to look after one or two Nissan huts full of Mr Tompkins homing pigeons; these were not very happy when a handful of pebbles were tossed onto the tin roof. What became of Mr. Silson, who always seemed to be eating a large piece of cheese, and the pigeons I do not know, but the building started, but not before a short while later went out with a Bang!
Letter from Heinz Bartschies
Mr Vic Davis during and after the War along with Mr Bellchambers and Mr Jack Sawbridge used to transport the P.O.W. to various local farms, I have been told that Mr Samuel Partridge was responsible for placing the P.O.W. on various farms. Jack Sawbridge’s vehicle was driven by Rocky King, and was a Standard 10, No EPP 489!