BOB HIND'S NOSTALGIA: German prisoners of war also made their great escapes

Preserved Nissen huts at Camp 21.
Preserved Nissen huts at Camp 21.

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If I asked you how many prisoner of war camps there were in Great Britain during and after the Second World War you might have thought about 20 or so. 

If I told you there were more than 75 in Scotland alone you would probably be surprised. Most were for Germans and Italians with  other Europeans added as they were captured in the last years of the war.

German prisoners of war with civilian cooks.

German prisoners of war with civilian cooks.

The exceptionally well-researched Camp 21 Comrie by Valerie Campbell is one of those books you will not be able to put down and when you come to the last page you will read it all over again.

The author interviewed surviving German soldiers who were taken prisoner during the war. Many remained in the UK when peace reigned once again.

Some of the stories tell of the murder of prisoners by ardent Nazis who suspected their fellow prisoners of being anti-Nazi or not giving the Nazi salute within the Nissen huts.  Anyone who betrayed another prisoner by giving information to their captors was beaten and hanged.

The book tells of camps in America where several men were hanged by their fellow prisoners after being beaten in a fashion too gruesome to report here. Enough to say the perpetrators were found and hanged both in the UK and the United States.

The book's cover.

The book's cover.

One chapter tells the fascinating tale of Rudolph Hess and his landing in Scotland in May 1941 for a proposed meeting with the Duke of Hamilton and a possible  peace treaty between Britain and Germany in which Hitler would withdraw all troops from western Europe if Britain agreed to remain neutral. He would invade Russia to stop the advance of Communism. On his capture, Hess is believed to have been held at Camp 21 before being taken to Mytchett in Surrey.

If this proposed treaty did exist it would have caused major repercussions for  Winston Churchill.

There was a large peace movement  in the country at the time and if the public had got wind of refusing a peace deal it could have brought down Churchill and the coalition government.

In 1987, Hess, at the age of 93, succeeded in hanging himself after several suicide attempts.

Even his death is filled with conspiracy theories as the author tells of suspicions that Hess was murdered by two agents on the orders of the British government as he still had evidence of a plot to overthrow Churchill.

You will all have seen the 1963 war film The Great Escape when three tunnels were dug by British PoWs.

The German soldier was no different and in Camp 21 two tunnels were excavated with a third just beginning when they were discovered.

The same old problem had raised its head, where to get rid of different coloured soil. Fortunately a watchful camp commander had noticed the different colours and had all the huts searched.

After the war the camp was used by Scottish soldiers and is now preserved.

Camp 21 Comrie, also known as Cultybraggan Camp, is the UK's best preserved prisoner of war camp. Lying in the heart of rural Perthshire in Scotland, the camp's history is fascinating.

Built two miles south of the village of Comrie as a camp for detainees, its first prisoner was a British soldier but in the following years it housed thousands of prisoners of war captured in north Africa and Europe.

Conditions were primitive but there was a re-education programme which is explored in depth in the book. Lectures were followed by occasional hot debates and the book takes a fresh look at the murder of Feldwebel Wolfgang Rosterg, who may not have been the only man subjected to a fanatical show trial within the camp.

Camp 21 Comrie is an excellent read for those interested in a view of the war from a captive German soldier's point of view.

It's published by Whittles Publishing at £16.99.

SATURDAY'S BIRTHDAYS

Dr Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin, former astronaut, 88; Tom Baker, actor, 84; David Lynch, film director, 72; Liza Goddard, actress, 68; Sophie, Countess

of Wessex, 53; Heather Small, singer, 53; Nicky Wire, rock bassist (Manic Street Preachers), 49; Skeet Ulrich, actor, 48; Gary Barlow, singer, 47.