There’s been an interesting question been rattling around the wires between seasoned blog contributors over the past couple of weeks about Italian Prisoners of War in World War Two, and where they were held locally and the nature of their interaction with the local population.
In response to this susurration, Peter ‘Pedro’ Cutler turned his attention to the matter in the last week to compile this article which I hope will spur further discussion.
What’s particularly interesting to me is that Susan Marie Ward, curator of the Staffordshirebred blog and great friend of this one, previously tangentially referenced the issue when she wrote about her mother’s experience in the local land army.
In her post post Susan publishes a photo (featured above) of her mother at the window of the ‘Land Army Hostel’ in Lynn Lane in 1948. Thus if the Italian P.O.Ws lived in there during the war, their use must have been transitory. She also mentions that Ukranian prisoners were held at Lincoln House in Shenstone during the same period.
I invite anyone with more information to contribute. The more the merrier. Comment here or mail me: BrownhillsBob t Googlemail dot com.
There’s a Times article here about the part such P.O.Ws played in our agriculture during and after the war. It seems to be a remarkable and largely unknown history.
Thanks to Peter for a wonderful talking point, and his usual diligent and challenging research.
In an exchange with our learned friend David Evans, the subject of a local Italian Prisoner of War camp arose, and also the interaction of the prisoners with the local community.
For POW camps there are a few lists that can be obtained from a Google search, all that give similar information, such as this one from the Guardian here.
It appears that there were nine camps in Staffs, the nearest ones being Flaxley Green and Wolseley Road, Rugeley and Shugborough Hospital.
I believe that there may have been a confusion between the terms camp and hostel as can be seen in the book ‘Discovering Stonnall’ written by the Lynn and Stonnall Conservation and Historical Society….
Opposite Lynn nurseries was the Women’s Land Army Camp… later Italian POWs stayed there.
Many newspapers carried the first notice of arrival is January 1941 of Italian prisoners…
The first batch of about 2,000 Italian prisoners of war recently arrived in this country. They have been specially selected for their suitability for work on the land. They are at present being arranged into working parties, and will be placed in working camps in various parts of the country. It is the intention that these men shall be engaged primarily on ditching and drainage work in order to prepare some thousands of additional acres for ploughing up this Autumn.
Later in January 1942…
In view of the shortage of agricultural labour the government is anxious for Italian prisoners of war to be used on farm work so far it is consistent with national security. It has therefore been decided, as in the last war, to permit certain ‘good conduct’ prisoners to ‘live in’ on farms and work for the farmers. At the same time other good conduct prisoners will be transferred to a few selected hostels from which they will be available for employment by neighbouring farmers. Both schemes are experimental and will be confined at present to the neighbourhood of the existing prisoner of war camps. The prisoners selected to take part in these experimental schemes would have been working in agriculture in this country for some months, and would have shown that they will work well and are of good behaviour. They will be not be allowed near places the military importance, and it will be kept under general supervision by the military authorities.
Farmers in the Midlands, where the existing prison camps are located, and wish to have a prisoner ‘live in’ on their farms should make application to the County War Agricultural Executive… farmers within 10 miles of the hostels will have to fetch the prisoner and return him before blackout.
Arrangements are being made in Staffordshire for Italian prison of war to assist in pulling the sugarbeet crop. The National Farmers Union takes the view that arrangement should be made to provide similar systems for harvesting potato crops.
‘Discovering Stonnall’ also gives a few oral accounts of the interaction with the locals…
‘They had khaki uniforms with diamonds and rings and other shapes in different colours on their backs so they stood out. The village used to play them at football. They took over from the Women’s Land Army working on the farms. We never saw anyone guarding them. In 1943 they became more like displaced persons.
But not all went well as in July 1943 Captain Poole, MP for the Lichfield Division, is to ask a question in the House to the Secretary of State for War concerning Italian prisoners of war. The allegations that the Italian prisoners of war employed in the Tamworth district are able to purchase in their canteen large quantities of matches, razor blades, hair cream and another articles which are not available for the civil population, and will he see that giving humane treatment to such prisoners they are not placed in an advantageous position than the civil population.
Later in October 1943 the Lichfield Mercury carried the headline ‘Farmers and Italian prisoners of war: Rules and Regulations… to fraternise is unpatriotic’
Prisoners who work on farms are to be accommodated either in the prisoner of war camps, special billets, or on the farms, but at all times they come under the command of the Camp Commandant… It is therefore up to the farmers to ensure that both they, and the prisoners, understand the rules and regulations relating to their employment, and for the farmers to ensure that their prisoners obey them….
One of the concessions allowed to the prisoners is that they are permitted to go up to 1 mile from their billets when not on duty, and further when on duty, although their employer must always know where they have gone. If a prisoner is found loitering on the road and he stopped by a policeman, both the prisoner in his employer are likely to be involved in trouble. Prisoners are forbidden to go into towns or villages or to enter into houses or shops, although there is no objection to their visiting the house where another prisoner is billeted, provided the other prisoner’s employer is agreeable. They are not permitted to go into places of entertainment, or to any meeting where they could associate members of the public. They must be in their billets half an hour before blackout time, and in no circumstances are they permitted to be out of doors after the black out. It is essential, too, that the prisoners should always carry their identification papers.
While the use of bicycles by prisoners is generally forbidden, employers may apply to the camp commandant for permits for their prisoners to ride bicycles to church or in connection with their work, but police have instructions to arrest prisoners riding bicycles without permits. Fraternisation with prisoners of war is definitely unpatriotic. Some members of the public necessarily come into contact with prisoners in connection with their work. They should treat the prisoners with politeness, but should avoid anything in the nature of friendship or any association with them beyond that which is absolutely necessary in connection with any employment. It is a serious offence under the Defence Regulations for a member of the public to give a prisoner of war who is in place of detention money or the presents. On the other hand, the public should avoid provocative gestures or language to the prisoners of war…