That POW question arises again…

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Are these derelict Nissen Huts the remains of a World War II prisoner of war camp? Many locals think they are. Imagery from Apple Maps.

I’ve had an enquiry in the last week or so from reader Graham Smith, who’s trying to track down lists of Italian Prisoners of War, often said to be billeted in a camp in north Walsall, thought by many to be near the aerodrome.

I’ll be honest here, I’ve seen lots of mentions of this camp just of the Mellish Road, including a belief that Italian POWs worked on Walsall road gangs during the war, but I can find little hard evidence. I’d appreciate people contributing what they know or have been told; I must admit, I find the idea we’d be putting former enemy combatants near an operational RAF facility remarkable, but then, times were different, so anything’s possible.

This has been peripherally addressed before here where Peter ‘Pedro’ Cutler applied his usual incision to the question of wartime POWs around Stonnall, and his researches didn’t find a Staffordshire camp nearby; but that’s not necessarily conclusive as one can see in the article.

Graham wrote to me on the 7th August:

Hi Bob,

Do you have any information regarding the Italian prisoner of war camp in Walsall?

We think that my wife`s father spent some time there.

Thanks,
Graham Smith.

Now I must admit to knowing nothing about this, which is why I had nothing to add to the same question posted in March 2015, and it seems nobody else did, either.

In that enquiry, Graham gave more detail:

Hi Bob,

We are trying to find my wife`s father, who was in a camp in Walsall. Her mother worked at Crabtrees and became friendly with a Italian from one of the camps with whom she became pregnant with my wife who was then adopted in 1946.

Is there a list of names of people who were in those camps around this time?

I’ve never seen such a list, but I’m no military or wartime historian. Can anyone help, please? Anything at all?

Since then, Graham has posted a couple of comments, and I’d point out to Graham that his question was flagged for an article this week, but like Andy, I do this as a hobby in my free time, and can’t provide fast responses, sorry. And sometimes, I just don’t know.

I try to help where I can.

My feeling is that with the large readership, if there was a clear answer, someone would have mentioned it by now; many old comments and topics get revisited, and this one is peculiar – I see lots of assertions online about particular buildings, but no hard evidence whatsoever, but then with wartime secrecy, would there be any? It’s a tough one for sure.

Anything you can offer at all is welcome: comment here please or mail me: BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com. Thanks.

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Huts in Lynn Lane, Lynn, near Stonnall – now long gone – were said to be used to house Italian POWs during the war. From Susan Marie Ward’s blog post: ‘My mother, (far right) and her best friend Betty Green, (far left), lean out of the window of the Land Army Hostel in Lynn Lane, Shenstone – 1948’

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10 Responses to That POW question arises again…

  1. Maureen Cheshire says:

    Do not know whether true or not but remember our mother talking about POW helping around the Burntwood area with Council duties of gardening, grass and road hedge trimming, could this have been a possibility x

  2. Thanks to Steve Martin on Facebook (that’s the wonderful drone chap) here’s a list of all the POW camps in the UK in WW2. A search of Staffordshire throws up nothing for Walsall.

    https://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2010/nov/08/prisoner-of-war-camps-uk#data

    The plot thickens….

    Cheers
    Bob

  3. steven bailey says:

    I know my nan talks a lot about the Italians helping digging drainage on her farm in great wyrley during the war and helping get the crops in. I will ask her if she knows where they were billeted.

  4. Sheila Norris ( nee Jones) says:

    My Mum told stories about lobbing stones on to the tin roofs of huts to wake up the POWs (nationality now unknown) when walking home late at night from dances, but I got the impression the dances were in Lichfield. She lived in Walsall Wood during the war.

  5. aerreg says:

    hi bob its me again when i was fourteen i worked at OAK SOLES a subsidury of the OAK TANNING company in hatherton street in walsall i can confirm that italion prisoners of war worked there in those days there were no canteens so we ate our lunch in the loading bay allongside the italions in my mind as i write i can see it now the cured leather was transfered from the tan yard to the oaks soles where they were made into soles and heels for forces boots and shoes hope this helps god bless

  6. FB. Lycett says:

    There was a camp at Wedges Mills, R/H side out of Cannock, as far as I know some remains still exist ??

  7. Alan Harrison says:

    Don’t know the answer, Bob, but Italian PoWs were sufficiently trusted to work in munitions facilities. Some were among those killed by the huge ammunition dump explosion near Burton. Also, after the 1943 armistice Italian PoWs were in some cases given a choice about what they did next. Most famously, the midget submarine hero, Luigi Durand de la Penne, who had blown up HMS Valiant in Alexandria harbour repeated his feat on the allied side. Another aspect was Italians interned as enemy aliens.

  8. jim says:

    This site was a territorial army base from at least the early 1960s until well into the 1980s i’m good friends with the current owners and I’ve looked around the site many times. The buildings are marked on the 1950s OS maps and It’s obvious that the buildings are WW2 era but i would speculate that the site would have been too small to house enough prisoners to warrant it’s construction for that sole purpose so i suspect it was originally a Home guard site which is logical considering it went to T.A. use after the war. I suppose prisoners may have been kept there at some point but there were much larger military camps on Cannock Chase which would have served this propose much better as far as i know in WW2 the main prisoner of war camp on the Chase was situated directly 1 mile south of Slitting mill on Hednesford road you can still see the hut plinths on google earth.

  9. Pedro says:

    So where was it? May 1942

    Ten Italian POWs escape from camp in the West Midlands…usual clothes found discarded…may be impersonating women…sailors and airmen 25-34 years of age, capable of flying planes…some speak reasonable English…have knowledge of certain Midland towns.

    3 days later…the remaining 3 of the 10 were picked up a few miles from the camp..motorist had alerted and a cordon placed around the heath.

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