Site of wartime camp, Beach Road, Bangor
Site of wartime camp, Beach Road playing fields
On the death of King George V in 1936, the Lord Mayor of London formed a committee to determine a lasting memorial to the King that would encompass as much of the country as possible. They arrived at the concept of setting up the King George's Playing Fields to "preserve and safeguard the land for the public benefit".
There are 471 King George V Playing Fields in the United Kingdom, including this ground between Beach Road and the shore at Bangor. At the entrance to all King George V Playing Fields were gateposts decorated with heraldic panels of a lion and unicorn. These can still be seen at the Bangor fields.
At the outbreak of the Second World War, hundreds of British troops from the Cheshire Regiment, Royal Irish Fusiliers and South Lancashire Regiment were stationed in Bangor. As no other suitable accommodation was available, they were billeted with local families until nearly 40 Nissen huts were built on the King George V Playing Fields.
After British troops had vacated the huts, American soldiers moved in early in 1944 as they prepared for D-Day in June that year. One of the GIs who stayed at the camp was the boxer Joe Louis. Known as the “Brown Bomber”, he was the World Heavyweight boxing champion between 1937 and 1949. He even had time to give a talk to local residents at the Drill Hall. He was beaten in 1951 by Rocky Marciano, who had also camped in Wales (in Swansea) before D-Day.
Soon after the Americans’ departure, Italian prisoners of war were billeted here. Six days a week the PoWs were taken by military vehicle to local farms where they worked on the land alongside farmers and members of the Women’s Land Army. In their spare time they created little gardens outside the huts and were popular in the local community, although some of the returning British soldiers and their families resented this fraternisation.
With thanks to Adrian Hughes, of the Home Front Museum, Llandudno
Postcode: LL57 1DG
Footnotes: Personal recollections of the camp
Kenneth Gordon Thomas, who was nine years old in 1944, recalls:
“The local population made a beeline for Beach Rd on a Sunday afternoon to look at the front of the Barracks decorated in sculpted and decorated gardens relating to the prisoners’ homeland, Italy. One that stands out was the 'Leaning Tower of Pisa'. It really was a day out. The PoWs were accepted for what they were, and no hatred was vented against them. They visited the local fish and chip shop, Valla, which was run by an Italian family who had been resident in Bangor for quite a number of years. My family invited a few of the PoWs to Sunday lunch, and I took an interest in learning their language.”
Other MILITARY HiPoints in this area:
D-Day engineer's home, Bangor - Hugh Iorys Hughes conceived the transportable Mulberry harbours
Flying ace's school, Llanfairfechan - old boy Val Baker served in all three armed services in FWW, decorated for his RFC exploits