Site of Dyffryn Aled PoW camp, Llansannan

button-theme-pow Site of Dyffryn Aled PoW camp, Llansannan

Photo of Dyffryn Aled house and PoW campThe riverside footpath from Llansannan leads to Dyffryn Aled, where German officers were imprisoned in the First World War.

The mansion at Dyffryn Aled (now demolished) was built in the late 18th century. The first section was designed by Joseph Turner, whose other works included Ruthin jail. In the early 20th century the property was bought by Lady Dundonald of Gwrych Castle

In 1914 the house and its extensive grounds became a camp for captured German officers and for German civilians who were interned to prevent them colluding against Britain. The German-captioned postcard on the right shows the house and playing field.

The first intake of German naval officers, in September 1914, included Wolfgang von Tirpitz, son of Admiral von Tirpitz, Commander in Chief of the German navy. Wolfgang became a prisoner after the Battle of Heligoland, where the German cruiser Mainz was sunk. Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty, informed Admiral von Tirpitz via the American Embassy in Berlin that his son was safe. The previous summer, Wolfgang had played tennis with Mrs Churchill at London’s Queen’s Club and taken luncheon with the Churchills afterwards.

There were several escapes from Dyffryn Aled. In April 1915 two escapees reached Talsarnau, near Harlech, before being recaptured.

Also brought to Dyffryn Aled after Heligoland was Korvettenkapitan Hermann Tholens, who hatched an escape plan with Kapitanleutnant Heinrich von Hennig (rescued from the sea by the Royal Navy off Scotland). A prisoner exchange programme in December 1914 provided the chance to get a message from Dyffryn Aled to the Commander-in-Chief of German submarines requesting that a U-boat collect Tholens and von Hennig off the Great Orme. The coded rendezvous date reached the pair in a series of letters.

On 13 August 1915, Tholens and von Hennig, along with cellmate Captain Wolff-Dietrich Baron von Helldorf, forced their way through one of the mansion’s barred windows. Security had been tightened after the March escape, but the Germans evaded sentries and searchlights and walked through the front gate! The submarine rescue almost came off, as you can read on our page about the rendezvous location.

Prisoners dug a tunnel under the perimeter boundary in May 1916 but were foiled by the guards. A further nine captives escaped, in three separate groups, in 1918. All were captured and returned to Dyffryn Aled.

With thanks to Adrian Hughes, of the Home Front Museum, Llandudno

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