Site of Prisoner of War camp, Llanrwst

Site of Prisoner of War camp, Llanrwst

Some of the housing at Perthi stands on the site of a camp where prisoners of war (PoWs) were once held while working on farms.

The sinking of merchant ships in the Second World War forced Britain to produce more food, instead of relying on imports. Farm labour was boosted by the Women’s Land Army, with seasonal help from military personnel, evacuees, shop girls and office workers.

This changed in 1943, when the Allies captured Italian and German servicemen in north Africa and sent them to Britain. In anticipation of this influx, the government told Caernarvonshire County Council to prepare PoW camps. Pabo Hall, near Llandudno Junction, became an administrative centre for camps across North-west Wales. Satellite camps included Llanrwst, Maenan and Ty’n y Groes in the Conwy Valley.

The Llanrwst camp had a single wooden hut and housed up to 40 prisoners, initially Italians and then Germans at the end of the war. Newspapers and reading materials were provided and studying encouraged. Roman Catholics were escorted to a building on Station Road on Sunday mornings for worship.

Fraternisation between the prisoners and local people was strictly forbidden. In November 1942 local girl Eileen Jones was charged with “despatching letters to an Italian prisoner of war contrary to the Prisoners of War Internees Order, 1940”. She had only met him once but was said to infatuated, throwing her messages over the camp’s perimeter fence! Authorities found the letters during a snap search of the prisoner’s possessions. Eileen promised no further contact with him and the charges were dismissed on payment of costs.

PoWs worked six and a half days a week for one penny per hour. Jobs varied with the type of farm and the season, but generally the most onerous went to PoWs. Prisoners also toiled on road maintenance and in quarries. In 1945 they helped demolish pillboxes and barbed-wire entanglements (installed early in the war in case of German invasion).

The Llanrwst camp closed in 1947 when the camp leader was Erwin May, a German soldier. He had started a discussion group there and taught many PoWs English. Having denounced fascism, he encouraged his fellow prisoners to do the same. While most of the PoWs returned to their homelands, Erwin settled in Old Colwyn and worked for a bakery, delivering bread and cakes.

With thanks to Adrian Hughes, of the Home Front Museum

Postcode: LL26 0HQ    View Location Map