During the Battle of France any German servicemen made prisoner by British forces were taken into custody by the French authorities so the question of processing and accommodating PoW’s on British soil did not arise. However this situation changed when prisoners began arriving in the UK from two sources – firstly crewmen from German submarines (known as U-boats) comprising those rescued from sinking U-boats or taken when their craft was surprised on the surface and secondly Luftwaffe airmen who parachuted or force-landed while in action over the UK.
On the outbreak of war in September 1939 thought had been given to setting up a PoW handling system but this resulted in just two camps being set up. Both the Allies and the Axis powers held officers and other ranks separately and the first camp (sometimes referred to as No.1 Camp) was intended for officers and the second, in Oldham, Lancashire, was for other ranks.
The site chosen for Camp No.1 was Grizedale Hall, a stone-built 40-room mansion sited near the village of Satterthwaite in a picturesque part of North-West England known as the Lake District. The hall had been built in 1903 for a wealthy family but had latterly been owned by the Forestry Commission till being requisitioned in 1939.
As an example of how inadequate this provision was, by 1945 there were 600 PoW camps across Britain. However in 1940 the intention was to ship PoW’s to Canada both to save the effort of feeding and guarding them plus to remove any possibility of an uprising in support of the expected German invasion.
Before the air fighting over the UK subsequently known as the ‘Battle of Britain’ got into its stride, the preponderance of German naval personnel at Grizedale Hall caused it to be known as the ‘U-Boat Hotel’.
If a captured airman was seriously injured he would receive treatment at whichever facility was closest to his capture but he would end up at the Royal Herbert Hospital at Woolwich in South London where special wards had been set up, again separated by rank. Lightly injured cases would be transported straight there. Once recovered they joined the process below.
A captured officer would be taken to the ‘London Cage’ – the HQ of the Prisoner of War Interrogation Service (PWIS) at No. 8 Kensington Palace Gardens. Here he would be interrogated and if it was felt that he was holding any information of note he would be transferred to an advanced interrogation centre, the Combined Services Detailed Interrogation Centre (CSDIC) nearby at the Trent Park Estate, Cockfosters. When interrogation at either centre was complete his records would be annotated to indicate whether he was considered to be a dedicated Nazi or of a lesser level of loyalty. He would then be taken to Euston Station under armed guard for transfer by train to Windermere (by the lake of that name) and onward by road to Grizedale Hall.
Grizedale Hall is mainly associated, if it is remembered at all, with ‘The One That Got Away’ – the story of Oberleutnant Franz von Werra. This pilot had been shot down in Kent on 5 September 1940 and, after interrogation, had been transferred to Grizedale Hall. He escaped from a working party outside the camp on 7 October 1940 and managed to survive on the hills (or ‘fells’ as they are known) for six days in very poor weather conditions. He was re-captured and, after another escape and re-capture from a camp at Swanwick, Derbyshire, was shipped to Canada. In transit within Canada he escaped from a train and crossed the part-frozen St. Lawrence river to the (then neutral) USA. He was then smuggled back to Germany via Mexico and Panama only to die on 25 October 1941 when his Me109 came down, cause unknown, in the sea off Holland.
The original site (pictures above) was used for the film ‘The One That Got Away’ in 1957 before being demolished (von Werra played by Hardy Kruger).
B&W photos above courtesy of Winston Ramsey – ‘After the Battle’ magazine.
(Above) the site today
(Above) von Werra’s Me109 being examined after capture.
(Above) a note written by von Werra in response to a request from a local schoolboy for his autograph, it reads:
I am not at all happy
to be here and I hope to see
you again but not as (a) prisoner
of war but as a friend.
5 of September of the second year of war
(Unless he was confused over the English names of the month (unlikely) it seems he dated this note with his date of capture rather than the date of writing, which must have been in October or later).