The remains of a ‘comfortable’ prisoner of war camp used during and after the Second World War have been found in Shropshire.
Archaeologists excavating the site near a roundabout at Mile End, Oswestry, found a variety of structural evidence for the existence of the camp, as well as artefacts and documents.
Large numbers of German prisoners of war were held in Britain between the outbreak of the conflict in September 1939 and late 1948. Numbers reached a peak of around 400,000 in 1946, shortly before repatriations began.
Around 2,000 German prisoners were housed at this camp, research suggests. They enjoyed a ‘surprisingly comfortable’ existence, according to the Wessex Archaeology team, who looked at a report of a wartime inspection of the site by the Red Cross.
The document highlighted a range of facilities and activities open to the prisoners at this ‘spacious’ facility, such as sports pitches, workshops, and musical performances. Prisoners were additionally provided with amenities such as heating, electricity, and running hot water.
Newly uncovered archaeological evidence has confirmed the report’s statements. Excavations found military-issue ceramic tableware and beer glasses, as well as containers for Brylcreem and San Izal disinfectant – pointing to a relatively social and hygienic atmosphere inside the camp.
One particular item – an aluminium identification tag belonging to a German soldier – has excited archaeologists, who hope to use its serial number to trace the individual.
John Winfer, project manager at Wessex Archaeology, described the tag as ‘an intriguing find with so much potential’.
‘In the event of death during the war, the tag would have been snapped, with one half buried with the body for later identification and the other given to unit administrators for recording. In this case, it tells us that the German POW in question belonged to the 3rd Company, Landesschützen Battalion XI/I,’ Winfer explained.
‘We know that this unit, raised from older reservists, was redesignated Landesschützen Battalion 211 in April 1940, suggesting that this prisoner was captured early in the war – likely September 1939 to 1940. We know his serial number too, so we’ll be doing further research to reveal the full story – it doesn’t end here!’
However, the most recent research has also pointed to instances of violence in the camp. It was said to have been subject to ‘frequent breakouts’, a claim supported by evidence of enhanced security features such as boundary ditches and barbed wire.
Additionally, the presence of a loaded German pistol – thought to be a Sauer 38H, commonly issued within the Wehrmacht – as well as a spent .303 rifle cartridge, suggests that the camp saw gunfire.
Although most German prisoners were ultimately repatriated after the war, some 25,000 of them remained in Britain voluntarily following their release.
Commenting on the news, Shropshire Council councillor Cecilia Motley said: ‘This is a truly fascinating find by the team working at Mile End. The artefacts have painted a picture of life at the camp that we never knew existed.’
‘We look forward to continuing investigations uncovering further insights, and perhaps some indications of where the prisoners at the camp originated from,’ she added.
Images: Wessex Archaeology.