Prisoners of War on the Doorstep

Prisoners of war chatting with a farmer somewhere in Britain, from the Imperial War Museum

Whereas we hear of the Prisoner of War camps holding British prisoners in Germany and elsewhere, we hear little of the Prisoner of War camps in Britain.

Moorby had a similar layout to this prisoner of war camp near Brigg. Photo: Lincolnshire Historic Environment Record

Lincolnshire had a number of such camps, one of the largest of which was at Moorby holding German PoWs, with another at Revesby holding Italian PoWs, both camps were a few miles south of Horncastle.

This audio recording of recollections by an Army warrant officer of the time (obtained from the Imperial War Museum) records his rather different opinions of the two sets of prisoners: he found the Germans, not surprisingly, rather Germanic (tidy and fastidious), which he appreciated, the Italians he found rather more care free (untidy and xxxx), which he did not!

Part of an oral history recording of John Drury made by the Imperial War Museum

The last German PoWs were not repatriated until 1948, three years after the war had ended. In the meantime the PoWs were still either held in the camps or billeted in the villages and farms to help with work on the land.

The conditions must have become more relaxed once the conflict had ended and groups of Germans and Italians were often seen in Horncastle having ridden into town on bicycles but had to be back by the 10 p.m. curfew. Yet in May 1946 an article in the Lincolnshire Echo reports that the police and military were searching the Horncastle area for a 30 year old PoW who had disappeared from Moorby Camp during the night, wearing either a German Air Force uniform and blue overalls with a red stripe down the leg; there is no record of the outcome.

The PoWs took part in local entertainment and, it is said, caused quite a stir amongst some of the girls of the town. Not everyone approved of such fraternising with the old enemy, with a Cllr C. F. Kay commenting at one council meeting:

“These prisoners are taking too many liberties for my liking. It is objectionable that our daughters cannot go out without being followed by these Italians. Young girls are frightened by it.”

Whilst a Cllr Morris complained that the POWs were crowding the pictures, and a Cllr Sutton said that on Saturday night he had seen four girls laughing and talking to a dozen Italian prisoners. It was apparently decided that

“if truth was told the girls needed squaring up as well as the prisoners”!

Despite this the prisoners became part of town and local village life. The Society has in its care a bilingual printed Programme for a Concert held by the German PoWs at St Mary’s Church in February 1947. It shows that there were some capable performers in the camp, with classical works resembling a present day Horncastle Choral Society concerts with choir, soloists and organ.

Whilst the Lincolnshire Echo records that in December 1947, PoWs from the Moorby Camp carried off both 1st and 2nd prizes in a Talent Competion at the Christmas Fair at the recently formed Horncastle Youth Centre: 1st prize was for an acrobatic duo; 2nd prize for a Violin and Accordion duet. The Youth Centre was said to be a favourite place for those from the camp.

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