We have just had a very significant anniversary in Bridgend which many local people may be forgiven for not having noticed. But it is a remarkable story that bears repeating until everyone is aware of it.
It was 10th March 1945, and the world was in the closing stages of its second World War. Earlier in the day, the people of Bridgend, much like those everywhere else in Britain, were glued to the evening news on their ‘wirelesses’. Reports were coming in that the last remaining German forces west of the Rhine had retreated. They must have been jubilant and gone to their beds with a spring in their step. The horrors of war would have seemed far away. Surely the war is now nearly over?
In the bigger scheme of things, these thoughts would have been quite justified. But events were to unfold that very night that would give the people of Bridgend one last fright.
The lead story on the midnight news must have had people shocked to their cores. 70 German prisoners of war had broken out of Island Farm Prisoner of War camp in Bridgend. The single biggest breakout of German POWs of the entire war in Britain. Soldiers and Police were being drafted in from surrounding areas to try and track them all down. People were warned to stay indoors and keep their windows and doors bolted shut.
Eventually all 70 had been rounded up. Most seemed to see the escape as just some high jinks as 23 of them only went as far as the dunes in Merthyr Mawr before stopping to set up a camp. A couple more were altogether more adventurous. They stole a doctor’s car in Bridgend but without the keys they had trouble starting it. Then some off duty soldiers came across them. The escaped German POWs convinced the soldiers that they were Scandinavian engineers working in Bridgend and persuaded the soldiers to give them a push. With a wave as they disappeared into the distance, they drove the stolen car until it ran out of fuel in Gloucestershire. They then boarded a train that took them to within a few miles of Birmingham where they got off and hid in a bush near an airfield to plan their next move. They potentially could have made a ‘home run’ if it were not for a curious herd of cows who surrounded the bush to investigate who their new neighbours were. The farmer raised the alarm, and the last remaining fugitives were captured.
There is a small group of volunteers who are determined to keep this story and all the other history wrapped up in the Island Farm camp alive. They call themselves the Hut 9 Island Farm Preservation Society and they are custodians of the last remaining hut on the camp. The one from which the Germans tunnelled out and that tunnel by the way, 78 years later, is still very much intact. German engineering you see – there’s nothing like it.
In most people’s minds, Island Fam Camp is synonymous only with just one event. But as momentous as it was, there is a lot more than that to discover.
Island Farm Camp was originally planned as a dormitory for the ladies working in the vast munitions factory in Bridgend during WWII. At its hight employing over 40,000 people (mostly women) from all over South Wales. This was the biggest factory in the UK at the time.
In the run up to D-Day it was commandeered by the US army to house American Infantrymen. And after D-Day, when German soldiers started to be captured in their thousands it was needed to hold prisoners of war.
In this video I talk to Brett Exton from the Hut 9 (Island Farm) Preservation Society. We look at the background and the fall out from the largest break out of German Prisoners of War ever on British soil when the eyes of the nation was on South Wales.
We look at how the camp came into being and its full life cycle in four very different phases. Including the period immediately after the war when it was used as a holding bay for top German brass awaiting trial at Nuremberg.
We also take a look at the work being done today to keep the history alive and to give members of the public the opportunity to visit the camp and see what life was like for those who lived there.
I hope you enjoy this video. And if you do, please subscribe to this channel and share on social media.
Written, produced and hosted by Graham Loveluck-Edwards for Bro Radio.