On Saturday 10th March 1945, seventy years ago today at around 10.00pm, the greatest escape of internees from a British prisoner-of-war camp started to take place from Island Farm camp near Bridgend in South Wales when 70 German prisoners managed to tunnel their way to freedom. I don’t intend to enlarge on the facts of that story here as they are well documented elsewhere in more detail than I would be able to provide in this short blog entry.
To commemorate the 70th anniversary of the event, the Hut 9 Preservation Group held a very successful open weekend on 7th and 8th March at the only surviving structure of the former prisoner-of-war camp. The group are engaged in the restoration of several rooms of this building to their historic use, and I quote “a journey through time where ordnance factory accommodation, British troops, US GI accommodation, and those of the two sets of German POWs are reflected in a phased occupation”. Over the past few years the group has worked tirelessly to achieve much of their goal in providing an informative experience for visitors during their open days and this weekend was no exception.
Visitor numbers were up on previous years and this time a new replica guard tower and improvements and updates to the interior of the building has made visiting an even more enjoyable and informative experience for all. I am informed that over the weekend 620 visitors were taken through the building on guided tours with much positive response reflected on their Facebook group. I visited early on Sunday morning and there were already a large number of visitors on site despite the drizzle and I was fortunate enough to be given a personal guided tour during which I discussed the donation of some 1940s oddments from my collection to their cause. Outside the fenced perimeter there were a small number of wartime vehicles on display and all group members and volunteers participating on the weekend were dressed in appropriate period costume for the vehicles and the various eras depicted in the individual rooms.
An added attraction was the provision of a classic bus to transport visitors to and from the historic site. Parking for the public is not possible at Island Farm so the bus ran a shuttle service from the town’s civic centre via the nearest convenient place to park. Operated by a 50-year-old former North Wales Crosville double decker, the ECW bodied Bristol with its Gardner 6LW engine sounded great as it pulled away from the site, the gears clunking as they went up the box, a really nostalgic sound from the past.
In all, an excellent visitor experience which, should you have the opportunity, is an event to look out for. The next open days will be on 17 and 18 October 2015.
There are various websites associated with the Island Farm prisoner-of-war camp and the Bridgend Royal Ordnance Factory where you can read about the wartime history of these fascinating sites, here’s a few:
I was only able to spend a very short while at Hut 9 and in the drizzle I took very few photographs on my compact camera, here’s three of them. The first shows the newly constructed replica guard tower, the second is of three of the re-enactors and the third is the vintage bus used to transport passengers to the site. For loads more photographs of the hut itself and the event, follow the facebook link above where all the latest pictures, information and links can be seen. There’s even a photo of me there!
Finally, a previously unseen photograph from the collection of the Late Glyn Miller showing the derelict Island Farm camp as it was in 1965.
For my regular readers, you might like to know this is my 300th blog entry!