1939 - 1945

by Brian Pears


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With the expectation of heavy bombing raids immediately after any declaration of war, the Government had made extensive plans for the evacuation of Priority Classes from likely target areas. The Priority Classes were -children of school age or below, expectant mothers and blind or crippled people. Children under school age were to be evacuated with their mothers or some other responsible adult while children of school age were to be evacuated in school parties under the charge of their teachers -except in Scotland where all children were to be evacuated with their mothers.

Pre-war planning had identifield eight main Evacuation Areas 1) London and Metropolitan area, 2) the Medway Group (Chatham etc), 3) Southern Ports (Portsmouth, Southampton etc), 4) the Midlands (the Birmingham, Coventry, Derby and Nottingham areas), 5) Merseyside (the Liverpool and Mancester areas), 6) Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, 7) the North-East Group and 8) Scotland (the Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee areas). The Yorkshire and Lincolnshire Evacuation Area comprised Bradford, Leeds, Sheffield, Hull, Grimsby, Cleethorpes, Middlesborough and Rotheram, while the North-East Group comprised the Newcastle, Gateshead, South Shields, Sunderland, Tynemouth, West Hartlepool, Jarrow, Wallsend, Felling, Hebburn and Whickham local authority areas. One area apparently not included was Billingham which, with its huge chemical industry, was an obvious target.

Evacuation Scheme
Courtesy of Gateshead Council (With the permission of Mrs Robinson and Mrs McNaughton's son.)

Having chosen the Evacuation Areas, the next step was to identify the Reception Areas to which people would be sent. The Evacuation Areas contained roughly one third of the Country's population, and around each a further area containly roughly another third of the population was identified. These were termed Neutral Areas, areas which would neither send or receive any evacuees. The remaining areas, the large hinterlands around the Neutral Areas, formed the Reception Areas. Blaydon Urban District was in a Neutral Area and was not involved in the initial evacuation plans at all.

Parents of children in the evacuation areas were asked to register their children for evacuation but there was absolutely no compulsion. About 80 of the 54,000 children in Newcastle and Gateshead were registered; the proportions in the other parts of the North-East Group were very much smaller -less than 40 in most. As war loomed, local authorities in both the Evacuation and Reception Areas finalised their plans. Billeting Officers in the Reception Areas picked halls to which the evacuees would be taken on their arrival and designated the families who were to have their numbers augmented. Schools in the same areas planned for increased rolls. Education Authorities in the Evacuation Areas tried to make sense of immensely complicated transport plans involving both the railways and numerous bus and coach companies.

Then, at the end of August 1939, when it was obvious to everyone -except Neville Chamberlain- that war was imminent, evacuation rehearsals were held. In Gateshead on Monday August 28th and in Newcastle on the 29th, thousands upon thousands of children assembled in school yards carrying gas masks and a few personal possessions and each had an identification label either tied or fastened securely to their clothing. Then, all too soon, it was the real thing; on September 1st and 2nd, in what must be classed as the most outstanding logistical feat of all time, about one fifth of the Country's schoolchildren were moved away from the cities to safer areas. For some, the move involved a relatively short journey -some Wallsend children went to Ponteland- but others went further -Tyneside to Wooler in Northumberland, Egremont in Cumberland or Stokesley in the North Riding, for example. For most it was further than they or their parents had ever even dreamt of travelling. The situation in Whickham Urban District was apparently somewhat confused; children at Dunston Council Schools were registered for evacuation, went through the usual rehearsal and, a few days later, after tearful goodbyes to their families, made their way to the school complete with labels and gas-masks, only to be returned home -the subject of evacuation was not raised again.

When it came to the crunch, many parents could not bear to be parted from their children and not all of those registered for evacuation actually went. The numbers of schoolchildren actually evacuated from some of the local Evacuation Areas, and the percentages of those eligible which the figures represent, are shown below.

Local Authority No. Evacuated
Gateshead 10,598 (71)
Middlesborough 5,171 (31)
Newcastle 28,300 (71)
South Shields 3,826 (31)
Sunderland 8,289 (33)
Tynemouth 1,481 (32)
West Hartlepool 2,881 (36)

The proportions of eligible young children evacuated with their mothers was much smaller than for schoolchildren -57 in Newcastle, 49 in Gateshead, 20 in Sunderland and only 9 in West Hartlepool. The schoolchildren generally settled into their new environments much better than the mothers with younger children. For many youngsters it was the adventure of a lifetime, for city mums country life could appear very dull. Many accounts of the experiences of both evacuees and their hosts have appeared in print and most make fascinating reading, but the popular image of evacuation remains one of dirty kids from inner city slums shocking their surrogate parents with appalling habits, manners and behaviour. To some extent this might have been true in a very few cases -there are stories of children as young as five demanding beer and chips for their suppers or using the living room as a toilet. There certainly was poverty; prior to the evacuation Newcastle City reported that 21 of those registered for evacuation were deficient in clothing and 13 were deficient in footwear. But the reverse was sometimes the case; children living at Nenthead, a very depressed village to the west of Allenheads, were amazed to see that some of the Tyneside children evacuated there actually had dolls -an unheard of luxury in Nenthead. Evacuation was certainly a valuable educational experience for many children and some gained a love of the countryside which remains with them to this day. Ignorance of the countryside was not confined to that era; children from Whickham View School at Scotswood were evacuated in 1939 to the Allendale area and, by pure coincidence, some 30 years later in the early 1970s, I took children from that same school hiking in the same area. I was astounded to find that some of these youngsters, all aged 12 to 16 years, had never seen a live cow or sheep!

Evacuees in Yorkshire

Askrigg, North Riding of Yorkshire
Local children and evacuees from Chester Place School, Gateshead.
Courtesy of Noel Kelly

A number of factors -lack of air-raids, parents missing their children, homesickness, unsuitable billets- soon led to a steady and increasing drift back home for many evacuees. Of the 25 children from Whickham View School who were enrolled at St Peter's School, Sparty Lea (between Allendale and Allenheads) on September 1st 1939, 17 had gone home by October 2nd! This caused a major problem; the vast majority of schools in the Evacuation Areas had been closed and their staffs were in the Reception Areas or serving in the Forces, some schools were occupied by the military while others housed a variety of A.R.P. facilities, meanwhile the children from those schools were gradually drifting home. On January 20th 1940, the Newcastle City Police reported to the Regional Police Staff Officer that two thirds of the city's children had returned, and on February 29th the report stated "The chief cause for concern is the unruly children who have returned from the evacuated areas (sic), these are mostly running wild and their education is being sadly neglected, this has to a great extent caused an increase in juvenile crime". Some Gateshead schools were partially reopened in mid-January and gradually, throughout Tyneside, more and more teachers were recalled and more schools reopened.

With the vast majority of children back in the target areas -but not necessarily receiving any education- the Phoney War came to sudden end at 4.00 a.m. on May 10th 1940 when 23 incendiaries and 14 high-explosive bombs fell in Kent. Bombs fell on industrial property in Middlesborough at 1.42 a.m. on Saturday May 25th injuring eight civilians -the first civilian casualties and the first raid on an industrial target on the mainland. The first major raid on Great Britain followed on the night of June 18th/19th and a day later the North-East again came under attack when bombs fell at West Hartlepool and Teesside. For a few nights there was enemy activity off the North-East coast as the Luftwaffe dropped mines near port entrances -an early victim was a French patrol boat which blew up on June 23rd half a mile off the Tees.

Then came a terrible incident which shocked the young pilots of 72 Squadron and showed clearly that war-crimes were not confined to the Nazis. At 2.15 a.m. on the morning of July 1st a Heinkel minelaying aircraft suffered engine-failure and crashed into the sea 30 miles off Whitby. A few hours later, when daylight allowed, a Heinkel He59 seaplane of the German Air-Sea-Rescue Service, unarmed, painted white and clearly displaying Red Cross markings, began searching for the crew. Spitfires of Blue Section, 72 Squadron were scrambled from Acklington and they quickly located the aircraft and identified it as non-combatant. Nevertheless they were ordered to shoot the seaplane down and, after sustaining machine-gun damage, it had to make a forced landing on the sea eight miles off Sunderland. Luckily the crew survived, but one was wounded. The crew of the minelayer had all taken to their dinghy and were picked up 28 hours later by a Royal Navy launch and landed at Grimsby.

A day later fifteen civilians on Tyneside paid for this appalling act with their lives when a single Dornier bomber swooped down the Tyne and deliberately bombed Newcastle and Jarrow -a further 125 were injured. Things were turning very nasty and a second mass evacuation was carried out throughout Tyneside on July 7th and 8th. The pairing of Evacuation and Reception areas was different from the that of the initial evacuation, for example Sparty Lea, which had children from the West End of Newcastle in 1939, received children from Wallsend; and Low Fell School, which was evacuated to Stokesley in 1939, went a little further, to Thirsk. In general this evacuation lasted considerably longer than the first, but many children spent weekends or holidays back with their parents, and this and the inevitable drift home once again put numerous children in danger. When bombs fell in Sunderland and along the coast on May 16th and 24th 1943, after a lull of a few months, no less than 55 of the 223 fatalities were children under 16 years of age.

A separate evacuation scheme, Assisted Private Evacuation, was introduced in June 1940 for mothers with children under five. Under this scheme mothers could make their own arrangements to stay in a Neutral or Reception Area and they would then receive free Travel Vouchers and a Billeting Certificate which entitled them to lodging allowances. These allowances were paid directly to the householder and were for lodging only, not board. In October 1940 this scheme was extended to include mothers with children of school age, expectant mothers, unaccompanied chidren, invalids and the blind. A similar scheme applied to people made homeless through bombing, and in such cases it applied to men and women of any age and was not restricted to Neutral and Evacuation areas -they were allowed to go almost anywhere, but a few towns, mostly on the coast, were declared out of bounds.

Some of the homeless, of course, worked in factories which undertook vital war work. After a heavy raid it was quite possible for a large number of essential workers to need accommodation but, if they were allowed to leave the area, vital production could be seriously affected. To avoid this problem the Government decided in May 1941 to build hostels around 13 population centres -close enough to the idustrial areas for the workers to reach their factories, but outside the principal target areas. Apparently a large number of these hostels were built around Tyneside and Teesside but no details of numbers of locations have come to light unless, and there is no evidence of this, they were the hostels later used for Displaced Persons as described below. These hostels were principally for vital workers and their families but could also be used to clear Rest Centres after widespread bombing.

Blaydon Urban District received a few families under the Assisted Private Evacuation Scheme and a few of these stayed in and around Rowlands Gill, but the real influx of evacuees to our area came as late as June 1944. By that time virtually all of the earlier evacuees had returned home -the last Newcastle school to return was the Royal Grammar School, but their late return was not entirely voluntary; their premises at Jesmond housed the Regional Commissioner and his staff and they did not move out until June 1944. Then, at 3.30 a.m. on June 13th 1944, a week after D-Day, the first ten of 10,492 V1 Flying Bombs were launched by Flakregiment 155(W) and shortly afterwards the first four of the 3,531 which evaded the defences exploded at Swanscombe near Gravesend (4.13 a.m), Cuckfield, Sussex (4.20 a.m.), Bethnal Green in east London (4.25 a.m) and Platt near Sevenoaks, Kent (5.06 a.m.). The Bethnal Green V1, which landed on the railway Bridge on Grove Road, killed six, seriously injured 30 and made 200 homeless.

The vast majority of the Flying Bombs were aimed at London and most landed there or in the south-eastern counties -Kent, Sussex, Essex, Surrey and Suffolk- and there was an immediate exodus from those areas. All the earlier distinctions of Evacuation, Neutral and Reception areas were ignored and vast numbers, mostly mothers with children, sought safety all over the Country, even in places previously regarded as target areas like Newcastle and Gateshead. Initially Blaydon Urban District received about 400 women and children from London and by August the authority was accommodating 1,400 from all parts of the South-East. These people were billeted with 724 families, some of them in our area. The children, of course, attended the local schools and this caused few problems except perhaps the overcrowding of classrooms -there was a severe staff shortage caused by male teachers serving in the Forces. A few complications did arise early in 1945 when the time came for the 11+ examinations -the evacuees had to sit the papers set by their own local authorities. At Rowlands Gill School, for example, three boys, William Makepeace, Peter Baldwin and John Michael Patch, had to take the Metropolitan Admission to Secondary Schools Examination. The official return for these evacuees was not until June 1945, but most had returned voluntarily before then.

Blaydon was included as a Reception Area in the post-war evacuation plans, in fact those of the 1950's and 1960's were quite ludicrous; they showed Whichkam U.D. as an Evacuation Area and Blaydon U.D. as an Associated Reception Area, so anyone living in Swalwell could, in theory, have been evacuated a few hundred yards to Axwell Park. The categories of people eligible for evacuation in this period (1964) were: 1) Children under 15 (with their mothers), 2) Children 15-18 still at school (With their mothers or unaccompanied), 3) Children 15-18 who have left school (Unaccompanied), 4) Expectant Mothers, 5) Blind, Crippled or Aged and Infirm (but only if they were dependent on someone in classes 1-4 and who was travelling under the scheme). There are now no general evacuation plans for wartime dangers -the instruction would be "Stay Put".

The list below shows some of the evacuees billeted in and around Rowlands Gill; it is not complete.

(UC = Unaccompanied child/children. TF = Tranferred from.)

8 Feb 1941 Mrs CORNES and her 2 children of Priory Gardens, Highgate, London, N6 at Mossgiel, Strathmore Road, Rowlands Gill.

7 Sep 1942 Joyce Edith WHITE and her daughter Sheila (7) of South Coast Road, Peacehaven, Sussex at 11 Stoker Terrace, High Spen.

18 Mar 1943 Mrs Catherine MILLS of Balliol Road, Buckland, Portsmouth with Mrs CROMPTON at 1 Margaret Terrace, Highfield.

9 Feb 1944 Mrs ROBINSON and her son Roger (2½) of Pattison Road, Plumstead, London with Mrs MCNAUGHTON at 12 Margaret Terrace, Highfield.

18 Mar 1944 Mrs H.D.GRAHAM and her two daughters (3 & 11) of Carmichael Court, London SW13 at 3 Pipe Bridge, Rowlands Gill.

24 Apr 1944 Mrs S.A.METHERALL and her son Alan John (1) of Sackville Road, Hove with Mrs D. BROWN at 5 Wellfield Road, Highfield.

2 Jul 1944 Mrs Ruby POTTER and her children Derrick, Peter, Maureen, Tony and Sherley (14, 12, 9, 4 & 2) of Tanfield Road, Croydon with Mrs MARTIN at Windyridge, High Horse Close.

8 Jul 1944 Mrs Lily A.JACOB and her son Derek (1½) of Strode Road, London NW10 with Mrs M.STIRLING of 1 Low West Avenue, Rowlands Gill.

10 Jul 1944 Mrs Doris E. THOMPSON and her son James (1) of The Crescent, Belmont, Surrey with Mrs GIBSON at Low Spen Farm.

10 Jul 1944 Mrs M.E.SPALL and her children Margaret and Peter of Penshurst Road, Croydon Surrey with D.COX at Shere Cottage, Dipwood Road, Rowlands Gill.

11 Jul 1944 Mrs B.I.COULTON and her children Ivan, June Rose and Jesse Elizabeth (12, 8 & 5) of Merrington Road, Fulham, London SW6 at 57 Long Row West, High Spen (empty property).

11 Jul 1944 Margaret COULSON and her children Mary Patricia and John (4 & 2) of 51 Ongar Road, Fulham, London SW6 at 57 Long Row West, High Spen (empty property).

14 Jul 1944 Mrs M.HENNINGS and her children Connal, Archie, Lexa, Olive, Lynette & Norman of Canbury Park Rd, Kingston-on-Thames with Mrs DOUGLAS at Valley Mount, Orchard Road.

15 Jul 1944 Mrs J.I.PENN and her children Betty E., and John E. (4 & 1) of Ellerton Road, Surbiton with Mrs DOUGLAS at Valley Mount, Orchard Road.

18 Jul 1944 Mrs Thomasina QUARTERMAN and her son John H. (5) of Pairee Street, Battersea, London SW8 with Mrs ATKINSON at 30 Derwent View, Rowlands Gill.

19 Jul 1944 Mrs Hilda KENNEDY and her daughter Joan (11) of Hanover Road, London NW10 with Mrs SCURRAH at Hazel Cottage, Lockhaugh.

19 Jul 1944 Mrs C.SCURRAH and her daughter Patricia of Shinland Road, London N9 with Mrs SCURRAH at Hazel Cottage, Lockhaugh.

21 Jul 1944 Thomas A HARRIS & Byron R HARRIS (UC) of Wakemans House, Kingsbury, London NW9 with Mrs MORRISON at 3 Low West Avenue, Rowlands Gill. (Mother returned home).

5 Aug 1944 Mrs Hettie PRISEY and her daughter Pamela E.A. (4) of Wolmer Gardens, Edgeware, Middlesex with Mrs DOUGLAS at Pleasant View, Pipe Bridge, Rowlands Gill.

9 Aug 1944 Mrs Matilda SOWELL of Kennedy Road, Hanwell, London N7 with Mrs A.COCKBURN at 12 Nell Terrace, Highfield.

9 Aug 1944 Mrs Beatrice PATTERSON and her daughter Beatrice Elizabeth of Kitchener Road, Thornton Heath, Surrey with Nurse PATTERSON at Cresta Holme, Smailes Lane.

21 Aug 1944 Mrs Irene MAGSON and her children Doreen, Margaret Iand John (9, 8 & 4 mnths) of Woodlands Road, Walthamstow, London E17 with Mrs GOODFELLOW at 9 Cowen Terrace.

23 Sep 1944 Emily Y. HOPE and her daughter Maureen (4) of Chelsham Road, South Croydon (TF Newcastle) with Mrs E.NATTRASS at Camperdown, Smailes Lane, Rowlands Gill.

18 Nov 1944 Ann PYLE (6) (UC) of Lancelot Road, Wembley (TF W.Hartlepool) with Mrs MARSHALL at 25a The Crescent, Rowlands Gill.

6 Jan 1945 Mrs G.E.DIXON and her son John E. (10) of (Hampstead?), London (TF Darlington) with Mrs M.RICHARDSON at 3 Elgin Villas, Rowlands Gill.

German and Italian prisoners of war were held in this country right from the beginning of the war. At first the numbers were very small, mostly crews of enemy aircraft, but as the war progressed the trickle became a flood, particularly after the major battles from El Alamein (October 1942) onwards. Though many hundreds of thousands were taken across the Atlantic and confined in Canada and the U.S.A., a huge number were detained in the U.K. in more than a thousand P.O.W. Camps across the nation.

On arrival in this country the prisoners were first taken to one of the the nine P.O.W. Cages in the country -one for each Army Command Area- where they were interrogated by members of the Prisoner-of-War Interrogation Section. Any prisoners who had suspicious or unusual backgrounds were sent to the London Cage at 8 Kensington Palace Gardens and all Luftwaffe personnel were first passed through the R.A.F. Interrogation Centre at Cockfosters in North London. The Cage for Northern Command was at Catterick. Prisoners were divided into three categories: Black, Grey and White, those in the Black category were hardcore Nazis -Camp 18 in Featherstone Park, south-west of Haltwhistle, dealt with the worst Blacks from all over the country- while the Whites were considered safe -many were unwilling conscripts. After interrogation the prisoners were transported to one of the camps which might be an army barracks, stately home, hotel, college or purpose built camp. Injured prisoners were treated at one of the P.O.W. Hospitals such as Oaklands Emergency Hospital at Cockten Hill, Bishop Auckland (P.O.W. Camp 93).

There were two P.O.W. Camps in our immediate area; in the grounds of Hamsterley Hall and at the old searchlight site on Rickless Bank, High Spen (sometimes called Greenside Bank or Rogue's Lane), just on the High Spen side of the Rickless Drift Mine. The stables belonging to this drift mine, which once housed pit ponies, are still standing and are still in use. Little is known of the Hamsterley Hall P.O.W. Camp except that it was a former army camp which had housed, among others, Royal Engineers and a contingent of Liverpool Irish. Many members of the latter regiment frequented the Towneley Arms during their time at Hamsterley Hall and invariably involved themselves in fights; the local policeman remembered being called to the pub on numerous occasions and finding the place wrecked and awash with beer. A Searchlight Battery had also been set up at Hamsterley Hall very early in the war but did not remain there for long, and it served as as a Home Guard Sector Headquarters. One man long associated with the wartime Hamsterley Hall and its various activities was Major Gillman, an officer who had been invalided from active service early in the war. He was, in peace-time, a Pity Me solicitor, and he now lives in retirement at Sedburgh in Cumbria.

The Rickless Drift Camp comprised three Nissen Huts and smaller buildings providing accommodation, kitchen facilities, bath house, boiler house and chemical closets with very little, if any, security. The degree of freedom given prisoners in this camp might be judged by the fact that three High Spen girls had illegitimate children with German fathers, and most of the prisoners worked on local farms without escort -even travelling to Chopwell and beyond by service bus. The employment of P.O.W.s, particularly in agriculture, was very widespread despite a newspaper campaign against the practice and the opposition of the unions. It was even reported that one group of workers in Newcastle volunteered to work two hours a day extra rather than work alongside P.O.W.s. Officer prisoners did not, in general, work nor did the Black prisoners, and only Whites with good conduct were even considered for unsupervised farm work.

The trust seems to have been well placed and, as far as I can establish, there were no escape attempts from this area. Nationally there were many escapes -one involving 97 P.O.W.s, but not one German or Italian P.O.W. actually succeeded in escaping from the United Kingdom. The most famous attempt was that of Luftwaffe officers Wappler and Schnabel who were held at Camp 15, the Shap Wells Hotel (midway between Penrith and Kendal - it is now a hotel again). They escaped from the camp, stole a Magister trainer aircraft from R.A.F. Kingstown (on the northern outskirts of Carlisle), managed to land and refuel at another R.A.F. airfield by pretending to be Dutch, and were only caught when they tried to repeat the exercise at another airfield in Norfolk. The only incident in this area worthy of note occurred in Westgate Road, Newcastle on January 22nd 1945 when an Italian P.O.W. struck a civilian after he had put two fingers up in a "V" sign in front of the Italian's face - the civilian was warned as to his future conduct by the Police.

Repatriation of P.O.W.s held in the U.K. began in September 1946, but the Rickless Drift Camp was apparently closed before this date. On August 26th 1946, the Blaydon U.D.C. received a report to the effect that the "P.O.W. Camp, formerly old searchlight sight (sic), at Rickless Bank, High Spen is occupied by squatters". Apparently four families -nine people- were occupying the premises known as 1,2,3 and 4 Rickless Bank. The Council behaved extremely well; they took over the premises, accepted the occupants as tenants, and made extensive modifications including the provision of a new toilet block, separate male and female bathing facilities, new drains and water supply, internal and external electric lighting and power points. The camp was eventually demolished after the occupants had found alternative accommodation and the site was returned to its former owner, Mr J. Watson of High Spen Farm, on February 9th 1952. Squatting at this period, incidentally, was not associated with social dropouts -there was an extremely serious national housing shortage, made even more acute as men were released from the forces.

The attitude of the people of High Spen to the prisoners was far from hostile and even the children were allowed to "fraternise", although there was a little resentment about the quantity of food given to the prisoners; their rations were the same as those of the British Army and were far greater than civilian rations. From January 1946 a weekly service, Gottesdienst, was held at St. Patrick's Church for the local P.O.W.s and one showed his appreciation by making a doll's house and donating it to the church to raise money for the Church funds.

The closure date of the Hamsterley Hall P.O.W. Camp is also very uncertain, but it was not included in a list showing the remaining camps on February 20th 1947; three-quarters of the camps had closed by that date leaving only about 250.

With regard to the German POW camps in the NE. Here is an incomplete list. Population figures in brackets - satellite camps (indented) housed about 100 each - except for the POW Hospital which accommodated up to 217.

  • 18 Featherstone Park (3927)
    • Plenmeller
    • Catton (Allendale)
    • Colwell (Whittington)
    • Raylees (Otterburn)

  • 69 Darras Hall (1159)
    • Bothal Barns (Ashington)
    • Druridge Bay
    • Eshott Hall
    • Kitty Brewster (Blyth)
    • Longhorsley
    • Seaton Deleval
    • Meldon
    • Prestwick
    • South Gosforth
    • Wylam

  • 93 Harperley (948)
    • Bedburn
    • High Spen
    • Hamsterley Hall
    • Lanchester
    • Langton Grange (Staindrop)
    • Usworth
    • Windlestone Hall
    • Mount Oswald
    • Consett
    • Military POW Hospital, Bishop Auckland (Oaklands Hospital)

  • 105 Wooler (1134)
    • Cornhill
    • Craster
    • Ellingham
    • Haggerston
    • Hetton House (nr Wooler)
    • Hurworth (Darlington)
    • Low Lynn (Beal)
    • Rothbury
    • Westwood (Wooler)
    • Whittingham

  • 139 Wolviston Hall (447)
    • Bishop Middleham
    • Billingham
    • Cowpen Bewley
    • Coxhoe Hall
    • Kiora (Norton)
    • Manor Farm (Hartlepool)
    • Sedgefield

  • 667 Low Byrness (442)

  • 669 Tyne J Camp, South Gosforth

  • Group Pioneer Corps POW Camp. Walworth Castle, Darlington

Temporary Settlements and Transient Populations. The Legacy of Britain's Prisoner of War Camps: 1940-1948 J. Anthony Hellen (Erdkunde Band 53/1999)

Some 394,000 P.O.W.s were eligible for repatriation in September 1946 but senior officers and hardened Nazis had to wait rather longer. The latter, the Blacks, were assessed every six months and some defiantly continued to "Heil Hitler" for a number of years - which, of course, meant a continuation of their imprisonment. Amazingly, there may still be a German P.O.W. in this country, there certainly was in 1977 when an account appeared in the magazine After the Battle (Issue 17). Because of an administrative error when P.O.W. Hans Teske was transferred between camps, he was not repatriated at Christmas 1948 as he should have been. All his attempts since that date to be repatriated or to claim compensation have failed to break through the red tape, and he gave up trying in 1970! In 1977 he was living at Milton Keynes, technically a P.O.W. on parole. P.O.W. Camp 250, Eden Camp, just off the A169 road at Old Malton, North Yorkshire, survived virtually intact through the years and was purchased by a Yorkshire business man in 1986. A year later, after a huge investment, it was opened as a museum with displays in 20 of the huts covering various wartime themes -some 35 of the original 45 huts dating from 1942 survive.

After the departure of the P.O.W.s, Hamsterley Hall Camp took on an entirely different role, as a camp for Displaced Persons (D.P.s) - foreign nationals involved in the war but unable to return to their homes for political reasons. Hamsterley Hall D.P. Camp housed about three to four hundred men from Ukraine, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Poland and even East Germany - countries then occupied by the Soviet Union. If these men had returned home they would have ended up in the Siberian Labour Camps (Gulags). Large numbers of D.P.s were allowed into this country, mostly during 1947, provided they agreed to work for four years either on the farms or in the mines; the men at Hamsterley Hall worked on farms. Transport between the D.P. Camps and the farms was provided by the Government, but the camps themselves were run by the Young Men's Christian Association (Y.M.C.A.). There were a large number of similar camps including, in this area, Villa Real (Consett), Gainford, Firtree and Windlestone Hall three miles east of Bishop Auckland, the childhood home of Sir Anthony Eden. It seems likely that the Firtree D.P. Camp was previously the Harperley P.O.W. Camp mentioned above; perhaps most, if not all, of the D.P. Camps had previously housed P.O.W.s.

The men gradually left the camps and set up their own homes. One man originally sent to Hamsterley Hall married a local girl; he was Janis Upe (his surname means Rivers) from Latvia. Before the war he had studied languages at the University of Riga and had visited England as part of his studies. He became an interpreter at the Camp and shortly afterwards married Sarah Ann (Sally) Lowes from Cowen Terrace. Then they worked together at Hamsterley Hall and other camps in the area. Mrs Upe, now a widow, still lives in the village.

The Displaced Persons who chose to work in the mines were housed in Displaced Persons Hostels rather than in camps. There was a D.P. Hostel at Old Hexham Road, Ryton and others at Pelaw Bank (Chester-le-Street) and New Kyo (Annfield Plain) - it is possible that these were the Vital Workers' Hostels mentioned earlier. A number of the men from the Ryton Hostel settled in this area and many still live here. Seeing these men today, it is hard to imagine what they went through. They were forced from their homes and families, caught between two equally tyrannical regimes, Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Soviet Union, made to fight against their will and finally they ended up in a strange country among people who spoke a strange language, with no contact with their families or hope of ever seeing them again. All have a story that would rival any film script; here are a few of them.

Fedor Babak now lives quietly at Highfield with his wife, Dorothy; he has two married sons, Fedor and Stephen. Nothing outwardly distinguishes Fedor from any other man of his generation, but I would imagine that Fedor watches the news of the fighting in the former Yugoslavia with more than a little interest, because 50 years ago he was a Guerrilla Fighter there too. He was drawn into the war from his home in the Ukraine and found himself involved in the dreadful fight between the pro-Nazi Croatians and the pro-Soviet Serbians. When the war ended he knew that to return to his home would mean death, or a least a lifetime of slave-labour, and he managed to reach safety in Austria. Eventually Fedor arrived in England as a Displaced Person and was sent to the Ryton Hostel where he met his wife; she was working there.

Brothers George and Feodor Batul came from Bukovina which is now part of Rumania but was then in the Ukraine -Feodor and his brother were Ukrainian. When war broke out they were forcibly taken from their home by the Rumanians and made to fight with the Germans against the Soviet Union. Later they also fought with the anti-communist White Russian Army. When the war ended they too escaped to Austria and spent six months there in Displaced Persons' Camps. Luckily they found work with British War Transport and were given the opportunity of coming to the this country. They arrived at Hull on June 25th 1947 and, after a period at Doncaster, they came to the Ryton D.P. Hostel. Both married British girls, settled in the area and raised families. Feodor's wife was Sarah (Sadie) Matthews from Lilley Terrace, Rowlands Gill, she also worked at the hostel. George still lives nearby at Stella Park, Feodor lived for a long period at Runhead but now lives at Congleton, Staffordshire. Last year, thanks to the recent and long overdue collapse of the Soviet Union, Feodor was able to travel to the Ukraine to visit the brothers and other relations he had not seen since he was 17 years old -53 years ago!

Anatole Leon (Tony) Samovics lived in the beautiful ancient city of Riga, the capital of Latvia. His country had been dominated by Russia, Sweden or Germany for 700 years before gaining its independence in 1918. Two years later, in 1920, Anatole's father, Joseph, started a business, The First Carton Factory of Riga, which grew to employ 80 people. Then, in 1940, the Soviets invaded the three Baltic States -Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia- followed a year later by the Germans. In the year that the Soviets occupied Latvia about 300,000 men were sent to the Siberian Gulags, about a million from the Baltic States as a whole. To avoid being drawn into the fighting, Anatole joined a circus where he performed in a number of acts. The circus toured Germany and German-occupied Europe, including Poland and Czechoslovakia. At one point when he tried to get a permit to leave Czechoslovakia, he was arrested by the Gestapo and taken to their headquarters in a palace near Prague. There he was interrogated by the cruel secret police who seemed convinced that he was a spy and he was only released when a colleague, trapeze artist Lisa Wein, who was a member of the Nazi party, spoke up for him.

With the defeat of the Nazis in 1945, the Soviets returned to Anatole's homeland and he was unable to go home - his father, first reduced from managing director to caretaker in his own factory, had since died while serving a 10 year sentence in Siberia. Anatole was a Displaced Person in Germany and for months was on the verge of starvation until he and other members of the Latvian Circus became part of E.N.S.A. (Entertainment National Service Association) and began performing for the British troops. Although his first preference was Canada, Anatole was given the opportunity of coming to Britain to work in the mines and he accepted. He arrived here in May 1947 and, after a period of training in Scotland and a brief stay at the Pelaw Bank Hostel, he was sent to Ryton D.P. Hostel. Like Fedor Babak and Feodor Batul, he married a girl who worked at the hostel, Marie Catherine MacLeod, from the north of Scotland. Anatole, an accomplished linguist who is fluent in Latvian, Russian, German and English, still lives in Ryton with his wife and he has three married daughters, Christine, Karen and Joanne, and several grandchildren. He has managed to keep in touch with relations in Latvia and regularly sends them parcels of everyday items -such as jeans- which are impossible to find there. He and his wife have visited relations in Riga in recent years.

Rickless Bank Squatters' Camp, High Spen 1946 - Former Searchlight Site and P.O.W. Camp

Rickless Bank Squatters' Camp, High Spen 1946

Courtesy of Gateshead Council

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