Henllan Bridge Prisoner of War Camp 30, part 2

Henllan Camp 30 finally closed its gates on April… 1948, the last prisoners being transported to other camps.

The reports by the re-education inspectors always list the senior British officers at the camp. As well as Lt.Col. E.C. Barton, the commandant, the British Staff sergeants are singled out for mention in several reports, with interestingly mixed results.

S/Sgt Interpreter W.P Templeton, although not personally interested in re-education, did everything to facilitate my work. S/Sgt Engel is very intelligent and helpful. He has now taken re-education into his own hands but, unfortunately, he is going to be demobilized at the beginning of November.”

In the next report “Of the two S/Sergeants, S/Sgt Templeton is by far the better of the two. He takes some interest in re-education and visits the hostels regularly. S/Sgt Engels is quite useless.

Did the inspectors visiting the camp really take on board what was happening?

In January 1948, the inspector delved a little deeper. With regard to the morale among the prisoners:

Fair to good in the hostels but rather poor in the main camp. The chief reason is the attitude of the S/Sgt Interpreter [Templeton] towards PsW. This man is the wrong type for such a post; he is a regular soldier, an electrician by trade, and was a PoW in Germany during the war. He shows no understanding of the German PW, is not interested in re-education, indulges in a lot of unnecessary ‘chivying’ and seems unconsciously to be wanting to get his own back on them.”

The commanding officer was advised to remove the Staff-Sergeant interpreter.

The final report from the camp, just before it closed, was far more detailed and perceptive than any previous, and is a fascinating insight into the camp, and into far more.

1. Reception:

Hospitable and friendly, but British Staff show little interest in re-education. Some of the officers are anti-German and this has contributed to the development of the PW outlook described in the next paragraph.

2. PW. Outlook:

(These remarks apply to the outlook of approximately 200 PsW seen in two separate groups, one of PW in repatriation transit only, and one of PW not due for repatriation yet. In each case, T.A. ran a discussion group lasting 2½ hours in order to obtain reactions. These reactions are given below as illustrating the outlook of all PsW in this camp, as the correspondence between the outlook of the two groups was very close).

The general attitude of the PsW towards Britain is: they came to Britain (in the majority of cases from camps in U.S.A. and Belgium) with a preconceived idea of the Englishman as a gentleman. Their experience in Britain has led them to the conclusion that the preconceived idea was wrong – the British did not come up to their expectations. Their attitude is one of scepticism and distrust, based to a very great extent on the treatment they have received at the hands of the military authorities. They say they are disappointed; gentlemen in Britain are few and far between.

As regards the British attitude towards and treatment of defeated Germany and the Germans, PsW are of the opinion that it is based on the principle ‘Might is Right’. In support of this, they give numerous instances of British intransigence (see ‘Reasons’ below) and deduce from all these that the British are hypocrites and do not practice what they preach. The humanity which the British profess is only superficial and has been adopted as a result of the loss of power and economic dependence on America; Britain’s period of ‘power and plunder’ (as one PW put it) has come to an end and the British now wish to co-operate in Europe, not from any feeling of altruism, but from sheer necessity. On the other hand, the aims of British foreign policy as far as Germany and Europe are concerned are approved by PsW. They feel, however, that Britain is very late in appreciating the threat from the east and that in this respect German (and Hitler’s) political foresight was far superior.

PsW are very subjective and emotional in their judgement of the British, and show a strong tendency to remember all the negative things whilst ignoring the more positive. These they are willing to admit in reminded of them, but positive appreciation does not spring spontaneously to the PW mind. The discussions showed they are quite prepared to see both sides of the question; re-education has certainly made them more open-minded and less inclined to see the German side only; but they are only dimly beginning to appreciate the fact that there are other people besides the Germans in the world and that these other people are not always in the wrong. Fundamentally, they desire Friendship very strongly; their rather negative attitude results from frustration as a consequence of the fact that nobody seems willing to take them at their face value. Hence they rationalise about themselves and come to conclusions illustrated by the statement of one PW: ‘The German is hated because he thinks too clearly and is too critical of the existing socio-political structure. His suggestions for reform are too sensible and are rejected by people who would lose their power if these reforms were introduced.’

Reasons for PW outlook.

  1. Hate:          No, not in the mass. There are some individuals (mostly military personnel) on whom the occasional PW would like to take revenge.
  2. Dislike:       Yes, widespread amongst these PWs, but directed almost entirely against the military authorities. PsW claim that British militarism is far worse than anything they ever experiences in the German armed forces. Their opinions are based on the following:-
    • Treatment by British military personnel in the PW camps in Belgium; the poor conditions under which they had to live, the confiscation by all ranks of the British of PW property (watches, rings, property purchased in PW camp canteen in U.S.A. etc), the physical ill-treatment by N.C.O.s and O.R.s and the continuous swearing and bullying of the N.C.O.s
    • Treatment in PW camps in U.K. The fact that so much power is given to the C.O. and that his personal feeling towards the Germans are given such scope. (This was said in particular reference to the previous C.O. of camp 70 and of his apparent approval of the anti-German attitude of the Staff-Sergeant interpreter (see previous report).
    • The fact that they are still regarded by official Britain as soldiers – three years after the cessation of hostilities – and that jurisdiction of them has been left in the hands of the War Office. PW state that if the British had really wanted to re-educate them, then they should have been removed from all contact with British Military personnel.
    • A number of PsW who claim to be covered by the ‘Fox’ repatriation scheme are still in this camp. They claim to have made application for repatriation last autumn but that all their applications had been disregarded by the S/Sgt. Interpreter and were found untouched in his office after his transfer away. (These applications were put through by the C.O. in February, after they had been found, but W.O has given no decision yet. The matter is being taken up again by the camp).
    • PsW who surrendered in Germany bring instances of looting and theft by British military personnel over there after the capitulation. All this went unpunished; if a German soldier had been caught looting by his own military authorities he would have been severely punished. The British did nothing at all about it.
    • The verdict of not guilty against the British officer recently tried for ill-treatment of internees in the British interrogation camp at Bad Nenndorf. PsW are convinced that the verdict was brought in only to save face.
    • N.C.O.s among PW were forced to work by the British in contravention of the Geneva Convention. Officer PW were not forced. Some N.C.O.s who refused at one time in camp 199 received such ill-treatment that they were forced to give in.
  3. Distrust.     Yes, widespread. The reasons are manifold, but chief amongst them are the following:-
    • The dismantling plan. PsW see in this the removal of German economic competition in advance, and they claim that this is admitted by the British. In particular, they quote the instances of the soap factories and point to the shortage of soap in Germany.
    • The fact that PsW who were held in U.S.A. were promised by the Americans that they were going straight home but came to Britain and have been held since by the British.
    • Length of captivity – illegal and inhuman.
    • The British excuse themselves by admitting that they do not claim infallibility and do make mistakes. If the German made or makes mistakes they are regarded as criminals.
    • Screening, resulting in the wrong type of German getting home first. The method of screening was unfair and unjust and quite arbitrary. PsW are convinced that the screening officers had instructions to find fixed quotas of each grade.
    • The food situation in Germany and the lack of effort on the part of the allies to do anything about it. In this instance, PsW quote a letter from Canada saying that the Canadian granaries are full to overflowing and that foodstuffs are being burnt for lack of storage space. Argentina’s offer of meat to Germany was rejected by the allied authorities, as also were offers of vegetables from Holland and fish and fats elsewhere. PsW have experienced themselves how the British farmer leaves his potatoes in the ground if the price falls below a certain level. All this is seen as lack of good-will.
    • Anti-German films (old films being re-issued) are being shown quite extensively in the area and PsW are convinced that this is being done on the express instructions of the British government to prevent the civilian population from becoming too friendly towards them.
    • Mal-administration in Germany. This is seen as resulting from the fact that the valid text of the Potsdam agreement is said to be the text in English. As a result of the structure of the English language, almost everything can be interpreted in two or more ways – hence the allies each accusing the other of not keeping to the word of the Potsdam agreement and the consequent lack of action in Germany.
    • The underhand way in which the British have allowed the French to take the Saar without international negotiation. The powerlessness of the British in face of Polish and Russian determination to make the eastern boundary of Germany the Oder/Neisse line.
    • The British are taking scrap steel from Germany, which is urgently needed for German reconstruction.
    • Memories of allied air attacks on Germany. PsW state that these attacks were deliberate terror attacks against the civilian population. In this connection they claim that industries in Germany which belonged to international cartels were never attacked.
  4. Indifference:          No, this does not seem to be the case. PsW are very critical by they are not indifferent. Their criticisms are directed mainly against the military authorities and ‘official’ Britain, because of frustration. Toward the civilian population they are opportunist/friendly – not indifferent.
  5. Give benefit of doubt:        No, PsW judge by results and are very critical of intentions. They still tend very much to see everything from a German point of view only.
  6. Liking:         This is limited to individuals towards individuals. There is appreciation of the fact that public opinion in Britain has been on the side of PsW.

Estimated percentage: Dislike and distrust 85%, Indifference 10%, Liking 5%

3. Resettlement Problems:

No resettlement officers have visited this camp. Various personal problems were dealt with by T.A. or passed on to London for answers.

4. Outside contacts:

Owing to the isolation of the camp and the hostels, outside contacts have been very limited indeed. The best were for the hostels near Haverfordwest, which have now been disbanded.

5. Camp Facilities

Radio and newspapers will be available to the end of April. Everything else has come to a standstill.

6. Reactions to Swiss and Dutch lecturers.

The Swiss lecturer Grassi gave two talks in this camp a short while ago, one on the Swiss treatment of the refugee problem during the war and the other on the Swiss constitution.  Both lectures were regarded as interesting but there was no noticeable reaction.

7. Final Impressions

The paragraph on PsW outlook covers final impressions as well. PsW in this camp are unfortunately very much influenced in their thinking by their intense dislike of what they term ‘British militarism’ and do in individual instances feel quite bitter about it.

8. Conclusions

Despite everything, re-education has had effect on these PsW in as much as it has put much information at their disposal from which they have drawn the conclusion that national-socialism was wrong. Also they have become more articulate and critical of what is going on in the world about them. There is however still a hankering after the good life in Germany under the Nazis and a very strong tendency to differentiate too sharply between the Nazis and the people of Germany. They refute indignantly any suggestion that they bear any responsibility for Nazism and its results, and much prefer to regard themselves as the unfortunate victims of circumstance who are being punished (by long captivity) for something that was not their fault. They want friendship very much and approve of all efforts to achieve mutual understanding, but their idea of mutual understanding is a little one-sided. Politically they now show a leaning towards Socialism and some of them see in Schumacher the future leader of Germany. They are still very nationalist-emotional in their judgement of themselves and others.

O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!

The prisoners were supposedly being assessed for their readiness to return home and help create a nice bright new democratic society. It seems a little odd, looking back on World War II and the abominations committed by the Nazi regime, that the inspector was interested in the German prisoners’ attitude towards the British, but not a single mention is made of their attitude to other races, especially Jews, Roma and Slavs. I wonder if we cared at all.

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