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History by Russell Webber 1998

The POW camp at St Erth was purpose built to hold about 70 prisoners and the following information has been gleaned from the older residents still living in the village and it is somewhat difficult to piece the facts together.

On arrival in 1943 the prisoners were billeted in tents and marquees and they helped to build the permanent camp by digging the foundations and assembling the parts of the prefab type huts. An armed guard was present and they also constructed a concrete pump house beside the church yard to enable them to supply water to the water tower at the camp.

The site consisted of 3 huts to accommodate the POWs, an ablutions block, a lounge - recreation block and a cookhouse and canteen area; a water tower was built also. The fact that the camp had running water, showers, flush toilets, and a modern sewage system, and its own electricity generator was a contentious issue at the time, with the inhabitants showing resentment since similar facilities were not available to them until the 1950s.

The camp first housed Italian POWs, then Germans and eventually housed displaced persons (Polish and Lithuanian etc.). The prisoners were of the non commissioned ranks, but they enjoyed excellent conditions working in the area and being treated as human beings. A close guard by regular soldiers was provided and no one can remember any prisoner attempting to escape.

A small contingent of regular army soldiers under the command of Hamilton Hawkins; who had been invalided out of the army, were brought to St Erth to guard the camp.

The Italians mainly worked on the tin streaming site very close to the POW camp and 32 worked a two shift 8 hour day. The remainder were taken by lorry each day to the local farms, but a small number worked at the Stable Hobba manure works at Newlyn.

In their spare time the prisoners played table tennis; card games; chess and draughts; and kicking a football about. They were also allocated a piece of ground which they cultivated for vegetables and flowers. Some spent their time making small artefacts, like brooches made from wire covered with coloured wool to look like flowers. Cigarette boxes were made from bully beef tins; rings from 2/- and 2/6d coins; little aeroplanes made out of 6d pieces and fitted with a safety pin soldered on the back.

Wooden toys were often made, including the children's’ favourite, like the ‘pecking hens’ and rings for children out of ½d and1d pieces. Boys would run errands for them and get them cigarettes from the local shop.

Later the POWs made a boat and in the light evenings went floating on the large pool, which they had helped to excavate; and sang their Italian songs.

On Sundays the Catholics were marched in columns of pairs to Hayle to attend the Church Service at the Downes Convent Chapel (now part of the St Michaels Hospital at Hayle) with only one guard. A similar parade was made to the local St Erth Church.

As the war came to an end, security became somewhat relaxed and the POWs played football and table tennis with the local village teams but still with soldiers guarding them. They were able to hire bikes locally and still work on the farms using the bikes for transport until they were repatriated home.

After the war most of the equipment was sold off, including the table tennis table, seats, chairs, tables etc.

Two former prisoners now live in the parish; one married a farmer’s daughter and eventually took over the farm on his father-in-law death. The other who worked also on a farm; after the war lodged with the family and has been with the family up to the present day, only once going back to Germany to visit his family.

Since the war the camp was used for a scrap car business but over recent times it has deteriorated and along with vandalism became dangerous. It was razed to the ground late in 1998, almost immediately after the author had carried out a site plan exercise. The site is now just a pile of rubble with only the water pump house standing in a garden to remind one of St Erth Prisoner of War Camp.