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P. O. W. CAMP 296

Ravenfield hosted P.O.W. Camp 296 at Ravenfield Park during the second world war and after, until all the prisoners were repatriated.

Often during the war German prisoners were invited into the homes of local people for Christmas, this probably occurred also in Ravenfield. The prisoners selected for this treat were not hard bitten Nazi's of course. Unknown at the time but it is a fact the prisoners of war who agreed to work received better rations than the British people. [ Remember the ration books still in existence after the War] The ration being issued to prisoners was the same as the ration received by British soldiers which comprised of 8ozs of bacon,  including vegetables,42ozs of meat,& 5½ lbs of bread, 10½ ozs of margarine, extras were Cake jam, cheese and not forgetting Tea.

The Prisoners were escorted down to Thrybergh to attend Church.

From reading the accounts below one is left with the impression that these prisoners of war fared somewhat better than the allied prisoners of war in Europe. No wonder that there was only one German prisoner who actually escaped from the British, OberstLeutnant Franz Von Werra escaped in 1941. Mind you he made frequent attempts in England without success and finally succeeded by jumping a train in Canada and walking across the great lakes in wintertime.

 

Patrick Anthony Kilgallen who once lived in Silverwood Cottages recently wrote  two articles  for the B.B.C. Peoples War in which he recalls the Camp.

" When he did get his car, he became a pal of the band at the large Army camp in nearby Ravenfield Park. The Americans could get petrol, Tom had the car, and we 'adopted' the trumpeter and the pianist!!
The former was a Glaswegian, Peter Bryce, who'd lost his wife and child in the Blitz. He adopted "Grandma" and sent us regular pictures of his regiment's progress through Rome. The pianist was the well-known BBC musician, Gerald Moore. We still have a portrait of him at the Glasgow Empire organ, signed "Best Love, Gerald". So it was that we often played host to our very own wandering 'Glen Millers'!"

 


ROY NIXON

As far as I can remember, the occupants at Ravenfield Hall left at the beginning of the war, and the first wartime inhabitants were troops returning after the evacuation from Dunkirk and being temporarily billeted there. Later we had Italian prisoners of war (in their brown uniform with a yellow circle on their backs.)   They were not popular as they were said to have killed the deer which roamed in the park and also to have destroyed the fish in the three lakes!   After they departed, and towards the end of the war, German prisoners of war were billeted in the old hall.   When the war ended, and before they were repatriated, the prisoners were allowed out of the camp and could be employed by local families to help with gardening etc – for which the local people were allowed to pay them about one shilling (5p) per day, or 5 cigarettes a day if they were smokers!!    Several prisoners worked for families in Silvermoor Dr.

JOHN WALLER


During the last war there was a prisoner of war camp in Ravenfield Park. Some of the prisoners used to visit my wife's father at home just for a chat. They walked from the camp to his house unescorted. There used to be an anti-aircraft gun off Thrybergh Lane, which runs between Doncaster Road and Ravenfield. It was known locally as "Big Bertha". The entrance was through the gate just below Thrybergh cemetery. My wife's father was in the Home Guard and used to visit the soldiers manning the gun. I suppose this is how he came to hear of the prisoner of war camp.

Roy’s comments about the POWs at Ravenfield Hall reminded me of a conversation I had with a mate at school once. It never occurred to me that his surname was Germanic but his Father was a first generation German immigrant who was still bitter about the fact that at the outbreak of the second world war he was interned at Ravenfield Hall for a while. He did not stay long and was allowed to return home to Wickersley. He then went to work either down Silverwood or in the steel works until he retired.
Does anyone remember the “Mummy” tree [ See photo below ]? It was in the small private wood owned by Heath’s in old Ravenfield and was just off the main road past the railway bridge.  Clamber over the high wall and there it was – a full sized mummy carved into a dead tree. In retrospect, aged 10 “full size” tends to be rather smaller than it actually.

DAVE VICARS

Dave Vicars kindly sent along a photo of the carving and tells me the photo of the tree carving done by a pow of the virgin mother (supposedly). It is a good job that I took the photo as the tree is now dead and very rotten. Strangely the carving is still in excellent condition. It took me ages to find it as everything is very overgrown. I had to get my daughter to hold back branches so I could get a good shot.

 

STALAG YORKSHIRE

From the Sheffield Star 21st January 1975

An article by David Riley

Contributed by Jill Jesson

Tree carving photo courtesy Dave VicarsUnder the noses of British Officers a group of German prisoners of war distilled liquor, which they sold on the black market. Heinz Emmerich was one of them. He tells the tale of the secret still in the second part of his story of life in Yorkshires Pow Camps.

IN BUSINESS WITH BOOZE

 

At the end of a long , hard war life was not easy for anyone living in Britain for luxuries were unobtainable and necessaries were rationed.

For the German Pow interned here it was even tougher, or at least it should have been, but there were men who worked on ways of beating the system. Even in the prison camps they were cashing in on human need and human greed.

For 18 months Heinz Emmerich and five of his fellow prisoners of war distilled and marketed spirits at a Rotherham Pow camp. The spirits were sold at £1. 00 a bottle and comfortably lined their pockets. When Heinz was released in 1948 he had saved £800 from his illicit dealings.

Like all big businesses it began in a small way, The prisoners wanted something alcoholic, something to make them forget the conditions in which they were living, or make them more acceptable.

The first officer on Heinz Emmerich's ill-fated minesweeper, whose sinking in the channel had resulted in their capture, was the son of a brewer, and eventually Heinz and his comrades were reunited at Ravenfield camp near Rotherham. The need for some strong beverage to brighten up the gloomy evenings led to the young mans appointment as master brewer. The concoction he produced was not beer, but a tasteless, potent, pure spirit.

There was a country house adjoining the camp recalls Heinz  [This, of course was Ravenfield Hall ] it housed the British army messes. We had the still in the cellar, right under their noses. I've been back there recently. The house is just rubble now, but you can see the vents leading down to the cellars. I suppose they are still there.

The still was made from biscuit tins and a spiral of old copper piping. They used corn which was left to sprout, mixed it with water and yeast, then distilled the fermenting result.

At first we only made it for ourselves, then one day I gave a bottle of it to the soldier who drove me to various camps around Yorkshire in my role as interpreter. He came back and said he had mixed it with a bottle of gin to give it a bit of taste. The mixture tasted like gin, but was much stronger. He asked us if we could let him have some more and offered to sell it for us.

They had broken down a wall to get access to the cellar, so they felt sure their booming enterprise was safe from discovery. Modifications had to be made to the still to supply increased demand it needed to be bigger and better.

You must be very careful when distilling spirits said Heinz. Everything must be right, or you can find yourself in trouble. We did not want to make anyone blind, or anything like that. All the equipment should be of copper, but we only had biscuit tins. I asked my driver if he could help and he got hold of a copper boiler from an old steam traction engine. We were really in business. Because the spirit was so strong they adopted a special method of marketing. On its own it was nothing but powerful alcohol. Mixed with a bottle of gin it picked up the gin taste, and mixed with a bottle of distilled water it tasted like gin and was the same strength as gin.

Customers had to send along a bottle of gin and £1. I n return they got three bottles of Ravenfield special. The marketing was all carried out by the camps British army drivers. Very nice liqueurs could be made by mixing Ravenfield special with fruit juices.

Increased production brought its difficulties. The prisoners could no longer carry on distilling in the cellar because they feared that the smell, drifting out at ground level, would arouse suspicions. The still was moved to the loft of the house.

Making moonshine helped to pass the long days of confinement, besides giving them a stake in the future when their release eventually came. The moonshine was not always sold for cash. Sometimes we would exchange it for things we needed, such as writing paper which we used in our studies. We had a lot of educated people in the camp and we ran university courses in everything from economics to psychology.

But most of the bottles went for pound notes and as the money poured in it was shared out and hidden away, until the day when an emergency arose-the day the syndicate had to break into their savings to help a fellow prisoner  and save a Yorkshire woman's marriage.

The prisoner and the woman had been having a secret relationship. It was against the law for Pow's to associate with British women whether married or single, but nevertheless they did.

It was easy to get to know them Heinz explained You would see them in the street, perhaps when you were being marched to church. After the war restrictions were eased and it was not to difficult to get out. It was more difficult to get back in.

This prisoner once lived with the woman for a week, her brother took his place inside the camp, so he was never missed. But the romance was coming to an end, the woman's husband was due home from the war. Then she found out she was pregnant.

In desperation the prisoner went to see Heinz who arranged for an abortion to be carried out by a London Doctor at a cost of 200 guineas. The money to meet the bill came from the sale of spirits.

 

Many thanks to Jill, Roy, John, and Dave for their additions to this page.

 

 

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