During the Second World War, two permanent prisoner of war camps were established in Ely. Local people may be familiar with Ely Golf Club on Barton Road, heading out of Ely, but they may be less familiar with the fact that during the Second World War it was the site of Barton Fields Prisoner of War camp. It held mainly German prisoners for around eight years. In 1946, a year after the end of the Second World War Two, more than 400,000 German POWs were still being held in Britain. At that time, up to one fifth of all farm work in Britain was done by these POWs, and they were also employed on road works and building sites. The last of these German POWs were freed in 1949 but many chose to stay in Britain. Some of the men who had been prisoners in Ely became long-standing members of the local community.
Ely’s other POW camp was called West Fen Militia and was located on land off West Fen Road in Ely. Today, much of the location is covered by what is known as Priors Court, a residential development. The first residents were Italians but when they were released in 1946, German prisoners were kept here.
The prisoners slept in the camps but many of them worked on local farms across the district. Each day, vehicles would pick them up and transport them to their place of work then at the end of day pick them up and return them to the camps. The fact that these prisoners worked on local farms for and with local people brought a very different experience of the war to local people. In time, some of the prisoners were allowed to live on the farms permanently, sometimes in buildings they had built themselves. Some of these buildings are still in existence in the area.
“They were allowed into town to socialise with the local people who would invite them and my Father did that”
“I think they were content not to be in the firing line, less likely to be killed on a field in Downham then you are at Monte Cassino”
During the 1947 flood mentioned earlier, German prisoners of war from Ely worked alongside local people and the British Army to help bolster flood defences and limit the damage. The last German POWs were released in 1949 although many chose to stay in Britain and a number of them continued to live for the rest of their lives near the camps where they had once been prisoners.
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