windowthroughtime

A wry view of life for the world-weary

On My Doorstep – Part Sixteen

frith-hill-pow-camp-illustrated-news

Prisoner Of War camps in Frimley

What to do with German internees and prisoners of war? Well, send them to Frimley Common, of course. Opposite the Brompton Sanatorium, near what is now the Pine Ridge Golf Club, was a piece of common land near Frith Hill which was used prior to the outbreak of the First World War as a venue for a number of regiments, particularly the 3rd Battalion Royal Fusiliers and the London Scottish Regiment, to hold their annual summer training camps. When war broke out it was redeployed, as the Birmingham Daily Mirror reported on 17th August 1914; “forty acres of common are being enclosed near Frimley as a compound for German suspects and prisoners of war. The outer fence is 12 feet high and the inner fence 4 feet high, both being of barbed wire”.

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The first internees were German and Austrian nationals who were living in England at the outbreak of war – the Royal family being a notable exception to this draconian measure – but after the Battle of the Marne two trains arrived at Frimley station and as The Times noted on 24th September 1914, “during this week between 1,500 and 1,600 prisoners taken at the battle of the Marne have arrived at Frith Hill”. As you can imagine, their arrival piqued considerable interest in what had hitherto been a sleepy village and crowds of onlookers were attracted to the area, giving the prisoners gifts of tobacco, cakes, fruit and ginger beer.

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One of the visitors to the camp was Vera Brittan who recorded her visit in Testament of Youth, “at Frimley there is a camp of German prisoners, and though one feels almost mean in going to look at them as if one were going to the zoo, yet, since it is a sight that has never been seen in England before and probably never will be again after this war, it was of too great interest to be missed. Although there is a board standing by the entrance to the camp saying that this thoroughfare is forbidden to the public, the day we were there the public were so numerous that one could hardly see the thoroughfare”. Indeed, the officer responsible for regulating traffic commented that t was busier than at Ascot Races.

There were moments of odd humour. Prisoners played up to the locals by cursing the Kaiser, no doubt to acclamation and a reward of some tobacco. When a local businessman rode up on his motor cycle in the hope of conducting some business, he was greeted by  prisoner who noticing the Bosch Magneto on his machine, remarked “I see you cannot make do without some things made in Germany” But the presence of so many prisoners was an occasion for patriotic pride, both in the way they were being treated in comparison with the alleged fate of British prisoners and because of their physical condition. The Camberley News wrote an article under the headline “No need to fear the Germans”, commenting “the average physique was not as good as the average of a battalion of a British infantry”.

But there were the occasional alarums. The same paper made a volte-face when on 30th September 1916 it announced, “German Prisoners escape from Frith Hill”. Five had absconded, prompting a massive search of the area with bloodhounds in attendance. Three were eventually captured near Ascot – there is no record as to what happened to the other two.

With the signing of the Armistice in November 1918 the camp was soon emptied and life got back to normal.

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