Situated in a small market town in South Wales, Island Farm former Prisoner of War Camp played three major and highly critical roles during and after the second world war.Island Farm Camp was originally built as a hostel for workers employed at the munitions factory (ROF) in Brackla, Bridgend. The authorities had believed that the female workers would rather stay nearby than travel as much as 30 miles (48 km) home each day. However, the women preferred to travel than stay in the dreary barrack conditions of the hostel, so the camp remained empty until 1943, when it was used to accommodate American troops who would be involved in the invasion of France.
The authorities had to find suitable accommodation for a large number of POWs captured in Europe. At Island Farm, the prefabricated concrete huts surrounded by open fields were ideal, although the barracks had to be converted and barbed wire fences erected. This work had not been completed by the time the first batch of prisoners arrived, so the prisoners were put to work completing the conversion.
Island Farm was then designated as Camp 198 and was to hold almost 2,000 prisoners. The first POWs were a mixed bag of Italian and German troops, but the War Office soon decided that the camp was too comfortable for enlisted men and that German officers should be held there. The first officer prisoners arrived in November 1944.
The POWs soon turned their efforts to escape. Two tunnels were dug in the camp, but the first was discovered in January 1945. The second tunnel escaped detection and on the night of 10 March 1945, 70 prisoners started their escape. All were recaptured; some were found within a few miles of the camp. Others travelled much further, to places like Birmingham and Southampton, over 150 miles (240 km) away.
Only three weeks after the escape, on 31 March 1945, the authorities suddenly transferred all 1,600 officers out of Island Farm Camp. It was then designated Special Camp Eleven and was prepared to receive senior German officers, many of whom had been captured in France and were awaiting trial at Nuremberg. In all there were 160 officers holding the rank of general, admiral, or field marshal, including a number of Hitler's closest advisers, such as Field Marshal Karl Rudolf Gerd von Rundstedt, commander in chief of the German armies in the campaign against France in 1940. Because of his status, von Rundstedt received certain privileges at the camp, including his own private suite, consisting of a sitting room and bedroom.
The photo to the right shows Senior German Officers arriving at Bridgend Railway Station
Island Farm Camp finally closed in 1948, when the last prisoners were returned to Germany. Some of the prisoners actually stayed in Wales and got married here. More of that with pictures and testimonies of eye witnesses, in our ORAL HISTORY pages.