PoW camps on Old Dean Common & Chobham Common

As with many of the topics on this web site, this one has grown as more contributions some in. It is now clear that there were several  Prisoner of War camps in the area, both WW1 and WW2.

Old Dean

The distinction between Bagshot Heath and Old Dean Common is unclear to me. A military historian wrote: "Old Dean Common was the site of an instruction camp for the Free French Forces. There was also a WW2 Prisoner of War Camp for captured Germans. This may have been on the site with the French camp, replacing it once the training ended." 7039.407
Later correspondence identified that the location given by English Heritage for the site is map ref SU 884 617  - now housing - and my conversations with locals confirms that relics of the camp were finally razed in the building of the housing estate.

The diary of a French Forces veteran describes his training at Camberley and includes a photo of the huts they lived in.  www.gastoneve.org.uk/england.html [Ju 14]  

Lionel Parr recalls that before WWII there was a hutted camp on Barrossa Common. This was used by the Territorial Army for training purposes, but after 1940 it became a base for Free French forces. He presumes they will have returned to France from June 1944 onwards. [Jan 14]  

Chobham Common

Gordon, now living in Australia, wites : As a young lad I lived in the WW2 POW army camp about 1948 as sqatters for a few years with my parents and grandparents . Does anybody else remember anything form this or may be some photos? 7070.907
However the location Gordon describes is on the edge of Chobham Common

James Legge:  There was a prisoner camp on the edge of Chobham Common . My parents lived there until the mid 1950's 7083/1207

I have been able to identify the location given by Gordon and James. It is the edge of Chobham Common, not Old Dean, and  was presumably a different facility. Many years ago I used to drive along Chertsey Road to work and I recall that there were some concrete areas leading off the road, but becoming overgrown. I assumed that they were left over from old war-time activities and I did not investigate any further. When this correspondence started in 2007 I set out to see if I could find any remains, given that there is now nothing visible from the road. I found places which were concrete roads covered by a few inches of accumulated leaf mould, and the remains of some footings, a water tank and a derelict inspection pit. Now all overgrown, mostly by silver birch trees.  I assume that this was the site of the Chobham Common camp.

Chris writing in June 2013 Recently a lot of the trees on the golf course side of the road have been removed and this has exposed the old concrete T road that runs in there. The machinery has also exposed some old brick walls and I have also seen an old sink and some wire reinforced glass. [Jun 13]

Of the Chobham Common site Frank writes "My Father was a POW at the camp in Chobham. It was sited off the Windlesham Road just across from the Convent of The Good Shepherd. According to my Dad the POWs used to pinch the Nuns' chickens and eat them in the camp."  8044.708

and Gerry adds "I remember a nissan hut the side of road opposite the entrance to Brick Hill. I had a school friend called Arthur who lived there with his mum. About 100yds towards the roundabout used to be a water tower which I did manage to part climb up as a lad probably 1954-1960" 8016.808

and from Ron Frost "About 1947/8 there was a look-out tower in the heathland opposite where the road from Valley End meets the Chertsey road. It was about 100/120 feet high. As children we would walk from Lightwater to the tower, climb it and throw parachutes or model aeroplanes from the top. Great fun.Maybe that is the concrete foundations someone has mentioned." 612.908

From Janice " When I was a small child, 3 yrs old perhaps and living in the London Road, Camberley (where Georgian Close is now) My mother would take me accross the road and up a hill covered with bracken and pine trees to a PoW camp, somewhere the Old Dean estate is. The PoW's would decorate the trees with silver paper. My mother would throw cigarettes over the high fence to them and in return they made me toys - a rocking horse and dolls pram, I still have the pram!" 8074.908

From Kirko: "As a child toys could be bought at the Widlesham school made by the PoW's at Chobham common. I believe that a lot of the prisoners were tank drivers and operators. Some eventualy married local girls." Aug09

Shirley writes "I lived in the army nissan huts after the war, opposite Brick Hill, off Windlesham Rd. and went to school at Valley End. I found your website because I am now retired and writing my life story. I remember the tower on the hill above the camp as we called it, but I didn't realise it had been a POW camp. It was also on the edge of Sunningdale golf course, because my mother and myself and brother and sisters used to walk across the course to Sunningdale to go shopping and visit family. I would be interested to hear from others who lived there in late forties. We used to cross the road to go to a little shop in Brick Hill, which was also a shortcut to Valley End School. Nov10
Please reply to Shirley via the message pad below

Trev writes "I was born in 1955 in one of these nissan huts at "Valley End camp" as it was known (I think it was number 4).  My Parents were waiting to move to what was then one of the NEW council houses that were being built at Broadley Green, Windlesham. I also remember a water tower being there at the Camp until I think about mid to late sixties, it was up on an embankment opposite BrickHill, also like James, I too remember seeing concrete areas just off the road. These were along Chertsey Rd between Brick Hill and Windsor Rd at the juntion where the roundabout is now. And I too went to Valley End School." Feb11

Ian has written to tell us about some war-time aerial photographs that identify exactly where various of the PoW camps (and other war-time artifacts) were. Go to GetMapping.com and in the "buy data online" search box in the top right hand corner of the screen enter postcode GU15 4BT (for the Old Dean PoW camp) and click 'search'.  You will get a close up modern aerial image. Click on the next-to-smallest scale maker and you get a road layout that you should be able to recognise (if you don't then compare this map from Streetmap.co.uk where the arrow marks the centre of the GetMapping image), and then click on the 1940-1947 tab to to see the war-time layout.   Ian adds "If you toggle between the old and the new it is clear where the camp was in relation to todays housing.  Now drag the map across towards Sunningdale and then down to Chobham common. You can just catch the top of the camp there, before it runs out of data. If you drag the map up to Ascot racecourse you can find a camp at the east end of the course. Its not on my list of POW Camps so may well be a hospital. Heatherwood hospital can be seen on its present site.  Drag the map west along the railway line towards Bracknell and you can find the WINTER QUARTERS POW Camp. I know it was a circus winter camp but have no idea which came first." {Apr 11}

I managed to find a definitive record of the remains of the Chobham Common camp.  Go to www.old-maps.co.uk and observe the two boxes into which to enter coordinates. Enter 495974 into the first and 164823 into the second and hit GO. You get a modern map.  Scroll down through the list of maps offered on the right to "1961 Post-WWII Surrey 1:10500" and click on 'enlarge map'. Finally click on 'enhanced zoom' and then the + to zoom in to see what remained some 15 years after the end of the war. Alternatively see here

Peter Baggs wrote to tell me about another sourse of old maps - thanks Peter, this is a new one to me - "I came across this map a few weeks ago of the Windlesham.area. It shows the former PoW camp at Valley End. http://ooc.openstreetmap.org/?zoom=15&lat=51.37365&lon=-0.61965&layers=B0000 "  I have not found the web site to be the most reliable to load from a link, so if it does not work try selecting a different map from the selection in the top right hand corner of the screen and then reselecting the 1945-55 map.  The site is also shown on some of the other maps on offer. [Oct 12]

 

Helen writes: My Nan and Grandad (Ming and Ron Little) squatted in a PoW camp in Windlesham before moving into their first home in Windle Close. I am fascinated to hear more about life on the camp as my nan now has difficulty remembering. I am researching our family tree and more info on this part of her life would be great. [Aug 11]

Frank Scribe : My Dad was in a Panzer regiment and ended up at the Chobham camp by way of repatriation. He was on a train from Liverpool bound for Hull to be put on a ship home. The Russians started doing their thing and the train was diverted to Kempton race course. From there he went to the Chobham camp. Like lots of other POWs (there were Italians as well as Germans) they worked at Hillings along the Bagshot road. [Sep 11]

Peter Duckers: The British Liaison Officer with Free French Forces at Old Dean in 1944 was Major Robert Clayton Swinton, MC , Royal Artillery. [Sep 12]

Pat: : Chobham POW Camp. My husband lived in Brick Hill all during the last war. He well remembers the POW camp and then the "Squatters". Prior to it being a pow camp, serving soldiers, mainly Canadians, were stationed there. The local women would do their washing in exchange for sweets, cigarettes and money. Many left one night never to come back they were killed during the D day landings. The shop Shirley is referring to was Kislingburys. My husband remembers the water tower because he, "Corky" Hull and Arthur Wallis would climb up it. [13]

Fred Gilliam : As a youngster working for the Ascot Gas and Electricity Co. Our foreman asked me if I would rewire the POW camp, as they could not afford a electrician, to keep it quite and pay me 5 shillings a hour. I rewired all the huts and put cooker points in, all on my own. I had to use most of the wiring that was existing. I had to work with the local builder who put partitions up. Also I worked at the local Convent in their new Church, also later the new houses at Windle Close.  [Dec 13] 
Fred's enquiry about Marlow Bran  has been relocated.

Carol : I too lived in the late 40's in the POW camp on Chobham Common and clearly remember going to Valley End School.  I remember the water tower, Sunnindale golf course, walking to both Sunningdale and Chobham and spending many happy hours playing on the common and, I think, a disused quarry where we had great fun sliding etc. The camp was on both sides of the road, close to the Sunningdale Chobham cross roads, leading down to the convent. To a small child it appeared a very large camp. [May - Jun 15] 

 Janet Roberts (nee Cook) provides us with a first-hand account of the post-war squatter's camp and a PoW camp.

I lived near the POW camp in Chobham Common (known as Chobham Camp). My father and others "acquired" six Quonset (Nissen) huts after the war ended and we squatted there from 1947 to 1950. There was a family called "Aylsbury (sp)"; the Illingsworths; the Varners and my family the Cooks. Others I do not remember. I have these two photographs taken at the time, me on my bicycle in which can be seen two of the huts, and two of us playing in a tin bath.

a girl on a bicycle in front of two huts with semi-circular roofs two children playing in a tin bath with a long wooden building behind them

The Quonset huts had two rooms in front and two at the back. In order to get to the bedrooms we had to leave by the front door, go around the edge of the six huts and then into the back two rooms. Eventually, my father and other men worked together and made a doorway from the front two rooms into the back in each of the huts.

Very cold winters and we had to go across to a larger, rectangular hut (seen in the 'tin bath' photo) to use the toilets – just toilets,no baths. Loads of spiders. However, I have great memories of my time growing up there - such freedom.

My father's old National Registration Identity Card gives our address: The Crest, 27 Chobham Camp, Surrey.

Across the road were either German or Italian POWS not yet repatriated. I remember military police with red caps and there was a barrier that went up and down to allow entry and exit. Plus barbed wire. I seem to remember my Mum saying that some of the men were allowed to work on farms but cannot verify that.

When we walked to Hyams Corner to get the bus to Woking we had to pass the POW camp and my Mum always said "let's run" - she didn't want me to hear the whistles and comments of the men who often lined up against the fence.

I am not sure when the POWs left, but we were put into council flats on Brookleys Estate in 1950 - such luxury - inside plumbing and toilet. [Apr - Jun 15]

Graham Webster has published his assessment of man's influence on Chobham Common at https://chobhamcommon.wordpress.com  [Jul 15]

Neil : My Uncle who has recently passed away age 90 had been telling me about football matches during the last war between Bagshot and the Italian POW's who were held on Old Dean Common, he said there were good crowds and the Italians always won, the matches were held at Pennyhill Park ground on College Ride. He also said my Grandfather Fred Parker had Italian POW's helping in the business in his Woodyard and delivering on the lorry. [Jul Aug 15]

Groggy : My father was a Canadian soldier stationed on the common. Back in early 1970 he showed me where his motor transport garage was sited. This was very close to the roundabout. He remembered having his washing/sewing done by a lady in Brick Hill in return for food and cigarettes (the food was generally 2 pound tins of Spam and Corned Beef) and picking spuds at the Convent. Dad never went home, settling in Sunninghill. I spent many happy hours on the Common as a kid in the early 60's, collecting old cartridges and other military bits and pieces. As regards the POW camp at Ascot, this was based around the old Ascot West station at Kings Ride. These were Italian POWs. This base was also used by Bertram Mills Circus in post-war years to bring the animals back to the Circus Winter Quarters in Winkfield. I can remember the Elephants going trunk to tail down the Winkfield road. After the Circus closed the station became the site of an aircraft dismantler called Staravia. [May 14]

In the 1960's we would play around the Monument which was surrounded by a square trench in which I distinctly remember were the remains of an American Jeep. It was in pieces and covered in gorse. I turned over a large piece of metal to find a large white painted star with a circle around on it and the biggest Adder I have ever seen. I soon scarpered!! Sometime in the late 60's? there was a huge fire on the common and the following day we went scavenging and found loads of expended ammo and stuff. Unfortunately, I got a "thick ear" from mum for coming home covered in ash from head to foot and a right good telling off from dad for "stealing" from the MOD, all the bits and pieces I'd brought back. [Aug 14]

I remember dad saying that late in the war he and others would climb the water tower to see the two guys from the Royal Observer Corps who were up there to track V1 Flying bombs. He said he saw several bought down by both aircraft and ack-ack fire. I can remember it minus the tower. I have many happy memories of the Common. [Aug 14]

Ascot

Dave Dench has identified yet another camp, this Ascot one up the road from Bagshot near . "My grandad has lived in  Bracknell since the last couple of years of WW2 after moving from Silvertown London, and remembers a PoEcamp at the site of what is now Kings Ride Park nr Ascot on the A332. He also remembers the sargent in charge, a Sgt Laws, also known as 'Kitch'."  Jun10

Lionel Parr recalls there were Italian prisoners here, who were taken out in working parties during the day, and believes that the site was originally a Butlin's holiday camp.  [Jan 14]  


James Rutter (Geographic Information Systems Manager for Surrey Heath Borough Council) writes "If anyone has a personal interest in modern data for the POW camp they are welcome to look at the collection of geographic data that we hold at Surrey Heath Borough Council. We have a complete 1948 air survey flown by the RAF which can be viewed in conjunction with the latest 2013 aerial survey. We also have a 3d laser scan of the whole area which, although flown only last year still shows the layout of the POW camp in great detail as using laser scanning we can artificially remove all vegetation from the data leaving us just the ground detail. This reveals all the roads, tracks and building footprints in the POW camp and also lots of additional detail like the WW1 trenches and shell craters on Chobham Common."

I have seen a sample of James' LIDAR (laser scan) images and the detail is astounding.  He has kindly allowed me to repoduce these images showing parts of Chobham Common.  My next challenge will be to put my boots on and try to find on the ground some of the features shown on these images.

James tells me that he is keen to make some of the more specialised information that the council hold available to the public. He can be contacted by phoning the council on 01276 707100 and asking for James Rutter, GIS Manager.

This first LIDAR image shows the former PoW camp on Chobham Common

An aerial view of heathland showing a hill, two roads and numerouse rectangular artifacts

The next images are the above LIDAR image and a conventional aerial image processed to give a 'birds eye view' by adding height data.

This final image is the area around the Queen Victorial memorial on Chobham Common.  It combines conventional aerial imagery and a LIDA image.  The square shape near the bottom is the memorial.  The rows of narrow rectangular shaps that are clear on the LIDAR image are what remains of practice trenches dug during WW1, they can also just about be made out in the conventional image.

as described in text

Acknowledgements: images courtesy Bluesky Internaltional Ltd and SHBC.
For web reproduction I have reduced the resolution from that of the original

Conventional aerial images of this area over a period of time can be seen here (will open in a new window or tab).  The tracks seen in the 2013 images are probably caused by machinery used for recent tree clearance rather than being WW2 artifacts.


Inconclusive data?

Sarah has noted that the Cobham Common site is not recorded by English Heritage and has written : I am really interested in the site of the Chobham Common camp shown on the old aerial photographs near the roundabout on what is now the B383 and B386. Is this really a PoW camp do you think? The buildings look very scattered, not in military rows like you might expect a camp to be, and there is obviously a lot of vehicle use on the site. Also, it's not listed in lists of known PoW camps: www.english-heritage.org.uk/publications/prisoner-of-war-camps/prisoner-of-war-camps.pdf I would be very interested to discuss this anyone who can throw any light on the matter.  [Sep 14]

Neither is the Ascot site recorded in the document Sarah refers to, and the Old Dean site has two entries.  Looking at the English Heritage documnet it appears to me not to be a definitive record, but a research project to try to find out about PoW camps and in particular to record their state of preservation.  The Cobham Common site (what ever it was) was raized a very long time ago and recent vehicular activity is unrelated to its past. Can you help resolve the discrepancy that Sarah has identified?

Ian offers a potential explanation for the issues Sarah has raised: Not all POW camps are recorded. Many were a few huts, with say 250 POWs who worked on the land. They were fed, housed and safe so many had little incentive to escape. The determined, or fanatical, were held in more secure locations. In Derbyshire they were still here in 1947, and are known to have dug out trains snowed in during the bad winter, particularly in the Buxton area. The camps in military style rows are that way because they were army camps, re-purposed as POW camps now the troops were fighting in Europe. Where camps were put together for the purpose of housing POWS it is easier to put the hut on the flatest spot regardless of orientation or its position relative to other huts. Order gave way to ease of construction.  [Mar 15]  

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