Broctonlager - Brocton PoW Camp 1917-1919

Our July meeting welcomed Beryl Holt, who gave an illustrated talk on the German prisoner of war camp near Brocton on Cannock Chase - Broctonlager. By 1915, parts of Cannock Chase had already been requisitioned from the Earl of Lichfield's estate by the War Office for use as military training camps. As the war increased in intensity, the War Office was faced with the growing problem of where to house the increasing number of German prisoners of war. The solution was to convert part of the hutted military encampment at Brocton for use as a prison camp. This was duly secured with high security fencing, frequent watch towers and copious volumes of barbed wire. It was ready for business by April 1917 when 400 prisoners arrived, "dirty, exhausted and lousy" at Milford and Brocton railway station, from where they marched the one and a half miles to the camp. Waiting to greet them was their new Commandant, Sir Arthur Grant of Monymush. Sir Arthur had had a distinguished military career, serving in the Boer War and India. Re-enlisting for the Great War, his service was curtailed when he sustained a severe wound. Thus he, his wife and his family of five children (with one more yet to be born), found themselves resident at Brocton, a far cry from their Scottish baronial family seat.

Used to running a Scottish estate, Sir Arthur drew from his estate management experience to run the camp. Strict, but fair, he set about giving the prisoners meaningful employment. Roads and gardens were constructed. Those with skills found themselves put to work, as cobblers, bakers and camp maintenance orderlies. Soon, they were detailed to leave the the camp under guard each day to work in the neighbouring fields. Farmers were grateful for the labour, having lost many of their regular hands to war service. Beryl reported that Sir Arthur duly held tours of inspection of the new workers, passing many enjoyable hours fraternising with the local farmers.

Prison life wasn't too bad. The huts accommodated forty men, but food rations were good; better indeed than local residents could manage. There were opportunities to relax and read. Once every 6 weeks, prisoners were allowed a bath! A theatre of sorts was constructed from one of the huts and concerts arranged. Prisoners could send two (censored) letters home weekly; and they were paid the sum of one penny per hour for their work. There was a well appointed site hospital which ensured a commendably low death rate. However, some deaths did occur from both natural causes and suicides. The Spanish Flue epidemic between October 1918 and January 1919 claimed many lives, as it did in the wider community. Escape attempts were limited, but did occur. Four prisoners managed to travel as far as Suffolk before the suspicions of the local inhabitants were raised.

The camp survived beyond the end of the War, finally closing at the close of 1919. Trains left Milford and Brocton station for Hull, where the repatriated prisoners were transferred directly to steamers for the journey home. The following three years saw the camp and its contents slowly sold off. Some huts survived through relocation for other purposes, both residential and commercial. The last surviving hut, which had been converted into a wooden bungalow was demolished in Brocton only a few years ago.

Beryl's talk was based on her well researched book entitled "A Long Slow Walk From The Station", which costs 10.

Roger Hockney
July 2017