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Glen Mill PoW Camp, Oldham
A visit to the site of Glen Mill Prisoner of War camp in Lees, Oldham, Winter 2013.
Update August 2015. People frequently contribute to this history of Glen Mill PoW camp with their memories of the place, pictures, requests for information, etc. This month I’ve received some very welcome images including watercolour sketches by a PoW called Friedrich Fraubose of Hildesheim, painted while he was at Glen Mill. They have recently been discovered and kindly provided by Mr James Farrell.
Photo above; is looking towards the site of Glen Mill from the line of the now dismantled railway.
Below; a train passing Glen Mill in 1955.
Below; Glen Mill from the cemetery.
One of the main prisoner of war camps in the north west of England, the now demolished Glen Mill was situated between Wellyhole Street / Constantine Street and the River Medlock at Lees in Oldham (Grid Ref SD 949 049).
These photos were taken January 2013 during a visit to look for traces of the camp. There is not much left, though some local people were able to confirm the spot.
It is possible to find bits of concrete and iron which date from the war and piles of red brick from the now demolished mill.
Below; This first photo shows a new wall on top of what was a pill box overlooking the main entrance. There is a similar mound just next to it.
Below; Bit of metal jutting out of the ground in the woods between the camp and the river.
Below; Fence post. Some iron gates nearby appear to date from the war too.
The camp could accommodate around 6,000 inmates and during the course of the war was home to a largely transient population of German and Italian prisoners and also some Russians who had been fighting for the Nazis.
Christmas 1942 saw the camp filled with Italians captured at Libya, while the summer of 1944 saw the camp filled with Germans captured at Normandy.
Below; Remains of drainage system
The April 2013 issue of Britain at War magazine tells the story of prisoner Paul Hartmann who was shot dead by Gunner J A Jaffray in February 1945. The incident came after a roll call lasting hours and during which the Germans had obstructed the counting to cover up an escape attempt.
As rain began to fall, the inmates started shuffling forward towards Gunner Jaffray who was at a sentry post and armed with a Lee Enfield .303 rifle. At the inquest, the British said the Germans were restless and being obstructive, refusing to obey orders, singing Nazi songs and insulting the guards. The Germans said they were singing love songs and were not abusing the guards at all!
Either way, Gunner Jaffray challenged the prisoners to halt in their advance towards him. He was ignored and believing he was about to be over-run by the mass of prisoners, he fired from the hip into the crowd. The bullet struck 18 years old Paul Hartmann, killing him instantly.
The article quotes Unteroffizier Fritz Hermann Scheer; “We were jumping about to keep warm. Suddenly I heard a report and felt something on my face. I put my hand up and found blood and bone splinters on my face. My eye and cheek were cut by splinters. In my eye it was metal, in my face it was bone.”
Gunner Jaffray was exonerated at the inquest the following April. That same month, an Italian prisoner of war at Bury was hailed as a hero for giving his life to save that of a young girl from drowning in the River Irwell.
Please see the image below from the Daily Herald showing PoWs giving the Nazi salute at Paul Hartman’s funeral.
Below; Photos taken at Glen Mill POW camp on Christmas Eve 1940. Photos used with IWM Non-Commercial Licence.
The same day these photos were taken, just a few miles away in Manchester, fire crews were dealing with the results of Luftwaffe bombing raids on the city. This is Piccadilly. Click on this link for more about air raids on Manchester.
This is part of a Luftwaffe map (from the British Library) for Manchester, showing the camp circled with a note for bomber crews to avoid hitting the area. The note says “Achtung Deutsches Gefangenenlager in Oldham – Leeds” (“Attention German prison camp in Oldham – Leeds”; the cartographer confusing the Oldham place name Lees with that of the city of Leeds)
My photos and story of the German Military Cemetery in Staffordshire
A couple of stories of escape attempts from Glen Mill at the foot of this page and the following page has a bit more on Gunner Jaffray and Paul Hartmann.
And this page tells of some of the tensions between the Germans and Russians. It does however refer to a successful escape with the POWS making it back to Germany but to my knowledge no Wehrmacht or SS prisoners ever successfully escaped from Britain during WWII.
This map shows many of the POW camps in Britain. There was one near you!
UPDATES AUGUST 2015
These 5 images have been provided by James Farrell and are used here with his kind permission. Earlier this summer, Jim was visiting an antiques shop in Bristol and the lady who runs it said she had something “a bit special” which might interest him. It was a sketchbook which has on the front cover the name Friedrich Fraubose and a watercolour painting of the town of Hildesheim which is south of Hannover. Jim says “the book contains a watercolour cartoon history of approx 30 pages from when he first arrived to when he left Glen Mill. The front pages of the book also contain watercolours of places in Germany.”
It is really interesting to get a glimpse Glen Mill from the perspective of the prisoners of war.
Jim also purchased a plaque which has the crest of the Dorsetshire Regiment at centre, with two swastikas, a Luftwaffe eagle emblem top left (without a swastika in its claws) and a German eagle emblem bottom right, again with no swastika. Jim says “The plaque is made of wood and probably made from a cupboard door, it has been made and painted extremely skilfully, and is signed with the initials FF in the bottom RH corner.”
(NB; Jim has kindly sent me all 31 images. I have uploaded all these in a separate page, please see here)
The plaque has the words OLDHAM KRIEGSGEFANGENSCHAFT ENGLAND – kriegsgefangenschaft means prisoner of war.
Below; Front cover;
Below; a couple of examples from the book The caption refers to the morning head count to make sure no-one had escaped during the night.
Below; This looks like a carpentry workshop. Note the patches on the uniforms, which were a way of grading prisoners. Compare this sketch with the photo above of PoWS outside Glen Mill carrying sacks; you can see the same patches on the legs of their uniforms.
Below; the plaque
Below; The same day I received the pictures of the sketchbook, I also received this photo of a tankard presented to Lieutenant Colonel W S Tanner OBE, TD of the Royal Pioneer Corps on the occasion of his retirement in 1947. By this time, Glen Mill was a transit camp. Photo courtesy of Dave H and used with his kind permission.
EDIT SEPTEMBER 2016
Below is a copy of a handwritten account kindly provided by Mr Steven Kay from his late aunt Mabel Entwistle and refers to her husband John (Jack) Entwistle who was caretaker at Springhead Drill Hall, now Springhead Community Centre (21 Ashes Lane, Springhead, Oldham OL4 4PF).
The account mentions two PoWS from Glen Mill. It is included here as it adds more to what we know about the relationship between some of the prisoners and the people of Oldham.
Mabel wrote “My husband was invalided out of the Army 1946? & given a job looking after Springhead Drill Hall & lived in the adjoining house. Winter of 1947 very harsh the approach to drill hall was snowed up every morning 2 prisoners from Glen Mill were sent to clear the snow. The one who spoke English best was Paul Lebau who had been a PoW for some years, some of them spent in Canada before coming to Glen. He found it an enjoyable change and couldn’t do enough for us at the Drill Hall. On March 1st that year my sister was getting married & we were attending and going in our own little Morris 8? (it was the day before). The PoW was to journey back to Germany for repatriation & his last job he did for us was to polish the little car until it shone, in appreciation for getting him one or two things like coffee etc at the shop as they were non existant in Germany.
The other POW was more of a boy & though Paul had a wife back home this boy lived with his mother & when finally returned home I received a very grateful letter from his mother thanking me for showing kindness to him.
My husband and myself went living in Canada in 1953 & Paul Lebau & us corresponded together.”
UPDATE 29 May 2017
Photo kindly provided by David Lonnergan showing the funeral of Paul Hartmann, the PoW referred to above who was killed by a shot from a guard’s rifle during a disturbance at the camp.