Polesworth POW camp was situated on the corner of St. Helena Road and Grendon Road on the site of the first row of houses going out of the village on each of these roads. The camp was built in the early 1940s and consisted of two bunk houses, a guard hut, bicycle shed and kitchen, dining area and ablutions. There was a very deep ditch along the perimeter between 4 and 5 feet deep. The entrance to the camp was where 104 Grendon road stands and the bike sheds and guard house where near 108 Grendon Road.
It housed German POWs for a short time to begin with and then Italians. The Germans worked on the roads in gangs and were closely supervised, but the Italians were given bicycles to travel to work on local farms. All the local men were either down the coal mines or away at the war, so farm labourers were needed to run the farms. Prisoners wore a uniform of sorts with a patch on the back, possibly yellow. The Italians used to sing in the camp after work and would speak to anyone who passed along St. Helena Road and they also played football in the next field. Each Sunday prisoners were marched down to the Cinema on Market Street – now the site of apartments and houses by the canal side – for a private film viewing. The Italians loved children and if given a sixpenny piece they would make a bracelet or a ring. Some went to the osier beds by the church and made baskets too.
The only serious trouble at the camp was an attempted murder of one Italian prisoner and one of the pioneer core guarding the camp. The perpetrator was a local Dordon youth who was annoyed that he hadn’t been called up and decided to take matters into his own hands. He was given three years hard labour. The site of the crime is in the back garden of 106 Grendon Road. The guards did not carry guns or rifles when the Italians were at the camp.
After the war had finished it was used as a displaced persons camp; a corporal or a sergeant together with six privates guarded the camp at that time. In the early 1950s the men were moved out to lodgings in the area and some settled and married local girls.
When the camp closed the bunk houses were taken away and the main cook house, dining room and ablutions were kept and used by men working on the opencast mining as coal was near the surface in the area up to the village of Dordon. The land was then redeveloped and houses built and lived in by 1957; they cost £1300 leasehold or £1500 freehold. The footings of the buildings used by the opencast miners are still in the gardens along Grendon road.
There were no photographs taken of the camp and the only mention in newspapers is when prisoners or displaced persons helped out at a rail crash in the cutting further up the Grendon Road out of the village in the late 1940s.
By Margaret Henley
Chair, Polesworth History Project Group