WWII Prisoner of War Camp in Briton’s Backyard

Andrew Levy, “Plumber unearths WWII prisonen of war camp for 10,000 German soldiers in his back garden,” Daily Mail, September 7, 2010:  For photos, see http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1309440/Plumber-unearths-WWII-prisoner-war-camp-garden.html

Turning over the soil in his back garden, David Murray spotted something glinting in the sunlight.

When he realised it was a dog tag from a Second World War German prisoner, he asked his landlord if he could dig a little deeper – literally.

In the following months, Mr Murray unearthed a treasure trove of wartime memorabilia. The 2,000 items include coins featuring Nazi emblems, dog tags, buttons from uniforms and even a live grenade that had to be destroyed by an RAF bomb disposal unit.

The 39-year- old plumber has discovered that the edge of his rented bungalow is on the site of a former prisoner-of-war camp that once held 10,000 people.

‘It was a huge shock when I found the tag,’ said Mr Murray, from Much Hadham in Hertfordshire.

‘The grenade was a complete shock, too. I spotted it in the ground and didn’t realise what it was. It didn’t look like the ones you see in films.

‘I tried to defuse it a couple of times but I couldn’t get the screws off the top. It’s a good job because the RAF said it was very unstable.

‘They weren’t very happy with me when I told them I’d been holding it next to my ear and listening to see if it would go bang.

‘It’s really incredible to think that 70 years ago, 10,000 prisoners of war were walking around in my back garden.’

The Wynches Camp opened in 1939 and held Italian prisoners, but later took Germans. It was also used for Allied training and accommodated U.S. soldiers and Gurkha units as they prepared for war.

After the war, former prisoners were able to come and go as they pleased and some stayed there until 1947, working as farmhands in the area.

The 40-acre site was pulled down in 1950 and houses built on it over the next 20 years.

Since Mr Murray found the dog tag, he has excavated just one acre and discovered six pits where ‘rubbish’ was buried when the site was bulldozed.

Fearing people may try to steal artefacts during the night, he is ‘continuously’ patrolling the site.

Historian Richard Maddams, who is helping Mr Murray to research the camp, said: ‘My biggest challenge is tracking down people who were at the camp, which is very sensitive as many of them have passed away.’

Mr Maddams has contacted former German PoW Walter Scharnagl, who remained at the camp until 1947 and worked for the Hertfordshire War Agricultural Executive.

Mr Scharnagl wrote in an email that he had ‘loved’ Much Hadham.

‘We enjoyed a lot of liberty and I really loved this little village, which I visited again in the late 60s, when I discovered some of the remainders of our old huts.’

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