Calne children help in dig to discover more about prisoner of war camp

The Wiltshire Gazette and Herald: Sharon Benfield, Tom Broadhead, Fran Nightingale, Gregory Clarke and, front, Amy Benfield delve into past Sharon Benfield, Tom Broadhead, Fran Nightingale, Gregory Clarke and, front, Amy Benfield delve into past

Young archaeologists have been helping to unearth the secrets of a former prisoner of war camp at Yatesbury, where up to 800 Germans were held.

The prisoners came from a larger camp at Blandford, Dorset, and arrived at the train station in Calne between 1916 and 1918 where they were marched on foot to Yatesbury.

Nothing remains of the camp on the surface, as the land has since returned to fields.

However, this summer members of the Finding the Forgotten group, founded by local historian Richard Broadhead, joined forces with the Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society (WANHS) to explore deeper underground.

The team has already been at the site for two weekends and will complete a third weekend there before the land owner resumes farming.

It was helped by youngsters aged six to 13 from Cherhill Scouts and the Wiltshire Heritage Museum young WANHS society. Together they have found German buttons, medicine bottles, a silver spoon from 1915 with initials on it, and British cap badges from regiments originating from Wiltshire and Yorkshire.

There are only a few historical records kept about the prisoners, who worked on the nearby airfield, on drainage projects and undertook agricultural jobs. Although the camp was there for two years, nobody in the village knew anything about it at the time.

Archaeologists have used geophysical surveys to find areas of resistance in the ground, which could lead to new discoveries, and have dug eight holes, some with a depth of six feet.

Dan Miles, site director for Finding the Forgotten, said it was important to keep the work going to discover more about this period of history.

He said: “We would like to find out if anything survives of the camp and to get a better understanding of what life was like for the German PoWs at Yatesbury.

“It is a great opportunity to involve the local community and young people on this site.

“We’ve probably had about ten youngsters each time we’ve been there.

“They had a fantastic time, it’s about getting them interested in local history so they can tell all their friends.”

Mr Broadhead said there were also small camps for prisoners of war in Chippenham, Wootton Bassett, Ramsbury and Devizes.

He said: “We know some things about Yatesbury. We know who the base commander was and we have a report from a Swiss delegation saying the prisoners were well treated.

“It builds up a slight picture, but there are not many signs left. It’s changed completely, if you picture 800 people living in some huts all year round.

“It’s part of a gap in history that has been forgotten about.

“We talk about the Victorian schools and about Napoleon, but no-one talks about the prisoners of war.

“There’s a story about a plane that crashed and a couple of the German prisoners of war went over to pull the pilot out of the burning plane, which is very brave and amazing considering they were the enemy at the time.”

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