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Second World War in Bridgend County

Ve Day Bridgend Libary

V. E. Day, Alma Road, Maesteg (Photo courtesy of Bridgend Library)

Island Farm POW Camp at Bridgend became known for the largest escape of German Prisoners of War during the Second World War and Bridgend also found fame as the home of the Royal Ordnance Factory, 'the Arsenal', the largest munitions factory of its type in Britain and the employer of nearly 40,000 people.

The Royal Ordnance Factory was located on a huge 900 acre site at Waterton and Brackla, now Bridgend Industrial estate and Brackla Hill. The majority of buildings built on these sites have now long gone. Low lying and marshy, the site was often covered in a light mist or fog which protected it from bombing by the Luftwaffe in World War II.

One of the Factory's sites, originally built as workers' housing, remained empty. The concrete buildings, known as Island Farm, were instead used first as accommodation for US troops training for D-Day and then, after the GIs left, became the infamous Island Farm Prisoner of War Camp 198 housing German POWs.

It was on the night of 10th - 11th March 1945 that 70 German prisoners tunnelled to freedom from Camp 198 in Bridgend, a record number of escapees. Many of the Germans imprisoned in Island Farm were ardent Nazis. There were several reported cases of prisoners not so enamoured with Hitler being severely beaten up by their fellow internees and taken to the local hospital.

hut 9 prisonerisland farm escape map

Re-enactment of the escape that took place at Island Farm in March 1945

In 1945 Island Farm was designated Special Camp Eleven. It received senior German officers, many of whom had been captured in France and were awaiting trial at Nuremberg. In all there were 160 high ranking officers including a number of  Hitler's closest advisors. One of the most famous was General Field Marshall Gerd von Runstedt, Commander in Chief of the German armies in the campaign against France in 1940.

Although Bridgend itself escaped attack by the Luftwaffe, nearby Swansea was 'blitzed' from 1940 onwards, with the biggest raids coming over the nights 19-21 February 1941. The flames of the fires could be clearly seen from Bridgend.

Many local people remember the Second World War and reach has collected stories of rationing, the arrival of evacuees, serving with the Home Guard and VE Day celebrations. 

Videos

Von Rundstedt and Auntie Ceinwen

Relay Radio

 

The First Escapees

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