2015 is a year of important anniversaries at Seren. Not only does this year bring with it the celebrations for the centenary of WW2 writer Alun Lewis, but it also marks 70 years since the biggest mass-breakout of WW2, which happened right here in Bridgend.
Island Farm Camp was originally built to house the workers at the munitions factory in Bridgend when it was thought they’d much rather live close to their workplace than travel to and fro each day. Not surprisingly the women preferred to travel than to stay in the gloomy rooms provided, but when Europe found itself in need of places to keep POWs Island Farm, with its concrete huts and open fields, proved to be ideal.
70 years ago today, at around 10pm on the 10th March 1945, 70 POWs escaped from Camp 198 – better known as Island Farm – after digging a 70ft tunnel beneath the wire. Evidently, 70 was their lucky number.
Each of the escapees were divided into groups and were given maps, food and even a homemade compass, as well as identity papers which had been produced inside the camp. Some of them made it to Birmingham while others got as far as Southampton, and though all but one were eventually recaptured, it was an astounding feat. Yet it is still unknown as to who actually organised the escape.
70 years on Peter Phillips has taken it upon himself to explore the story of Island Farm in The German Great Escape. Phillips’ expert narrative sets the events at Island Farm against the broad sweep of history, from appeasement and re-armament, to the Blitz, the battles of the GIs who passed through, and the campaigns of the German top brass who were later camp inmates. Taking in tensions between the Wehrmacht and SS, a suspicious death and the British de-Nazification programme, Phillips also explores the regime under which the POWs were kept and their reception by the public in south Wales.