“Come out, come out, wherever you are”: The Great Escape of 10 March 1945

On 10 March it will be 75 years since the Great Escape. The bones of the story are well known. The setting is a camp set up in the Second World War to hold prisoners of war housed in a series of huts ringed by a high barbed wire fence, swept at night by searchlights and patrolled by guards with dogs. Within the compound a group of prisoners, determined to escape, begin to dig a tunnel. Benches are cut up and bed legs are reduced in size to provide wood to shore up the tunnel. Old cans of condensed milk are strung together to make an air pipe to provide ventilation. Prisoners dispose of the earth by spreading it over the camp vegetable garden, a sports long jump pit and within a false wall built into one of the huts. After four months the tunnel is complete. It even has electric lighting. While their colleagues distract the guards with raucous singing and curry powder is thrown along the fence boundary to confuse the dogs, a large group of prisoners emerge beyond the boundary fence. One is shot by the guards but others, disguised in long overcoats with homemade maps, compasses and identity papers, escape into the darkness.

The story has echoes of the escape of 77 Allied serviceman from Stalag Luft III in Poland, which subsequently provided the basis for the film The Great Escape starring Steve McQueen. In fact, the escape on the night of 10 March 1945 was much closer to home, with German officers passing through the tunnel and fleeing into the night from the prisoner of war camp at the Island Farm Camp close to Bridgend.

The Island Farm Camp was built in 1939 to be used by up to 2000 women working at the Bridgend munitions factory. Although it was purpose built, with easy access to the factory, it was not a success, with most workers preferring to lodge locally or travel each day to the factory. Rather than abandon the facilities, Island Farm was later used by the American 28th Infantry Division in the build up to the D Day landings. During their stay the camp had a number of well-known visitors, including the Supreme Commander of Operation Overlord, General Eisenhower, who addressed the men in April 1944.

With the opening of the second front in France there was a pressing need for accommodation for prisoners of war.  The camp that had witnessed Eisenhower’s rousing speech only months before was put to use again for German and Italian prisoners of war. The first task for many was to complete the perimeter fencing while others worked on local roads and farms. It was soon decided, however, that it would be used exclusively by German officers. As a result 1600 German officers arrived in November 1944. It was this group that brought Island Farm, renamed Camp 198, into the headlines.  After the escape on the night of 10 March many were recaptured within hours and in the following week many more were found in fields, barns and gardens across South Wales. However, one group stole a doctor’s car and travelled by car and train as far as Castle Bromwich near Birmingham. A second group, using goods trains, was eventually apprehended in Southampton. The escape spawned numerous tales, including the suggestion that they planned to rendezvous with a U Boat off the Welsh coast. Most stories of their recapture were humorous and, almost certainly, heavily embellished.

Within weeks the camp was closed, but it was to have a further reincarnation as a prisoner of war camp. In November 1945 it reopened at Special Camp 11 catering for senior German officers all ranked at General or above. Those held at the camp included 4 Field Marshals, von Rundstedt, von Brauchitsch, von Kleist and von Manstein. Many were awaiting trial and some remained at Island Farm until its closure in 1948.  Special Camp 11 was a very different regime. With the war ended the officers were given a fair degree of freedom. Letters of the Verity family held at Glamorgan Archives include two from German officers thanking the family for their hospitality in inviting them to spend Christmas day 1947 at the family home.

Letter 1

Letter 2

The escape from Island Farm was a major embarrassment for the British Government. Initial fears that the escape was part of wider plan to attack and disrupt the Bridgend munitions factory and local ports proved to be unfounded. Nevertheless the Government was anxious to confirm that the major manhunt launched across England and Wales had been successful in recapturing all of the German officers within 5 days. Most sources agree that 70 prisoners escaped although there has been some debate as to the exact number. A BBC documentary shown in 1976, Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are, opted for 67. A more recent study argued that it was as high as 84 and contended that several might have escaped through the Kent ports.

For many years the camp was left to decay. Photographs held at Glamorgan Archives and taken around prior to its demolition in 1993 illustrate that, although many of the drawings made by the POWs on the camp walls had survived, the camp itself was in poor condition.


Wall 12-14

Wall drawing

Incidentally the drawings were not entirely innocent given that several were positioned close to the tunnel entrance to distract the guards. Fortunately, Hut 9 was saved and in 2003 the tunnel was found to be intact. What remains of the camp and Hut 9 is now in the care of the Hut 9 Preservation Group and it is open to the public on a number of days during the year.

The Verity family letters can be seen at Glamorgan Archives, reference DXCB/4/2/33. The photographs of the Island Farm camp are at D1051/1/7/3/1-9. There are also photographs of the Americans at Island Farm in 1944 at D1532/1-10.

Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

Air Raid Precautions in Glamorgan

For Glamorgan Archives’ second decade, the 1940s, I decided to look at our collection of Air Raid Precautions records for Glamorgan. The Air Raid Warden Service was established in Cardiff in 1939. Its headquarters was based in Cathays Park with local control centres setup throughout Glamorgan.

Air Raid Precaution Services consisted of Wardens, Report & Control, Messengers, First Aiders, Ambulance Drivers, Rescue Services, Gas Decontamination and Fire Guards. The Fire Watcher scheme was introduced in Jan 1941. Fire Watchers had to keep a 24 hour watch on certain buildings and could call on the rescue services if required. The role of ARP warden was open to men and women of all ages. The majority were volunteers but there were some who were paid a salary.

One of the duties of an ARP warden was to enforce the blackout. This led to some wardens being regarded as interfering or nosey. Who can remember the portrayal in Dad’s Army of ARP Warden Hodges shouting ‘Put that light out!’?

This entry from the Barry Control Centre Logs [DARP/2/2] records a complaint of a light showing:

DARP-2-2-2ndAug-1942 web

Other duties of the ARP Warden included sounding the air-raid siren, helping people to the nearest air-raid shelter, handing out gas masks and watching out for the fall of bombs within their sector. The booklet 250 ARP Questions Answered [DARP/3/24] would have been a familiar sight.


Part-time wardens were supposed to be on duty about three nights a week, but this increased greatly when the bombing was heaviest. As you can see from the log below [DARP/1/10], the wardens on duty weren’t averse to moaning about the conditions in the control room. The state of the cups seems to have been an issue, with one warden scrawling a reply What would you like? Fire watching at the Ritz??!

DARP-1-10-8thAug-1941-cups v2 web

The following entry from the Pontypridd Control centre log book from 25th April 1943 [DARP/13/9] shows a report of a crater 5ft by 2 and ½ feet deep near Forest Uchaf Farm on Graig Mountain. The ARP liaised with the police at both Pontypridd and Llantrisant as well as Central Control to ensure the bomb had exploded.

DARP-13-9-25thApril-1943 web

ARP were kept up to date of any changes in enemy tactics and were needed to feedback information from the ground. The following message from the 15th June 1943 [DARP/13/9] describes how the enemy have started dropping anti-personnel bombs after incendiary bombs in order to hamper any fire-fighting.

DARP-13-9-15thJune-1943 web

ARP also took part in regular drills and exercises. One such exercise took place on October 19th 1941 [DARP/1/7] ‘Enemy cars discharging soldiers at Caegwyn Road, Manor Way Crossing…’

DARP-1-7-19thOct-1941-exercise web

During the height of the Blitz there were approximately 127,000 full-time personnel serving in Civil Defence, but by the end of 1943 numbers had dropped to approximately 70,000. In total 1.5 million people served in the ARP/Civil Defence Service during the war. The Civil Defence Service was eventually stood down towards the end of the war after VE Day.

Melanie Taylor, Records Assistant, Glamorgan Archives

Sources consulted:

The Diary of Joan Mark of Cardiff, Nurse, 1939

Glamorgan Archives recently received a diary written by Joan Mark of Cardiff for the year 1939, the year Glamorgan Record Office – now Glamorgan Archives – was established.

Joan as nurse

Joan Mark in her nursing uniform

Joan was born in 1921, was educated at Howell’s School and was only 17 when she started to write her diary, recording her work as a trainee nurse at the Prince of Wales Orthopaedic Hospital in Cardiff. The Boots Scribbling Diary came complete with coupons for free gifts such as lemon barley crystals, indigestion mixture and Devonshire violets talcum powder.

Joan gives us a fascinating insight into her working life, set against the background of the impending War which broke out in the September of that year.  She records being on her feet all day, …was nearly sleeping on my feet is one of her entries.  She had to live in rooms in the hospital when she was on duty, and the constant sound of patients ringing their bells is noted many times; bells, bells, bells she writes.


Joan enjoyed working on the children’s ward.

Prince of Wales Hospital

Staff and patients at the Prince of Wales Hospital, 1930s – Joan is standing 3rd from left

Diseases such as scarlet fever, chicken pox and diphtheria are mentioned.  When helping at the babies’ clinic she records:

All sorts of babies came. We had to scrape the dirt off some before we could see their little faces.

Babies clinic

She also had to check for head lice and on one occasion found that several children were ‘alive’ with lice and had to try and get rid of them using Derbac soap and Dettol before the Ward Sister returned.

Joan was also expected to help out with the laundry, darn serviettes and cut miles and miles of gauze and wool for bandages.  On her days off she also had to attend lectures and take tests.  On one occasion she tried to swot for a test …but fell asleep.

One constant worry was the shortage of staff in the hospital. I hope we shall get some more staff soon, she writes, and that on one day the other staff were …all shouting and bawling at me.  They seem to think I can produce mattresses, plaster knives and clean counterpaynes out of the air.

The Matron and Sister ruled with a rod of iron and nurses could have their days off cancelled for misdemeanors such as not reporting a broken light or an untidy bedroom. In March they were given new nursing caps to wear:

New caps

We all had new caps given us this morning. They are all terrible and show all our hair at the back.  Matron told me to put mine in curlers, but I shan’t even if I’m the only one left with straight hair.

It wasn’t all work for Joan and she records visits to her family and her social life: trips to Barry Island, shopping at Woolworths, listening to the wireless, regular trips to the cinema, walks in Roath Park and visits to Star Street Chapel and Roath Methodist Chapel on a Sunday. In January 1939 the hospital maids had their annual dance, when the nurses had to wait on them and washed up afterwards; we were allowed to dance with each other as well at the end, but were told not to take the maids’ men.  Joan couldn’t go to the dinner and dance that had been organised for the nurses:

…so we held a dance on our own in the bedroom with the wireless and gas-fire in full blast and lemonade and biscuits as refreshments.

Staff dance

She was on duty on Christmas Day and was given presents from the Matron and other nurses. A band came at 7.30am and most of the nurses were dancing. Joan played with the children on the ward and a choir came to sing carols, followed by Christmas dinner at 7pm.

From August onwards the talk of War clouds her diary. On 24 August Joan writes:

Everyone seems to think there is going to be a war

War 24 Aug

Two days later she says:

They are making our Out Patients Department into a Decontamination Centre and pasting black paper over the windows of the Hospital. The International Situation seems pretty serious but I don’t think there will be a war.

Joan was due to take her holidays:

Sister Blake says I may have my holidays but must come back if War is Declared.

On 1 September she records that Germany had started bombing Poland and that she had gone on a trip to the beach where she …met two sweet little German exile children. Joan was on leave when War was declared on 3 September and on that day she records that the Germans had torpedoed a British liner (this was the SS Athena). A few days later Joan travels to Nottingham to visit relatives and she helps her Uncle to black out the windows.  She had difficulties travelling back to Cardiff as all the trains had been stopped and were being used to transport troops.

Preparations were in full swing when she went back to work the following week.  They only had eight patients and from then on were only going to admit 50% of their capacity so that the Hospital would be ready to receive any wounded troops.  On one day Joan had to strip and remake 48 beds in readiness. The Sister gave the nurses some advice:


If a bomb falls on the Hospital – don’t rush into the flames or make martyrs of yourselves. Get under the beds and the quicker the better.

The Matron was worried …because the Russians have entered Poland.

The Sister said, What does it matter as long as they don’t enter the Prince of Wales Hospital.


As the diary comes to an end there are glimpses of the day to day changes that War has brought to the country: being warned for having too much light showing in a window, the issue of National Registration cards, visits to air raid shelters, a colleague learning to knit socks for the troops and the evacuation of a family member.


Joan Mark of Cardiff

Joan went on to qualify as a registered nurse in 1943, but tragically died in a car accident in 1951, aged 29.

A Fine Romance

Hail! genial season of the year

To faithful lovers ever dear

Devoted be this day to praise

My Anna’s charms in rustic lays

Now billing sparrows, cooing doves

Remind each youth of her he loves

My heart and head are both on flame

Whene’er I breath my Anna’s name

These lines were penned by a Captain Bennett in a Valentine poem written in 1818 to Mrs Wyndham, also named as ‘Anna’.  The poem can be found in our Fonmon Castle collection (ref. DF/V/133) and runs to 78 lines of rhyming couplets, far weightier than the snappy valentine messages found in cards today.  In the poem Captain Bennett gives full vent to his romantic side, evoking images of Cinderella and her Prince, praising Anna, including her ‘fairy feet’, as well as casting doubt on the suitability of her other suitors, one of whom he names as ‘Tredegar’s Lord’.  He also describes writing Anna’s initials or ‘cypher’ in the sand with a walking stick, which although the waves may wash away ‘the darling name’ could not ‘blot that cypher from my heart!’


So who were Captain Bennett and Anna, and did their story have a happy ending?  Although the poem is part of the Fonmon Castle collection it also has references to Dunraven, an estate near Southerndown owned by the Wyndham family.  A little detective work has revealed that Anna was the daughter of Thomas Ashby of Isleworth, London and Charlotte, daughter of Robert Jones of Fonmon (hence the Fonmon connection).



Anna was first married to Thomas Wyndham of Dunraven and Clearwell Court in the Forest of Dean (MP for Glamorgan), but he died in 1814.  However, Anna remarried in July 1818, only months after the poem was written.  Her new husband was a John Wick Bennett of Laleston, presumably ‘Captain Bennett’ the sender of her Valentine.  It appears his poetic efforts had not been in vain and perhaps helped sway her towards accepting his proposal!

Finding references to ‘love’ and ‘romance’ in the archives can be a difficult task as they are not terms usually found in catalogue descriptions!  However, there are many stories of romance to be found, whether hidden in private diaries or in letters, especially those written when lovers were parted and they were the only means of contact between them. Wartime, especially, led to the separation of many and we have several stories of romance which blossomed during difficult times.

Sister Isabel Robinson found love when she worked at the Red Cross Hospital in Cardiff in 1916.


Whilst she was nursing there she met and married Daniel James Dwyer of the Australian army. He was recovering in the hospital from a head wound he suffered in action in France.



The couple later settled in Australia at St. Kilda, Victoria but returned to England where Isabel died in 1965.  Isabel’s photograph album is held at the Archives and includes photographs of staff and patients at military hospitals in Bridgend and Cardiff (ref. D501).

One of our most important collections relating to the Second World War are the many letters written by Pat Cox of Cardiff to her fiancé, Jack Leversuch, who was serving overseas in the forces (ref. DXGC263/2-32). Throughout the war Pat sent regular letters to Jack giving him her news.  Jack kept all the letters he received from Pat and brought them home with him when he finished serving overseas.



The letters give personal details of the couple’s courtship as well as describing how Cardiff was dealing with air raids, the black out, evacuation and rationing.

Valentine cards also appear in our collections.  Many nineteenth century cards were handmade and beautifully coloured, sometimes decorated with intricate cut outs.  During the latter part of the century commercially printed cards appeared, although to our modern eyes these are also beautifully decorative.  Here are two examples of Victorian valentines (ref. DX554/18/3,9), both edged with feathers.




Do you have any old documents, photographs or valentine cards?  Please let us know as we would love to add them to our collection.



New Digital Education Resources at Glamorgan Archives

Glamorgan Archives provides a variety of services to the schools, colleges and universities – and their students and teachers – within the local authority areas we serve.

We welcome visits from school groups of all ages.  School visits are free of charge and last up to two hours. We can accommodate a maximum of 30 children in one visit.

Visits can be self-guided, with teachers leading their students through research using primary resources from the Glamorgan Archives collection, with advice from professional archivists.  Structured workshops are also offered at the Archives.  Delivered by our staff they can be tailored to the locality of the school visiting.

To date, workshops have only been delivered onsite at Glamorgan Archives.  But, thanks to grant funding from the Welsh Government distributed through the Archives and Records Council Wales, our workshops are now available to download from our website for use in the classroom.

Each workshop includes a series of images of digitised documents from the Glamorgan Archives collection, with accompanying teacher notes.  The resources are aimed at Key Stage 2 but can be adapted for use at any level.

The topics featured are:

World War II


Find out about the impact the Second World War had on Cardiff and south Wales.  Discover how schools were affected; learn about air raids and air raid precautions; find out more about evacuees; explore how the war was fought on the Home Front through Dig for Victory and Make Do and Mend; see how rationing had an impact on everyday people in south Wales.

Sources used include school log books, maps, photographs, letters and much more.

Rich and Poor in Victorian Times


Find out how rich people in south Wales lived in Victorian times; and discover how the poor Victorian people of south Wales led their lives.  Learn what was it like to go to school in Victorian times; explore the working lives of people in south Wales; discover more about the houses Victorian people lived in and the furniture and appliances they owned.

Sources used include census returns, maps, photographs, school log books, diaries and much more.

From the Collieries to Cardiff Docks: Industry and Shipping in South Wales


Discover more about coal: where did it come from? How was it used? Where did it go? Learn how Welsh coal powered the world and explore how it was exported via Cardiff Docks.

Sources used include: maps, photographs, census returns, trade directories, shipping records and much more.

The First World War


Discover more about the impact of the First World War on the people and communities of south Wales.  Learn about life at the front, about the people from south Wales who served in the war, and the care provided for injured soldiers; discover how the War affected life at home and in school; and explore the changing role of women during the war.

Sources used include school log books, photographs, letters, diaries and much more.

Shopping in the Past


Learn about how the way we shop has changed over time.  Explore the changing face of the local high street and Cardiff city centre; discover more about the development of home delivery; find out about food rationing during difficult times; and learn about the treats on offer at cafes in the past.

Sources used include photographs, trade directories, building plans, census returns and much more.

The resources are available to download from the Glamorgan Archives website http://glamarchives.gov.uk/workshops/