CASTLE RANKINE, DENNY
On 10 June 1940, just as France was about to fall, Italy joined the war on the German side. In Britain there was a general feeling that it had been stabbed in the back and a great upsurge in resentment ensued. The Italian community in the Falkirk area was well known for its fish and chip shops and a few Italian shops had their windows smashed. In some cases where the Italian owner had married a Scot the name of the shop was changed to her maiden name and they carried on trading. This was a fleeting moment and most of the population realised that the foreigners in their midst had nothing to do with the international situation; indeed many had sons serving in the British Army. Upon the Italian declaration of war its countrymen in Britain became classed as enemy aliens. Some 4,000 Italians resident in Britain who were known to be members of the Italian Fascist Party, and others aged between 16 and 70 who had lived in the UK for fewer than 20 years, were ordered to be interned. The upheaval was sudden and left little time for detailed arrangements. Within a few days detained Italians from Falkirk found themselves being transported late at night by bus from the Falkirk Police Station to a nearby internment camp, carrying just a few personal possessions. They were soon joined by a dozen from the Stirling area. Their new home was a makeshift camp hurriedly erected in an exposed field on Castle Rankine Farm 1.7km south-west of Denny. The accommodation consisted of just a few wooden ablutions blocks and heavy canvas tents supplied by the army.
Before the war an Italian American had married a young woman from Camelon and, as she did not want to move to America, they built and set up a shop on Glasgow Road, Camelon. He was amongst those detained as a foreign alien and went to the camp at Denny. His wife and young lass used to cycle to Denny to visit him, taking food. When America finally entered the war he was released with alarming speed; as one family member put it “like a cork out of a bottle.” Amongst those interned were two of the owners of chip shops in Thornhill Road, Falkirk – Garagoli and Giannandrea. After a temporary closure, in their absence the shops were carried on by their wives and daughters. An attempt to win a rates relief from Falkirk Council failed
There were competing demands for resources and conditions at the Castle Rankine Camp only improved slowly. It was only a small establishment and as most detainees were local they got comforts from home. They were in low class security categories meaning that there was little or no reason to suspect them of aiding the enemy and on-site security was pretty low key.
Military operations in North Africa meant that the numbers of Italian prisoners of war held in Britain steadily increased and the authorities started to look around for new sites for POW camps. Towards the end of 1941 it was decided to upgrade the site at Castle Rankine and the detainees were released or voluntarily took up residence in the Scottish Borders around Jedburgh and Kelso, which was considered sufficient isolation. Local firms received government contracts to lay out the new POW camp. Thomas Laurie & Co of Falkirk got the contract for the electrical work. The men travelled to Denny by bus and had to walk out to Castle Rankine because the firm did not have many vehicles. Upon arrival at the site in the morning the Italians already there insisted on providing the workmen with a breakfast in the British sergeant’s mess. They ate as well as the NCOs. The Italians were happy to be away from the war and soon developed a great rapport with the Scottish workers. They learnt a few words of English in these casual conversations. One of the first things the prisoners would ask for was hair cream or toothpaste. The sergeant-major of the Italians was a plump man with steel teeth. These had been chrome-plated and as a party trick he would bite a nail, leaving his teeth marks on it. The wardens were from the Pioneer Corps – men who were mostly not Grade I. Their regimental sergeant major was like a caricature from a film. He would turn a funny colour of purple before barking out his orders – and his voice carried. Lieutenant Reginald R Stanhope-Wright helped raise funds for the POWs to buy recreational equipment (he subsequently married Susanna Bariletti and died in Florence in 1949). One of the officers at the camp had been a batman to an officer in the regular army and somehow had inherited the officer’s dinner suit. When he saw that one of the electricians was just the right size he told him that he could have it for a mere 5s – not bad for a suit made by Austin Reed of Edinburgh. Clothes were in short supply. It was bought and was used to great effect at dances for many years.
The official designation of the Castle Rankine Camp was POW Camp 64 housing the 64th Italian Labour Battalion under Commandant Lieutenant-Colonel Hans H Millar. It was divided into several zones. Entering the camp from the minor road there was an old colliery with its bings on the right and the accommodation for the guard and administrative staff on the left. Straight ahead was a separate compound for the prisoners. The perimeter of the camp was a tall barbed wire fence, which could easily have been scaled if anyone was determined. The main gate, at that time, was little more than a farm gate. The main compound was built on a slight slope with the huts aligned in terraces. The camp eventually consisted of over 40 prefabricated huts made of concrete frames and panels with brick infill as well as wooden huts – all set on concrete bases. Benjamin lamps hung from wires along the internal roads and swung wildly in the wind on this exposed site. Indeed, it was only with some difficulty that the authorities could get the Italians to leave the comfort of their bunks in the mornings for the parade. The Italian sergeant-major would shout until he was blue in the face, with little effect. One of the huts was converted to a multi-purpose recreation centre – a theatre where concerts were held and a chapel on Sundays. Its walls were decorated with artwork. There was a workbench along one wall where the Italians made some of their own musical instruments – guitars and violins. Here old aluminium pans would be turned into cigarette cases and the like. They were keen on engraving and the images usually included camels and pyramids from their time in North Africa.
A small area to the north of the camp was enclosed to provide allotments so that the prisoners could grow some of their own food. North of this was the steep-sided wooded valley of the Castlerankine Burn. The POWs cut a path down the bank so that they could bath in a pool in the stream. They also learnt how to guddle trout, which were then cooked.
There was a great scarcity of labour for work on farms and although tractors were being introduced there was little mechanisation. Many of the prisoners were therefore taken in old furniture vans to work on local farms. They were readily recognised by the chocolate brown battledress with a large round yellow patch sewn on the back (neighbouring camps used different colours and shapes of patch). Cycling through the countryside in the summer of 1942, local youngsters were amazed to hear singing coming from the fields, but on finding that it was the uniformed POWs they beat a hasty retreat. Another group of young girls from Denny decided that they would cycle to Carron Glen at Fankerton for a swim. When they got there it was already occupied by Italian POWs and those girls did not hang around either. Not everyone was so shy. One Bonnybridge girl who knew soldiers in the British army showed her disapproval of the Italians whenever any approached her, sometimes by spitting. This was not unusual and most parents told their daughters not to have anything to do with the foreigners temporarily in their midst – Italian and Pole alike.
Numbers of POWs at Castle Rankine Camp continued to increase, particularly after the Second Battle of El Alamein in November 1942. Then in September 1943 Italy surrendered and the inmates were given greater freedom. They continued to live at Castle Rankine until the end of the war by which time the name of “Tally Camp” had been etched into local folk law. After Italy’s surrender many of the POWs were allowed to live on the farms where they worked, thus saving on transport and accommodation costs.
The Italians practised all sorts of freedoms and now that reporting restrictions could be relaxed a local resident wrote into the newspaper to complain:
“Sir, I beg respectfully to ask if you would assist by publishing this letter to arouse public protest by the people of Denny and district against the disgusting and shameful conduct which is taking place on the Drove Loan or Waterworks Road which leads to Castle Rankine Glen. Young girls, whose ages range from fourteen to eighteen years, and, I regret to say, many married women who come from far and near in crowds, get into contact with prisoners (mostly, it can be noted by appointment) at certain points of this highway, and the disgraceful conduct that takes place quite openly is disgusting. This is one of the favourite walks of parents and their children from Denny, Dennyloanhead and Longcroft – the walk round the waterworks. They are now denied the pleasure of this on a Sunday, which is without doubt, the principal night of the week for the vile conduct that goes on. The police are doing all in their power to put a stop to it, but it requires something more to stir the inhabitants of the surrounding districts to take whatever action they can to try and put an end to it.”(Falkirk Herald 12 August 1944).
The following week a number of young Denny women were stopped by a policeman on duty on the road to the Castle Rankine Camp and asked for their identity cards. Several were fined 20s each for not having their cards signed. More importantly, their names were printed in the Falkirk Herald and undoubtedly there were heated discussions in their families. In November an incident occurred in which Denny men used bad language, quarrelled with and swore at Italians in the town centre. The Italians were challenged to a fight but did not retaliate. The police had been making special patrols because of previous disturbances and the local men were fined.
The Italian POWs were disliked by many of the young men of the area who saw them as smooth-talking greasy yobs who stole their women! Some, however, admired their audacity and silver tongues. One teenage member of the Falkirk Post Office Home Guard recalled that when he was on night guard duty at the telephone exchange there was not a lot to do and he would pass away the time listening to the Italian POWs talking to their girl-friends. He and his mates picked up a lot of tips on how to handle women – or so he said! Having a girlfriend certainly helped the Italians to learn English.
Local families of Italian origin sought to ease the imprisonment conditions of the Italian POWs. Johnny Lemetti, who had a chip shop on the Main Street in Camelon, used to referee football matches between a camp team and local groups. Emily Sifelli met her future husband when visiting the camp and they married after the war. Such fraternisation risked the sanction of the local people. A shop in Denny run by an Italian family called Rossi was often frequented by the POWs. When Rossi seemed to favour selling his ration of cigarettes to them in preference to locals he lost a lot of custom. After the war the family moved to Glasgow.
It was not just farms that were short of manual labour and POWs were also employed in brickworks, papermills, iron foundries and other industries. For the Italians working in local industry the extra income was welcome. Carrongrove Paper Mill was a favoured employer. One of the men working there was 28 year old Vittorio Parmiggiani who had been a grocer before the war. Approaching Christmas 1944 he thought that he was about to be laid off but on 1 August, while the local mill workers were on holiday, he was informed that he would be allowed to continue to work in the engineering shop. Elated he set off to tell his chum who was working along with other Italian POWs on the roof of the grass shed. He fell through a glass skylight 30ft onto the concrete floor and was fatally injured. He died 20 days later in a hospital near Edinburgh (Falkirk Herald 16 December 1944,7).
A few weeks later an Italian POW named Peraldini was killed on the railway line at Castlecary whilst working at the Castlecary Brickworks. He had been helping to load bricks into wagons located in the sidings and it was two o’clock in the afternoon when he strayed onto the mainline causing some of the brick workers to wonder if it had been suicide (Falkirk Herald 22 September 1945). There were a lot of Italian POWs working at the Castlecary Brickworks. One of the local men used to pick up books for them when he was in Glasgow so that they could learn the English language. Initially they had been guarded when they went there, but that did not last long. No one was concerned about the security of the prisoners and they got on well with the Scots. They were brought from Castle Rankine Camp by lorry and other POWs were dropped off at Smith and Wellstood. Walter Alexander’s also transported Italian POWs from the camp at Denny to their day jobs.
Most POW camps, including Castle Rankine, issued their own paper money for internal use only. Good behaviour and extra work was rewarded with such coupons which could be exchanged for treats such as food or socks at the camp shop or canteen, or for real money if warranted. Outside of the camp the tokens were useless. Cigarettes provided a more stable currency, which could be used beyond the confines of the camp. Skills such as woodworking or hairdressing could also be bartered.
Most of the Italian POWs were still working on the farms. It was frequently said they were good workers, but soon tired of the job and constantly needed to be pushed. Around 1944 Craigieburn Farm was allocated one named Bruno who was allowed to live in the farm bothy. He was hard working and very good with the farm horses. There was one Italian on Dalgrain Farm which was worked by the Gibb family. The local lads would chat with him at the farm bothy – there was something exotic about speaking to a prisoner of war – and often saw him with other POWs at the Pay Brig chatting to lasses. One large farm at Greenyards just outside Bannockburn employed three Italian POWs.
At first they were driven to the farm by one of the camp’s lorries each day. After some time it was decided that they could stay on the farm and three of the eight labourers’ cottages were used by them. Each cottage had a bedroom, a sitting room, bathroom and kitchen. They were provided with electricity and a wireless. Bacon, eggs and marmalade were available for their breakfast. Lunch and the evening meal were shared with the family at the farmhouse and they each took a pitcher of milk back to the cottages in the evening. They were far better off than the owner’s daughter who was in the Land Army staying at Greenrig Farm near Bonnybridge. These Italians were good workers and very nice.
There were two Italian POWs working at Strang’s (Easter Carmuirs Farm), called Angelo and Inotino. They seemed to know what they were doing and would talk to the local children. The Sifelli family lived nearby and the POWs liked to talk to them. Mrs Sifelli would make them tea. However, that family were second or third generation and could not speak Italian. One day a Scottish officer living nearby left his house dressed in his uniform and the Italians saluted him. “Oh, that’s only Mr Clark in his Home Guard uniform”, the children said and they never saluted him again. Obviously not the real army!
In March 1945 those Italian POWs who cooperated were allowed special privileges which included wearing unpatched clothing with shoulder tiles bearing the word ITALY. They also had the right to exercise within five miles of the camp up to 10pm, to enter shops to make small purchases, visit cinemas and talk to members of the public. They were even allowed to accept invitations to visit private residences, but amorous fraternisation (sex) was still a punishable offence. Nor were they allowed to use public transport, enter public houses or dance halls. Needless to say these regulations were rarely conformed to. Unescorted women queuing at the Cinema de Luxe in Denny were subjected to uninvited advances. The military uniforms were smartened up by tailors in the camp and could now be cleaned at Larbert Laundry where the Italians were often seen collecting them.
Italian POWs from the camp at Denny with common ailments went to the Base Hospital at Larbert which was for military personnel. Most of the time the nurses there felt that the POWs were putting it on in order to get away from the camp. Their English was rather poor and one nurse remembered them telling her that they were not all ice cream men or owners of fish and chip shops. The Camp had its own medical team which included Dr Janus Janowski. He was Polish and decided to return to Poland after the war but was killed in a plane crash flying there from Scotland in 1945.
Commandant Hans H Millar was keen on orchestral music and encouraged the POWs to form an orchestra. The musical instruments made in the camp were augmented by donations and loans of equipment. After much practice and many rehearsals the band was ready to give a public performance; their first public appearance was on 26 August 1945 when they gave two concerts in the Cinema De Luxe in Denny in aid of the Denny and District Comforts Fund. Millar was determined that the POW Orchestra would reach out to the people of Scotland and invited the provosts and representatives of the burghs in the area. Provost G Allan of Denny and Dunipace and Provost J Strachan of Falkirk were present with their wives. However, the provost and town council of Stirling refused to attend and even sent some scathing remarks. This, as it turned out, was great publicity for the event, and the orchestra played to a packed house. Such was the demand that people had to be turned away for the evening performance which was described by a Herald reporter:
“There was a semblance of the Italian opera, “I Pagliacci” about the opening of the programme when one of the clowns came before the curtain and in broken English, indicated that he was looking for the Maestro, who was late. His colleague came from the audience and offered his services and to the great amusement of the audience, went to start to conduct when the real Maestro of the orchestra, Sergeant M Lucente Clodomiro, appeared and took over. The comedy couple were Maresciallo Roselli and Captain Magg. Gamberini, the later following the profession of a clown in real life. The programme proper, compered by Lieutenant Fairbrother, the camp interpreter, opened with a rousing rendition of the “Barber of Seville” overture by Rossini. This was followed by a selection from the Puccini opera “La Boheme” in which the tenor aria was sung by Captain Magg. Cissisa. For an encore he sang “Annie Laurie”. Two novelty quartets came next, the first comprising an Italian xylophone played by Soldato Forte and guitars whose exponents were soldato Mannoli, Sgt Maiorana, and soldato Biancucci. The other quartets had soldato Mannoli as harmonica soloist, supported by soldato Castello on the piano accordion and the other guitar players. The first guest artiste, Signor Antonio Boni, a talented pianist from Edinburgh gave a delightful rendition of the “Warsaw Concerto”. In response to a recall he added his own arrangement of “The Blue Danube” waltz. Solo violinist Corp. P Cisotto excelled in “Czardas” by Monit, and to meet the demand for an encore contributed “Beautiful Love”. After a short interval James J Bruce, the second guest artiste, kept the audience mystified by his conjuring tricks. Magg. Cassisa, the tenor, returned with a rendering of Schubert’s “Serenade”, followed by “Mary”. There was more fooling by the clowns and then Signor Antonio Boni played “Cornish Rhapsody” by U Bath, followed by an encore of “Nocturne” by Chopin.”(Falkirk Herald 1 Sep 1945).
The prisoners had been allowed to use their hobbies to make things in the camp. They had held a competition that morning and the two winners had asked for their prizes to be given to the Comforts Fund. Instead they were handed over to the wives of the provosts – an aluminium ink stand for Strachan and an inlaid jewel or work box for Allan. £130 was collected for the Denny and District Comforts Fund.
Being just over a mile from the town centre the POWs managed to acquire bicycles so that they could get into the centre quickly and easily. They were also able to explore the area. However, even though the war was still on and people were still losing their lives, petty bureaucracy reigned over all. In December 1945 several of the Italian POWs were fined for the heinous crime of having failed to halt at a major road ahead sign at the junction of Duke Street and Stirling Street in Denny town centre. The signs, of course, had been meaningless to them. The services of an interpreter, Staff Sergeant Max Davis, were necessary during their appearances at court. The first accused to appear in front of Baillie Timmons was Private Angelo Gorra, who was dismissed with an admonition as it was the first such case that that court official had dealt with.
The same decision was given in a similar charge against Corporal Felice Gentile and Corporal Antonio Montefusco. Giovanni Innocenti was less fortunate. For the same crime he was fined 10s. Similarly Tommaso Cayallo paid his 5s at the Bar. Private Salvatori Locastro was fined 7s 6d for riding a bicycle in Duke Street after the hours of darkness without having a lamp.
At the end of the war there was a lot of captured ammunition in Europe and it was removed so as to be out of temptation’s way. A large quantity was shipped directly to Grangemouth Docks for storage there; yet more arrived by rail to the huge area of the adjacent shunting yards. Such was the immense quantity that a large amount was then taken by road to the nearby airfield for additional storage. Italian POWs were used to load the material onto lorries for the final journey from the Docks and helped to stack the shells and boxes in piles over 6ft high on the runways. At first the Italians were horrified when the lorry drivers arrived at the airfield and simply lay the shells on their sides and kicked them off the back of the vehicles. It was not long before they became just as nonchalant about it. The Italians were given temporary accommodation in the huts formerly used by aircrew to the west of the main hangars. In their free time they visited the local Italian owned fish and chip shops.
Over the months after the end of the war in Europe more Italians had been transferred to Denny as camps elsewhere closed. The farming out of their accommodation meant that by the beginning of February 1946 there were over 600 present. That month saw a mass exodus. After saying good bye to their hosts the bulk of the men marched to Larbert, where they entrained for the south,
“and, although on their way to their native country, there were many feelings of regret among them, mingled with extreme gratitude for the manner in which they had been treated by the people of Denny.”
The remainder of the Italian POWs at the camp left before the end of the month. In Denny the future of the camp was not known but rumours began to circulate that the Italians were to be replaced by Germans, which was met with mixed feelings. Many had been reluctant to fraternise with the Italians at the camp, even though they were seen to have given very little trouble, but the Germans were another kettle of fish. The departure of the Italians represented a loss to the local places of entertainment and also to the shopkeepers of the town in general, who could count on the POW as a steady clientele.
A week later, on 20 February 1946 the anticipated German invasion began with an advanced party of a few dozen. Before long they were to be seen working on the local farms. G Robertson was the Camp Labour Officer responsible for allocating the men to their places of work. Then, on 13 March, they were followed by the main force of 700 men. They arrived by train at Larbert Station and marched to Castle Rankine POW Camp in good order despite their long journeys.
One of those who arrived was Fritz Ilx who was one of 9,000 prisoners detained at Camp Carson in El Paso, Colorado, and then at Indianola in neighbouring Nebraska. In December 1945 he was transported to Los Angeles where he boarded a ship bound for Europe. The POWs were issued with a map plotting their route from Los Angeles to Liverpool. Upon arrival at Liverpool their paperwork was checked and more forms issued. Many were surprised to be detained in the Liverpool area and then finding that instead of being sent directly back home to Germany they were put on trains to Larbert where, after more form filling, he became prisoner number 40915 at Castle Rankine POW Camp.
The German POWs were used to relieve the critical labour situation now that the Italians had gone. Ilx was sent to work on Bankend Farm near Denny farmed by Mr Gilmour. He was issued with a labour pass permitting him to cycle there. After a few months he was transferred to Pollock’s farm at Bonnyhill near Bonnybridge and was allowed to live there. More paperwork followed, including a certificate of registration under the Aliens Order of 1920, various identity cards and discharge papers, driving licence, National Health Service cards and many more. He was often seen driving a tractor and moved to Milnquarter Farm where he spent the rest of his life.
After having two Germans billeted on his farm for two weeks a local farmer told a Falkirk Herald representative that they were two of the best men he had ever had on his farm and were what he described as “most willing and grand workers.” They never stood looking on when they saw where they could give a hand – quite a contrast to the Italians. Many Germans POWs were working on the farms around Denny and Bonnybridge. They would have their meals in the farm kitchen with the owner and their families. The Germans liked to listen to Lord Haw-Haw. When the BBC news was put on they would say that it was all propaganda.
After losing its Italian POW Craigieburn Farm was allocated a German who also lived in the farm bothy. He worked well with the cows and this was much appreciated. The farmer got on so well with his temporary labourer that he often lent him a suit so that the German could go into Falkirk for a pint at the pub. Thankfully they were never caught. The Italian farm workers at Greenyards were also replaced by Germans. They were completely different from the fun-loving Italians. The first time they arrived at the farm was just in time for the potato harvest in 1946. They marched up the drive, formed into a line and stood to the attention demanded by their sergeant, a man called Rudolph. He spoke to the farmer and then turned the men to the right and marched them to the potato field. They worked hard and at the end of the harvest the farm was again allowed to keep three men. Rudolph had worked on farms in Germany and was a natural choice. The second man was only 17 years old and was the son of a Hamburg minister. He talked with a lisp. The third man was a young man from the Polish border whose family was mistreated by the Nazis. Rudolph was married with no children. His wife lived in East Berlin and he wrote to her telling her to get out before the Russians arrived. She loaded her few possessions onto a cart and walked to Hamburg, where she rented a cellar. Rudolph continued to work at Greenyards Farm, receiving wages. He was not free to return to Germany, but he had plenty of freedom within Scotland. He often went to the pub in Bannockburn, where he got on well with the local miners. Now he was able to wear civilian clothes. He bought aspirins and sent them to his wife. She was able to sell them in Germany. He also bought wool and sent that. She made it up into clothes for resale and slowly they managed to put together enough money to get a flat. In 1947 she wrote saying that she had found a job for him and he returned. He kept in touch with the family at Greenyards until his death.
Adolf Jahrling was sent to work on Inch Farm near Larbert. He had been a forester before the war and was a useful asset on the farm. He was accustomed to hunting and trapping animals and whilst at Inch he supplemented the family’s diet with rabbits, hares, foxes and the like. He skinned the animals and made a fox stole for the mother and a small fur coat for the daughter. After the war he too kept in touch with the family for as long as he was able.
The huts formerly taken by the Italian POWs at Grangemouth were now occupied by Germans whose main task was to dig the foundation trenches of the new council houses in the area – truly “Jerry built.”
The camp at Castle Rankine was even more organised than before. The medical block was manned by doctors and dentists from among the POWs who looked after their fellow prisoners. There was a bakery run by the prisoners; a workshop in which several shoemakers and six tailors all toiled away; a craft workshop for drawing, painting, woodwork and carpentry, handcrafts and embroidery, with many of the prisoners winning prizes for their work. Activities were encouraged by the camp administrators, who also contacted local groups to establish links in the community and set up competitions. There was also a canteen in which the prisoners did the cooking; a games room with table tennis equipment, billiards table, cards and dominoes; a library with books and reference papers regarded as essential to educate the prisoners about democracy. As before, flower beds and vegetable plots made for displacement activities and self-sufficiency in the camp.
To add to the amenities of the camp the concert hall near the entrance of the main compound was upgraded by the German POWs. It consisted of two large army huts carefully grafted together with various internal improvements. Complete with stage, it had a capacity for about 800 and seating for 600. As the life of the camp was only extended temporarily, thought was given to its future use by the town of Denny. The inaugural concert was held at the end of May 1946:
“The whole proceedings were singularly impressive and the audience showed evidence of thorough enjoyment. The conductor of the band was Werner Hoefer, and Soldat Lemmens, formerly of the Berlin Theatre, was the English and German compere and, incidentally, the life and soul of the party with his ready repartee in both languages. Col. Hans Miller, the commandant, is to be congratulated on his enterprise and the great interest he takes in the welfare of the POW under his supervision.
It was through his enterprise, plus the assistance of several good friends, that it was possible to form a band at all, as there were no funds and instruments had to be secured. Present conditions also made these scarce. The men interested were not to be beaten, however, and from the rough wood shaped to suit, the camp craftsmen set about making, among other things, a bass violin and a cello. The base violin was in use on Sunday night, and it is a well-nigh perfect job.
The personnel of the band are all musicians of the highest standard, and finer violin playing or saxophone playing has not been heard in Denny for a long time. The work of the instrumentalists commanded appreciation for one must not forget that music is a universal language, and it is only the talent that counts.”(Falkirk Herald 1 June 1946, 4).
The following month the same construction team of German prisoners erected the dais at Herbertshire Park, Denny, for the crowning of Elizabeth Sneddon as Denny’s Victory Queen. The hall at the camp was a success and in July Lieutenant Colonel Millar invited the farmers and their wives from a wide area of Stirlingshire and the surrounding counties, together with the German POWs who were billeted with them, to a concert:
“There was keen appreciation of a splendid concert submitted by the camp orchestra under the direction of Werner Hoefer, with vocal interludes by a quartette of guitar accompaniment in charge of Wilhelm Lomb. The popular Fred Lemmens was the bilingual compere and his repartee caused great amusement. Standard concert items formed the first part of the programme and the second was devoted to music of the modern type, which served to show the great versatility of this most talented combination of instrumentalists. A hit of the evening was the brilliant playing of a modern type of violin solo by Horst Heidemann, who had to respond to an imperative encore, and another extremely pleasing number was a charmingly orchestrated waltz entitled “Dance with me, Maria,” composed by Col. Millar. At the close of the concert, the commandant expressed his thanks to the farmers for their co-operation, and he also thanked the billetees for their good behaviour, adverse reports having been very rare. In proposing a vote of thanks for what he described as a “well-balanced and extraordinarily pleasing performance,” Major Clark, Glenboig Farm, Fintry, President of the Stirlingshire Farmers’ Union, who, in Highland costume, presented a striking figure, tendered helpful advice and encouragement to the German hearers.”(Falkirk Herald 6 July 1946, 6).
Illus 17: The German Camp Orchestra even made a record in Biggars’ Recording Studio in Glasgow – consisting of a waltz, a quick step a foxtrot.
On one side is “Dance the Quickstep” with vocals by Camp Commandant-Colonel Hans Miller and Denny singer Rose McNeill. On the other is “Come and be my Darling.”
The German prisoners received regular post using the international system set up for POWs. Amongst the items sent from home were postcards and these may have been the inspiration for a series of paintings on the wall panels of the canteen. These were executed by a prisoner called Otto Laub using whatever materials he could scrounge, including shoe polish. Fortunately some of the panels were saved by Billy Buchannan, a local councillor, and are now held in the Smith Museum, Stirling.
Pen and ink drawings were easier to do because it was relatively easy to get the ink and the paper was available from Carrongrove. Otto Laub went around the town sketching local landmarks.
Illus 19: Otto Laub exchanged this pen and ink sketch for a few pints of beer in the Royal Oak Hotel in Stirling Street, Denny. It is inscribed: “Herbertshire Castle, Denny/ O Laub/ 64 POW Camp 1947”. The drawing is now in Falkirk Museum.
The wood and metalworkers in the camp workshop were also artists often carving decorative scenes on their work. One British soldier from Bainsford who was injured in the fighting on the Continent was sent home for recuperation. By the time that he was ready for active duty the war was over and so instead of being returned to the Continent he was sent to guard the camp at Denny. The guards got on well with the prisoners and at Christmas he was given a present of two wooden photograph frames made in the camp workshop.
Not all of the British officers in charge of the camp were what they appeared to be. On 6 July 1946 an advertisement appeared in the Falkirk Herald reading:
“Wanted, furnished flat or cottage, 2 beds, lounge, dining room, etc. telephone if possible. All letters answered – Capt D.W. St A. Berneville-Claye, Castle Rankine Camp, Denny.”
Douglas Webster St Aubyn Berneville-Claye, born Douglas Berneville Claye, was a petty thief and con artist who had been in the British army but when captured in North Africa became a Nazi collaborator and a member of the SS British Free Corps. Insufficient evidence was found at the time to try him and he was able to return to Britain a free man with the rank of acting captain. He was evidently assigned to Castle Rankine but was soon transferred to a POW camp in Yorkshire where he was eventually court-martialled for a number of offences committed there.
It is estimated that 86% of the 425 prisoners billeted at Castle Rankine worked either on the land or in local industry. Like the Italian POWs before them the Germans started to work at the brickworks in and around Bonnybridge. These included Milnquarter and Castlecary. Whereas the Italians were seen as cheery and were given a free hand, the Germans were seen as sullen and had an air of superiority, but they were hard workers. Initially, at least, they were accompanied by guards and the Scottish workers were warned not to speak to them. At Castlecary they were brought from Castle Rankine Camp each morning on the back of the works’ lorry and returned each evening. The son of one of the workers there noted that
“There did not seem to be any animosity shown to these men and they worked alongside the other workers. I got to know one or two of the men as my father was a charge hand in the brickworks and, like a lot of other children, I took his lunch, etc up to the works. One of the Germans asked me to get him tartan notepaper to send letters home and I eventually found some in a stationer’s.”
Jupp Hansen spent over a year as a prisoner at the Castlerankine POW camp. Conscripted into the German Army as an 18-year-old, he was initially sent to join the occupying forces in Norway. In June 1944 he was given compassionate leave because his father was thought to be dying. From the family home he was sent to Saarbrucken in south-west Germany to fight the advancing Americans. However, Jupp was quickly captured and subsequently received a bullet wound as a result of firing from his own side – so-called ‘friendly fire.’ Taken to a military hospital in Cherbourg, he was sent by ship to Southampton before sailing to New York, arriving in the USA on the day that the war in Europe ended. Many of the POWs were sent out west to work on the land and Jupp found himself in Montana before going to California. It was only after a year that he was finally able to send a postcard to his family back home in Germany, where his parents and six brothers and sisters had been told that he was posted missing. In 1946, he was put on another ship and, although believing he was about to be repatriated to Germany, found himself in Liverpool before being sent by train to Denny.
“We were sent to work in the wood factory (Jones of Larbert) but thought the work was too hard. Next day, we just stayed in our beds and the commandant sent us to the brickworks as a punishment, but I liked it there.”
The brickworks was at Craigend near Standburn and was owned by the Wilson family. The Germans working there got tired of travelling backwards and forwards to the camp and persuaded the owner to allow them to live in one of the outhouses at the works.
These POWs were invited for social gatherings to the Wilson’s home and were friends of the family. To thank Henry Wilson they constructed a small model of a castle in the garden pond.
Jupp was finally allowed home in December 1947 and arrived home before his family had been told that he was leaving Scotland.
Not all of the POWs wanted to return to Germany. Quite a few of them met local girls and had liaisons. It is hard to realise what it was like for these couples during 1947 when there was still a great deal of hatred for anything German. Families and neighbourhoods were split down the middle over what attitude to take. The Grindlay family lived on the farmsteading at Rough Castle and their son, who was a flight engineer in the RAF, was killed during a bombing raid over Germany. Their daughter still married one of the German POWs from the Castle Rankine camp.
Curiously, it was at the end of October 1946 that the only reported “escape” from the Castle Rankine Camp occurred. Erich Meier, a German, travelled to Glasgow where he met a young Glaswegian in Well Street and obtained a travel permit and a national registration card. These documents had been falsified. The supplier had removed his own photograph from the travel permit and placed that of Meier on it instead, then added marks and lines to represent the official Glasgow permit office stamp.
Just how Meier had been able to contact the faker is not mentioned. He then used the documents to obtain passage to Ireland. He must have been feeling confident as he got off the ship, but he was promptly arrested by the civil police. The forger was subsequently arrested and charged with contravening the Defence Regulations, 1939, and assisting Meier to escape.
St Andrew’s Day 1946 was marked by a concert with a strong Scottish flavour at 64 German POW Camp, Castle Rankine. Once again the audience was comprised largely of farmers with their wives and families from a wide area, together with the billetees. As formerly, the camp orchestra was under Werner Hoefer, with Lieutenant-Colonel Millar as their guest conductor in two items. Mrs Honthy, soprano, and Mr Nagle, an Edinburgh tenor, had a very warm reception performing both Scottish and German songs and during the closing Scottish fantasia by the orchestra they delighted with their rendering of the duet “Huntingtower.” A further Scottish touch was added by Mrs G Millar (Peggy Shaw) who, in full Highland costume, danced the Shean Trews. The compere, Fred Lemmens, spoke in German and English, and was a big favourite. The camp choir, under their conductor – the trombonist of the orchestra – sang two numbers, “Die Himmel Ruchmen,” and “Holy Night”; the latter, with an orchestral background specially arranged by the conductor. At the close of the programme, Mrs Millar and Mrs Honthy were each presented with a bouquet of flowers by the Lagersprecher and then the band played “God Save the King.” So impressive was the setting for choir and orchestra of “Holy Night” that a repeat performance was given in one of the Denny churches at Christmas. For probably the first time in the history of the Church of Scotland a German Christmas Eve festival was held in one of its parish churches. That night the congregation of Denny Old Parish Church included about 500 German POWs from Castle Rankine. Permission was readily granted by Rev R G Lawrie and the Kirk Session there. The service was conducted in English and German by Pastor Walter Meyer, the Lutheran camp pastor, and was carried through in accordance with German tradition. The praise was led by the camp choir under their conductor Josef Joerres. J Dick, the church organist, accompanied. An illuminated Christmas tree – a German speciality – occupied a prominent position to the left of the chancel.
That Christmas was further enlivened by the gift of an amazing collection of toys made by the POWs in fulfilment of a promise made by them when the Provost and members of the Town Council had visited the camp. The provost’s wife, Mrs Allan, was requested to distribute them among the children. The toys first went on exhibition in the Court Room of the Town House along with an illuminated scroll inscribed: “The German P.O.W.’s of Castle Rankine, Denny, wish to give these toys to the children as a thanksgiving offer, and also for the acts of kindness shown by the Denny and Dunipace people throughout our captivity.” The toys were then sent in bundles to the various schools around Denny and Dunipace. At Dunipace School they were handed out by Mrs Allan, who, with Provost Allan, was among the guests at the school Christmas party. For the children, who had not seen real toys for many years, these finely crafted items were a delight.
For the boys of the time the toys tended to be in the form of warlike items such as tanks or guns.
On the Sunday after Christmas a visit was paid to the Castle Rankine Camp by Rev Otto Dibelius, the Lutheran Bishop of Berlin, who conducted services in the camp concert hall in the forenoon and afternoon. It was attended by several local clergy. The German choir contributed to the celebration of mass in St Alexander’s Roman Catholic Church on the following Sunday. They were clearly in demand for in February they performed at Denny West Church alongside the YMCA Male Voice Choir. On each occasion they were accompanied by Lieutenant-Colonel Millar and his wife.
Groups of 30 or so POWs started to attend meetings in the crypt at St Alexander’s, designed to make them feel more at ease, and at these they received cigarettes from the congregation. The feeling of mutual trust was enhanced when, on 18 January 1947, Norbert Medves, a POW attached to Castle Rankine Camp, and billeted at Bonnytoun Farm at Linlithgow, rescued a 3 year old boy from Linlithgow Loch. He would otherwise have drowned. By and large, the people of Denny were kind to the prisoners, many of whom were only young boys of 16 and 17 years old forced to fight. Even though forbidden to move out of the Falkirk area locals smuggled some out dressed as farm workers to take them to the public houses and cinemas in Stirling.
The beginning of 1947 saw the first signs that Castle Rankine Camp was going to be slowly run down. In January some 200 German POWs were transferred to a camp in the south of England to meet agricultural requirements there (Falkirk Herald, 18 Jan 1947, 4). Over the following months quotas of POWs left the camp from time to time, but new ones arrived as other camps in Scotland closed down. In May Lieutenant-Colonel Hans H Millar left the district on the completion of his period of Army service and was replaced by Colonel Fielding. A farewell concert was held at the camp on 4 May 1947 for his departure and the POWs presented him with a solid silver salver as a token of their esteem. It was handed over to Mrs Millar by the Lagersprecher, Paul Breyer. The inscription on the salver read: “Presented to Col. and Mrs Millar with deepest gratitude by the German 64 Camp, April, 1947. Alles gute.” The German phrase at the end means “All the best.” At the end of the month Hans Millar went to Italy for a holiday, no doubt meeting some of his former Italian POWs. He later settled in Ayr where he conducted dance bands in the town.
The last concert at Castle Rankine to be held under the auspices of Lieutenant-Colonel H H Millar took place a few days after his farewell party when Miss Frena Alcorn of Bridge of Allan, with her pupils, who were aged between three and seven years, performed over thirty items of Highland and tap dancing together with several ballet sessions. It was greatly appreciated by the audience as was the playing of the bagpipes. After the entertainment, tea, cakes, and ice-cream were served by the POWs who had sacrificed parts of their own rations to acquire the ingredients for the cakes, which were baked by their own bakers.
Then, in early January 1948 came the very last concert at the camp, held at a time when many of the German POWs were already departing for home. The camp orchestra performed in front of a packed audience in their concert hall. Hartwig Streland did an excellent solo violin performance and Herburt Huth was the talkative compere. Appropriately the concert concluded with Auld Lang Syne. There were many farewells as the Germans thanked those organisations in Denny who had supported them over the years and made their enforced stay more tolerable. Then, suddenly, by the middle of the next month they were all gone and an eerie silence fell over the area.
Well – not all of them were gone because a few prisoners married local girls and set up home in the area. One such man was Gerry Lahmert who had been sent to Denny at the age of 25 after he was captured in North Africa in 1943. He married a girl called Janet, moved to Stirling and they had nine children. He only visited his home town of Hanover in 1971. There was also a handful who were unwilling to return to Germany after the end of hostilities, either because East Germany was occupied by the Russians, or because they had been sickened by the devastation caused by their motherland.
The calm stillness at the camp was not to last for long. At the end February 1948 the Falkirk Herald reported:
“Denny Railway Station, which has been closed for passenger traffic for over 12 years, presented on Monday forenoon a scene of unusual activity, and provided the terminus for one of the strangest loads of human cargo ever to arrive at the station. The specials train which arrived at 11.45am conveyed 175 European displaced persons – some of the flotsam and jetsam of the recent war – who had been conveyed to Denny in the general distribution to take up accommodation at the 64 Working POW Camp at Castle Rankine recently vacated by the Germans. They had come from the south of England, where they had been in camp for a few days for examination and other formalities. The races represented included Ukrainians, Yugoslavians, and Poles, and although the men looked tired after the long journey, most of them appeared quite fit and well set-up. The style of attire varied, some wearing civilian suits and others khaki uniforms and greatcoats. The party were met by representatives of the Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of Labour, whilst six Ministry of Agriculture motor trucks were in waiting to convey the party and the heavy pile of baggage to the camp. There appeared to be a fine spirit of comradeship among the men, and each was ready to assist his neighbour with any heavy pieces of luggage. To get the bags and cases from the pile on the platform a chain was formed in single file and the packages were quickly passed from hand to hand. One of the arrivals was observed briskly carrying a guitar in a case, evidently bent on making music during his wanderings. On arrival at the Castle Rankine Camp, a hot meal was in readiness for the men, whose general welfare is being looked after by the YMCA. The men have all volunteered for agricultural work, and will be sent out from the camp in batches daily to work on farms in the surrounding area. The DPs will enjoy full British civilian privileges and will be paid at the customary British rate for the work in which they are engaged.”(Falkirk Herald 25 Feb 1948, 7).
The camp had a new commandant in Major Alfred Currie and came under the Ministry of Agriculture. Before long the locals knew that DP stood for Displaced Persons, in some ways a euphemism for refugees. Many were unable to return home due to the Russian occupation of their homelands. For some it was not possible to return to the shattered economies of Eastern Europe and the consequent food shortages there. The war had created all sorts of temporary alliances, not all of which worked out. The British government had supported the Chetniks in Yugoslavia during their struggle with the occupying Italian and German forces and their leader, General Mihailović (anglicised to Mihailovitch) was regarded as a hero of the resistance. However, he turned on Tito’s Partisans who were also fighting the enemy and as a result the British withdrew their support. This situation was largely hushed up and in July 1948 a tribute to Mihailović was held at Castle Rankine after his death and was attended by about 200 of the Yugoslavs there. The service was conducted by Rev R G Lawrie. In fact Mihailović had been tried and convicted of high treason and war crimes by the communist authorities after the war and was executed in 17 July 1946 by a firing squad in Belgrade.
It was a desperate time involving much heart-break and hardship. Settling in a cold wet climate amidst an alien culture must have been difficult. Once again the local community rallied round. In April, forty of the “European DPs” attended the evening service in Denny Old Parish Church and translations were provided in Yugoslav. It was, however, difficult for the foreign language speakers to understand the post-war regulations in Britain and they often fell foul of them. In November 1948, for example, Alexander Djokie pleaded guilty of being in possession of ration coupons that he had bought from a man in Stirling. That man would have known that the sale was illegal.
The camp at Castle Rankine was now called an EVW Camp rather than a POW Camp – EVW standing for European Voluntary Worker. The DPs replaced the German POWs on the farms; Djokic had been working on Dalderse Farm when he was prosecuted for ration fraud. However, the men and women at the Camp found it hard to get employment elsewhere and strong unions kept them from better paid work. They were often seen as a cheap source of manual labour and in June 1948 Denny Town Council discussed the practicality of forming a swimming pool in or near the Red Brae Pool in Carron Glen in conjunction with the displaced persons at Castle Rankine Camp.
The character of the camp was, of course, different to its former days. It was no longer military – there were no guards, just admin staff. Families lived together; young couples making a new life for themselves. Some of the people at the “hostel,” as it was now called, found it easier than others to make head way. E C Rullis from Latvia attended Boy Scout meetings and soon became a leader in that organisation and as a consequence was well known in the community. For many of them it was important to retain some of the traditions of their homelands and a sense of their previous identities. Quite a few of those living at the Castle Rankine EVW Camp were Greek Orthodox who celebrated Christmas at the beginning of January by burning elements of an oak tree and distributing salt and bread as symbols of hospitality. In 1949 they invited Arthur Woodburn, the Secretary of State for Scotland, to celebrate this tradition with them. He spent an hour at the Camp accompanied by officials from the Department of Health. In the main dining room they partook of “pecena-rakia” a traditional mixture of tea and spirits warmed over an open fire. Mr Woodburn’s remarks were translated by the camp leader, R. Neuwersch, a former officer in the Yugoslav Fleet Air Arm (Scotsman, 7 Jan 1949, 3). From the same report we find that at that time there were around 200 displaced Europeans at Castle Rankine, of whom about 50 were Poles, the remainder being Ukrainians and Yugoslavs.
At the Camp the visits and concerts continued. In May 1950, for example, the orchestra of A. Siddal, Falkirk, played in the concert hall. Cheering as such occasions were, they could not replace the feeling of home and mental health suffered. Most saw the new start in life as an opportunity, but some suffered in solitude. One, Joseph Salam, committed suicide. He was found by some children hanging from a tree near Stirling. He had only arrived at Castle Rankine Camp the previous April and was 25 years old – a sad reminder of the turmoil and havoc wreaked by war.
Throughout 1950 Alfred Currie gave talks to local societies to raise awareness of the work at Castle Rankine. In this he was aided and abetted by four of the occupants – Rudolf Neuwesch, a Yugoslav; Eric Rullis, a Latvian; Iwan Skalskyj, a Ukrainian; and George Hebda, a Pole. Each spoke English fluently. They related how their fate had changed due to the war and communist control. In 1953 the term ‘EVW’ was replaced with simply ‘Foreign Workers’ and Castle Rankine was gradually run down
The buildings were left behind and were taken up by a pig farmer. His co-worker, and heir to the site, was Gunter Ilgner. Gunter had been a guest there in 1947.
On his death the site was largely abandoned and in 1990 a major clearance programme began. The Bonnybridge councillor, Billy Buchanan, heard about this activity and was able to retrieve the wall panels painted by Otto Laub and these made their way to the Smith Institute in Stirling.
Today it would be quite easy to walk straight past the site without noticing signs of its former activity. It fades too from memory – but should not be forgotten. It represents shattered lives, reconciliation, friendship and new beginnings…
The life of the Castle Rankine Camp can be summed up as:
- June 1940 – Italy declares war, Italians interned.
- Second Battle of El Alamein (23 October–11 November 1942)
- September 1943 Italy surrenders.
- July 1944 – Italian POW Camp (Tally Camp) – Lieutenant-Colonel Hans H Millar, commandant
- Feb 1946 – German POW Camp – Lieutenant-Colonel Hans H Millar, commandant
- 1948 – EVW Camp – Major Alfred Currie, commandant
- c1953 – Camp closes
- 1953-70s – pig farm – Gunter Ilgner