A Short History Of German And Italian POWs In Britain

By Sarah Paterson

The first prisoners of war (POWs) taken in Britain during the Second World War were German pilots, aircrew or naval personnel.

In the first years of the war their numbers were small - rather than being held in Britain, they were generally sent further away to parts of the British Empire.

From July 1941, Italian prisoners captured in the Middle East were brought to Britain. This was the first major influx of prisoners of war to the country.

Italian POWs presented one way of alleviating labour shortages, particularly in agriculture. Following the Italian surrender in 1943, 100,000 Italians volunteered to work as 'co-operators'. They were given considerable freedom and mixed with local people.

German prisoners flooded into Britain from the summer of 1944 following the D-Day landings in France. Although there was an initial reluctance to employ them for labour, 70,000 were working in Britain by March 1945.

The peak number of German prisoners reached 402,200 in September 1946. They were housed in hundreds of camps all over the country.

From Christmas 1946, Germans had been allowed to visit British homes and had developed friendships and relationships with locals.  After the war, 25,000 elected to stay in Britain, preferring to remain where they had made a new life to returning to a war-damaged and divided country.

The last prisoner did not return to Germany until 1948.