German Prisoners of War in Pembrokeshire

This article is a bit different; it concerns the German Prisoners of War that were held in Pembrokeshire. It’s a subject that I have long had an interest in and have researched in depth... being as my father was one of them.

Following the disaster of Dunkirk in 1940 there followed an anxious wait for the inevitable invasion of this country. During this period the Government decided that no German prisoners should be held on British soil and until 1944, any taken were sent to Canada.

After D Day on June 6th 1944 Americans and British military authorities agreed that each side had responsibility for any German prisoners taken. As such thousands of Germans were transported across the Atlantic to America and rather than continuing to send the large numbers taken by British forces to Canada they began to be housed in camps all over Britain; but none in Pembrokeshire.

Three sections of the German armed forces regarded as the most dangerous were kept separately and treated differently as prisoners. These three were: Waffen SS, Paratroopers and Submariners.

The war ended in May 1945 with Pembrokeshire full of Italians taken mainly in North Africa. The rest of Britain had by this point over two hundred thousand Germans in many hastily erected camps. In May 1946 America decided to repatriate the one hundred and twenty thousand Germans that it had in camps all over the states, but the British Prime Minister Clement Attlee opposed this move and insisted that the Germans be sent to Britain.

By a circuitous route involving a temporary period in Belgium, the Germans were eventually landed in Southampton. It was there decided that as an element of these prisoners consisted of those considered most dangerous, even though the war had been over for one year, they had to be sent to an area that was remote and sparsely populated. Pembrokeshire seemed to fit the bill.

The Italians were speedily parcelled up and loaded on to trains to make room for the Germans – ironically a cause for much distress amongst both many of the Italian prisoners and the local (female) population.

And so finally, long after the war had ended, in May 1946 the Germans appeared in Pembrokeshire.

The biggest camp was on the Haven Road in Haverfordwest with accommodation for about 600.

In November 1946 there was a slight relaxation in the non fraternization rules that allowed prisoners to attend the cinema and accept invitations to private homes for Christmas dinner. Most other activities were still forbidden, including (or rather especially) dating British women.

Hans and Mary

Hans and Mary

Finally in July 1947 fraternisation rules were lifted altogether and the first marriage in Britain occurred between a German PoW incarcerated in the Portfield Camp and a local girl working for Pembrokeshire War Agricultural Committee; Hans Pilawa married Mary Owen. They married in the Registry Office, following which Hans had to return to the camp. Later that evening he was allowed to ‘phone Mary to wish her goodnight.

The Germans were finally repatriated over a long period beginning in late 1947. Those who remained did so largely because they had met local girls. Several are still here, Pembrokeshire having been their home for seventy years. They are viewed with respect as having been hard workers who have made a contribution to the county.