THE MEN BEHIND THE WIRE

Collections

A Yorkshire museum holds a surprising collection from the time Italian and German prisoners were held here. Maev Kennedy visits Eden Camp to find out more

A set of hand forged fire irons, a handsome wooden doll’s house, and a photograph of a woman in a smart hat and brown suit dwarfed by her tall new German husband, are among many touching testimonies at Eden Camp museum in North Yorkshire.

In the last years of World War Two, friendly or even stronger relationships grew between many local people and the enemy in their midst, the hundreds of prisoners of war held at the camp. 

The museum began almost by accident. In 1985 Stan Johnson, a local haulier who was thinking of starting a crisps factory, bought a large field full of derelict concrete huts. While he was still pondering what to do with the site, three Italian men turned up and asked if they could look around, explaining that they had been prisoners at the camp – of which they had surprisingly fond memories.

 Their story convinced Johnson, whose children still own the museum, that other people would be equally fascinated. The museum opened two years later, and has since won many tourism awards. Hundreds of former prisoners have visited it, while many families have donated rare archive material. 

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