I decided to research the camp at Brahan as I have lived in the area for most of my life and had often heard people mention the “camp” but had never seen it nor understood exactly what it was.My grandfather was the estate factor for many years and my father grew up on the Brahan Estate. I set myself three goals for the investigation. The first was that I wanted to visit the site to see and photograph it as it is now. Secondly, I wanted to find out what the camp was like when it was in use and why this particular site was chosen. Thirdly, I wanted to pass the information on to my children and their peers and to give the camp its place in local history.
The site of the former camp is to be found along the Maryburgh to Ullapool road approximately two miles from the village of Maryburgh and on the left hand side. It lies between the house named Tallysow and the North Lodge. It is part of the large, historically important estate of Brahan which is owned by Mr A M H Matheson.
THIRD STATISTICAL ACCOUNT OF SCOTLAND" ( VOL XIII)
A reference to the camp was found in this book. The piece is as follows:
“During the second World War, a camp was founded in one of the home farm fields at Brahan for confining prisoners of war. It was used at different times for German and Italian prisoners. After the cessation of hostilities the camp was used to house displaced persons employed in agriculture. Later it was used to house agricultural implements and trucks belonging to the Dept. of Agriculture. Part of it was also used annually to house schoolchildren from the cities who came north to assist in the potato harvest.”
Information on the camp was difficult to come by. I contacted the estate but they could only say that the land was leased by the Ministry of Works from 1944 to 1957. They knew that the prisoners worked locally on farms and that they played football against the village team . There was a pitch in the camp. The photograph below shows one of the local teams (Dingwall Thistle) from that era.
Dingwall Thistle Football Club
Back row, l-r: Johnnny Macdonald, Ackie Macpherson, Sonny Sutherland, Angus Goodall, Willie Shearer, David Hamilton, Duncan Ross, Polson Morrison, Willie Wilson.
Front row, l-r: Hugh Urquhart, Jimmy Shand, ? Seigall, Davie Lawson, James Macdonald
I then contacted a Dr. David Easton of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland ( RCAHMS). He referred me to the “Defence of :Britain Project” whose aim it is to record information on all 20th century military sites in Britain. Dr. Easton was very interested in the Brahan camp as they have no information recorded on it. Any information passed on will be held on a national database in Duxford.
Another source of possible information is the Public Records Office at Kew Gardens in London. I wrote to the office but was told that I would have to visit and access the records myself. Not an easy thing to do when you live in the Highlands of Scotland.
The official line dried up before it got started so I decided to go with the local history available.
LOCAL ORAL HISTORY GROUP
I read over an account of reminiscences of wartime Ross-shire. Several of the ex-crofters and farmers talked about the P.O.Ws from Brahan coming to work on their farms. Some quotations are as follows:
“Culcairn Mill. Polish and Italian prisoners working on the farm”
“P.O.Ws from Brahan working at Culnaskeath. Italian, German, Ukrainians. Russians and Germans were good workers. Italians were too quarrelsome. A lot of displaced persons working on farm came from Eastern Europe.”
“You could get Italian prisoners of war. They were great fun, splendid with kids and they all loved their “mother” – they used to call her Granny. They used to come in a lorry every day from Brahan. You were told you were only allowed to give them a cup of tea but of course we saved up every scrap and gave them an enormous meal – nobody ever found out. There were about four. We still had the gardener, Jimmy Campbell, with the Italians and he could sort them out and give them plenty of work to do but then he was called up and we got the Land Girl.”
“There were displaced persons working there?
“Yes, I had them at the planting. It was with Archie they came (1950). I used to have about 15. They were staying up at Brahan. There were Yugoslavs, Ukranians. They were prisoners of war with no place to go. There was one man said he was the mayor of a certain place and he described the British bombing of his place. Novar had them for planting and nursery work. Novar was a busy sort of spot at the time. I always say “I had the cream of Novar”.
“In 1930 the miller received £1 a week. A Polish displaced person, Walkozk, worked in the mill for a few years and used to make vodka out of tattie peelings”
“At Ardullie farm we had mainly Italian prisoners, three or four on each farm. The Boss signed the work ticket for the day. A guard was always in attendance One German P.O.W made slippers for the local children. They came to the house for water. They wore a brown uniform with big coloured circles on it. One on the knee and one on the back.”
2005 addition to this section and particularly about Ardullie farm:
“Italian prisoners of war were delivered by lorry for work each day, and one at least was allocated to the small farm of Blackhill, also on Foulis Estate. One of the Italian prisoners was a talented artist and sketched farm children. Another used to borrow the cattleman’s bicycle, set it in motion downhill, somehow stand on the saddle and stand upright with arms outstretched! The dam which supplied the threshing mill had a mill lade which emptied into the Cromarty Firth and by this connection eels used to be found in the dam. The Italians used to catch the eels and the cattleman’s wife would cook them for the prisoners.]
Interview with a P.O.W. - now living near Strathpeffer
“I worked on my father’s croft in Germany – dairy farming. I joined the German Navy when I was 18 years old. The ship was sunk. I was taken to the U.S.A. as a P.O.W. I worked in Arizona and California (Hitchfield). Picked 150 lbs of cotton per day – the heat unbearable. Only shelter was under the lorries at break time. We left camp at 4 a.m. travelling in open lorries for two hours to get where we were required to work. It was very very cold at that time of the day. American guards weren’t nice. We were moved to different work places about every three months. sometimes we bundled carrots following a digger which turned out 4 drills at a time.
We left the U.S.A. from San Francisco via Panama for Europe with 6 other shiploads of P.O.W.s. I was 20 years old then. Our ship broke down and was towed back to port for repairs. Weeks later our ship docked at Liverpool. I was glad of this as the earlier ships took the P.O.W.s to France. I was pleased to be in the U.K. and then Scotland. We spent a week in Edinburgh and then was transported to Dingwall by train and walked from the station to Brahan Camp, very late and dark, I remember.
There were maybe 12 huts, 18 to 20 people in each with bunks, toilet blocks and showers. They were crowded in the mornings. After breakfast we got a piece for taking with us to work – 2 slices of bread and a slice of raw sausage meat! Evening meal of liver was horrible – curled up at the sides and tough! Sunday mornings we got bacon for breakfast. I wasn’t allowed to drive tractors or anything, I just did the farming jobs.
Twenty-five P.O.W.s were moved to Belladrum Camp near Kiltarlity. There were only 2 guards there. Major Fraser at the farm gave me a Xmas parcel and I also got a bike to get home quickly instead of going in the lorry.
After the war was over I went back to Germany with the bit of money I had saved. All my family back home were dead, three brothers, three sisters and parents. I returned to Scotland where I worked for Hannan, Black Isle and Mrs Mackay, Beechwood old manse.
My wife passed on 15 years ago. My only son is a landscape gardener”
Name withheld – interviewed by Annette McKee.
This letter and photo came from the daughter of a German POW who worked as the ration wagon driver at Brahan.
As stated in the letter, this is a photo of two P.O.Ws at a local garage. Also in the picture are two local garage workers and a woman who worked in the office. The second and third men from the right are the P.O.Ws
The garage has been ideitified as Macrae’s Garage at the corner of Hill Street and High Street. The site became a building used as the local (motor) taxation office and then Dingwall Post Office before this office moved to the west end of High Street in 2013. The man second from left was Finlay Forbes from Muir of Ord and the woman was Anne Macdonald (Gordon) from Strathpeffer.
My father, James Wilson, was a young boy when the camp was in official use. He remembers playing there with his older brother.They made many friends amongst the prisoners and he particularly remembers the Gerrnan cavalry rnen who taught them horse dressage. One prisoner was exceptional with the horses.
My grandfather arrived as estate factor from Ayrshire in 1943. They lived in the North Lodge which is adjacent to the camp. The major in charge was a Major Lawrie and he would dine at the factor’s house. He had a nice hut with gardens within the camp.
First half of the camp seems to have been for staff and admin. The huts had a stove in the middle of the room with flue access out of the roof. Jimmy also remembers there being a hut which was used as a punishment room. It was called the glass house. It was set on its own with barbed wire surrounding it. He remembers that the first prisoners were Italian and then German. He preferred the German POWs. There was some scrubland between the carnp and his house. There was a building in by the “old” tree. The carnp was surrounded by a fence. The area around was very open. The camp hall was a regular hut which had an extension built on after the war. This was done by the estate to accommodate a kitchen. The hall was then used by estate workers for whist drives etc.
AFTER THE WAR
It seems that after the war the camp remained very busy. It was used firstly to house displaced persons, mainly Polish, Hungarian and Ukrainian. A lot of the refugees stayed in the area and married local girls. I found an extract in the local paper relating to the displaced men.
March 6, 1948
It seems that one of the first things each of the European workers, now on farms in Ross-shire, wants to buy is a pair of shoes. On each of the last two weekends local shops have been kept busy supplying dress shoes for the DPs (Displaced Persons). They prefer brown shoes and do not like rubber soles. The manager of one shop said yesterday, “They have been coming in all afternoon. I had a large stock of men’s shoes a few days ago and now more than half of them are gone.”
The men would play football on the field at the camp. Local teams would play against them and there was a great deal of friendship between the two. After all the refugees had left, the estate workers used the hall and football pitch to stage events. Estate workers children were given commemorative tins to mark the Queen’s Coronation in 1953. This photo shows the presentation taking place at the former camp. The huts can be seen quite clearly in the background.
THE CAMP AS IT WAS IN 1998
THE CAMP AS IT WAS IN 2000
Early in the year 2000 the trees surrounding the camp were taken down. This actually gives a much better impression of what the camp was like during the war. This has also cleared the area where the football pitch was located and can be seen quite clearly. Two other concrete foundations are also visible including the spot where the “glasshouse” was possibly situated. The close proximity of the factor’s house to the camp is also very visible (first photo).
Letter to all Employers of PW Labour
This letter came to the attention of the Dingwall Museum when it was found amongst some old papers in a lot at the local auction.
TRANSCRIPT OF LETTER OF INSTRUCTION TO ALL EMPLOYERS OF P.W. LABOUR FROM ACTING COMMANDANT – BRAHAN CASTLE CAMP – 30.5.45. Tel. No. Conon Bridge 211
A/21/34/45 Subject: P.W. Labour 30 May ’45
To: All employers of PW Labour:
It has been brought to the notice of the Commandant of this Camp, that Employers of Italian Prisoner of War Billetees, both Co-operator and Non-Co-operator, are not complying with the instructions re the behaviour of Italian P.W. Billetees.
Co-operator Billetees – Church: if within 5 miles.
Are permitted to go to cinema if within the radius of 5 miles from their Billet. They are NOT permitted to enter Dance Halls or Public Houses.
If an employer of Billetees permits the Italian P.W. employed by him to break these rules – labour will be withdrawn immediately.
TAIN is out of Bounds to all P.Ws on Saturday evenings.
Daily Workers. It has come to the notice of the Commandant that Daily Workers are being fed by some employers. This is not permitted and furthermore is not fair to your neighbouring farmers who are unable to afford to do this, with lowered scale of rationing. It encourages the P.Ws to be discontented with their employment.
I would remind you that:-
All P.Ws get their full scale of rations in camp. All P.Ws. bring out with them daily haversack rations – these are often thrown away because of meals given as already mentioned. The Commandant asks that you help yourselves by helping each other.
Would you please give the attached slip printed in Italian to your billetee, it has full instructions to him regarding the above.
(Signed) Thornton Smith, Capt.