A couple of months ago some artefacts from the two World Wars fell into my path at work. They were valuable items and their owner wanted them to go to someone who would look after them properly. Business was very much combined with pleasure therefore, when I volunteered to take them down to Eden Camp Modern History Museum in Malton, North Yorkshire, on my day off. The items consisted of machetes, bayonets, and a sword, and getting them signed over to the museum’s curator only took a minute or two. Afterwards Heather and I were free to explore. I was born 15 years after WWII ended, but its ghost remained very much to the fore when I was a child because my father had fought in it and his father in WW1. My mother was in the military police and looked after female prisoners at a camp set up at Windlestone Hall in Co. Durham. Windlestone Hall is the birthplace of Sir Anthony Eden and it was sold off a couple of years ago to private buyers. Last year I took Mum out to lunch near there along with one of her army colleagues who had also been a guard at the hall during the war. I wrote to the owners beforehand and asked if there would be any possibility of Mum and her friend seeing the house again. They did ring me, but it was clear that they weren’t keen. Possibly this was because they’d received a massively bad press for picking up this enormous country pile for just 241k. I think they were a little suspicious of strangers. I hardly think that the price they paid is their fault (if I’d had the cash I would have would have been interested) but the sale provoked local controversy. However if that had been my home I would have loved to have had someone in there who could properly tell me about its history, and talk about what each of the different rooms were used for while it was a POW camp.
Eden Camp was also once a POW facility. The site was requisitioned by the War Office in 1942 and was used to house Italian and German prisoners. Later on it accommodated Polish forces who were amassed in preparation for the invasion of Europe, and finally German prisoners again.
The site wasn’t returned to its original owner until 1955, and the huts served several different purposes until a Stan Johnson bought part of the land in 1985 with the intention of building a crisp factory. However he was approached by some ex-Italian P.O.Ws asking if they could have a look around their former home, and Mr Johnson changed his mind and developed it as a museum. It takes a good couple of hours to see everything and to try and imagine what life would have been like during the war, and also to consider that nearly 2.5% of the world’s population lost their lives. It’s hard to grasp.
Do visit the museum if ever you’re near there. www.edencamp.co.uk