It’s not often you discover a piece of history on your own doorstep. A few days ago, a friend of mine added me to a group on Facebook campaigning to stop a former World War II prisoner of war camp being demolished and replaced with new houses. I’d never heard of the camp and certainly had no idea it still existed, hidden way in a quiet corner of the Essex countryside. With the possibility that it might not be there for much longer I went to investigate today, having established that a large portion of the camp is visible from the road and footpaths.
POW Camp 116, as it was designated, was built at Hatfield Heath in 1941 and housed several hundred Italian, Austrian and Germans prisoners of war captured during various battles in Europe and Africa. Apparently, conditions were quite civilised, and the inmates were sent out onto local farms to work.
Today the many huts are in an advanced state of dereliction, although I’m sure a good number of them could be saved for future generations if there was a desire to do so. The site is dominated by a large red brick water tower (which still looks quite robust) but elsewhere nature is gradually overtaking the less substantial structures. Despite the ubiquitous state of decay, I was struck by the effort that was evidently put into building some of the huts. While many are simple wooden structures, a number are built from terracotta bricks, creating artistic patterns in places – a nice touch on a development undoubtedly built in a hurry.
Having visited Camp 116 I can see why there’s such strength of feeling about the potential demolition of this amazing historic site. The public consultation process regarding the planning application closes today so as soon as I got home I logged onto the local council’s website to register my objection. Who knows if my solo voice will make a difference, but it can’t do any harm and it may just help ensure future generations get to visit and learn about this hidden piece of history.
12 April 2018