Postponed during Covid-19 restrictions. Usually at St John’s Centre, in the upstairs meeting room.
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The Merrow History Group meeting in February 2019 took the form of an illustrated talk by local military historian, John Glanfield, on the prisoner of war camp on Merrow Downs. The following is a summary of his talk.
After the Italian defeat in north Africa in 1942, prisoner of war camps were needed in the UK and Workcamp 57 was built in Merrow, near to the Guildford golf clubhouse. It consisted of a series of wooden huts terraced into the slope with prefabricated concrete huts for the guards. The prisoners’ area was surrounded by a barbed wire fence, with watch towers at each corner and entrance was through two gates, only one of which was open at any time. Even today traces of the camp can still be seen including the main entrance road and a levelled area that was used for football matches.
The prisoners were vetted and only compliant ones were sent to Merrow. 880 men were accommodated 40 to a hut, with a coal stove and electricity, and each man had one blanket in summer and two in winter. Hot water was provided once a week together with 4oz. of soap and rations were the same as for our depot service men. Work was allocated on local farms or Clandon saw mill and the pay equivalent to £4.50-£9 per week was paid in camp money which could buy extras.
When Italy left the war the prisoners became “compliant reparation workers” with more freedom. As nearby Tyting House was used as a base for secret agents, no Germans came to the camp until the war ended and the Italians were moved into hostels.
Military establishments could not be photographed however John found alternative ones of interest to illustrate his wider talk. He told us anecdotes of a sergeant helping his work team whilst a prisoner cleaned his rifle, and of the prisoner who missed his transport back to camp and being found still waiting the next morning!
The camp closed in 1948 and subsequently the huts were refurbished into basic housing to rehouse two families each until they could be moved into new houses locally after which the site was cleared in 1959/60.
You will find more on the P.O.W. camp here Merrow P.O.W. Camp