Amisfield and MI6

In his book ‘Morningside Mata Haris’, Douglas MacLeod claims that Amisfield was used by MI6 as a recruiting base for spies in the coming Cold War against Communist Russia. He believes that MI6 was responsible for bringing captured remnants of the largely Ukrainian SS Galizien Division to Amisfield so that they could be kept under surveillance and suitable ones later employed as spies. MacLeod believes only seven or eight were finally chosen, were trained near Fort William and parachuted into the Ukraine where they were immediately picked up by the Russians having been tipped off by Kim Philby.

The Ukrainians had an orchestra at Amisfield

Amisfield PoW camp 16A [243] about 1947.

This road still exists and runs directly to Haddington Golf Club Clubhouse.

Amisfield PoW camp 16A, Haddington

Amisfield PoW camp underwent three changes of numerical designation during its lifetime as a Prisoner of War camp from 1944 to 1949. It was designated No. 188, then 16A (a satellite of Gosford PoW camp 16) and ultimately No. 243. The camp was constructed on the former estate of Francis, 7th Earl of Wemyss, and lay on either side of the former driveway which had led to Amisfield House. It was built to house 1,000 prisoners of war and acted both as an overflow camp for Gosford and as a transit camp when prisoners were being processed for release or to go on working parties.

A plan of Amisfield PoW camp 16A

[courtesy of Haddington Golf Club]

A detail from the above showing the position of the theatre, dining huts and (in brown) accommodation.

Eye-witness - Harry Dittrich

Harry Dittrich spent two years in Amisfield and his account (in the section on Gosford PoW camp) of his subsequent return to Gosford indicated that the camp regime at Amisfield was good and fairly relaxed. He described life at Amisfield thus:

“After a few weeks [at Gosford] all the ‘foreigners’ were transported to PoW camp 16A in Haddington. I spent two years there. We had to work on farms but it was a nice camp, very tidy and run by ourselves. We had a theatre and a good band, plays were written and concerts laid on frequently. Many of the Austrians came from Vienna. Music and song were in their blood and what they had to offer was really outstanding. I had a lot of friends among them.

During those two years I had the first opportunities of closer contact with the local population and getting a picture of life in Scotland. I was very impressed by what I saw. t was such a peaceful and friendly land, entirely different from what I had known on the continent. Of course, I had difficulty with the language at first but I soon started to pick up a few words here and there.

After two years in Haddington the camp was closed. We were sent back to the main camp in Gosford...”

View looking down the main road through the camp

Inspection by the I.R.C. - life in Amisfield

When Major Bieri, representing the International Committee of the Red Cross, visited the camp (243) on the eighth of February, 1946, the camp contained 792 PoWs with only one officer (Stabspberfw Otto Hosermand (sic)) among them. Oberwm Franz Clemens was his assistant. Of the PoWs in the camp 610 came from the Army, fifty-two from the Navy, 123 from the Luftwaffe, four were ‘OT’ and three were civilians. As for their country of origin, 381 were German, 409 were Czech and Sudeten and two were Austrian.  The British commanding officer was Major P. Woodnott.

Just prior to the inspection some 200 Austrians had been transferred to other camps and replaced by others from Gosford. In political terms the PoWs were described in the nomenclature of the time as ‘Nearly White‘. This meant that they were not seen as particularly indoctrinated by Nazi ideology. Two other categories existed, ‘Grey’ and ‘Black‘ and the latter was usually reserved for the SS. No complaints were made about the food which is not surprising as PoWs were supposed to be fed to the same standard as British soldiers and they were fed better than civilians.    

The menu on the day of inspection was as follows:

Breakfast:    bread, marmalade and tea;

Dinner:    bread, sausage , margarine and tea;

Supper:    a small sausage, porridge, vegetables, potatoes and tea .    

The health of the prisoners was described as ‘Good‘ but fifty per cent of the PoWs wore very dilapidated uniforms. 405 were actually out of the camp working on farms, saw-mills, etc..  Some of the PoWs were being billeted in the surrounding area if their work took them too far away from Amisfield for daily transport to be a realistic option.   

The camp didn’t possess any permanently based chaplain. That was a task undertaken by someone from Gosford. Apparently there were Protestant services every Sunday with an average attendance of thirty and Roman Catholic services for 100 to 130. One of the contributors to the camp newsletter, ‘Der Spatz’, reported rather prissily in its edition no. 9 of October 1946, that, “On one of the recent Sundays we were given the opportunity to attend church services in the RC and protestant churches of Haddington. In both these denominations participation was extraordinarily keen. For most of the camp inmates it was the first opportunity to [attend] a civilian service in this country. We hope the reason for attendance was not only curiosity and the need for a change.”     The camp had its own newspaper, issued on a monthly basis with around ten pages of typed and roneo-copied foolscap pages. It was initially called ‘Der Aufbau’ (The Construction) but later called ‘Der Spatz’ (The Sparrow).

A football pitch was available and a library of around 300 books helped PoWs while away the hours in either amusement or education. There was a good following for English classes (some 181 attended), while others attended German class (sixty-five), French class (31), mathematics (31) and a stenography class (33). The director of studies was Gefreiter Karl Stochl.

Music, as Harry Dittrich confirmed above,  played a significant role in the camp’s life. An orchestra of eight members had quite a collection of instruments to play. It included: a piano, cello, double-bass, trumpet, two violins, two saxophones, a clarinet, banjo, guitar, drum, accordion and zither. Fifteen PoWs provided a theatre group but the camp didn’t have a choir at this time. Films were a regular amusement with newsreels predominating but also showing cultural films and ‘ German film’. Interestingly, the mail, something PoWs understandably yearn for, was coming and going quite successfully and the ICR report stressed that ‘Correspondence with the Russian zone was permitted’.

All in all the Inspector found Amisfield to be  “A very good camp” and the only request from the Camp Leader was for more books.

A sunny day in Amisfield: two PoWs sitting by their vegetable patch outside their Nissen hut accommodation.

A PoW-built church inside a Nissen hut at Amisfield

PoWs worked on East Lothian farms

Prisoners of War were sent out to work on a number of farms and workplaces where labour was in short supply. Many of them had very happy memories of working on the farms not least because of the human contact, the greater sense of freedom and the food. Colloquial evidence has it that the Germans were very good workers and we know they were employed as far off as Fala Mains Farm.

David Scott, son of Tom Scott, the farmer at Howden, remembers that German PoWs were normally given tea and scones during their work breaks but he also remembered that this didn’t always apply. On one occasion the Camp CO at Amisfield phoned David’s father to say that the group of PoWs due to work on the farm that day were not to be given any such ‘luxuries’. Unusually, when these four men arrived they were escorted by an armed soldier and were marched, parade-ground fashion, from the lorry to the farm and put to work. These men, apparently, were still regarded as convinced Nazis sure that Hitler would still win the war. In 1947 Guenter Ruust, a former PoW in Amisfield camp, wrote from No 63 PoW camp, Balhary Estate, Alyth, Perthshire, to Tom at Howden farm. He had clearly been well treated at Howden and was finding life tough and lonely during the severe winter of 1947. He wrote:

'29th January 1947

Dear Tom,

Many greetings to you and your whole family from Guenter. You will ask who is writing such words to me. Well if you will remember yourself back to the autumn of 1945 you will still know six lads who were working on your farm at that time. One of them is I. I am alone here. Where the others are I don't know. I do the same job on farms here as I did on yours. How are your family? I hope everything will be alright. I do often remember your kindness to us. So we are still obliged to us [sic] in many things….Will you please tell Alex my best wishes and greetings. I am sorry for missing his address. He may write to me if he like. Will in expecting an answer from you.

With kindest regards,

your Guenther."

Guenter, whose command of English was still growing, wrote again on the 15th March 1947, possibly in thanks for some cash Tom Scott had sent him. Life was hard for Guenter in the severe weather conditions. He wrote:

'29th Marz 1947

Dear Tom,

After a long time now I am able to thank you very much for your lines and that enclose. It is because we don't get so much postage letters. I have been glad to hear that you re still alright and doing well. Your enclose came just in time because we are out of work already over five weeks. We are all snow bound. It is a very bad time for us as we have no pay, there fore we cannot buy things wich we want and food supply is bad too. We are all wishing that this winter shall soon be off. It is making trouble for all of us. Some squads are casting snow ten and more feet high. Your little son David, I''m wishing my best luck for being well in future. Besides some about Alex. It seems to me he has not got my letter wich I wrote to him about four weeks ago. Did you meet him some day? I hope it isn't something wrong with him. Would you mind giving me a reply? I hope you understand my bad English in spelling and writing. All my best wishes to you and your father's family.

With kindest regards,

your Guenther."

[Thanks to David Scott for permission to use these two letters]

The farmer, Mr Dingwall, of Dovecot Market Gardens, Haddington, with two Land Girls and two German PoWs

In this photograph a party of PoWs can be seen manhandling one of the anti-tank blocks to the edge of a large hole into which it would be tipped. A number of such blocks lie buried underground along one of the fairways of Gullane golf course and, no doubt, they are not alone. The photograph below shows a row of such blocks which still adorn the edge of the same course .

Disaster in a minefield.

On one occasion on 27th April, 1945, German PoWs employed on this kind of coastal clear up strayed into a minefield near Dunbar. Two of the mines exploded killing three of the PoWs and injuring nine. Lieutenant William S. Borthwick and Sergeant Harold D. Craik, two members of No 11 Bomb Disposal Company, R.E., based in Aberdeen but stationed in Dunbar, had to sweep a path to the injured and dead and bring them out. For this act of bravery, Borthwick was awarded the George medal and Craik the B.E.M.

PoW reunion

Some PoWs, like former paratrooper Gunter Schumacher, have returned to Amisfield to see again the site of their incarceration.  Gunter, who originally came from Rostock, had been sent during the war to a PoW camp in Essex where he met his future wife and settled. They visited in September 1998 as he was keen for his wife to see the spot where he’d been imprisoned after his capture on the Dutch border. His experiences in Amisfield were much better than those he’d undergone in a camp in  Belgium and like many others, he felt freer and happier. As he said, “You have to live life as it is.” He had been sent out to work on the farms in East Lothian. One other reason for returning was to see Edinburgh to satisfy his curiosity since he’d never been able to see it as a prisoner.

When he arrived at the camp Gunter was given the surprise of meeting another former PoW. Rudi Franzel who like Gunter had remained in the UK after the war, was able to swap experiences of his time in Amisfield with him. The two hadn’t met in the camp but, like all those who share an experience, they quickly developed a rapport.

Two former Prisoners of War at Amisfield PoW camp meet after fifty-two years.

Rudi (centre) and Gunter (right) being interviewed by David Haire on the site of Amisfield PoW camp in September 1998

Rudi Franzel and Gunter Schumacher in front of Amisfield Gates   

Amisfield camp after the war: the Ukrainians

For a while after the war Amisfield camp, now numbered 243, became the home of over 400 Ukrainian former PoWs. By this time the physical condition of the camp buildings had deteriorated as maintenance by the War Office had been neglected. A report by the International Red Cross detailing findings after a visit in September 1948, found that the sanitary arrangements, for example, ‘...were spotlessly clean, but of the most primitive order. It is apparently impossible to obtain modern installation as this hostel will probably be abandoned within the next six months.’ The huts themselves were ‘ urgent need of a new coat of paint. The men have four blankets but no pillow-slips, no sheets, no floor mats, no wardrobes, no curtains and live, in fact, in the same conditions as PoWs.’

The Ukrainians, however, weren’t unhappy. They’d been ‘civilianised’ in the parlance of the day and were merely awaiting the day when they could leave and re-enter society in whichever country that might be. They had been given civilian clothing and were willing to pay £1 10 shillings [£1 50p] for their weekly accommodation and food. The kitchens were described as good and the Ukrainians were ‘...satisfied...’ with the food. The minimum wage was £4. 10sh [£4 50 pence] and was often earned in the fields on the farms. All were covered by the new National Health Insurance scheme and it was proposed by the Ukrainian Welfare Committee which ran the internal affairs of the camp, that English lessons would begin in the winter months. The men were eager for the services of a Greek Orthodox priest but were free to attend local churches.

Three Ukrainian ex-PoWs at Amisfield camp 243

Amisfield Camp before the PoWs

Cannon W.P. Shannon, rector of Holy Trinity in Haddington wrote the following about his time as Chaplain to the troops who occupied Amisfield camp before the PoWs arrived. He wrote:

“I had quite a bit to do with the military occupation of the area during the war. I was the official Chaplain to the C. of E. troops and as Amisfield Camp was occupied by British troops [for a long time], I had a lot of contact with them.  I think the first lot to come were the Sherwood Foresters - shortly after Dunkirk [perhaps June/July 1940] - and they were a pretty dis-spirited lot considering what they had come through. We then had a long occupation by the Polish Army and they [made] quite an impression on the town and district - especially [on] the ladies! I well remember the scenes when they finally marched away and the street was lined with weeping women!! They left a considerable legacy behind them...

Then, in preparation for D Day we had a contingent of the R.E.M.E. and R.A.S.C. stationed in the camp getting vehicles ready. They were a good bunch and I made several lasting friendships. Our rectory was regarded as ‘Open House’ and the one thing they missed most was a hot bath. So, any man who wanted to came - provided he brought his own soap and towel - and my wife always gave them coffee afterwards. ...Trinity Hall was given over as a Church of Scotland canteen and my wife was much involved in that, being second in command to the Parish Minister’s wife who ruled the place with a rod of iron!”

This model of a British aeroplane was made by a PoW in Amisfield. It could represent an Anson and was one way prisoners had to while away the hours. Such models were often sold or given to local children.

Courtesy of David Scott, formerly of Howden Farm

After the war PoWs were employed on what one might term reconstruction and restoration details. In East Lothian many were employed on detachments set the task of restoring the coast to pre-war normality . One task was to remove or bury the huge anti-tank blocks, a task which was never completed as many of them still lie along the county’s coast.