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Enemy prisoners at large after Shropshire wartime breakout

By Toby Neal | Market Drayton | Features | Published:

As the European war moved into its final stages, a clutch of airmen being held prisoners-of-war plotted a daring escape.

Adderley Hall, now demolished, was the site of a wartime prison camp.

But these were not RAF men of the type who became famous in big screen versions of their exploits. They were members of the Luftwaffe, the German air force, being held in a prison camp near Market Drayton.

Their escape sparked a big search of the area during the Easter weekend of 1945.

The recapture of the four men, none of whom could speak English, was reported by the Newport and Market Drayton Advertiser of April 6, which was just over a month before the war in Europe ended.

The authorities tried not to make a big deal of escapes from British prisoner-of-war camps, but they were by no means unknown, and only a few weeks before the Shropshire escape there was a mass breakout of Germans from a camp near Bridgend in Wales using the classic means of a tunnel.

A fresco painted by an Italian prisoner of war in a makeshift church at a prisoner of war camp at Lynbrooke Farm, Sheriffhales, seen here in 1972. When this hut was demolished the fresco was saved and taken to the attic of Salters Hall in Newport

One account puts the number who escaped at 84, which would make it the biggest prisoner-of-war escape of the conflict, although others put the number at 70. In any event, all were recaptured, although two managed to make their way to Southampton.

The four who got away from a POW camp at Adderley Hall did so some time between 5pm on the Saturday and 8am the next morning and they were at large for several days. The newspaper report does not reveal the method they used to escape from the camp, possibly because it was not immediately known.

"As soon as the escape was discovered the civil police of both counties (Shropshire and Cheshire) and of Staffordshire were called in to help in the search," it reported.

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Confronted

"The help of members of the Special Constabulary was also secured, and an intensive search was instituted by the military authorities, who made use of specially trained dogs to comb the nearby woods."

The escapees were aged between 21 and 32, and had been wearing battledress dyed brown or green, with the initials "P.W." on the back, although presumably erasing those telltale initials would have been high on their to-do list. Three were believed to have Luftwaffe uniforms or greatcoats with them.

Their names were given as Wagner, Schweiger, Ruhland, and Scholz. Local farmers joined the search for the missing men and on the Tuesday there was a report they had been seen in Longford, but the search of a coppice there and woods at Styche drew a blank.

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How the breakout was reported

The breakthrough was a report of a break-in at a farmhouse, and on the Wednesday afternoon the foursome were recaptured by Market Drayton and Whitchurch police at the farm of a Mr Dutton, of Middle Morrey, Burleydam, which was near the site of the reported break-in.

"The men gave no trouble when confronted by the police and appeared to be well fed, having apparently just had a meal."

They were handed over to the military and returned to the prison camp.

Adderley Hall was demolished in the mid-1950s and was just one of a number of Shropshire's wartime prison camps holding German and Italian prisoners. Among others was a camp at Sheriffhales, which included a chapel with a fresco painted by an Italian prisoner, and even had its own ornate fountain.

Toby Neal

By Toby Neal
Feature Writer

A journalist in Shropshire for 40 years, mainly writes features and columns, especially about aspects of Shropshire history. Lives in Telford and is based at the Ketley headquarters.

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