World War Two Reception Camps for Indian POWs
In late 1944, as Allied forces gradually re-took territory from German control in Europe, increasing numbers of prisoners of war were liberated. These POWs needed to be organised and assessed before either being sent back to service or returned home. The India Office Records holds several files on this process for Indian POWs, which gives an insight into the challenges of such a complex task.
By the late summer of 1944, it was estimated that around 12,000 Indian POWs, together with Indian seamen and civilian internees would come into Allied hands. Lieutenant General Molesworth, at the India Office in London, was anxious that sufficient funds be provided for rehabilitation and recreation for the POWs at the camps before their onward transit to India. In a memo to his colleagues he stated: 'I think you will agree that these men may be kept for some time in this country and after their experiences we should do all we can to make their stay a happy one and restore their morale before they embark for India'.
By November, the Prisoner of War Organisation was in full operation, with camps at the following locations:
• Near Thetford, Norfolk: Headquarters at Shadwell Court; Reception Centre at Southwood; and camps at Snareshill and Riddlesmere.
• Near Brandon, Norfolk: Rest camp at Lower Didlington, and Indian hospitals at Weeting Hall and Upper Didlington.
• Near Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk: a rest camp at Fornham.
• Near Much Hadham, Herts: a rest camp at Wynches
• London: a leave camp at Dean Lodge, Roehampton.
The files do not contain lists of names of the Indian POWs who passed through the camps, but they contain copies of a ‘War Diary or Intelligence Summary’ which gives fascinating details on how they spent their time.
Entertainments were arranged, such as regular screenings of films (both Indian and English) in the Public Cinema Hall in Thetford, and lectures at the India Forces Club. Volunteers helped at local farms picking potatoes and peas, and there were visits to local fairs and industries, such as a visit to the Vauxhall motor works at Luton and to the Suffolk Cattle Show at Ipswich. Some camps held classes in arts and crafts, with lessons on carpentry, leatherwork and knitting. One camp was treated to a variety show of Russian dancers, a conjurer and jugglers. Sport was always popular, with a Regimental tournament held in August 1945, with football, volleyball, basketball, tug of war, Kabaddi, wrestling, long and high jumps and races. On 16 June 1945 the rest camp at Didlington received a visit from the King and Queen who enjoyed a parade of 4,000 POWs.
Queen Mary's gift of ping-pong, cards, darts and other games to Indian POWs at Thetford - British Newspaper Archive Lynn Advertiser 3 July 1945
Leave parties were organised to London for sight-seeing. One group visited Tottenham Hotspur Football Ground to watch a match, and there was a visit to a garden party at Buckingham Palace. A group of Sikh officers and men attended a celebration in honour of Shri Guru Nanak Dev Ji at a Sikh temple in London, and a small party of Indian officers and VCOs attended the opening of the Islamic Cultural Centre by the Egyptian Ambassador at Regent’s Park on 21 November 1944.
Visit of General Sir A G O Mayne to Fornham Park April 1945 - British Newspaper Archive Bury Free Press 27 April 1945
India Office Records
War diaries: Indian POW reception headquarters, Part 1, 1944-1945, shelfmark: IOR/L/WS/1/704.
War diaries: Indian POW reception headquarters, Part 2, 1944-1945, shelfmark: IOR/L/WS/1/705.
Indian POWs' reception headquarters: personnel and administration, Part 1, 1944-1947, shelfmark: IOR/L/WS/1/709.
Indian POWs' reception headquarters: personnel and administration, Part 2, 1944-1947, shelfmark: IOR/L/WS/1/710.
Prisoners of War: India POW Reception HQ - liaison letters, 1944, shelfmark: IOR/L/WS/1/1396.
Weekly returns of patients accommodated in Reception Stations, 1945, shelfmark: IOR/L/WS/2/27.
Indian prisoners of war - reception camps, 1944, shelfmark: IOR/L/WS/2/43