“The war was such an exciting time for me as a young girl” Ena Gowland recounts her childhood memories from the Second World War living at Copley Bent near Butterknowle, County Durham

Willi Maass German POW 1946

Willi was our third POW, the first 2, one was an Italian, did not suit and when Willi arrived he was over 6feet in height and same build as dad, about the same age, dad being 39.  He was dependable, humourous and cooperative.

The first day he arrived, a Monday, when mam and dad had to go to Darlington on business, I was to invite him in to the farm house kitchen and make him tea and offer him a seat at the table.  He opened a box of sandwiches, the likes I’d never seen before – 2 slices of dark grey bread, half an inch thick.  I felt very sorry for him.  I was 14 years old and had just left school to work on our farm and help in the dairy and housework.  All through the war we had Land Girls[1] who lived in – Lena Jones from Tyneside a beautiful, ginger haired glamourous girl then came Doris Laidlaw another beauty.  On reflection, I think dad was very pleased to get somebody strong.

At the time, we were milking 18 dairy cows and after breakfast we had a delivery round in Butterknowle by horse and milk trap.  The milk was in 10 gallon churns [2] and decanted into carrying cans, 2 gallons with 1 pint and ½pint ladles.  The round took 3 hours, so Willi would arrive at 9am on the farm and set to work by himself until dad got back by 11.30am.  Willi liked working with horses and always saw to their needs before coming in for his meal.  One day after lunch he took Prince, yoked in the coop cart, loaded with oats down to the mill in the Slack.  We fed rolled oats to the cattle.  He was very late returning – the mill had broken down and Willi repaired it, so got the job done.  He worked at a mill in Germany.

He had a wife and 2 children.  He talked of missing them very much.  I suppose sitting at our kitchen table with mam, dad, and 5 children, he was very homesick.  After his meal, dad always had a smoke.  The first time he offered Willi a Woodbine, he broke it in half and put one part in his little tin.  Dad asked, “Why did you do that?”

Willi explained that he would enjoy it after supper.  Dad gave him another cigarette and said, “Don’t do that, enjoy it now.”  He never broke one again at the table.

I never realised how much we all affected him, so when at Christmas he asked what size shoe mam, dad and Marjorie took and was explaining how they made slippers with pom-poms, and what he had in mind, I remember dad saying, “No pom-poms”.

Willi came in with brown paper parcels, 7 in all, wrapped in string and all named.  For me a handbag, made from uniforms with his name and number printed inside.  For Jean a platform you held in your hand and jiggled it, it had chicks on strings that picked at corn.  For Eric, a grey horse that looked like our Prince yoked in a coop cart.  For James a wooden bull nosed German car.  For Marjorie, mam and dad a pair of slippers each.  Dads had the largest pom-poms, we all saw the joke and laughed and laughed.  Alas, now in 2020, the only present surviving is my handbag.  I’ve used it over the years mostly to keep hair rollers in – how apt as that first day when Willi came in the kitchen and saw 2 infants on the hearth rug playing, me in curlers under a turban and in broken English asked if these infants were mine.  At 14 and very shy, I shook my head and said, “No, brother and sister.”  He understood straight away.

While Eric and I reminisce, I’ve only just lately learnt about his special relationship with Willi.  Willi asked Eric, aged 8, if he saw any cigarette ends, would he put them in a match box which he gave him.  And later, when Willi left us, mam and dad went to Wolsingham Show with Eric and they met Willi.  He was so pleased to see them, he picked Eric up and danced him around with pleasure.

In the 1940’s we went from all jobs done by horses and manual labour to buying a tractor[2], installing milking machines, which meant every acre was productive.  The crops we grew fed the stock, milking cows and followers, hens for egg production, turkeys for Christmas so by 1946 when Willi came, he knew what the important jobs were.  He did not need to be supervised all the time.  He mucked out the byres, bedded them down with clean straw, fed and watered the stock, chopped the turnips, cut the hay each day with a great hay knife in the barn.  Still a lot of heavy work which was carried out 365 days a year.  Looking back, that is what farming is and we were glad to do it, for our country that had gone through a terrible time.

Ena with her handbag from Willi Maass


Ena Gowland, Spring Gardens, West Auckland, 08.05.2020

Ena was born in 1932, the oldest child of Edward “Ted” and Doris Stephenson and sister to Marjorie, Eric, Jean, James and David.[3] The family farmed Low Westgarth Farm, Copley Bent, Butterknowle between 1937 and 1954, 52 acres largely dairy farm, before moving to Hunwick Hall Farm, Hunwick.  In 1954, Ena married Douglas Gowland.[4]  POW Willi Maass was an internee at Harperley POW Camp near Fir Tree.

We don’t know what happened to Willi Maass.  We presume that he returned to his family in Germany.


The authorities planned a new camp to house POWs and this was sited some distance to the north of the WW1 Hamsterley POW camp, on the north side of the River Wear, just off the Crook to Wolsingham road.   It was known as Camp No.93, Harperley and in 1943, Italian POWs commenced building work.  In September 1943, following the surrender of Italy, repatriation of its servicemen took place and the work was carried on by German POWs.  Prior to June 1944 and the invasion of Normandy, there were few German POWs in Britain but by the end of the year there were some 144,450 in the Britain.  This figure increased to 368,300 by the end of 1946.  At its peak, there were 3.5 million Germans held in different countries.  There were 390 POW camps and about 1,500 satellites – transit camps, working camps (farming, forestry, dam, road construction) hospitals and hostels.  In the North East, the major camps were:

  • No. 18 – Haltwhistle (Featherstone Park) SS officers were held here.
  • No. 69 – Darras Hall, Ponteland
  • No. 93 – Harperley, Crook
  • No. 105 – Wooler
  • No. 139 – Wolviston Hall
  • No. 667 – Low Byrness, Redesdale
  • Bishop Auckland Hospital has a POW wing.

Those entering Britain were screened by the POW Interrogation Section and “politically graded”:

  • White – free from Nazi domination
  • Grey
  • Black – Nazis

POW Camp 93: Harperley Camp   

This was a low security facility and initially, there were 54 buildings.  The POW compound consisted of an office, store room, cookhouse, barber’s shop, camp reception station, 18 blocks for sleeping quarters, 2 dining huts and a canteen, theatre, showers, bath & drying room, ablutions, church and a carpenter’s workshop.  The British Lines held the administration and maintenance buildings, detention cells, officers’ mess, sleeping quarters etc.

The main camp held about 1000 POWs and the satellite and hostels held about another 1000 at Bedburn (150), Langton Grange (150), Windlestone Hall (100), Mt. Oswald (100), Usworth (100), Lanchester (100), Consett (100), Hamsterley Hall (100), High Spen (100) and Bishop Auckland Hospital (varied)

Lt. Col. Stobart was the Commandant, the Medical Officer was Dr. Alfred Charlton and the interpreters were Staff Sergeants Tony Sondheim and John Hoffer assisted by 2 reliable German POW Clerks, one being Richard Balmer.

From October 1946, the British government actively recruited workers from Germany to help with the task of reconstruction.  By the end of 1947, the number of former German POWs had fallen to about 180,000 as they were repatriated and by the second quarter of 1948, only about 34,000 were left in Britain.  In March 1948, they had to decide whether or not to return to Germany and 25,252 former German POWs elected to stay in Britain.  Their reasons would be very personal, perhaps they had married a British girl, there were about 800 marriages, or perhaps there were no prospects for them in Germany.  Major cities such as Hamburg and Dresden had been “flattened” by Bomber Command with heavy loss of life thus they may not have known if their family was alive.  Perhaps, their part of Germany was under Soviet control and they did not want to be a part of that society.  Perhaps they had no good reason to return to Germany.


[1] The Women’s Land Army established 1939 reached its peak in 1944, 80,000 members

[2] 1940 Fordson Major blue

[3] England & Wales Birth Index 1916-2007 Vol.10 p.54 1932Q3 Darlington

[4] England & Wales Marriage Index Vol.1a p.1943 1954Q1 Durham South Western