It is not well known that Tadcaster was the site of a Prisoner of War Camp. The camp location was close to Station Road, on the site now occupied by the sports centre.
The need for a large number of Prisoner of War Camps did not arise until after the successful North African campaign in 1942. Prior to this the majority of those captured were either naval or air force personnel. Many of these early camps were adapted existing buildings.
There were four types of POW camps: Command Cages, Interrogation Centres, Transit Camps and Internment Camps. Before being allocated to a camp, each German prisoner was interrogated and classified according to their political views. The classifications were Black, (ardent Nazis), White, (anti-Nazis), and Grey. Many of those classified “Black” were sent to Canada to reduce the risk of a possible attempted rescue by enemy forces.
Each camp was designated a number. Tadcaster was Camp 1015. This high number suggests that this was one of the camps built in, or shortly after 1942. It was categorised as a German Working Party Camp for low-risk prisoners. As a result, the prisoners were given a certain amount of freedom, for instance they were known to have attended St Joseph’s church.
Prisoners were employed on work such as road repairs and agricultural work, for which they received payment of about 5 shillings (25pence) per week. The payment was made in the form of “Camp Money”, which was only valid for use in the camp.
The Nissen huts in the drawing seem to be one of the standard designs. These were buildings 16 feet wide, constructed using curved sheets of corrugated iron. They were 60ft in length, built of ten six-foot long bays, with windows occupying alternate bays. Each hut accommodated about 80 prisoners. Outward opening doors with padlock hasps were located in each gabled wall. Other buildings on site would have contained a reception centre, showers, lavatories, boiler room, kitchen and medical facilities.
The majority of POW camps remained active in their original role until 1948, after which they were handed over to the local authority. Tadcaster became a Lithuanian Hostel for displaced personnel, owned by the West Riding of Yorkshire Agricultural Executive Council based at the Stray Hotel Harrogate. It was run on their behalf by the National Council of YMCA.
This explains the newspaper cutting from the Yorkshire Evening Post in September 1947 of Cossack’s, no doubt from Lithuania, then part of Russia, living at the camp.
“Riders Reunion – Paying their first visit to Tadcaster, eight of the famous Don Cossack riders had the unusual experience of meeting five other Cossack riders from the Tadcaster Displaced Persons’ Camp. While the daring troop were staging their magnificent display, the five former riders stood in a howling wind, wistfully watching and cheering their various feats. Brought over from Italy, they intend, if possible, to join the Cossack troop.
Originally 15 Cossack riders came over to this country in 1939 for a display at Olympia. When war broke out they disbanded. Some joined the Forces, others went abroad, and four stayed in this country to form an E.N.S.A. party and entertain thousands of Servicemen. One of their present magnificent white stallions was in many of the London air raids, and on one occasion led the other horses from a burning stable into the safety of Hyde Park. Four additional Cossack riders recently came over to join this small party from Belgium, and this troop has since travelled thousands miles all over the country. Only about four are able speak English although their commander, Captain George Korolkoff, speaks it fluently. His wife, a London girl, acts as commentator for the troop.”
The hostel closed on the 31st March 1954. At this time the warden was Aylne Whitnall.
It is not known when the camp buildings were demolished but photographs show the huts still standing in 1966.