German Prisoners of War on the run in Gilford, Tandragee, and Poyntzpass

On 14th January 1945, 4 German Prisoners of War staged an escape from the Elmfield Camp in Gilford, Co. Down. Their freedom was short-lived.

On 20th January 1945, the Portadown News reported on the escape of 4 German Prisoners of War from the Elmfield Camp at Gilford, Co. Down. The two members of the German infantry, a Fallschirmjäger, and Luftwaffe airman staged their breakout only 48 hours after arriving at the camp.

The bid for escape took place on Sunday 14th January 1945. The four prisoners, aged between 20 and 25 years old, used a contractor’s plank to lift the bottom strand of a barbed-wire fence. They then crawled beneath it to short-lived freedom. Authorities noticed their absence at the 0900hrs roll call and an intensive manhunt began. Members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the Ulster Special Constabulary, and the Military Police began the search.

By that evening, Luftwaffe airman Martin Wolff, and Heer soldier Heinrich Westermann were under the guard of members of the R.U.C. at Tandragee, Co. Armagh. Michael Callan, a farmer and retired member of the Royal Irish Constabulary from Cordrain near the town, spoke to the Portadown News:

Mr. Callan said about seven p.m. on Sunday, the two prisoners entered his home, and speaking in broken English, gave away their identity. Mr. Callan made them tea, and as they were partaking of the meal at the kitchen table, he observed one of the men, whom he described as “innocent-looking lads”, studying a small map.

Mr. Callan quietly locked all the doors and windows, and slipping out unobserved, contacted a neighbour, who in turn informed the Tandragee police. Mr. Callan returned to the house and engaged the Germans in conversation until the arrival of the R.U.C. One of the prisoners told Mr. Callan that he had an uncle residing in Dublin.

Meanwhile, the search continued for Horst Zimmerman and Ferdinand Kankowski.

Prisoners in Poyntzpass

Early on Monday 15th January 1945, Michael Mackle, a railway signalman at Poyntzpass, Co. Armagh heard heavy footsteps on the road. On looking out of his cabin, he saw the two escaped Prisoners of War approaching the level crossing. Mackle shouted, and the prisoners turned, running back towards Co. Down.

About a mile from Poyntzpass, Co. Armagh, farmer James Boyd found a well-made straw bed in his barn and supposed the Prisoners of War to have spent the night there. Zimmerman and Kankowski’s bid for freedom came to an end with their recapture on Tuesday 16th January 1945.

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