Many residents of Northern Ireland have fond memories of the German Prisoners of War who came to Ulster in the months and years following D-Day in 1944. There were camps throughout the country in Belfast, Holywood, Gilford, Portadown, and Cookstown to name a few.
Between 1944 and 1948, around 13,000 Germans were Prisoners of War in Ulster-based camps. These men from the Wehrmacht, Kriegsmarine, and Luftwaffe wore grey and white armbands. From these, camp authorities could tell the political allegiance and status.
There are stories of daring escapes, prisoners on the run being caught on the railways, others being shot as they made their break. There are stories too of the exchange of goods and gifts between prisoners and locals. For the most part, the relationship between the two groups was amiable.
Restrictions and Fraternisation
On 28th July 1945, the Mid-Ulster Mail carried the following piece on farming in Ulster.
The Daily Mail says that Northern Ireland farmers with hay and flax crops due to be harvested are faced with an acute labour shortage and representations are being made to the Northern Ireland Government for the allocation of labour from German prisoner of war camps in Ulster.
The Government had encouraged farmers to grow hayseed but this was more labour intensive. Along with flax, both were important crops and the use of German detainees was essential in ensuring the harvest came in on time.
By 1945, authorities lifted restrictions and prisoners of war found work labouring on farmland. Locals also made use of the free labour to repair roads and buildings. In one example, German POWs constructed the back 3rd tee at Portadown Golf Club, Co. Armagh. By Christmas 1946, a ban on fraternisation had lifted. German prisoners of war, once seen as the enemy, found themselves invited into the homes of the people of Northern Ireland.