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 2 members of the Wehrmacht, 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 4 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 Wehrmacht soldier Heinrich Westermann were under 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 Tandragee, Co. Armagh, 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.

P.O.W.s 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.

German Prisoners of War in Northern Ireland


5th December 2018

Towards the end of the Second World War, there were many German Prisoners of War in Northern Ireland in camps and military hospitals across the country.

Map showing Gilford, Co. Down during the Second World War

Gilford, Co. Down during the Second World War

Co. Down

The Second World War transformed the village of Gilford, Co. Down, seeing Nissen Huts erected in the area providing bases for U.S. Army and Belgian troops.

Map showing Tandragee, Co. Armagh during the Second World War

Tandragee, Co. Armagh during the Second World War

Co. Armagh

World War Two in Tandragee, Co. Armagh brought tanks and Jeeps of the United States Army to the rural town while an RAF Spitfire crashed in the countryside.