Brownstown Prisoner of War Camp, Portadown, Co. Armagh

Following the Second World War, German former prisoners of war were held at a satellite camp where the Brownstown Estate now stands in Portadown, Co. Armagh.

Following V.E. Day, there was a prisoner of war camp established at Brownstown, Portadown, Co. Armagh. Along with the camps at Killicomaine and Carrickblacker, this was likely a satellite camp to Elmfield, Gilford, Co. Down. Local anecdotes suggest that the Germans were held here for interrogation purposes. Proximity to the railway line in the town would have made the site ideal for transporting prisoners.

This prisoner of war camp took over buildings of an old sports complex with a pavilion on a site known locally as “The Brick Field”. The site covered a fairly large area running from what is now Fitzroy Street to the Brownstown Road.

The camp came under the command of “Bluecaps” from No. 35 Company, The Pioneer Corps who were based in the town at St. Patrick’s Hall, Thomas Street. The nickname came from the dark blue berets worn as part of the uniform. Their primary role was to police detachments of German former prisoners of war. The status of prisoners changed following the German surrender. Under the Geneva Convention, prisoners of war could not be used to carry out labour tasks assigned by local government. However, former prisoners of war were technically free men, detained under military law awaiting repatriation. Therefore, these German men could carry out work under supervision of the “Bluecaps”. Examples of such work projects include parts of Portadown Golf Club and “Dunkirk Road” in Waringstown, Co. Down.

At Brownstown, local children and teenagers would speak to the prisoners and walk right up to the wire fence surrounding the camp. Some would bring old pieces of wood from which the German former prisoners of war would carve and construct chess pieces and toys.

Soldiers had the power to enforce military discipline ensuring there were no disturbances between the local population and the former prisoners of war. These “Bluecaps” were different to those from the Corps of Military Police. Some members of The Pioneer Corps “Bluecaps” were Polish and some were initially German, having escaped the Third Reich before hostilities began. Those who wanted to fight against Hitler could only enlist in The Pioneer Corps.

Surrender and Demob

Many of the “Bluecaps” were Welsh and following the war, some remained in Portadown where job opportunities were more plentiful than in rural Wales. There were career opportunities with the Great Northern Railway, in local mills, and the Metal Box Company factory on the Brownstown Road – not far from the camp. Many of the Welsh soldiers had also grown fond of the locals and formed romantic attachments during their time in Co. Armagh. During the 1960s, names such as Davies, Jones, Cartwright, Morgan, and Poole became more common in local schools – the children of Welsh soldiers who remained in the town.

Camp Auction in 1947

At 1100hrs on 16th April 1947, a public auction took place at the Brownstown Camp offering the public the chance to purchase the following from the Ministry of Finance. R. Chapman and Co. Auctioneers and Valuers of Portadown conducted the sale. Most standard Nissan huts were 36ft x 16ft. Some were lined and painted inside.

Item Quantity
Standard Nissen Huts 80
750 Gallon Water Cistern with Brick Tank Tower 1
Flush Lavatories and Cisterns 28
Stoves 9
Ablution Benches 17
Open Asbestos and Corrugated Iron Sheds
Hot Water Unit with Large Galvanised Cylinder 1

These huts are in good order and have been well maintained. Purchasers will be required to remove all lots within three weeks from date of sale, but will not be required to remove or take up concrete foundations. This camp is situated about 10 minutes’ walk from the centre of Portadown and within a short distance of the G.N.R. Goods Depot.

Nothing remains above ground of the prisoner of war camp at Brownstown, however remnants exist beneath the houses on Fitzroy Street. These brick houses, built in 1952, were known as “Coronation Houses” and over the next ten years, they gradually replaced the prefabs constructed on the camp site following the Second World War. In the 1960s, Christopher John Davies, a Welshman who had served with the “Bluecaps” at the prisoner of war camp lived at No. 39 Fitzroy Street (later renumbered to No. 65). When putting in a garden, he broke spades and garden forks on what would have been the concrete floors of the changing rooms and ablutions blocks of the old sports complex.

Thanks to Glyn Davies, son of Lance Corporal John Christopher Davies for his invaluable information relating to the Brownstown Prisoner of War Camp.

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