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Yorkshire Eden Camp, Malton

This is a fascinating place to visit.

On the outskirts of Malton, this was originally one of about 1500 Prisoner of War Camp built to accommodate Italian and German POWs between October 1939 and July 1948. The first prisoners were 250 Italians who arrived in Malton by train and were marched to the site. They were initially housed in bell tents and helped to build a more permanent camp which was occupied by Italian and later German prisoners. The completed camp covered 8 acres and had 45 huts. Eighteen of the huts were barrack huts housing 64 prisoners in each in bunk beds. Other huts included hospital, laundry, ablutions, mess hut, shop and theatre. There were also huts for the admin and guard’s quarters. The Regimental Police were responsible for the security of the camp and prisoners as well as providing escorts with the guards for POWs who were contracted to work for local farmers.

The camp was surrounded by barbed wire fencing strung between wooden posts, with an overhang at the top. There were wooden guard towers at intervals. There was a smaller barb wire fence inside the perimeter which was a ’no go’ area.

After the war, it became a War Agricultural Holiday Camp for students and people from across the UK and Europe, who used if for working holidays. It was later used as a warehouse for a local seed merchant before being left derelict.

The camp reopened in 1987 as the world’s first Modern History Theme museum.


The 29 huts and three mess tents give visitors the chance to experience the sights, sounds and smells of life at home and at war. The huts have been restored and now house a series of displays illustrating different aspects of WW2, beginning with the rise of the Nazi party to VJ day.

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There are information panels, posters, artefacts, appropriate sounds and smells as well as reconstructions of scenes showing what life was like. Visitors can experience the cramped conditions of life in a German U boat, admire the bravery and courage of British prisoners digging tunnels to escape from camps in Germany, and see just how meagre the food ration was. One hut is set up as it would have been when the prisoners of war were based here. Another hut has been set up with a display about WW1 and others cover later conflicts including the Korean War, Suez, the Falklands and Kosova. There is also a 1946 prefab complete with fitted kitchen and bathroom which must have felt like real luxury to the families living in it.


There are military vehicles around the site, as well as examples of air raid shelters and a doodle bug.

There really is something for everyone, including a children’s play area. Allow plenty of time for a visit. There is a lot to take in. This is a place that deserves many visits - a ‘preliminary’ visit to get a general over view, followed by further visits to concentrate on the huts that really interest you. To read and take in all the information in a hut could easily take a couple of hours.


Virtual tour


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Around the site...

You can’t miss Eden Camp with its display of army vehicles and fighter planes clearly visible from the road.

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As well as exhibits in the different huts, there are examples of army vehicles, tanks and guns on display around the site .

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There is also a Doodlebug V1 rocket or Buzz bomb, which really is massive and must have been a terrifying sight.


The petrol burning engine produced a jet of flaming exhaust gas from the tail pipe and had a very distinctive throbbing noise. It was either launched from fixed ramps across the channel or from modified bomber aircraft. It was guided by an automatic pilot. The fuel cut off at a predetermined range, the noise stopped and the doodlebug plummeted to earth causing untold damage. 6725 were launched and a third fell on London, killing over 6000 people and injuring nearly 18,000.

Anti aircraft guns succeeded in shooting down 1859 between June 1944 and March 1945. Raf fighter planes succeeded in downing another 1771. Pilots had to fire at 180m and had to fly through the centre of the fireball. Another trick was to fly alongside and use their wing tip to nudge the doodlebug. This upset its guidance system and sent it crashing to earth.

There are examples of bomb cases around the site and the RAF Bomb Disposal Memorial, a reminder of how dangerous this job was.

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There are examples of the different air raid shelters in use to protect the civilian population. Trench shelters were dug in parks, brick and concrete shelters in the streets and everyone had a gas mask.



Families with their own garden had an Anderson Shelter. These cost £7, although if you earned less than £5 a week, one was provided free. This was a small tunnel affair made of corrugated iron and covered with soil. This helped improve shock resistance as well providing extra space to grow vegetables.



In densely populated cities where families didn’t have a garden, Morrison Shelters were provided. This was a low steel cage that could be used in the home and gave more protection. than hiding under the stairs.

There is also an example of an ARP Fire watch shelter. This came from a chemical factory near Edinburgh, and was on the roof of a three story building. Employees were rostered to carry out fire watching duties overnight and at weekends as well as their normal duties. They served along side the Auxiliary Fire Service and had to watch out for incendiary bombs being dropped and report them to the nearest ARP/Fire Control HQ, using telephone.
The shelter gave protection against the elements but more important would not be damaged by bombs falling on it.


The watchers received a “Purple” telephoned warning before the air raid siren sounded. Most incendiary bombs dropped by the Germans would cause serious fires if left unchecked. The watchers might tackle small fires themselves, but their main job was to ensure the Fire Brigade could gain access into buildings where incendiaries had smashed or burnt their way into.


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The huts

Each of the huts covers a different aspect of the war and there is a one way circuit through them. Photography inside the huts is difficult for many reasons - poor lighting, people getting in the way, inability to stand far enough back to get a photo, and many scenes are set behind glass with bars across....

This is very much an overview of some of the exhibits that particularly caught my attention. There is more information about the different huts here.

The U-Boat Menace and the start of Rationing

Merchant shipping was essential to maintain a supply of food and raw materials, but many ships were sunk by German U-Boats. This hut contains a mock up of the inside of a German U-Boat giving a real feel for the claustrophobic conditions men worked in.




With increasing numbers of merchant shipping being sunk by U-Boats, the Ministry of Food was set up to introduce and organise a scheme of rationing in 1940. This was designed to avoid the problems of inflation, shortages and distribution seen in WW1 when naval blockades reduced supplies. It ensured everyone had their fair share and prices were controlled to stop profiteering. Food was only rationed if the Government were sure they could guarantee meeting the ration. Items like fish were never rationed. The population were also encourage to eat food that could be produced in Britain and to grow their own, with the Dig for Victory campaign. Many households kept chickens and may even have kept a pig.

Everyone had to register with a local trader to supply their weekly ration, which was in exchange for the appropriate coupons.

Bacon, sugar and butter were the first to be rationed in January 1940, followed later by meat, margarine, jam, marmalade, cheese and sweets. eventually most foods were covered by rationing with the exception of fruit and vegetables.

The normally weekly ration was
4oz bacon and ham
other meat to the value of 1 shilling and 2 pence
2oz butter
40z margarine
2oz cheese
4oz cooking fat
8oz sugar
20z tea
1lb jam or honey every 2 months
3 pints milk
1 fresh egg every two weeks plus an allowance of dried egg
3 pints milk.


Everyone had to register with a local trader to supply their weekly ration, which was in exchange for the appropriate coupons.


Restrictions caused by rationing and short supply of goods lead to the development of the black market and ‘Spivs’ were keen to fill the gap with items that had miraculously fallen off the back of a lorry or pheasants that had fallen out of trees. Although cigarettes and alcohol were never rationed but shortages meant they were often acquired by the Black Market. Goods were sold out of suitcases.


The Ministry of Food investigated claims against those suspected of being involved and penalties were sever - a £500 fine or possible two years in prison.


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Life on the home front




Everybody was given a National Registration Number and had to carry an Identity Card at all times. This listed their name , sex, age, address occupation and marital status. This information was also shown in their ration book.


Tape was stuck on windows to lessen the danger from shattered glass.


Sandbags and blackout appeared. Rationing began and there were less goods available in the shops.



There was less choice with the arrival of Utility clothes, household utensils and furniture. There were strict regulations on the amount of cloth that could be used in garments and regulations about skirt length, number of pockets and buttons. Women made cloths from parachute and curtaining. Old garments were unpicked and used to make new ones.





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Recycling was encouraged, lead by the Women’s Voluntary Service, who organised the collection of anything that could be used in the manufacture of military hardware and equipment.

Head of the WVS, Lady Reading appealed to all housewives in 1940 to donate their ‘Saucepans for Spitfires’. This was a psychological boost to the morale as it involved everyone in the thrill of thinking their saucepan would be part of a spitfire or hurricane.


British Government appealed to each and every citizen to do their bit for the war effort by collecting and donating items made of iron and steel. Railings, household and gardening implements and equipment. Street railings were removed and cut up for scrap to make battleships, tanks and munitions.


Children signed up for the Children’s Salvage Team (the Cog Scheme) and helped sort everything from paper to pig’s swill.


Before the war, over 80% of paper came from Norway as pulp. The U boat campaign affected this supply. The government introduced a new Waste paper Order which made it an offence to be throw away or burn any waste paper or cardboard. Over 56 million books were donated to be pulped.

Salvaged paper was used in the manufacture of munitions. One newspaper could make three 25-pounder shell caps.

Old clothes that couldn’t be recycled into new garments were used to make uniform and blankets.

Bones were used to make cordite for gun cartridges and glue to fix aircraft canvas. Nothing was wasted. Although much of the salvage collected was useless the the psychological effects were invaluable as everyone could be seen pulling together making sacrifices to defeat the enemy.

Confusing the enemy

In preparation for invasion by German paratroopers, all place name signs on buildings were covered over and road signs were removed. The Government ordered that “no person shall display or cause or permit to be displayed any sign which furnishes any indication of the name of, or distance to any place”.

Signposts were either stored, used as obstruction posts down the centre of roads or fields which could be used as landing strips by enemy aircraft.

Hut 27 has a display of signposts showing the distance from Eden Camp of major towns and cities in Britain.


Roadblocks were set up and manned by the Home Guard on roads leading into towns or the approaches to important road junctions.

Beaches were mined or covered with barbed wire or had concrete blocks to ships or aircraft from landing on them.


As well as carrying out their normal work, many people also volunteered for the Civil Defence Service, spending one night in three to be at the control centre and another night ‘on call’. Volunteers were allocated to different units depending on experience or training.


Some served as air raid precaution wardens who patrolled the streets at night to make sure no lights could be seen through the blackout. They were responsible for handing out gas masks and organising the public air raid shelters. They were also responsible for reporting the extent of bomb damage and need for help from the emergency and rescue services. Rescue parties accessed damaged buildings to retrieve the injured or dead. They would turn off gas, electricity and water supplies, and repair or pull down unsteady buildings. Trained first aiders provided on the spot medical assistance, while more serious injuries were passed to first aid posts by stretcher parties and to local hospitals by ambulance personnel.

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Auxiliary fire fighters were allocated a designated area to watch and monitor falling incendiary bombs. Small fires could be doused with buckets of sand or water or by smothering. Larger fires were reported to the National Fire Service for them to deal with.


Welfare services provided mobile canteens as well as finding suitable accommodation, issuing new documentation (ration books, identity cards) and money to buy food.


Large Soyer Boilers were used to provide hot drinks and hot food and drinks in bombed out areas. These had been designed to feed troops quickly and efficiently during the Crimean war by Frenchman, Alexis Soyer.



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German and Italian Prisoners of War

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Prisoners were house 64 to a block. With warm sleeping accommodation and plenty of food, conditions were much better than for British prisoners held by German, Italian or Japanese captors, No-one made a serious attempt to escape from the camp.

Prisoners were identified by the yellow diamond on the back of their uniform.



There was a morning and evening roll call, although others could take place unexpectedly during the day. The prisoners provided their own cooks, dentists, doctor, tailer and even a shoe repairer. There was a hut for washing which had heated pipes to dry clothes. Another hut was used as a theatre and the prisoners formed their own orchestra. They also had a football team and played against local teams from the surrounding area, Many prisoners took a pride in their surroundings and grew flowers and vegetables outside their huts.

Many were skilled craftsmen and spent their time making beautifully carved cigarette cases as well as wooden toys, especially pecking hens. There was a ready market for items made, not only in the camp, but also the surrounding area.




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British Prisoners and escapes

Conditions were a lot harsher for British Prisoners of War. Hut 28 tells the story of the mass breakout in 1943 from Stalag Luft III and made famous in the film and Book “The Wooden Horse.”

The prisoners came up with the ingenious idea of concealing their tunnel beneath a wooden vaulting horse constructed from plywood from Red Cross parcels.


Working conditions were claustrophobic and as the tunnel got longer, a wooden trolley was devised to carry the digger to the work face. Another man operated a bellows system to help improve ventilation in the tunnel.



The finished tunnel was 300' long and 30' beneath the surface. 78 men succeeded in escaping, although only three managed to make it back to England. The rest were recaptured and 50 were later shot by German security forces.

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