Llansannan community comes together to tell bizarre WWI story

Reporter:

Josh Morris

A community has pulled together to tell one of the more bizarre stories from the First World War.

Thanks to the research of local historian Berwyn Evans, the story of the prisoner-of-war camp at Dyffryn Aled, near Llansannan, is to be told onstage for the first time.

Many of the prisoners were captured from sinking vessels during the battle of Heligoland Bight, the first naval battle of the war.
However, unlike other prisoner-of-war camps, the prisoners at Dyffryn Aled were not harshly treated to say the least.

Berwyn said: “They were given wine and cigarettes and half their wages to get by on. One detainee, von Tirpitz’s father, was second in command to the Kaiser. Their family were friends with the Churchills and when they realised their son was captured, they sent a telegram to apologise.”

According to contemporary reports in the Daily Mail: “They really live in luxury, especially so as compared with even well-to-do Welsh people residing for miles around them.

“Lodged in a typical manor house, whose spacious rooms are embellished with exquisite wood carvings and Adam’s ceilings, at liberty to roam through an exercise field three acres in extent running down to the edge of the most delightful of Welsh rivers, the surging Aled, in receipt of half the pay of their rank, permitted to conduct a mess on the identical lines of a British infantry battalion, with the privilege of electing a mess president, mess secretary, and mess committee; at liberty to drink lager beer, wines, red and white cognac, and mineral waters at the discretion of the commandant and to smoke cigars, pipes, and cigarettes at will; allowed to maintain their own library and to embellish their quarters with pictures of the Kaiser drawn on the spot by one of their number, who is a gifted crayon artist; enjoying the alternative of wearing their German uniform or civilian attire, as they pleased.”

Around 100 German naval officers were held there as it was used as a prisoner-of-war camp.

Berwyn added: “It’s a fascinating story, remarkable that he was friends with Churchill as well

“I did the research and the scriptwriter Rhodri took what I did. It was my project, really, as I had a grant from the Lottery to do some research for a book on the area.

“It’s a community wide thing with school children involved from primary age to those at Ysgol Glan Clwyd, the Young Farmers and the choir, it’s a real community wide project.

“Don’t ask me how long I spent on it - hours and hours and hours. But it’s a thing that I like, you don’t count them, but it’s quite a lot. If I’d been paid I’d have quite a lot of holidays lined up.”

The play follows two girls, one whose boyfriend goes off to the trenches, and one who falls in love with one of the prisoners.

Berwyn said: “It’s about the comfortable life of the Germans to begin with, and the hard, tough life the locals experienced in the First World War. We bring them together because two young girls, one the daughter of the shop whose boyfriend wanted to go to war, although she didn’t want him to.

“With the other girl, there was one German prisoner who signed an oath not to escape, so he was allowed into the village to go shopping, and he heard this girl’s voice and they fell in love. So, one (is) in love with a German and one (is) in love with a man in the trenches.”

The play is at Canolfan Bro Aled, Llansannan on July 14, 15 and 18.

Email:

josh.morris@nwn.co.uk

See full story in the Free Press

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