GARELOCHSIDE was the home of three World War Two prisoner of war camps, two at Shandon and one at Whistlefield, which remained for several years after the end of the war in 1945.
A fascinating article on life in one of the camps was published in the Helensburgh and Gareloch Times in April 1947.
It concerned the officers camp at Stuckenduff, which consisted of over 60 huts, mostly Nissen huts, between the old lochside road and the West Highland railway line, in the grounds of the now demolished Ardgare House.
The article read . . .
As regulations are relaxed, life in a prisoner of war camp becomes much more bearable for the inmates.
At Stuckenduff Camp near Shandon over 500 Germans live, to a considerable degree free from the restrictions one associates with a prison camp.
The Germans really run the camp. They have their own police force, cooks, bakers, interpreters, doctor and chaplain. They organise their own sport and spare-time activities.
Through the week they work on the Loch Sloy Hydro-Electric Scheme, some being conveyed by train to Inveruglas and others by bus to Butterbridge, beyond Rest and Be Thankful.
They are good, hard workers and are paid at the rate of one and half pence per hour. This pay can only be used in their canteens for such extras as cigarettes and notepaper.
Their food is similar in calorific value to that of the British Army ration, but it differs greatly in form, and as far as practicable their tastes are catered for.
The Commandant has, as one of his assistants, keeping the camp accounts, a German who was formerly an official of the Reichsbank in Berlin.
A camp newspaper called the ‘Randblick’ is edited and printed in the camp, and though it is subject to censorship, the prisoners are allowed great freedom in their writings on international as well as local affairs.
In their spare time they play football — their team has attained considerable skill and can give a good account of itself against much more experienced local clubs. They also play a game similar to netball.
Many are keen walkers and can be seen on the Garelochside road and strolling in the streets of Helensburgh.
As a race the Germans were pioneer hikers and in the pre-war years flocked to the many beautiful parts of their homeland. Hikers with their rucksacks were a familiar sight in the Black Forest and on the Harz Mountains, and indeed at all the beauty spots.
In the evenings they hold whist drives and concerts. They provide their own band and male voice choir which are very popular and contain some outstanding talent, a fact not surprising when one remembers the musical genius of their race.
On Sundays parties of prisoners attend church services and their fine singing has been much appreciated by the congregations.
The Commandant estimates that at least 80% of the prisoners now believe that the only satisfactory way to rebuild Germany is by a democratic form of Government.
They are keen to learn English and to study our way of life. Of Hitler, they don’t want to speak. They seem to want to forget him completely and banish the thought of him into oblivion.
Almost 200 prisoners are invited to local houses every weekend and they are most appreciative of the kindness shown them. This hospitality shows the prisoners the way back to normal life, after, in some cases, being years behind barbed wire.
The opinion prevails that after having contact with our people the Germans overcome the prejudices they were burdened with and learn that we only want a long and lasting peace and understanding among nations.
Always clever with their hands, many of the prisoners are expert toy and model makers, and using only odd pieces of wood and metal found on the foreshore, they have produced many amazingly ingenious articles.
They are not allowed to sell or exchange these with outsiders but can give them away on obtaining permission from the Commandant.
On occasion, however, their desire to obtain extra cigarettes overcomes them and they endeavour to smuggle their handiwork out of the camp.
Though no rigorous guard is kept, if a prisoner is seen leaving camp with a sizeable article he is stopped and his work confiscated.
The other day when the Commandant was walking in his garden, which is adjacent to the camp, he noticed something covered with sacking hidden among the bushes.
On investigation he found a beautifully made child’s wheelbarrow which had obvious been hidden there after dark and would be collected later and delivered to its unlawful destination.
It was confiscated, and in the next issue of ‘Randblick’ a notice appeared asking prisoners not to compromise the Commandant in their unlawful activities.
■ Non-commissioned prisoners were not too far away at the smaller Camp no.582 at Blairvadach, although after the war it housed Italian POWs, which had some 40 Nissen huts. It was roughly where the outdoor centre now stands.
There was another camp at Whistlefield where the viewpoint now is. Many German POWs stayed on after being released, and some of them made their home locally.
- The pictures were supplied by Mrs Karin Grant, daughter of Ulrich Behrendt, who was a prisoner at Blairvadach Camp.