Prisoner of war camp a 'huge part' of Essex's history

A wooden gate and World War 2-era hut.

A building in PoW Camp 116. Picture: Will Durrant - Credit: Archant

An engineer has described a World War II-era Prisoner of War camp in Hatfield Heath as a "huge part" of his heritage.

Owen Clarke's grandfather Werner Presch was moved to the camp, which became an Uttlesford "heritage asset" last Thursday (April 22), in 1946 before starting a family in England.

Werner, then a boy from Teiche, near Halle, was conscripted into the German military aged 17, in August 1944, but was captured four months later in Brugge, Belgium. 

He was moved to France and England before being put to work at Camp McCain in Mississippi, USA.

A scrapbook with five images. In the top three, people ride on tractors.

Werner Presch's scrapbook. It is thought these pictures were taken in the USA - Credit: Owen Clarke

During WWII, Werner kept a small diary, writing one or two words each day to remind him of where he had been.

He also received letters from his family. 

"Where is your mail? We haven’t heard from you in three months!", one demanded.

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A reply, received 10 days later, proves Werner had been moved back to England, where he arrived on April 28, 1946. 

A man cutting grass and weeds with secateurs

Werner Presch in Prisoner of War Camp 116 - Credit: Owen Clarke

Owen said: "His parents didn’t believe he was alive, they had missed three of his birthdays in which they placed his picture at the end of the table and made his favourite food, and cherry cake." 

In England, Werner spent time in Prisoner of War Camp 30 in Stratford, then in Essex, before he was moved to Camp 116 in Hatfield Heath.

Woodland. In the background, World War 2-era huts.

Prisoner of War Camp 116 at Hatfield Heath. Picture: Will Durrant - Credit: Archant

Owen said: "During his time at Camp 116 he had a few pictures of him and the local farm animals, for example the geese which he loved."

When he was discharged, Werner stayed in England, meeting his wife on a blind date in London in 1952.

A scrapbook featuring three images.

Werner Presch's scrapbook, with images of Werner in Hatfield Heath - Credit: Owen Clarke

He died when Owen was five, but the camp remains a permanent reminder of his Werner’s arrival in England.

The camp is not a listed building, but as one of 60 new Locally Listed Heritage Assets in Uttlesford, its preservation should be considered in planning applications from now on.

The front page of a book. It contains writing: "Werner Presch, D340208, P.o.W. Camp 11y6, Hatfield Heath, Bishop's Stortford"

Werner Presch's diary - Credit: Owen Clarke

Owen said: "The camp is of great value not only to me at a personal level, but also to the community. 

"Not only did prisoners start their journeys in England here, but it also gave them a light at the end of a tunnel."