Island Farm, Bridgend

In March 1945, 70 Germans escaped from Island Farm Prisoner of War Camp in Bridgend, South Wales. This was the largest German POW escape attempt of the Second World War. Little remains of the camp, except the prisoners’ hut, known as Hut 9, from which the escape tunnel ran. This last Grade II-listed hut is, at present, inaccessible to the public because of its location, the need to upgrade the building to make it safe and presentable for viewing, and the bats that inhabit it. Given these problems, how can one present this location and its story to the public?

One solution is the Island Farm app launched last month. It was commissioned by Bridgend County Borough Council and created by MJR Solutions Limited, working with Auralab and other contributors. The app provides a history of the Island Farm site and its military uses as well as detailing the escape and capture of the POWs. The app is well-designed and easy to navigate with a clear timeline menu and individual pages for each part of the story. The use of a typewriter font for the headlines and muted colours characteristically associated with the Second World War give it an apparently authentic historical feel that resonates in modern British culture.

The context and story of the site and the escape are told through maps, animations, short documentary videos, passages of text and photographs. Although much of the information can be found on the websites of enthusiasts and in the Channel 4 documentary “The Welsh Great Escape” (2003), the app provides it with greater coherence, better ease of access and a wider distribution through the iTunes app store. Some of the escape attempts are comic. Hans Harzheim and three comrades stole an Austin 10 with the unwitting help of some of the camp guards; two others were urinated on by a drunk man while hiding in a hedge. These escapees seem to have come straight out of “Dad’s Army” (1968-1977) or “‘Allo ‘Allo!” (1982-1992) rather than the other “Great Escape” (1963). It is interesting, however, that the app does not offer much detail about the military lives of the officers involved before they were captured. A number of the escapees had served with the Schutzstaffel (commonly known as the SS) throughout the war and, as officers, would have been implicated in some of the atrocities committed by this organisation, including the “Final Solution”. The wall paintings done by the POWs at Island Farm introduce an element of pathos to the story and bear comparison with similar works preserved at other Second World War camps, like the concentration camp at Sachsenhausen, near Berlin.

The Island Farm app shows how technology can open up obscure historical sites and is a very good introduction to the events at Island Farm for anyone interested in the Second World War, the county of Bridgend, or the history of Wales.