Behind the Wire: Mapping Second World War camp histories in the UK

A new resource by The National Archives Education Service, Behind the Wire, traces the locations of prisoner of war (POW) and internment camps in the UK through a series of interactive maps.

A total of 538 camps have been mapped, including 510 POW camps and 28 internment camps. Of these, 430 camps were in England, 54 in Scotland, 25 in Wales, 14 in the Isle of Man, 13 in Northern Ireland, 1 in Guernsey and 1 in Jersey. The resource provides the names of the camps together with the dates when they were in operation and links to relevant documents held at The National Archives, such as camp correspondence, inspection reports and war diaries.

A greyscale map of the British Isles and surrounding countries, covered in dozens of pink dots marking camp sites.
Screenshot of new interactive map tool, Behind the Wire, showing POW and internment camps.

Most of the camps were purpose-built for the duration of the Second World War so very little, if anything, remains of the sites today. Others were adapted from existing buildings and land, such as racecourses, zoos, hotels, army camps and even a Butlin’s holiday camp. Collectively, the camps in the UK were home to over 400,000 POWs and 30,000 civilian internees.

At the time prisoners of war had legal protections due to the Geneva Convention, signed on 27 July 1929. Camps needed to be constructed away from combat zones and in such a way so that the conditions were similar to those used by the military’s own soldiers in base camps. There were also provisions for food, medical facilities and religious needs. The Convention did not specifically mention civilian internees, but in the event, the principles of the Convention were largely adopted for them.

Printed document titled 'Convention', with dense French text in capital letters listing the roles of dozens of signatories.
Page from the 1929 Geneva Convention on the treatment of prisoners of war.

Internees on the Isle of Man

As with the First World War, internment camps for civilian ‘enemy’ aliens were largely set up on the Isle of Man, a mixture of requisitioned hotels and boarding houses, and purpose-built accommodation. The number of internees swelled to over 20,000 in the Spring of 1940 following Italy’s decision to join the Axis powers. With the threat of fifth columnists as invasion fears grew, thousands of Austrian and German nationals, many who had fled Nazi persecution only a few years earlier, were arrested and dispatched to camps on the Isle of Man.

Concerned about the growing numbers of internees, thousands were prepared to be deported to Canada and Australia, and several thousand were until a tragic event on 2 July 1940. The SS Arandora Star, bound for Canada, was torpedoed off the coast of Ireland with the loss of nearly 800 lives, mainly Italian and German internees. It was this event that swung public opinion in favour of those who were interned.

Categories for internees’ release were established, such as applying to join the Auxiliary Military Pioneer Corps. Most civilian internees were released by the end of 1941. Many of the camps they were held in were repurposed for POWs in the remaining years of the war. Numerous POW camps remained in operation until the Autumn of 1948, following a rigorous programme of de-Nazification for residents.

POWs in Sheffield – and Kew

It was thought that Lodge Moor camp in Sheffield was the largest POW camp in the UK, holding more than 11,000 Germans and Italians captive in 1944. It was also used as a POW camp in the First World War, and its capacity was substantially increased by the provision of tented accommodation. It was guarded by double wire perimeter fences and watch towers.

The site of the National Archives in Kew was the location of 144 Working Camp. Originally, the buildings had been occupied by American servicemen creating maps for the Normandy landings in 1944, but later it was home to some 2,300 Italian POWs engaged in clearing bomb damage in London.

Italy had surrendered in 1943 and afterwards many Italian POWs were categorised as ‘Co-operators’, getting put to work outside their camps and granted some freedoms. ‘Co-operators’ living at 144 Working Camp worked on properties that had been damaged by V1 and V2 rockets. When not working they could travel up to 5 miles away, but weren’t allowed to visit shops, cinemas or pubs. If they were invited, however, they were allowed inside people’s homes. When the war in Europe ended in May 1945, many Italian POWs did not start being repatriated until December, as they were still needed for the work they were doing across the country.

On the evening of Sunday 1 July 1945, many ‘Co-operators’ from 144 Working Camp were allowed to leave the camp for recreational purposes and congregated on Kew Green, just half a mile from the camp. Police were soon called after hearing reports of a fracas between the POWs and civilians emerging from Brentford, just over Kew Bridge. Some 200 POWS armed themselves with sticks and pieces of iron, but police managed to quell the situation by cordoning off the area and forming barricades.

Printed report form completed with typewritten text.
Metropolitan Police report on the fracas between Italian POWs and civilians on Kew Green. Catalogue reference: MEPO 2/6492

The final POWs from 144 Working Camp left Kew in July 1946. You can currently see images of the camp, from the Ministry of Information Second World War Official Collection (reproduced courtesy of Imperial War Museums), at The National Archives building in Kew. They are on display by the entrance to the Great Escapes exhibition.

A display of photographs on wall alongside the heading: Kew POW Camp. There is text written under the heading. There are 12 photos in total each showing people going about their day, some eating, some working, at a camp in Kew during the Second World War.
Kew POW Camp display at The National Archives.

The National Archives is grateful to its volunteers for transcribing some of the camp stories included in Behind the Wire

Find out more

Find out more about Second World War prisoners of war and civilian internees at our free exhibition Great Escapes: Remarkable Second World War Captives. Open until 21 July, Great Escapes explores the human spirit of hope and resilience during times of captivity, revealing both iconic and under-told stories of prisoners of war and civilian internees during the Second World War.

We’ve also scheduled a season of special events to accompany the exhibition that are available to book.


  1. Jim Duffy says:

    My father was a prison guard in Orkney and seen the chapel being built by the Italian prisoners.

  2. Jim Duffy says:

    Is there a list of camp locations. I believe there was a Italian Prisoner of War camp in the Pollok area of Glasgow.

  3. Noel Grabham says:

    There was a camp for German Prisoners in Wootton, Kent. When extra hands were needed for farm work. Application could be made to the camp and men would be provided. I recall that the camp remained for a year or two after the war and got to know some of the prisoners personally. I was born in 1940 so a child throughout this time but I had several toys made by the prisoners and still have a “ship in a bottle”, built by one Karl Kosa and dated 1 January 1947. I often wonder what fate befell Karl and his fellow prisoners after they were repatriated. I would like to find a home for this model where it would continue to be appreciated as a memorial to this kind German Prisoner after I have gone.

  4. Les Gray says:

    Your map of the POW camps is missing “POW Camp No 65 Setley” the camp was situated on the western side of the A337 Map Ref: 50.79777327635233, -1.57194151096417.
    The camp held mainly German POW’s many of whom worked on local farms.

  5. Lella Cariddi OAM says:

    thank you for such rich veins of historical records. I’m interested to know if you hold
    similar records for Italian POWs held in Kenya?
    with much appreciation,
    Lella Cariddi OAM

  6. Padraic McHugh says:

    Can you identify the location of the POW camps within Northern Ireland. If possible, can you forward me a link on your website or library collection,as to allow me to research further.

  7. Pat Conibere says:

    I know there was a camp for Italian prisoners of war at Urpeth Hall in County Durham, but this one doesn’t seem to be included in your data.

  8. Richard Goodwin says:

    A rather wonderful interactive map of the known P.O.W. camps situated in Great Britain, and one I shall certainly keep for reference, so thank you very much. I just wonder why the P.O.W. camp at Arlesey in Bedfordshire is not shown, I know it was supposedly a lay-off camp from the one at Royston Cambridgeshire, but it did exist. I spoke to many of the prisoners, during the 60s as they had settled in the village after the war had finished, Italians mostly but a few Germans were willing to speak to me, especially my then girlfriends Father Heinz Orschell, the marriage of Heinz Orschell & Joan Brinkler appeared in Time magazine in 1947.

  9. William Bundred says:

    Having looked for WW2 camps in the Longtown Cumberland area I have come to the conclusion from secondary sources that there were possibly 3 separate sites, Gaitle, Hornick hill and Mossband.
    I would be very interested in any information on any of them. I have photos of 2 of the camps.

  10. Nigel Searle says:

    A useful resource for WWII camps, but as the project is described as ‘A mapping of Prisoner of War and Internment camps in Britain during the 20th Century’ rather than those of WWII alone, are there any plans to extend its coverage to include Great War Sites to make it even more useful? ‘Captured Germans: British POW Camps in the First World (Norman Nicol, Pen & Sword 2017; ISBN 978-1-78346-348-0) although admitted by the compiler as unlikely to be complete, contains details of many of the locations.

  11. Gloria Edwards says:

    You have a ‘band’ of POW camps to click on to find out more about each camp. I am wondering why there is no mention on that ‘band’ of Moota Camp 103 (Cumberland). Back in 2005 I pulled all my research into the camp together in a book (‘Moota Camp 103: The Story of a Cumbrian Prisoner of War Camp’). Because I received lots more information after that publication I wrote a second boo, including more personal stories of German POWs at the Camp, and Red Cross reports on the Camp. That book, released in 2009, was ‘The War Years: Life in Cockermouth and at the Moota POW Camp’. I am happy to provide copies of those two publications if felt to be useful. The local history group which I presently run (Cockermouth Heritage Group, Kirkgate Arts & Heritage) holds many photographs relating to the Camp, and many examples of handicrafts produced by inmates. After 1946 the Camp housed Displaced Persons for a while.

  12. Philip Elms says:

    Regarding: Camp type: POW Camp
    Camp Number: 631
    Town: Cooden Down
    County: Sussex
    Country: England
    Locality: Bexhill
    Comments from English Heritage Survey: Precise location not identified, NGR given for Cooden.

    TQ 71 07 199 631 Seafield School, Cooden Down, Bexhill Sussex Precise location not identified, NGR
    given for Cooden.

    I cannot provide a map reference but I can confirm that Seafield School was not at Cooden Down but about half a mile to the east. The large and imposing Seafield School occupied a site between Collington Lane (now Collington Lane West) and an area now dissected by Ashcombe Drive in the Little Common district of Bexhill-on-Sea. The adjoining Seafield House (circa 1700) still exists. I researched the Seafield School PoW site for a talk and subsequent book called Little Common Village Stories. I hope this information is helpful. Best wishes for the exhibition.

  13. Roger Kershaw says:

    Thank you for the further site suggestions. It’s quite possible some are not listed on the map. We’ll try and make amendments where possible but won’t be adding new data sources to the map. Here is a bit more info about the data sources we used, which includes a list of sites:

    – The majority of location data for this map has been sourced from the Twentieth Century Military Recording Project’s Prisoner of War Camps (1939-1948) Project report by Roger JC Thomas. English Heritage, 2003. View the report

    – This data has been supplemented by information from the registers of Canmore, Historic Environment Scotland. Visit

    – Further location information has been sourced from pages available through and

    – Where exact locations are unknown, pins have been placed in general localities based on available information

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