O’Brien Coin Guide: The Curragh ‘Prisoner of War’ Camp Tokens (1940)


Introduction

The impending war in Europe was of major concern to Ireland and most politicians were worried that a war in Europe would re-open the wounds of our own Civil War of 1922-23.

The 1930’s were difficult for Ireland :-

  • There were pro- and anti-fascist movements in Ireland
  • and the IRA continued to pursue its own agenda
    • Two Irish contingents fought in the 1937 Spanish Civil War – but on opposing sides.
    • O’Duffy’s pro-Nationalist (Fascist) Irish Brigade fought with the Nationalists
    • The pro-Republican Irish contingent of the International Brigades fought with the Republicans
    • and, neither had government support

On 1 September 1939, in response to the German invasion of Poland, a hastily convened Dáil declared an immediate state of emergency. The Emergency Powers Act that the day’s debate culminated in came into effect one day later, on 3 September. It was modeled extensively on the British draft worked out during the Sudeten crisis a year before and allowed ’emergency powers’ to be enacted by the government should any internal or external threat arise.

In the six months prior to the onset of war there had been an escalation of IRA violence and a bombing campaign in Britain under the new leadership of Seán Russell.

  • De Valera, who had tolerated the IRA as recently as 1936, responded with the Offences against the State Act, 1939.
    • Upon the outbreak of the main conflict in September, subversive activity was regarded as endangering the security of the state
      • There were fears that the United Kingdom, eager to secure Irish ports for their air and naval forces, might use the attacks as a pretext for an invasion of Ireland and a forcible seizure of the assets in question.
      • Furthermore, the possibility that the IRA (in line with the Irish nationalist tradition of courting allies in Europe) might link up with German agents, thereby compromising Irish non-involvement, was considered by the cabinet
      • This threat was real:
      • Russell, in May 1940, travelled to Berlin in an effort to get arms and support for the IRA.
      • He received training in German ordnance but died on a submarine while returning to Ireland as part of Operation Dove.
      • A small number of inadequately-prepared German agents were sent to Ireland, but those that did arrive were quickly picked up by the Directorate of Military Intelligence (G2).
      • Active republicans were interned at the Curragh or given prison sentences; six men were hanged under newly legislated acts of treason and three more died on hunger strike.
        • The Germans had overestimated the abilities of the IRA.
        • By 1943, the IRA had all but ceased to exist.

Another of the provisions of this ‘declaration of Irish neutrality’ was that Irish lands and territorial waters would be closed to all belligerent ships and aircraft of the war, although in reality, it could do little to prevent incursions.  Between September 1940 and June 1941, the Battle of Britain would be fought in the skies over Britain as the German “Luftwaffe” clashed with the British “RAF” and other allied air forces in the skies. Despite ‘accidental’ German bombing raids on Dublin, Ireland did not declare war on Germany but there were many unpublicised contraventions of this, such as

  • permitting the use of the Donegal Corridor to Allied military aircraft,
  • extensive co-operation between Allied and Irish intelligence, including exchanges of information, such as detailed weather reports of the Atlantic Ocean
    • for example the decision to go ahead with the D-day landings was decided by a weather report from Blacksod Bay, Co Mayo
The Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor, also known as Kurier to the Allies was a German all-metal four-engined monoplane originally developed by Focke-Wulf as a long-range airliner. A Japanese request for a long-range maritime patrol aircraft led to military versions that saw service with the Luftwaffe as long-range reconnaissance and anti-shipping/maritime patrol bomber aircraft. The Luftwaffe also made extensive use of the Fw 200 as a transport. It achieved success as a commerce raider before the advent of long-range RAF Coastal Command aircraft and CAM ships eliminated its threat.

On 20th August 1940, a German Focke Wulf Condor aircraft crashed into the cloud covered Mount Brandon, Co Kerry while trying to find their location while on weather reconnaissance mission. By sheer luck only two of the crew were injured in the crash. The crew burned the remainder of the aircraft. On 31st August 1940 Mollenhauer and Beumer were transferred from Tralee Hospital to the Curragh Military Hospital and the four other crew members were moved from Collins Barracks, Cork to “K Lines”, or the No. 2 Internment Camp, as it was officially called. These 6 men were the first ‘belligerent’ interns at The Curragh Camp during WW2 and included :- Oberleutnant Kurt Mollenhauer (Commander), Stabsfeldwebel Robert Beumer (Pilot), Feldwebel Ludwig Wochner (Navigator), Dr. Eric Kruger (Meteorologist), Unteroffizier Hans Bell (Sergeant) and Gefreiter Kurt Kyck (Corporal)

Inevitably, some of the aviators were shot down, crash-damaged or ran out of fuel over neutral Ireland and the survivors were interned at The Curragh Camp in Co Kildare. The “K-Lines” (No.2 Internment Camp) was built in 1939 in the East side of the Curragh Camp. The area that the internees were held in was also known as “Tintown”, due to the amount of tin used in the construction of the buildings.

  • Another internment camp (“No.1”) had previously been built on the West side of the Curragh Camp and was designed to hold dissident members of the IRA whose activities were, in the eyes of de Valera’s government, capable of triggering a British or German invasion of Ireland
  • The main function of the “No. 2” camp was to intern any servicemen of either the axis or allied forces, who were captured on Irish soil during the Second World War, to prevent their escape and to prevent them from returning to their respective countries and rejoining the war effort
    • One compound was occupied by the German forces, and was known as “G” camp
      • Between the summer of 1940 and the latter half of 1943, there were about sixty members of the German Luftwaffe held in “G” Camp
    • The other was occupied by the allied forces, and was known as “B” camp
      • There were about forty RAF internees and these included British, Canadians, Poles, Free French and an American who had enlisted in the volunteer force attached to the RAF known as the Eagle Squadron
    • Strictly speaking, these German and British servicemen were not prisoners, but guests of the State, which was merely obligated to insure that they took no further part in the war

An interesting diplomatic anomaly occurred here whereby all US military personnel were automatically repatriated due to an agreement between the Irish and US governments, except for one US citizen, whose nationality had been stripped by the US Government for fighting with the British (in No. 133 Squadron RAF) prior to the US entry to the war, was also interned.

  • His name was Roland “Bud” Wolfe, an American pilot flying a British RAF Spitfire, paid for by a wealthy Canadian industrialist, had experienced engine failure on 30th November 1941 while flying over Moneydarragh Co. Donegal.
    • He parachuted to safety as his engine stalled and his plane crashed
    • He spent the next 2½ years as an internee at The Curragh
      • He was then released and went on to serve the ‘Eagles’ once again
    • Wolfe, famously broke his parole, and escaped into Northern Ireland but, to his astonishment, he was sent back to the camp by the British authorities – the principle of neutrality was too important to risk.
      • Another time he was caught by the Irish and sent back
      • To ‘add injury to insult’ (sic), on both occasions, he was allegedly ‘beaten up’ by his comrades when he returned because they had lost a week’s parole as punishment for ‘allowing him to escape’

133 Squadron RAF was one of the famous Eagle squadrons formed from American volunteers serving with the RAF during World War II. Originally formed during the First World War, it was re-formed at RAF Coltishall in July 1941 as the third of the Eagle squadrons, equipped with Hawker Hurricane IIB fighters.

  • It transferred to RAF Duxford in August, and by October was at RAF Eglinton, County Londonderry in Northern Ireland, where it was equipped with Supermarine Spitfire IIA’s.
  • It then transferred back to the south-east England including time at RAF Biggin Hill.
  • The squadron ran fighter sweeps over France until September 1942 when it was transferred to the USAAF and became the 336th Fighter Squadron of the 4th Fighter Group
    • Wolfe was considered to be one of the luckiest pilots ever, for he went on to fly combat missions in both Korea and Vietnam and survived to tell the tale.

Three books have been written about shenanigans at “No.2” Camp :-

  • “Guests of the State” by T. Ryle Dwyer, printed by Brandon Books, 1994
  • “Grounded in Eire: The Story of Two RAF Fliers Interned in Ireland during World War II” by Ralph Keefer, printed by McGill-Queen’s Press, 2001

  • “Broken Wings” by John Clive, printed by Grafton, 1983

There is also a movie about the World War II detention camp at The Curragh, called “The Brylcreem Boys” and, although based on historical fact (Broken Wings, John Clive), it was derided by critics as “a cinematographical paradise of clichés, as often happens when a film tells an Irish story”

Roland “Bud” Wolfe’s Spitfire was recovered on the 28th June 2011 by aviation historian Johnny McNee, along with others. The recovery was filmed, and will be made into a documentary for the BBC.

Belligerant Aircraft in Ireland

From 1939-45, one hundred and sixty-five foreign aircraft crashed or force landed in this country, which included 16 German aircraft, 39 American aircraft and 110 British aircraft. Belligerent aircraft would end up on Irish soil for one of two reasons:

  1. The allied pilots would land, mistaking Ireland for Britain or Northern Ireland. This was quite common considering that aircraft navigation systems then were very basic compared to modern standards.
  2. Aircraft would either be damaged during battle or run low on fuel, forcing the pilots to crash or emergency land.
    1. In the case of allied pilots, they sometimes could not make it to Britain or Northern Ireland
    2. Luftwaffe pilots, however, would deliberately land in Ireland in preference internment in Britain.
On 29th September 1940, Flying Officer Paul Mayhew became the first British pilot to be interned at The Curragh Camp when he crash-landed his Hurricane fighter at Kilmuckridge, Co Wexford. Mayhew was initially held under armed guard in Ceannt Barracks, Curragh Camp, while a new barbed-wire compound was built as an extension to K-Lines. On 17th October 1940 Mayhew was transferred to K-Lines and was to remain the lone British internee for almost two months.

On 29th September 1940, Flying Officer Paul Mayhew became the first British pilot to be interned at The Curragh Camp when he crash-landed his Hurricane fighter at Kilmuckridge, Co Wexford. Mayhew was initially held under armed guard in Ceannt Barracks, Curragh Camp, while a new barbed-wire compound was built as an extension to K-Lines. On 17th October 1940 Mayhew was transferred to K-Lines and was to remain the lone British internee for almost two months. Mayhew’s aircraft was actually the seventh British warplane to land in Ireland, but no effort was made to detain any of the crew of the others — even after the pilot of one plane went into the Garda station in Skerries to make a phone call after he set-down just off Dublin coast. Following the internment of the Germans, however, Irish authorities felt Mayhew had to be held.

When a warplane was forced to land in Ireland, the crew would usually destroy all documents, maps and as much of the aircraft as possible, before they were captured. These aircraft crashed or force-landed on Irish territory, or in its coastal waters, between 1939 and 1945 due to adverse weather conditions, navigational error, low fuel or combat damage.

  • Allied pilots, upon realizing where they had landed ‘south of the border’ would usually attempt to travel to Northern Ireland, although not usually with much success.
  • Escape for German pilots was much more problematic, since France was the nearest ‘axis occupied’ country to Ireland and travelling there, especially via England, was almost impossible.

The German aviators that did not survive their emergency landings were buried in a small cemetery (Deutscher Soldatenfriedhof) at Glencree, near Enniskerry, Co Wicklow.

  • There are 134 graves – most are Luftwaffe (air force) or Kriegsmarine (navy) personnel.
    • 53 are identified, 28 are unknown.
  • Amongst these remains are 6 World War I prisoners of war held by the British.
  • Another 46 were German civilian detainees, who were being shipped from Britain to Canada for internment when their ship, SS Arandora Star was torpedoed by a German U-boat, U-47, off Tory Island, County Donegal, on July 1940.
  • Dr. Hermann Görtz, a German spy, complicit in the IRA’s fanciful ‘Operation Kathleen’ plot to invade Northern Ireland with German military aid, is also buried there
    • Görtz committed suicide, fearing he would be handed over to the USSR

It is administered by the German War Graves Commission (Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge)

Conditions at the Curragh Internment Camp

Initially, the internment camp at The Curragh was for political prisoners and relations between these internees and the Irish Army were extremely strained; six IRA men were hanged under newly legislated acts of treason and three more died on hunger strike. This ‘antagonistic’ atmosphere was transferred to the newly built “No. 2” Camp and, for the first few weeks, security here was tight and the internees privileges were very limited.

The General Officer Commanding, Col. Thomas McNally considered the internees to be prisoners-of-war and stated

“These prisoners in my opinion are the type who consider it a duty to effect escape at the first available opportunity”

Although the guards were armed with rifles, they were ordered not to fire at German or Allied internees who attempted escape and, as a precaution, their guns were loaded with black cartridges. Even if an internee did escape from the compound, the Curragh Camp was somewhat remote and surrounding ‘garrison towns’ of Naas, Newbridge and Kildare were populated with off-duty soldiers who ensured the escapee(s) were unlikely to get very far.

In September of 1940, the German minister to Ireland, Edouard Hempel, visited K-Lines where he found the German internees to be uncomfortable with the conditions of their imprisonment.

  • Hempel requested that there be a relaxation of the “prison-like” procedures
  • In October 1940, the Irish Department of External Affairs agreed to grant certain liberties and privileges to the German internees.
    • The German officers were paid weekly wages and an allowance to purchase civilian clothing – these payments were billed to the German government.
    • The internees were allowed to attend religious services.
    • They were given garden tools to cultivate their own vegetables.
    • They were facilitated with a wireless radio for entertainment and war news
    • Internees could avail of a postal system, which was strictly censored.

Most remarkably, there was also a limited parole system introduced for all ranks allowing them to leave the compound, on their word of honor that they would return by the times laid down. This parole applied equally to RAF and Luftwaffe alike but it did not extend to the ‘civilian’ IRA internees in Camp No. 1. on the opposite side of the Curragh Camp.

German Kriegsmarine and Luftwaffe Officers in the Curragh Internment Camp

German Kriegsmarine and Luftwaffe Officers in the Curragh Internment Camp, WW2

Parole consisted of a signed statement on paper declaring:

“I hereby promise to be back in the compound at ____o’clock and, during my absence, not to take part in any activity connected with the war or prejudicial to the interests of the Irish state”

Parole was initially for a period of three hours each afternoon but gradually extended to two nights a week to attend the three cinemas in the Curragh. This soon expanded to cinemas in the neighboring towns of Kilcullen, Newbridge and Kildare.

While going to these towns the internees had to wear civilian clothing and they were forbidden to enter pubs or hotels, talk to the locals or visit their homes.

  • The Irish soldiers would also follow the internee’s movements mainly for their own protection.
    • There would have been a threat to the British interns from local IRA elements
    • And there would have also been a threat to the Germans from pro-British locals.

Conditions continued to improve in K-lines and in January 1941, it was authorised for parole to be extended to three hours a day for exercise and four hours each evening for recreation. The parole area consisted of the Curragh, and the three neighboring towns of Kildare, Newbridge and Killcullen.

  • The British senior officers were allowed to telephone their diplomatic representative at any time.
  • The ban on frequenting hotels in the local towns was lifted.
  • Internees who were married were given extended parole from 1030 hrs to 2230 hrs to spend with their wives who travelled over to visit them.
  • Bar facilities were setup in each camp and alcohol could be bought at duty free prices
  • German internees took English lessons from local teachers every afternoon.

The Curragh was, and still is, a training camp for the Irish Army, and the POW’s from both sides had access to the Army gymnasium and swimming pool. Several of the POW’s were good swimmers and some were even granted permission entry to the Irish National Swimming C’ships.

  • Sgt James Cannell Masterson, RAF 911625 swam (but no info re where he finished)
  • One source tells of one of the Germn POW’s breaking an Irish record (no further info available)

Oberleutnant Kurt Mollenhauer incessantly fought with the Irish authorities for further concessions for his men. In May 1941, it was decided to extend parole to the neighboring town of Naas and internees were permitted to engage in horse riding.

  • The restriction on visiting private homes was lifted and internees were permitted to attend local dances and functions.
  • Tickets were obtained for the German and British officers to attend the Irish Derby at the Curragh racecourse in June 1941.
  • A German engineer living in Ireland was invited to lecture the German internees in the evening, after which he would join them in their camp bar. Allegedly, he would have to be forcibly removed every night and would than spend some time trying to regain entrance to the camp, leading the guards to comment that he was “the only man in Europe trying to break INTO a prison camp”

The Germans made only one known escape bid which took place in February 1942.

  • Nine of them managed to confuse the guards into letting them out when only eight of them had signed their parole form. The ‘odd man out’ then made his way to Dublin and succeeded in boarding a ship bound for Portugal.
  • This German pilot did not, unfortunately, enjoy “the rub of the green” because the ship made an unscheduled stop in Wales, where he was arrested and imprisoned in a POW camp with a much stricter regime – no more walks down to the local pub for Otto !

When all but one of the 33 Allied internees tried a mass break-out in February 1942, Irish troops around the camp fired blank ammunition and used only wooden batons to forced the men back into the prison.

In October 1943 the Allied internees were moved to separate camp in Gormanston, Co Meath, and most were secretly freed. In a gesture towards the Germans, Mollenhauer and 19 of his colleagues were allowed to move to Dublin and enroll at University College, Dublin, or the College of Technology in Bolton Street. They stayed in groups of three or four in rented houses.

The 1940 Curragh Camp Tokens

These tokens were used by the internees to purchases goods within the camp. They were not exchangeable outside the camp which helped reduce a ‘black market’ for goods between the locals and the interns. Since the German officers were paid £3 per week and the other ranks £2 per week, this must have been paid to them in legal tender (Irish currency notes) since they were going to local pubs, cinemas and other ‘entertainments’ while out on parole.

  • It is unknown what proportion of the £3 and £2 per week was paid in tokens and/or in Irish currency
  • This compared favourably with the wage of less than £1 a week being paid to their guards
  • All of the internees were also given £5 each to purchase civilian clothes
  • Obverse: CURRAGH around at the top, the date horizontal at the bottom
  • and the denomination, 1d, 6d, 1/-, or 2/- on a central circular raised field
  • Reverse: blank

Ireland: 1940 Curragh Prisoner of War Camp 1d Token

1940 Curragh Prisoner of War Camp 1d Token

  •  1d (one penny)
    • brass (27 mm) / 7.16 grams
    • Campbell 5550; Feller 1650
Ireland, Eire, 1940 Curragh Prisoner of War Camp 6d Token

1940 Curragh Prisoner of War Camp 6d Token

  • 6d (sixpence)
    • brass (27 mm) / 7.16 grams
    • Campbell 5551; Feller 1651
Ireland, Eire, 1940 Curragh Prisoner of War Camp 1s Token

1940 Curragh Prisoner of War Camp 1s Token

  • 1/- (shilling)
    • aluminum (27 mm) /
    • Campbell 5552; Feller 1652
Ireland, Eire, 1940 Curragh Prisoner of War Camp 2s Token

1940 Curragh Prisoner of War Camp 2s Token

  • 2/- (two shillings, or a florin)
    • aluminum (27 mm) /
    • Campbell 5553; Feller 16503
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