Faces of defeat recall a daring escape bid

DISCOVERY: Council archivist Margaret Owen

One of the German POWs who were detained at the former Shap Wells Hotel

One of the German POWs who were detained at the former Shap Wells Hotel

One of the German POWs who were detained at the former Shap Wells Hotel

First published in Nostalgia

A PRICELESS artefact documenting the identities of dozens of German and Italian WW2 prisoners has been found in a Kendal archive building.

The photograph album contains pictures of 130 prisoners of war held at the Shap Wells Hotel prisoner of war Camp 15, between 1941 and 1942.

“These fascinating documents give us a glimpse of episodes in our past,” said Margaret Owen.

“The album was created in order to aid police identification of escaped prisoners and was kept at Shap Police Station.”

Shap Wells Hotel was transformed into a prisoner of war camp by the Government in 1941 and the first group of prisoners arrived in February.

The top two floors of the hotel accommodated mainly German and Italian officers, before they were shipped over to camps in Canada.

The album includes photographs of Heinz Schnabel and Harry Wappler – two Luftwaffe pilots who mounted a daring escape attempt from Shap Wells.

Wappler’s Heinkel He111 bomber was shot down over Newport and the pilot was taken to the Royal Herbert Hospital, in Woolwich, where he met Schnabel, a fighter pilot who was shot down in his ME109 on September 5, 1940.

In 1941 the two pilots were transported to Shap Wells, where they noticed training planes flying above train tracks near the hotel.

The pair began to plot a daring escape plan and, using art materials to forge fake passports, they hid in laundry baskets, managed to get out of the camp and stowed away on a train to Carlisle.

Disguised as Dutch airmen, they commandeered a plane from Kingstown airfield.

They reached East Anglia before running out of fuel and crash landing.

Still disguised as Allies, the pair were rescued and taken to RAF Horsham, where they are rumoured to have enjoyed a meal at the officers’ table before they were identified as escapees, and returned to Shap Wells.

It is possible that Schnabel’s photograph in the Shap Wells album helped in securing their arrest.

In 1946 the last prisoners left Shap Wells and it reopened as a hotel.

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