Helen Mead enjoys a day out at the POW camp celebrating 30 years as a visitor attraction
AS a prisoner of war camp, it was a relatively cushy number.
Former inmates visiting Eden Camp spoke of “nice huts,” good meals “like porridge in the morning and of course well tasty tea.” On Sundays, cocoa was served with a slice of raisin cake as a treat.
It is still unclear whether the name arose from being close to the settlements of Eden Farm and Eden House, or because it was seen by its inmates as Paradise.
Recently the multi award-winning attraction, in Malton, celebrated its 30th anniversary. And if you’re looking for a great day out, it could be just the thing...
Eden Camp came into being after local businessman Stan Johnson discovered that PW Camp 83 was still more or less intact and that 35 of the original huts were in roughly the same condition as when the last of the 1,200 inmates left in 1948. He bought the site and initially invested £750,000 to create the world’s only modern history themed museum.
The huts have been expertly equipped to tell the story of The People’s War: the social history of life in Britain from 1939 to 1945.
Visitors start at hut one and make their way around an easy-to-follow route. Each hut has a different theme. The first maps the rise of Hitler, with exhibits including German propaganda posters and newspaper excerpts.
Hut two focuses upon the Home Guard, or as we more commonly know it, Dad’s Army. Operational from 1940 until 1944, it was made up of 1.5 million local volunteers otherwise ineligible for military service, such as those too young or too old to join the services, or those in reserved occupations.
There are photos of home platoon groups in North Yorkshire, looking disturbingly like Arthur Lowe’s squad from the much-loved TV series. There’s a group from Riccall and one from Kirkbymoorside. Interesting memorabilia includes registers detailing hours of attendance.
Within each hut, rooms have been constructed depicting wartime scenes – from domestic homes to shops, Anderson shelters, train carriages and Government command centres.
Suitcases belonging to evacuees are among the exhibits.
“Thousands of children travelled all day by train. They did not know where they were going,” one of the many informative information boards told us. “They tumbled out of trains in the dark to spend the night with people they had never seen before.”
Photographs show children – some clutching teddy bears – embarking upon their journey.
The museum’s interactive displays are simple and fun. We loved the food rationing game in which you guess how much of certain food items wartime allowed. Three eggs a month, three pints of milk a week, 3oz cheese a week and 2oz of tea.
Some of the huts are not for the faint-hearted. The “U-boat Menace” contains some pretty grisly scenes of sailors drowning in a U-boat hit by a torpedo. Thank goodness the next scene – the U-boat’s galley – took my mind off the horror of it. So lifelike, it even had a huge pot of stew bubbling away.
Movement, sounds and smells are used to brilliant effect at Eden Camp. “I can actually smell that stew,” I said to my husband. Bleeping away in the dimly-lit U-boat hit, the sonar was quite unsettling.
The Blitz is depicted to shocking effect, with a person buried under rubble by air raids, desperately reaching out to alert others.
Other topics covered in almost 30 huts we visited include women at war, animals at war, the Bevin Boys, Bomber Command, the Land Army and the munition factories.
From 1990 to 1995 a series of huts were opened creating a museum within a museum, housing the military and political events of the Second World War around the world such as Dunkirk, The Great Escape, D-Day and the harrowing scenes of the Holocaust.
The 100ft-long great escape tunnel dug by prisoners of war in Stalag Luft lll has been partially recreated, alongside the staggering details of how it was done. Of the 78 men that escaped, three made it back to England.
Still run by the Johnson family, there is so much here that you really need a day to see it all. There’s a mess hall, a music hall and a really interesting prefab – one of the easily-assembled homes intended as the solution to the post-war housing crisis.
There’s also a shop and a fabulous wartime tea room, where we enjoyed giant home-made scones.
A great day out.