On 18th September, Alan Roberts gave a talk on "Prisoner of War Camps near Buxton 1917-1919" as one of a series of events arranged for Heritage Open Days across England. The talk took place in one of the University of Derby's lecture rooms in the magnificent Devonshire Dome in Buxton and was well attended.
Alan covered the three themes of the "Breaking Stone" book, the international/national/ context, the location and structure of the camps and the life of the prisoners. Coverage of the first two themes was received with interest but it was definitely the third theme that attracted the most attention. During the talk, Alan read some extracts from the inspection report by Dr Sturler from the Swiss Embassy on conditions at Peak Dale Camp:
"All the available space in the compound, besides a large stretch of land outside, is being prepared for the cultivation of vegetables and flowers. Its pleasant aspect and orderly appearance almost lead one to forget that it is a prisoner camp surrounded by barbed wire."
"A piano, other musical instruments and a well stocked library have been placed at the disposal of the prisoners."
""Peak Dale Camp may be called a model working camp in every respect."
These and other extracts received great interest which continued into the discussion period. A number of interesting points were raised:
"If the prisoners were paid the local day rate for their work and their "board and lodging" was free, they were better off than the local work force."
"What did they spend their wages on?"
"Were there any romantic friendships with the local community?"
Some questions remained unanswered!
One particularly unusual contribution was the production of a copy of a letter sent in 1920 to the grandfather of the audience member from a former German soldier who had been held at one of the local camps, wishing him well and hoping to keep in touch. This illustrates the value of local knowledge in contributing to topics of this kind.