|In early 1942, a small contingent of Army personnel, under the command of a Sergeant, arrived at Malton, midway between York and Scarborough in North Yorkshire. Their task was to construct a barbed wire enclosure and erect tents to house the steady flow of enemy prisoners of war captured in North Africa. The site was named Eden Camp and the first inmates were two hundred and fifty Italian prisoners. These prisoners were put to work constructing a larger permanent camp, consisting of forty five huts. The Italians were at the Camp from 1942 to 1944, then the Germans from 1944 to 1948. While at the Camp the prisoners worked on the local farms under the control of the War Agricultural Officer. |
In 1986, local business man Stan Johnson discovered that POW Camp 83 was still generally intact and that thirty five of the original huts were in roughly the same condition as when the last of the 1,200 inmates left for the 'Fatherland' in 1948. Mr Johnson bought the site and initially invested £750,000 to create, within the original Camp, the world's only Modern History Theme Museum.
The huts have been re-equipped to tell the story of The People's War, the social history of life in Britain from 1939 to 1945. So many Museums simply display exhibits in cabinets and on walls and are pretty dull affairs, but not Eden Camp. Realistic tableaux, with moving figures, authentic sounds and smells have been created to "transport you back in time". In one scene there is a living room of a typical wartime home in Britain. The family are seated in front of the fire, listening to the radio as Chamberlain announces "the declaration of war". You see the man move his arm to adjust the wireless set, the woman breathes, the tin bath sits in front of the flickering fire and the scene comes alive.
Each hut covers a different aspect of the story, starting with the rise of the Nazi Party, Hitler and The Outbreak of War. Other topics include: Rationing, the Utility Scheme, ‘Save It’ Campaigns, Evacuees, Propaganda, Home Guard, Home Front, The Blitz, Air Raid and Gas Precautions, Animals at War, The Street at War, Women at War, The Land Army and Timber Girls, The Munition Factories, The Observer Corps, The Auxiliary Fire Service, The WVS, The Red Cross, Civil Defence, The Rescue Services, The Bevin Boys, etc.
Other huts have been allocated military themes – War at Sea and U-boats, LDV & The Home Guard, Bomber Command, Path Finders, R.E. & R.A.F. Bomb Disposal, S.O.E., Escapers and Evaders, Resistance, Women at War, The life of a Prisoner of War etc.
From 1990 to 1995 a series of huts were opened, creating a "Museum within a Museum". In these huts the military and political events of the Second World War around the world are covered in detail. Scenes such as Dunkirk, The War in the Desert, War at Sea, The Dambusters, The Great Escape, D-Day, V.E. and V.J. Days etc can be found along with displays covering The Holocaust, The Middle East, The Far East, Italy, Europe etc. During 1992 a prefab was reconstructed on site which is an excellent example of the post war housing efforts. Additionally a dig for victory garden was created and a Garden of Remembrance.
The year 2000 saw the refurbishment and redevelopment of Hut 13, Post-WWII Conflicts. This hut covers all those conflicts that British military forces have been involved in worldwide since the end of the Second World War. The hut covers events in Palestine, Cyprus, Egypt, Suez, Malaya, Korea, Kenya, Aden, The Falklands, The Gulf War, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and information is being added about the recent conflict in Iraq.
The new Millennium also heralded the refurbishment and expansion of Hut 18, The War News Reading Room. Newspaper pages from virtually every day of the war can be browsed through to see what was happening between 1939 and 1945, whilst the media theme was extended to include different forms of communication and media presentation with a large display of radio and telecommunications equipment covering most of the 20th Century.
September 2001 saw the opening of Hut 11, which takes you back to World War One. Visitors experience what life was like in the trenches, brought to life with realistic sights, sounds and smells. The second part of the exhibition is more of a traditional format with text boards and display cases containing documentation, photographs and artifacts that relate to all aspects of the Great War.
2002 marked the beginning of a major refurbishment of Hut 10, Prisoners of War. This project which is now nearing completion incorporates the wealth of material and memorabilia that has been brought into the museum over the last 17 years by ex-PoW’s, Guards and the civilians who befriended PoW’s. The exhibition covers the life of both Allied (in Europe and the Far East) and Axis PoW’s. It contains totally unique material and personal experiences and stories and we believe it to be the most comprehensive of its kind in the world.
For some light relief, you can visit the Eden Camp Music Hall where you can sit down and watch a puppet show in which some of the great entertainers of the time are portrayed. The audience is invited to join in and sing "We'll meet again".
As a nationally recognized military museum we are continually forming partnerships with many different military and civilian veteran groups, associations and old comrade clubs. This in turn has lead to many organizations depositing their own collections of memorabilia and archives with us. This has allowed us to establish and create a number of unique exhibitions, for example Escapers and Evaders, Human Torpedo’s, The Civil Defence and R.A.F. Bomb Disposal.
The forming of partnerships has also led to the museum hosting a growing number of reunion events which allow veterans to get together and reminisce about the good (or in some cases not so good) old days. These reunions are often quite emotional, with pals meeting up again and being reunited after, in some cases, 50 years. Our main all Services veterans’ parade takes place in September. We also host annual reunions for Escapers and Evaders (usually April - May) and veterans of Palestine (October).
The Eden Camp Chapel of Remembrance (which is located within Hut 29) has seen many Associations and regional branches of Associations combining a reunion with the dedicating of a memorial plaque or laying up of a Standard. At all other times the Chapel is open to allow both young and old to spend a quiet moment and reflect on everything that they have seen on site. It also allows families to remember loved ones that have been lost through military conflict.
In addition to the museum’s many indoor displays, we are always adding to our collection of military vehicles displayed around the site, these include T34, Sherman and Churchill Tanks, Scammel Heavy Recovery Wagon, White M16 half-track, DUKW, a large collection of artillery pieces and full size replica Spitfire and Hurricane aircraft as well as a V1 Doodlebug Flying bomb. Our most recent addition is a gun from a British submarine. On a number of special days throughout the year, Eden Camp becomes the temporary home of a number of re-enactment teams. This allows visitors to come face to face with ‘German’ PoWs, British soldiers, an American M.P. or even the great British bobby.