LETTER: Past and present horrors in a worldwide plague of land- mines

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From Mr David Adamson

Sir: It was not only in France that German prisoners were used to clear mines ("Scandal of PoWs sent to deaths on minefields", 23 May). They were similarly employed in Britain, too, after the war.

In 1946-47, when I was serving with a specialised Royal Marine regiment in north Devon, a detachment worked on the minefield laid in the Braunton Burrows. They were leftover prisoners in the grey and black categories: Nazi party members, minor officials and members of hard-case units. I cannot remember any being blown up, even though they had a tendency to run when carrying out instructions. So far as I was able to judge, they were extremely diligent and efficient.

They led a fairly free life, had their own Bavarian band, occasionally held beer-and-music evenings and one of them baked bread for the officers' mess and generally raised the hitherto low level of the cooking.

On one occasion when I was range officer during a landing exercise, I noticed a rocket veer wildly off course and land on the beach near the minefield. After the exercise was over, I drove up the beach in a jeep with an assortment of explosives and fuses and inspected the broken-finned rocket nose-down in the sand.

As I looked at the rocket I heard a voice asking imperiously: "Do you know what you are doing?" I looked up and saw standing on top of a dune a tall, middle-aged man with aquiline features dressed in a long greatcoat and a Rommel-style cap.

I said something to the effect that demolition explosives were not my field and he stalked down from the dune and set the charges. We then retired behind a dune and waited for the explosion. Afterwards he inspected the crater and left. I have always felt rather grateful to him.

Yours sincerely,


Sunningdale, Berkshire

23 May