HENLLAN Prisoner of War Camp


On Tuesday, 16th July Year 8 pupils Henllan Prisoner of War Camp. With an informative tour led by Mr.Thomson the pupils were able to step back in time and reflect upon the lives of Italian and German prisoners housed there. Pupils discovered that the camp was equipped with a hospital, theatres, football pitches, tennis courts, kitchens, transport units, washrooms and about 30 huts which housed the prisoners. The prisoners were well treated, and some were even allowed to live on the farms where they worked.

A highlight of the Humanities visit was entry to the Catholic Church. Here the pupils learned that the young prisoners needed a place to find comfort in God. By volunteering to sacrifice one sleeping hut, and doubling up in others, they would build a church. Among the prisoners were many talented and resourceful men. They salvaged cocoa, jam and corned beef tins, cartons and wooden packing crates, and they traded craft work for cement. Out of these unlikely materials, they built a chancel, high altar and dome, side altars and a holy water font. They rolled large tin cans into scrolls for pillars and cut silhouettes for candleholders. One of the prisoners climbed up an ivy-sided tower at the mansion where he worked to “borrow” the farm bell.

The glory of the church today is the painted dome above the altar, along with the murals on the ceiling beams. In spite of decades of neglect, the colours are still true and beautiful. This is the more astonishing because the paints used were home-made. Workers at the nearby woollen mill contributed tablets of yarn dye. Others gathered berries from woods and hedgerows, and saved tea leaves, carrot pulp and onion skins from the kitchen. All of this was mixed with a paste made from fish bones and pickling fluid.

The identity of the painter, Mario Ferlito, was not revealed until the mid-1970’s when a former prisoner of war came to visit Henllan and helped track him down. On seeing his work again, Mario is reported to have been greatly moved and to have said:

Through the rainbow of my tears, I see the days of my youth opening in front of me like the pages of a book.

In Henllan Church young Italian prisoners found comfort in a time of war. Today, pupils studying Humanities at Ysgol Gyfun Emlyn discovered a priceless piece of geography, history and religion right on their doorstep.

ARGYMHELLIR