The bombing of the Duff House Prisoner of War camp on 22nd July 1940 is well known – there are other stories on this website and a book by the Friends of Duff House, “Out of the Blue”; not least the joint British and German memorial outside Duff House close to where one of the bombs exploded.

There are however several so far unexplained mysteries around the whole matter of PoW Camp No5; ie Duff House.

Why were there so many regiments represented at Duff House in July 1940.  We know – mainly from the hospital records – that men from at least 8 regiments were stationed here. 

Secondly, although the British did a monthly report called “General Return of the Strength of the British Army”, Duff House is not listed as having any soldiers in July 1940  – although clearly there were!

Thirdly, is this tied in with why there is no MoD file on PoW Camp No5 ?  There is a file on 4 and 6, but no 5 – or at least not until 1944 when PoW Camp 5 was opened at Cookstown in Northern Ireland.  Yet there is a 1940 War Office letter referring to Duff House and PoW Camp No5, so there Is firm evidence!

Fourthly, what was the reason that the prisoners were housed inside Duff House itself, and the guards were in the Nissen huts to the east?  We know for sure the prisoners were inside, we even know which rooms some of them had, based on their own later correspondence.

But the biggest mystery of all might be just why was the whole crew, except the captain, of the U-26, were transported all the way from southern Ireland to the north of Scotland.  An admission from the submarine radio operator, to a Canadian radio station, a couple of years before he died in 2013 might provide a clue.  Previous reports had always implied that the Germans had sunk the submarine before the British, from HMS Rochester, had been able to get on board, even though every single German crew member was rescued.  But Paul Mengelberg amended this in his radio interview, and admitted that the British did board the submarine.

Black and white photo of a WW2 sloop
HMS Rochester

There is no evidence but one possible reason this had not become known earlier, and perhaps explaining why 40 Germans had been transported hundreds of miles to Banff, has to do with the code that the Germans were using, and the British were trying to break – the Enigma machine.  The official records show that the British were not able to read the german messages until at least March 1941.  But did they actually get their hands on an enigma machine in July 1940 – and needed to keep that quiet so the Germans would not know they were reading messages? 

It seems unlikely we’ll ever know, but it is intriguing that Duff House may have been part of such an important element in the war.

Colour photo of bronze plaque and wreath on a stone background

This picture is of the war memorial at Duff House. Poppies in remembrance of the British that died, and the Forget-me-nots as the German flower of remembrance. This is one of the very few joint nationality war memorials in existence. It is placed on the spot where one of the bombs fell as part of the events recounted below.

“In the morning at nine o’clock the klaxon for roll call went. We were all lined up outside. We heard an aircraft and he came pretty low. He must have been coming out from Norway or somewhere [like that]. I think it was a reconnaissance aircraft. They are loaded with bombs too. I think he was on a reconnaissance mission to explore northern Scotland, and he saw this camp down there. He saw the tents of the guards up on the hill, and he saw this building there with people outside and thought, ‘let’s give them a lesson,’ so to speak. Before we witnessed that it was over, the bombs fell. Miraculously, I wasn’t hit by anything, but I lost six of my crewmates from U-26 during the air attack mistakenly made by Hermann Göring’s ‘Flying Circus’. Two bombs went into the elevator shaft as duds, they never blew up. But two guards outside, they were killed through the bombs.”

These are the words of Paul Mengelberg, one of the true eye-witnesses as the bombs fell. This took place on 22nd July 1940 – 81 years ago this last week.

Paul Mengelberg continued, “Those that died were given a soldier’s funeral by the British forces at the gravesite in Banff.” Later writers mention that the bodies were eventually repatriated to Germany, but this is not correct. In 1959, an agreement was concluded by the governments of the United Kingdom and the Federal Republic of Germany concerning the future care of the graves of German nationals who lost their lives in the United Kingdom during the two World Wars and so a new German Military cemetery was established at Cannock Chase, Staffordshire, which is where the six men are now buried.

The two British soldiers who were killed were of course returned to their families, one in Newcastle, one in Blair Atholl.

Colour photo of gravestones in neatly cut grass
Four colour photos of gravestones
Colour photo of gravestone
Colour copy of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission card for Thomas Blakey
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission card for Thomas Blakey