In this season of good cheer, here’s a winter offering with a difference – a panto programme from a POW Camp!

‘The New Alladin’ [sic] was performed in the Gaiety Theatre of Stalag VIII-B at Christmas 1942. The camp was sited near the town of Lamsdorf (modern Lambinowice) in Silesia, south-west Poland.

Lamsdorf-panto-1Opened in 1939 for Polish prisoners, Stalag VIII-B housed some 100,000 British and Allied POWs, a neighbouring camp, Stalag VIII-F, housing Soviet POWs, in appalling conditions.

Written by JW Wood and produced by Laurie Page, the pantomime features characters such as the philosophers Whatho and Hownow, Alladin’s girlfriend Pitti Pit and the ‘Constabules’ PC Dyketyckle and PC Wychebottome, as well as the eponymous hero. All parts, needless to say, were played by the POWs.

In case this suggests that Lamsdorf was a pleasant place to while away captivity, this was very much not the case – conditions were basic and non-officer POWs were required to work. Over 700 Arbeitskommando or work parties were employed in a variety of settings, mostly in the numerous coal mines and quarries of Silesia, with some labouring in the IG Farben chemical works at Monowice.

In spite of this the ‘Kriegies’, as the POWs called themselves, produced plays, ran a camp orchestra and produced a camp newspaper The Clarion, the latter being printed, as was this programme, by the local newspaper in Oppeln.

One of a number of Dorset Regiment soldiers incarcerated in Lamsdorf was Staff Sgt ‘Snowy’ Mullins, shown here seated second right, in a photograph he sent home to his mother at ‘The Bungalow’, Bowling Alley Walk, Dorchester. A pre-war regular, Sgt Mullins was captured at Dunkirk, having been ‘volunteered’ to act as rearguard.

In January 1945, with the Red Army advancing from the east, the camp was evacuated, the ensuing ‘Death March’ resulting in the deaths of many POWs from cold and exhaustion. Snowy Mullins survived to return home after four years and 364 days in captivity.

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