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The Welsh Escape: Newly-found memo tells of 70 daring German PoWs who dug way to freedom

Open and hut: A watchtower is also still visible at Island Farm PICTURES: SWNS

A DOG-EARED police memo has shed new light on the biggest breakout of German PoWs in Britain — the Great Welsh Escape.

At least 70 men absconded after digging a 30ft tunnel under the barbed wire of the camp in Bridgend, south Wales.

They used tins as shovels, empty milk cans for a ventilation pipe and bed posts as tunnel supports to flee the Island Farm camp on March 10, 1945.

Roof joist: Bed posts were used to support the tunnel

The identities of most escapees has remained a mystery for 73 years but now a faded memo found during a house clearance has revealed more details.

The note, written the day after the escape was discovered, appears to be from local police to superiors and states nine men had already been recaptured.

Bunk(er) beds: One of the cells at the south Wales prison camp

It includes the PoWs’ height, rank, eye colour, hair colour and weight, plus unusual markers such as ‘cauliflower ears’ and ‘scar over right eye’.

The note reveals that most were from the German army, air force and navy with three from the notorious SS. Four were called Hans and five named Karl.

Locked up: A German officer’s quarters

Historian Brett Exton, 57, who has painstakingly deciphered the faded list, said: ‘Researching Island Farm is my life work and unravelling the lists was a particularly tricky piece of the puzzle.’ He said: ‘I wonder what the soldiers thought they were going to do once breaking out — they could have been shot. I’m sure they were desperate to get back to their families, although some maybe liked the fun of hatching a perfect escape plan.’

Lunch break-out: German prisoners queuing for food PICTURE: GETTY

Peter Phillips, author of The German Great Escape, claims that 84 got out, eclipsing the 76 Allied PoWs who fled Stalag Luft III in the actual Great Escape.

He claimed 14 were captured soon after, allowing officials to say only 70 had escaped. Three were spotted in Kent and it is speculated they were never caught.

Mr Exton chairs The Hut 9 Preservation Group, who are working to restore a part of Island Farm, originally built for female munitions workers but converted into a prison in 1944. The group will be involved in Wartime Bridgend events tomorrow.

War chest: Busty woman and (below) church painted by the prisoners still survives