Prisoners arrived at the village train station before marching about two miles to the camp. An aunt remembers "We used to walk up Drummond Street and Dalginross alongside the prisioners. They used to sing as they marched and we picked up a song or two. Work parties were sent to some of the farms. I have no memory of them being troublesome."
My interest in the camp started when a friend gave me a link to this year's re-enactment of the march from the train station to the camp. I had a quick look, as you do, in the local newspapers from those days, to see if I could find anything interesting and came across the trial of a group of Germans who had cold bloodily murdered one of their own.
Eight were charged with his murder, the oldest being 21 years old, and the trial started on 10th July 1945. Two were found not guilty and the other six were sentenced to be hanged. The sentence was carried out on five of the prisoners at Pentonville Prison on 6th October 1945, the other had his sentence commuted to penal servitude for life, of which he served 8 years.
I found newspaper reports of the trial and have transcribed extracts below.
An inmate of the German prisoner of war camp at Comrie, Perthshire, was alleged, at a military court in London yesterday, to have been given a mock trial with a rope around his neck, and then to have been dragged 60 yards along the ground by the rope to the place of execution. On the way, according to the prosecution, he was kicked and stamped on, but was dead before the actual hanging was carried out. His body was found suspended from a pipe.
Eight German POWs are accused of murdering the man, Feldwebel Wolfang Rosterg, who was stated to have been so badly beaten up before the mock trial that his face was unrecognisable. The eight accused are all young non-commissioned officers in the German Army. They were described as : Sturmmann Kurt Zuehlsdorff, Unteroflizier Rolf Herzig, Matrozer Josef Mertens, Unterscharfuhrer Joacirn Goltz, Obergefreiter Herbart Wunderlich, Rottenfuhrer Heinz Brueling, Oberfahnrich Erich Pallme Koenig, and Oberfeldwebel Hans Klein.
Major R. A. L. Hillard, of the Judge Advocate General's Office, accused the eight Germans of committing a civil offence, that is to say, murder, in that they at Comrie on December 23. 1944, murdered Prisoner of War No. 788778 Feldwebel Wolfgang Rosterg. The court was composed of six British officers and a Deputy Judge Advocate General in wig and gown. A military solicitor, represented four of the accused and a barrister, the other four prisoners. Two British captains were interpreters.
The accused stood strictly to attention during the opening formalities. They replied to questions in short, curt sentences. Each of the accused pleaded not guilty.
The prosecution stated that Rosterg arrived at No. 21 Camp from Devizes on December 22. That night there was discussion in one of the huts at which some of the accused were present. One of the accused said he had asked Rosterg whether he was National Socialist, and Rosterg had said that, he most certainly was not.
Next morning the story begins about the time of reveille at 6.30 a.m. In Hut No. 4 there took place what might be described as a mock trial. Rosterg was standing with a rope round his neck. The rope was being held by Koenig. Witnesses will describe the condition of Rosterg at that time. One says that his face was unrecognisable. Each allegation apparently was put to Rosterg bit by bit, and he was expected to make a reply to each portion of the statement. He was repeatedly hit. Four of the accused hit him, one with an iron bar.
ROPE ROUND NECK
Shortly before eight o'clock he was taken to a hut used as an office by the compound leader. Koenig by this time told Rosterg that if he had any honour he would hang himself. Rosterg replied that he was not able to do it. The rope was put round Rosterg's neck again and he was pushed outside the office. Outside at that time there was a crowd which included every one of the accused before the Court. The rope was round Rosterg's neck. An end of it was seized by Goltz, and Rosterg was thrown to the ground. He was then kicked and stamped on with boots. Some of the accused took hold of the rope and commenced to drag Rosterg from the compound office towards a lavatory.
Those who took part in the dragging right from the start were Goltz, Herzig, and Zuehlsdorff. Goltz and Zuehlsdorff put one end of the rope over a pipe which ran round the ceiling, and Mertens pulled on the other end. Mertens could not pull the body up himself and called out for assistance.
DEAD BEFORE HANGING
The case for the prosecution founded on the medical evidence, particularly evidence of the doctor who conducted the post mortem. It was that death took place outside the compound office, and that when the hanging took place in the lavatory, it was the hanging of a dead body.
It is the case for the prosecution that some of the men before the Court were actually the murderers with their own hands, but that all of them were present in pursuance of common design — the design was to cause the death of Rosterg.
Rosterg had said that he had been about the world enough not to believe any more in National Socialism. Some of those in the room said “All right. We will see all about this fellow."
The accused watched and listened intently while the first German witness described the events alleged to have occurred at the camp. When the witness was asked to point out particular men among the accused, those named sprang to their feet and gazed at the witness with hard, unflinching eyes. One smiled sardonically.
The witness stated that another prisoner had read from a piece of paper, said to have been found on Rosterg. As this was being read out, the witness went on, Klein said to Rosterg “Did you do that, you swine ?" Rosterg was unable to reply because he was groaning. Goltz hit him with a bar and held on hard to the rope and tightened it as Klein hit Rosterg in the face with a bar from the stove equipment.
Witness said he heard Rosterg shouting loudly and saw Koenig pulling him by the rope towards the wash house. When they came back with Rosterg, they had tried to wash the blood from his face, but fresh blood was running from it. Someone said, "We will go to the camp leader and have an end of all this.”
The rope was removed from Rosterg's neck, and he was taken through a crowd to the compound office. After a while Koenig came out alone, and said to the men outside, "We are doing it all quietly and gently. He has signed something about his having to hang himself, but he doesn't know that yet."
Witness saw Rosterg lying on the ground, and Goltz knelt upon his breast and put his hands round his throat. Others came and kicked him in the face and all over the body. They were Herzig, Mertens and others.
DRAGGED OVER PATH
Rosterg was dragged over an asphalt path with kerbstones. As they were dragging him over the path they pulled his head against the kerbstones with all their power and force. They dragged Rosterg through the mud until he was absolutely black. Witness added that the hanging occurred just before roll call as it was getting light.
When the witness complained to his comrades about what was going on, because a man held a certain point of view, the only reply he got was, "You are just as bad a criminal as he is. If you think like that you had better keep your mouth shut."
Witness stated that he was first asked to give evidence sometime in January. "I could not do it before. If I tried to put a little note in the box to bring one the British captains in the camp, I would have got beaten up for doing it."
The Deputy Judge Advocate asked the witness whether he could say when he thought Rosterg might have died. He replied that Rosterg was alive until he was pushed out of the compound office. He was killed at the point outside the office when they knelt on him and kicked. "From what you saw do you think that Rosterg was alive or dead at the time he was being hanged over the pipe in the lavatory ?" "He was dead."