One measure of a good non-fiction book, is whether, having read it, any other author is ever going to consider it worthwhile writing about the same subject. In writing "Camp 21 Comrie: POWs and Post-War Stories from Cultybraggan", Valerie Campbell has given us the definitive story of a fascinating place. During the Second World War a huge amount of development took place across Scotland: airfields, army camps, naval bases and more. Traces of them are becoming ever harder to find on the ground, and some might consider that a good thing. This was hardly, after all, the most pleasant period in our history. But if you know where to look, it is still possible to find reminders of the time.
Camp 21 Comrie, also known as Cultybraggan Camp, housed thousands of prisoners of war in a remote area of Perthshire during the conflict, and, almost uniquely, much of it remains. In large part this was down to continuing military uses being found for it after the war, both for training and, should the unthinkable happen, as a regional government HQ at the end of the Cold War. Much of it remains standing today, in the ownership of the Comrie Development Trust.
Valerie Campbell's excellent book leads us through the whole story of Cultybraggan Camp. What you get to start with is very much an account based on official records, of numbers of prisoners held and movement from and to other camps. Things then become much more personal, and absorbing. The second chapter is given over to the story of Herbert Sulzbach, who was engaged in the re-education programme intended to de-Nazify the German prisoners. Then we have the beautifully researched and detailed story of Rolf Weitzel, who was captured in France in September 1944. For us this really brought the book to life, and took the narrative far beyond Perthshire as Rolf was processed through the system and moved from camp to camp. Another personal account follows, this time of a baker, who after his time as a prisoner settled in Britain and married a girl he had met here.
The murder by other prisoners of Wolfgang Rosterg at Cultybraggan in December 1944 is covered in detail, as are accounts of similar murders at other POW camps in the UK and beyond. The reminiscences of locals about the camp are recounted, as is the story - a myth as it turns out - that Rudolf Hess spent time at Cultybraggan. We then move on to the post-war role of Cultybraggan. What emerges is a book that will have a lasting value as a work of reference, yet is also engaging to read.