Great escape from the past as Cultybraggan PoW site is turned into holiday camp

At first glance, several rows of 76-year-old former army nissen huts hardly look like an ideal investment opportunity. However, Cultybraggan Prisoner of War Camp number 21, at Comrie in the heart of picturesque Perthshire is unique.

Constructed at the outset of World War II to hold some 4,000 Category A prisoners, many of them from the Afrika Corps and SS, it is the last remaining high security POW camp in the UK.

German PoWs lived in huts like those at Cultybraggan

German PoWs lived in huts like those at Cultybraggan

Some of the most fervent Nazis were held there during the conflict, including Hitler’s deputy Rudolf Hess who was incarcerated for one night after mysteriously crash-landing in Scotland in 1941 on his ill-fated peace mission.

During the war the camp saw a number of unsuccessful escape attempts and on one infamous occasion a prisoner, Sergeant Wolfgang Rostberg, was killed by his own comrades for not being as committed to the cause.

Five of the POWs were subsequently hanged at Pentonville Prison in London for murder.

After the war Cultybraggan was used by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) as a training camp until September 2007 when the villagers of Comrie bought the 90 acre site for £350,000 in a community buyout.

Since taking over the site the Comrie Development Trust (CDT) has preserved part of the camp as museum, created 30 allotments to encourage local food production and made 25,000 sq ft of workspace available for local businesses.

Now, the 2,000 community is offering an unusual share option for members of the public to buy into this little piece of history. They want to turn a number of the old nissen huts into self-catering accommodation to satisfy demand from former service personnel, who trained at the site, history buffs and ordinary tourists looking to enjoy the beautiful surroundings, while at the same time preserving the camp as a living link to one of the most dramatic periods in human history.

Former Officers' Mess at Cultybraggan

Photograph by: Mick GarrattFormer Officers’ Mess at Cultybraggan

Dr Iain Banks, Senior Lecturer in History at the University of Glasgow said: “The preservation of this camp is vital as it is part of a diminishing resource of WWII sites that will help future generations to understand the conflict and its impact on British communities.”

Already £632,500 worth of funding has been given initial approval by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Historic Scotland and the Scottish and Southern Energy Sustainable Development Fund. But, in addition to the grants the CDT is looking to raise another £45,000 with a community share scheme, in which investors can chip in as little as £25 or as much as £5,000, to help turn the huts into a viable tourist accommodation business.

The organisers believe the project could increase visitor levels to the area by more 15,000, create around 20 jobs and boost the local economy by some £2 million.

Bill Thaw, Chairman of Cultybraggan Development Trust, said: “Cultybraggan Camp was built in 1941 to house German prisoners of war. It was quite significant in that it was a Black Camp in which more dangerous types of prisoners, like members of the SS and so on, were kept.

“At the end of the war the camp was given back to the British army and they used it for training purposes until the 1990s.“For the community of Comrie it’s an asset used for commercial, leisure and recreational purposes.

Rudolf Hess

Rudolf Hess

“This particular share offer is to allow us to refurbish 10 B listed nissen huts. The way we are going to make it commercially viable is to convert them into self-catering accommodation. We recognise there is a demand, particularly from people who were here with the forces who would love to come back and stay. We also think there are people who would be quite happy to use the facilities to enjoy the beauty of this part of there world.”

Some 30 of the huts are listed by Historic Scotland for special protection, which means the exterior of the buildings cannot be altered and that makes it even more difficult to find a suitable use.

Nissen huts were only designed to last 15 years and they are now over 70 years old so preservation is a never-ending battle.

Any surplus generated by the self-catering accommodation will be re-invested into maintaining the rest of the camp and in other projects that benefit the community.

It is envisaged that construction of the self-catering accommodation will be completed by early 2017, generating annual profits of around £18,500 within four or five years.