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3D reconstruction of World War II prison camp

It’s hard to believe today, but the New Forest was home to hundreds of Italian and German prisoners of war (PoW) during and after World War II. One of the biggest PoW camps was at Setley near Brockenhurst. Nothing remains today apart from a few pieces of concrete in the ground. But now New Forest Remembers World War II project officer Gareth Owen explains how he has digitally rebuilt the camp with 3D modelling.

Few people realise the important and varied role that the New Forest played in World War II. The years that have passed have watered down the memories and the knowledge of what actually happened here.  The New Forest Remembers World War II Project tried to stop this and bring the war years alive for a wide range of people through field surveys, archive research and recordings of people’s memories.

Many of the World War II sites have left no, or very few, visible remains - making it difficult to picture this time in our local history.  My background is in three dimensional (3D) surveying in the building and heritage industries. Occasionally I would get to ‘play’ and asked to produce 3D models of sites. This modelling used very expensive software, which was not easily affordable for the everyday person. Then SketchUp came along. 

This easy to use (and free version) software was used in the modelling of the Setley Prisoner of War Camp 65. The camp was built in 1941 to hold Italian and then German PoWs until 1947. The camp was then handed over to the New Forest Rural District Council to house young families of returning servicemen, previously housed in Nissen huts at Beaulieu aerodrome. The camp had a shop, run by Harry Munden, and was in existence until the early 1950s, when sufficient permanent council housing had been built.

I had a wealth of archive material to work from to reconstruct the camp in 3D. Due to military construction methods, many of the buildings were the same or modular. Very few World War II sites in the New Forest can be reconstructed to this level of detail. We hope it’s not only fascinating to see the camp reconstructed in 3D, but that it will work as a visual aid to trigger memories when interviewing people who lived during the period.

I started by adding the site into SketchUp by importing the most up to date Google earth satellite images of the area, its scale and geographical location. I then added a 1946 RAF aerial photo of the camp, scaled it, and traced the building outlines to form a plan of the site.

As there were no contemporary on the ground photos of the camp, I used a war time publication ‘Memorandum - Nissen Huts’ to construct the camp’s Nissen huts used to accommodate the prisoners and staff. Site visits led us to interpret that a few buildings may have been brick built, such as the kitchens and dining hall. These were simply modelled taking their traced plan to govern their size.

A sketch by a prisoner of Setley PoW Camp, New Forest. Picture credit - Mueller family

It was at this point that I saw a water colour of the camp’s entrance painted in 1946 by a German PoW. This came from a scrapbook compiled by the prisoners and handed to camp leader Max Mueller who later settled in the New Forest. His family still live in Brockenhurst and kindly loaned the book to the New Forest Remembers World War II Project which was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and ExxonMobil at Fawley. It was a relief that my 3D model did reasonably resemble this water colour with only minor adjustments needed. It was at this point that an oil painting of the camp came to light, again painted in 1946 by a PoW. This painting was of the entire camp, not just the entrance, and so gave me a lot of information and details to help finish of the model.  This oil painting, held by St Barbe Museum and Art Gallery in Lymington, also contained the name and use of every building - helping me to include this information in the model.

The Mueller family also loaned the project a large photo album with images of the German PoWs, and in many cases the barrack number or hut the men occupied. A user of the Interactive Portal - the online digital archive for the New Forest during WWI and WWII - then uploaded some photographs of the camp when it was being used after the Second World War to house returning service personnel and local families. It was again a great relief to see that the model of the camp was a good comparison to these post war photos.

Max Mueller (left) at Setley PoW Camp, New Forest. Picture credit - Mueller family

A number of other WWII sites have been modelled in the same way, though with less documentary material to rely upon such as the 'Ministry of Home Security Target' at Ashley Walk in the north of the Forest, which was nicknamed the 'Sub Pen' by locals because of its likeness to German submarine pens. 

I hope I’ll be able to make a few more ‘fly-a-rounds’ available online in due course.

This entry was posted by Communications on Wednesday 06/05/2015


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