Save Shean Block at Wilton Park, Beaconsfield

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Save Shean Block at Wilton Park, Beaconsfield

This petition had 499 supporters

Sarah Paterson started this petition to Buckinghamshire County Council and South Bucks District Council (Principal Planner - South Bucks District Council)

I am calling on Buckinghamshire County Council and South Bucks District Council to protect and save Shean Block at Wilton Park. This building was erected in 1942 when the camp was developed during the war.  It is virtually the sole survivor, and therefore representative, of the important wartime activities conducted there.

Wilton Park on the edge of Beaconsfield Old Town has been occupied by the military since 1940.  The site played as vital a role as Bletchley Park during the Second World War but is still surrounded by secrecy.  It has now been sold to Inland Homes, who plan to build at least 300 homes here (although the sale has been challenged by Jansons Property and there will be a High Court Ruling in the Autumn).  The redevelopment plan mentions the importance of the camp’s historical past, but also claims that no buildings date from before the 1950s.  I have had no reply to a letter sent to Inland Homes about this.  I know Wilton Park well as I have worked there periodically since 1998, but it is only since conducting research for my forthcoming book on tracing prisoners of war of the Second World War that the full extent of the work conducted here has emerged.  It was the most important prisoner of war site in the country, with two distinct parts known as Camp 300 and Camp 20.

The site went through several incarnations during the period 1940-50, the best known of which was the re-education facility for German prisoners of war, which operated between 1946 and 1948 in Camp 300.  German civilians also participated in these, and between 1949 and 1950 the German civilian courses took place in Shean Block.  The Foreign Office ran these courses and when the War Office demanded their site back, they moved to Steyning in West Sussex, which still operates as a global discussion centre under the Wilton Park name.

A more secret role was that of Combined Services Detailed Interrogation Centre for German and Italian aircrew, submariners and those deemed to have valuable information before they were sent to permanent camps.  The intelligence gleaned here was vital to the Allied war effort, with formal interrogation sessions and bugged cell eavesdropping (one of three sites that served this function; the other two were Latimer House and Trent Park).

Finally, it was the Headquarters of MI9 – the branch of military intelligence concerned with Allied Escape and Evasion.  It gave advice, training and ingenious escape aids to those vulnerable to capture, and assisted escape committees in POW camps abroad, especially in Germany.  It fostered escape mindedness, kept up morale and also received valuable intelligence in the form of coded letters and debriefings of returned prisoners and evaders.

Shean Block (named a few decades ago after a Royal Army Education Corps brigadier) was the Headquarters of Camp 20.  It would be cultural vandalism to demolish this initially temporary building, which had been in almost constant use since the War (as a Sergeants Mess, Russian Language Wing, Housing Offices, Examination Centre and for Media Ops), with its Cold War usage also being significant.  English Heritage has stated that more research needs to be done on the building.  The site also has international significance, as beyond POWs, Americans of MIS-X were based here, and awards were distributed from here to citizens of occupied countries who had assisted escapers and evaders).  Its importance goes beyond captivity, for example, all of the escape aid packs issued pre-operationally to aircrew were packed here, and re-education helped to rebuild a shattered Germany.  The site encompassed the best and worst of humanity and educationally could address difficult issues still relevant today relating to war crimes and reconciliation, nationality and citizenship, as well as demonstrating the importance of languages, cultural understanding, communication, coding and technology.    

Beaconsfield currently has no museum, yet this site is of national importance.  Showcasing the history of a site can add cachet to redevelopment, benefiting the developer, community and public at large.  Please help to save Shean Block – or at the very least ensure it is properly researched and recorded and a memorial/heritage centre placed on the site.

 

Petition Closed

This petition had 499 supporters