Back in the early 1970s I was in the British army and was selected by my college to take part in an orienteering competition that was taking place in Scotland.
Orienteering is a sport that requires navigational skills using a map and compass to navigate from point to point in diverse and unfamiliar countryside whilst moving at speed. Participants are given a topographical map, usually a specially prepared orienteering map, which they use to find control points. I guess you can appreciate why the army liked this sport.
The competition was taking place in Perthshire and we were billeted in Cultybraggan Camp which is 10 miles from where we now live.
It was far from glamorous as it had previously been a Second World War prisoner of war camp known as ‘Nazi 2’ with a capacity to hold almost 5,000 prisoners.
It was one of only two camps in Britain which held prisoners of war categorised as ‘Black’ – these were the most ardent Nazis and potential troublemakers.
In the 1990s during the Cold War the camp was further developed with a nuclear bunker installed with the intention of being a regional seat of government in the event of a nuclear attack.
Fortunately, the bunker was never used.
One of the prisoners held in Cultybraggan Camp was Heinrich Steinmeyer who was a member of the 12th SS Panzer Division (Hitlerjugend).
After his capture in Normandy in 1944 he was interrogated and given the status of his division he was categorised as an ardent Nazi and sent to Cultybraggen Camp.
After the war Heinrich was free to return to his homeland but decided to stay in Scotland.
He said, “I’ve lost my home, now part of Poland, my father is dead, and my mother became a refugee and was driven from her home by the Russians into East Germany”.
He stayed in Scotland for seven years doing various jobs before finally settling in the south west of the country in Stranraer.
He finally made up his mind to return to Germany where he worked as a docker in Bremen in the north of the country.
In 2009 he returned to Cultybraggen Camp where he spoke publicly for the first time about his time as a prisoner of war.
He described his captors as tough but always fair.
This attitude surprised him due to him being in the SS where the most loyal Nazis served.
He went on to say, “such friendliness was a surprise, but it is in the British nature.
They fed us well and it was so much better than being told to lie in a filthy foxhole and probably die”.
Over the years after he was released, he had kept in touch with many local people and during his 2009 visit he announced that he was going to bequeath his home and savings to the elderly residents living close to the camp.
The remarkable act of gratitude was his way of saying thank you for the way he had been treated during his capture.
Heinrich died in 2013, aged 90, bequeathing £386,000 to the local community.
More than 500 local villagers took part in a poll to decide which community projects would benefit from his will.
It was decided that the money would go towards 10 projects, including a sensory garden and a new community bus and first response vehicle.
Gordon is the former president and chief executive of BMMI. He can be reached at [email protected]l.com