When food was short during the war, people were asked to 'dig for victory'. But captured soldiers also played a vital role in feeding the nation, write Times Group historians PERCY REBOUL and JOHN HEATHFIELD If you are old enough to remember Potato Pete, you will also probably recollect that by 1943 the Second World War was going so badly that every scrap of food was vital and every opportunity was taken to grow more of it.

Parks and golf courses were just two of the areas turned into allotments or pasture and most householders stopped growing flowers and grew vegetables instead. What is less well known is the key part played by the German and Italian prisoners of war (POWs) in helping British agriculture to keep the country fed.

Our area was home to many German and Italian POWs. They were required to work on the land (Barnet was much more rural then) to replace farm labourers who had been called up by the armed services.

During 1943, a camp for German POWs was built just north of Dancers Hill Road on the St Albans Road, outside Barnet.

It was built by Italian POWs and the prisoners were housed in standard Ministry of War production huts, which had an 18ft 6ins roof span. The side walls were made of bitumen-coated corrugated iron sheets with brick end walls, with a doorway in the centre and a window at each side.

It was a small POW camp compared with some. The usual size was 35 prisoners' huts and 15 guard huts. Our camp appears to have had about 15 prisoners' huts plus a cookhouse, grocery and produce store, a dining hut, ablution and latrine blocks connected to services in the St Albans Road, a sick bay and a carpenter's hut.

Some readers may remember a fine model made by the POWs of their cathedral at Salzburg which was located near the gate to the camp. There was a double barbed-wire fence with coils of wire between the inner and outer fence. Contrary to popular belief fostered by the numerous POW movies, there were no guard towers with machine guns and searchlights as the prisoners were probably rated 'low-risk'. And after all, where could they go?

Immediately after the war, priority was given to bringing back our own servicemen. Germany was also in ruins so many of the prisoners did not leave until the spring of 1946. Up to that time, they were employed on the land — particularly on potato production, which suited our area.

Under the terms of the Geneva Convention the prisoners were paid six shillings (30p) a week for their labour and this rate remained after the war was over. This compared with 75 shillings a week (£3.75) paid to members of the Agricultural Trades Union.

The unions were upset because they were being undercut by cheap 'immigrant labour'. The Germans were upset and felt that there should be equal pay for equal work — all of which petered out when the POWs returned home in spring 1946 and the camp closed. For a brief period in the winter of 1944/5, a small group of Italian POWs, who worked on nearby farms, were housed at the top of Bell's Hill in Barnet.

There is a shortage of information about local POW camps and we should be delighted to hear from anyone who can add to the story.

Just write to us c/o Hendon Times Group, 71 Church Road, Hendon, NW4 4DN, or email timesnews@london.newsquest.co.uk