German slaves harvested crops and built roads in Epping Forest after the Second World War with their imprisonment no less than a crime against humanity, a local writer has claimed in a new book.

British Concentration Camps: A Brief History from 1900 – 1975 by Loughton historian Simon Webb was published in January, detailing how the British government used and facilitated concentration and labour camps throughout the twentieth century.

Mr Webb says that after the end of the Second World War in September 1945, the army transported prisoners back to Britain.

They were either used in a new farming workforce to keep the country fed, or to rebuild areas damaged by war.

In Epping Forest, prisoners were held in camps in places such as Church Hill, Loughton, and Lippitts Hill Camp in High Beech.

Mr Webb said: “Lippitts Hill was an anti-aircraft station and it was not until the war ended that they started bringing prisoners there for agricultural work.

“They would have been farming - between a quarter and a fifth of farming in the county was slave labour, the reason being the harvest dropped after the war.

“It had been conscientious objectors doing it, people like that, but when the war ended they still needed to harvest the wheat.

“An awful lot of farms in Epping Forest would have known about it.”

As well as farming, prisoners were also used in construction projects.

One example in the district is Rectory Lane in Loughton, which Mr Webb says was built by Germans being kept at the White House in Church Hill.

“They were used as slave labour.

“They were marched out with armed guards each morning and then taken back each evening.

“The conditions were pretty much the same as for British soldiers – they were Spartan but not cruel.

“But that’s not really the point, there was a very famous trial and the SS argued they did not harm their prisoners but they were hanged for it - at the same time, we were enslaving people.”

Despite Mr Webb’s belief that the imprisonment and work programmes were a crime against humanity, there was some support for them at the time.

“There was a lot of war damage and lot of people thought it was only just that the Germans rebuilt it.

“A lot of German prisoners were involved - some soldiers, some civilians, some SS.

“But none of them had any rights at all under the Geneva Convention because Switzerland was not allowed to inspect the camps.”

The forced nature of the work, the similarity to Nazi and Japanese projects labelled ‘slavery’ by the British and the lack of prisoner rights mean the Epping Forest schemes were no more than twentieth century slavery, Mr Webb said.

“It was involuntary servitude, there was no war on.

“They were being held prisoner and forced to work, slavery is the only word I can think of.

“Slavery was certainly the word when the Germans or the Japanese used it, it is the same thing.”

Although the projects had some support, they faced protests worldwide and in Britain.

Some members of parliament condemned the forced work, and newspapers spoke out about the issue.

At one point reaching over a quarter of a million men nationwide, the prisoners were eventually freed and the last man was returned to his country in July 1948 - almost three years after the end of the war.

Mr Webb acknowledges the issue has somehow slipped off the radar, despite public knowledge of the projects such as the one in Rectory Lane.

That is because, he said, the idea of slave labour in Epping Forest sounds “ridiculous”.

“We like history to be a simple narrative with the bad guys and the good guys.

“The bad guys were the Japanese and the Germans.

“It does not fit with our idea of the war.”