A GERMAN soldier who forged lasting friendships on enemy soil has returned to a North-East prisoner of war camp after creating a permanent reminder of his stay.

Visitors to Harperley PoW camp, near Crook, County Durham, can view a 20-minute award-winning film of Johannes Heerdegen's experiences there and in ten other camps across Britain.

He visited so many without knowing exactly where they were that he lists them by number rather than name.

Captured by the Americans in Normandy in September 1944, the teenager arrived at Harperley two months later lice ridden, hungry and filthy.

Well-fed and treated kindly by his British jailers, the 17-year-old found a strange irony in the particular freedom he found inside enemy prisons.

On enemy soil and confined behind barbed wire, he and his fellow countrymen could at least express their views without fear. Open debate was denied to them in their homeland and criticism of the Fuhrer could mean severe punishment or even death.

Harperley's theatre, the paintings done by homesick prisoners and the rainy climate are all brought to life by Johannes in his film, Journey into the Past.

He recorded it on DVD and included many old and new photographs and film clips.

Now retired and living in Ahrensburg, near Hamburg, he returns to Britain almost every year with his wife, Hanna.

He said: "We were well treated in Britain. It was a completely new experience to be able to speak openly.

"A lot of people were against Hitler but we were brought up in his spirit and young men like me were told we were defending our country. We had no choice."

Harperley's owner James Mcleod said: "I always find it most humbling to meet someone who stayed at the camp but we never imagined that we would meet someone who would show his time here as such a moving and positive experience."