1922 Encyclopædia Britannica/Prisoners of War
PRISONERS OF WAR (see 28.314).—The procedure laid down by international agreement for the treatment of Prisoners of War under the Hague regulations was tested during the World War under unprecedented difficulties. These arose not only from the passions and prejudices inevitably engendered in the course of such a vast conflict between the entire manhood of the nations concerned, but also from the facts that unexpectedly large numbers of combatants were taken prisoners, and that the captors had to deal with men of different nationalities, of varying characteristics and with widely different views as to the accommodation and food requisite for a prisoner of war.
Probably few people realized during the war how vast was the number of combatant prisoners taken by one side or the other, or how small was the proportion of the British prisoners to the whole number. Though the final figures cannot be given otherwise than approximately, it is certain that they amounted to several millions. To name only the principal belligerents (excluding Russia), Great Britain claims to have taken just under half a million, France just over that number, Italy nearly one million, Germany two and a half millions and Austria nearly one and a half millions. With regard to Russia the numbers have never been even approximately ascertained, but some idea of them may be gathered from the fact that Austria alone admitted to having lost to the Russians not less than one and a half millions. To the list must be added the prisoners captured by the Americans (48,000 in number), and by the Turks, Bulgarians and the other lesser belligerents. Of this vast host only about 200,000 (probably not much more than 2%) were British, and about 185,000 of these were in the hands of Germany.
When it is further remembered that sometimes in the course of a single operation tens of thousands of men, many of them wounded, were added to the number captured earlier, it will be understood how great was the strain placed on the captors' resources in the matter of transport, care and feeding. Moreover, prisoners were taken in almost every part of the globe in every kind of climate, and in conditions in which the means of supply and transport varied from being comparatively complete to being almost non-existent. Even if all the belligerent Governments had been actuated by the most earnest desire to apply strictly the provisions of the Hague Convention it was inevitable that there should be much suffering and, owing to the difficulty of effective supervision, cases of cruelty and ill-treatment at the hands of individuals.
It must be recognized that, speaking generally, the administrative problems in relation to the treatment of prisoners were not so serious in Great Britain as in most of the belligerent States, but it is satisfactory to be able to record that they were humanely and for the most part satisfactorily solved as they arose. It is on the other hand unfortunately true that, quite apart from the misery inseparable from prolonged confinement, numbers of British prisoners underwent gratuitous and grievous suffering, especially in territory merely occupied by the enemy and at some of the working camps in Germany, in Bulgaria and in Turkey.
While something is said below with regard to the treatment of prisoners by the Bulgarians and Turks, it is impossible here to attempt to deal with the whole area of hostilities and with the multitude of questions relating to prisoners which arose between the belligerents. This article, therefore, will deal chiefly with the lot of prisoners in Great Britain and Germany, and the application of the Hague regulations in those countries.
Though discussions arose as to the position of such persons as reservists and officers of merchant ships, prisoners of war may be divided into two main classes: (1) Civilian, (2) Combatant.
(1). Civilian.—It is quite certain that the framers of the Hague Convention had not in view the treatment of persons other than combatants, but such large numbers of civilians were interned during the war that the arrangements made for them must shortly be considered.
The internment of civilians in both Great Britain and in Germany was, as a system, possibly due to two accidental but different causes. In Great Britain it arose first from the widespread belief, justified probably only in a relatively small number of cases, that the German civilian population in England were either spies in the service of the German Government or an advance guard of a German army of occupation. After this feeling had died down, and release from internment had become general, the system had again to be resorted to after the sinking of the “Lusitania,” largely in deference to wide-spread indignation at that outrage and for the protection of the Germans themselves. Even then, however, internment was not general. Every enemy alien had a right to have his case dealt with by an advisory committee, of which Mr. Justice Sankey was chairman and Lord Justice Younger was a member, and by this committee many exemptions were granted.
In Germany, on the other hand, the internment of civilians—ultimately much more indiscriminate than in the United Kingdom—resulted from popular indignation in Germany at the entry of Great Britain into the war.
Thus it was that in both countries—in England by end of Oct. 1914 and in Germany by Nov. 1914—nearly every male enemy national of military age was interned, and the system, as applied to civilians, became established in both countries, although its working in Great Britain was later modified in the manner referred to above.
Accommodation.—The accommodation in both countries was bad in the beginning. In Great Britain some prisoners were at first placed on board ships, but this was found to be unsatisfactory for many reasons. Considerable numbers of aliens were sent to the Newbury race-course, where they lived in loose boxes without any beds and without any adequate sanitary or cooking arrangements; as numbers increased tents were added and various improvements made, but the place was never satisfactory, and it was closed soon after the weather broke in the autumn. It is only mentioned because it seems more than probable that, characteristically enough, Ruhleben (itself a race-course) was selected by the Germans for the internment of British civilians as a reply to Newbury. The problem of finding adequate accommodation was difficult in England where there were eventually some 29,000 Germans interned out of a considerably larger number not interfered with. In Germany the difficulty must have been even greater, as in addition to two and a half million combatants there were nearly 112,000 civilian internees of different nationalities to be provided for; of these only between 5,000 and 6,000 were British.
After the early unsatisfactory camps in England were closed, civilians were confined in large institutions of different kinds, but eventually far the largest number was placed in the Isle of Man, where there was created at Knockaloe a huge camp containing at last some 23,000 prisoners. There were also two “privilege camps” at Douglas and Wakefield, where those possessed of means could, upon payment, secure a certain amount of privacy and comfort, and employ as their servants other prisoners desirous of earning a little money. There was also Islington Workhouse, perhaps the best place of all, where enemy civilians with British-born wives, or some other claim to consideration, were interned.
In Germany the lot of those who were first arrested was worse than in England. They were cast into the ordinary prisons and treated like convicted criminals. After no long time, however, most of them were transferred to Ruhleben, which, with the exception of Schloss Celle, where a certain number of elderly civilians, whose status was somewhat uncertain, were placed, became the place of confinement for all British civilians.
Ruhleben was a race-course near Berlin, with stables, grandstand and all the usual appurtenances of a race-course. The prisoners were housed in the loose boxes and attics without at first any beds, though eventually ships' berths were fitted, six to a box. As the numbers grew, huts were added. The washing and sanitary arrangements, at first rudimentary only, were never satisfactory. No arrangements were made by the Germans for the housing of the prisoners according to their vocational or social affinities—a real boon in the case of civilians. They were allowed, however, ultimately to some extent to sort themselves.
Management.—At first in both countries the camps were conducted on military lines, but eventually the interned persons were left to manage the internal affairs of the camps very much by themselves. A camp captain was elected by them, and captains of huts or other divisions. The camp captain was the official medium of communication with the authorities.
Work and Recreation.—It was recognized in both countries that civilians might not be forced to do any work beyond what was necessary for the orderliness of the camp. This was a doubtful privilege, and the prisoners' want of occupation led to difficulties in maintaining discipline. In the latter stages of the war, at all events in England, a small proportion of prisoners volunteered to work in order to escape the ennui of camp life, and for some 1,500 out of the whole number, useful work was found, mainly in agriculture. No British civilians did any work outside the camps in Germany.
But much was done by the prisoners themselves. Workshops were organized and equipped with the assistance of the Y.M.C.A. (British and American), and other similar organizations. The difficulty in England was to find a market for the produce of the workshops, owing to the objections raised to the prisoners competing with British workmen. This was overcome by sending the articles manufactured to neutral countries.
Besides this form of manual occupation, classes were formed and lectures delivered, and students were enabled to continue their studies so far as their circumstances permitted, and a small number were employed in administrative work.
Medical Care.—Provision was made in England for the civilian prisoners by small hospitals in each place of internment, for the treatment of minor and urgent cases, while some who had been residents in Great Britain before the war were treated in outside institutions.
At Ruhleben a lazaret to which any prisoners could go was established at the Emigrants' Railway Station, close to the camp. The place had previously been used by a low class, and was filthy. The sanitation was bad, and the accommodation of the roughest description, while the attention given to the patients was, to say the least, perfunctory; a doctor came once a day, and there were no nurses or orderlies. After the first disorganization was remedied, there was what was called the Revier Barracke, with a waiting and consultation room, in which the doctor examined those requiring advice. The place had accommodation for emergency cases and those suffering from accidents, and persons were kept under observation till it was decided what should be done with them. From here patients were drafted either to the lazaret above mentioned, or to Dr. Weiler's Sanatorium outside but near the camp, established at the suggestion of the American ambassador for the better treatment of the prisoners, in return for a substantial payment made either by the British Government, or by the patients themselves.
Besides these there was the Schonungs Barracke, a place for convalescents and the ailing. Though the building was provided by the German Government, the place owed its existence and all its amenities to the self-denying labours of Mr. Lambert, himself a British prisoner. It proved a real home of rest for those who were not ill enough to require hospital treatment.
One great defect in the arrangements made for the sick prisoners here was that the German Government, as in the camps where combatant prisoners were confined, provided no diet suitable for them. The ration was the same as for men in good health. A proper diet was provided in Dr. Weiler's Sanatorium in return for the substantial payment made by or on behalf of the patients, and in the Schonungs Barracke by Mr. Lambert with the assistance of friends in England.
Lastly, one further fact should be mentioned. In a few exceptional cases persons were allowed to proceed to places far removed from Berlin to complete “cures” which had been interrupted by the outbreak of war.
The position with regard to the care of sick civilian prisoners may be summed up as follows: The German Government provided some, but inadequate, accommodation for the very poor, and did not put any great obstacles in the way of prisoners who could themselves afford, or for whom the British Government or others were willing, to pay for better treatment.
(2). Combatant Prisoners.—In considering the application of the Hague Convention to the combatant prisoners, it is impossible to deal with all the subjects mentioned in it. It is proposed to deal at length only with the principal matters, viz. accommodation, food, the application of the military law of the captors, and after touching on a few less important subjects, to consider how the great general principle enunciated in Article 4, that prisoners must be “humanely treated,” was acted on.
Accommodation.—German officers in Great Britain were interned in large country houses and public institutions adapted for the purpose, to which, as necessity arose, additions were made, usually in the form of wooden huts. The necessary furniture and everything reasonably required for messing, as well as fuel and light, was provided free of charge. In Germany, however, the housing was in many cases bad and unsuitable. British officers were confined in the casements of fortresses, as at Ingolstadt; in the men's barracks, as at Crefeld; in disused factories as at Halle, or in huts which had been previously occupied by the rank and file of other nations, as at Holzminden. The best accommodation was in some of the hotels, as at Augustabad, where, until the place became crowded, conditions were comfortable. The British prisoners had to provide, at their own expense, cutlery and everything required for the table, as well as fuel and light, which last caused considerable hardship in winter, for some of the camps were established in summer resorts slightly constructed and at a high altitude.
The actual position of the German places of confinement was undoubtedly chosen in some cases with ulterior objects in view. Thus, the quarters provided right in the middle of the Badische Anilin und Soda Fabrik at Ludwigshafen, and in the centre of Karlsruhe, were undoubtedly chosen in the hopes of warding off air attacks on those places or for the purpose of involving nationals of the raiders in the results.
The men's camps fall into two classes—the large main camps and the working camps.
In both countries the arrangements in the main camps were similar. The camps consisted of groups of huts, either attached to some barracks or similar place, or quite independent, with the necessary cook-houses, baths, latrines and administrative block, all surrounded by a barbed wire fence. There were frequent and justifiable complaints of overcrowding in the German camps. At Wittenberg, for instance, there was, when the camp was full, a population of from 15,000 to 17,000 on an area of about 10 acres. There was usually a building set apart for religious services and recreation in the form of concerts and theatrical performances. The sleeping accommodation consisted of bunks arranged in two or sometimes three tiers. The camps were divided by barbed wire into compounds containing about 1,200 prisoners—camps within a camp.
Working Camps.—The housing of the prisoners sent out to work is more difficult to deal with comprehensively, for it depended so much on the locality and nature of the work, quite apart from the goodwill or otherwise of the employer. According to the German regulations, there ought to have been five cubic metres of internal capacity for each prisoner of war. This regulation was by no means always observed. The accommodation provided in Germany varied from a single very-well-lit and ventilated bedroom in a farm to crowded filthy quarters in verminous draughty buildings in mines, quarries and brickyards. In the larger working camps, buildings were sometimes erected for the express purpose of housing the prisoners, and, though not infrequently overcrowded, were generally suited for this purpose. These buildings were sometimes of brick, more usually of wood, set up somewhat above the ground level. In E. Prussia, however, and in a few other places, a construction common in the neighbourhood was used. The huts were sunk into the ground and were in fact something like large lined dugouts roofed over. They were not satisfactory for considerable numbers, but had the advantage that they were in that bleak district warmer in winter than if they had been erected wholly above ground. In other cases, the prisoners lived in the quarters which at many mines and large industrial works the employers provided for their own bachelor workmen. Such quarters were usually satisfactory. The situation of these quarters, of course, depended on the conditions existing locally, and the nature of the work. In mines they were usually in the mine compound, in some places they were situated at a distance from the actual place of working, and thus was added to the day's labour a walk of occasionally as much as 5 km. each way—a serious addition if the work was severe. But in the majority of cases there were no workmen's quarters, and it was impracticable to build barracks for only a few prisoners. Accommodation was then provided in village recreation halls, inns, theatres and similar places. They were not well adapted for the purpose, but where a little goodwill was shewn on both sides, were often made reasonably comfortable.
In a few cases, at Kiel and elsewhere in that neighbourhood, the prisoners lived on board ship where the accommodation, according to the neutral reports, seems to have been satisfactory.
In the places dealt with above, good provision was usually made for bathing, personal washing and laundry; in many mines and industrial works the men were able to get a hot shower-bath daily. In some places, on the other hand, the quarters provided were disgusting. To take two instances out of many which might be given. At Fangsläuse, attached to Döberitz, where the men were engaged in refuse sorting, the barracks consisted of a wooden building divided into two rooms, which were very dirty, in a verminous condition, and overrun with rats and mice. There were no arrangements for bathing or washing; the only opportunity the men had for washing being afforded by a canal near by. At another place, a coalyard, the men were housed in an archway under one of the main lines running into Berlin, and bathing arrangements were nil.
In Great Britain, prisoners of war sent to work were either housed by the military authorities or, in some cases, when engaged in agriculture, by the employer, who was bound to supply housing accommodation, straw for filling palliasses, cooking utensils, crockery, facilities for washing and artificial light. As in Germany, it was not always found possible in England to house prisoners near their work. Any time required to reach and return from their work in excess of one hour was deducted from the hours of labour. One rest day a week was allowed in both countries.
Work.—The construction placed during the World War by the belligerents upon Article 6, which enables the captors to employ the labour of prisoners of war and to authorize them to work for the public service or private persons, probably caused more ill-feeling than any other cause, for the result was to reduce hundreds of thousands of men temporarily to virtual, if not nominal, slavery. In the war of 1870-1 the Germans took some 400,000 French as prisoners. They were permitted, but in no way forced, to work in factories and elsewhere. During the World War, with many exceptions, it is true, practically all able-bodied prisoners, except officers and non-commissioned officers, were ultimately forced to work.
Early in 1915 the British prisoners in German hands were invited to volunteer for work outside the main camps. They refused almost to a man. Then by degrees pressure was applied, and soon men who refused were punished for their refusal, and, eventually, as mentioned below, a formal pronouncement on the subject was made by the German Military Courts.
Meanwhile, a question arose as to the employment of non-commissioned officers. As early as February 1915, the German Government suggested certain privileges for superior non-commissioned officers, and eventually an agreement was come to, that non-commissioned officers should not be compelled to work, except as superintendents, unless they volunteered to do so. A camp was formed for non-commissioned officers at Grossenweder Moor, in the notorious X. Army Corps district, and steps were taken to obtain volunteers for work by withdrawing all privileges and forcing the men to march on parade for nine hours a day. The men did not volunteer and eventually the conditions were improved.
The question of the nature of the work which could be properly demanded of prisoners of war was early found to be a difficult one. In a war of nations such as the World War every able-bodied man replaced by a prisoner is a potential soldier, and, in these circumstances, any work in the enemy country might be said to be “indirectly connected with the operations of war,” especially in cases in which the prisoner was engaged in any step in the manufacture or transport of any one of the multitude of articles necessary for an army in the field.
The position first taken up by the German authorities was that so long as prisoners did not actually handle the finished product—arms, ammunition and such like—there was no infraction of the rules of international law. This, however, did not really cover the whole ground, and the matter was eventually formally considered by the German Military Courts, and the following principles were laid down:—
(1) The work on which a prisoner of war may be employed can only be judged on the merits of each particular case.
(2) It is illegal to employ prisoners of war in the manufacture of munitions intended for use against their native country or its allies.
(3) They may be employed in agricultural or forestry work, as well as on military property, e.g. the improvement of parade and drill-grounds and of rifle ranges.
(4) They may be employed on preparation work, e.g. the transport of coke or of ores for the manufacture of shells, because there is no direct connexion between such work and military operations.
(5) They can only claim exemption from such work as stands in direct relation to military operations in the area of hostilities.
These principles were accepted by the British War Office and the commanders-in-chief of the British armies, and seem on the whole to have been fairly acted on by the German authorities except behind the lines on the eastern and western fronts, though in some cases individual commandants attempted to force men to take part in the actual manufacture of such things as shells, parts of fuzes and the like.
There seem to have been a large number of them employed in labouring work, handling the actual material for guns, shells, etc., in places where munitions were made, and some cases in which they had to take an active part in the manufacture of the finished article certainly did occur. At Krupp's Germania wharf at Kiel, prisoners were employed in riveting ships, including the outsides of submarines, while at Mannheim a number of British were made to work in the manufacture of sulphuric acid in the middle of a large munition factory.
The authorities naturally reserved to themselves the right to say what work the prisoners could be forced to do, but, at all events in the early years of the war, they promised to give to the prisoners certificates that they had been forced to do the work to which they objected in order to protect them against proceedings in their own country. The promise seems to have been very seldom kept.
Setting aside work directly or indirectly connected with the operations of war there seems to have been no kind of work which prisoners were not called on to perform. They were employed in every kind of manual labour, including work in mines, from skilled engineering to scavenging. This last seems to transgress the principles laid down in the German War Book, that “these tasks” (to which prisoners can be put) “should not be prejudicial to health nor in any way dishonourable.”
In Berlin prisoners were sent to work in a slaughterhouse; at three places they were obliged to do scavenging in the public streets, while at two places at Kiel, and at four places near Berlin they had to collect and sort the rubbish of the town. The visitor of the protecting Power says in his report of one of the places at Kiel where only British prisoners were employed, “the work the prisoners are called on to perform is of a particularly revolting character.”
In Great Britain, the principles above stated having been accepted, prisoners were employed in accordance with them, but none were employed in mines, nor were such degrading tasks as scavenging and refuse-sorting imposed on them. A large number were employed in France in various capacities not directly connected with the operations of war, and, after the Armistice, in general salvage work.
The organization of the working camps was much the same in both countries. Each working camp was connected with a main camp, which was the centre for all administrative purposes and upon its books the prisoners were borne.
In Germany the working camps were divided into three classes:—(a) those which the representative of the protecting Power might visit freely and see the men at their work and in their quarters; (b) those in which he might see them in their quarters but not at work; and (c) those in which he was admitted neither to the work nor to the quarters but was allowed to see one or more prisoners outside. It has been suggested that this classification was due to the influence of some of the great industrial magnates who objected to their works being visited by outsiders, but, however this may be, the third class was a very small one, and the prohibition with regard to the second and third classes does not appear to have been very strictly enforced.
Pay.—The provisions of the Hague Convention with regard to pay are too vague to be of any real value.
In the II. Army Corps district the German regulations, which may be taken as typical, seemed to contemplate a payment by the employer of the customary local wages, of which the military administrative department took three-quarters for board, lodging, guarding, etc., and the prisoner was credited with one quarter, which he received in token money. In practice, a prisoner working on the land generally himself received 30 pf. a day, in mines from 75 to 90 pf., and in industrial works from 50 pf. to even several marks a day. In some cases a premium was paid to prisoners who did more than the minimum.
Prisoners of war in British hands, when employed by the Government, received the same rate of pay as that given to British soldiers as working pay. When employed by private persons or corporations the employer in England was obliged to pay the full current rate of wages to the Government by whom the prisoner was paid. Piece-work or task-work was adopted where possible and extra pay given where the task was exceeded. The rates were so adjusted that a man of moderate industry could earn the equivalent of time-work earnings, and a very industrious man could earn more. Time-work was paid at rates which ranged according to circumstances from 1s. 4d. to 8d. a day. These sums were credited to the prisoner, but power was reserved to the commandant to decide the amount actually issued to the prisoner.
Food.—Article 7 imposes on the captor State the duty of maintaining its prisoners, and provides for their being treated as regards rations, quarters and clothing on the same footing as its own troops. This article is difficult to understand; it is not clear whether prisoners are to have the same rations as soldiers in the field or at home; or whether they are to be placed in barracks with the same space and conveniences as the captor's soldiers. How this last matter was actually dealt with has been already explained. Whatever may be the true construction of the article, none of the belligerents observed the letter of it with regard to food. Difficulties arose, not merely from the steadily decreasing supplies, owing to the submarine war on one side and the blockade of Germany on the other, but also from the difference in the kind of food appreciated by the subjects of the two countries. At a time when the Germans interned in England were receiving the full peace-time rations of the British soldier, they were complaining of the insufficiency and unpalatable nature of the food. On the other hand, the British prisoners—even when supplies were sufficient in Germany—complained of the brown or black bread, and of the soup, which is liked by the continental working man.
In England, after a short time, no rations were issued to officers. Canteens were established, and subject to regulations for the prevention of undue luxury, the German officers could provide such food as they wished, which was prepared for them by cooks of their own nationality.
In Germany it was different. Rations were issued, though not always partaken of. The British officers, at all events after the war had continued for some time, lived almost entirely on supplies obtained from home. The rations in Germany were issued according to a scale based upon a scientific analysis of the composition of the food given, which showed a daily average in grammes of albumen, fat and carbo-hydrates, and the number of calories. These, as determined by the Kriegs ministerium for the last week in Sept. 1916 at Parchim Camp, averaged daily 75.6, 24.5, 368.4 and 2,019.4 respectively.
It perhaps throws some light on the sufficiency of this ration that in July 1918, nearly two years later, it was agreed between the representatives of Great Britain and Germany, who met at The Hague, that the combatant prisoners of war should receive as far as possible the same allowance of rationed articles of food as the civil population, and that in no case should the daily calorific value fall below 2,000 calories for non-workers, 2,500 for ordinary workers, and 2,800 for heavy workers.
It may be doubted, however, whether at any time in German camps the prisoners received even these moderate amounts of food; and as the supplies became more difficult to obtain, they probably received considerably less, even in the working camps. Even if they did, such things as fish roe, soya flour, soya oil, buckwheat and “blutwurst” do not appeal to a British soldier, however admirable they may be from a scientific point of view as articles of food, especially when they are all boiled together and given in the form of soup.
In England the scales were not drawn up in exactly the same way. If we take the principal articles of food, up to the middle of 1916 the German prisoners received a daily ration of 1½ lb. of bread, 8 oz. of fresh or frozen meat or 4 oz. of preserved, 2 oz. of cheese and 1 oz. of margarine. By Dec. 1917, the ration had been much reduced. The bread ration was 13 oz., for 4 oz. of which broken biscuit was substituted when obtainable. Meat was given on three days a week only, but a ration of 10 oz. of herring was added on two days. The 2 oz. of cheese and 1 oz. of margarine were given till Oct. 1918, when both were reduced. In the case of non-workers, the bread in Oct. 1918 was reduced by a quarter of a pound, the cheese omitted, and the margarine further reduced. In England, as in Germany, the prisoners had to share in the privations of the civilian population.
In both countries the rations were supplemented by parcels of food which were sent to the prisoners. At first they were sent from England by individuals and associations, but before long great abuses arose. Some British prisoners received large numbers of parcels, not infrequently far beyond any possible requirements. Others received nothing, and there can be no doubt that in not a few cases gross fraud was practised on sympathetic persons. Early in 1915 the Prisoners of War Help Committee was established in London. It tried to coördinate the work of the different associations and individuals, but failed as it had no powers, and was dissolved in Sept. 1916, when the Central Prisoners of War Committee of the British Red Cross and Order of St. John was officially established and without its authorization no individual or body could send a parcel to a prisoner.
Amongst its functions were (1) to authorize committees, associations and approved shops to pack and despatch parcels to prisoners of war, (2) to control and coördinate the work of all such committees, associations and shops, and (3) to act as a care committee for all prisoners who for any reason were without a care committee, for all civilian prisoners, and, after Oct. 1917, for all officer prisoners.
Under the presidency of Sir Starr Jameson, Bart., and, after his death, of the Earl of Sandwich, the committee of which Sir P. D. Agnew was vice-chairman and managing-director, not only organized the whole of the despatch of parcels of food and other things to the prisoners of war by 181 care committees, 81 local associations and 67 shops, but packed and despatched parcels to individual officers and men, numbering, at the date of the Armistice, no less than 47,500. Three parcels of 11 lb. weight were sent each fortnight to every prisoner and contained, together with 13 lb. of bread sent once a fortnight from Copenhagen or Berne, sufficient, without other food, to maintain a man doing reasonably hard work. Officers did not come under the scheme till the autumn of 1917.
At first the scheme was very unpopular, because it interfered with the power of individuals to send what they liked to their friends, and in April 1917, a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament was appointed to enquire into it. The report was published in June of that year, and while paying a high tribute of praise to the work accomplished made certain suggestions which did much to allay the discontent, as they provided for the introduction of the personal touch into the parcels. In its main features the scheme continued till the end of the war.
Besides the despatch of parcels to individuals the Committee sent food, either in bulk or in the form of emergency parcels, to the larger camps in Germany, for newly captured prisoners.
Though it is obvious that the despatch of parcels of food on the great scale indicated above relieved the German Government of a very great responsibility, yet it must be recognized that credit is due to the German nation for the fact that all but a small percentage reached the addresses to which they were sent, notwithstanding that they contained articles unobtainable in Germany, except by the very rich.
Though it is true that the parcels arrived, it is also true that in some camps the German commandants as a punishment delayed or prohibited for some days or even weeks their issue to the addressees, and that there were complaints as to the way in which the censoring of the contents of the parcels, necessary of course to prevent the introduction of prohibited articles, was carried out. Latterly, however, in all good camps the parcels were opened in the presence of the addressee, and the tinned food was stored and not opened till it was required.
Owing to the increasing shortage of food in Germany, and to the fact that the rations in England for a long time were maintained at a reasonable level, the number of parcels sent to German prisoners was far smaller than that sent to British prisoners. At first a considerable amount of food was sent into the German prisoners' camps in England from their relations and friends residing in Great Britain, but when the shortage became acute it became necessary to prohibit this practice.
The Hague Convention also requires the captor to treat his prisoners as regards clothing on the same footing as his own soldiers. The German Government claimed that it strictly observed this article and forbade the sending of clothing by the British Government. The article was not observed at all in some German camps, and great trouble was caused by the claim, in at all events some army corps, that boots were part of a soldier's military equipment, and that the captors were entitled to take them. The clothing in any case supplied by the Germans was quite insufficient, and arrangements were made by which an adequate supply was despatched according to a regular scale. Some of it went astray and some was stolen, although a good proportion reached the addressees. In England clothing was issued when necessary to enemy prisoners, other than officers, on a regular scale, which provided for them having a sufficient change of clothing, while in both countries officers made their own arrangements for the supply of the necessary clothing.
Application of the Military Law of the Captors.—Article 8 enacts that prisoners of war are subject to the laws, regulations and orders in force in the army of the captor State, a provision which gave rise to a good deal of trouble, owing, in England, to the difficulty of carrying it out strictly while in some cases, as in Bulgaria, punishments were allowed—such as flogging—for ordinary breaches of discipline—which were quite alien to British ideas of what is permissible.
The German military law is in general far more severe than the British, and there is this further great difference, that in Germany officers as well as men may be summarily sent to cells or awarded other severe punishments for trivial offences, while in the United Kingdom, strictly, any offender above the rank of private should have been tried by court-martial, a provision amended during the war by the substitution of military courts.
In another respect the German code is more severe in that all sentences of arrest involved solitary confinement, while one of close arrest, which was limited to four weeks, meant that the prisoner was confined in a dark cell, with a plank bed and bread and water diet, though these aggravations of the punishment were omitted on the fourth, eighth and subsequently every third day, the prisoner receiving the ordinary camp diet on these days.
One punishment officially termed “field punishment,” but more generally known in England as the “post punishment,” caused a great outcry in that country and much resentment among British prisoners in Germany. It is provided in the German Manual of Military Law that the punishment is to be inflicted in a manner not detrimental to the health of the prisoner, who is to be kept in an upright position with the back turned to a wall or a tree in such a manner that the prisoner can neither sit nor lie down. These last words were construed to mean tying the prisoner to a post; sometimes his feet were placed on a brick which was removed after he was securely tied, and sometimes his hands were secured above his head. Apart, at all events, from these aggravations, this punishment was in strict accordance with the military law of the captors; indeed it corresponds to the field punishment No. 1 authorized by the British military law and described in the rules for field punishment for offences committed on active service made under Sec. 44 of the Army Act. These rules authorize the keeping of the offender in fetters or handcuffs or both, and when so kept he may be attached by straps or ropes for a period or periods not exceeding two hours in any one day to a fixed object during not more than three out of four consecutive days nor more than twenty-one days in all.
In Germany all prisoners are liable to be treated as “in the field,” i.e. on active service.
In one respect, viz. the punishments for attempted escape, the German military law was less severe than the British, the greater severity of the latter having apparently arisen from a misunderstanding of the expression “peines disciplinaires” in the second paragraph of the 8th Article of the Hague Convention. This seems to have been understood on the Continent as a punishment which could be awarded summarily: that is, arrest, open, medium or close, for a period not exceeding six weeks. In Great Britain the punishment was limited to 12 months' imprisonment; in Germany it was far less for the simple offence, though it was frequently added to by the addition of charges for damaging Government property, and the like. The matter came under discussion between the British and German Delegates at The Hague in 1917 and 1918, and an agreement was arrived at by which the punishment for a simple attempt to escape was to be limited to fourteen days, or if accompanied with offences relating to the appropriation, possession of or injury to property to two months' military confinement.
In addition to the summary punishments, there were, of course, in both countries the punishment of death and imprisonment, which could only be inflicted by court-martial. In some cases the German code lays down minimum punishments of great severity, and in many of those cases, in which the infliction of very severe punishments properly raised a great outcry in England, the German court-martial had no option but to pass them. The British military law on the other hand has only one offence—murder—for which there is a fixed punishment; for others it is “such less punishment as is in the Act mentioned.”
In one respect the prisoners of both countries never were satisfied. Neither understood or appreciated the procedure of the other. The British never understood the long delays, sometimes it is to be feared deliberate, which occurred in bringing them to trial for alleged offences, and during which they were kept under arrest, nor, owing to their ignorance of the German military code, could they understand the very severe sentences necessarily passed by courts-martial (which seem usually to have been conducted with fairness), nor the right of the prosecutor to appeal against a sentence which he considered to be inadequate.
On the other hand, the Germans never appreciated the British procedure, nor could they understand the absence of any right of formal appeal from a sentence, for which ample provision is made in Germany, even against the award of a disciplinary punishment, a right which, oddly enough, by Sec. 52 of the Regulations relating to it, the accused shared with the prosecutor “only when the sentence has been carried out.”
Parole.—Articles 10, 11 and 12 deal with the subject of parole. In the World War no combatant prisoners, with one exception, were allowed to leave Germany or Great Britain on parole, or to reside outside the camps. The only cases in which questions arose were with regard to the temporary parole given when officers left their camps for a walk, and the parole given by those who were interned in neutral countries. According to the custom of the British Army no officer ought to give his parole, it being his duty to escape and rejoin his unit if he can, nor can anyone below the rank of officer give a parole. In both countries, however, officers were eventually allowed to go out for a walk in parties accompanied by an officer, each giving in writing a temporary written parole that he would not attempt to escape, nor during the walk make arrangements to escape, nor do anything to the prejudice of the captor State. The parole was given on leaving the camp and returned on reëntry.
The case of those interned in neutral countries was different. The British officers of the Royal Naval Division interned in Holland after the fall of Antwerp were permitted to choose their own residence in Groningen on parole, the men being interned close by. This privilege was withdrawn for a time, and the officers were interned in a fortress, but it was restored later.
As time went on, the Netherlands Government permitted officers to return to England and Germany on parole, on proof of the serious illness of a near relative, a concession which was afterwards extended so that regular periods of leave were enjoyed by both officers and men, the former giving a formal parole and the latter a promise to return on the expiration of their leave, while the British Government gave its assurance that the men would not be employed on any work to do with war, and would return at the end of their leave. Similarly, the Danish and Norwegian Governments granted leave to British and German combatants interned in their countries.
No parole seems to have been taken from those officers who were interned in Switzerland or Holland under the agreements made in 1917 and 1918 with the German Government.
Relief Societies.—Article 15 deals with societies for the relief of prisoners. An immense amount of valuable work, impossible here to particularize, was done by such societies. The American branch of the Y.M.C.A. especially did much for the prisoners in England and Germany, being permitted to work on the following conditions, substantially the same in both countries.
A building or tent might be erected in the camp with the consent of the general officer in command of the district or army corps, but nothing might be sold in it nor could any one be employed there other than a prisoner. A member of the association might visit the camp once a week for a definite time. He might hold services, provide materials for games, entertainments and employment, arrange instructional courses, provide books (subject to censorship) and writing materials other than writing paper and envelopes. Nothing might be given to or received by a prisoner without the commandant's consent.
Recreation.—No express provision is contained in the Hague Convention relating to the occupation of prisoners in their leisure time, but much of the good work done by the societies had to do with the recreation and education of prisoners. In both countries, and in nearly all camps, provision was eventually made for sufficient space for recreation and exercise, but this was not the case at first. At Halle, for instance, a German camp for officers, established in a disused factory, the only place for exercise was the space enclosed by the three buildings, in which some 500 officers lived. It measured about 100 yards by 50, and in winter was a morass of water and mud; in summer deep in dust. In some of the men's camps the space was very confined, and organized games of any kind were impossible. But later things improved, and in most provision, sometimes at the prisoners' expense, was made for sufficient room for tennis, football and other games.
In England, facilities were provided by the War Office. To take two typical instances, it may be said that at Donnington Hall for German officers, there was a considerable space in front of the house, and at Dorchester, for men, there was a large field where any games could be played.
As time went on, walks outside the camp were permitted for officers on their giving a temporary parole, and in Germany, in some of the larger working camps, the men were allowed out for walks on Sunday.
With regard to educational facilities, in England both officers and men made their own arrangements, as they did in Germany, with the full concurrence of the authorities. At Münster, for instance, the general officer commanding excused all students from work, and much was done by some of the prisoners in the organization of classes and lectures. The neutral organizations, such as the American and Danish Y.M.C.A.'s, also did a great deal in this direction, as did certain of the German civilians in the neighbourhood of the great camp at Göttingen. Professor Stange and some of his colleagues interested themselves in the prisoners and organized the educational work in the camp, and he himself had an office there where he was accessible to prisoners, and assisted them with his advice on educational matters. He used even to obtain the requisites for games through the Red Cross in Switzerland. Unfortunately for them, all the British prisoners were ultimately removed from Göttingen, which had become something of a model camp.
Some of the larger employers were also very considerate in this respect, providing recreation halls and fields for playing games, and even musical instruments. At Mulheim the Dutch visitor found the employers had paid the expenses of the prisoners' Christmas festivities.
Letters.—Article 16 was observed by both countries, except that at one time in some of the camps in Germany customs duties were charged on the contents of parcels, but this seems to have been due to some misapprehension, and was soon abandoned. Prisoners were as a rule allowed to write two letters a month and a postcard every week, and, in addition, a postcard in the prescribed form acknowledging the receipt of a parcel. But later in the war a “first capture postcard” was introduced, by which on a printed form a prisoner was allowed to notify to his relatives his capture, his state of health and his address.
Pay.—Article 17 provides for officers receiving the same rate of pay as officers of the corresponding rank in the army of the captors. This provision was not observed by the German Government, who paid subalterns 60 marks a month and other ranks rather more. Accordingly, the British Government declined to carry out the terms of the article and paid the German subalterns 4s. a day and other ranks 4s. 6d., naval officers being paid according to their relative rank. Out of this an officer was required to pay for his food, laundry and clothing, a deduction being made if he was in hospital (where, of course, he was provided with everything necessary). By an arrangement made later the German Government was allowed to make a small addition to these daily rates of pay. Medical officers employed in the care of sick and wounded prisoners of their own nationality received the full pay of medical officers of corresponding rank in the army of the captors.
Religious Exercises.—Article 18 is designed to secure to prisoners complete liberty in the exercise of their religion, and during the World War no real complaint was made on either side.
In the United Kingdom German pastors who had been resident in the country were allowed to hold services in the camps, but difficulties arose and the permission was withdrawn. Thereupon some pastors elected to be interned, with a view to ministering to the prisoners. Later, however, the permits were issued in a modified form, and English and American clergy and laymen and members of the Danish and Swiss Student Christian Movement were allowed to visit the camps, the necessary funds being provided by the American Branch of the Y.M.C.A. The Roman Catholic prisoners were usually attended by the priest of the district in which the camp was situated and every facility was given to them. Where no German-speaking priest was at hand the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster charged the German priests of his archdiocese to visit the camps every now and then in order to enable the prisoners to go to confession and to hear a sermon in their mother tongue.
In Germany, at first, the Rev. F. Williams, who had been in charge of the English Church in Berlin, was allowed to visit the different camps and hospitals. But this permission was withdrawn and the prisoners were left to conduct their own services, to which, except at Grossenweder Moor, no objection was raised. A few British chaplains were captured, and did good work until they were repatriated. Great assistance was given also by the American branch of the Y.M.C.A., and by Archdeacon Nies, an American clergyman at Munich, until the United States came into the war.
The German clergy also did what they could for the prisoners in many camps and hospitals. Some of them were spoken of very warmly by the British prisoners.
The needs of the Roman Catholics were more easily met owing to the presence among the French prisoners of many priests who did excellent work, and the Bishop of Paderborn (afterwards Archbishop of Cologne) did much for the prisoners. Moreover, Father Crotty was sent from Rome and was permitted to minister at Limburg and Giessen, partly perhaps because he was an Irishman, and it was hoped his influence might be useful to the Germans.
In the German working camps there was no regular provision for religious services, though Mr. Williams seems to have visited some of the larger places, and in one district a German pastor is said to have travelled around the small camps and ministered to the prisoners. There was a standing order of the Kriegsministerium that, at all events in the country districts, the prisoners should be allowed to attend the local churches. This, though of value to Roman Catholics, was not much use to the Protestants, owing to the difficulties of language.
At Zossen the Germans built a mosque for Mahommedan prisoners, and generally arrangements seem to have been made to avoid hurting religious and caste prejudices.
Medical Treatment.—Up to this point an attempt has been made to show how the provisions of the Hague Convention were applied in Great Britain and Germany. But this Convention does not deal with everything which affects the well-being of prisoners of war. The Geneva Convention of 1906 requires the belligerents to respect and take care of the wounded and sick without distinction of nationality, and leaves them at liberty to agree for the restoration of wounded left on the field, the repatriation of wounded after rendering them fit for removal or after recovery, and for handing over the sick and wounded to a neutral State to be interned by it till the conclusion of hostilities. What was in fact done must be considered under three heads: the attention given (1) in the regular hospitals, (2) in the main camps and (3) in the working camps.
Hospitals.—In Germany at first there seem to have been inadequate arrangements made for the reception of seriously wounded prisoners, but later well-arranged and well-equipped hospitals were available, the principal being in Berlin, at Cologne and Paderborn, though of course there were a large number elsewhere. As time went on and the pressure on Germany became more and more acute, the supply of medical requisites became deficient, bandages were made of paper, drugs and anaesthetics were less plentiful, but, though naturally British prisoners would fare worse than the wounded Germans, there is no evidence that the former were intentionally deprived of anything necessary for them if there was an adequate supply.
The conduct of the German doctors to the prisoners in the regular hospitals is one of the bright pages in the sad history of the World War, and is worthy of their great profession. Most of the returned British prisoners reported that the doctors were kind and humane, while many of them spoke of them in warmest possible terms and told how the doctor had said that when a prisoner was wounded or ill he no longer looked on him as an enemy, or how, though he hated the English, he did his very best. There were exceptions, who formed a very small minority. The large majority of German doctors worked hard, often with infinite kindness, in the interests of those in their charge, and unreservedly placed such knowledge and skill as they possessed at the disposal of the prisoners.
The nursing in Germany was carried out by orderlies, by trained nurses or by sisterhoods. It seems to have varied very much. In some cases it was good and kind, in some indifferent, and in some rough and bad. But there appears to be no reason to think that in any case it was intentionally less good than circumstances permitted.
Main Camps.—The same satisfactory account of the medical arrangements in the main German camps cannot be given, even after the first disorganization was overcome. There was in each camp a lazaret providing accommodation for a number proportionate to the number for which the camp was designed, but the arrangements were often very incomplete.
There seem to have been a large number of Russian doctors employed in the German camps, while in a few, for short periods, English medical officers were employed—though in all cases a German seems to have been responsible. The nursing was in the main done by prisoner orderlies, many of whom of course were quite untrained, though they seem to have done their best. It is impossible to generalize as to the conduct of the German medical staff in hundreds of camps over a period of four years, but the general impression produced by the evidence is that the staffs were humane and did all they could.
There is reliable evidence that the nature of the food provided in the German camp hospitals, as distinguished from the regular hospitals, where, until supplies became very short, it seems to have been satisfactory, was quite unsuited for invalids. A sick prisoner was a non-worker, and therefore received the ordinary camp ration, less 10 per cent. This was even the case in the typhus camps, where the requisite milk and light food for the fever-stricken patients had to be provided by the British and Allied medical officers themselves.
There seems to have been insufficient care, at all events in the early stages of the war, to prevent the spread of tuberculosis by the segregation from the healthy of those suffering from that disease. Later, however, steps were taken to effect this, and more than one place was established exclusively for tuberculous patients, while the arrangement made for their internment in Switzerland did still more to deal with this evil.
It must not of course be said that this mingling of the sick and healthy was deliberate. It was probably due to want of thought, an excuse which cannot be made for the policy adopted by the German Government of mixing all the Allies together, although this was bound in the circumstances to lead to an excessive amount of illness. This policy was quite deliberate. Mr. Gerard, the American ambassador to Germany, in 1915 raised the question with the German authorities with regard to officers, and reported: “I was told that this was a political move ordered for the purpose of showing to the French, British, Belgian and Russian officers that they were not natural Allies.” The commandant of the Gardelegen camp tried to enforce the observance of this regulation during the height of the typhus epidemic at that camp, but his direct order was deliberately disobeyed by the British doctors, with excellent results.
Though this policy did not produce any ill effects upon the health of the prisoners in the officers' camps in Germany, its results, assisted by the insanitary condition of many of them, were disastrous in the main men's camps. Typhus is endemic in Russia, and the Russian prisoners, herded together with those of other nationalities, spread the disease till in some camps appalling epidemics were produced. At Ohdruf, Langensalza, Zerbst, Wittenberg and Gardelegen the fever raged with great virulence. At Wittenberg the camp was overcrowded and insanitary, the washing arrangements were nothing more than troughs in the open, which, with the supply pipes, were during the hard winter of 1914 frequently frozen. In these circumstances, a serious epidemic broke out in Dec. 1914. As soon as this was recognized, the whole German staff, military and medical, left, and never came inside again till Aug. 1915, by which time all the patients were convalescent. For his services in combating the epidemic Dr. Aschenbach, the German principal medical officer, received the Iron Cross. Many Allied and British medical officers had been improperly detained in Germany after their capture, and were dispatched to take the place of the German doctors, who (it is charitable to believe, in obedience to superior orders) had deserted their charges. In Feb. 1915, six British medical officers were sent to the camp which they found in a state of misery and disorganization. Of the six, three died of the fever, as did several French and Russian doctors. Notwithstanding the fact that there seem to have been ample supplies of medical necessaries available, the difficulty of obtaining sufficient drugs and dressings was extreme. There was not even any soap till one of the British doctors obtained a supply at his own expense from England, nor, till April 1915, were beds or bedding for patients requiring hospital treatment improvised in one of the barracks. There were between 700 and 800 British prisoners among at least 15,000 in all, who, incredible as it may seem, were confined in an area not exceeding 10½ acres. Of the British about 300 were attacked by the disease and 60 died.
At Gardelegen the same story was repeated. As soon as it was apparent in February 1915 that something was wrong, captured medical officers were dispatched to Gardelegen, where the conditions were favourable for the propagation of disease. Though there were empty huts in the camp, the commandant refused to allow them to be used, and the prisoners' rooms were very overcrowded, the nationalities, as usual, being all mixed up together. To each company of 1,200 men was allotted for washing one outdoor trough, which was often frozen, and there was a small hut containing at the most thirty showers for 11,000 men. The place was bitterly cold, the heating arrangements entirely inadequate, consequently the huts were kept closed, and the atmosphere therein became foul. Four days after the arrival of the Allied medical officers every German had left the camp, and the commandant, standing outside the barbed wire, informed the medical officers that no person or thing was to pass out, and that they were responsible for the discipline and general internal arrangement of the camp, and for the care of the sick. Dr. Wenzil, the German principal medical officer, left the camp with the rest, but soon afterwards died of typhus. His two successors never came inside the camp. But the third, Dr. Kranski, a civilian, came in March and devoted himself seriously to the welfare of the camp, and, though he took no part in the care of the sick, did much to improve the sanitation, and in that way to aid the medical men in their work. It is unnecessary to go through the whole story of the struggles to obtain the barest requisites in the way of food, drugs, dressings or furniture. The plague was stayed after four months, during which over 2,000 cases were treated out of 11,000 prisoners, the mortality being about 15% of those attacked. Of the 16 Allied medical officers, 12 took the disease and 3 died, while of 10 French priests, who devoted themselves to the care and nursing of the sick, eight were attacked and five succumbed.
The epidemics at Wittenberg and Gardelegen in these circumstances of gratuitous suffering and official callousness made a world-impression never likely to be entirely effaced, but it is only just to add that the German authorities, having learnt their lesson at the cost to others of so much suffering and death, did their best, too late indeed, to remedy the defects, and Gardelegen and Wittenberg eventually became, if not model, at all events fairly satisfactory camps.
German Working Camps.—In mines and large industrial places, there was generally a small sick-bay containing from two or three beds up to perhaps a dozen, in charge of a German Sanitäter. There was no resident doctor, but a civilian practitioner called in well-managed camps daily, in others at intervals varying from twice a week to four weeks. In case of accident he was summoned as soon as the Feldwebel in charge thought fit. In the smaller camps reliance was placed simply on the local practitioner, which ordinarily was sufficient provision, though in some places, such as the large land reclamation camps in Hanover, the nearest doctor might live at any distance up to 20 kilometres. A prisoner seriously ill or injured was either taken to the hospital at the main camp to which his commando was attached, or sent to the local hospital, military or civil.
The real defect in the medical arrangements in these places was that too much power was left in the hands of the person in charge to decide whether a man reporting sick should see the doctor or not. The regulations in the II. Army Corps district provided that there must be a clinical thermometer in each commando, and the guard was to be instructed in the use of it. No prisoner was to be sent to work who had a temperature above 38° (100.4° Fahrenheit). This seems to have been construed as meaning that the prisoner was to be sent to work unless he could show that temperature. Armed with his thermometer the Feldwebel in charge often declined to allow the prisoner to see the doctor. The test was in some cases sufficient, in many it was no test at all, and the results were sometimes fatal.
British Medical Arrangements.—In the United Kingdom the arrangements for the treatment of sick and wounded prisoners did not differ in essentials from those made in Germany. At first there were no special hospitals for them, but in Sept. 1915 a large hospital was opened at Dartford. This accommodation, however, soon became insufficient, and at the time of the Armistice there were seven hospitals entirely set apart for prisoners. In addition to these large hospitals there was a hospital with beds to the number of about 2% of the prisoners, for the treatment of minor and urgent cases; while in the working camps the services of the local practitioner were given as required. In exceptional cases prisoners requiring special treatment were sent to an ordinary military or civil hospital.
Repatriation.—Closely allied with the matter of medical treatment is the question of repatriation and internment in a neutral country. As early as Jan. 1915, an agreement for repatriation of incapacitated officers was made. There was at first no agreement as to the degree of incapacity sufficient to entitle an officer to repatriation, but in August of that year an agreement was arrived at, which was slightly amended in October. It included 13 injuries or complaints entitling a person to be repatriated, which may be summed up as being such that the person was permanently, or for a calculable period, unfit for military service in the army, or in the case of an officer or non-commissioned officer, from service in training or office work.
But besides this direct repatriation of totally incapacitated persons, many prisoners were sent to Switzerland or Holland.
In the spring of 1916 an agreement was made with the German and Swiss Governments by which prisoners whose disabilities fell within an agreed schedule but were not sufficient to justify direct repatriation should be transferred to Swiss custody. They were selected by mixed travelling boards composed of Swiss medical men and medical officers of the captor State, those selected being afterwards examined by a Control Board, whose decision was final. After the Conference at The Hague in 1917, these travelling boards were abolished, and the first selection made by the camp medical officer, an arrangement subsequently modified at the meeting of 1918.
The guiding principles for internment in Switzerland were stated in 1917 as follows:—
“The following shall be interned:—(1) Sick and wounded whose recovery may be anticipated within a year, and whose cure will be more speedily and surely brought about by the facilities obtainable in Switzerland than by a prolongation of imprisonment. (2) Prisoners of war whose health in the opinion of the medical authorities appears to be seriously menaced either physically or mentally by the prolongation of captivity, and who would probably be saved from this danger by internment in Switzerland.”
If the person's disabilities increased so as to bring him within the category entitled to direct repatriation, he was to be sent home.
In 1917 the Netherlands Government offered to receive in all 16,000 persons, British and German, divided into three categories: (i) invalid combatants (7,500); (2) officers and non-commissioned officers who had been in captivity for 18 months (6,500); and (3) invalid civilians (2,000). This offer formed the basis of the agreement made between the British and German Governments at The Hague in June 1917. By that agreement the schedule of disabilities for the invalids was the same as in the case of Switzerland, except that the British Government insisted with the assent of Switzerland that tuberculous patients should go to that country. Much resentment was felt in consequence of the exclusion of privates who had been 18 months in captivity from the benefit of this agreement. But the British delegates were powerless. Every attempt to induce the German delegates to agree to their inclusion was vain.
The provisons of the agreement arrived at in 1917 were largely extended at a further meeting in 1918, by which all warrant and non-commissioned officers, as well as men who had been prisoners of war for more than 18 months, should, with exceptions, be repatriated, head for head and rank for rank.
General Treatment.—So far an attempt has been made to show how the principal articles of the Hague and Geneva Conventions relating to prisoners of war were applied in Great Britain and Germany during the World War. It remains to be considered how far the over-riding principle laid down in Article 4 of the Hague Convention was observed. That article requires first, that prisoners must be treated with humanity; and second, that all their personal belongings, except arms, horses and military papers, shall remain their property.
With regard to the second requirement charges were made against both armies that this obligation was not observed, and it cannot be doubted that on both sides the wounded were sometimes on their first capture relieved of valuables. But this was not due to any official action; it was due to the unauthorized and wrongful acts of individuals. In respect of one matter only was there anything which could be treated as an authorized disregard of this article. British prisoners often had their boots taken from them by the Germans, either at first capture or later even in the camps in the interior of Germany. This was justified by the Germans on the ground that a man's boots were as much a part of his military equipment as his arms, and that therefore they were entitled to take them away. This claim seems only specious; the practice it sought to support or excuse certainly had the most cruel results in many cases, as men were forced to go about without any covering on their feet, or, if the boots were replaced, as they sometimes were, by wooden clogs, the men suffered much, especially during the winter or in mines from that unaccustomed footwear. However, in other respects this part of the article appears to have been fairly observed, though a somewhat liberal construction was placed on the expression “military papers” by both sides.
We turn now to the other part of the article, which enjoins that the prisoners must be treated with humanity. There existed during the war much misconception with regard to the treatment of prisoners in Germany, partly owing to the fact that only stories of horrors were published in England and the Allied countries, partly owing to the prominence given to this subject as a method of Allied war-propaganda, in the dramatic form of cinematograph films, and notably in the pictures relating to the work of Mr. Gerard, the American ambassador.
Some of the stories thus circulated were untrue. As an instance, it may be recorded that every story as to the tattooing of prisoners by the Germans, to which great prominence was given, pictures of the alleged victims being produced in the cheap illustrated papers, was, as far as possible, carefully investigated and was in no case shown to have any foundation. But the stories had their effect, for an idea got abroad that a prisoner once in the hands of the Germans was subject to every kind of indignity and cruelty.
It is possible now to weigh all the evidence, and express a judicial conclusion unaffected by the passions of war. The materials for doing so are ample. In the summer of 1915 a committee, presided over by Lord Justice Younger, was appointed by the British Government to enquire into the treatment by the enemy of British prisoners of war. As far as possible, each escaped or repatriated prisoner was examined by a person experienced in taking evidence, and arrangements were also made by the committee for examining the prisoners interned in neutral countries. In all, over 3,500 persons who had been prisoners in Germany, including 445 officers and 90 medical officers, were examined by this committee during the war, and most of their statements were printed and all indexed. After the Armistice the committee was asked to arrange that every returned prisoner should have an opportunity of making any complaint he wished. A questionnaire was carefully prepared and handed to every returned prisoner on his arrival at one of the dispersal camps to which all prisoners were sent before being allowed to return home. Each company of returning men was addressed by the person in charge of the investigation, and he impressed on the men the importance of stating frankly whether there was any complaint that they desired to make, and, if so, what it was. The result was remarkable. Out of not less than 170,000 forms issued only some 59,000 were even returned, and of these only about 22,000 contained information of any value whatever.
While this information was being collected, the then Attorney-General, Sir F. E. Smith (afterwards Lord Birkenhead), appointed a further committee to enquire into the breaches of the laws of war, the sub-committee dealing with prisoners being under the presidency of Mr. Justice Peterson. This sub-committee carefully considered the whole of this mass of evidence, and, in addition, the reports, nearly 2,000 in number, of the American and Dutch representatives who visited the camps. The German military law was also carefully studied.
Information was thus obtained with regard to 57 camps for officers and 78 main camps for men, besides the working camps, the number of which, shown by lists (admittedly not quite complete) from time to time furnished by the German authorities to the Netherlands minister, was 7,157. There were certainly not less than 7,500 places in all where one or more British prisoners were at one time or another confined, in addition to the camps on the eastern and western fronts, which are left for separate consideration.
The result of the investigation was that complaints, some uncorroborated, some trivial and some very serious, were received as regards 929 places, in only 349 of which—rather less than 5% of the whole—did a first study of the evidence seem to call for further examination.
It is clear, therefore, that no general charge of inhuman treatment is well-founded; it is, however, true that, apart altogether from the camps on the eastern and western fronts, there were actually, if not proportionately, a large number of cases in which the German treatment of British prisoners was certainly bad, and, in some cases, very bad.
To form a just estimate of the gravity of the situation so disclosed, consideration must be given to the differences of the military law and disciplinary practice of the two countries, and to the personal characteristics of the two peoples. With regard to the former, it is not necessary to repeat what has been said before about the severity of the German military law, and in actual practice the officers and non-commissioned officers in the German army are accustomed, apparently without lawful authority, to ill-treat their men physically in a way which would not be tolerated in England. Moreover, the German is naturally more amenable to strict discipline than the average Briton. Much of the ill-treatment complained of in the camps resulted from one or other of the causes above indicated; for the rest a disregard of the German military law or the regulations made for carrying that law into force was the main contributing cause.
In this connexion the attitude of the civilian population cannot be ignored. The anger aroused by the entry of Great Britain into the war induced on the part of German men and even German women cruelties which any decent person must look upon with disgust. It was inevitable that the passage of wounded prisoners from the battle-front to the interior of Germany should be attended with suffering. But that men grievously injured should be subjected to insults and physical ill-treatment is horrible, and that women bearing the Red Cross should throw water on men crying in agony for a drink, or should show to famished men soup and then pour it on the ground rather than allow them to partake of it is conduct almost incredible in its brutality. But such things occurred, not once or twice, but frequently in the early months of the war, and even later the conduct of civilians outside the prisoners' camps is worthy of the severest condemnation. Happily, however, passions were allayed, and after the first year of the war prisoners passed through from the front without being subjected to the insults and ill-treatment which unhappily were common at first.
Again, it was inevitable that, owing to the state of unpreparedness and want of experience of all the belligerents, much discomfort and suffering should be caused to those captured early in the war. This is passed over as being practically unavoidable, and in what follows, unless otherwise clearly stated, the conditions recorded are those after the organization was or ought to have been fairly complete.
Officers.—The treatment of officers in a camp depended very much on the commandant, and, to some extent, on the personality of the general of the army corps district in which the camp was situated. As officers were under no obligation to work, one grievance which was so fruitful a cause of trouble in the men's camps did not exist in their case.
In some camps where, as at Crefeld, the commandant was a gentleman, no valid complaint can be made of the treatment. In others, especially in the X. Army Corps district, where the malign influence of Gen. von Hänisch was paramount, some of the commandants were neither gentlemen nor capable of understanding the feelings of gentlemen, and there was continual trouble. At Clausthal and Holzminden, of which the two brothers Niemeyer were commandants, the state of affairs was intolerable. There were continual arrests for trivial offences and endless pinpricks on both sides. But, worse than this, the guards had orders to use their bayonets and rifles without adequate cause. On one occasion an officer, for looking out of a window, was shot at by order of the commandant at Holzminden, but fortunately not hit. At Strohen, another camp in this district, two officers were seriously wounded in a bayonet charge ordered personally by the commandant because a knot of them had gathered near a prohibited part of the camp.
One matter gave rise to much resentment. It was right and proper for the Germans to make occasional strict searches in view of the continual attempts to escape; but their method of carrying them out with detectives from Berlin assisted by police dogs which prowled round the completely stripped officers was offensive in the extreme.
But these were exceptional places and incidents. In general, the officers commanding were gentlemen, who treated their charges with courtesy and consideration, though in most cases there was occasional friction owing to the propensity of the young officers to attempt to escape, and, in some measure perhaps, owing to the inability of German officers to understand the exuberance—even in captivity—of British subalterns.
Men in the Main Camps.—In the main camps the treatment on the whole seems to have been reasonable, and in some cases more considerate than might have been expected. There was the usual trouble from the enforcement of a discipline far more severe than that to which the prisoners had been accustomed in their own army; from the violence with which the German non-commissioned officers treated offending prisoners, and, up to quite late in the war, from the use of savage police dogs in the camps, which the German Foreign Office declared to be “a military necessity, in view of the large number of prisoners of war in Germany,” adding that, “having regard to the inferior number of prisoners in England no comparison can be drawn between conditions in the two countries.” Trouble, and even loss of life, was caused by the too frequent use of firearms in some camps, as, for instance, at Wittenberg, where on one occasion men were ordered to return to their huts on a given signal and the laggards were fired on. But such incidents were not general, and occurred only in camps where the commandant was quite unfit for his post. In most cases the prisoners were treated fairly, if strictly; in a few, of which Friedrichsfelde may be taken as an example, at all events in its later stages, everything seems to have been done to make the prisoner's lot as little irksome and unpleasant as possible. An exception must be made in the case of Langensalza, where the treatment was from first to last rough in the extreme, a roughness which culminated just after the Armistice in the shooting by the guard, hurriedly called upon the scene, of a number of prisoners who were pulling down a building, a proceeding condemned by the German Court of Enquiry as a breach of Article 4 of the Hague Convention.
Working Camps.—Still leaving out of consideration the camps in the occupied districts on the eastern and western fronts, the great bulk of the ill-treatment occurred in the working camps, and by a curious paradox, it is in them that the best treatment is to be found. The ill-treatment was due to two main causes: first, to the fact that, except in very large working camps, the person in charge was a non-commissioned officer, and, second, to the passive resistance and in some cases the active insubordination of the British prisoners.
The non-commissioned officers, trained in the school of the German army and unrestrained by the presence of a superior officer, treated the prisoners in the way in which the rank and file of the German army have so often been treated. Men who refused to work, or in the opinion of the guards did not work hard enough, were kicked, spat upon, beaten with sticks, whips, clubs, rubber tubing, mining hammers and the butts of rifles. Those who escaped and were recaptured not infrequently received severe beatings before they were reported as recaptured and were formally punished for their offence. And all this was done notwithstanding the regulations, which, after laying down rules in the main reasonable enough for the use of arms by the guard, continue as follows (the quotation is from the instructions in force in the II. Army Corps district):—“Blows with the hand or fist or with sticks or clubs and kicks are forbidden. Except in the most exceptional and unusual cases it is inexcusable to lay hands on a prisoner.”
Even where the non-commissioned officer was lawfully inflicting punishment, he would often by his perverse ingenuity add to its severity. Men were made to stand at attention on hot asphalted roofs, or before coke ovens, where they were nearly roasted, or sometimes in exposed positions without an overcoat in the freezing atmosphere of a winter's night. At more than one mine, the dark cells, in which, according to the German law, prisoners of war under punishment were obliged to pass their periods of close arrest, were constructed in close proximity to the main steam pipe and became so hot that the men had to strip themselves almost to the skin.
For all this there is no excuse or palliation possible; happily, however, there is another side to record. At some large German works the employers seem to have taken a real interest in their prisoners, and to have done whatever in them lay to make their lot endurable and even comfortable. On the farms and similar places, the relations between prisoners and their employers were frequently, as in Great Britain, even cordial, and more than one repatriated British prisoner has spoken warmly of the kindness and consideration with which he was treated, though such cases were, of course, not common.
The impression produced by the study of all the available material is that there was neither in the main nor the working camps in Germany any officially recognized ill-treatment of prisoners; that there was, nevertheless, in many cases much cruelty by individuals, and that when as occasionally, but far too infrequently, happened, a prisoner could bring home to the authorities that some individual had exceeded his powers and acted outside the regulations, the offender was punished, sometimes by being sent away to the front, sometimes by a sentence to a term of imprisonment. On the other hand, it is also clear that in some cases the prisoners were treated, not only with humanity, but with kindness.
The reason for these contrasts is to be found in two things. First, the personal character of the man in charge, and, second, the independence of the army corps commanders, and even to some extent of the camp commandants, who not only placed their own interpretation on the regulations, but sometimes acted in deliberate defiance of them.
Men in the Occupied Districts.—While the above represents the considered opinion which results from the study of the very voluminous material available with regard to the camps in the interior in Germany, the same conclusion cannot be reached when the evidence dealing with the camps in the occupied districts is examined.
The cruelties inflicted on the prisoners in these places had their origin, and from the German point of view, their justification, as reprisals for alleged ill-treatment of Germans in British hands. It is not proposed to give here an account of the reprisals enforced on one side or the other, more than to allude to the severe conditions under which the first captured German submarine officers were interned in Great Britain, which resulted in the German Government retaliating by selecting from among the officers in their hands who bore well-known names (including among them the son of the former British ambassador to Berlin) and imprisoning them under exceptionally rigorous conditions. Most of the reprisals, while unpleasant enough for the victims, were not such as to amount to real cruelty.
But it is not too much to say that the treatment of the prisoners of war on the eastern and western fronts must, so long as the terrible story is remembered, bring indelible disgrace on the German nation, and on those responsible for the appalling cruelty inflicted on defenceless men. It was quite deliberate, as the following facts will show.
Eastern Front.—In the spring of 1916, German prisoners of war were sent to work at Rouen and Havre, and in May the German Government informed the British Government that it had in consequence decided to send 2,000 British prisoners to the occupied Russian territory to work under similar conditions to those existing at Havre and Rouen. They were accordingly sent, divided into four companies of 500 each, to four main camps, from which they were sent in smaller parties to work on numerous farms and in road-making and tree-felling. There is no serious complaint to make of the central camps, but at the others the conditions were very hard, the accommodation bad, and the unter-offiziers rough.
On Feb. 7 1917, the British Government received a German note verbale in which complaint was made that a considerable number of Germans were detained behind the British front in France, where it was alleged the “prisoners suffered from inadequate food, defective accommodation . . . as well as being subjected to hard work and irregularities in the matter of mails,” and that they were exposed to German gunfire which “has resulted in several of them being killed.” The Germans required that their men should be removed to a distance of at least 30 km. behind the firing-lines and “provided there with accommodation in accordance with the season of the year and hygienic needs.” In default of the British Government notifying their compliance with these demands by Feb. 1 (the note verbale was dated Jan. 24 and received on Feb. 7), “a number of British prisoners will be transferred from camps in Germany to the area of operations in the western theatre of war where, in respect of employment, accommodation, food, and the question of mails, they will be treated in a manner corresponding to the practice of the British military authorities”—which means, of course, the practice alleged by the Germans, i.e. insufficient food, defective accommodation (only tents), hard work and irregular mails.
The British Government, in a note verbale for transmission to the German Government, dated Feb. 8 1917, gave the explicit assurance that the prisoners received the same food as the British troops, that 75% were in huts, the remainder being like many British troops in specially warmed tents with floor boards, that strict orders had been given against their being employed within the range of German gunfire though it was regretted that one man had been wounded by a shell which must have been fired at exceptionally long range, this being the only casualty which had occurred.
Within ten days of the date of the British reply, 500 men were sent, not to the western but to the eastern front, and they were “officially informed” that they would be sent to the trenches between Riga and Mitau and remain within the artillery zone by way of reprisal. On Feb. 25 these 500 men were forced to march 35 km. up the frozen river Aa, often through snow-drifts knee deep. Sledges followed to pick up the men who broke down from exhaustion, while the escort of Uhlans drove the stragglers on with lances and whips. Those who fell were robbed of their kit and property. Of the 500 who started, between 120 and 130 are said to have collapsed on the march. “They were brought in by transport later, but through their lying in the snow they were frost-bitten in the hands and feet.”
Arrived at their destination, the men were kept waiting outside a “cavalry tent built on the ice of (marsh by) the river. It had wire beds on three racks, the bottom one being about one foot from the ground, so that the weight of a man's body weighed it down till he was lying on the snow or the ice.”
The next morning they were paraded, and a notice was read out giving the reasons why they were there. The substance of this notice is given by one of the British prisoners who heard it, as follows:—
“You are here on a reprisal because the English have German prisoners working in the firing-line in France. They have bad accommodation, bad food, bad treatment; they are under fire and 36 men have lost their lives. In return, you are to work here in the firing-line and will get bad treatment, bad food, bad accommodation, and 36 of you have got to die.”
The way in which it corresponds with the substance of the note verbale of Jan. 24, already quoted, which the soldier who gave the evidence could not possibly have heard of, cannot escape notice, any more than the fact that the accommodation provided corresponds with the complaint that some of the Germans at Havre and Rouen were lodged in tents.
The threats contained in the notice were carried out to the letter. The accommodation was bad, the treatment was bad, the food was bad, and numbers of men died, while more lost toes, fingers or hand through frost-bite.
The tent was a large cavalry tent pitched on the frozen marsh, with a foot or more of snow and ice inside and frequently under shell-fire. There were some small stoves, but no fuel or entirely inadequate fuel was provided. The “revier Stube” was a wretched peasant's cottage (in which the guard also was quartered) in charge of a brutal Sanitäter. Men in the last stages of illness were sent by sledge to Mitau. When the thaw came the tent was moved to Pinne, on the other side of the river, where deep mud took the place of snow and ice inside the tent.
There was no water supply; such water as there was, was obtained by melting ice from the river or by digging down into the marsh, where filthy polluted water was obtained. Most of the men had no wash during the whole time they were there. The treatment was bad. Were it not established beyond the possibility of doubt, the story would be unbelievable. Men were driven out to work—breaking ice on the river, felling trees, making and repairing trenches under fire—when they could hardly stand, and had to be supported by their comrades to and from their work. One man died while being carried home; another, who had fallen exhausted on his way back to camp, was shot at point-blank range by the sentry; while a third man, who did not turn out quick enough one morning, was first abused and then attacked with a bayonet by the Sanitäter; further investigation disclosed the fact that he had been dead some hours, frozen in his bunk. The only punishment was tying to the post outside the tent for two hours after the men returned from work, under conditions hardly differing from crucifixion. A sergeant-major, having been urged by the interpreter to write home how they were being treated, eventually did so: “next day,” he proceeds, “I got the letter back marked ‘five days strong arrest.’ After being hard at work from 6 A.M. to 6 P.M., I was tied to the pole from 7 P.M., during 36 degrees of frost.” This is corroborated by several witnesses.
That this treatment was deliberate and inspired by higher authority is evident from the fact that the sergeant-major says he obtained a copy of the orders from the guard, which stated “that no mercy was to be shown to us; we were men who had, every one of us, assisted in stopping the Kaiser's army from going to Paris; and they were to think of their comrades who were being brutally treated in France. Any soldier failing to carry out these orders was to be severely punished.”
The guards were given three-quarters of a loaf each day, the prisoners, doing hard work, received one-sixth of a loaf. The guards were given good, thick soup; the prisoners, soup “that you could drink straight off.” To such straits were the men reduced that it is recorded by more than one witness that the men became so ravenous that they would eat anything. “There were,” says one, “many unburied Russian bodies lying round the camp. Some men were so reduced that when they saw any bones they would rush at them and eat them like a dog. It was pitiful to see men reduced to such an animal stage.” No parcels were allowed before April, and no letters. When the remnants of this unhappy company returned to Mitau, 20,000 parcels were found stored. Had they been forwarded much suffering might have been avoided and lives saved.
The result of this inhuman treatment was what might have been expected. At the end of April 1917, there were 77 men left in the camp out of the 500 driven there in February. Of these, no fewer than 47 were certified by the German doctor as unfit to leave their beds. No less than 23 had died from exposure and starvation—some 16 in the camp, the rest in hospital at Mitau, besides those killed by the sentries or permanently injured by shell-fire or frost-bite.
There can be no doubt whatever that the sufferings endured by this unfortunate 500 were directly due to someone in authority in Berlin. The terms of the notice read out to the prisoners and of the orders given to the guard are in exact accordance with the terms of the note verbale of Jan. 24 1917.
Western Front.—The story of the treatment of the prisoners on the western front is not less terrible, indeed in some respects it is worse in that their sufferings were more prolonged, though they were not exposed to the same climatic conditions as their comrades in Russia. There is overwhelming evidence in this case also of the deliberation with which the suffering was inflicted.
In April 1917 it was agreed, after the communications of January and February mentioned above, that neither belligerent would employ prisoners within 30 km. of the firing-line, and on April 28 a telegram was sent by the British authorities informing the German Government that orders had been issued that all German prisoners were to be removed. On May 30 a further telegram was sent stating that they had all been withdrawn to a distance of 30 km. from the firing-line, and requesting immediate information that the British prisoners had been so withdrawn on the eastern and western fronts. No reply was received till July 4, when the British minister at The Hague transmitted a communication from the German Government stating that “there can be no question in any case of intentional retention or concealment of British prisoners,” and on July 9 a further communication was received, dated Berlin June 15, saying “that the withdrawal of British prisoners of war in the German fighting zone to a distance of 30 km. behind the firing-line has been completed everywhere.”
On July 2 the British and German representatives at The Hague had made the following important agreement:—
“Reprisals against combatant and civilian prisoners of war may only be carried out after at least four weeks' notice of intention so to do has been given”; and second, “all captures are to be notified by the captor State to the other State with the least possible delay: every prisoner captured is to be allowed to communicate at once with his family and is to be provided with the means of doing so and the dispatch of his communication is to be facilitated: as soon as practicable after capture every prisoner is to be enabled to inform his family of an address at which they can communicate with him.”
The statements with regard to the removal of the prisoners were not true. From early in 1917 up to the Armistice prisoners were kept by Germans within 30 km. of the front line and were there subjected to the most cruel treatment. After the above-mentioned agreement, and up to the date of the German offensive of March 1918, their number was probably not large, but after that date thousands were so detained under very bad conditions. No notice of the fact that they were to be so detained as a reprisal was ever given to the British Government.
In April 1917 a notice entitled “Conditions of respite to German prisoners” was handed at Lille to a British noncommissioned officer to be read out to his fellow-prisoners. It runs as follows:—
“Upon the German request to withdraw the German prisoners of war to a distance of not less than 30 km. from the front line, the British Government has not replied; therefore it has been decided that all prisoners of war who are captured in future will be kept as prisoners of respite (sic). Very short food, bad lighting, bad lodgings, no beds, and hard work beside the German guns under heavy shell-fire. No pay, no soap for washing or shaving, no towels or boots, etc.”
The notice proceeds to the effect that prisoners are to write home of their sufferings and that “no alteration in the ill-treatment will occur till the English Government has consented to the German request” and then the prisoners would be removed “to camps in Germany, where they will be properly treated, with good food, good clothing.” Stationery would be supplied and “all this correspondence in which you will explain your hardships will be sent as express mail to England.” Similar notices were read out at several other places. The threats were carried out to the letter. The accommodation was everywhere and always as bad as it could be. In the spring of 1917 prisoners were confined at Lille in conditions comparable only to those of the “black hole” of Calcutta, the crowding was terrible, there were no washing arrangements, and the only sanitary accommodation took the form of tubs in the rooms. The same conditions were renewed or continued in 1918; in the spring of that year the men were told that they were being badly treated as a reprisal. Prisoners were sent to places behind the lines, where they had to work for eight or nine hours on end and even longer on entirely insufficient food. The evidence of over 2,300 men has been obtained with regard to 78 of these places, at 20 of which they were exposed to Allied shell-fire which caused many casualties, while at 38 they were engaged in work directly connected with the operations of war, being required in some cases actually to take up ammunition to the German guns. They were forced to do this by brutal ill-treatment, and were worked till they could do nothing more and either died or were sent back to Germany mere wrecks of their former selves. Men died in the train, their bodies being taken out at stations on the way; many more died within 24 hours of their arrival at the hospital to which they were sent, and often a large percentage (up to 30% it is said in some cases) within the next three or four weeks. Their physical condition is vouched for by 33 medical officers who were prisoners: 10 of them immediately behind the lines who saw what was going on, and the remainder detained in the interior of Germany who saw and tended the prisoners on their arrival there.
The under-feeding of the prisoners on this front was aggravated by three things: First, the Germans did not notify the capture of large numbers of them in obedience to the Hague agreement of 1917; second, the prisoners were forced to give as their address some camp in the interior of Germany to which parcels were sent for them and, except in a few cases, not forwarded; third, steps were taken to prevent the French and Belgians giving the prisoners any food.
The Kommandantur at Mons on April 4 1918 issued a notice in French of which the following is a translation:—
“Conversation with prisoners is absolutely forbidden, as is giving them letters, food, or anything else. Breaches of this regulation will be punished by imprisonment for a maximum of three years or a maximum fine of 10,000 marks.”
This was repeated on July 28 and on Sept. 9 1918 the Kommandantur again called attention to the matter, the notice of the latter date containing a passage of which the following is a translation:—
“Notwithstanding this warning, frequent breaches of the regulation have been reported. The Kommandantur, being responsible for strictly maintaining order, has instructed guards to use their firearms when it becomes necessary so to do.”
This was no mere threat. Many civilians, women among them, were shot for attempting to help the starving prisoners, and many prisoners were shot on the spot even for attempting to pick up the remains of food which they saw in the road as they marched along.
This treatment was continued right up to the Armistice, when prisoners in the last stages of exhaustion and starvation stumbled into the British lines hardly recognizable as British soldiers. The High Command had faithfully kept their promise of “very short food, bad lighting, bad lodgings, no beds and hard work beside the German guns under heavy shell-fire.”
Prisoners Outside Europe.—Something must be added with regard to the treatment of prisoners elsewhere than in Europe, if only because serious complaints Were made on both sides as to their treatment with regard to accommodation and food, especially in East Africa. There can be no doubt that much suffering was endured by prisoners of both nationalities in this part of the world; but it was mainly due to the conditions of the campaign and to the climate, while on the British side there appears to have been much justification for the complaints which were made against individual Germans for their want of consideration for the devoted men and women missionaries whom the fortunes of war had brought into their hands.
Turkey.—Little can be said with regard to the application of the Hague Convention by Turkey, because the Government of that country made practically no attempt to conform to the regulations contained in it. Their treatment of prisoners varied from an almost theatrical politeness to the great, to complete indifference to suffering—almost to barbarism—in the case of men of little esteem.
These oriental characteristics may be best illustrated by the fate of the British prisoners captured on the fall of Kut el ‛Amara at the end of April 1916, when, as Enver Pasha stated, they became “the honoured guests of the Turkish Government.” The officers were sent by steamer to Bagdad and thereafter drafted to various camps in Anatolia. The men were marched 100 m. to Bagdad, in stifling heat, with no sort of organization for food transport or medical care of those worn out by the privations of the long-drawn-out siege. The Turkish commandant promised that the day's march should not exceed eight miles. He kept his promise for one day, and thereafter the men were forced to march from 12 to 18 m. a day, herded like sheep by mounted Arabs who flogged forward the stragglers. At night they lay out on the open ground without any shelter. Many fell out and died. At one point 350 men were left behind in a sort of cowshed, so sick as to be unable to move, and were picked up by the already overcrowded boats, where there was room only for the most desperately ill to lie down. Arrived at Bagdad, all but 500, who were too ill even for the Turks to force them forward, were sent on a 500-m. march to places where they were to work.
Out of a total of 13,670 of all ranks believed to have been captured at Kut, in the course of two and a half years 1,425 escaped or were repatriated, 2,611 are known to have died, while 2,200 were missing, and there were left in the hands of the Turks only 7,414, or little more than half of those captured.
Up to Dec. 1917 the Ottoman Government steadily refused to permit neutrals to inspect the camps, and though this concession was then made, it was so worded as in effect to be useless.
Bulgaria.—If due allowance is made for the backward condition of the country, it must be admitted that the treatment by the Bulgarians was correct, though complaint was made that British soldiers were flogged for disciplinary offences. This is permitted by the military law of Bulgaria but after representations were made on the subject the practice was abandoned in the case of British soldiers.
The food given the prisoners was the same as that given to the Bulgarian soldiers, and the hospital treatment was not less good than that given to their own men. The accommodation was rough but in general no worse than that of the inhabitants of the country. Every effort appears to have been made to improve conditions where they were remediable, and the authorities seemed anxious to treat their British prisoners with consideration. An unusual amount of liberty was accorded to the prisoners, and there is no little evidence of the kindness and friendliness of the Bulgarian civilians to the British.
Austria.—The few British prisoners captured by Austria were treated with consideration and in accordance with the provisions of the Hague Convention.
Negotiations during the War.—During the World War a notable step was taken in arranging for meetings between representatives of the belligerents for the discussion of matters relating to prisoners of war. In the spring of 1917 meetings had taken place between French and German representatives with useful results, and, largely owing to the insistence of Lord Newton, who was then in charge of the Prisoners of War Department of the British Foreign Office, a meeting between German and British representatives was arranged and took place at The Hague in June. Great Britain was represented by Lord Newton, Lord Justice Younger and Gen. Belfield, and Germany by Gen. Friederich and two others, the meetings being presided over by M. van Vredenburg on behalf of M. Loudon, the Netherlands Minister of Foreign Affairs. At this meeting arrangements were made for the repatriation of disabled combatants, for the internment of invalid interned civilians, for the repatriation of medical personnel still retained by the belligerents, and for the mitigation of certain punishments inflicted on prisoners of war. It was agreed that reprisals should only be carried out after a month's notice of intention to do so had been given and it was also agreed that all captures were to be notified with the least possible delay.
This meeting was followed by one which lasted from June 8 to July 14 1918, at which the British representatives were Lord Cave, Lord Newton and Gen. Belfield, the first-named being obliged to return before the agreement was signed. It contained no fewer than 60 articles with six annexes thereto, and dealt with the following subjects: the repatriation of invalids; the internment in a neutral country of prisoners who had been a long time in captivity; the protection of prisoners after capture; prisoners retained in an area of operations; notification of capture; equipment and organization of camps; food; punishments; help committees; relations with protecting powers; parcels and postal services; and the publication of the agreements in the different camps. Much was done by these two meetings to translate into a concrete form the principles laid down in the Hague Conventions, and to mitigate the lot of the prisoners, though the full benefit of the second agreement was never realized as it was never formally ratified.
In Dec. 1917 Lord Newton and Gen. Belfield met Turkish representatives at Berne under the presidency of M. Ador, of the Swiss Political Department, and an agreement was drawn up on lines similar to those of the German agreements.
Questions for the Future.—The foregoing investigation of the operation of the Hague Convention during the World War leads one inevitably to ask whether it is desirable and practicable to make any substantial amendment to that Convention. It is a most difficult question to answer, for, although not generally recognized, the whole problem is military rather than humanitarian. While of course all active ill-treatment should be prohibited, the lot of a prisoner must not be made so attractive in comparison with that of soldiers in the firing-line as to afford a temptation to them to desert or to do anything incompatible with their military duty. Further, while it is possible for the voices of humanity and charity to make themselves effectively heard in times of profound peace, it is useless then to formulate regulations which public opinion, stirred to its depths by alleged misdeeds of the enemy, will not allow to be observed, and which the military authorities will disregard in time of war. All that can be usefully accomplished is to put into the form of rules those principles which the good sense of all civilized nations accepts as correct, and for this purpose to use the experience gained during the World War, of which not the least important part was the value of direct conference between representatives of the belligerents during active hostilities for the purpose of dealing with the detailed application of those principles.
But it does seem desirable that regulations should be made dealing with the case of civilians found in any enemy country at the outbreak of war, for it is improbable that in any future war of nations civilians will be allowed to return home or to remain at large in view of the means of communication which modern science has made possible.
The value of the inspection of prisoners-of-war camps by the accredited representatives of the protecting State has been made abundantly clear, and their right to visit the camps, which was the result of an agreement made early in 1915 between the British and German Governments should be made permanent. It will, however, be extremely difficult to reconcile the desires of the humanitarians and the military authorities with regard to camps within the area of hostilities, though it will probably be found possible to come to some agreement defining the nature of the work on which prisoners of war may not be employed, and an attempt should be made to make more clear than it is at present the obligation of the captors with regard to the feeding and clothing of the prisoners in their hands.
For military reasons there would be no chance of obtaining a general assent to the prohibition of reprisals, but provisions similar to those contained in the agreements with the German and Ottoman Governments requiring notice before reprisals are made might be accepted.
Finally, those agreements made during the war with regard to the repatriation of disabled prisoners, and the conditions on which a prisoner should be entitled to internment in a neutral country if accommodation could be found, might be made of universal application.
There remains the most difficult question of all: whether it is possible to provide penalties for the infraction of any regulation which may be made, and to establish a tribunal with authority to punish individuals and States. Articles 227-229 of the Peace Treaty with Germany, satisfactory from one point of view, savour too little of the calm administration of justice. They are not reciprocal, the vanquished are given no right to have judicially investigated any complaints they may have against the victors. It would be far more satisfactory to have an alleged “atrocity” investigated than that, for want of public investigation, an unfounded legend of brutality should grow up.
It is perhaps too much to expect that, at the conclusion of a war in which the victors have made great sacrifices and undergone great suffering, they should take steps to establish a court for the trial of charges against their own people, but if provision had been made in time of peace for the establishment of a court to investigate all charges of wrong treatment in time of war the victors would not depart from their agreement. The establishment of such a court may well occupy the attention of statesmen and international lawyers.
Authorities.—The following is a complete list of official publications:—Correspondence between H.M. Government and the U.S. ambassador respecting the treatment of prisoners of war and interned civilians in the United Kingdom and Germany: Misc. 7 (1915), cd. 7817; do. Misc. 5 (1915), cd. 7815. Reports by United States officials on treatment of British prisoners of war and, interned civilians in Germany: Misc. 11 (1915), cd. 7861; Misc. 3 (1916), cd. 8161; Misc. 14 (1915), cd. 7959; Misc. 15 (1915), cd. 7961; Misc. 19 (1915), cd. 8108; Misc. 16 (1916), cd. 8235; Misc. 26 (1916), cd. 8297; Misc. 7 (1917), cd. 8477. Report on conditions existing at Ruhleben: Misc. 13 (1915), cd. 7863. Report by Dr. A. E. Taylor on the conditions of diet and nutrition at Ruhleben: Misc. 18 (1916), cd. 8259; Misc. 21 (1916), cd. 8262. The same, and on proposed release of civilians: Misc. 26 (1916), cd. 8296; Misc. 35 (1916), cd. 8352. Correspondence, respecting the employment of British and German prisoners of war in Poland and France respectively: Misc. 19 (1916), cd. 8260. Correspondence with U.S. ambassador respecting transfer to Switzerland of British and German prisoners of war: Misc. 17 (1916), cd. 8236. Reports of visits of inspection made by officials of the United States embassy to various internment camps in the United Kingdom: Misc. 30 (1916), cd. 8324. Report on the treatment of prisoners of war in England and Germany during the first eight months of the war: Misc. 12 (1915), cd. 7862. Report on the transport of British prisoners of war to Germany Aug.-Dec. 1914: Misc. 3 (1918), cd. 8984. Report on treatment of British prisoners and natives in German East Africa: Misc. 13 (1917), cd. 8689; do. London 1918. Correspondence with German Government respecting the burning of G. P. Genower, A.B.: Misc. 6 (1918), cd. 8987. Correspondence respecting the use of police dogs: Misc. 9 (1917), cd. 8480. Correspondence with H.M.'s minister at Berne respecting reprisals: Misc. 29 (1916), cd. 8323. Report on Wittenburg typhus epidemic: Misc. 10 (1916), cd. 8224; do. Gardelegen, Misc. 34 (1916), cd. 8351. Report on the treatment of officers in camps under X. Army Corps: Misc. 28 (1918). Report on the treatment of British prisoners behind the lines in France and Belgium: Misc. 7 (1918), cd. 8788; do., Misc. 19 (1918), cd. 9106; do., Misc. 27 (1918). Report on the employment of British prisoners in coal and salt mines: Misc. 23 (1918), cd. 9150. Agreement between the British and German Governments concerning combatant and civilian prisoners of war: Misc. 12 (1917), cd. 8590; do., Misc. 20 (1918), cd. 9147. Report on the treatment of British prisoners of war in Turkey: Misc. 24 (1918), cd. 9208. Agreement between the British and Ottoman Governments respecting prisoners of war and civilians: Misc. 10 (1918), cd. 9024. Work of the Central Prisoners of War Committee 1916-1919: Revue Internationale de la Croix Rouge (No. 26, Feb. 1921). Report of the Joint Committee to enquire into the organization and methods of the Central Prisoners of War Committee, cd. 8615.
Up to Jan. 1922, neither the British Government Committee on the treatment by the enemy of British prisoners of war, nor the Committee on the Breaches of the Laws of War, had published any general report; nor had the Reports of the representatives of the Netherlands Government been published.
- These figures indicate the volume and page number of the previous article.
- There were in addition to German civilians interned in England a comparatively small number of internees of other nationalities and nearly 20,000 more in other parts of the Empire. The whole of the prisoners in German hands were of course confined in Germany or the occupied districts.
- In some places the prisoners were even taken periodically to the local cinema, not always at their own expense.
- When the men had been in this place for a week the “German Government informed the Netherlands minister at Berlin, in a note verbale dated March 5, that British prisoners of war had not yet been sent quite close to the German firing-line on the Russian front.”
The original wording was:—
“Il est absolument interdit de parler aux prisonniers ou de leur passer des lettres, des vivres, ou d'autres objets quelconques. Les infractions à cette prescription seront punies d'un emprisonnement pouvant s'élever à 3 ans, ou d'une amende pouvant atteindre 10,000 mark.”
The original wording was:—
“Malgré cette défense, de nombreuses infractions ont été signalées. La Kommandantur ayant pour tâche de maintenir l'ordre le plus strict, les soldats de surveillance ont reçu l'instruction de faire usage, le cas échéant, de leurs armes à feu.”