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Remembered Today:

Retaining POWs in the forward area


Chris_Baker

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I am currently writing up a number of cases where the interviewee reported that the Germans kept British POWs close behind the lines in April 1918. They were put to work on unloading at railheads and on battlefield salvage. Sadly, some were killed by British shellfire. For a POW to be in the forward area for a day or two I can readily understand, but these men were there for some weeks.

Can anyone explain the conventions of the time? Was there any theoretical bar on POWs being kept and used this way?

I would also be very interested in any cases where British army kept Germans working close to the front for an extended period of time, and indeed of any deaths to German "friendly fire".

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See Ballymena website below ... look on virtual memorial for M ... see James Magill .. PoW March 1918 .. made to work in German cookhouse .. French bombed it .. KIA friendly fire.

Pic on site. Feel free to c&p ...

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I found a detailed article entitled 'The final logic of sacrifice, Violence in German prisoner of war labour companies in 1918' by De Heather Jones, Lecturer at the Dept of History, Trinity College, Dublin, 'The Historian' 22nd December 2006. You can still get access to it free here: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G1-165193239.html

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I am currently writing up a number of cases where the interviewee reported that the Germans kept British POWs close behind the lines in April 1918. They were put to work on unloading at railheads and on battlefield salvage. Sadly, some were killed by British shellfire. For a POW to be in the forward area for a day or two I can readily understand, but these men were there for some weeks.

Can anyone explain the conventions of the time? Was there any theoretical bar on POWs being kept and used this way?

I would also be very interested in any cases where British army kept Germans working close to the front for an extended period of time, and indeed of any deaths to German "friendly fire".

Not weeks but months and in some cases over a year. Conditions were akin to WW2 forced labor camps with prisoners starved and beaten. The Germans followed the 'technical' measure of not registering these prisoners as PoW with Switzerland and the Red Cross (rather akin to the contentious "enemy combatant" status of prisoners in Guantanamo) for some time. Most did eventually get to a real PoW camp (usually when they were too unfit to be of much use for labour) at which time the Germans registered them. German penal companies were also employed in the same manner as it would seem were some Belgian civilians. Germany had a manpower shortage.

Britain did employ a limited number of German prisoners close to the lines in France in 1917 - this seems to have been 'semi official' and lasted only some weeks as the Germans got wind of it and made a formal complaint through the Hague whereupon the practice ceased. I have seen no reports of any casualties but details are very hazy.

The French it seems employed German prisoners in this way for much longer but details on this are lacking.

The practice was banned under the existing conventions.

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