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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Remembered Today:

Limburg PoW Camp


Mike Donoghue

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In Carl Dennett's book 'Prisoners of the Great War' he writes, 600,000 prisoners of war claimed Limburg as their home camp while only 2400 men actually lived their at that time. The timeframe is September 1917.

I understand that most prisoners worked and lived on farms and in factories but I am trying to put that large number into some sort of perspective. Were some of these 600,000 men transferred to other camps or is it safe to presume most of them ended up working outside the Limburg camp, only using it as their home camp?

The Long Long Trail has a great breakdown on total casualties of the war but not as much on PoW numbers. Could someone point me in the right direction to find that information?

Thank you in advance for your help.

Mike

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Mike

Does that figure include the prisoners for whom Limburg was only a registration camp, and who never went near the place? On this thread Limburg POW camp?, I asked about a man whose record puzzled me, as he died in August 1917 near where he was taken prisoner in Belgium three weeks earlier yet appeared to have gone to Limburg in between. It turned out, with help from Doug Johnson and others, that he and many others never went there but had to sent postcards home stamped with the name 'Limburg'.

I trust an expert will come along shortly but if you haven't seen that thread it is worth looking at.

Liz

Edited by Liz in Eastbourne
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Hi Liz, thanks very much for your reply. Thanks as well for the link, I think I have a better understanding of the matter as a result of reading the various posts.

Have you found a number for the total amount of prisoners taken during the war? I guess I found the 600,000 number very high for this one camp. In addition to those that may have lived there, worked out of there either on a daily, seasonal, or more permanent basis, many must have transferred on to other camps.

The 'Map of the main Prison Camps in Germany and Austria by Pope-Hennessy lists nearly 200 prison camps in her book. Is it possible mail and parcels for all these 600,000 prisoners was routed through Limburg and then on to other camps. If prisoners were re-established at other camps wouldn't their mail and parcels etc be routed to their new address after contact with home has been established?

Another question that I have been wondering about is, when prisoners, say from Limburg, were posted to a work placement either for a short or long term basis, would those soldiers be able to establish contact with home from there, and have there mail etc delivered to that location instead of through Limburg? I have read that some Limburg prisoners were sent to work at farming placements on a seasonal basis whereby they returned to Limburg in the late fall.

Any info on the total prisoner number and the mail routing would be greatly appreciated.

Mike

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Mike,

The total number of prisoners on the books of the camps in Germany on 10th October 1918 was 2 526 922 (Doegen). This figure may not include those registered at places like Limburg but who had not been transferred from the front so the total may be higher. There is a clue to this in Doegen's book where the number of British OR prisoners in June 1917 was 45 863. By the 10th May 1918 this had risen to 106 539. From then until 10th November 1918 it rose to 177 553. We know large numbers were captured in the spring offensive in March 1918. However, from June 1917 to May 1918 the increase was around 60 000 and from May to November the number increased by 71 000. The only logical explanantion for this is that those who were working behind the lines, although "registered" in many cases, were not actually recorded as being on the camp numbers i.e. that their registration was unknown to the camp and not included in the official figures quoted by Doegen until they actually arrived in Germany. However, the number of 600 000 being registered to Limburg is almost certainly wrong. Carl Dennet got other things wrong in his book and would not have been close enough to the official records to have obtained the number by any means but by word of mouth probably as someones guess if not his own.

As far as post goes, with a few exceptions, all the post and parcels were sent to a man's head camp and re-routed from there. To have mail sent directly to where a prisoner actually was would have resulted in chaos as it would have been impossible to kept track of where anyone was except at the head camp. The only written description of the workings of a British PoW mail system that I have found is for Güstrow where I know that they kept a card index of the location of every British prisoner. Keeping it up to date required the full time services of around ten prisoners. Because prisoners could be moved from one location to another quite quickly and frequently, mail would sometimes be sent out and the man moved before it was received so it went back to the camp to be forwarded to his new location. His old location would not know where he would have been sent and so could not forward it directly. Note that those registered at Limburg but not officially there did not receive post. The cards they sent bear the words "Do not reply to Limburg"

Doug

PS A lot of those registered at Limburg ended up in Güstrow

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Hi Doug,

Thank you very much for your reply. Your information sheds a lot of light for me on the PoW numbers and the way the mail and parcel system would have worked. I just have a question on what OR prisoners means?

Thanks also for tempering Dennett's numbers. Do you think its possible the number he gives for living at the camp could be incorrect as well. Considering the number of Prisoners in Germany is it possible a camp designed for 12,000 only had 2400 men in it?

Just to get a comparative picture, I was wondering if you knew the capacity of Gustrow was and, if it required 10 prisoners to keep the mail system working any idea how many off site working PoW's they were handling mail for? In your estimation, what would be a more liekly number for prisoners using Limburg as their home camp?

Thanks again.

Mike

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Mike,

OR just means other ranks which would be senior and junior NCO's and privates.

The number of prisoners resident in any camp fluctuated but most camps were never full to capacity except in 1914 when there were far too many prisoners to be housed. By late 1914 prisoners were being employed in large numbers and were scattered around in other proper camps (depots) or located at specific sites or even housed in pubs, schools and any other convenient building. This is the list that I have for Güstrow which is only a small fraction of the number of locations for that camp;

Alt Kaetwin

Baistrup

Bergenhausen

Birkenmoor

Bremen Hospital

Cammin

Eckernförde

Ehmkendorf

Geestemünde

Gettorf

Hanved

Janneby

Jarpland

Kaltenkirchen

Keil

Lübeck

Ludwig Rosemann, 25 Gertrude Strasse, Gustrow

Lügumkloster

Lunow Farm

Neu-Strelitz

Osterterp Schleswig

Rostock Rolling Stock Works

Rövrshagen

Suderzolhaus

Tessin Sugar Factory

Tinglev

Wasbek

Wismar Wood Yard

Wohlde Schleswig

At Güstrow on the 17th October 1916, there were only 1600 prisoners in the camp when it was visited by the Americans, for a camp that was built to house some 35 000 or more (the number varies in different sources). There would be more resident but they would be out working in the day but even so this would probably not take the number of residents above a few thousand. Note that in October 1916 there were 46 000 registered to the camp.

At Güstrow it took ten men to keep the card index up to date and carry out the admin. There were considerably more employed there in the British post office (there were other post offices for other nations as well). I have a list of those employed at Güstrow in 1917 and a full description as follows;

British Post office Güstrow

British post in Güstrow first came into existence about the middle of Nov 1914 by the arrival of a small handful of letters. These were followed later by parcels & money orders. At this time there were something like 2,000 British prisoners in the camp.

From the commencement, a staff of British prisoners have controlled the distribution of letters & parcels but it was not until March 1916 that the card register was in charge of a British prisoner, with what I consider were disastrous results. It was not until March 1915 that British prisoners had responsible control of money orders. Here again this work had previously been done by the French.

The original staff in the British post consisted of three prisoners, one of whom was interpreter. As the number of parcels arriving increased, so the staff was increased, until at the time of writing it numbers twenty seven British prisoners.

On an average, 14,000 parcels are received per month& 11,000 are readdressed, listed & despatched per month. Until March 1917 this work , in addition to the sorting & readdressing of a considerably larger number of letters & the readdressing of a money orders, was done with a staff which never exceeded more than 10 men. Since the spring of 1916 all parcels brought to & sent away from the camp have had to be transported on a small gauge railway in hand trucks. This work also had to be done by the above mentioned number of men.

On March 1st 1917 the post office staff was increased owing to the fact that every parcel had to be opened & the contents strictly censored by the German authorities, this entailing a great deal of extra work. Later more men were added to the staff to serve as wagon pushers. This left the original staff free for office work only.

Parcels & letters are sent each week to between 200 and 300 different addresses.

Men working outside the lager on farms etc are never settled in one place for any length of time as a rule but are moved about from one village to another, thus entailing changing of addresses. As notification of a change of address is never given until the man or men have actually moved this causes a good number of parcels to be returned from the old address to Güstrow to be readdressed, parcels never being sent on from the old address to the new one.

Two British prisoners are always employed at the station where the railway wagons containing the parcels arrive, their duty being to unload & sort parcels.

Parcels for British prisoners arrive from Holland in wagons along with parcels for Belgian and Russian prisoners. Parcels of bread from Switzerland arrive in wagons along with parcels for French prisoners from Frankfurt. The parcels of bread from Denmark come in wagons from Berlin along with French parcels. All readdressed parcels sent from Güstrow camp are taken in hand trucks from the camp to the station where they are unloaded, sorted & placed in sacks & then despatched to their respective destinations.

When parcels arrive at Güstrow, for men who are not on the lager roll, enquiry cards giving their full particulars as to name , regimental number etc are sent to the enquiry office for prisoners of war at Berlin & are returned giving, when the man is known, the address of the camp in which he is. When a man is neither on the Güstrow or Berlin rolls, the parcel is handed over to the British help committee in the camp to be used for the benefit of newly captured men. At the same time, notification is sent to the sender of the parcel.

David B Pryde

Pte. London Scottish Regiment

Chief of English post 1915-1917)

June 1917

(MS in the Imperial War Museum)

As to the number using Limburg as a home address I would guess 73 563 in October 1918 (mostly Russians, only 6692 British men and 69 British officers). I do not think this would include any registered who were still behind the lines whose nominal address was Limburg, however there can not have been many left at that time. The 600 000 could have been a misprint as it would have been close to the numbers if it was 60 000.

I have several images of the post system at Güstrow but can not post them whilst the site problems remmain.

Doug

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Thank you again Doug for your generous help. As well sorry for my late reply, I have been away from my computer for a couple of days.

I hope you don't mind me asking about how the administration of the prisoner side of the camp worked? I can imagine how the camp post office would have been the most important part of the prisoners self administration but would there have been, for example, a mechanism whereby prisoners or prisoner committees could bring concerns to German camp officials? Are you aware of how much access prisoner representatives would have had to the camp Commandant.

Would Gustrow have operated their theatre group with the full endorsement of German camp officials or were they accomplishing this on their own, in a more autonomous fashion.

Would much of the lattitude afforded to the prisoners, regarding entertainment etc, depend on the nature of the camp Commandant?

Thanks again, Doug.

Truly indebted,

Mike

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Mike,

Complex question.

Officers generally had access to the commandant through the senior British Officer though the response to complaints varied considerably. The OR camps varied depending on Corps area, commandant and type of camp (many small "camps" has only NCO's in charge who's responsibility was to get the most work out of their charges). For many camps, even some well run head camps, the main route for complaints was through the neutral inspectors.

The post office was one of the two most important organisations, the other being the help committee whose job was to help those British prisoners who were in need of food and clothing, usually newly arrived prisoners. The third most important was perhaps the kitchens. Often the entertainments were a part of the help system as they raised money to obtain food for those in need. Most of the camp entertainments were fully endorsed by the Germans and many were patronised by them who were often as bored as the prisoners so they were a welcome relief. Nearly all needed the approval of the camp authorities to use the hut for the purpose of entertainments. Many of the Camps however had little or no entertainments. There is another thread regarding a photograph of what we think was a travelling orchestra which went round to some of the smaller camps. There was a rule, probably unwritten, and possibly confined to the officers' camps, that entertainment costumes were strictly off limits for the purposes of escaping.

Note that a lot of NCO's were working in the kitchens, running the help committees and working in the post office of the head camps. This is because they were not required to work but were usually required to carry out duties in the head camps. Güstrow post office was possibly odd in that NCO's were under the control of privates. Every camp however could be different.

post-7895-0-25787900-1311630998.jpg

This is the Belgian post office at Güstrow. The card index is clearly visible. The guys with writing pads could be compiling lists of parcel recipients so that the could be posted up.

Doug

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Thanks again, Doug,

That's a great picture of the Belgian post office at Gustrow.

I was wondering if you knew much about how the camp infirmaries were run. I understand at Limburg the camp infirmary (for light cases) was on-site, within the camp, while the camp hospital (more serious cases) was off-site. Were the on site camp infirmaries staffed in part by prisoners or prisoner medics?

Also, on another topic, I read at Sennelager in the early months of the war the German town folk would be allowed into the camp to view the new English prisoners in a manner consitent with an amusement park. Not sure if you have read anything like this? But I was wondering how the relationship between the camp and the surrounding villages may have changed as the war went on. In particular during 1918 when many Germans were starving for food and other resources. Do you know whether German people who lived near PoW camps turned to the camps in any way for assistance.

I imagine during 1918 when there was a large influx of prisoners it may have been difficult to ramp up camp resources to satisfy the increased demand for parcels etc. but were prisoners in the camps better off than the Germans living in the villages close by?

Thanks again for your assistance,

Mike

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Mike,

Camp hospitals varied between camps with some like Darmstadt having well equipped purpose built hospitals, others, being German military camps already had hospitals (some outside the PoW camp) whilst others like Güstrow used standard wooden huts. All camp hospitals were generally manned by prisoners, some being captured Medics such as RAMC officers (more so early in the war)but nearly always under the official control of a single German doctor. Specialist and severe care was nearly always farmed out to military or civilian hospitals and the severely wounded were usually in hospitals in Germany before entering a camp. Aachen was the pricipal place for PoW sick with some six or seven hospitals being used and most of the severely wounded would have been through one of them. In addition, Aachen was also the place for PoW to be gathered before repatriation and where they underwent their final assessment before the ones who passed were sent to Holland for home. Note that at Wittenberg during the imfamous spotted typhus outbreak all of the patients remained in the camp in a Hospital where there were not even beds.

Güstrow had two or three hospitals, all of them huts. One for the sick, one for those who recovering from illness, wounds or other causes and one for transients on their way to Aachen for repatriation. The difference being the level of care required.

post-7895-0-76537800-1311968545.jpg

Medical staff at Güstrow late 1917

With respect to Sennelager I have not read that but it has to be remembered that Sennelager was a German military camp in itself and the three/four PoW camps were inside Sennelager which itself was not fenced off. Certainly PoWs were, in the early days, a spectator sport at weekends with families looking from outside the wire whilst naked PoWs were attempting to wash etc (many camps in the early days did not have indoor washing facilities, including Güstrow). There were instances of Women (wifes and friends of the commandant etc) being shown round certain camps. There is no doubt that the local populations were hostile to PoWs in the early days and especially to the "English". Later on though the local population got used to them and for workers on farms etc it was not uncommon for them to have sexual relationships with the daughters or wives of Germans who were away fighting or deceased in the same way as it probably happened in Britain. I have little evidence of the locals attempting to obtain food or other items off the PoWs but certainly the guards did. As for prisoners being better off for food it would depend on your nationality. Brits were generally OK unless they were held behind the lines or had moved recently and their parcels had not caught up. French were OK, Russians were starved but were survivors and Italians were probably the worst off; many photographs of Italian prisoners are similar to those of survivors and the dead in the holocaust camps of WW11. However the German condition also varied with those in the towns suffering the greatest. Conrad Hoffman In the Prison camps of Germany was an unfortunate individual as an American YMCA representative he was only entitled to the same rations as a local German but was helped by the food parcels given to him by American PoWs!

Doug

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I can't thank you enough, Doug for your help on the above posts. You have improved my understanding greatly of inner workings of PoW camps. As your depth of knowledge on the Gustrow camp is considerable, I hope you don't mind me taking the liberty of thinking the Limburg camp, where my grandfather most likely was, was in many ways, not that entirely different.

Thanks again.

Mike

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  • 2 weeks later...

Hello again, I have another question with regards to the Limburg Camp and thought extending this post was the best way to ask it.

During 1918 there were apparently somewhere in the range of 100 American soldiers interred at Limburg.

Would anyone have any information as to which regiment or regiments they were from?

Thanks very much in advance!

Mike

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