Jump to content
Great War Forum

Remembered Today:

Brainybri

Looting by British troops

Recommended Posts

Brainybri

I have read about German troops looting factories as they retreated, but has anyone ever seen evidence of British troops looting French or Belgian farms? What, in the event of troops being caught doing this, would the punishment be?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Coldstreamer

got an example to a blatant theft made by Coldstreamer on a dead German

In a postscript Private Cooney adds "I have a solid silver watch I got from a German officer, but he does not need it now.”

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
centurion

got an example to a blatant theft made by Coldstreamer on a dead German

In a postscript Private Cooney adds "I have a solid silver watch I got from a German officer, but he does not need it now.”

Plenty of cases of both sides removing things from both dead and POWs (just as happened back in the Peninsular war and Private Ugg probably nicked flints from his defeated enemy even further back) but this isn't what the OP is asking about. Given the size the British Army reached it's bound to have incorporated a number of criminally inclined types who'd lift things from wherever they were billeted and from anyone who didn't nail things down (just as they did in civvy st) but I've never seen any accounts of systematic looting. That said I'm sure that there were plenty of dug outs with chairs, cups, plates etc "salvaged" from abandoned and wrecked farm houses

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Moonraker

Years ago at a training session on the situation after the next war (which has yet to happen, in the UK anyway), I had the temerity to ask what was the difference between looting/stealing and making sensible use of something that was unwanted/discarded.

What were the Germans looting from factories? Were they were depriving the enemy of useful goods that they could reasonably use? If your rifle jams and you pick up that of a dead comrade, that's good sense, but what about a trophy revolver from a dead enemy? if a farm is occupied, stealing from its inhabitants is bad, but what if it's been abandoned and the occupants unlikely to return for a long time and the animals are likely to suffer unless looked after - why not put them out of their suffering and have a good meal? What would have happened to the German's silver watch if Private Cooney hadn't appropriated it - with little chance of its finding its way back to relatives should it have been buried with its owner? It's surely all right to appropriate a dead comrade's spare ammo, perhaps his helmet - what about his boots or uniform if yours are in a poor state? Pinching possessions from a house you're billeted in, even if it belongs to an enemy family, is reprehensible.

And so on.

Moonrfaker

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
mebu

Isn't this the origin of the word scrounge which was coined by Tommy....to pilfer, steal, or appropriate by dishonest means?

Peter

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
centurion

Isn't this the origin of the word scrounge which was coined by Tommy....to pilfer, steal, or appropriate by dishonest means?

Peter

Not exactly According to the Long |Trail it means "To steal , not personal belongings but from a department or from some other embodiment of authority" and gives an example of a platoon scrounging an entire elephant hut from a body of engineers sleeping in it at the time. It's apparently a pre war northern dialect term. So pinching some shovels from the company in the next trench would be scrounging but taking a farmers pitchfork would be plain theft or nicking

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Lancashire Fusilier

Isn't this the origin of the word scrounge which was coined by Tommy....to pilfer, steal, or appropriate by dishonest means?

Peter

Peter,

In my Oxford Dictionary ' scrounge ' is defined as :-

" To obtain by salvaging or foraging - To obtain something by cadging or sponging - To forage about in an effort to acquire something at no cost ".

Regards,

LF

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
mebu

The 1920s New English Dictionary supplement of words coined in WW1 has scrounge as probable variation of N. Irish scrunge. Pilfer, cadge, seize, A pilferer or thief.

However.....whereas an officer may know the difference, I'm not sure many Tommies would differentiate between the shovel and the pitchfork. I've got buried away somewhere a rport of a Liaison Officer saying much of his time was recompensing farmers for losses caused by troops billeted around Hazebrouck.

Looting did occur...at what scale one can only guess.

Peter

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
centurion

I think one should be careful in assuming that a modern dictionary definition accurately reflects the usage of nearly 100 years ago, language evolves However the writers of The ong Trail were both WW1 infantrymen who were also university trained in Etymology

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
John_Hartley

Not France or Belgium, but I have an account of looting in Palestine.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Brainybri

Thank you for your comments, all of which put this excerpt from my grandfather-in-law's diary in context:

"During 28th and 29th (April 1918) bombardment for 24 hours without a break. Civilians leaving their homes, wholesale looting carried on by British troops, pigs, calves, hens taken away clothes, utensils, flour, corn, potatoes. My own battery carried away piano and numerous things that cant be mentioned here."

(He was 'b' battery 113th (army) brigade RFA, on Ypres front)

A piano? Where would they put that....how would they explain it to their commanding officer? Love to know what couldn't be mentioned!

Edited by Brainybri

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Lancashire Fusilier

Looting by soldiers, is probably as old as war itself.

LF

post-63666-0-05075500-1398687166_thumb.j

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
ss002d6252

It also happened from your own side:

2nd Essex, May 1915

I came across this when trying to fill in missing details for the 6th DLI (war diary is missing for this period) - The prime suspects so far would appear be one of the DLI battalions of the 151st Bde.

post-51028-0-38842600-1398687516_thumb.j

Craig

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
mebu

Dunn, The War the Infantry Knew.... " Looting of a sort is allowed......lousy shirt exchanged for ladies underwear,.... Aid Post has cow, .........men catching hens and pigeons."

Peter

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Stoppage Drill

The meaning of "Looting" is defined in the current (2006) Army Act, ditto the preceding Act (1955). As the definitions are essentially the same, and are common sense interpretations of the word, then I imagine the 1881 Act (applicable to GW period) were the same. The present maximum sentence is life imprisonment.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
centurion

The meaning of "Looting" is defined in the current (2006) Army Act, ditto the preceding Act (1955). As the definitions are essentially the same, and are common sense interpretations of the word, then I imagine the 1881 Act (applicable to GW period) were the same. The present maximum sentence is life imprisonment.

Under Wellington it was a suspended sentence - using a rope

When the British Army reached France in 1813/14 the local citizenry actually preferred being occupied by the invading British troops to having their own forces in charge as the British actually paid for any food they took.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
paulgranger

I think I'm right in saying that Mottram's 'Spanish Farm' trilogy is all about British troops 'winning' kit from Belgian farms, belgain farmers accusing British troops of theft, and the luckless offficers caught in the middle, trying to sort it all out and not overdo the compensation. Off topic, Sean Longden's book 'To The Victor The Spoils' follows the British Army of Liberation (aka The Khaki Locusts) from Normandy to Germany. An interesting read.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
seaforths

Seaforth Hrs. Emptied a wine cellar and sold off the contents and made a healthy profit.

What did they do with a piano (earlier post)? Amongst the 'booty' captured from the German deep dugouts at Beaumont Hamel: a piano, ladies clothes, a feather boa and a cat o' nine tails!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Khaki

When the army recovers articles from the dead it's salvage, when the soldier does it it's looting ?

There must have been a common sense explanation given during the training of officers, I mean if an officer goes down, it would be quite correct to deprive him of anything useful to the enemy., ie maps , personal items to be returned to the NOK and identification disc. I am sure that with personal items (including the enemy dead), that could be considered looting. Imagine if a soldier is discovered with a back pack full of watches and gold/silver cigarette cases, he would be a likely case for court martial.

I would think the area most likely to end up before a court martial would be the theft of valuables from civilians homes.

khaki

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
centurion

When the army recovers articles from the dead it's salvage, when the soldier does it it's looting ?

One is about recovering items of which personal ones may be be returned to relatives and military material recycled - the other is for personal gain

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Khaki

I would think that by the latter half of the war a lot of the 'noble' ideas about looting would have been abandoned except in the most extreme cases. Most items such as helmets, blades pistols etc were considered legitimate souvenirs quite early in the war even when the intent was to trade/sell at base.

khaki

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Brainybri

I think the diary I quoted earlier hints that valuables were being taken, not just items that would spoil if left...such as a piano.....and this was from the local population they had come to protect from the German invaders.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
auchonvillerssomme

I daresay for many of us if our grandfathers hadn't looted, our collections would never have started.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
hooge1

It also happened from your own side:

2nd Essex, May 1915

I came across this when trying to fill in missing details for the 6th DLI (war diary is missing for this period) - The prime suspects so far would appear be one of the DLI battalions of the 151st Bde.

attachicon.gifCapture.JPG

Craig

I bet there was a few expletives blurted out when the battalions next crossed paths!

It was always accepted you could scrounge anything that didn't belong to your own lot. But it was definitley theft if you took from members of your own platoon - a big no no. (apart from swamped mattresses in the modern army, you could always nick your mates as long as you left him the swamped one) :whistle:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
centurion

I would think that by the latter half of the war a lot of the 'noble' ideas about looting would have been abandoned except in the most extreme cases. Most items such as helmets, blades pistols etc were considered legitimate souvenirs quite early in the war even when the intent was to trade/sell at base.

khaki

I think this is not classic looting which is usually the matter of wholesale theft from civilian property and premises.and originates from the actions of some Indian troops during the Opium Wars before which it was known as pillage

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


×
×
  • Create New...