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German Postcard of British P.O.W. - Is this unusual?


Alan24

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I recently purchased this postcard of a British POW taken by a German photographer and sent back to England to the man's home address in Winchester. 

 

The man in question had been a pow for over 3 years when this was taken and he looks clean and in good health. There seems to be some complicity in the photo although his family must have been very grateful to see he was still alive and in good health.

 

I was wondering what could be the views on the outfit he's wearing. There appears to be an armband. 

 

The postcard has no postage stamp although there is a full postal address - I've checked and there's no sign that a stamp has been removed by a collector in the past - so must have been sent in  parcel or perhaps a bundle of cards were passed to the UK authorities for onward forwarding to families?

 

The man himself is 9526 Pte Charles Edward Downham 1st Battalion Dorsetshire Regt. captured at Dour, near Mons on 24th Aug 1914. 

He was only 18 when captured having enlisted as a regular on 16th March 1913 just a couple of week before his 17th birthday - he must have declared his age on enlistment as 18 and thus would have been deemed to be 19 when the battalion left Belfast for the western Front on 15th Aug 1914.

 

ICRC records show he was being held at Alfeld (a Leine), south of Hanover in 1915. 

Postcard is marked Olendorf 20th Oct 1917 - I can find no pow camp of that name but may be Ohlendorf which is 26 miles west of Alfeld. 

 

Photographer is based in Sulingen which is 65 miles north-west of Alfeld. 

 

He survived the war to become a milkman in 1939 and died relatively young in 1951 age 55. 

 

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Quite a lot of the British soldiers captured during 1914 seem to have ended up in what seems a POW issue dark coloured uniform, often with a different coloured band sewn directly into the sleeve to prevent anyone escaping making the jacket look like an ordinary civilian garment.  The stripes in the trousers were for the same purpose.  The uniform style seemed to vary a little depending upon the location of the camp and which German regional authorities were responsible for running it.  Ohlendorf does seem the most likely.

Edited by FROGSMILE
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I believe that POWs were the responsibility of the Corps which had taken them prisoner, so I imagine as Frogsmile says variation in the dark uniform provided primarily reflects that (my grandfather was also 5th Division, taken prisoner at Le Cateau two days after Charles Downham). In the early days of the war, men might take some time to arrive at a POW camp and were then kept in extremely basic conditions; their original uniforms, perhaps not in good condition anyway depending on the circumstances, must have taken a bit of a bashing. However, in the photo I notice the jacket looks very civilian in style; perhaps the German authorities used whatever they could get their hands on to provide POW uniforms, and so some of the variation derives from that. I don't suppose clothing prisoners was a priority in wartime Germany; in the early days there was considerable harshness and hostility in the treatment of British POWs, anecdotally more so than those of other nationalities, and later on things were tough for everybody in Germany.

 

 

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Look, unlike what a lot of people believe, the Germans did try their best for the PoW's (something which wasn't always made easy beause of the Allied naval blockade). There were official uniforms for PoW's. I refer to Jürgen Kraus, Die feldgraue Uniformierung des deutschen Heeres 1907-1918, Vol. 2, p. 883-887. These uniforms evolved during the war as certain things didn't work out or didn't meet standards. The black uniform was officially approved on 5 November 1914 including yellow bands. This was later changed to brown stripes of fabric. Later dyed German peacetime uniforms were used (as fabrics became scarce) and later they weren't dyed anymore as dyes became scarce.

In some cases civilian uniforms were used with the yellow/brown fabric stripes. Often, the camps had just to improvise to make sure their prisoners were clothed, that's why one sometimes sees specific styles that can be attributed to specific camps.

 

Jan

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He was held in the Reserve Lazarett in Alfeld, he had been wounded in the armpit. The Lazarett was opened in mid August 1914 and used 5 buildings in the town - Hotel Kaiserhof, Hotel Zur Post, Weiße Schule, Gewerkschaftshaus and Haus Behrens which was near the railway station. The first casualties to arrive were French on 3rd September and then the first British on the 11th.

https://www.alt-alfeld.de/chronik-stadt-alfeld/1900-bis-2000/

 

Charlie

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1 hour ago, AOK4 said:

Look, unlike what a lot of people believe, the Germans did try their best for the PoW's (something which wasn't always made easy beause of the Allied naval blockade). There were official uniforms for PoW's. I refer to Jürgen Kraus, Die feldgraue Uniformierung des deutschen Heeres 1907-1918, Vol. 2, p. 883-887. These uniforms evolved during the war as certain things didn't work out or didn't meet standards. The black uniform was officially approved on 5 November 1914 including yellow bands. This was later changed to brown stripes of fabric. Later dyed German peacetime uniforms were used (as fabrics became scarce) and later they weren't dyed anymore as dyes became scarce.

In some cases civilian uniforms were used with the yellow/brown fabric stripes. Often, the camps had just to improvise to make sure their prisoners were clothed, that's why one sometimes sees specific styles that can be attributed to specific camps.

 

Jan


All that you have said matches my understanding too.  There is a quite fair assessment to be read here I think: https://www.nrscotland.gov.uk/research/learning/first-world-war/scottish-prisoners-of-war-1914-1918

Edited by FROGSMILE
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Thanks to all of you above for the interesting additional information.

 

I hadn't considered that he was wearing a pow uniform, probably due to the good condition of it, but it seems obvious now - black uniform with brown stripe. 

 

A contemporary Winchester publication says that this man was wounded on 10th September 1914. I had wondered if this date was correct, being after his capture. Perhaps this date has more to do with when he was admitted to the hospital at Alfeld on 11th September. 

 

I had seen his notes on the armpit wound and wondered what Res. Laz. meant - Thanks for confirming that this is Reserve Hospital.

 

Charles had two brothers who served - William George who enlisted in the Hants 1910 and Ernest Alfred who was conscripted in Dec 1917 to the Devons. 

 

My guess is that the photographer travelled to the camp (Ohlendorf) and took many photos that day. The men were asked to write on the back their name, number, home address, current location and date - nothing else allowed. 

 

These postcards were then probably passed to a third party - Red Cross? - and they were sent to England for distributions to families. 

 

I'd be interested if anyone can find out about the card's final leg of its journey, with no stamp. Perhaps the Red Cross or local comforts fund posted these in a separate envelope with covering letter to the home addresses. 

 

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Edited by Alan24
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5 hours ago, AOK4 said:

Look, unlike what a lot of people believe, the Germans did try their best for the PoW's (something which wasn't always made easy beause of the Allied naval blockade). There were official uniforms for PoW's. I refer to Jürgen Kraus, Die feldgraue Uniformierung des deutschen Heeres 1907-1918, Vol. 2, p. 883-887. These uniforms evolved during the war as certain things didn't work out or didn't meet standards. The black uniform was officially approved on 5 November 1914 including yellow bands. This was later changed to brown stripes of fabric. Later dyed German peacetime uniforms were used (as fabrics became scarce) and later they weren't dyed anymore as dyes became scarce.

In some cases civilian uniforms were used with the yellow/brown fabric stripes. Often, the camps had just to improvise to make sure their prisoners were clothed, that's why one sometimes sees specific styles that can be attributed to specific camps.

 

Jan

Jan, I certainly didn't mean to imply anything to the contrary - in fact, I think we both make the same point about the German authorities doing the best possible job in the circumstances. The often harsh treatment of POWs, quite well attested in 1914 (the period both Downham and my grandfather were taken prisoner), seems to have stemmed from (a) hostility on the part of many individual soldiers towards British "mercenaries", and (b) an understandable - given the circumstances - lack of preparation for the reception and incarceration of large numbers of prisoners. The later privations of POWs in Germany were, as you say, a direct result of the Allied blockade and it's hard to blame the German authorities for them.

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I never considered the obvious problem of clothing POWs. I had no idea there was such a thing as a uniform (however ad hoc) for Allied prisoners. Another reason to lament being born too late and never meeting my grand uncle Sgt. Connolly  (d. 1971) captured at mouse trap farm and who must have worn similar attire.

Very interesting. 

Dave

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The thing that gets me is that the cap looks very similar to the British pattern. Surely the cost would have precluded it being issued to every POW?

Edited by Alan24
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German POWs in the United States of America were allowed to receive clothing from home. Maybe the British were allowed the same privilege in German camps, so that the cap was sent from Britain?

GreyC

 

Edited by GreyC
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9 hours ago, depaor01 said:

I never considered the obvious problem of clothing POWs. I had no idea there was such a thing as a uniform (however ad hoc) for Allied prisoners. Another reason to lament being born too late and never meeting my grand uncle Sgt. Connolly  (d. 1971) captured at mouse trap farm and who must have worn similar attire.

Very interesting. 

Dave

 

Hello,

 

The Germans reused captured uniforms as well (please read Kraus!). However, I think the dyeing was essential as it made clear who was a PoW and who not. There also seems to be a couloured band (either yellow or later brown) on the cap, so I think it is an issued PoW cap (probably a dyed British peaked cap).

 

Jan

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1 hour ago, AOK4 said:

 (probably a dyed British peaked cap).

Jan, that makes perfect sense, I think you're right.

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The cap has a leather peak so I don’t think it is a  dyed British Army khaki cap.  That particular style of forage cap was not used with field dress so ostensibly at least it seems unlikely that it would be seen as appropriate by the British authorities as POW uniform.  Germany had an excellent hatter industry that provided similar hats for their military and various civilian occupations.  The cap appears frequently in photos of POWs in the early years of the war with the dark coloured uniform described in this thread.  Could it not have been provided in Germany?

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Edited by FROGSMILE
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James W Gerard, US Ambassador to Germany 1914-17 who as part of his responsibility for British POWs was assiduous in ensuring their care arranged for uniforms to be dispatched from Britain. This arrangement continued through out the war and incorporated dark blue trousers and tunic some of which was similar or identical to Kitchener 'Blue' uniforms. Initially they incorporated a yellow stripe down the trouser seam which could apparently be unpicked, which was later changed to incorporate a broad brown stripe produced by the Royal Army Clothing Factory at Pimlico.

 

I seem to have acquired a number of photographs sent home by POWs of themselves and images of camp life and it is clear that local German photographers must have made a reasonable living out of providing such a service.

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37 minutes ago, FROGSMILE said:

The cap has a leather peak so I don’t think it is a  dyed British Army khaki cap.  That particular style of forage cap was not used with field dress so ostensibly at least it seems unlikely that it would be seen as appropriate by the British authorities as POW uniform.  Germany had an excellent hatter industry that provided similar hats for their military and various civilian occupations.  The cap appears frequently in photos of POWs in the early years of the war with the dark coloured uniform described in this thread.  Could it not have been provided in Germany?

 


 

10 minutes ago, ilkley remembers said:

James W Gerard, US Ambassador to Germany 1914-17 who as part of his responsibility for British POWs was assiduous in ensuring their care arranged for uniforms to be dispatched from Britain. This arrangement continued through out the war and incorporated dark blue trousers and tunic some of which was similar or identical to Kitchener 'Blue' uniforms. Initially they incorporated a yellow stripe down the trouser seam which could apparently be unpicked, which was later changed to incorporate a broad brown stripe produced by the Royal Army Clothing Factory at Pimlico.

 

I seem to have acquired a number of photographs sent home by POWs of themselves and images of camp life and it is clear that local German photographers must have made a reasonable living out of providing such a service.

 

Hello,

 

The peaked caps with visor (from 1916/17 on not leather, but an Ersatz for it like vulcan fibre, paper, Carnit or still something else). Interesting to read that the British provided the uniforms including the brown stripes during the war. I knew that the Germans received uniforms from the British for the PoW's but I thought that German manufacturers had to adapt them to include the yellow and later brown stripe.

 

Jan

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Thanks to Ilkley remembers and Jan for very interesting information.  I recall the details about Pimlico being posted before, but hadn’t thought about the headdress.  There is an especially interesting photo of some POW of Irish regiments that not only show smart army issue type forage caps, but also cap badges on them.  See below.

 

 

 

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Edited by FROGSMILE
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Translation of an army document concerning the general principles of the treatment of Prisoners-of-War...

 

Clothing.
In the beginning, non-commissioned officers and men who are prisoners of war, remain in the uniform which they have brought with them. If the state of this clothing needs replacing the prisoners will at first be provided with proper articles of clothing from the booty of war. When the latter is used up, new suitable clothes are purchased. The kind of clothing is dependent upon the season, the climate and the weather. The clothing generally consists of a suit, necktie and cap, besides shirts, socks, warm underwear and good shoes are given as well as overcoats and woolen blankets to protect against the cold.


Postal Traffic.
According to new regulations now uniformly in force throughout Germnay, the prisoners may write a letter twice monthly, and besides postal cards once weekly. Officers may write letters of six pages, men of four pages. If special circumstances exist, such as the adjustment of family matters and urgent affairs of a business nature, exceptions may be allowed.

 

Obviously the rules were inconsistently applied. Much depended on the Military District where a prisoner was interned and conditions often varied from camp to camp. The attitude (and competence) of the Camp Commander was also an important factor, as well as the supervision and oversight of camp NCO’s. Many prisoners worked away from their parent camp, often engaged in argricultural work. They would be transported to German farms in the morning. Help the farmer do whatever was required, eat their mid-daymeal on the farm, then generally after the end of the working day be taken back to a central barracks (or improvised accommodation) and held under guard over night. Most preferred life in these satellite working camps more than being held in a main camp.

 

MB

 

 

 

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3 hours ago, ilkley remembers said:

James W Gerard, US Ambassador to Germany 1914-17 who as part of his responsibility for British POWs was assiduous in ensuring their care arranged for uniforms to be dispatched from Britain. This arrangement continued through out the war and incorporated dark blue trousers and tunic some of which was similar or identical to Kitchener 'Blue' uniforms. Initially they incorporated a yellow stripe down the trouser seam which could apparently be unpicked, which was later changed to incorporate a broad brown stripe produced by the Royal Army Clothing Factory at Pimlico.

Thank you ilkley, so my assumption in #16 was correct.

GreyC

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On 19/03/2021 at 11:33, Alan24 said:

 

The postcard has no postage stamp although there is a full postal address - I've checked and there's no sign that a stamp has been removed by a collector in the past - so must have been sent in  parcel or perhaps a bundle of cards were passed to the UK authorities for onward forwarding to families?

 

 

On 19/03/2021 at 14:28, Alan24 said:

 

I'd be interested if anyone can find out about the card's final leg of its journey, with no stamp. Perhaps the Red Cross or local comforts fund posted these in a separate envelope with covering letter to the home addresses. 

 

 

 


Postal Traffic from Germany to UK was routed via The Netherlands - Head Post Office, Gravenhagen, (The Hague) Holland.


In place of a postage stamp, the card should bear the words: Prisoners Communications — Postage free.


The  following will be forwarded free of charge : —
1. Letters (with exception of C. 0. D. communication)
2. Letters and parcels with value
3. Money orders.
4. Postal packages up to 5 kilos. (11 lbs.) 

 

Most probably your man’s postcard got delivered in a batch to the post office at Ohlendorf who then forwarded them to Holland from where all prisoner correspondence would have been sent to England on a cross channel packet for onward delivery to Winchester via Royal Mail.

 

MB

Edited by KizmeRD
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