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Remembered Today:

German POWs, British war work factories


Sidearm
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Hi everyone,

Can anyone tell me whether German POWs were sent to work in British factories engaged in war work?

Thanks

Gwyn

There may have been a few cases of civilians interned because of their nationality doing war work, but orders for any serviceman to do so would have resulted in protests to the protecting power (at first the United States, then Switzerland).

I've just finished reading a new book, Graham Mark's Prisoners of War in British Hands during WWI; he makes no reference to PoWs working in factories engaged on war work, but his book does mention the following:

PoWs in Britain were mainly engaged in agricultural and construction work. The Rev R Toogood in A History of Bramley says that by the end of 1917 3,500 PoWs were housed at Bramley (between Reading and Basingstoke) and were employed on constructing the early buildings of the munitions depot there. In 1917 Austro-Hungarian civilian internees refused to help build an aircraft assembly building at Radford, Nottinghamshire and were transferred elsewhere. Between 400 and 500 PoWs built houses for an Admiralty shipyard at Beachley, Gloucestershire. At Hackney Wick, London, mechanics from civilian internment camps were employed by Vickers - but not to produce armaments, just sewing machines! On the Isle of Raasay William Baird & Co employed up to 260 PoWs to extract ore from a mine run for the Ministry of Munitions.

A number of camps and airfields in Wiltshire had PoW work camps attached to them, providing labour for farmers and doing maintenance work around the military installations.

Moonraker

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There may have been a few cases of civilians interned because of their nationality doing war work, but orders for any serviceman to do so would have resulted in protests to the protecting power (at first the United States, then Switzerland).

Like so much connected with WW1 about 95% true

German PoWs in camps in Wales with engineering backgrounds were transfered to work for the Weardale Iron company in the North East. Whilst many worked constructing and maintaining the railway transporting ore to the foundry others worked in the mine itself. A number worked as engine drivers, inclined plane brakemen etc (very responsible jobs). I would say that an ironworks constituted war work. After the war some stayed on, married local girls and settled in the local community - one being still alive in the area in the late 1980s

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Thank you Moonraker and Centurion for those helpful answers. My question arose from a photo I found apparently taken at William Fosters of Lincoln (yes, the tank manufacturers), which shows male and female workers, some managers (including possibly Foster's chief draughtsman William Rigby) with seven men in German uniform and one armed British soldier, apparently a guard. They are all in front of or on a Gun Carrier Mk 1. A young woman is resting an arm on a shoulder of one of the Germans as though they were quite familar.

I can't make out what seven German soldiers would be doing at Fosters, nor why they should be photographed. I did wonder if it might have been on Armistice Day. But any views appreciated.

I'll try to post the photo so you can all see it.

Gwyn

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What constituted war work was debated at length during the war. On one hand any work could be considered war work if it released labour to serve in the army and that included agriculture (which also provided food for the troops). The definitive answer seems to be that war work was work directly in the manufacture or handling of munitions or armaments. Handling raw material or fuel, even at a munitions factory, does not appear to have been considered war work. In practice, if there were objections to what prisoners considered war work then they were often taken off it and that included British prisoners in Germany (that did not extend to those working behind the lines though). German prisoners did work in many fields and I have a photograph of them in a foundry producing castings. Why they would be photographed in an armaments factory I do not know. Prisoners were in Britain though for quite a number of years after the war ended when there would be no real bar on them working in munitions or armaments.

Doug

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Thanks Doug. Interesting to hear about your photo.

I'm having some problems posting the photo I found. Need to do some jiggery-pokery with it that's a little advanced for my IT skills. Will try again soon.

Gwyn

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