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Remembered Today:

Treatment of PoWs close behind German lines


bmac
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I am writing up several PoW interviews from the WO161 series and note that several comment on men brought into the camps who had been retained to work as forced labourers close up behind the German lines in areas around Cambrai and Valenciennes (this was in late 1916 so presumably working on the Hindenburg lines). The death rate was supposedly very high and the treatment brutal. In addition, the men were nearly starved, according to these reports. Does anyone have any further information on this or references they can cite? Were any German officers brought to book over this policy after the war? And what about burial of the deceased and their subsequent tracing? A brief but grim footnote for my book and if anyone has anything relevant I'd be grateful.

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This was in increasing issue right up to the end of the war - getting worse as German resouces came under pressure. An increasing number of captured men were not immediately reported as prisoners as required under both the Hague C and bilateral agreements between Britain and Germany. They vanished into limbo and were used in forced labour in the battle zone including carrying munitions - quite illegal under many different conventions, treaties etc. Men were beaten if they refused to work (and some appear to have been beaten anyway) and threatened with summary execution. Food was very poor and accommodation wretched. Accounts by some surviving prisoners have a horrible similarity to treatment on the infamous Burma ralway but with the added danger of being shelled by one's own guns. Unsurprisingly most of the relevant German records vanished at the end of the war. There may be men who perished in this way who only appear as missing in action in British records. Some research has been carried out into this and I posted some details with references some time back so a use of the search facilities might be useful. In the meantime I'll see if I can dig up the original references to where I found the details.

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Done it for you - here you go

Prisoners

The article that this original links to is rather long but comprehensive and with plemnty of references to its original source material. It contains some pretty horrifying but systematic mis treatment of prisoners near the front

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Is it correct that any POW who held the rank of Sergeant or above could not be compelled to work?

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.. Were any German officers brought to book over this policy after the war? ...

Bill, from my earlier reading, I was left with the impression the issue was swept under the carpet, at least by the British. However at the time I assumed it referred to maltreatment in PoW camps deep in Germany, rather than to forced labour near the front. I will get back to you if I can dig up any references.

Mark

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From what I have read of the Hague Conventions only officers were exempt but I stand to be corrected on this.

Chapter 1, Section 1 of the HC does state that only captured officers are exempt from labour. The reason I asked was I was told by an old-timer in the RAF that the reason why Sergeant was the lowest rank in the air was because they could not be made to work for the enemy if captured.

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Chapter 1, Section 1 of the HC does state that only captured officers are exempt from labour. The reason I asked was I was told by an old-timer in the RAF that the reason why Sergeant was the lowest rank in the air was because they could not be made to work for the enemy if captured.

I think he may have been having you on, plenty of WW1 aircrew below the rank of sergeant ( and also in WW2). In the latter conflict sergeant was the lowest rank for a pilot! (In the USAAC you had to be an officer but this was a touch of class consciousness)

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I think he may have been having you on, plenty of WW1 aircrew below the rank of sergeant ( and also in WW2). In the latter conflict sergeant was the lowest rank for a pilot! (In the USAAC you had to be an officer but this was a touch of class consciousness)

I got my sergeant's stripes by virtue of being aircrew (AEO) and that's when the topic arose. The RAF allowed any old erk to man a gun during the early part of the war and many an AC2 wore the winged bullet Air-Gunner's badge. I've got one somewhere in my knick-knack box. The Yanks had NCO aircrew too but they were gunners/radio operators. On the bomber squadrons, the pilot, co-pilot, navigator and bombadier were commissioned. I don't know about the US Navy or Marine aircrew though. Did they have NCO pilots?

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I believe the U.S. Navy had some petty officer pilots in the 1930s and WW II. As I understand it there were not many of them; for long-service petty officers who had spent their careers in aviation learning to fly made sense.

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Part from the Hague Conventions were there any bi-lateral agreements between combatant countries concerning treatment of prisoners?

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Hi Bill

There were quite a few Australian soldiers who were taken prisoner at Bullecourt in April 1917 that were forced to work close behind the front line.

This is the link to Red Cross report on Pte Charles Webb of the 4th Australian Machine Gun Company.

http://www.awm.gov.au/cms_images/1DRL428/0...036-2880909.pdf

Harold Toll - 4th Machine Gun Company

http://www.awm.gov.au/cms_images/1DRL428/0...035-2760306.pdf

They were killed by a British shell along with a few other prisoners.

Regards

Andrew

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