Prisoners of War 1914-1918 : Download original documents


Prisoner of war 'white papers' :        Section 2


WW1 Parliamentary Reports

In this section are a number of so called 'White Papers'.  These reports presented the evidence gathered by the teams of camp inspectors about the conditions prevailing in the British and German camps and the state of the prisoners there.

The man in charge of the inspection teams was an American, James W. Gerard, who said in 1917, "For some time my reports were published in Parliamentary 'White Papers,' but in the end our Government found that the publication of these reports irritated the Germans to such a degree that the British Government was requested not to publish them any more. Copies of the reports were always sent by me both to Washington and to London, and handed to the Berlin Foreign Office."


American Ambassador James Gerard (in the center of the picture) and members of his camp inspection team. These are the men whose reports on the prison camps and prisoners appeared in the government white papers.



The Camp Inspectors

How and why did James Gerard become Chief Inspector of German and British prison camps?  At the outbreak of war in August 1914, Gerard was the United States Ambassador in Berlin and his initial task was to help American citizens stranded in Germany and Switzerland get home safely.  Once this crisis was over, he came to relalise that the U.S. embassy in Berlin would have to take over British interests in Germany and that his main responsibility would be towards British military and civilian prisoners of war and of course German prisoners in the United Kingdom. 

The task before him would be enormous. so Gerard formed a team of ‘camp inspectors’ from the embassy staff and elsewhere, including John B. Jackson, who in the winter of 1914 - following a German request - was dispatched to England to observe and report on the welfare of German POW's. Gerard said, "His [Jackson's] report of conditions there did much to ally the German belief as to the ill-treatment of their subjects who were prisoners in England, and helped me greatly in bringing about better conditions in Germany."

Other members of Gerard's team included, Dr. Karl Ohnesorg, a U.S. Navy surgeon, who supervised the medical staff at the embassy (they became responsible for investigating the sanitary and dietary conditions in German prison camps.) Other key members of the team were Lithgow Osborn, Charles H. Russell and Ellis Dresel, "a distinguished Boston lawyer [who, from 1916] visited Ruhleben almost daily, and, by listening to the stories and complaints of the prisoners" said Gerard, "materially helped their mental condition."



The German Prison System

The German government had no central department responsible for the welfare of prisoners and the maintenance of prison camps. This was a problem for Gerard and his team. The German Foreign Office was ultimately responsible for the welfare of POW's. However, as the country was divided into military districts which served as Army Corps regions, each army corps was responsible for its own prison camp system.

In accordance with German pre-war plans, any prisoner captured by units of any particular army corps was sent to a camp under its administration. Therefore, Gerard was forced to negotiate with each district's army corps commander to gain access to his prison system.



Ambassador Gerard and his staff posing for the camera during an inspection of Gottingen Camp. Gerard is on the left of the camp commandant Colonel Bogen,  who was, said Gerard, "an officer strict in his discipline, but, as all the prisoners admitted, just in his dealing with them."

When the photograph was taken in April 1915,  there were about 7,000 prisoners in the camp including Russian, French, Belgian and British.

The reason for Gerard's visit was to attend the opening of the first Y.M.C.A. prison camp building in Germany. "It is a pity that the methods of Colonel Bogen and his arrangements for camp buildings, etc., were not copied in other camps in Germany." said the ambassador.



  A postcard from Gottingen

Early in the war, Pte. Harold Moore was taken prisoner by the Germans. On 1st November 1914, he sent this card from Gottingen POW camp to his mother in Hove. Moore, a member of the R.A.M.C., thought that as a medical man (he was a member of a field ambulance unit) he should be sent home. He told his mother,    "We are still looking forward to going home, you need not worry about me for I am happy enough." The Geneva Convention of 1906, required that all medical personnel who were captured in war, should be "treated with respect, protected and repatriated." 



White papers on the treatment and welfare of POW's

          Buy these eBooks

Misc. No.11 (1915) The Treatment of British Prisoners of War and Interned Civilians. This 24-page report looks at the conditions found by the 'Inspectors' in the following camps. Burg - Crefeld - Doberitz - Gardelegen - Gottingen - Gustrow - Helle - Magdeburg - Munster -Osnabruck - Satzwedel - Scheuen - Schloss - Celle - Zossen. In this comprehensive report, James Gerard said, "i am anxious to have every place in Germany where British subjects are interned, visited by a member of my staff,,,At the present time i am glad to say that there appears to be a general improvement in the conditions prevailing in prison camps throughout Germany."

Item code: POW-012 

Price £2.99

Misc. No.6 (1918) Death by Burning of J.E. Genower, When Prisoner of War at Brandenburg Camp.  This 8-page White Paper is a report of a fire at Brandenburg, which resulted in the death of several prisoners and the bayoneting and burning of  Able Seaman, J.P.Genower. (On 1st June 1916, Genower of HMS Nestor had been taken prisoner at the battle of the Skagerrak. A number of eye-witness accounts of the fire were obtained by the "Netherlands Legation (British Section), Berlin" and published in this report, including one by "eight Spanish seamen who were captured from the steamship Gravina by a German submarine." Five Russians and one French soldier also died in the fire.

Item code: POW-013

Price £1.49


The Treatment of Prisoners of War in England and Germany During the First Eight Months of the War. (1915) This 40-page official report contains the following chapters -The treatment by Germany of captured soldiers after captivity and before internment - The treatment of officers during internment - The treatment of men during internment - Matters effecting the general welfare of prisoners. This is an extremely comprehensive report which covers many important issues relating to prisoners of war.

Item code: POW- 005


Price £2.99


Proposed Release of Civilians Interned in the British and German Empires.. (January 1917) This report comprises of 6-pages and presents the communications between Berlin and London, via the American Embassy in each capital, about the proposed release of all German and British civilians over the age of 45.

Item code: POW-004
Price £1.49


Misc. No.5. Treatment of German Prisoners of War and Interned Civilians in the United Kingdom. (March 1915) This  5-page official report was the reply by the British Government to the German Government via the American embassies, to a telegram sent from Berlin, saying "Foreign Office desires full information how German officers, officials, and soldiers, according to rank, imprisoned in England, are paid, cared for, housed, and clothed."

Item code: POW-014 

 Price £1.49

Misc.  No.10. Agreement Between the British and Otterman Governments Respecting Prisoners of War and Civilians. (1918) This 15-page agreement between Britain and Turkey set out rules and regulations (in French and English) in respect of POW's and Civilian Internees held by both countries. The paper covers - Treatment of prisoners - Repatriation of medical personnel - Repatriation of civilians - Parcels and correspondence.

Item code: POW-003 

 Price £1.99


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