Prisoners of War 1914-1918 : Download original documents

        PoW  comfort organisations Section 3


This section offers PoW related documents produced mainly by non-governmental bodies such as the British Red Cross Society and Prisoner of War Comfort organisations.

Shortage of food  was the enemy of the PoW and the lifeline for British captives was the food parcel from home. In the early days, many prisoners families wanted to send parcels to Germany, or at least pay for them to be sent.

To accommodate the demand, newspapers started to carry notices from commercial outlets  which advertised "FOOD FOR PRISONERS OF WAR, if your soldier friend or relative is a prisoner of war in Germany, he will appreciate A PARCEL OF FOOD FROM HOME." Prices ranged from 5/- to £1 The advertisement shown below appeared in The War Budget.



Another advertisement urged people to "render a national service by opening [your] purses and send parcels of comforts to the brave officers and men who are suffering dire privation in the hands of the enemy." At the same time, comfort organisations were established to help prisoners from their areas. One for example, was the "Association of Men of Kent and Kentish Men", which produced a fund‑raising postcard - a specimen is shown further down this page - it called to the public's attention the plight of the Kentish prisoners of war in Germany.

It expressed the claim that "THE NEED IS URGENT" for food‑parcels to be sent out to the PoW's. Indeed, the need was extremely urgent and not just for the men of Kent. Prisoners from many different regiments were not receiving food parcels, and moreover the meager prison‑camp food allowance was less than minimal. In March 1915, the War Office sanctioned the appointment of the Prisoners of War Help Committee.

It was a voluntary organisation and had no official powers, but its aim was to "...organise and provide a link between the various POW comfort groups." Amongst these were the Regimental Care Committees. They were staffed by 'Ladies and Gentlemen', who worked to provide comforts for PoW's from their regiment. Every fortnight they sent each prisoner three parcels of properly selected food, each weighing 101b., as well as 131b. of bread, and into each parcel was put a postcard which advised the prisoner of the contents.


The British Prisoners of War Food Parcels and Clothing Fund issued a number of posters in its publicity drive - this is one of them.

In March 1916, this poster appeared for one week on public transport vehicles in Sheffield. Collecting boxes were placed on the platform of buses and it was hoped that passengers would give generously to the Prisoner of War Help Committee Fund.



 Fund-raising postcard

"The British Prisoner of War in Germany". This sketch first appeared in the Illustrated London News and was used on this appeal postcard to raise funds for men of Kent who were prisoners of War.
The reverse of the card expressed the claim that "THE NEED IS URGENT" for food‑parcels to be sent out to the POW's. Indeed, the need was extremely urgent and not just for the men of Kent. Prisoners from many different regiments were not receiving food parcels, and moreover the meager prison‑camp food allowance was less than minimal.


                          Central Prisoners of War Committee

This is a Christmas postcard from the 'Central Prisoners of War Committee'. On the reverse are these words, "With All Good Wishes for Christmas and the New Year - 1918" .  The war was over.

The efforts of the "Prisoners of War Help Committee" proved less than satisfactory. A British Red Cross report said that, "A large percentage of the prisoners were getting too little food; a percentage too much; and it was discovered that parcels were being used for the transmission of prohibited articles ... to Germany., and that information likely to be useful to the enemy was being conveyed through the same means, it was roughly calculated that the excess of food going to [certain] prisoners was enough to feed an entire German division."

The British public became worried that captive soldiers and sailors were half‑starved. After many meetings and investigations the War Office decided to replace the "Prisoners of War Help Committee" with a new system, under the direction of the Red Cross. In September 1916, the new "Central Prisoners of War Committee", moved into premises at Nos. 3 and 4 Thurloe Place, London.

Soon the distribution of food parcels settled down into a more efficient routine, and most camps from then on received regular supplies. As the number of prisoners grew, so did the number of staff at Thurloe Place. In January 1917, the War Office commandeered the adjoining properties for the use of the Red Cross. By the end of the war 750 people worked there.


    Buy the eBook

The British Prisoners of War Food Parcels and Clothing Fund. (June 1917) This 18-page pamphlet gives details of the contents of various size food and clothing parcels which could be ordered and sent by the fund to prisoners of war in Germany. The fund was staffed by 'ladies of leisure' and there are a number of photographs showing the staff at work and photos of  the parcel and clothing depot.

Item code: POW-001

Price £1.99

     Buy the eBook

THE BRITISH PRISONER OF WAR Vol.1 No.1, January 1918.This 15-page publication was issued by the British Red Cross to keep relatives informed of rules and regulations relating to a PoW and information about life in the camps. In this issue are articles about - Various camps in Turkey - Sending parcels to neutral countries - Letters from prisoners - Sending money to prisoners - The personal parcel - Sending supplies to newly captured prisoners - Advertisements from companies selling cigarettes, cardboard boxes and food parcels. A useful resource.

Item code:  POW-021

Price £2.49


                             Food parcel acknowledgment card

This food parcel acknowledgment card was put into a food parcel which was sent to Germany on 6th June 1918 and received by the recipient on the 20th July. Pte. Smith, stated on the card that he did not receive his bread regularly, but did receive his food parcels on a regular basis and in good condition and complete, which seems to have been the general consensus about food parcels which Britain sent to its prisoners in Germany.

The acknowledgement card arrived back at the "Regimental Care Committee of the Sherwood Foresters Prisoners of War Fund" H.Q., on 26th August.

James W. Gerard  - chief of the team of neutral camp inspectors - agreed with Pte. Smith and praised Germany for its handling of food parcels and said, "Credit must be given to the German authorities for the fairly prompt and efficient delivery of the packages of food sent from Great Britain, Denmark, and Switzerland to prisoners of war in all camps."



 Food parcel label

This label states that the parcel  was "Packed and dispatched by [the] KENTISH PRISONERS OF WAR FUND" and that "No charge will be made by Railway Companies for conveyance to London of package bearing this label," The item was from a batch of pre-printed labels intended to be used to dispatch parcels to PoW's in Turkey. However, this one was used to send a parcel to an internee in Ruhleben Camp in Germany.


          More examples of food parcel acknowledgement cards

Parcel acknowledgement card of the "Regimental Care Committee of the Sherwood Foresters Prisoners of War Fund." Before he returned the card to the Care Committee, Pte. Wilson stated on the reverse that he was not getting his supply of bread regularly. When bread did arrive at the camps, it was often mouldey. Later the system for sending bread to prisoners was changed.

A number of national and local newspapers established funds to send parcels to PoW's. The Evening News published a postcard of verses and a special label to stick on it, the sale of which provided  "...Food for British Prisoners of War."

This food parcel acknowledgment card - bearing a German camp censor mark - was returned to the British Prisoner of  War Food Parcels and Clothing Fund on 16th January 1918.


                                                                                                                                                     Back to top