Prisoners of War 1914-1918 : Download original documents

 Prisoners of War on Picture Postcards

Most of the illustrations on this website are picture postcards from the period 1914-1918. Many WW1 postcard images are not found in any other medium and are therefore a valuable and splendid illustrative record of that period in history.  How easy then,  is it to obtain original items like these? Well,  reasonably easy - at present!

For anyone studying the history of the Great War either as a family history enthusiast or a collector of 'military' postcards relating to prisoners of war, these cards are just one topic or subject from the wealth of WW1 postcard material available. The field is vast.

Anyone interested in obtaining original (1914-1918) PoW related picture postcards could do no better than visit the website of the leading picture postcard magazine Picture Postcard Monthly. There, within the pages of this excellent publication you will find articles on many different topics (often on a Great War theme) relating to old picture postcards as well as details of postcard dealers and specialist postcard fairs held throughout the year.

Prisoners on the Somme

On 3rd July 1916, The Times carried a report headed "START OF A GREAT ATTACK, FIERCE FIGHTING ON THE SOMME." The Somme Offensive, a joint British and French effort, consisted of a series of battles lasting from July to November 1916, designed to initially take pressure off the beleaguered French Army at Verdun. On Ist July at 7.30am, after a seven‑day bombardment of the enemy positions, the whistles blew in the British sector of the line, and 100,000 soldiers scrambled up ladders into No Man's Land. The first day of the battle was a disaster and the British Army suffered 60,000 casualties including 20,000 dead ‑ a poor return for the 3,500 prisoners it took.

The official war photographers took many pictures during the Somme battles and some were reproduced as postcards ‑ and a few of them depicted German prisoners of war. Some of these cards appeared in sets and series and some simply as a 'one-off'. Showing the British public pictures of enemy prisoners of war in newspapers, magazines and on picture postcards would have been a good morale booster at the time.

There were seven such photographs in The Daily Mail Official War Postcards  series, and others in the Daily Mirror Canadian Official Series. There were 176 cards in the Daily Mail collection,  based on 105 official photographs and the first and the last one, both featured German prisoners of war. The cards in the collection depicted scenes and incidents which took place during the Somme Offensive of 1916.  Below are examples of cards from both the Daily Mail and Daily Mirror series.


Prisoner of war cards from the Daily Mail collection 

This card is No.8, from the Mail collection and titled, "THIRSTY GERMAN PRISONERS IN THEIR BARBED WIRE CAGE." The text on the back reads,  "The first desire of German prisoners brought into camp is to quench their thirst, and the picture shows how they rush to the water tanks."

Basil Clark of The War Illustrated,  spent a day in one of these compounds and in a long report described a 'corduroy' road which led to a rectangular, three‑acre field enclosed by a high, double rampart of barbed‑wire. He described the guards as, "garrison duty troops and mostly men of forty and thereabouts." As prisoners were brought to the cage, Clark described how, "on each side of the marching column were the British guards in khaki ‑ looking wonderfully spick and span both in walk and appearance compared with the untidy slouch of the prisoners. I spoke with many of [them] and asked if they were comfortable ... it was much better, some said, than being in the trenches."

Many picture postcards of the Great War illustrated the decent way the British treated their prisoners, and perhaps one need look no further for an example of this, than card number 118 in the Mail series.

Curiously, the caption writer seemed not to have been fully aware of the picture content, or perhaps he simply thought the public would take it for granted and so decided not to comment on it. The caption on the back of the card reads, 'British wounded in the first stage of their journey back to Blighty'. A closer inspection clearly shows that when it came to treating the wounded, the British made no distinction between friend or foe. The figure in the centre of the picture is a wounded German prisoner.

This card,"Gordons Bringing in a wounded man" was number 22 from Series 3 in the Daily Mail collection. The caption on the back of it reads, "The 'Gay Gordons' are marching from the trenches, and they bring with them a burly wounded German soldier whose injured leg is in a rough splint." This picture has also been captioned as "Gordon Highlanders believed to be 2nd battalion 7th Division, on the Albert - Bapaume Road neat Ovillers, July 1916."

This is Daily Mail card number 43. It carries a title which attempts to turn the tragedy of the first day ‑ into a victory.  It reads,  "THE GLORIOUS FIRST OF JULY 1916 ‑ OUR FIRST PRISONERS." The caption on the back reads, "A great flow of German prisoners into the British camps began immediately with the Great Advance and the picture shows the first batch marching in. " This is one of the few pictures in the collection, taken, not by the official photographers, but by a member of No.1 Printing Company of the Royal Engineers.



The Daily Mail Official War Postcards. (2011) This is a 80-page guide to the Daily Mail collection of 176 picture postcards, which depicted scenes and incidents from the battle of the Somme in 1916. The cards were on sale in Britain even while the battle raged on the Western Front. The guide also includes illustrations of the cards of German PoW's and a complete list of all the cards in the collection and another, showing the formats in which they appeared. (i.e. colour, silver-print and photogravure.)

Item code DM176               

Price £7.99.


A collection of postcards known as the Daily Mirror Canadian Official War Postcards contained a number of images of German prisoners of war.

After the success of the Daily Mail with its collection of 176 postcards, the Daily Mirror successfully bid £1,000 for the rights to publish picture of tanks. Then it bought the rights to publish official Canadian war photographs mainly taken by Ivor Castle.  Some of his photographs of prisoners of war and the tank photos and one or two other subjects were published as postcards.

There were several sets of six cards each in the series. Some were 'sepia real photographic', some were in 'photogravure' and some were in 'colour'.  Some depicted German prisoners taken on the Somme in 1916.  Each card was 'passed by [the] censor', and published by the Pictorial Newspaper Co. Ltd., of London. There were no captions on the reverse of the Daily Mirror cards as there were on the Daily Mail ones.


                      Daily Mirror Canadian Official Series

The image on this printed-photo card of German prisoners receiving treatment at a first-aid station, is a 'cropped' version of the original photograph.

"Dressing the enemies wounds."  This card was from the Daily Mirror Canadian Official Series Official war photographer Ivor Castle, took this photograph during the Somme offensive.

On 15th August 1916, Castle, with the temporary rank of Lieutenant, joined the small team of official photographers in France. Between August and November 1916, he took hundreds of photographs, including the first pictures of tanks which the War Office allowed to be published.

However, it later transpired that Castle had faked several of the tank cards by adding smoke to give the impression that they were 'in action'.


"TANKED" Canada's German prisoners follow the tank. Rather than following the tank as the title suggests, the prisoners were soon to pass it, as it appears to have been one of those that was ditched and abandoned. In the Daily Express, Percival Phillips spoke of the "delightful story of the Bavarian Colonel who was carted about for four hours in the belly of one of them, like Jonah in the whale, while his captors slew the men of his broken division."

 "Fritz is glad to bring in the wounded." The stretcher-bearer at the rear is possibly a German medic.These prisoners had probably been some of the first to see tanks used against them. The British Official History of the Great War commented "The Germans fought bravely and well. Some surrenders, it is true were induced by the great havoc wrought by the British bombardment and local panics were caused by individual tanks..." A  German prisoner said the action of the tanks "was not war but bloody butchery."

"THE GERMAN OFFICERS LEAD THEIR MEN INTO THE CANADIAN CAMP - AS PRISONERS" says the title on this Canadian Official postcard. Curiously, one of the two German soldiers walking directly behind the officers, appears to be wearing a British/Canadian helmet.


First Pictures of German Prisoners

"English Soldiers Escorting German Soldiers for Shipment to England. " Among the first published photographs of the war were a number depicting German PoWs marching to French ports under armed guard, and others at the dockside, waiting to be shipped to England.

The British papers carried many of these pictures and on 3rd October 1914, several appeared in The War Illustrated, under the headline '"Britain's New Line of Imports from Germany'. A caption below a photograph read, 'German prisoners marching between our soldiers with loaded rifles and fixed bayonets on a French quay". The same photograph appeared in France as a black and white postcard by ' L.L.' , and in England as number five in a well‑known series of cards with orange borders ‑ published by the 'PHOTOCHROM COMPANY'.  


British Soldiers and German PoW's on French Postcards

Photographs of German prisoners on the Somme battlefields and elsewhere, were frequently featured on French postcards, and often appeared in British newspapers. For instance, a French card carried a photograph which it described as 'English Front, Prisonmers allemands apres la prise de GUILLEMONT'. An identical picture appeared on 23rd September 1916, In The War Illustrated, under the headline, "The Epic Story of the Somme: Official photographs from Spreading Fields of Victory."

The village of Guillemont was situated five miles east of Albert. It fell to the British on 3rd September 1916, after repeated attacks on it during the previous months failed.

The card above shows some of the German prisoners taken that day. Twenty days after the battle, the picture appeared in The War Illustrated above this caption, "Wounded German prisoners on their way to the base under guard. Here and there groups of British soldiers scrutinise the captives with pardonable satisfaction." 

This French card is captioned in three languages, the English version reads "German soldiers captured by the English."

The photograph was taken early in the war and also appeared in The War Illustrated on 26th September 1914, above a caption which read, "A band of German prisoners captured by the British at Le Ferte‑they do not seem at all displeased at having been saved from taking further part in the war."


"On Active Service" by Air, Land and sea

A series of cards which featured several pictures of German PoW's was named "On Active Service" by Air, Land and Sea. They were issued in two set of 24 cards each and numbered 1-24 and 25-48 respectively. The images were in shades of brown and grey. The cards had a distinctive yellow/orange border and were produced and printed in a printed-photographic format by the Photochrom Co. Ltd.


"British Troops Explode a Mine and Capture a German Trench." This card was number 48, the last in the series of cards with orange borders . Along the top border is printed 'Exclusive Post card Edition' and 'Active Service No.48' and along the lower border 'DAILY MAIL' and 'COPYRIGHT' .

The caption in a box reads "The trench has been smashed beyond recognition. Our troops charged, captured it, and now stand guarding the prisoners. One British "Tommy" reclines upon the earth with a German's helmet tied to his belt."


On 14th March 1915, British troops holding the line near the village of St Eloi came under heavy bombardment, followed by a German infantry attack ‑ which occupied part of the village. The next evening under cover of darkness a counter‑attack was launched and at bayonet point, part of the enemy trenches were captured. Just before dawn the German street barricades were stormed and the lost trenches recovered. The battle then died down. The German PoW's depicted on the card below were some of those taken that day.

 German prisoners at St Eloi

German soldiers from a well‑known place on the Western Front were featured on this postcard captioned, "SOME OF THE GERMAN PRISONERS AT ST. ELOI..." It was published by 'THE PHOTOCROM CO.' and printed details on the back said it was an "OFFICIAL PHOTOGRAPH TAKEN BY PERMISSION OF THE COMMANDER‑IN‑CHIEF B.E.F. AND PASSED BY THE CHIEF FIELD OFFICER FOR PUBLICATION."


           PoW's Portrayed by War Artists

Francis Dodd

The capture and questioning of POW's was depicted by famous artists including war artist Francis Dodd. One of his paintings showed two British officers questioning a captured German soldier. The picture was titled simply "INTERROGATION".

Another famous war artist, William Orpen, did a black and white drawing which depicted a group of dejected‑looking German PoW's. it was reproduced on a card from a set published by the YMCA.

"GERMAN PRISONERS BY THE ROADSIDE IN FRANCE. From a drawing by Major Sir William Orpen A.R.A. (Ministry of Information.)" This drawing by William Orpen was one of several he did of PoW's. Orpen was already a much‑acclaimed artist by the time he joined the Army as a 2nd Lieutenant in 1916.

He was extremely well connected and counted among his friends people like Lord Derby and Haig. In the first year of service Orpen was reputed to have earned more than £7,000 from portrait painting. His work included the famous Churchill portrait. Orpen was soon promoted to Major, and when the Department of Information offered him the chance to work in France for three weeks ‑ he took it and stayed for three years. 


German Soldiers Surrendering to British Tanks

The Delta Fine Art Co.

A series of 18 artist-painted sepia 'photogravure' cards, in three sets of six cards each, featured two depicting German soldiers surrendering to oncoming Tanks. The series was dedicated to the tank. Titles were "A crowd of Germans holding up their hands to surrender." and "Germans surrendering to a French tank under fire of their own guns." One of the artists was Edgar A. Holloway who produced at least six of the eighteen cards in the series. Another artist whose work appeared in the series was Frederic de Haenan.

"Germans panic-stricken at the first sight of a tank. Mown down in their flight by its machine-guns." There are reports of German soldiers reactions on first encountering the tanks........

"A crowd of Germans holding up their hands to surrender." Frederic de Haenan drew this picture. It depicted a scene from 25th September 1916, when a tank about to cross a seemingly deserted German trench, stopped, and "suddenly a little crowd of men seemed to spring from nowhere, all with their hands up. The demoralized Boches remained where they were as though petrified and did not move until our infantry took charge of them."


Many picture postcards were published during the conflict which depicted prisoners of war and for the citizens of Germany, France and Britain, seeing pictures of your captured enemy would have been a great morale booster. The cards were freely available and on display in the postcard racks of shops and other outlets in each country.

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