Prisoners of War 1914-1918 : Download original documents

 Prisoner's Mail 


A postcard or a letter was the only link between a prisoner of war and his relatives at home and in the case of Allied prisoners, the frequency with which they was allowed send mail home seems to have depended on which camp a man was in. Some men complained of being allowed to write home only every two months or so, while others sent a letter or postcard home twice a week.


British Prisoners of War

This photograph shows German censors checking the mail of Allied prisoners at the prison camp at Parchim. While some prisoners provided clerical support, German translators (most likely the civilians) read the letters for information that may damage the German war effort.


German Censor Marks

All mail which came out of German camps displayed censor marks and this type of material has intrigued collectors for many years. A card carrying examples of German censor marks is illustrated below. It shows the official camp card, used by British officers at Guttersloh. The officer who sent it, a Captain Dodds, wrote to his wife, "thanks awfully for the excellent cake, which I recd. a few weeks ago ... I often wonder how the home is looking now & I wish I could get back to straighten the pictures."


Censor and camp postmarks

This prison camp card displays a typical array of German censor marks. At top left there is a boxed `Eingang 26.8.15' cachet, which means the card entered the German censors' office on 26th August 1915, (where it would stay for a period of ten days ‑ tin an attempt to render useless any secret information that the prisoner may have sent). The second mark, a boxed 'F.a.' stands for 'Fristgemass abgefertigt', which means 'Dispatched within stipulated time'. The unboxed 'Gepruft' is a 'Checked' or 'Passed' mark, and the triple‑ringed cachet is the official 'Guttersloh Prison Camp' handstamp. The postmark (at top right) shows the card entered the outside postal system on 5th September 1915, which was exactly ten days after it was handed into the camp censors' office 

Transmitting Secret Messages!

German mail censors sometimes went to extraordinary lengths if they suspected something was amiss. For example, Major Beeley of the Lancashire Fusiliers was a prisoner in Konigsbruck in Saxony. In May 1918, he sent an official camp photographic postcard to his wife in Rochdale. On 6th May the camp censor applied to the card, not only his censor‑stamp, but also a diagonal line of brownish chemical wash. This was almost certainly an attempt to detect a message in invisible ink.


                                                                             Had Major Beeley Been Mistreated ?

What did the German censor suspect Major Beeley of writing? Probably not military secrets ‑ for the camp was situated in the middle of a pine forest! Does the answer lie on the other side of the card which bears the photograph illustrated on the left?  Was the photograph the reason a German censor looked for a hidden message on the back of the card? Had Major Beeley been mistreated? His right hand was heavily bandaged. Was he suspected of secretly transmitting details of some incident - via the card?     

Communication with Prisoners of War detained Abroad.
This official 4-page booklet was published in November 1915. An example is shown of the correct way to address mail to a PoW. - Notes about the LETTER POST,  Including the advice that "Postcards containing views of warships, camps,docks, birds eye- views and conspicuous landmarks should not be sent." - Notes about the PARCEL POST - Advice on packing parcels - A list of useful articles to send to a PoW.
Item No. POW-22

Price £1.49

Vol.1 No.1, January 1918.This 15-page publication was issued by the British Red Cross to keep relatives of PoW's informed about rules and regulations and about life in the camps. In this issue are articles about - Various camps in Turkey - Parcels for 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 No. POW-021

Price £1.49


Two Letters to Prisoner of War Capt. Wally Wilkin

Prisoners who were considered troublesome were often moved around the camps and the British Red Cross would notify relatives of the changes. For example, a small collection of letters and cards from PoW Wally Wilkin shows that in October 1914, he was sent to Magdeburg camp in Saxony, but by December 1914, had been moved to Crefeld north of Dusseldorf. On 27th May 1917 (due to a large number of attempted escapes) Crefeld was abandoned and Wally Wilkin was sent to Schwarnstedt camp, However, on 26th September this was also closed and Wilkin was moved yet again. This time he ended up at the dreaded Holzminden. Each time Capt, Wilkin moved camp, his wife - instead of simply crossing out the name of the old camp and inserting the name of the new one - ordered a new batch of pre-addressed envelopes addressed to her husband's latest camp.

Another letter addressed to prisoner of war Wally Wilkin. Dated 'France 1st September 1916', it was sent to Wilkin by one of his comrades, who was with him on the day of his capture in, 1914, but managed not to have been taken prisoner with him. Before the letter was sent to Wilkin, the British censor opened it for examination, re-sealed it with a "OPENED BY CENSOR P.W. 150" label and applied a "PASSED FIELD CENSOR 3122" hand-stamp. It then received a "FIELD POST OFFICE 69" hand-stamp dated 2nd September 1916. On arrival at Crefeld, the cover received a boxed camp cachet in blue ink. In his letter the writer seemed quite annoyed saying that, "I have just heard from your wife telling me that you have not apparently received my last letter...perhaps i was somewhat indiscrete in what I wrote to you & the German censor tore up my letter, so this time I shall be more discrete."


 Official Mail from Ruhleben Camp

This is an example of an official German printed envelope available to internees at Ruhleben camp. The cover bears a boxed "Kriegsgefangenen-Sendung" cachet and a double-ring censor mark with the words "FREIGEGEN/ RUHLEBEN" and within, the initials "F.a". which means -  dispatched within stipulated time. The stipulated time for holding the letter back was ten days but even so, after comparing the date the letter was written and the date it received a London receiving mark, it still took almost a month to reach England.

This is an example of an official German postal stationary card for the use of internees at Ruhleben. It carries an official double-ring camp cachet and within it the words "FREIG/GEDEN/RUHLEBEN". The card also carries a civilian postmark of "Spandau"  - the district in which the camp was located.


German Prisoners of War and their Mail

Under the Hague Convention, all prisoners of war were permitted to receive and transmit letters, postcards and parcels free of charge. In British camps,  inmates were permitted to send two letters a week and a special envelope was provided for them to do so. It seems that the envelope - unlike those provided in the German camps - did not carry any printed information of the camp from which it came. An example is shown below. 

Alexandra Palace

This example of the special white envelopes made available to German PoW's was mailed from Alexandra Palace in June 1915. Details written in pencil on the back of the cover, reveal the sender to have been 'POW No.3975 Capt. C. Gieseke, Batt. B, Comp 111, Corps l.'  The front carries a typical 'POST FREE/P.C./PRISONERS OF WAR' censor mark and a boxed 'No Stamp required.' A folding letter‑sheet was also available to prisoners and the words on the front were similar in appearance to those on the envelopes. 

Prisoners could also request postal stationary cards and an example of one, shown below, was posted from Lofthouse Park Camp near Wakefield to an address in Bradford.

Lofthouse Park camp

This card carries a Bradford postmark dated 16th May 1918 and a boxed 'P. C./LOFTHOUSE PARK.' camp cachet. The message in English reads, "Thanks for your P. C, I shall send you a permit for the 26th inst. and hope to see Miss D. Alright again. Should be much obliged if you could send me £6 this week if convenient." The writer appears to have been a German, who before the war was resident in England. Internees were allowed to send two free letters a week within the UK or abroad ‑ to Germany or Austria for instance. Those with business interests in the UK were permitted to write business letters or postcards in addition to the free ones ‑ this extra mail had to be franked with an appropriate stamp. Perhaps Miss Alright was a business associate of the writer.

Handforth camp

This unstamped card carried the initials '0. H. M. S.' and was mailed from Cardiff by 'Miriam' on 13th June 1915, to her husband 'Mr. J. Davis' intemed in Handforth camp. Mr Davis was prisoner number 278 in M5 Concentration Camp.' The card carries a red unboxed `R C.M.1HANDFORTH'camp cachet. Miriam wrote, "Dear loving husband, just a line to let you know that I & the children are quite well..." Mr Davis may have been a nationalised Briton, who was included in the 1914 round‑up of 'undesirables'.

British PoW Camps Abroad

In addition to PoW camps in the UK and on the Isle of Man, there were others in the Dominions and Colonies, In Australia, New Zealand, Canada, New Guinna, Malta. Gibraltar, Straits Settlements, British West Indies, Egypt, Hong Kong, South Africa, South West Africa and India. A postal stationary card mailed on 15th October 1915 to the camp at Ahmednagar in India, is shown below.

The camp at Ahmednagar, India

This pre-stamped Austrian card was sent by `Johanna' to her brother who was a prisoner in the camp at Ahmednagar. It carried a Austrian censor mark, and the message, written in English reads, "Dear brother, it is a long time since I had no news from you, but today I had the joy to receive your dear card .. I wish you were as well as our five "prisoners of war" of Russia, which are helping us in our farmyard. I have received no news from our brothers and sisters lately. I hope they are doing well. Two of our nephews are fallen: Michael, Brother John's son and Paul, ‑ Peter's son, I am going on well and pray for you, dear brother..."  (Letters and cards written in English passed through the British censor system much quicker than those written in German.)

 REPORTS ON BRITISH PRISON CAMPS IN INDIA AND BURMA. (1917). This detailed 61-page report was compiled by delegates of the International Committee of the Red Cross. They inspected a number of camps in India including - Sumerpur - Ahmednagar - Belgaum - Bellary - Calcutta and Katapahar. Those in Burma included - Thayetmyo - Schwebo - Meiktila and Rangoon.


Item code: POW-010    

Price £3.99

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