Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Part 2:Libau-Mitau- Kelsien 23rd-25th February 1917 Pte Joseph Driscoll 7314 1st Norfolk Regiment

"...about 6 p.m, we entrained 600 men. We did not know for what destination. The Germans at Libau packed our kits and said that they would send them on in a waggon behind us. We travelled in horse-boxes, clean but no straw. It was extremely cold. Travelled all night and reached Mitau about 4 p.m. on the 24th February 1917.

On arrival at Mitau we marched to a school on the other side of the town where there were a  number of Russians. They were in a terrible condition, starving and verminous, and during the night they raided many of our food boxes. The front was from 20 to 40 kilometres from us . It was rumoured we were to be sent to the trenches. At 10p.m. that night we were ordered to parade at 6 a.m. next morning. Nothing was said about destination.

The next morning, the 25th, we paraded and were given a drink of barley coffee and one loaf to four men, ie 250 grammes each. Old sentries were now changed and we were taken over by a squadron of German cavalry armed with lances. Then taken back to station for kits-only a few there, and only a few minutes allowed to get our own. Marched back through the streets , jeered at by German soldiers who shouted to our guards to sharpen our paces, Cavalry replied that they soon would do so and that their lances were sharp enough to do that.

Then we marches off and were forced to go at a rapid pace. I now saw several attempts  by the cavalry guards to pierce men's ears with their lances. Anyone who slipped or fell was continually hit hard with lances. No mercy shown! We were now marching on the banks of the river Aa which flows from Mitau to Riga, marching through the snow over our ankles. The guards also would push their horses into the sections of fours and scatter the men and then use their lances to force them together again. Complaints made to officers were laughed at. We marched thus till 12 o'clock, then we halted for 1/4 hour for the Germans to feed their horses, not us.  Then marched again for 2 1/2 hours-we recived no food at all. The men were dropping everything superfluous; the strain of marching was terrific.

At 3 p.m. we came to a Red Cross Station. Here a man fell insensible. A  German soldier seized him up by the forefinger and thumb and tried to raise him up at the same time using hand and boot. As he could not raise hime, he threw him face downwards in the snow. That was the last I saw of him but I heard he was picked up by a sleigh. He was a Coldstream Guardsman. We then marched through snow  above our knees. The suffering of the men was painful to witness; some hysterical, many bleeding badly. We marched through this deep snow about 5 or 6 kilom,. German cavalry using the same ill-treatment driving us. We then reached a rough road amd arrived at what was to be our camp about 4p.m., having marched about 37 kilometres since morning.

The camp was about a mile from Kelsien at a deserted Russian village called Latchen."
more to follow....

reference National Archives WO 161/100/361

I have tried to locate these  and other camp place names  on a current map of Latvia but without success. I am aware of the major places like  Liepaja and Jelgava (Libau and Mitau) but unless Kelsien could be  Kalnciems I am stuck. I wonder if there are any traces of these camps now around Jelgava and if the hospital still exist.

I'm  really only at the beginning of my "research" and would appreciate any help or information about Jelgava during WW1 and especially the treatment of the British, French or Russian Prisoners of War.

Part 1:Mons-Doeberitz-Libau 25th Sept 1914-May 14th 1916, an account by Pte Joseph Driscoll 7314 Ist Norfolk Regiment

Joseph was captured West of Mons and after treatment for a gunshot wound at a hospital in Weries he was sent to Doeberitz camp  in Germany, travelling there by horsebox.

Joseph goes on to describe the harsh conditions at Libau and mentions by name one of the men who is buried at Jelgava's St Nikolai Cemetary. Here is more from his statement....

Reference National Archives WO/161/100/361

more of Joseph's statement to follow.......
"At Libau work was hard and treatment severe. Very long hours, frequently till 9 p.m. Started work 6 a.m Very wet month and we had to work in continual downpours. No provision for drying clothes. Cases of Pneumonia and pleurisy were caused by this treatment. A man named Irvin, East Surreys, died from this cause"

"On Monday May 7 or 8, 1916,  a party of about  1,000 men, including myself, were paraded and taken away by train by 4th class railway carriage to Frankfort a.d. Oder- no idea where we were going. Disentrained there and stayed for 3 days where we found another 1,000 men drawn from the other lagers in Germany. None of us had any idea what was to be done with us. The whole 2,000 were English. Then detrained in horse boxes and travelled about 4 days and 4 nights to Libau. Exceptionally cold in train and very crowded. Took our blankets with us that we had from home and our food. Landed at Libau at about 4pm. Travelling through Courland half the number were separated from us and taken off to Windau. The 2,000 were divided into 4 companies 500 strong each and were called E.K.1,2,3 and 4 Company, I belonged to E.K.4 Company which was to work at Libau"

Sunday, December 26, 2010

LSE Research "A Very Modern Action" - The Spring Reprisals of 1917

"In 1917, the Germans calculated that public outrage over prisoner mistreatment could be used to their advantage. Heather Jones from the Department of International History, LSE, explains.

The prisoner reprisals of 1917 were a retaliatory action taken by German forces against captured French and British troops, in reaction to poor British and French treatment of German prisoner workers. This was a ruthless, calculated policy, intended to manipulate public opinion.

Prisoners held behind German lines during the 1917 reprisals were forced to work under shellfire on subsistence rations. But rather than conceal this mistreatment, the German captors actively encouraged prisoners to write home about it. This deliberate release of information was intended to mobilise public opinion in Britain and France in order to force changes in British and French military policy.

The plan worked. As a direct consequence of the 1917 reprisal sequences, the French and British governments insisted, against the wishes of their military chiefs, that their German prisoner workers be withdrawn to safety. In consequence, the Germans halted their reprisals in May of 1917.

However, the reprisals ultimately paved the way for more radicalised German prisoner mistreatment later in the war. By 1918, beatings and malnutrition were commonplace in the German army, and actions which a year before had been sufficiently shocking as to constitute a "reprisal" had become the norm."

"You Tube " hadn't immediately sprung to mind as a source of information about WW1 so I have been really pleased to be able to take  some time out to relax and spend this Boxing Day browsing  some fascinating videos which relate to not only to my increasing interest in the mis-treatment of British WW1 prisoners held near the Eastern Front  but also to information about Latvia during WW1 and later under Soviet Occupation.

I've found them a fascinating resource but a word of warning that not only is it addictive stuff and as I know I can go completely off at a tangent but some of the WW1 videos are really moving especially if there is a family connection.

There is also alot that can be said for the accompanying music eg Hans Zimmer "journey to the line" played to accompany a video,a tribute to  Irish soldiers during WW1 or poetry ike that of Wilfred Owen.

I notice that Heather Jones, who is a lecturer in International studies and specialist in First World War studies has a book which is due to be published in 2011

Violence against Prisoners of War in the First World War: Britain, France and Germany, 1914-1920 (Studies in the Social and Cultural History of Modern Warfare)

Friday, December 03, 2010

Private W Starling 8749 1st Norfolk Regiment

Commonwealth War Graves Commission certificate

Photograph of Walter Starling

"He was wounded and taken prisoner in the retreat from Mons on 24th August 1914. He was exposed to the shot and shell of the Russians whilst digging trenches for the Germans, and died in hospital in Russia from inflammation of the lungs caused by exposure on 22nd June 1917, aged 23 years "

Reference Norfolk County Council Website

Thank you Peter for the comments and  link to the above photograph and information :-)

Bandsman E Smith 8669 1st Cameronians (Scottish Rifles)

Commonwealth War Graves Commission certificate

Able Seaman PA Rootham L5/2914 RNVR Collingwood Bn, Royal Naval Division

Commonwealth War Graves Commission certificate

Private A Roberts 9510 2nd Bn Royal Lancashire Regiment

Commonwealth War Graves Commission certificate

Private FC Purcell 3454 8th Bn Royal West Kents

Commonwealth War Graves Commission certificate

Private J McCulloch 8295 2nd Bn Seaforth Highlanders

Commonwealth War Graves Commission certificate

Private H Kinsman 7577 1st Norfolk Regiment

Commonwealth War Graves Commission certificate

Private CA Irvin 7736 1st Bn East Surrey Regiment

Commonwealth war Graves Commission certificate

Private J Harvey 2295 1st Royal Warwickshire Regiment

Commonwealth War Graves Commission certificate

Private JE Grant 9051 1st Bn Hampshire Regiment

Commonwealth  War Graves Commission certificate

Private J Clarke 6219 2nd Bn Suffolk Regment

Commonwealth War Graves Commission certificate

Private JW Brown 18807 12th Bn Highland Light Infantry

Commonwealth War Graves Commission certificate

Private F Barlow 8214 1st Bn., West Yorkshire Regiment (Prince of Wales's Own)

Commonwealth War Graves Commission certificate

Private FC Baker 10321 Bedfordshire Regiment

Commonwealth War Graves Commission certificate

Private S Argyle 6611 9th Battalion East Surrey Regiment

Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Private J Archer 9366 2nd Battalion Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry

Commonweath War Graves Commisson certificate

Enlisted Sheffield 1905/6

Taken prisoner at Le Cateau August 1914

Died of wounds 29.03.1917

ref: Commonwealth War Graves Cemetary Jelgava Latvia  Harry Milner in "Stand to!" January 1996 No 45 p16-17

L/CPL T Mulholland 2521 2nd Battalion Manchester Regiment

Commonwealth War Graves Commission certificate

Private AP Skett 6055 Guardsman 3rd Bn Coldstream Guards (1989-1917)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Remembrance Day St Nikolai Cemetary Jelgava, Latvia 2010

The Remembrance Day Ceremony took place this year at Jelgava.

The link below will take you to an album of photographs which appear on a Latvian Newspaper website.

Remembrance Day photographs

The British Embassy also have photographs from the day on their Facebook pages.

Remembrance Day photographs

more to follow

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Able Seaman CS Ireland 213465 RNVR Hawke Bn, Royal Naval Division

....." by about the end of March parties of 3 to 10 daily were being moved to Mitau Hospital. About 25 percent of the remainder had to be assisted to their work in the morning, and we had to carry most of them home in the evenings. Seaman Ireland died on 26th while his comrades were carrying him home"


Commonwealth War Grave Commission certificate

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Private J Farmer 4901 1st Coldstream Guards

I found this interesting article on the Essex Police Memorial website today.

Essex Police Memorial Trust: Joseph Farmer

Joseph was one of the 2000 British Prisoners of War held by the Germans near the eastern Front in what is now Latvia.

From what I have read and understand about the treatment of 500 of these prisoners from Number 4 company, "Englaender Kommando 1" Joseph was very likely to have been on the receiving end of a premeditated policy of maltreatment and neglect carried out by German Forces as a reprisal for alleged mistreatment of their prisoners.

Another document (WO /161/ 100 557) states that Joseph was moved from the camp where he was being held to the hospital at Mitau ( Now Jelgava ) and that he died of his wounds there.

Conditions at the hospital were described by Company Sergeant Major A. Gibb in his report as "inadequate" with medical facilities non existent. I understand that the personnel consisted mostly of Russian "volunteers" made up of deserters and prisoners. Subjected to such conditions prisoners were said to have died at these temporary hospitals from starvation and exhaustion a situation which could have been relieved if there had been access to appropriate medical treatment and the food parcels sent from families and loved ones at home but which were looted and allowed to perish while the men were allowed to suffer.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

"1000 British N.C.O's and men sent to Russia in 1916, as a Reprisal for the employment of German Prisoners in France"

The following are exerpts taken from a precis of a statement by Company Sergeant-Major A. Gibb, 2nd Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, who was the Senior 2nd Class W.O. of on party of 1000 British N.C.O's and Men sent to Russia in 1916.

"One thousand N.C.O's and men left DOEBERITZ for Russia on 8th May 1916. At FRANKFORT-AM-ODER another 1000 N.C.O's and men were collected. The 2000 left FRANKFORT for Russia on 11th May 1916. Thereafter, Company Seargent-Major Gibb's statement concerns only one of the four parties or companies into which the men were divided (each 500 strong)

No. 4 Company to which the statement refers was employed in the docks in LIBAU from 14th May 1916 to February 1917. No special complaints are brought forward concerning this period.

On 23rd February the company, strength 500 left LIBAU for MITAU, AND ON THE 25th marched along the frozen River Aa to the village of LATCHEN, NEAR KELZIEN, a distance of 25 kilometers. The escort of the party, a squadron of Uhlans, drove the party along all day in the most brutal manner possible, and only about 80 of the 500 were able to reach LATCHEN in any sort of formation. The remainder were scattered along the route for several kilometers, being thrashed along by the Uhlans by means of lances and whips.

Accomodation at the new camp was one tent, about 70 yards by 7, for all the 500 N.C.O's and men, pitched on a frozen swamp. No fuel for heating the tent, no light, no proper means of obtaining water for cooking or washing, and rations barely sufficient to keep the men alive. No parcels allowed, no smoking; this tent was under Russian shell fire, which, however, was not serious.

Orders were read, stating that the British had been brought to this place as a reprisal for the employment of Germans in France, where they were being ill-treated, starved and made to work under fire. The orders to the guard stated that no mercy was to be shown to the prisoners, every one of whom had assisted to stop the Kaiser's army from reaching Paris..........

.....The working parties were constantly under Russian shell fire, but there was litle rifle and or machine gun fire. The treatment was so brutal that the men soon became mere living seletons, too weak to move about. Nevertheless,they were kicked and beaten out to work morning after morning by the medical feld-webel; their comrades had to help them to walk out , lead them about all day and very often carry them home at night. Hospital accomodation was quite inadequate in the camp and medical comforts or attention almost non-existant. The result, in figures, was that 14 men died at the camp, and eight more in hospital at MITAU, all from exhaustion and starvation except one who was murdered. The death tookplace shortly after the party returned to LIBAU...77 N.C.O's and men lasted out the period out of the total of 500 but had it not been for an improvement in the weather about the end of April, and the receipt at the time of the first consignment of parcels it is doubtful if any would have been left at all. About 20,000 parcels of food from home were collected during this period, nd had they been allowed to be issued to the prisoners, probaby they would have saved all these 23 lives. Instead, they were stopped at MITAU,where they were stored and looted by the Germans, as well as allowed to waste by perishing.......In addition to starvation and exhaustion, frostbite and vermin ravaged the men's bodies.

The camp was broken up on the 10th June 1917, and after a months rest at LIBAU , the party was employed in light work and occupied good quarters until November 1917, when it was sent back to Germany. 276 N.C.Os and men returned of the original strengh of 500 from the front lines to LIBAU. Of the remander most had already been sent back to Germany incapacitated for any other work, some of these for the remainder of their lives"


Saturday, May 15, 2010

Hansard: Prisoner of War (ill-treatment) Mr Churchill and Private A Skett

I've been interested in finding information about the circumstances which led to the death of the British soldiers who are buried in Jelgava (formerly Mitau).

I've discovered some records that show that many of these Prisoners of War were mistreated deliberately and on occasion killed in retailiation or "reprisal" for the alleged harsh treatment of German Pows by allied troops earlier in the War.

This, for example, is part of the transcript in which Mr Churchill, the Secretary of State for War is asked about the circumstances under which Private A. Skett "met his death"

Captain CRAIG

asked the Secretary of State for War whether evidence has been taken from returned prisoners of war as to the circumstances under which Private A. Skett, No. 6055, 3rd Battalion Coldstream Guards, met his death while on commando at Latchen, Kurland, on orabout 6th April, 1917; if so, will he state these circumstances; whether he is aware that the whole details of this case were personally reported by Company Sergeant-Major William Acton Francis, No. 7078, 1st Battalion Cheshire Regiment, to Mr. Vrendenburgh, the Dutch representative in charge of British interests, at Libau on or about 5th June, 1917; if he will say at what date His Majesty's Government learned for the first time of Private Skett's death; and on what date the officer commanding the Coldstream Guards and the deceased soldier's next-of-kin were officially informed as to the exact circumstances of his death; and what action His Majesty's Government proposes to take to bring those responsible for the death of Private Skett to justice?


Evidence has been taken from repatriated prisoners of war on this subject. The circumstances in which Private Skett met his death appear to have been as follows: On 6th April, 1917, Skett, a prisoner of war at Pinue, on the Eastern Front, being exhausted after a long march in the snow, was unable to proceed. He was ordered by the sentry to move on. On his replying that he was unable to do so, the sentry deliberately killed him. The report received from the German Government stated that Skett feigned inability to move, and that in the circumstances the sentry was justified in shooting him"

Reference Hansard 05 June 1919 vol 116 cc2248-51W

I have also found several similar terrible accounts of the treatment of the POWs and intend to publish some further entries. I'm trying to discover the location of these camps but have found that it's quite difficult as many documents relate to the German names of towns (Libau, Hasenpoth, Talsen etc) which are now correctly known by the Latvian name on modern maps.

 I  also have names including that of Lieutenant Prael at Latchen camp, a Lieutenant Greise and an interpreter called "Mavis"who once lived in Stoke and who was described as "the worst specimen of a human I ever came across"

 to be continued.............

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Private A Skett and HS Carruthers, Prisoners of War (died 6th April1917)

"On 6th April 1917 Private Skett, Coldstream Guards, was shot under the following circumstances. About 20 or 25 men , too weak to go to work, were left in camp in the morning. About 10 a.m. some 10 of them were taken outside by the Germans for fatigue. This consisted in moving the guards and officers' property from the old camp at Latchen to the new one. A hand cart was used for this purpose and the road was deep in mud.They completed one trip in the forenoon, and while returning from a second in the afternoon Private Skett collapsed several times from weakness. At last he was quite incapable of rising, and one of the German sentries went to him, put the muzzle of his rifle close to his breast, and fired, killing Private Skett where he lay. I was not a witness of this. I heard the shot from our tent, and the case was reported to me when the party came in 20 minutes later, bringing the body on the cart. No 645 Lance-Corporal M. Purdon, Gordon Highlanders, was with him at the time. The body of Private Skett lay outside the enclosure for 2 days more. Private Carruthers, 12th London Regiment, who had also been left in that morning too weak to go out and work, died during the 6th April . His body was placed beside that of Private Skett and both covered with a sheet of tin. I buried them both on the morning of the 9th about 100 yards from the hut. They were both simply human skeletons. I saw the wound in Private Skett's body just by the heart"

Alexander Gibb CSM No 6826, 2nd Battalion Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders
Scheveningen, Holland
7th February 1818

I found this very sad entry in some documents from the National Archives WO/161/100/557

Sergeant C. Bennett 5374 1st East Lancashire Regiment

" I appealed against this treatment and Sergeant Bennett was moved next day to the German military Hospital, but it was then too late, his system was absolutely ruined. I left the foodstuffs and promised to get him some change of linen, &c.

On my return to Altauz I reported the stealing of the boots, kit and foodstuffs, but could receive no satisfaction.

On the day Sergeant Bennett died I again went to Mitau. I stayed with Sergeant Bennett until 5.0 p.m.- he died at midnight the same night. One Englishman was in the hospital with him at the time of his death- Private Wriggleworth, of the Durham Light Infantry. he was cured , but volunteered to stay with Sergeant Bennett and to look after him. with the exception of Sergeant Bennett he was the only Englishman in the place.

My candid opinion is that from the day Sergeant Bennett was admitted to hospital in Mitau he never had a chance whatsoever. If he had received anything like a proper treatment, I am certain he would have recovered.

Attached is a copy of the last letter we received from Sergeant Bennett, written about three days before his death, also an extract from his diary. This was brought us by a Russian prisoner of war who was discharged from hospital. the originals were sent to Mrs Bennett on my arrival in Holland.

R Conaron, Sergeant
Ist Battalion Rifle Brigade

Sergeant C Bennett 5374 1st Bn East Lancashire Regiment

"One month, no sleep; very bad "

"Dear Pals, I am trying to write a few lines, the last I'm afraid , I shall write in this life. It is hard to lie here waiting for the end, when a little effort on the part of these people could save me. I asked them a fortnight ago to send me a way but they only laughed at me. They have nothing here to help me. It is simply lingering on. I am the only Englishman here among the lot. That makes it so much harder. I can only get myself washed when I pay a Russian to do it. I have not seen an interpreter since I have been here. If this should drop into your hands, I should like if you would let my father, Mr John Bennett, Public Hall, Newtown, or my wife, know how I have been treated as an honourable prisoner of war. I am not in any pain, boys; what I feel most is being here all on my own, cared for no more than a beast. My last thoughts are of my dear wife and little boy. We loved each other so well. Also my parents and brothers and old pals. I forgot to mention, boys, if you get this give it to Private H. Beadles South Wales Borderers. he comes from my place and knows my people"

The above are extracts  from the last letter written by Sergeant Bennett and a entry in his  diary as they  appear in some documents held by the National Archives in WO/161/100/557