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