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"