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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)