Saturday, January 22, 2011

Kelsien ? Kalnciens..more thoughts now. Reference to Ķīši also found

I've been looking at the maps again trying to locate "Kelsien" and I still feel Kalnciems might be a possible location for the camp where the British POWs were held from February 1917.

Kalnciems is located at the expected distance from Mitau ( it took the men a day to walk along the frozen River Aa (Lielupe)

The location near swamps/ lakes.

Close enough to the front line and the trenches (Machine gun hill the site of the Christmas battles)

Another location "Kisi" is mentioned in some reports  There is a town called Kisi near Jelgava.

I am really keen to find out more about the  Christmas Battles and the role of the Latvian Riflemen. There were huge numbers of casualties and I wonder if the "Russian" prisoners mentioned during the Debriefing reports were captured during these battles. There are so many websites it might take a while to find out.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Commonwealth War Graves Commission : Nikolai Cemetary, Jelgava

Commonwealth War Graves Commission
"Jelgava, better known as Mitau, was captured by German forces in the summer of 1915; and in 1919 it became part of the Republic of Latvia. The establishment of the Republic was followed by a successful struggle for national existence against Russian and unofficial German troops. To the right of the main path are the memorial and the graves of Latvian soldiers killed in the war of independence; to the left is the British plot, covering 299 square yards, and marked by a War Cross. Between the two plots is a memorial chapel with a belfry. The British plot contains 36 Commonwealth burials, 4 of which are unidentified. Most died as prisoners in 1917 on what is now Latvian territory. All the graves were brought in from other burial grounds after the Armistice; 17 came from MITAU RUSSIAN CEMETERY, 4 from MONIAK FARM CEMETERY (near the prison camp at Latschen), 3 from LIBAU NORTH CEMETERY, 3 from KLIWENHOF CHURCHYARD, and 9 from other places"

The site has plans of the cemetary here

and a photograph

The cemetary is 4km south east of Jelgava on the road to Mezciems.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Kalnciems: a possible location for the prison camp? Maybe

I have been busy looking at maps of the area around Jelgava trying to find the location of the prison camps which I believe were located in a place called Latchen near Kelsien.

I'm now quite sure that this is likely to have been the town/ village now known as Kalnciems. I have located Kalnciems on googlemap
View Larger Map

 and  Jelgava and Kalnciem are approximately 14 miles (22 km) away from each other and according to googlemaps this would take 4 hours to complete a walk this distance. I'm not at all clear if this is possible. Do you have "Ramblers" or walking groups in Latvia??

I wonder if there is any trace of WW1 activity remaining in the area or whether any re-development has taken place. It seems this area was on the frontline and very close to battles between German and Russian forces during early 1917 as this article in the New York Times show:

MITAU MENACED BY RUSSIAN ARMY - Czar's Forces in New Offensive on Riga Front Only 12 Miles from German Base. BIG HAUL OF PRISONERS Island of Glaudon, in the Dvina, Lost on Jan. 4, Recaptured by Surprise Attack. German Offensive Repulsed. - View Article -

"Kalnzen" is mentioned in the article as is the strategic importance of Jelgava (Mitau)

I hope that one day I will get the opportunity to visit Latvia and the Jelgava area again. I'd like to know more about the area walked by the British prisoners when they were marched along the frozen river Aa between Mitau and Latchen.

Flickr is a great place to find photographs of Mitau during this time.

"Jens-Olaf" has many of the Eastern front, a rare one of River Aa  (  Lielupe)and what could be a German Prisoner of War camp ( well I think so)

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

The German Spring Reprisals of 1917: Prisoners of War and the Violence of the Western Front by Heather Jones

After watching the LSE video on "You tube"  I was very pleased to read this article via an email link  online  yesterday as it gives some further background information about the policy of "reprisal" and how it was implemented by the Germans.

Unfortunately, there is only a brief mention about the group known as EK 4 (Englaender Kommando 4)

The German Spring Reprisals of 1917: Prisoners of War and the Violence of the Western Front by Heather Jones
German History  (2008) 26 (3): 335-356.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Lieutenant Prael (Prahl)1st Jaegar Regiment 8th Army Corps, Commandant of Latchen Camp during the period of reprisals

"On one occasion a man who was working with me carrying timber fell down with exhaustion about 40 yards from the tent. As the sentry refused me permission to carry the man to the camp, I stepped out from work and asked Lieutenant Prahl if he would allow me to do so. He was extremely angry, staing that he had a son in England, a Prisoner of war, and said he would treat us dogs as the English were treating him........This Lieutenant Prahl was fully aware of all the butalities that were being perpetrated and he encouraged them in every way"

Private C Brown 6700 Ist Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment

National Archives WO 161/100/601

more from this report to follow.

 Private Brown was also sent to Libau from Doeberitz (EK 4) and was moved from Windau to Latchen.

Part 5: Sentries at the Latchen POW camp, Latvia

There are many many examples of cruel treatment of prisoners described in the reports that I have seen.

The sentries for example, often had access to full winter clothing while the British and presumably French and Russian prisoners were made to work with only light clothing and  rags tied round their feet. The POWs were also kept under close observation with the  punishments for any attempted escape being the shooting of fellow POWs.

"Sentries here pure savages, continually butting and striking prisoners; very severely treated. The German officer in charge came nearly every day and ordered sentries, if we did not work to shoot us."

Private Joseph Driscoll

National Archives WO 161/100/361

One of the German Officers whose name crops up in various places in POW reports  is the camp Commandant  and head of reprisal at Latchen who was named as a Lieutenant Prael ( Prahl) from the  Reserve of Artillary and who is described as being  "extremely cruel"

Part 4: Working conditions at Latchen POW camp, Kelsien.

Private Joseph Driscoll one of the Prisoners of War describes the working conditions at Latchen camp:

National Archives WO/161/361
"I was employed to work at the camp for the first day of work. When the men came back they told horrible stories, such as falling in the snow over dead unburied Russians who must have been lying out for weeks and months. Some men were working in the trenches under light gunfire and very often heard the hiss of bullets in the snow. Others were working on ice at the River Aa. This was a line of communication between the German blockhouses and Mitau. Work was really ice breaking in front of the bridge over the Aa. Some of these men had no books, and only rags to wrap round their feet, kept to work from 6 a.m. to 4.30 p.m. With two rests of 20 minutes each at 10 and 1.No food supplied , or at all from 6 to 5 p.m...........

Next day I went to work in the trnches. We were taken to Kelzien, a German Pioneer depot. There we received picks and shovels and were sent to the trenches six or seven kilom. from the camp. These trenches we were making were communication trenches. We were in full view of the Russians , and aways under light Russian gunfire. One man was struck by shrapnel, Shells were bursting 20 yards from the men. Also there was no protection given us against gas. 250 men would go to these trenches each day.........

Other work was what was called the wood party, hardest of all. This was cutting down large wood, cutting up and taking away to road, Always working up to thighs in snow."

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Part 3: Conditions at Latchen camp, Feb 25-April 1917 as reported by Private Joseph Driscoll

"The camp was about a mile from Kelsien, at a deserted village called Latchen. Russians were shelling all around us . There was a marquee enclosed within barbed wire. The cavalry ten left us, and our late sentries who came in sledges, took us over. We were stood to attention for an hour before we went into the marquee. The cold was intense, and the men who had been sweating and bleeding so much had the blood frozen inside their boots. We then went into the tent. The camp was about 100 yards by 60, enclosed by barbed wire. The marquee had about two feet of snow and ice as floor. We had to lie in spruce or fir saplings laced together with wire, in layers. We were to be given shavings, but received enough for less than 100 men....about 300 men then got what Germans call dinners, the others had to go without. A great many men on the march had thrown away their blankets and they had to sleep in what they stood in. Inside the tent were some very small stoves, but no fuel was ever supplied, and we therefore could never use them. It was extremely slippery inthe tent because of the ice, the men continually fell and cut themselves. Average temperature was 36 centigrade of frost. The men were overwelmed by the severity of the march. In the morning we found that our boots were frozen into icicles, all shapes , and we had to use our wood shavings to burn  and thus thaw our boots. When we put them on, the ice formed between the sole of the boot and our feet. Barley coffee was supplied that morning but many had to go without. No work was done that day, but parties of 50 men each were employed putting up barbed wire round the camp. This wire was extended to 10 feet high all round"
Private Joseph Driscoll 7314 1st Norfolk Regiment

National Archives WO 161/100/361 page 3057

Joseph's report is one of many taken and recorded later, in Joseph's case the report is dated 18-20th July . The examiner, a JW Campbell of 28 Cavendish Square says of Joseph

"This man was intelligent but somewhat discursive and inclined to rhetoric. I saw no reason for not accepting his evidence

Another report of conditions by Company Seargent- Major A Gibb, 2nd Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders in WO 161/100/557 page 3388 supports Joseph's version of events and gives even more detail ( no smoking, washing or drinking water, rations just enough to keep them alive and punishment consisting of being tied up with field telegraph wire to a post.)

A fascinating if shocking report and I have many questions about this period and how some of the  men did manage to survive when so many other died of starvation and the cold. (I have read reports  elsewhere of Russian's  who were frozen)

I would also like to find out more about Lieutenant Prael, The German Commander of Latchen camp.