PRISONERS OF WAR
Main photo: Friedrichsfeld Prisoner of War Camp near Cologne, Germany
Many local men were taken prisoner during the First World War. They were often reported missing in the local newspapers, before reports emerged that they were alive, but being held in Prisoner of War camps.
More information can be found at https://grandeguerre.icrc.org/ from where the following text was taken. The website contains the delegates’ mission reports, along with postcard photographs of the camps.
“8 million soldiers fighting on the front and 2 million civilians, mainly those living abroad in enemy countries or areas under enemy occupation, were taken prisoner and interned in camps for several years. On the 21st August 1914, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) established the International Prisoners-of-War Agency in Geneva, to which the warring States submitted, more or less regularly, lists of prisoners. The Agency received 400,000 pages of documents: lists of prisoners’ names and records of capture, of transfers between camps and of deaths in detention. For each name listed, the Agency made out an index card. The cards were then classified by nationality and the detainee’s military or civilian status and filed alphabetically in 29 different card indexes. These indexes also contain enquiry cards, drawn up on the basis of data taken from the thousands of written requests for information submitted daily by relatives of the missing, which the Agency indexed before destroying the correspondence.
The Agency’s archives hold 5 million index cards, containing data on 2 million prisoners, primarily from the Western, Romanian and Serbian Fronts. Indexes relating to the vast Russian Front are kept in the archives of the Danish Red Cross in Copenhagen, as Denmark was a neutral State during the First World War. Alongside its efforts to restore contact between relatives separated by war, which remains a vital part of the ICRC’s work today, the organization also sent delegates on missions to inspect 524 prisoner-of-war and internment camps in Europe, the French colonies in North Africa, India, and even as far afield as Japan. They interviewed prisoners and camp authorities, and inspected detention conditions in the camps: hygiene, food, working conditions, and whether prisoners were able to write to their families.”
The Imperial War Museum has a very interesting page about WW1 POWs if anyone wants further reading:
NOTE: This is NOT a definitive list - just a few people who I have come across during the course of other research. Our POWs are often overlooked when we honour those who fought and died in the Wars. Here is my contribution to their everlasting memory.
N.B. anyone looking for more information on these men could find out much more by looking at the War Diaries for the relevant Regiments.
PRIVATE HAROLD BROWN - WALKED BACK FROM THE DEAD
In December 1918, 19-year-old Harold Brown, a Private in the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, amazed his family by coming back from the dead.
Harold had been born at Johnson Street, Stocksbridge, in January 1898 to Thomas Brown and Hannah Lavender. Neither were local, but they married and raised a family here, first at Johnson Street and later at 28 Haywoods Park. Harold worked in the rail mill at Fox’s before enlisting when he was 18 years old. He had been serving in France for about 9 months (but had, according to the local newspaper been home on leave.) Not long after returning to France he was officially reported as being killed in action, on the 11th or 12th September (sources vary). The Battle of Havrincourt was deemed a minor attack, successfully fought by the British on the 12th September, but the local newspaper said that there was a “big German onslaught” there and that the results were “disastrous,” with every man (presumably in Harold’s section) appearing to be wiped out.
Early in October Harold’s parents received the dreadful news. “It is my painful duty to inform you that a report has been received from the War Office notifying the death of Private Harold Brown, on Sept. 11th 1918. The report is to the effect that he was killed in action. By His Majesty’s Command I am to forward the enclosed message of sympathy from their Gracious Majesties the King and Queen. I am at the same time to express the regret of the Army Council at the soldier’s death in the Country’s service.”
A funeral service was duly conducted at St. Matthias Church, and silk memorial ribbons were sent out to relatives: “In loving memory of Harold, beloved son of Thomas and Hannah Brown, who was killed in action in France, Sept. 12th 1918, aged 19 years.” Insurance policies were claimed and received.
Some months later, a Stocksbridge man called Evans was sitting in a café in Sheffield when he noticed a “dirty, weather-beaten individual, clothed in ragged garments and wearing boots several sizes too large” sitting nearby. He was sure he recognised the man, whom he called Tal Brown. They exchanged a few words and then he knew it was indeed Harold (Tal), not dead at all. Over a meal and later a drink, Tal told him of the terrible massacre, and how only two other men remained, Norman Horne and a man named Jones, both from Wakefield. He told how they had been seized as prisoners of war, and of the agonies they suffered at Giessen Camp. The signing of the Armistice on the 11th November led to them being set free, and they tramped to Boulogne and then on to Sheffield. Mr. Evans and Harold made their way to Haywood Park where Harold’s family lived; when they got there Harold stayed at the end of the lane, while Mr. Evans entered his parents’ home to break the news.
Harold’s younger brother, Joe, had always firmly believed that his brother was not dead, and although black clothes were bought for him, he refused to wear them. Harold always tried to keep the date he arrived home, the 9th December, as a special anniversary. He told a reporter in 1935 that he had kept a diary of his army experiences, and made notes daily while under detention, but unfortunately the diary had since been misplaced.
Harold married Eunice M. Rodgers from Watson House in 1921, the daughter of Henry Rogers (from Swineshead, Lincolnshire) and local girl Emma Spencer. They made their home at 16 Sheldon Road. Harold died in 1957 at the age of 59, but there can’t be many men who walked around carrying their own death certificate and funeral card!
Local newspapers census returns, parish registers at Findmypast
I have been unable to find Harold’s enlistment or service records, and I cannot find certain references to him including his photograph in the local papers (mentioned in other articles) because the relevant issues are currently not available online (as at August 2022). I cannot find his name in the printed Weekly Casualty List (War Office & Air Ministry) but it’s a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack. I cannot find him on the website https://grandeguerre.icrc.org/
If I could find out his service number, I could look into his experiences in France in more detail.
PRIVATE PHILIP FRITH 55485 West Yorkshire Regiment, B Company
Philip Frith was born in Staveley, Derbyshire on the 28th November 1899 the son of Joseph Frith and Sarah nee Johnson. In 1918 his family (not sure which ones but certainly his brother Edward) were living at The Cottage, 4 Viola Bank [This is probably Smith Road which was still called Viola Bank at that time].
His Service Record is not available, perhaps because it was one of the “burnt records” that did not survive. Only about 30% of soldiers’ service records still survive, because many were thinned out before being put into storage in the 1930s, and then the majority were destroyed by fire when the Army Records Office was the victim of one of the London air raids.
Philip enlisted as a Private in the West Yorkshire Regiment and was posted to France.
On the 19th of July 1918 he was officially reported as missing, but after what must have been an agonising wait for his family, who asked in the local newspaper that any news of him be sent to their home, they finally heard that he was a prisoner. The local paper reported on the 16th November that his family had received a letter from him. This was printed five days after the Armistice was signed.
Philip had been captured on the 19th July at Vieux-Berquin. His Prisoner record states that he was in B. Company of the West Yorkshire Regiment. It seems likely that he was in the 15th (Service) Battalion (1st Leeds), which had been formed at Leeds in September 1914. They served first in Egypt on the Suez Canal defences before being moved to France in March 1916. Without a Service Record none of this can be proved, but this Battalion was the only one listed on the website Forces War Records as having been at Vieux Berquin in 1918. This site does have some records for Philip, but they are behind a paywall and there is no indication as to what they contain.
Philip was held at the Limburg an Lahn POW Camp [although not all POWs who were registered at Limburg were actually there – it was used as a registration camp for POWs kept in the nearby area and also for those who were undergoing hospital treatment elsewhere before being allocated to a permanent camp].
After the War, Philip came to Stocksbridge – he was here when the 1921 census was taken. I think he married Ethel M. Benjafield in Weymouth in 1924. When the 1939 Register was taken they were living at 88 Melbourne Road, and he was working in the steelworks as a maintenance fitter. He died in 1972.
PRIVATE JOHN THOMAS GREGORY 45639
John Thomas was born at Arlesey, Bedfordshire, in 1898 the son of David Gregory and Jane (or Jeannie/Jennie) Collier, who married in 1895. David had been born in Arlesey and Jane in Gloucestershire. The family lived in Bedfordshire, Middlesex and Lancashire before moving to Stocksbridge in about 1916. David worked as a cement yard labourer and excavator. They lived at Henholmes Farm, on the border of Deepcar and Stocksbridge, close to the original Stock’s Bridge. In November 1916 David was fined 10 shillings for breaching the blackout regulations.
Both John Thomas and his father David were on active service in World War 1. David was a Sapper in the Royal Engineers Railway Construction Company. He enlisted in December 1916 at the age of 43 whilst living at Henholmes (occupation: reinforced concrete worker). He was 5’ 4” and had a scar on his left hand, and a mole on his chest and on the back of his neck.
John Thomas was a Private in the 2nd Bn. of the South Staffordshire regiment. He was part of the British Expeditionary Force and was taken prisoner by the Germans on the 24th March 1918. The British Red Cross made enquiries about prisoners and records survive for John Thomas. He had been captured at Hamlincourt in the north-east of France near the Belgian border. In June 1918 he was at the Parchim P.O.W. camp in Germany. He was apparently not wounded (“nicht verw.” [nicht verwundet] and “unverwundst”). He was later moved to Friedrichsfeld, a camp 60 miles north of Cologne. This was known as one of the better P.O.W. camps in Germany, with open space for football and tennis, gardens, and flowerbeds between the huts. There was a laundry area and shower rooms and had theatre and entertainment shows produced by the prisoners.
Note: Gregory appears on two P.O.W. reports, which vary in their spellings. Hamlincourt was spelt as Aplincourt, Stocksbridge was Stockbridge and Ford Lane was Ford, Lancs. Arlesey was spelt Arsley and Arlsey. His date of birth was either 23rd September 1898 or 23rd October 1898. His next of kin was Mrs. James Gregory [sic] of Henholmes Farm, Ford Lane, Stocksbridge. He was also known as Thomas John.
On 21st December 1918, the local paper reported that he had been returned from captivity and that “his experiences will appear in our columns at a later date.” Unfortunately, I can find no record of them, pehaps because those newspapers are not yet available online.
Gregory was awarded the Victory and British Medals. The medal rolls (dated May 1921) record him under his earlier rank and number (Private 45639) and as Lance Corporal 61428 (still with the South Staffordshire)
Another child, Ivy, was born to David and Jane in 1920. They were living in Stocksbridge in 1921, but I think John Thomas was still in the Army, in Staffordshire. I have been unable to trace him further. The family were not related to the local Gregory family, who were already established here by the time David arrived, but it’s quite possible there are descendants here.
PRIVATE CYRIL SKINNER 31127, R.A.M.C., Deepcar
Private Frederick Cyril Skinner, 21, was captured by the Germans on the 30th November 1917, just outside Cambrai. He had been wounded in the leg and had no chance of escape. He was officially reported as Missing in Action on the 5th December. Before the war, Cyril had worked for Stocksbridge Railway Company, and he enlisted in the army when war broke out. He went out to France in about 1915. His parents, William and Sarah Ann Skinner of Crag Royd, Quarry Hill, Deepcar, received a postcard from him in January 1918 informing them that he was a prisoner of war in Germany, and that he was well. He was back in England a month before the Armistice was signed, but he was unable to go straight home, being instead taken to St. George’s Hospital in London.
Cyril’s disturbing story was printed in the Penistone, Stocksbridge and Hoyland Express of 7th December 1918, and he tells the reporter that after being wounded, he lay for about four hours before a German soldier came and took not only his boots from him, but also other personal property. He was then taken by the stretcher-bearers to the German dressing-station, where he was left in the open for two days and two nights with snow falling most of the time, but what made it worse was that he had no food.
This is how Cyril related the story:
After this I was taken to the German medical officer, and he treated me like a dog. Then I was put on a waggon en route for the station. Some were made to walk who had arms missing. It was pitiful to see them. Some of the French civilians, women and children, offered us bread, but the sentries would not let us have it. One woman would not obey the sentry, and he used his bayonet on her, and then kicked her corpse to the side of the road. I saw that with my own eyes.
When I arrived at the station, I was thrown into a cattle truck with just a bit of straw on the floor, and then we were travelling two days. When I got to the journey’s end they gave me a bit of black bread, which I could not eat. Then I was taken to the hospital. After two days I was seen by the doctor, and he took the shrapnel out of my leg without anything to put me out of pain. I was in the hospital two days after the painful operation. Then I was made to get up and go to the camp. I could not bear my foot to the ground. They had been unloading cabbages, and, of course, I was only too pleased to pick up some leaves. These I ate, and two days afterwards I was in hospital again suffering from dysentery. There I remained six weeks. For three weeks I could only have hot water to drink and nothing to eat.
After the six weeks of agony I was made to go out to work on a farm, and I could hardly walk, but was made to hurry with the aid of rifle butts from the sentry. When I arrived at the farm in Mecklenburg I had to start right away. On this farm were 250 cows, and the farmers would not supply me with a drink of milk (only what I stole), and all I had to live on was soup containing potatoes and turnip tops, or leaves of some kind, and one loaf of black bread for a week, no butter or fat. One lad happened to find a box of Koline, and we used that on the bread, but we said it was a disgrace to Koline to put it on German bread.
One day I saw a chance of escape in a boat (we were near the sea), and told my comrades, and seven of [us] said we would go, so we made sails out of 20 sacks and we made the oars. We started on Easter Monday, but were caught just as we were starting off by the coastguards, and who said I was the ringleader, and they struck me with the butts of their rifles till I could not stand, having bruises all over me, also my head cut open. The next day the officer came and asked me if we had a map and compass (which we obtained from a Russian civilian prisoner). I said we had not, but the officer soon found it, and he smacked me in the face with his kid gloves. Afterwards he sent for me, and to my surprise he had his sword drawn and laid on the table, which made me feel uncomfortable, for I thought I should not come out alive; but it was only to put the wind up me, I think. The officers asked me if I was going to England, Denmark or Russia, and I would not say. For this offence I got seven days bread and water. (I might say the others had the same punishment), and we were put in the cellar and it was up to the ankles in water when we went in, but each day it got higher, and on the seventh day it was above the knees. This was done so we could not sit or lie down. When the seven days were over they made us carry two cwt. sacks of corn from six in the morning until eight in the evening. This was a little harder work than usual, but of course our hours were 6am till 8pm, always, ploughing until dark, then from dark until 8pm on the chaff machine mostly.
When we were hay-making we had some German girls in the same field one day, and the sentry said something to one of them, and she spoke back; he did not like it, hit her in the face, and when one of our boys saw the girl down he went across and tried to part them, but the sentry bayonetted him in the arm, and the next morning he took his little finger off his right hand, and still he had to work as usual. The people spat and threw stones whenever they saw us.
I am pleased to have landed back in England, for I think if I had been there three months longer it would have killed me. Parcels were sent from England, but we got them about one every six weeks, although two a week were sent from England. When I arrived in England, I was a stretcher case, and I was taken to King George’s Hospital, London, where I was in bed three weeks, but it was just like heaven after coming from Germany. I am pleased to say I am now feeling myself again, but I thought I should never be well again. I am now on two months’ leave, but I hope to soon be home again for good.
NOTE: From Cyril’s Prisoner of War record held by the Red Cross, we can see that he was a Private in the R.A.M.C. 62nd Field Ambulance. He was captured at Cambrai on the 30th November 1917 and it was noted that he had a shrapnel wound in his left leg. He was first held at Le Quesnoy (the Germans held Le Quesnoy for almost the entire war, from August 1914 through to its dramatic liberation on 4 November 1918) before being taken to Dulmen Camp and later to Parchim Camp. His name appears on a list of repatriated Prisoners of War who arrived in England on the 12th October 1918. Another list records him as being admitted to the King George Hospital, in Stamford Street, SE1 on the 12th October 1918.
RIFLEMAN FRED STEEL 3463, King’s Royal Rifle Corps, Stocksbridge
Fred was born at Rimington Row, Stocksbridge in 1891 the son of Henry Steel and Ellen Harriet nee Parsons. Henry was from Lincolnshire and Ellen Harriet from Nottinghamshire, and they married in the Nottingham area in 1884. Daughter Sarah Ellen was born in Lincolnshire in 1888 before the family moved up to Stocksbridge. After Rimington Row the family went to live at Bessemer Terrace, Horner House. Henry worked in Fox’s as a boiler fireman, and Fred also went to work for Fox’s before joining the King’s Royal Rifle Corps in September 1914. Sarah Ellen married Stephen Hartshorn.
Fred’s attestation papers do not seem to be available but from other records we can see that he was a Rifleman in the 9th Battalion K.R.R.C., service number 3463, and that he served in France. He was admitted to an army hospital in September 1917 suffering from “dental caries” [tooth decay], and this record tells us that he had been in the army for 3 years, and that he had completed 2 months with the Field Force (presumably the British Expeditionary Force in France). Fred had been transferred from the Sick Convoy to the 4th Stationary Hospital at St. Omer on the 14th September 1917. He was discharged back to duty on the 1st October.
Stationary hospitals were base hospitals, part of the casualty evacuation chain, and were located further back from the front line than the Casualty Clearing Stations. They were manned by troops of the Royal Army Medical Corps, with attached Royal Engineers and men of the Army Service Corps. Most hospitals were assisted by voluntary organisations, most notably the British Red Cross. In the theatre of war in France and Flanders, the British hospitals were generally located near the coast. They needed to be close to a railway line in order for casualties to arrive (although some also came by canal barge); they also needed to be near a port where men could be evacuated for longer-term treatment in Britain. They were large facilities, often centred on some pre-war buildings such as seaside hotels. No. 4 Stationary Hospital was, at this time, was located at a large Chateau and old distillery near St. Omer.
Almost six months later, on the 21st March 1918, Fred was captured by the Germans. The local newspaper reported this on the 4th May and said that he had been through “many engagements” in France. He was captured at Benay (just south of Saint-Quentin) on the 21st March 1918 and was miraculously not wounded. The first Camp he was taken to was Langensalza Camp at Thurinngia, near Erfurt. He was later taken to Merseburg Camp, about 80 miles to the north-east.
Fred was repatriated at the end of the war; he arrived in Hull on the 31st December 1918 and made it back to Stocksbridge in January 1919. His returned to his family, who were living at Albany Villa, Hoyle House Lane. They moved back down to Horner House in around 1920, moving to Spring Mill Terrace (the next terrace to Bessemer Terrace).
Fred was still unmarried in 1939 and living with his mother at Bessemer Terrace. He was working in the steelworks. He died at Bessemer Terrace in 1966 at the age of 75.
Parish registers, census returns, military records at Findmypast and Ancestry
Local newspapers available at Findmypast and the British Newspaper Archive
1st World War Soldiers' Medical Records; Hospital Admission &discharge registers. War Office ref. MH 106/1481
Information on base hospitals from The Long Trail website: https://www.longlongtrail.co.uk/army/regiments-and-corps/british-base-hospitals-in-france/
Electoral Registers at Ancestry.co.uk
Prisoner of War records at https://grandeguerre.icrc.org/
National Probate Calendar
Births and death indexes at the General Register Office