History of Prisoner of War Casualty Branch

Discussion in 'Prisoners of War' started by dbf, Feb 14, 2016.

  1. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    Last edited: Aug 23, 2016
    Drew5233 and papiermache like this.
  2. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD


    Survey of the work of Casualty P.W.
    including reports on:-
    Receipt of Official or Unofficial Lists - procedure
    Unofficial Information
    Circulation of Information with Chart
    PROTECTED PERSONNEL - Duplicates of ‘Protection’ Certificates and Confirmation of Acting Rank. Repatriation of Sick and Wounded.
    Correspondence - Personal Enquiries and Relations with the Public generally.
    Search for Missing and Missing Prisoners of War by Searcher Organisations
    Repatriation of Prisoners of War
    Interrogation of Escaped or Repatriated Prisoners of War
    Collection and Disposal of German P.W.I.B. Records of British Prisoners of War
    Broadcasting to Relatives of Prisoners of War
    Related Problems of Staff, Volume and Complexity of Work Priorities and Procedure

    Special relationship with:-
    Directorate of Prisoners of War
    Officers i/c Records
    International Red Cross Committee
    British Red Cross Society

    Work in detail of Casualty P.W. Sections
    S.S. Section
    Geneva Telegrams & Enemy Official List Sub-Section Procedure
    Staff and Registry Sub-Section
    Enemy Propaganda Broadcast Sub-Section
    Central Section - incorporating
    Indices Sub-Section, and
    Identification and Miscellaneous Duties Sub-Section

    Correspondence Section including:-
    Officers and Other Ranks Sub-Sections and the Enquiry Bureau

    Work of the Casualty P.W. Sections


    Last edited: Aug 23, 2016
  3. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD


    A . Accounting for Missing Prisoners of War
    B . Special Measures prepared before and taken after Hostilities for Recovery, Collection and Repatriation of Prisoners of War by Allied Authorities exclusively
    C . The Enquiry Room in Curzon Street House
    D . Work of the Correspondence Section in detail
    E . Treatment of Telegrams (Service Britannique) - ?
    F . Form Letters, etc (Officers and Other Ranks) -
    G . Officer Prisoners of War Section (Work in detail)
    H . Disposal of Officer Prisoners of War Kits


    Last edited: Aug 23, 2016
  4. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD


    The work of the Prisoners-of-War Branch - Cas. P.W. - was in many respects conducted on quite different lines from that of the remainder of the Casualty Branch - Cas.L.

    This had to be so if only because all Prisoners of War information, including the reports of capture, received from enemy sources was centralised with and distributed by Cas.P.W. In effect, Cas.P.W. occupied the position in relation to British Prisoners of 2nd Echelon in relation to casualties in the Field plus disposal of information relating to Prisoners of War, the concern of other Services, India and the Dominions, and sometimes even relating to Allied Prisoners of War.

    Special duties
    The special duties discharged by Cas.P.W. were as follows:-

    Organisation and collection on behalf of all Services of a Prisoners of War information service from international and other sources including those prescribed in the Geneva Convention but covering also enemy propaganda, wireless, censorship and intelligence.

    Identifying, breaking down or extracting names of Prisoners of War from incoming telegrams and lists of Prisoners of War and forwarding at speed and under suitable safeguards to other services, Dominions, India and Allied Government representatives. Acting as a clearing-house and enquiry centre for all doubtful identities.

    Maintenance of indices showing up-to-date location of all British Army Prisoners of War in Germany, Italy and the Far East.

    Pursuing enquiries regarding Prisoners of War through available sources including the Protecting Power, International Red Cross Committee and “Intelligence”.

    Taking appropriate action in conjunction with the Directorate of Prisoners of War on all complaints regarding alleged ill-treatment of British Prisoners of War in enemy hands.

    Organising on behalf of Dominions, India and other Services, and in conjunction with the Directorate of Prisoners of War, the supply of documents required by protected personnel in enemy hands and by other British Prisoners of War whose rank and status were disputed by the enemy.

    Negotiating and agreeing with the International Red Cross Committee, Geneva, on various details arising out of the documentation of Prisoners of War generally in all Theatres of War.

    Censoring enquiries for missing Prisoners of War submit by the British Red Cross Society - Missing Department.

    Providing British Red Cross Society Prisoners of War Department and also Missing Department with Index Cards in respect of each soldier officially reported Prisoner of War by enemy Government.

    Providing British Red Cross Society Prisoners of War Department with particulars of all Camp transfers and deaths.

    Screening Prisoners of War information to eliminate duplication before despatch to Records Officers.

    Organising and conducting a War Office Prisoners of War Enquiry Centre - British Army - and an official Far East Enquiry Centre covering all Services and the Dominions for personal telephonic and written enquiries.

    Representing the Casualty Branch of the War Office (inclusive of its aforementioned additional responsibilities) on Sub-Committee ‘A’ of the Imperial Prisoners of War Committee.

    Additional Miscellaneous Functions

    As the War progressed, many additional duties and functions had of necessity to be shouldered by Cas. P.W. These miscellaneous duties, some of which were taken over from the Directorate of Prisoners of Ware and were outside the normal functioning of a Casualty Branch included the following:-

    Examining and where necessary taking action on extracts made by Censorship from Prisoners of War mail. Complaints by Prisoners of War and much advance information regarding injuries or even of deaths of Prisoners of War were received by this means.

    Staffing and maintaining, on behalf of Cas.P.W. and the Directorate of P.W. a joint sub-registry to deal with official papers and correspondence regarding Prisoners of War.

    Sorting and distributing the incoming mail for the U.K. from the International Red Cross Committee, Geneva.

    Receiving, identifying the senders and transmitting to Paymasters, letters from Prisoners of War authorising allotments to be made from their credit balances.

    Identifying and indexing the results of the examination of unfit Prisoners of War by Mixed Medial Commission - Geneva Convention, Article 69.

    Arranging for documentation at port of embarkation, cabling of names and notification of next-of-kin of Prisoners of War repatriated on grounds of ill-health or as surplus personnel, in advance of their arrival in the U.K.

    Making arrangements in anticipation of post-hostilities repatriation from all Theatres including the printing and maintenance of complete alphabetical lists of Prisoners of War on behalf of British, Dominion and Indian Governments.

    Training of repatriation teams.

    Despatch to Italy and, later on, to Germany of representatives from Cas. P.W. to control and supervise documentation of repatriated Prisoners of War and to institute on the spot enquiries for missing Prisoners of War.

    Arranging in conjunction with D.P.W. for the collection at Saalfeld and Meiningen and transport to the country of German official records of British Prisoners of War and dead and of the effects of the latter.

    Examining, checking and disposing of the German official records.

    Pursuing enquiries for missing Prisoners of War, arranging in conjunction with D. of O. for the setting up of semi-permanent search machinery in Italy, in Western Europe or in the Far East to trace missing Prisoners of War and missing generally, briefing the searcher organisation, and examining all information submitted.

    Locating and disposing of personal effects and kit left in Theatres of War by officers subsequently taken Prisoner of War - generally to next-of-kin under suitable safeguards - whenever no instruction regarding disposal had been given by the owners.


    After discussion with the other Services in October, 1939, it has been agreed that, as the largest of the three Services, the War Office should act as the sole collecting and distributing agency for all information regarding British Prisoners of War.

    Whether this decision was well-judged or whether the duty might more appropriately have been carried out by, say, the Foreign Office, must remain a matter of opinion. It was however consistent with the decision to make the War Office Directorate of Prisoners of war responsible for matters concerning the treatment of British Prisoners of War in enemy hands, and, despite the heavy burden thus laid upon Cas.P.W. whose staff in consequence during the greater part of the War reached upwards of 300, the arrangements can be said to have worked satisfactorily.

    The evacuation of the Casualties Branch to the Provinces, while the Directorate of Prisoners of War remained in London resulted in much overlapping. Moreover, difference in method in the handling of enquiries regarding individual Prisoners of War as between the two organisations caused constant irritation and led to complaints from next-of-kin and various voluntary bodies.

    The decision to return the Prisoners of War side of the Casualties Branch to London and to associate it there with the Directorate of Prisoners of War and with the Prisoners of War Information Bureau was therefore timely and undoubtedly did much to counter the growing criticism of the War Office.

    The choice of Curzon Street House as an office was a most fortunate one, since it contained rooms adequate for the accommodation of large staffs together with their essential records thus facilitating the handling at speed of the immense volume of Prisoners of War information which reached the Branch from many sources.

    In view of the close association of Cas. P.W. with the Directorate of Prisoners of War this Report should be read in conjunction with the latter’s Monograph on Prisoners of War.

    Official Lists of Prisoners of War from enemy sources - Arrangements for handling

    For a short time at the beginning of the War, the Prisoners of War Information Bureau acted as a post office in receiving and dealing with official Prisoners of War lists from the International Red Cross Committee and the Protecting Power and in forwarding them to the other Services, to Record Offices and for final clearance to the Casualty Branch in Liverpool. Later on this service was taken over by the Directorate of Prisoners of War. Following complaints mainly regarding delay, the lists were made the responsibility of the Casualty Branch through a Casualty Branch Enquiry Section at the War Office but were finally transferred to Cas. P.W. when that part of the Branch was returned to London in December 1941.

    Efforts in conjunction with P.W.I.B. to speed up notification

    The problems of P.W.I.B. in relation to enemy Prisoners of War and of Cas. P.W. in relation to British Prisoners of War were very similar. Consequently when the Bureau’s arrangements for the notification of German Prisoners of War were made known to the German authorities and later on when efforts were made to speed up the process, complete reciprocity was requested.

    Although the German Government as a signatory of the Geneva Convention was bound to notify the names of captured British combatants and of dead British combatants when they had buried much depended on the manner in which the service was carried out. Inordinate delay in notification inevitably meant the hardship of a long-continued period of anxiety for the next-of-kin of the Missing. P.W.I.B’s efforts to speed up the notification of German Prisoners of War were therefore made almost entirely in the interest of British Prisoners of war and with this object, until the war had reached its final stages, the notification of German Prisoners of War was made a priority operation by the Bureau. The fact that the functions of the Bureau and of Cas. P.W. were thus mutually dependent was recognised early in 1943 when on the resignation of the officer in charge of the former both were placed under the same Principal.

    Gentleman’s Agreement - Telegraphing Names of Airmen.

    The regard which the Germans had for the Air Force was curiously reflected in a “gentleman’s agreement” negotiated by the local delegate of the International Red Cross whereby the names of German Luftwaffe personnel captured or buried by British Forces were telegraphed to Geneva for onward transmission to Berlin. This agreement which was of course conditional on the German P.W.I.B. cabling particulars of British airmen captured or buried by German forces was meticulously observed by the Germans and was the first important success scored by the Branch and P.W.I.B. in speeding up notification of capture.

    Telegraphing names from official lists

    Naturally other methods of expediting the service particularly in relation to Army and Navy personnel, were explored.

    With the surrender of France, the direct route to Geneva was closed; consequently official lists of Prisoners of War were heavily delayed in transit and it became necessary to arrange that the International Red Cross Committee extract the names from the lists and cable them to the Branch. A Foreign Office grant to the International Red Cross Committee covered the costs of the cables.

    Prisoners of War Records

    The main record consisted of a loose-leaf alphabetical index by surname under Regiment or Corps in binders each holding 300/500 cards.

    The arrangements for preparing the loose-leaf cards were somewhat extravagant. Upwards of 5 copes of each card were required, and this involved two or even three typings, since, with the relatively stout paper, the third carbon copy was frequently unreadable. Copying by hand was even more extravagant. Consequently when the Far East Section of the British Red Cross Society paid us the compliment of adopting our card index system and requested us to furnish 5 cards for each Prisoner of War, it became necessary to employ a different technique. The method adopted was to use a pre-cut foolscap size stencil - durotype - representing three cards with their appropriate headings. After typing in the necessary details, the required number of copies were produced from the stencil on a specially stout foolscap size paper. The foolscap sheets were then cut in three and punched on the margin to fix the binders.

    Although not more than from 7 to 10 cards were required, the number which could have been produced would have run into hundreds and at the cost of little additional labour.

    Considering that War Office Branches, Record Offices and Voluntary bodies dealing with Prisoner of War affairs have all hitherto produced their own Prisoner of War cards independently, the economy which would have resulted had some such centralised system of card production been in operation is obvious. The individual cards differently coloured to indicated the country of captivity, contained an up-to-date history of the Prisoner in chronological sequence and were compiled by the “binder” clerks from information as it was received from all sources. Correspondence concerning individual Prisoners of War was kept in separate numbered and related B.M.’s in which for convenience the information on the index cards was duplicated.

    For domestic purposes, generally to facilitate rapid tracing, other indices all alphabetical by surname and also of the loose-leaf type and to be maintained. These comprised:-

    (a ) Index of all Prisoners of War, cards prepared in skeleton form to show Regiment or Corps and thus facilitate reference to the main index.
    (b ) Index under enemy Prisoner of War camps.
    (c ) Complete Missing index.
    (d ) Index. Prisoners of War examined by Mixed Medical Commission - all services Dominions, etc., with result of examination.

    The day to day location of individual Prisoners of War was a matter of great importance and first priority was, therefore, given to the maintenance of the main index. As a safeguard against errors the number of the cable or list or the authority was quoted against every entry made on the cards. The arrangements provided for checking of the entries by a senior clerk.

    Procedure on receipt of Geneva telegrams

    To save cabling time and costs only the regimental number, name and rank could be telegraphed with the result that identification was frequently a matter of great difficulty, particularly as the lists comprised Dominion as well as British names. The procedure gradually evolved for dealing with these cables consisted in having them copied photographically. The names of the photocopies were then identified as far as possible from the “Missing” index, and were underlined and despatched according to their Record Office, Navy, Air Force or Dominion names being dealt with separately. The greatest care had to be taken with doubtful identities since the results of wrong identification were potentially extremely serious.

    It will be appreciated that speed was vital in handling telegrams. Frequently they were photocopied, identified and despatched on the day of receipt. The photocopying which was carried out by P.W.I.B., was given first priority and special arrangements were made to retain key members of the staff on overtime when required. Telegrams with Air Forces, Navy or Dominion names were sent out by hand.

    From first to last, 827,284 names were dealt with under these arrangements, excluding a considerable number of Dominion names telegraphed direct to their respective Headquarters - see tables at Appendix E.

    Information from sources other than Official Lists

    Geneva was encouraged to tap other sources for material for its telegrams. For instance “capture” cards - Geneva Convention, Article 36 - were frequently directed via Switzerland and names from these as well as from lists furnished by camp leaders or by doctors or from neutral sources, provided the information was new, were all cabled.

    Doubtful Identities

    As the War progressed and our Allies and the Dominions and India made separate arrangements with the International Red Cross Committee for direct cabling, Geneva still continued the practice of sending us the doubtful identities. That we succeeded in solving the majority of the problems put before us testified at once to the ingenuity of the staff and to the wisdom of retaining on the work only those who showed a flair for it. Although perhaps the other Services were apt to take our efforts on this difficult task for granted, our Allies particularly the French, were most grateful.

    How the Special Duties and Functions of Cas. P.W. were discharged

    The special work of Cas. P.W. is described in the following reports on Prisoner of War problems. Details of relations with other War Office branches wand outside bodies are given where these differ from the arrangements made for the Casualty Branch generally.


    P6370540.JPG P6370541.JPG P6370542.JPG P6370543.JPG P6370544.JPG
    BarbaraWT likes this.
  5. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD


    While the Geneva telegrams gave the bare fact of capture or in some cases of death, it was from the lists that information came regarding the Prisoners of War state of health - Hospital Lists - his Prisoner of War number and address for correspondence - Camp or Camp Transfer Lists - or burial after battle or death in captivity - Dead Lists.

    Two copies of these lists were originally supplied, one via the Protecting Power and the other via Geneva, but in pursuance of the policy of expediting the service, P.W.I.B. reached agreement with the Berlin Bureau for the despatch direct, through the Prisoners of War post, of a third copy of the lists. This arrangement was most valuable since the Prisoners of War mail via Lisbon was airborne all the way and generally was appreciably quicker than the courier service which brought the other copies of the lists.

    In all suitable cases, lists like telegrams, were photocopied, but in some instances, typed extracts were prepared; all were distributed in the same manner as the cables.

    As the Lists contained many errors of fact and were not necessarily received in chronological order, checks had to be made against the information already in the card index of each Prisoner of War. In addition many items on the lists had to be translated. In all cases definite instructions were given to Record Offices on the action to be taken on each extract or photocopy.

    The Lists when received cleared up some of the doubtful identities in the cables and “acceptance” by the other Services, the Dominions or our Allies cleared others, but always there remained a considerable residue, many of which had to be referred back finally to the German Government for explanation.

    The lists themselves varied considerably. Some, excellently produced in manuscript, were obviously the work of British Prisoners of War; others, by German clerks, were extremely difficult to follow; the majority, which were typed contained many errors but were reasonably well produced. The Dead Lists, based as they were on identity disc particulars or on documents found on the bodies, were the worst produced. Unofficial Lists, generally from conquered countries or from neutrals, varied from statements regarding individual Prisoners to complete lists of many hundred names. Of the latter sort of the list prepared by the Hellenic Red Cross comprising a very large number of names of the British and Dominion troops captured by German forces in Greece is a fine example. These unofficial lists were most welcome because generally they filled in a gap in the German system which, for some unexplained reason, did not begin to work until the Prisoners of War reached German Territory with a consequent delay sometimes of months. In the later war years, as the offices of the British Camp leaders became more highly organised, useful unofficial lists from these sources were frequently received.

    ”Capture” Cards and Death Certificates

    In their efforts to strengthen their position as the Central Agency of Information, the International Red Cross Committee supplied camps with capture cards addressed to Geneva with a tear-off portion addressed to the Prisoners family. The Committee was thus able frequently to supply the earliest news of capture. While it was difficult to ?avil at any attempt to speed up notification - and it must be admitted that even British official notifications of capture were on occasion subject to have delay, (a case in point being the enemy Prisoners of War captured in North Africa) - nevertheless the International Red Cross Committee scheme had many disadvantages. These were:-

    (a ) Capture cards were unofficial; not all the Prisoners of War who completed capture cards were subsequently reported officially as Prisoners.

    (b ) Many Prisoners of War failed to complete capture cards or the cards were lost in the post.

    (c ) Since the cards circulated via Geneva appreciable delay occurred in their reaching the next-of-kin.

    (d ) Cards were seldom received from Prisoners of War in hospital; no provision was made for Prisoners of War who died.

    (e ) The question asked on the cards were a departure from the provisions in Article 5 of the Geneva Convention.

    The International Red Cross Committee scheme at the best was a makeshift, which while leading to endless enquiries by next-of-kin tended to distract attention from the real trouble - the failure of a belligerent to notify captures expeditiously.

    The Committee’s scheme for Red Cross death certificates (Article 4, Red Cross Convention) which Geneva printed and issued to belligerents also attempted mistaken humanitarianism. The certificates were to take the place of “Dead Lists” and in addition to the usual identification particulars were intended to give some information about the deceased’s last hours. This latter feature could only have applied to the comparatively small number who died as Prisoners of War. Since the certificates in the main would merely have duplicated the information on the “Dead Lists” and would have been an intolerable burden on hard-worked clerical and hospital staffs, the proposal was resisted by this country. It must be recorded however that the Germans did make considerable use of the certificates in reporting the deaths of British Prisoners of War.


    P6370545.JPG P6370546.JPG
  6. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD


    The term unofficial information was employed to cover any reports which did not issue from enemy official sources.

    When in the case of a missing soldier, such information could be considered reliable, it was accepted as evidence that he had been captured and action to declare him a Prisoner of War was taken accordingly. Among such “acceptable” reports were the letters of “capture cards” written and forwarded by the soldiers to their relatives on being taken Prisoners.

    Experience however showed many instances where the transmission of a “capture card” was not followed by an official intimation of capture, and where, after prolonged and fruitless enquiries had been made, the unfortunate soldier had again to be reverted to the Missing category with much resultant distress to the relatives.

    The conclusion that a soldier must have escaped from captivity subsequent to his having completed a “capture card” fitted few of the cases. At the same time and despite a certain amount of evidence to the contrary, there is little reason to attribute to the enemy any deliberate intention to deceive. Obviously if the Prisoners had been documented at the “capture card” stage, and their movements properly recorded thereafter, their disappearance could have been explained and some connection between the “capture card” and the official report of capture called for.

    In the circumstances of the last War, owing to pronounced delay on the part of the enemy - Germany, Italy and worst of all, Japan - in notifying capture, it would have ben difficult for the Branch to have resisted the plain evidence of a otter or capture card, particularly as questions of dependents’ allowances and the sending of letters and personal parcels to the Prisoners of War may have depend on the acceptance of these unofficial reports.

    Mainly because of their unreliability other unofficial evidence of capture, although duly brought to the notice of the next-of-kin, were not normally regarded as officially acceptable. These included enemy propaganda broadcasts, Vatican lists of Prisoners of War, either broadcast or physical, second-hand reports from other captured Prisoners of War, which the Germans in the latter stages of the War fired in mortar bombs into the Allied lines.

    Other widely differing types of information which the Branch forwarded to next-of-kin with an explanation or a warning consisted chiefly of broadcast messages from Prisoners of War transmitted on the enemy propaganda wireless, or messages from escaped Prisoners of War received through the underground movement or other intelligence channels.

    Of a broadcast message a precis was generally forwarded to the next-of-kin, any propaganda being omitted. The recipient was asked in event of a reply being sent, to omit any reference to receipt of the message through enemy broadcasts. Arrangements were made for Japanese broadcasts not generally audible in the United Kingdom to be forwarded to the Branch by India and Australia and contrary to the normal practice, because of the difficult situation in the Far East, attempts were made both by India and Australia to reply to these messages by wireless. No official encouragement however was given to this practice.

    Messages from escaped Prisoners of War were sent to next-of-kin who were generally warned against attempting to reply although in certain special cases replies for transmission through M.I.9 were accepted.

    The heaviest traffic occurred after the Italian surrender when many thousand Allied escapers were at one time at large in the German occupied part of Italy. Letters and lists of names from Britain, Dominion and Indian ex-Prisoners of War reached the British from diplomatic, I.R.C.C. and underground channels and, although identification frequently presented difficulties, were duly disposed of. It was not of course possible to accept replies.


  7. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD


    The following is a chart showing the circulation of official enemy information. Unofficial information came from many quarters including Geneva, and the distribution by Cas. P.W. corresponded with that of official information. From transmission of urgent information Records Offices are eliminated and notification was made direct to next-of-kin by Cas. P.W.



    Screen Shot 2016-02-15 at 13.22.43.png


  8. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD


    Duplicates of ‘Protection’ Certificates and Confirmation of Acting Rank

    Under the terms of the Geneva Convention personnel of medical services and certain others, were entitled to special privileges on falling into enemy hands. These included early repatriation, an issue of pay and, in the case of private soldiers, non-liability for compulsory labour (except on medical duties). It was assumed that documents in possession of the men at the time of capture would satisfy the enemy authorities that the holders were entitled to protected status, but it became apparently in the early stages of the War from the number of requests made either direct or through their next-of-kin for proof of their status, that they either held no documents or that such documents had were not accepted by the enemy.

    In 1942 the duty of receiving all applications, for certificates, of investigating claims, obtaining certificates and despatching them devolved upon Cas. P.W. who also co-ordinated the provision of certificates in respect of personnel of the other Services and of Dominion Forces. The certificates of identity were despatched through diplomatic channels for delivery by the enemy authorities to the men concerned. As the man-power position in Germany deteriorated it became obvious that the authorities were refusing recognition to medical personnel on the slightest pretext and were employing them on work other than that late dying by the Geneva convention (i.e. on work of a non-medical character). Men who had previously been recognised a ‘protected’ and had been issued with pay by the Germans were put to work unless they were able to provide further proof of their status which would be acceptable to the German authorities. This led to an ever-increasing number of applications for certificates which reached the Branch through the Protecting Power, the I.R.C.C., the B.R.C.S., Camp reports and letters to next-of-kin. Lists of unrecognised men were also prepared by camp leaders, at a later stage.

    In the case of R.A.M.C. personnel, where no further proof of status was essential, the Record Office was able to furnish duplicate documents - A.F. 3030 - without difficulty. Applications from other than R.A.M.C. personnel, i.e. regimental stretcher-bearers and R.A.S.C. ambulance drivers, required a considerable amount of investigation, particularly form the former. Requests frequently had to be sent to Units serving Overseas, or to former Officers of the man’s Unit for verification of his training and employment in stretcher-bearer duties and often the medical authorities had to asked to adjudicate. The documents obtained from the respective Record Offices were a certificate of identity and a certified extract from the muster roll, signed by the Officer-in-Charge and impressed with the Record Office stamp. The certificates were in roto-print form and supplied to Record Offices by Cas. P.W. The completed certificates were sent in batches through the Foreign Office to the Protecting Power for transmission to the enemy authorities for delivery to the Prisoners concerned.

    Is obvious that the existing form of documentary evidence of protected status carried by stretcher bearers was unsatisfactory and that a new system of recording particulars of men entitled to protection and a new form of certificate should be provided to safeguard the position of men taken prisoner at future dates. Accordingly a new type of certificate, A.F. W.3050B, was devised and regulations governing its issue were published in A.C.I’s 2101 OF 3rd October 1942 and 1129 of 28th July, 1943. Duplicate A.F’s W.3050B were issued to stretcher bearers captured after 3rd October, 1942, instead of the ronec type of certificate used hitherto. The A.C.I’s also laid down that protected personnel of R.A.S.C. should be furnished with A.F. W.3050 (as for R.A.M.C. personnel).

    Applications from personnel of other Services and Dominion Forces were forwarded to the appropriate authorities for investigation and the forthcoming certificates were transmitted by Cas. P.W. through the diplomatic channel, and the relevant office notified of the particulars of the Foreign Office despatch.

    In 1943, when it became obvious that certificates already despatched were being deliberately withheld by the enemy authorities, further certificates were forwarded to the Protecting Power with a request that enquiries be made of the enemy authorities for the reasons of non-delivery, and that any certificates not delivered should be returned.

    On the collapse of Italian resistance many prisoners who were transferred to Germany camps either lost their evidence of protected status or had the documents taken from them. This necessitated the provision of duplicates of certificates previously sent to Italy, for the German authorities.

    The deterioration of conditions in Germany in 1944 gradually worsened position as regards the delay one non-delivery of certificates to such an extent that early in 1945 it became evident that the further dispatch of such documents would serve no useful purpose, and accordingly action was suspended in March and shortly afterwards, abandoned altogether.

    Although certificates were always sent where claims to protected status could be substantiated, care was taken not to notify the enemy authorities, or the applicant, when clients were not substantiated.

    Little action was taken to provide proof of protected status to prisoners in Japanese hands. It was not known until October, 1944 that the Japanese authorities where, at certain camps, willing to recognise protected personnel, and only 19 certificates in all were sent to the Far East, in response to specific requests.

    As prisoners of protected status were entitled to receive advances of pay from enemy authorities and corresponding deductions were made from the balances of pay accruing to their regimental accounts, many of the claims had a direct financial bearing and the results of investigation of claims called for accounting adjustments in certain cases. The financial branch concerned (F. 4. P. W.) were advised accordingly.

    In all 4711 cases were dealt with. Certificates forwarded to prisoners in Germany and Italy totalled 3799, not including numerous duplicates sent to replace those known to have failed to reach the man concerned. Claims could not be substantiated in 329 cases. Details of the certificates dispatched are as follows: R.A.M.C., Officers 48, Other Ranks 970: or. R.A.S.C., Officers nine, Other Ranks 591: Chaplins 21: Stretcher Bearers, 1138: Australians 245; South Africans 154: New Zealanders 324: Canadians 84: Indian army 197: Royal Air Force 5: Royal Navy 13.

    Repatriation of Sick and Wounded
    The work of the Mixed Medical Commissions - Geneva Convention, Article 69 - threw another burden on to the Branch.

    While prisoners of war camps or hospitals which had a British doctor could be relied on to submit adequate lists of sick, wounded and maimed prisoners for examination, other camps and hospitals were less careful and many prisoners had to be nominated by this country on the strength of statements by next-of-kin or of reports by senior British officers or camp leaders.

    Such nominations had of course to be identified, and the prisoner of war number of the Prisoner and listed according to camp.

    Records were maintained covering all Services, the Dominions and India, of those who appeared before the Commission showing in each case the results of the examination. Cases passed by the Commission for repatriation were notified to the next-of-kin.

    Negotiations for the repatriation of the sick and wounded were very protracted possibly because in the early stages of the war, having captured relatively few German soldiers, the balance would have been heavily in our favour.

    Public interest in the actual repatriation operations stimulated largely by the Press was very great, and the Branch had to make special arrangements on each location for the names and regimental particulars of the repatriated man to be cabled, as a matter of urgency, from the port of embarkation. List supplied by the German authorities were found to be completely inaccurate and names had therefore to be taken as the men came on board the transport.

    The cables on receipt had to be dealt with at speed. The names were identified, passed to the other Services, the Dominions or India where appropriate, or if of army repatriates, notified to the next-of-kin, all well in advance of the arrival of the transport.

    Appeals were made in the Press and on the wireless to next-of-kin not to make unnecessary enquiries and not to meet the vessels on arrival, a promise being given that the men would be allowed to communicate with the relatives by telegram.

    Needless to say on these occasions the Branch was overwhelmed with enquiries - personal, in writing and by telephone. The situation was aggravated by the somewhat haphazard methods adopted by the Germans in selecting the men for repatriation, many serious cases being held up for long periods while surplus protected personnel, less serious and more recently examined prisoners and others with no claim for repatriations a tall, were included.


    P6370549.JPG P6370550.JPG P6370551.JPG
  9. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD


    The importance of a correct and sympathetic approach to the next-of-kin cannot be overstated. Fro this reason the Correspondence Section and Enquiry Room staffs were carefully selected, and an experienced War Office Civilian Staff Officer put in charge. The Enquiry Room was in effect the War Office shop window and the Branch was fortunate both in the selection of the room and of the staff. The then Finance Member who personally interested himself in the proceedings not only selected the accommodation (a large well lit and comfortably furnished room in Curzon Street House) but also wrote the greater part of the first prisoners of war brochure issued to next-of-kin by all service Casualty Branches.

    The staff during the greater par to the period were drawn from among the temporary women clerks and no Casualty Branch or voluntary body was better served. As head of the Enquiry Room Section was selected a woman of sympathetic temperament with experience of dealing with the public in one of the London departmental stores. The work was hard and at times most trying. Critics of the War Office (among whom figured more than one of the more influential voluntary bodies) would undoubtedly have given tongue could they have found any fault with the arrangements. It says much for its reputation when even members of the British Red Cross sought the assistance of the Curzon Street Enquiry Room.

    Enquiries, personal by telephone or in writing, covered the whole field of War Office activity and an attempt was always made to satisfy enquiries even when, as often, the subject of enquiry was only distantly related to casualties. Instructions to the staff were to obtain the information whenever possible and not, irritatingly, to pass the enquirer on to another Branch or Department.

    In dealing with correspondence few stock letters could be employed, for, generally speaking, enquiries covered such widely differing subjects that individual letters were essential. The material for a reply had to be extracted from various sources such as the Branch Records or the latest report from the Protecting Power or the International Red Cross Committee, or got by reference to other Branches or Departments. The “directed” form of letter was normally employed, unless the enquirer was well known through visiting the Enquiry Room, when the less formal “business” method of approach was used.

    As was natural the nature and volume of the enquiries were largely reflected in the different phases of the War.

    When the British armies suffered reverses the enquiries were for the Missing; an advance brought about a stream of enquiries regarding casualties; while a period of inactivity in the Field invariably brought enquiries about the treatment of Prisoners of War.

    Some enquirers visited the Enquiry Room at regular intervals generally seeking information about the Missing, others were moved by the receipt of disquieting news from the Prisoner of War or because of the absence of letters, others worried by newspaper statements or comments, questions in Parliament or the enemy propaganda broadcasts.

    Enquirers were frequently able to give information about the Missing or to suggest lines of enquiry mainly through their contacts with the wives or relatives of other soldiers and such assistance was gladly received.

    While Cas. P.W. in addition to its normal functions in handling a large volume of work in aid of Cas.L., and an equally large volume of enquiries and other work proper to the Directorate of Prisoners of War, the desperate circumstances of the British Prisoners of War in the Far East brought further responsibilities in the setting-up, on the instructions of the Government, of the Far Eastern Enquiry Bureau. The background to the formation of the Bureau for which Cas. P.W. provided both staff and accommodation was a strong nation-wide movement, supported by certain voluntary bodies and by many members of Parliament, for more active steps by the Government to secure from the Japanese better treatment for British Prisoners of War. The purpose of the Bureau was to provide, on behalf of all the Services and of civilian internees, a centre from which relatives could, by writing or by personal application, obtain the latest information regarding Prisoners of War and action the Government were taking to bring them relief. A brochure somewhat similar to that issued to relatives of Prisoners in Germany and Italy was printed and issued in response to all Far Eastern enquirers.

    On the public relations side the Branch with its numerous contacts was able at any time to gauge with considerable accuracy the reaction of public opinion to the many reports of the ill-treatment of British Prisoners of War in enemy hands. On frequently occasions as a result it was on the Branch’s initiative that publicity was given to the steps being taken to remedy matters or alternatively to explain why action was not immediately practicable.

    The work of the Enquiry Room and of the Correspondence Section with which it was linked, is described in some detail elsewhere (APPENDIX C ). It only remains to say that the public appreciativeness won by the Enquiry Centre and Far Eastern Bureau was undoubtedly ascribable to the care with which an atmosphere of sympathetic helpfulness and frankness was built up. Personal callers had not forms to fill up, there were comfortable chairs, there were mirrors, large-scale maps of enemy countries showing the locations of the camps were on the walls together with an entire absence of formality. Needless to say the staff were pleasant as well as helpful and even the most captious callers seemed to be mollified and assured by the patient and efficient reception they received. A number of complimentary references to Curzon Street House appeared in the Press, and letters from clients expressing their appreciation were frequent. Photographs showing the Enquiry Room and the reception of a caller are attached.


    P6370552.JPG P6370553.JPG
  10. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD


    In its initial stages searching for the Missing is a function of the Unit under the guidance of C.2.E. No organisation existed however for the tracing of Missing Prisoners of War.

    As the Casualty Branch alone could produce a complete list of Missing, the Branch submitted proposals for the setting up of a properly constituted searcher organisation in each Theatre of War shortly after the defeat of the German forces in Italy.

    The proposals were accepted generally and the A.G’s Branch which became responsible set the necessary machinery in operation under the High Command in Italy, Germany and South East Asia.

    Under the Branch procedure, these search organisations were furnished with all the known facts concerning the Missing Prisoners of War including the date and place last seen. Since usually the probability was that Missing Prisoners of War had become casualties the searchers carried out their work in close co-operation with the Graves services. Information received as a result of Branch enquiries was of course transmitted at once to the Searcher organisation and again when a decision was taken to presume Death. A detailed description of the work of these searching bodies by a member of the Branch who was attached to the Headquarters in Italy and German is given elsewhere ( APPENDIX A ).


  11. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD


    While naturally the first aim in connection with the recovery of Prisoners of War is their physical repatriation, the Casualty Branch have certain important responsibilities not perhaps so well understood by the military as they might be.

    These responsibilities include the urgent notification to the next-of-kin of the fact of recovery together with an estimate of the probable date of return home, the examination and notification to next-of-kin of reports of illness and death among Prisoners of War including such as may occur during repatriation, the preparation of a list of Missing Prisoners of War and the setting up of search arrangements, the pursuit of enquiries for missing through repatriated Prisoners of War, and finally the submission of evidence for action to be take for the Presumption of Death.

    During hostilities the main repatriation operations were the return to this country, under the provisions of Article 69 of the Geneva Convention, of seriously ill Prisoners of War, and of a certain number of surplus “protected” personnel.

    As the Press gave considerable publicity to these operations, documentation of the individuals concerned and notification to their relatives had to be carried out at high speed. Lists supplied by the enemy were quite untrustworthy but, fortunately, trained R.A.M.C. personnel was employed on the vessels bring the repatriates home and arrangements were made for them to prepare and forward lists direct to the Branch by cable or air from the port of embarkation. Special information regarding the arrival of the party had to be conveyed along with the notifications to the relatives but details arrangements for the reception of the parties at the port of arrival were notified in the Press and were broadcast.

    The Branch had also to set up machinery so that on arrival the repatriated men could be advised of domestic occurrences of an immediate character such as changes of address of relatives, etc. On account of its urgency this work had to be carried out by the Branch but Officers i/c Records were kept fully informed by the transmission to them of copies of all communications sent to relatives.

    Strong pressure was brought to bear on the Branch to supply copies of the lists of repatriates to the Press, but in the interest both of the men and of their relatives was successfully resisted.

    Such relatively minor operations served to emphasise the difficulties that might attend the post-war repatriation of Prisoners of War and much thought was given to the problem by the Director of Prisoners of war and by various Branches of the War Office. As the problem concerned also the other Services, Indian and our Allies, discussions were carried to Committee A, and a scheme to cover the most probable situation was devised.

    The main features of the scheme was the creation of a special Unit whose detachments on the cessation of hostilities, should proceed to each Prisoner of War camp to assist in its administration until such time as the evacuation of the Prisoners could be accomplished. ( See APPENDIX B ).

    Experience of the 1914-1918 War emphasised that one of the most difficult problems would be that of the unrecovered or Missing Prisoners of War; and to ensure that there should be no delay or failure in locating all Prisoners of WAR, Cas. P.W. were entrusted with the preparation of printed up-to-date location lists arranged alphabetically of all Prisoners of War in Italy, in German and in the Far East. That the list of British Army Prisoners of War in Germany alone ran into two volumes, little less in size than the London telephone directory, is measure of the magnitude of this task.

    While it was intended that copies of the printed lists should be in possession of the advanced detachments from the repatriated Unit, it was arranged that representatives of Cas. P.W. should be attached to the Headquarters to supervise the documentation generally.

    The scheme was first tested in Italy but circumstances were against it. The Germans over-ran the majority of the Prisoner of War camps and captured or rounded up large numbers of the Prisoners. Those who escaped the German net went through the repatriation machine which within its limits worked reasonably well. The tracing of Prisoners of War could not of course be effected by means of the printed lists which were however most useful in checking identities among the mixed personnel that drifted into the Allied lines.

    The clearing up of the Prisoners of War position in Italy was a slow and difficult process. Those recaptured by the Germans were reported when they reached Germany, others who crossed into Switzerland were reported from there, many were “on the run” in Italy for months and only succeeded in reaching the Allied lines when the Germans were in retreat, but the fate of a considerable number was not determined until after the reconquest f the country when our search organisation was able to get to work. ( See APPENDIX A and APPENDIX B ).

    The next repatriation test occurred when the Germans evacuated the Prisoner of War Camps in Eastern Poland on the approach of the Russian forces.

    A repatriation Unit was sent to Russia to collect those Prisoners of War who had escaped to the Russian lines in the confusion of the evacuation. Again the arrangements can only be said to have been moderately successful mainly because of the failure of the local Russian forces to co-operate. The Unit was supplied with copies of the Printed Lists of Prisoners of War and the Officer in Charge was fully primed of the Branch’s requirements, but the information regarding recovered Prisoners of War which reached the Branch through Moscow was unsatisfactory. Fortunately however arrangements had been made for lists to be telegraphed from Alexandria where the repatriation ships from Odessa made a call and next-of-kin were duly informed.

    Preparations for the recovery of Prisoners of War in Germany, of whom some 90,000 were British, were on an elaborate scale. A high ranking American officer was in charge of a joint repatriation Unit consisting mainly of officers who had been trained specially for the work. As in Italy, it was intended to send these officers forward to assist in camp administration, and, with the aid of the printed lists which had been maintained in an up-to-date condition, to take steps which would ensure that all Prisoners of War were recovered. Branch representatives were nominate to proceed to the Unit Headquarters to supervise the check of Prisoners of War and documentation generally.

    The Germans however began by evacuating the majority of the camps to prevent the recovery of the Prisoners by the advancing Allied armies. Thus the scheme could not properly be put into operation.

    As the German forces retreated large numbers of Prisoners of War fell into Allied hands it was possible and indeed necessary to evacuate the majority by air to the United Kingdom.

    Arrangements had then to be made hurriedly for the documentation of recovered Prisoners of War to be carried out at the air ports and for the Branch to be advised immediately. The notification of the next-of-kin was carried out quickly and Officers i/c Records advised but in many cases the men had arrived home before the official intimation reached their relatives.

    The “tidying up” process was highly involved and the “Missing” Prisoners of War became an acute problem until evacuation was complete, but the Missing residue in relation to the numbers recovered was small.

    Search arrangements for Missing Prisoners of War in which the Branch assisted by sending its representatives to Germany were on the same lines as in Italy. ( See APPENDIX A ).

    The officer in charge of the arrangements in S.E.A.C. visited the Branch and spent much time discussing the Branch’s requirements. The up-to-date Prisoner of War and missing lists were forwarded to the Command in Ceylon but it must be admitted that, so far as the Branch was concerned, the execution of the plan left much to be desired. Owing to the vast area involved the task was certainly a difficult one; S.E.A.C., India, Australia and American armies all participated in the recovery of Prisoners of War and naval as well as military forces were also involved.

    S.E.A.C. should have co-ordinated all the arrangements and they endeavoured to do so in the South, but on the more difficult questions the Branch found it necessary to communicate direct with India and the Australians and with the Americans through B.A.S. in Washington.

    The Branch was fortunate in having representatives in Italy and in Germany during the repatriation of Prisoners of War, and much time and trouble would have been saved if representatives could have been attached to S.E.A.C. also.

    As it was, the authorities in Ceylon for some obscure reason card-indexed the list of Far East Prisoners of War and tried to account for them ignoring the fact that only a proportion could be repatriated through S.E.A.C. Information furnished by Prisoners of War such as lists of dead was diverted to Ceylon for examination and only reached the Branch in response to urgent enquiries when the existence of the documents was disclosed by the individuals concerned when they reached the United Kingdom.

    Summing up, it may be said that the arrangements made by the Branch in connection with the recovery of Prisoners of War, some improvised but others planned, were satisfactory and fully justified the effort and the cost involved. But for the fact that the administrative machinery of all three countries collapsed when over-run by Allied Forces the provision of printed lists of Prisoners of War would have simplified very greatly the problem of check and handover on cessation of hostilities.


    P6370555.JPG P6370556.JPG P6370557.JPG
  12. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD


    Among pressing duties, fell to Cas. P.W. interrogation of the returned Prisoners of War. At the beginning the men were put at the Branch’s disposal by M.I.9. and interrogation generally devolved on one of the civilian staff officers or, if high-ranking officers, on the head of the Head of the Branch.

    The approach generally had to be a friendly one with the provision of a comfortable chair and a cigarette. Many of the Escapers were in a highly nervous state as a result of their experiences and information, whether positive or negative, was to be had only by dint of extreme patience. Incidentally, for security reasons, no reference had to be made to circumstances of the escape.

    To arouse the interest of the returned Prisoner of War he was first shown the current Missing list with particular reference to his own Regiment and told something of the anxiety of the relatives and of the difficulties experienced in getting reliable information.

    If he had positive information to disclose he was asked to furnish a written statement covering all the points necessary for Branch purposes. Whenever his information was negative or pointed to a possible new source the fact was noted in the statement ascribed to him. Every statement that referred to Missing was forwarded at once to Liverpool.

    When ships conveying Prisoners of War were sunk, the interrogation of surviving Prisoners of War involved a somewhat different technique. The object of such interrogations was to establish
    (a ) the names of those known or believed to have been on board;
    (b ) the names of the survivors and
    (c ) the names of those known to have died.
    At the same time the full circumstances attending the occurrence with particular reference to the possibility of survival of any or all of the Missing Prisoners of War had to be carefully recorded or alternatively a signed statement obtained.

    To assist his memory the survivor would be shown lists of Prisoners of War likely to have been on the ship. If the names he was able to give were insufficient for the purpose of identification details such as physical description, home town, whether married or single, etc., of likely identifications would be put before him. And finally he would be asked to keep in touch with the Department in case he should recollect further names or more complete details.

    The first case of this kind involved an Italian ship called the “Scillin” transporting British Prisoners of War from Libya to Italy and sunk by a British submarine in the Mediterranean with the loss of some 800 British Prisoners of War. Here the enquiries were further complicated by the fact that the Italians had no passenger list and the majority of the Prisoners of War had not been officially reported as Prisoners of War but appeared in our records as Missing.

    The next important case was in the Far East where the Japanese treatment transport Lisbon Maru carrying British Prisoners of War from Hong Kong was sunk by an American submarine. In this sinking the Escapers could report little more than the circumstances of the sinking. Their assertions however that there could have been very few saved provided a warning against acceptance without confirmation of the evidence of Escapers; for the Japanese list of survivors numbered several hundred.

    The sinking by American submarines of a small convoy of Japanese transports from Singapore carrying British Prisoners of War, and the subsequent rescue by the Americans of a number of survivors, gave the Branch one of its most difficult problems.

    In fairness to the men, prolonged interrogation on arrival in the United Kingdom delaying their leave was vetoed and instead they were interviewed, their voluntary statements collected, and the Branch’s full requirements explained to them before they went to their homes. They were requested to pass to the Branch for answer any enquiries from private individuals regarding other Prisoners of War in the Far East and to endorse such enquiries simply with any information they might have.

    It should be explained that considerable Press publicity attended the arrival of these survivors, and that the interest of relatives of Far East Prisoners of War extended far beyond the question of establishing the identity of those who had lost their lives in the sinking.

    To avoid independent enquiries and to ensure that the men were able to enjoy their leave unmolested, a promise was given in the Press that the interrogation of the men which would be carried out by the Department would included also an enquiry regarding the state of health of those of their comrades still in captivity whom they could recollect and that next-of-kin concerned would be duly notified.

    To meet these requirements a provisional list of those lost in the sinking and the records of Far East Prisoners arranged regimentally as well as lists of Missing were made available and were taken by an interrogation party to Newcastle where the men were located on return from leave.

    Without attempting to describe the many difficulties experienced by the interrogation party, it may be said that on the major issues of establishing the casualties resulting from the sinking and of obtaining information regarding the Missing, much useful information was obtained, while, in addition, the Department was able to send reassuring news to the relatives of several thousand Far Eastern Prisoners of War.

    Other interrogation of the survivors of singings in the Far East followed similar lines, but it was on the surrender of Japan and the return of the Prisoners of War that the most important results were obtained. Fortunately the Prisoners had (at considerable personal risk to themselves) maintained records of nearly all occurrences and the object of the interrogations was mainly to clear up the inconclusive and doubtful cases and to obtain detailed information of the circumstances of death for the benefit of next-of-kin.

    Nearly all the senior officers of Far Eastern Units attended at Curzon Street House on arrival in the United Kingdom and many spent days going through the Branch records and giving information from their personal recollection which enabled the Branch finally to settle the bulk of its outstanding cases.


    P6370558.JPG P6370559.JPG
  13. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    ( See APPENDIX A )

    In the confused period after the German surrender both the Russian and American forces over-ran the area to which the German P.W.I.B. had been evacuated when the bombing of Berlin became severe.

    Unfortunately the territory lay within the Soviet area, although part of it was temporarily occupied by American forces, and any prolonged study on the spot was therefore impossible. In conjunction with the Americans, it was therefore arranged to send a British Unit to remove the records covering British, Dominion and Indian Prisoners of War and Dead to the United Kingdom.

    Attached to the Unit as experts in documentation were three representatives from the Casualty Branch whose instructions were to study the German system, arrange for it to be brought up-to-date as far as possible and then to have all essential records packed for transport to London.

    Similar action was taken by the Americans who arranged to removed the records of their own Prisoners as well as certain other essential German records to Frankfurt.

    The British Unit, employing the German Bureau staff to complete the documents where necessary, carried out its instructions. The records were then escorted to London where they were deposited in Curzon Street House. Under the guidance of Cas. P.W. the records were suitably arranged before disbanding the Unit and were then examined by Cas. P.W. Facilities were given to the other Services, the Dominions, India and the Ministry of Shipping to make any necessary investigations or to take custody of the records of their own men.

    Altogether the operation was worthwhile and yielded an appreciable amount of new information and confirmation of unofficial information. From the Branch’s experience of Russian methods, little, if any, of this would have been available had the documents been left in Soviet custody.

    As the various records described all “happenings” to British Prisoners of War during their captivity, they were of interest to the Ministry of Pensions to whom, after examination, they were transferred for final custody.


  14. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD


    Many suggestions were made during the War that publicity could very well be given to Prisoner of War matters by regular broadcasting. In some ways the proposal had its attractions, particularly in connection with the Prisoner of War situation in the Far East about which the Public, despite statements in Parliament and frequent Press “hand-outs”, was not well informed.

    If the proposal could have been relied on to reduce the volume of enquiries - and that was one of the arguments in its favour - it would have been welcomed by Cas. P.W.: but all experience of broadcasting pointed to a contrary result and for staff reasons alone any increase of correspondence would have been most unwelcome.

    Every aspect of the question was considered by the War Office and by the other Services and the proposal was finally negatived.


  15. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD


    Throughout the course of the War, Cas. P.W. was constantly being called upon to carry out additional duties, many of a non-casualty nature, with a staff position that frequently failed to measure up either to the authorised establishment or to the volume of the work.

    With much of the work urgency was of paramount importance and where machine methods could not be applied “short cuts” and even risks had to be taken to avoid a breakdown.

    It should be explained that of the enormous amount of information reaching the Branch form abroad, much was in duplicate or had already been received in some other form, while other information was so delayed as to have been reduced in value appreciably.

    With a relatively small staff the problem was nearly always one of priorities.

    Geneva’s cables were given first priority although there were times when enemy official lists sent direct to London by the Berlin Bureau in a mutual but unofficial exchange of documents arranged to speed up the service were in advance of the telegrams.

    Since Geneva’s agreement was to cable all new information, it should have been possible to regard the enemy official lists as providing only confirmation of capture and, for correspondence and parcel purposes, the necessary P.W. registered numbers and camp addresses. But quite often there were mistakes in the cables and the lists had therefore an urgency second only to the telegrams. Three copies of the lists were received, one via Geneva, one via the Protecting Power and one direct from Berlin by Prisoners of War mail. Unfortunately they were not necessarily carbon or photocopies, and a check had to be made of each before accepting one as a working copy.

    Each individual on a telegram or list had first to be checked against the Missing list and/or the Prisoners of War index. This was a relatively slow process but failure to identify a Prisoner of War or alternatively failure to identify him correctly might have had such serious results that invariably time and care had to be devoted to this process before action was taken.

    Identification was a skilled as well as a tiring job and the team of clerks who carried out this work were mostly young and energetic.

    The difficulties will be appreciated when it is realised that under the Geneva Convention a Prisoner need only give his name and regiment - details very often quite insufficient for the purpose of identification.

    In practice Prisoners generally gave more information but the details were frequently mutilated in transcription, or there were omissions of essential facts. Again, members of other Services or Dominion soldiers with regimental numbers similar to those of the British Army were reported merely as British. An additional burden, although no doubt a compliment to the work of the Branch, was the elucidation at the request of Geneva of all doubtful identities.

    When all means of identification failed lists of names were compiled and were submitted to Record Offices for further tracing.

    At the same time enquiries would be pursued through Geneva for further details, a slow and most uncertain process. Telegrams and lists were regarded as “cleared” only after all names had been identified and disposed of.

    Unofficial information was dealt with on somewhat similar lines, care being taken to discriminate between what the Department considered to be acceptable and what could be accepted only subject to official confirmation.

    Along with this mass of information came hospital lists, lists of men who had appeared before mixed medical commissions indicating those who had passed and those who had failed and ultimately of those who were to be repatriated, together with thousands of censorship extracts from Prisoners of War letters.

    With the staff difficulties experienced in London no completely rigid system could possibly have been applied to this work and relative importance and urgency had to be deciding factors. By the application of machine methods and the elimination of all unnecessary work, the shortage of labour was to a certain extent offset. Constant vigilance was however necessary on the part of the supervising staff to ensure that despite the short cuts and the shifts the situation as a whole was never allowed to get out of hand.


    P6370562.JPG P6370563.JPG
  16. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD


    Our relationship with D.P.W. was very close, and few Prisoners of War problems were settled without mutual discussion and agreement.

    The first and probably most important agreement defined the respective spheres of the Directorate and of Cas. P.W. While the Directorate dealt with all questions arising out of the treatment of British Prisoners of War in enemy hands, including the interpretation of the Geneva Convention, correspondences with next-of-kin on matters of treatment affecting individual Prisoners of War, became there responsibility of Cas. P.W.

    While this agreement was probably correct and in practice worked admirably, its affect was to increase considerably the load particularly of non-casualty work on Cas. P.W.

    Enquiries or complaints about the treatment of Prisoners of War presented a difficult problem, partly because they covered such a wide field and partly, in the more serious cases, because of the delay inevitable antecedent to remedy or even explanation.

    Always the subject had first to be identified before an enquiry could be acknowledged as proper to the Department. In addition, where complaints were involved the circumstances had to be investigated and, if the facts were established, action considered.

    Simple enquiries regarding the rights of Prisoners of War under the Geneva Convention and covering such matters as camp addresses, method and frequency of writing or complaints about postal delays, etc., were answered without reference to the Directorate. Camp conditions too were retailed in the light of the most recent report regarding the camp by representatives of the Protecting Power or of the International Red Cross Committee. But when brutalities against British Prisoners of War were alleged as for instance when the Germans manacled certain Prisoners, or when the Japanese executed certain of our men, the replies to enquiries from next-of-kin were drafted by or were agreed with D.P.W.

    In regard to general causes of complaint in which Dominion or Indian Prisoners of War were equally involved with British Prisoners of War, any action to be taken and/or statement to be issued was generally made the subject of prior agreement by Sub-Committee ‘A’ of the Imperial Prisoners of War Committee presided over by D.P.W. and on which Cas. P.W. was represented.

    At the special request of the Directorate, complaints and enquiries about the treatment of Prisoners of War made personally by next-of-kin or by voluntary bodies were dealt with by the Branch’s interviewing staff in the Enquiry Room in the same way as enquiries regarding casualties. The interviewing staff had access to the Camp Reports submitted by the Protecting Power and the International Red Cross Committee, and could if necessary get information and advice from the Directorate.

    Although hardly definable as casualty work and largely proper to D.P.W. the training and experience of the interviewing staff both in identifying the subject of an enquiry - a necessary preliminary - and in handling members of the Public was such as probably to render them much more suitable for the work than members of D.P.W’s staff.

    Since complaints or protests regarding the ill-treatment of British Prisoners of War by the enemy were passed by D.P.W. to the Foreign Office for action, generally through diplomatic channels, official enquiries or complaints regarding documentation generally, although the responsibility of Cas. P.W. were, for convenience, canalised through the Directorate.

    The close connection between the Directorate and Cas. P.W. was to our mutual advantage. Through our correspondence with next-of-kin and with voluntary bodies concerned with Prisoners of War and our scrutiny of censorship extracts, no less than as a result of our direct contacts with next-of-kin and others in our busy Casualty Enquiry Room, we were able to judge very fairly at any time the reaction of the Public to the steps taken by the authorities in Prisoner of War matters, an invaluable safeguard against possible social as well as of political repercussions.

    On the other hand the staff of D.P.W. less encumbered than ourselves with a mass of routine duties was able to devote itself almost wholly to the problems of the treatment of Prisoners of War and to take, without delay, whatever action seemed best suited to the particular situation.

    It would be an exaggeration to say that all next-of-kin regarded the Department’s handling of Prisoners of War questions as adequate, and there was considerable political pressure by associations action on behalf of next-of-kin, varying from Parliamentary Questions on individual cases to general indictments of the Government’s policy on Prisoners of War.

    Newspaper publicity and unfavourable Press comment upon Prisoners of War affairs also affected public morale considerably.

    Concerted action between the Directorate, other interested Branches of the War Office and Cas. P.W. had consequently to be taken from time to time to explain to the Public (many intimately concerned as relatives of Prisoners of War) remedies tried against ill-treatment of Prisoners of War and the factors limiting their effectiveness.

    Action taken varied from the issue of a simple Press hand-out to the calling of a Press conference with a statement by a War Office spokesman, or even a statement in Parliament by the Foreign Secretary. Sometimes broadcasting was resorted to, but although frequently advocated, proved dissociable, from certain disadvantages.


    P6370564.JPG P6370565.JPG
  17. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD


    While the main outside contact was with the Prisoners of War Directorate, next in order of importance came M.I.9.

    In the early stages of the War that Branch made arrangements to maintain its own Prisoners of War index. The difficulties and cost of such a proceeding were pointed out and ultimately the project was abandoned. In compensation special facilities were however granted to M.I.9. to use the Cas. P.W. Index and all M.I.0. enquiries were dealt with “on demand”.

    M.I.9’s value to the Branch lay in its many contacts with the underground movement in Europe and in its means of getting information to and from the Prisoner of War camps. Escapers and repatriated Prisoners of War from all three Services and the Dominions were interrogated by M.I.9. and it was arranged that if any had casualty information to disclose they would be asked to make a statement, or would themselves be passed to Cas. P.W. for further interrogation.

    The proforma each repatriate was asked to complete had a section relating to casualties and, to assist the ex-Prisoner of War, the M.I.9. officers concerned with interrogation were furnished with copies of the current Missing list.

    While in the early part of the War much valuable information about the Missing and about the Escaped Prisoners of War reached the Branch through M.I.9., it was in connection with the interrogation of repatriated Prisoners of War that M.I.9. was most useful. Both in the Middle and Far East and in India as well as on vessels carrying repatriated Prisoners of War home representatives of M.I.9., at the request of Cas. P.W., interviewed the men and forwarded any information obtained with gratifying promptness.

    Thousands of interrogation forms thus received were examined by the Branch, many hundreds of ex-Prisoners of War sent by M.I.9. were interrogated personally and most valuable results so secured.

    Although the services of M.I.9. in connection with repatriation were invaluable, it was found necessary to sent representatives of Cas. P.W. both to Italy and Germany. Much of the confusion which attended the examination and documentation of the repatriated Prisoners of War in the Far East would undoubtedly have been avoided had it been possible to send representatives of the Branch there also.


  18. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD


    Because of the wide variation in the origin and nature of reports concerning Prisoners of War, it was never possible, as with other casualties, to issue hard and fast routine instructions on procedure to Officers i/c Records. Each report had to be considered on its merits and the Record Office advised what action to take and what to tell the next-of-kin.

    In difficult cases, particularly where requests for further information were to be expected, reports and any necessary explanation were despatched direct to next-of-kin by the Branch, copies of such communications being sent at the same time to Officer i/c Records.

    Enquiries by next-of-kin, or by Societies concerned with the welfare of Prisoners of War, to Record Offices for information on subjects such as camp conditions, treatment and repatriation, were likewise diverted to the Branch for action.

    In later stages of the War, chiefly to speed up the service but also because the Prisoner of War situation had become so fluid, it was necessary to centralise the bulk of the notifications in the Branch and to provide the Officers i/c Records with a copy of any communication despatched to the next-of-kin.

    As with other casualties, it was the practice to require Officers i/c Records to submit Army Form W.3016 and thus to confirm that correct action and been taken in each case. After the first notification, submission of Army Form W.3016 was requested only when the information affecting the casualty was relatively important. Action taken on “camp changes” which comprised the bulk of the Prisoners of War information was confirmed by means of a simple signature on the relative list. A reminder system was operated as a safeguard against losses of lists in transit and as a check on delay by Record Offices in notification.

    The closest personal contact was maintained with Record Offices and many officers in charge and their Casualty Wing officers attended at the Branch for instruction in our methods and procedure.

    Having regard to the staff difficulties in Record Offices, the variations in the incidence of their work and the delays to lists and correspondence due to deterioration in postal services, the system with the necessary modifications introduced by the Branch can be said to have worked on the whole reasonably well.

    Societies for the relief of Prisoners of War were however generally critical of the part played by Record Offices and but for the modifications referred to representations would probably have been much stronger.

    It is for consideration however whether in any future war, Prisoners of War recording and the notification of next-of-kin should not be completely centralised at Headquarters and the work removed from Record Offices.

    The advantage of centralisation are these:-

    (a ) The service would be accelerated. A minimum of 24 hours was lost between Cas. P.W. and the Record Office, and delays of the order of a week in notification were not uncommon.
    (b ) Duplication of records as between Cas. P.W. and Record Offices would be substantially reduced. Work of preparing and submitting Army Form W.3016 would be avoided.
    (c ) It would be possible to devise a uniform and probably more informative system of notification. It has hitherto been found impracticable to keep Officers i/c Records informed of the constantly changing Prisoner of War situation.
    (d ) The War Office would be in line with the British Red Cross Society and a speedier interchange of information on such subjects as next-of-kin, changes of address, etc., would result.
    (e ) Enquiries and complaints by next-of-kin would receive earlier attention; moreover the criticism that too many people are concerned with Prisoner of War affairs would largely be met.
    (f ) If the notification of all casualties could be centralised, appreciable all-round saving in staff would result.


    P6370567.JPG P6370568.JPG
  19. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD


    Close relations both as regards outgoing and incoming information were maintained with Censorship. Cas. P.W. took over from D.P.W. the examination of the extracts made by Censorship from letters written by Prisoners of War.

    Action taken varies with the circumstances. Some letters disclosed instances of ill-treatment; these were investigated and if considered desirable were passed to D.P.W. to pursue enquiries through the Protecting Power. Other letters disclosed unrecorded instances of accident or illness or even death. Such incidents were investigated and explanation or confirmation sought through the Protecting Power. Letters asking for divorce proceedings to be started were passed to the appropriate Branches. Suitable action was taken where the letters referred to irregularities in connection with recognition of rank or protected status, or where mention was made of appearance before a mixed medical commission. In the opposite direction outgoing letters likely to affect the morale of Prisoners of War were considered and action in conjunction with D.P.W. taken.

    Censorship of Far Eastern letters and postcards were responsible for the discovery of a considerable percentage of those still officially recorded as Missing.

    The failure of the Japanese Government to notify the names of many British Prisoners of War was one of the most unsatisfactory features of the Far Eastern war. Since the information was vital to next-of-kin, scrutiny of such correspondence had to be done at speed.

    Much telegraphic and postal correspondence took place between the Branch and the International Red Cross Committee and special arrangements were made to reduce delay in censorship to the minimum. Telegraphic enquiries for Missing personnel submitted by the British Red Cross Society, Missing Department, were accepted by Censorship only if authenticated by Cas. P.W.

    A further arrangement which saved much time and incidentally ensured that casualty information circulated correctly, was the forwarding of International Red Cross mail without censorship direct to Cas. P.W. where it was sorted, official letters being forwarded to the appropriate Departments and unofficial correspondence to Censorship.


  20. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD


    On every aspect of documentation and enquiries Cas. P.W. was intimately associated with the International Red Cross Committee and to a lesser extent with the London delegation of that body during the whole course of the War and in this regard the value of the Committee’s services for Prisoners of War can scarcely be over-estimated.

    In building up the arrangements it was necessary not only to appreciate Geneva’s willingness to assist, but also to bear in mind the limitations which neutrality, a difficult geographical situation, and an not unlimited staff imposed.

    In the evolution of procedure, speed and accuracy in the transmission of information, with the elimination as far as possible of duplication, had to be the main considerations.

    Geneva’s position was largely that of a post office, receiving information from enemy or other sources, analysing it and separating it where necessary and finally passing it on to the appropriate allied country.

    An early claim by the National Red Cross Society to be given equality of treatment with the Department in the receipt of news regarding Prisoners of War was not accepted and instead the principle was established that all new information should go first to the Government which could then decide on its attitude toward the national body.

    As correspondence was relatively slow, many of the arrangements had to be agreed telegraphically but the opportunity was frequently taken of the visit of one of the London delegation to Geneva to explain certain points of view or to indicate difficulties not readily to be presented in the course of correspondence.

    Usually the Committee would repeat enquiries made of it to the enemy P.W.I.B. or to the camp authorities. Only occasionally could cases be dealt with personally by the delegation in the enemy country.

    As direct correspondence with the P.W.I.B is expressly provided for in the Geneva Convention and as there are few, if any, security difficulties, why Geneva need to be an intermediary in those matters has never been clear. Within limits also there is no objection to individual correspondence direct with camp leaders through the medium of the Prisoners of War post.

    It is therefore suggest that in any future war, such arrangements are made as well relieve Geneva of this heavy and unnecessary correspondence. Only the more difficult cases, including those where the personal intervention of an I.R.C.C. representative is desirable, would require to go to Geneva.

    Many of the voluntary bodies - National Red Cross Society, Y.M.C.A., etc., maintained representatives in Geneva during the war and a British liaison officer located there would have been invaluable, always provided that no danger to Swiss neutrality was involved.

    Details of the functions performed by Geneva and of the machinery constructed to meet the widely varying requirements of the situation are described in other parts of this Report.


    BarbaraWT likes this.

Share This Page