The Better Germany in War Time - Being some Facts towards Fellowship
by Harold Picton
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At Dyroetz, "the general atmosphere of the camp certainly seemed excellent, both on the part of the men and on the part of the authorities." (January, 1916.) At Blankenburg "the Commandant has now adopted the practice of taking different officer prisoners of war with him for occasional walks in the neighbouring country." "In a lazaret at Spandau," writes Mr. Jackson, "I sat alone with Captain Coulston in the good-sized, comfortably furnished room which he occupies by himself.... Recently he had had a conversation with Her Royal Highness the Princess Friedrich Leopold of Prussia, who visited the lazaret, but ordinarily he had little opportunity to talk, as he speaks only a few words of German, French, or Russian. On my speaking of this, I was told that an effort would be made to have English-speaking German officers call on him from time to time."


Attention is again drawn to the excellent work of Prof. Stange at Goettingen. "He has an office in the camp at which he is present for two hours every day, during which time he can be consulted by any prisoner, and has formed classes of study, which are well attended." At Giessen, too, "Prof. Gmelin of the local university has taken a great interest in the prisoners and visits them regularly with a view to providing for their instruction."


The following is important and I quote it in full. Mr. Osborne to Mr. Gerard. (February 23, 1916) (l.c. p. 62.):

In accordance with your instructions and with reference to the article in the London Times of February 7, stating the report of an exchanged British prisoner of war that two British prisoners at the detention camp at Guestrow, in Mecklenburg, had been bayonetted for smoking in a forbidden vicinity, and that one had died and the other was still in hospital, I have the honour to inform you that I visited the camp at Guestrow on February 12, 1916. I did not notify the camp authorities of my arrival. I was shown every courtesy and received every facility for speaking to the British prisoners out of earshot of the Germans. I talked with a large number of British non-commissioned officers and with some of the men, and all were unanimous on two points; first, that if such an occurrence as the one mentioned had taken place, they would certainly have heard of it; and, second, that they had heard of no such occurrence. I visited the lazaret, through which I was taken by a British N.C.O., who is an assistant in caring for the sick, and spoke to every British patient under treatment there, not one of whom could possibly have been suffering from a bayonet wound. It seems to me quite out of the question that the occurrence mentioned in the English newspaper accounts could have actually taken place at Guestrow.

In point of fact, instead of complaints at Guestrow, I heard rather praise of the camp from the British interned there, and praise of the British prisoners from the camp authorities. The men were all well fitted out with clothes of all sorts, and seemed particularly cheerful. The authorities stated that it had never been necessary, in recent times at least, to place a British prisoner under arrest. On the whole, the camp struck me as being as nearly ideal as it is possible for a place of detention of this kind to be.

The discrepancy between the last sentence in Mr. Osborne's report and the Times article is a striking one. It should give one pause in placing too much reliance upon untested accusations, or upon newspaper articles based upon them. We forget sometimes that all the bias is against an enemy, and the only stories likely to be free from exaggeration are those told in his favour.


In the military prison at Cologne (Miscel. 16 [1916] p. 67), "the prisoners receive the same food and the same general treatment as the German military prisoners, with whom they are permitted to talk.... The prisoners are not permitted to receive food from outside sources.... Generally speaking the conditions do not differ materially from those in an ordinary working camp.... Corporal B. was found guilty of lack of respect to his British superior, Corporal J. was punished for striking the French non-commissioned officer in charge of his barrack, and Corporals O. and S. had trouble with the German Landsturmmann in charge of a cooking party...." Most of the sentences were for striking work at various work centres, the men sentenced stating that the conditions were bad. There was a special complaint against the railway work at Langen-Halbach b/Haiger, but not all the British joined in the strike. "I saw the men's midday meal, consisting of a thick porridge which appeared to be nutritious. One man claimed that it was thicker to-day than usual, but several of his comrades contradicted this flatly. No complaints were made to me of any rough treatment in the Gefaengnis [prison]."


The Venerable Archdeacon Wm. E. Nies, who had been given permission to visit British prisoners of war in Bavaria, writes: "I think it is only fair to comment favourably upon the friendly way in which my mission to the men is received and furthered by the commanders without exception thus far."


Of Germersheim hospitals we read: "The food served in these hospitals is exceptionally satisfactory. Dr. Algeron, the chief surgeon in charge, a broad-minded man and indefatigable worker, attends personally to the catering.... Under this regime there have been some noteworthy increases in weight...."

At Bayreuth a private of the Black Watch had been "removed—for the purpose of electrical treatment of his arm by which it is hoped to avoid an operation—to the military lazaret in the city, which is an admirably equipped modern hospital."


We pass now to reports in Miscel. No. 26 (1916). Indian prisoners of war at Wuensdorf (Zossen) find their treatment "very good." At Crefeld officers' camp, "the walks on parole ... have been entirely successful.... The only complaint as to these was that the German accompanying the party was a non-commissioned instead of a regular officer. This will, however, be rectified at once.... There is no trouble of any kind with the inhabitants on these.... The relations with the camp authorities are excellent." As regards the behaviour of the inhabitants, I would refer also to Chaplain O'Rorke's statement (see p. 36), though, as one would expect, the inhabitants have in some other cases behaved badly (e.g., p. 32).


At Muenster II, "The Commandment, General von Ey-Steinecke, as well as the other officers, and the general treatment, are well spoken of by the men." Some improvements suggested on March 16 were already started on the 18th. At Muenster III. the benches in the English Chapel "were provided at the expense of the camp, although the British prisoners offered to pay for them.... The camp authorities have endeavoured to arrange courses of instruction with some success, and several British are taking lessons in French.... Sergeant Middleditch, the ranking non-commissioned officer, who has taken an active part in the work of improvement, stated that the relations with the camp authorities were excellent, and that the officers showed much consideration in acceding to reasonable requests. The commandant, General Raitz von Frentz, is well spoken of by all, and shows a liberal and progressive spirit in dealing with such difficulties as arise."


From Miscel. No. 7 (1917) a few extracts may be made. Of Parchim Dr. A. E. Taylor and Mr. J. P. Webster write: "We believe that special commendation should be given to the Commandant, Oberst Kothe, for the spirit in which he governs the camp, and for the way in which he does everything in his power for the welfare of the prisoners, and for the promotion of a cordial relationship between the men and those in charge." Of Brandenburg, Mr. Jackson writes candidly: "The part of the building occupied by the British prisoners was not so clean as the remainder, but for this the men themselves are responsible." It is obvious that the spirit as to this and other matters will vary in every country among different sets of men (c.f., e.g., below the very different Guestrow report).


Men in hospital at Cottbus "said that the food was good and their treatment excellent." Men in the main camp complained that bread sent to them from Switzerland and England arrived in a mouldy condition, but "as the mouldiness seemed to start in the middle of the loaf, they thought this was due to the quality of the bread itself or the manner in which it was packed."


At Celle, where "inactive officers" and some others are detained, Mr. Jackson found one British subject absent on leave, while "several others have been permitted to make visits to their families in Germany. A request from another, who had obtained no benefit from his stay at Bad Blenhorst, for permission to go somewhere for a 'cure' is under consideration."


At the working camp at Limbau (occupied Russian territory) "the men described the commandant as a 'gentleman,' and said they had no difficulty in communicating with him in regard to their wishes. None had any complaint to make of their treatment, and only a very few spoke of the work as hard." The camp contained 500 British prisoners.

At Guestrow, "the treatment of the men and the conditions found in their camp appeared to be very favourable. The commandant stated that the British were the most satisfactory prisoners under his care...." Two million, five hundred thousand letters passed through the camp post office in the previous year, and about sixty thousand packages were distributed.


Hospital treatment is again and again described favourably in the individual reports (e.g., pp. 4, 6, 14, 22, 50, 57), but the opinion may here be cited of a Swiss doctor who has been occupied in German hospitals during most of the war:

The writer of these lines never saw anything anywhere that could be considered as intentional change for the worse in the lot of prisoners and sick; on the contrary, he was able to ascertain that the prisoners and the sick are treated in a manner that could not be more humane. If later on the food was insufficient, the English must be aware of the reasons which brought about far-reaching starvation among great circles of the population of Germany.... From deepest conviction the writer of these lines affirms that the German people and the German doctors are [generally] without guilt in the face of the accusations made against them. Individual exceptions, if proved, could not alter this judgment.


There are bad stories of men arriving half-starving at the British and French lines at the time of the general repatriations. It would require care and impartiality to sift these. The more experience one gains, the less one trusts the average newspaper report in war-time. It seems very probable that, as Erzberger contended, many prisoners made off of their own accord after the German Revolution, and the straits to which these men were reduced could scarcely be ascribed to the German authorities. That there were brutal cases of men being driven away is also quite probable. As regards the general question of prisoners, Erzberger said: "If England can now actually prove that English prisoners of war have been illegally treated, I give my word no guilty person shall go unpunished. But allow me the counter question, Is it known in enemy countries how German prisoners of war were frequently treated? I do not believe that is sufficiently well known. Only listen to our soldiers who come from France...." (Berlin, Nov., 24, 1918, Wolff.) It should be obvious that both sides must be heard before justice can decide, but the obvious is the unrecognised in war time. And probably even by the best and most impartial judgment only very rough generalisations can be arrived at. One need seems to me paramount, that each side shall become once more aware of the good in the other. Here, then, are one or two favourable facts from repatriated men: "We understand that the Germans could not let us march to the frontier, as we were prepared to do, lest we should start to plunder the inhabitants. For the same reason we were accompanied on the train by a German N.C.O. with a rifle. At night we slept in school buildings at Zevenaar (?) where we were given food and coal, and were well treated. We gave some of our food there to Sisters for the poor.... We had not to pay any fare at Wesel. The Germans on the train wished to be very friendly. We understand that the German authorities helped to make the arrangements about our taking the train at Wesel. No special compartments were put on for us. We travelled with the ordinary passengers." (Daily News, November 25, 1918.)


The first contingent of British prisoners from Germany to arrive in London under the terms of the armistice reached Cannon Street Station from Dover yesterday. The party, numbering nearly 300, were provided with hot refreshments on arrival. The men looked remarkably fit, and one of the party explained that they had mostly been working on the railways behind the lines, and their treatment had been fairly good.

Another contingent of returned prisoners, numbering about 800, arrived at Dover yesterday afternoon.

(Daily News, Nov. 21, 1918.)

The Daily News has honourably distinguished itself by publishing favourable articles by repatriated prisoners. An officer writes:

Three days ago I arrived in England after having spent eight months in a German prison camp. We were among the first repatriated prisoners of war to come through Switzerland, and were secretly amused at the attitude of friends and relatives on our arrival home. They seemed to be quite surprised because most of us were looking healthy and fit, and were not walking skeletons or physical wrecks.

But after reading the home newspapers, we understood their point of view. I do not for one moment suggest that these tales of inhuman treatment are untrue or exaggerated, because I know many cases which confirm them;[11] but I do say that this horrible treatment has not been general, nor does it apply to all prisoners of war. For this reason I am writing of what I know of the prisoners in Baden, in Southern Germany, and I hope that this article may allay the anxiety of those who are daily expecting some dear one home, and who fear that he will be terribly changed through suffering.

Men behind the lines had suffered far more, this officer considered. This is somewhat at variance with the extract last cited. The writer continues:

But the lot of the prisoners in the permanent camps in Baden was much brighter. My authority for saying so is an old Roman Catholic priest, Father Nugent, a native of Lancashire, I believe, who was in Southern Germany when the war broke out. He had free access to all prison camps and hospitals in Baden, and had no stories of harsh and brutal treatment to tell. Two American doctors were allowed to visit the hospitals in Rastatt, Lazaret 4, and the Russenlager Hospital. They said that the patients were comfortable and well looked after, in spite of the great shortage of medical supplies in Germany.

Some of the soldiers had a good time working on the Baden farms. One orderly at our camp, who was away for a fortnight in the fruit season, picking plums, told me that he had met one of his old regiment working on a farm. This man had just driven in to the railway station for the Red Cross parcels, and told him that they were working with an old German and his wife. They shared rations with each other, and once a week the whole household visited the cinema.

Delay in repatriation occurred owing to disorganisation.

But there is no ill feeling towards the prisoners in Baden. After the armistice we wandered at will round Freiburg and in the Black Forest; and everyone was treated with civility. There were no cases of open hostility at all.

(Daily News, Dec. 18, 1918.)

Mr. G. G. Desmond volunteered at the age of 46. He was taken prisoner and gave (Daily News, Dec. 10, 1918) some account of his general outlook after his imprisonment. Unlike some of the stay-at-homes he can still believe in the German people, as the following concluding paragraphs of his article show:

The soldiers and the country people round Duelmen, and afterwards everybody we met in those parts, expressed no sense of rancour at their defeat, and simply leapt over it all to the prime, joyful fact that the Krieg was fertig. Everybody greeted you with that, and covered his face with smiles thereby. Some said that the terms were very hard, but agreed with me when I told them that they were made hard in order to defeat thoroughly the old gang and ensure a lasting peace. I wish I felt as certain now as then that the Allies had that clean intention. One farmer chuckled when he told me that Germany must give up a hundred and fifty U-boats, because, he said, she had no such number.

One of the political parties, I am afraid I cannot remember which, published a manifesto stating that Germany had been deceived and betrayed by the military party, whereby among other things she inflicted great wrongs on Belgium and the Allies, and that she must pay in full for those wrongs. I do not doubt that is a widespread feeling in Germany. If, however, the terms of peace are to be vindictive, we shall in turn be in the wrong, and the new Germany may have better cause than the old to hate us.

When we were fighting the Kaiser, we took pains to tell the German people that we were fighting their battle against their enemies. We were, in fact, liberating the traditional distressed damsel from the clutches of the ogre. It was a pity that so many of our blows fell upon the damsel and not on the ogre. It would be not only a pity but a crime and a grievous blunder if, now that the damsel is free, we proceeded to thrash her for the faults of the ogre.

The Germans, apart from their late Government, are not Orientals intent upon deceiving us at every turn. They say they have turned over a new leaf, and I am thoroughly persuaded that they speak the truth. In business of all kinds, under circumstances that made it very easy for them to have cheated me, I found them, during my stay at Duelmen, the straightest people I ever had anything to do with. They think the same of us. Feldwebels and others who have had to do with us both assured me that they much preferred the British to any other class of prisoner, because we are blunt and true, say what we mean, and stick to what we say. Certainly the Germans are the most English of the great peoples on the Continent.


Our survey of the reliable evidence at present available seems to me to prove that there has usually been a serious effort in Germany to treat military prisoners well. This does not imply that their lot is otherwise than hard, and the prolongation of the imprisonment adds terribly to the hardship. It is impossible to banish from one's mind such horrors as those of Wittenberg, but it is quite plain that these were very far from typical. When militarism goes wrong, it goes very wrong. If we consider the special German difficulties with regard to prisoners, and the special dangers of the militarist state, we may, I think, conclude a very fair standard of humanity amongst the German people from the fact that in so large a proportion of cases treatment has been reasonable and in many even excellent.

I have no wish to arouse any resentment, and in case this conclusion should do so, I quote here a further neutral opinion, that of a well-known Norwegian, M. T. E. Steen, who had been allowed to visit prisoners' camps in Britain, France, and Germany. M. Steen gave a lecture at the Queen's (Small) Hall on July 15, 1915, under the auspices of the British Red Cross Society. Sir Louis Mallet presided. According to the Daily Telegraph report, "M. Steen spoke favourably to the conditions prevailing at the various internment camps he visited in Germany, and expressed the hope that his remarks would remove misgivings and allay anxiety. The general impression which the camps made on him, he said, was 'very satisfactory.'"

We must remember, too, that in Germany also all kinds of rumours and statements have circulated with regard to the treatment of prisoners and wounded by us and our Allies (cf. pp. 2, 32, 38, and 80). Such rumours and exaggerations are apparently a part of war. On the other side they have not made for a benevolent attitude, and the really large amount of interest openly shown in prisoners of war by such men as Prince Lichnowsky, Prof. Stange, Prof. Gmelin, the Goettingen Pastors, and others, is a remarkable fact. We realise this the more, when we consider that it is not easy on this side for men in prominent positions openly to show interest in German prisoners of war.


It would be interesting to compare the U.S. reports on British camps with their reports on German ones. Unfortunately any useful comparison is impossible. A collection of reports on "various internment camps in the United Kingdom" is published in White Paper No. 30 (1916), but the earliest inspection here recorded took place on February 21, 1916. As the chief difficulties everywhere occurred earlier, the earlier reports are plainly necessary for a fair comparison. "Are we as compassionate to our prisoners as our ancestors were to theirs?" wrote the Daily Chronicle on October 29, 1914, and added "From accounts that have reached us of the conditions that prevail at some of our concentration camps, we fear not." Moreover, in these later reports it is difficult to know the exact meaning of such remarks as the following, unless we have the earlier reports: "They seemed much happier and more contented than at the time of my former visit...." (Officers' Camp, Holyport). "There has been no change in the sleeping accommodations since the last report, but as the number of the prisoners is much less than it was at that time, there is much more room...." (Dorchester.)

"The general tone of the hospital seemed to be much happier than at the time of my last visit." (Dartford, Lower Southern Hospital for wounded prisoners of war.)

"There has been no change in the sleeping accommodation since the last visit, except that, owing to the smaller number of men, there is now more room than before.... The men seemed much happier and more contented than at the time of our last visit." (Officers' camp, Donington Hall.)

The last quotation recalls the once famous charges as to the excessive luxury of Donington Hall. In every country the same kind of protest arises as to the luxurious treatment of prisoners, and this is declared a scandal in view of the inhuman policy of the enemy. In every country is to be found the type of patriot who feels that all is lost if it can be proved that he has treated an enemy too well. The hubbub about Donington Hall led to the appointment of a Commons delegation to visit various camps, and to a report in the Times (April 26, 1915). In this report the Hall is described as "a large, bare house situated in a hollow.... The style of furnishing was that of a sergeant's mess." There was one piano, provided at the prisoners' expense. The billiard tables and other accessories imagined by perfervid patriots vanish into thin air.

Dyffryn Aled Officers' camp in North Wales is described in the same account as "an inaccessible, gloomy, mildewed-looking house, with all the windows on the front side covered with iron bars. It was previously used as a private lunatic asylum. The kitchen seemed about the best room in the house.... There are no fixed baths, but the officers' valets carry hot water from the kitchen for hip baths." As regards the site of Dyffryn Aled it is only fair to quote the U.S. report: "The situation of the house, in a romantic valley among the Welsh mountains, is fine and healthy." But even in April, 1916, the bathing arrangements remained primitive: "Each officer has his tin tub." One would certainly not wish to make any hardship of this, yet it is perhaps as well to recall the U.S. reports on Friedberg and Crefeld in May and April, 1915, respectively. "The room containing the shower-nozzles would ... do credit to a club or hotel of the first class." (See p. 23.) At Crefeld: "The bathroom which I saw has a floor space of about 1,500 square feet, one-half of which, drained in the centre, lies under some 20 shower nozzles. There are a couple of porcelain tubs in the other half, and in the centre there is a large stove. Hot and cold water is available. The British officers were enthusiastic in their praise of this room." (P. 13.)


The "Stobsiad," the magazine of the prisoners' camp at Stobs, Scotland, contains in its seventeenth number (Jan., 1918) a friendly thought for the interned "enemy" in Germany. The Y.M.C.A. and the Friends tell them of the ever-increasing need of the interned Englishmen for English books. "Would it not be possible," the paragraph proceeds, "for our German readers to place English books that they could part with at the disposal of the English prisoners of war, just as here German books have been placed at our disposal. Dr. Elisabeth Rotten's Committee (Berlin, No. 24, Monbijou-Platz 3) will gladly give further information. It would give us pleasure if many of our readers would fulfil this wish."


"There has been some trouble with correspondence," we read (Times, l.c.). The Commandant of one camp, while censoring a prisoner's correspondence, came across a statement that "he slept on a plank bed with a verminous mattress ... the prisoner admitted that he had written a false statement in order to induce his friends to send him more luxuries." I am reminded of a report from Zossen mentioned by the Swiss Red Cross delegate. I quote from the abstract in the Basler Nachrichten: "It appears that there is much correspondence with sympathetic ink at Zossen. A great deal of iodine, starch and condensed milk are sent to the prisoners by their friends. These materials serve for the preparation of such inks." We have heard of the use of sympathetic ink in this country. Experience suggests that complaints made by these methods are not to be relied on. The man who likes to tell a tall story is not very infrequent, either amongst civilians or soldiers, and if he can gain notoriety or advantage thereby, the temptation is considerable. Let these be obtained at the expense of the enemy, and the temptation is greater still. Some German girls were being taken back to Germany. An officer asked a girl what kind of a time she had in England. "Oh, dreadful," she replied at first. It was the way to gain kudos. But generosity came to her rescue, she repented and corrected herself: "No, perfectly lovely," she said, "everyone was good to us."[12] There are many on both sides who would not repent, but would make capital out of their interlocutor's ignorance.


Rumours, of course, still continue. They will continue as long as passions run high. There was a rumour of smallpox at Ruhleben. The English Captain of the Camp wrote to say: "There have been no cases of smallpox since the camp was started here." There were repeated rumours that parcels were not delivered. An appeal was made to the Director of the Press Bureau by C.Q.M.S. J. R. Wheeler of the 2nd Wilts. Regt., prisoner at Goettingen. He pointed out that these rumours (apparently confirmed by postal officials) were totally unfounded. "Parcels arrive safely, and are issued to men often within a couple of hours of being received from the Post Office." The same matter is dealt with by U.S. representatives, but, as the Swiss delegate, Arthur Eugster, remarks, even neutral reports are in these days distrusted. In fact, often it is only what seems to confirm the worst suspicions that is believed. Mr. Wheeler points out that "the packing of parcels leaves much to be desired; in many cases a cake is put in a cardboard box and lightly wrapped up in brown paper," a statement that is important in view of the common opinion that British parcels were specially maltreated. The idea of differential treatment had indeed become an obsession. An example of the extraordinary nonsense that is believed is the story that "on the hospital ship, Oxfordshire, on March 19, sixty wounded British soldiers, the majority of them from the Black Watch and 6th Gordon regiments, were taken out of their cots to make room for sixty Germans ... and that, in addition, the Germans were supplied with fresh eggs and bread, while the British wounded soldiers had only biscuits." All this was the subject of a grave question in Parliament. The story was, of course, without foundation, but, according to Mr. Tennant himself, "it had obtained widespread credence." Marvellous indeed is the credulity of war-time.


How far hatred is due to want of knowledge the record of prisoner farm workers on this side proves:

As to the German prisoners, it took both the farmers and the townspeople in the places where they are quartered, and from which they are often motored to the farms, some little time to overcome the widespread prejudice against their employment. But, after a little acquaintance with them, this prejudice appears to be dying down.

"They are one of our mainstays on the farms in West Sussex," Mr. Herbert Padwick, chairman of the West Sussex War Agricultural Committee, and vice-president of the Farmers' Union, told me. "Some of them," he said, "are themselves farmers, and the sons of farmers. Their work looks slow, but in the end, as a rule, we find it very thorough. They used to say, perhaps chaffingly, they wanted to produce the best crop we have ever had in England, because they were sure the Germans would take it. No doubt they really thought it at one time, but they are not, I think, under this illusion any longer."

Daily News, Aug. 20, 1918.

Most of us have heard favourable comments from farmers and others as to the work of their German helpers. "I think they've done jolly well, and they deserve some encouragement," said one man to me. The idea that all Germans are "Huns" vanishes on personal acquaintance. On the other side prejudices similarly vanish, and I remember seeing an account of how a German farmer took his prisoner helpers for a picnic. Evidently he was allowed considerable freedom with them. There were German Press protests against the picnic.

From the Daily News of September 28, 1918, I take the following:

Here is a "gleaning" worth setting beside those which "Kuklos" gave us yesterday. A West-country farmer of my acquaintance has a brother who is a prisoner in the hands of the Germans at a place not far from Stettin. Recently a number of German prisoners were sent to work on his farm, and among them was a German farmer from that very place. The German told him that he had English prisoners on his own fields in the Fatherland, so that quite possibly this curious exchange may be complete.

It may be mentioned, incidentally, that the English prisoner speaks well of his treatment in Germany. The German, for his part, assured my friend that while his prisoner-hands were not receiving excellent cider, like that which he himself was now allowed, they had plenty of good beer during the harvest.

I have often thought that a widespread distribution of prisoner workers throughout each belligerent country might do more than anything else to allay mutual misunderstanding. In all wars the tendency is to regard the enemies as terrible beings, scarcely even of human shape. To a considerable extent this is due to the fact that all the horror of war is attributed by civilians to the enemy. The soldiers of course know better. But when the civilian finds enemy prisoners good fellows to work with, he cannot often resist the proof of our common humanity. A village girl was telling me lately how the feelings of many had altered since German prisoners had been in the neighbourhood, and especially marked had been the effect upon those who had actually worked with them. "So you've changed your mind about them," she said to a friend who worked with prisoners, and the friend had the courage to answer quite simply: "Yes, I have." If we all have the courage to change our minds, the peace that comes will be real.


There is often so much similarity in the complaints made on both sides that the sufferings would seem to be very similar. I happened once, in a private hotel, to get into conversation with some German women who had been taken prisoner in East Africa. They were scarcely "military prisoners," but they were taken prisoner in the ordinary operations of war. With the women were three children. A young baby was wizened and pitiable, a little boy of between three and four had evidently had his whole body covered with boils or abscesses, a little girl of perhaps five would have been a charming little creature, but for a large abscess on her forehead and big swellings under the eyes. I asked how it was the children were in this condition. The Belgians, by whom these women were originally taken prisoner, would not, I was told, supply any milk for the children. It may be said that the Belgian officials should be consulted on this point, and I am well aware that prisoners' statements need corroboration. Do we, however, apply this rule in other cases? Are we careful to investigate newspaper reports of the statements of prisoners who have been in German hands, and should we suggest that the evidence of German officials should also be taken? The women struck me as singularly quiet, and unhysterical, and I must add, fair-minded. There were officials at times, they said, who were more humane, and provided milk on the quiet. Did they make any protests, I asked. "At first we did," they answered, "but we were always told 'You are prisoners, and have nothing to say.'" The condition of the children certainly suggested that they had suffered severely from malnutrition. This may indeed have been unavoidable, and not the fault of any one. I had a little further chat with one of the group, a very quiet woman, whose rather drawn, set face showed that she had passed through hard times. It was a little pathetic to me to note how sincerely she was convinced of the superior virtues of her side. "In the earlier days of the war when we had English prisoners," she said, "they were always well fed, even though we went short. Our Commandant always made a point of seeing that they were well provided for." There was in the quiet, rather weary voice just a gentle shade of reproach, and that was all. I have not the slightest doubt that the woman was perfectly sincere. I made only the very obvious remark that it seemed to me there were good and bad on both sides, and that some officials behaved well, and some not well. It was a mistake to generalise and think all was ill on the other side and all was well on one's own. She saw fairness in this view, I think. There was a mutual approach, and a growing kindliness. I felt then, and feel more strongly now, that kindness cannot grow out of merely aggressive patriotism.


It seems plain that in France, Germany and Great Britain there has been an honest, if not always a very sympathetic attempt to treat prisoners decently. But we hear little about the condition of prisoners elsewhere. It is curious to note how, in spite of all the horror perpetrated repeatedly by Turkish authorities in times, not of war, but of peace, British feeling is never very indignant against the Turk; and how prisoners of war are faring in Turkey we scarcely know. Not till July, 1917, does there seem to have been any definite application for the inspection of Turkish internment camps. On July 18, 1917, an announcement appeared in the Press to the effect that, in response to a request from the British Government, the International Committee of the Red Cross at Geneva had applied to the Turkish Government for the necessary permission.

Yet here, as in all war matters, we come upon "reprisals." The following is a cutting from the Daily News of July 20, 1917:

Mr. James Hope, for the Foreign Office, stated in the Commons yesterday that five British officers had been for over three months imprisoned in Constantinople as a reprisal for the alleged imprisonment of Turkish officers in Egypt. The United States Ambassador was requested on April 25 to explain to the Porte by telegram that only one of the five Turkish officers in Egypt had been under arrest, and that for attempted escape. He regretted to say that one of the five British officers had died. They had just received a message from the Danish Minister at Constantinople stating that the four surviving officers returned to camp on July 4.

Statements about enemy reprisals are usually less frank than this. The neutral observer has usually to watch each side describing its most drastic actions as reprisals upon the other for similar deeds.


The condition of Austrian and German prisoners in Serbia has been touched upon by Dr. F. M. Dickinson Berry, Physician to the Anglo-Serbian Hospital Unit. I give the following quotations from an article by Dr. Berry in the Nation of August 21, 1915.

"There is no doubt that the prisoners suffered badly during the winter.... Typhus decimated them earlier and more universally, probably owing to the way in which they were crowded together. Outside the town our prisoner pointed out a cottage adjacent to a brick-kiln, where he, with 250 men, had stayed some months without beds, blankets, or even straw to sleep on, and with the scantiest of food." But the villagers showed kindness, said the prisoner, and bestowed on them the food placed by Serbian custom on the graves of the dead. "Many of the prisoners fell sick and were taken off to the hospital. Here, too, they lay on the floor with nothing to cover them but a great-coat, if the fortunate possessors of such. Few who entered the hospital ever came back; if not ill with typhus when they came in, they were pretty safe to get it there, and they passed on to the cemetery beyond the town, where, as in so many Serbian cemeteries, however remotely situated, there is a portion covered thickly with plain wooden crosses, marking the graves of Austrian prisoners. Our informant told us that of those with him 50 per cent. had died; of eleven Italians whom he had under his charge one only survived. Asked whether they had any guards, he said no; each sergeant (he himself was one) was put in charge of fifty men, and was answerable with his life in case any should escape." There were, however, some compensations for the primitive barbarity of these arrangements. The Serbian people did not attack their prisoners, they fed them. They might have learned a less human attitude under more civilised conditions. "As we motored through the town we were amused at the number of greetings our prisoner received; he was evidently a well known and popular person. As we passed he pointed out the houses of acquaintances and other objects of interest. On one side lived a municipal official, who, finding that he held the same sort of post in Bohemia, greeted him as a colleague and used to ask him to his house. Further on was the fountain where he had come to wash his clothes in the bitter winter weather, and close by the house of the kind but match-making old lady who washed his clothes for him, and having a daughter's hand to dispose of, wished to keep him as a son-in-law."


Of what happened in Russian prison camps we have only rumours, and the usual individual statements. The old Russian regime was scarcely likely to be very efficient or very humane in its treatment of prisoners, but any one who has examined war stories will be very cautious of believing all that is told. What the "unofficial information and rumours" were may be sufficiently gathered by referring to the Cambridge Magazine of August 26, 1916, Supplement "Prisoners." It may be well to add this: in November, 1918, Erzberger, interviewed by Dr. Stollberg, of the Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, asserted that out of 250 thousand prisoners in Russia only 100 thousand remained alive.


It will help to clarify our ideas of charges of ill-treatment to remind ourselves of the following. A British officer, Lieut. Gilliland, was put in charge of the British prisoners of war captured by the Bulgarians. Mr. MacVeagh brought forward in the House of Commons various charges made against this officer by repatriated prisoners. It was said that he distributed unfairly food and clothing consigned to Irish prisoners, and that he ordered the flogging of British prisoners by their Bulgarian captors for the most trivial breaches of discipline. Mr. Macpherson, for the War Office, said prisoners repatriated from Bulgaria had made allegations against Lieut. Gilliland which were entirely opposed to information received from independent sources, especially from the U.S. Legation in Sofia, who stated that the officer had done everything possible for our men. Further inquiry was promised (Manchester Guardian, November 8, 1917). The charges of the prisoners are in this case not considered as necessarily true or unbiased. Ought not similar caution to be observed against whomsoever the charges may be made?


[Footnote 2: It is fair to add that the International Red Cross in January, 1915, visited camps at Holyport, Dyffry, Dorchester, Southend, Portsmouth, and Queensferry. They did not visit the Isle of Man, where even then about 4,600 civilians were interned, and they were evidently, if somewhat innocently, hoping for the release of civilians (First Series, p. 25). The reports are quite satisfactory as far as they go, and the delegates considered that the prisoners, and especially the military prisoners (surtout les militaires), were treated well. The feeding is, however, criticised rather adversely in the case of Portsmouth (both military and civilian) and at Queensferry (civilian). (La nourriture est elle bien ce qu'elle doit etre?) Removal from boats at Southend to terra firma is recommended. The eternal soup, which seems to have been the lot of prisoners in all countries, must become fearfully wearisome. The preserved fish, etc., of later days may become even more trying.]

[Footnote 3: Bishop Bury (My Visit to Ruhleben) writes: "Again I was conscious of just the same spirit of privation—extraordinarily pathetic it was—about people and places...." (p. 79) It is to be feared that some who "profess and call themselves Christians" can see nothing pathetic in the sufferings of an enemy people.]

[Footnote 4: Comite International de la Croix Rouge, Premiere Serie.]

[Footnote 5: The number of prisoners now (October, 1917) in Germany is probably nearly three times as great.]

[Footnote 6: Comite International Rapports (Premiere Serie, p. 31).]

[Footnote 7: l.c., p. 60.]

[Footnote 8: Reporting on March 9, 1916, Mr. Jackson wrote that, though, "owing to its situation and character," it could never be made "an entirely satisfactory camp," yet "there had been a marked improvement in its general 'atmosphere.'" (Misc. 16 [1916].)]

[Footnote 9: Dr. Ella Scarlett-Synge (M.D., D.P.H.) visited this camp on December 17, 1915. She reports: "The prisoners of war are housed in well-built, well-drained barracks having excellent ventilation. Each man has an iron bedstead with two blankets (or a thick quilt), a straw mattress, good pillow and sheet...."]

[Footnote 10: These indulgences can also be paralleled on this side. A writer from a British internment camp says, during "a great sports week": "There are already a lot in hospital with broken legs and arms."]

[Footnote 11: It is astounding how extremely rare are responsible accounts of the worser ill-deeds by those who have actually suffered them. These stories have almost always been heard from someone else. (Cf. pp. 156, 157.)]

[Footnote 12: "The Common Cause." October 16, 1914.]




A few extracts from Dr. J. M. Spaight's important work, "War Rights on Land," will be useful as an introduction to this section. "Resident enemy nationals," runs Dr. Spaight's marginal summary, "are not interfered with" (l.c., p. 28). The text proceeds: "The treatment of resident enemy nationals has undergone a great change for the better in modern times. Ancient theory and practice regarded them as enemies, individually, and admitted the right to arrest and imprison them. The last instance of this rigorous rule being put in force is Napoleon's detention of British subjects who happened to be in France when war broke out in 1803. Present usage allows enemy nationals to depart freely, even when they belong to the armed forces of the other belligerent." The State has the right to detain such subjects, but usage is against it. Again, "'Present usage,' says Professor LeFur, 'does not admit of the expulsion en masse of enemy subjects resident in a belligerent's territory, save when the needs of defence demand such expulsion....' The bad precedent set by the Confederate Government in 1861, when it ordered the banishment of all alien enemies, has not been followed in subsequent wars. France and Germany allowed enemy subjects to continue to reside in their respective territories during the war of 1870-1, but the former country was led by military exigencies to rescind the general privilege so far as Paris and the Department of the Seine were concerned, at the end of August, 1870. A Proclamation was then issued by General Trochu which enjoined 'every person not a naturalised Frenchman and belonging to one of the countries at war with France' to depart within three days, under penalty of arrest and trial in the event of disobedience. The incident is instructive as showing usage [viz., non-interference with resident enemy nationals] in the making; for though there were 35,000 in Paris alone, and their expulsion was clearly justifiable as a measure of defence, the general opinion in Europe was that they were harshly treated, and a sum of 100 million francs was claimed, as part of the war indemnity, in respect of the losses they sustained in being driven out. It shows, as Hall observed, that public opinion 'was already ripe for the establishment of a distinct rule allowing such persons to remain during good behaviour' (Hall, International Law, p. 392). The usage has been strengthened by the precedents set in the Russo-Turkish War in 1877-8, the Chino-Japanese War of 1894, and the Russo-Japanese War, in all of which enemy residents were suffered to remain."


How did it come about that this more humane usage was in the present war departed from? The average Englishman, I fear, assumes that all the blame is in this case due to the enemy. The following correspondence should make the matter clearer. [See Miscel. Nos. 7, 8 (1915).]

Memorandum communicated by American Embassy,

October 17, 1914.

The American Embassy has the honour to submit the following copy of a telegram which has just been received from the Secretary of State at Washington relating to civilian prisoners in the United Kingdom and Germany:

There are a very few English civilians in Germany who have been placed in prison or in prison camps—about 300. The German Government is informed that a great number of German civilian prisoners—over 6,000—are in prison camps in England. Department is requested by Ambassador, Berlin, to suggest that liberty, so far as possible, be allowed alien enemies detained by war.

Mr. Page, United States Ambassador in London, to Sir Edward Grey. (Received Oct. 31.) American Embassy, London, October 30, 1914.

Sir,—I have the honour to transmit herewith enclosed the attached copy of an open telegram I have received from the Minister at Copenhagen relating to reports on the imprisonment of German subjects in England.

Inasmuch as the Minister at Copenhagen has dispatched this to the Secretary of State at Washington, it seems probable that I shall receive definite instructions from him to transmit it to you, but in view of the desirability of an early consideration of the matter I now venture to submit this copy of the telegram for your information.

I have, etc., WALTER HINES PAGE.

Copy of Telegram received October 29, 1914.

Following telegram sent to Department to-day (by the Ambassador at Berlin):

The Foreign Office requests this Embassy to find out through the American Embassy in London whether the reports concerning the imprisonment of German subjects in England are well founded. Unless a reply is received from the British Government before November 5 that all Germans who have not rendered themselves especially suspicious have been released, the German Government will be obliged to take retaliatory measures, and accordingly arrest all male British subjects in Germany between 17 and 55 years. American Minister, Copenhagen.

Copy of Telegram received from Berlin by the American Embassy, November 3, 1914.

Are Germans over 45 being arrested wholesale in England? If arrests are only of those under 45, I may be able to keep English over that age out of jail. Will not British Government allow all over 45 to leave? That is the legal military age here, and no one over that age can be compelled to serve.

Sir Edward Grey to Mr. Page, United States Ambassador in London.

Foreign Office, November 9, 1914.

Your Excellency,

I have the honour to acknowledge the receipt of your Excellency's note of the 30th ult., and of subsequent notes informing me of the attitude likely to be adopted by the German Government with regard to the measures that have been taken in this country for the detention of German subjects of military age.

The decision of His Majesty's Government in this respect being clearly irrevocable, the communications which you were good enough to transmit did not appear to call for an immediate reply, although, as your Excellency is aware, the German Government threatened, and have since carried out, reprisals against British subjects in Germany.

At the same time, I hope in due course, when the measures taken here have assumed a definite form, proper consideration having been given to reasonable claims for exemption as regards particular categories of persons, to address your Excellency further on the subject, with a view of obtaining the release at least of British subjects in Germany who correspond to those categories.

I may state at once that no Germans over the age of 45 are being arrested.[13]

I should, however, be glad if your Excellency would endeavour to bring home to the German Government that His Majesty's Government are faced with a problem which does not apply to the same extent in Germany.

There are, roughly, 50,000 Germans resident in this country, and the presence of such large numbers of the subjects of a country with whom Great Britain is at war must necessarily be a cause of anxiety to the military authorities who are concerned with taking adequate measures for the defence of the realm.[14]

In detaining persons who might, in certain eventualities, become a source of danger to the State, His Majesty's Government are only acting in accordance with the dictates of a legitimate and reasonable policy, and they would be clearly lacking in their duty to the country if they neglected to safeguard its interests by allowing the continuance of possible risks to the public safety.

In proceeding as they have done they have only had this one consideration before them, and it has never once been their intention to indulge in a domestic act of hostility towards German subjects as such, or in any way to inflict hardship for hardship's sake on innocent civilians.

Every endeavour is being made, as Your Excellency is aware from Mr. Chandler Anderson's report on the concentration camps, to mitigate the inconvenience to the persons detained, and to provide the best possible treatment for them under the circumstances.

As time goes on it is hoped that it will be possible to improve further the necessarily austere conditions of the military discipline to which the prisoners are bound to be subjected, and every endeavour is being made already to rectify any mistakes that may have occurred, both in the arrest of persons who should properly be exempt, and in the regime, which, through its hurried organisation, could not fail to contain a certain number of defects at the outset....

Into the case for and against general internment I do not propose to enter; it has nothing to do with the main purpose of this book. It does, however, concern that purpose to point out first that the general internment of resident enemy nationals (whatever its justification in any particular case) is contrary to modern usage, and second that the order for general internment was given first not in Germany, but in Britain. The popular view on this subject is erroneous. The German order was issued as a "reprisal,"[15] but, once issued, it was carried out with dispatch, a dispatch which was, of course, easier because of the comparatively small number of British subjects in Germany.

It will, I think, be useful to quote some further letters. The first document is an extract from a telegram received, via Copenhagen, by the U.S. Embassy in London on November 7, 1914. The telegram is from the Ambassador (Mr. Gerard) at Berlin, and conveys the representations of Mr. Chandler Anderson, of the American Embassy in London, who was at the moment in Berlin. Anderson says:

Tell Foreign Office that there is no compulsory military service required by German law for men over 45, and any men over that age serving in the army are volunteers. Agreement to release all men over 45 would produce better understanding, refusal is regarded as questioning truth of their assurances, which were endorsed by our Ambassador. Would like to settle these matters while here, and want to leave on Tuesday or Wednesday. Am arranging to have someone from this Embassy return with me to report, for information of Foreign Office here, about concentration camp and reasons for internment of civilians, in order to establish common basis for their treatment and provisions and clothing furnished and pay of officers, on the understanding that accounts will be balanced at close of war or at stated intervals.—GERARD, Berlin.

American Minister, Copenhagen.

The following documents deserve careful consideration:

Memorandum communicated by American Embassy.

November 9, 1914.

The American Embassy has the honour to submit the following copy of a telegram which the Ambassador at Berlin has sent to the Department of State at Washington:

"Order for internment British between 17 and 55 has gone into effect. This does not apply to clericals, doctors, or women, or to British subjects from colonies or protectorates where Germans are not interned. German Government wishes to receive official information regarding such colonies, as it understands Germans are interned in South Africa. Germany is willing to release men over 45 if England will do so. Germans over 45, except officers, have no compulsory military obligations."

American Embassy, London, Nov. 9, 1914.

Memorandum by Sir Edward Grey.

The American Ambassador asked me to-day whether the American Embassy would be allowed, as reports were being made in Germany about the treatment of German civilians in England, to send someone to visit the Germans interned in Newbury and Newcastle.

The Ambassador also said that he had received specific complaints from Germans interned in Queensferry.

He has given me the following copy of a letter from the American Ambassador in Berlin.

The object of the Ambassador's enquiry is simply, by bringing out the facts, to prevent false statements from doing harm in Germany, and at the same time, I assume, to contribute to the remedying of any grievances that may exist.

The American Ambassador in Berlin is, I know, doing all in his power to secure good treatment for British subjects in Germany, and I think that it would be desirable to let the American Embassy here have full information as to our treatment of Germans.

I have, etc., E. GREY. Foreign Office, November 13, 1914.

Mr. Gerard to Mr. Page. American Embassy, Berlin. November 8, 1914.

Sir,—Although it may already be too late to be of much practical effect, I feel it my duty, in the interest of humanity, to urge upon you to obtain some formal declaration on the part of the British Government, as to its purpose in ordering the wholesale concentration of Germans in Great Britain and Ireland, as is understood here to be the case. It is known here that many of the Germans interned belong to the labouring classes, and that their position is actually improved by their internment, and it is recognised that the British Government has the right to arrest persons when any well-founded ground for suspecting them to be spies exists. Great popular resentment has been created by the reports of the arrests of other Germans, however, and the German authorities cannot explain or understand why German travellers who have been taken from ocean steamers should not be permitted to remain at liberty, of course under police control, even if they are compelled to stay in England. The order for the general concentration of British males between the ages of 17 and 55, which went into effect on the 6th inst., was occasioned by the pressure of public opinion, which has been still further excited by the newspaper reports of a considerable number of deaths in concentration camps. Up to the 6th considerable liberty of movement has been allowed to British subjects in Germany,[16] and, as you were informed in my telegram of the 5th, many petitions were received from them setting forth the favourable conditions under which they were permitted to live and to carry on their business, and urging the similar treatment of German subjects in England. I cannot but feel that to a great extent the English action and the German retaliation has been caused by a misunderstanding which we should do our best to remove. It seems to me that we should do all in our power to prevent an increase of the bitterness which seems to have arisen between the German and English peoples, and to make it possible for the two countries to become friends on the close of the war.

I have, etc., JAMES W. GERARD.

Mr. Harris to Mr. Gerard.

Frankfort-on-Main, November 9, 1914.

Sir,—In a letter of the same date as this I have referred to the return from Giessen of four officers sent to Giessen, and returned again to Frankfort and to Nauheim, from which they came. I referred in this letter to the commander of the XVIIIth. Army Corps here. The commando is in charge of Excellenz de Graaf, who has, as he tells me, an American wife, and who through the past few months has shown this consulate all possible consideration, as it seems to Mr. Ives and myself. Twice during the great press of the first few weeks of the war, he came to the office in person and made known his desire to assist us in any way possible. Both Mr. Ives and myself have had occasion to go to the commando many times on various errands, and in nearly every case we have been granted the things we desired. It would be difficult to find a man at home or abroad with a more pleasant manner than de Graaf's, or who shows less of the harsh or severe. Many of the English have gone to him, and they in all cases, so far as I have heard, speak in highest terms as to the way he has received them, and as to the entire freedom given them in this city until the order of last Friday.

I have gone into the matter just a little because of a vicious and, I think, wholly unwarranted attack in the papers, in which Mr. George Edwardes, of London, is made to say quite improbable things as coming from de Graaf, and perhaps made our work just a little more difficult. Whether this be the case or not, I am sure you will be glad to know that the commander here has given ample evidence of desire to meet Mr. Ives and myself in every request we have had to make of him.

I have, etc., H. W. HARRIS, American Consul-General.

The "entire freedom" allowed to English in Frankfort until the reprisal order was made out is a fact that should be emphasised. It bears out the idea that it was British action which brought about the general internment order in Germany. Moreover, the reports as to ill-treatment and deaths produced the same kind of effect on the other side as they did on this. Of course, there were grave hardships on both sides, and, indeed, Sir Edward Grey allowed (vide p. 79) that "the regime ... through its hurried organisation, could not fail to contain a certain number of defects at the outset."

The regime, like some other steps taken in this war, was too hurriedly arranged in response to newspaper agitation. The Cologne Gazette, complaining that Germans are treated like pariahs in England, asks if Englishmen in Germany are "to enjoy for ever a life of gods unmolested." (Daily Chronicle, October 29, 1914.) The old demand for "reprisals," leading to counter-reprisals and a crescendo of cruelty.

In Austria no general internment order was made. The Daily Chronicle correspondent, writing in January, 1915, from Vienna, spoke of the freedom of all foreigners there, even when the subjects of enemy Governments. All such subjects, his host reminded him, "enjoy full, or nearly full liberty, whereas in Great Britain and France Austro-German subjects have either been clapped into prison, or at any rate confined in a camp or barracks."


"Confinement in a camp or barracks" sounds a small thing. It is really, wherever it occurs, a rather terrible thing. The universal experience is that civilians suffer under this restraint more than soldiers, and consequently are more "difficult" to deal with.[17] There are, I think, various fairly obvious reasons for this difference. To the soldier the prison camp is an escape from worse horrors, the soldier is inured to a large measure of monotony, he is also inured to military control and certain peculiarities of the military manner. To the civilian the prison camp is a change from freedom to confinement, from comfort to hardship, often from prosperity to ruin. The civilian's life has been one of varied activities, and becomes one of almost unrelieved monotony. He is in most cases quite unused to military control, and feels himself degraded to a kind of servitude. Used to a separate and individual life, he is forced into contact, day and night, with others not of his own choice, and often antipathetic to him. He finds himself deprived of every vestige of privacy, and his thoughts revolve often round chances gone, work lost, hopes vanished, a wife living in penury, and a future altogether dark. If anyone will try to picture such a life continued not for weeks or months only, but for years, he will, I think, feel that hysteria, loss of mental balance and actual insanity are consequences that are only too likely to follow.

Civilian control for civilian prisoners seems in general to be desirable. Military control was practically withdrawn from Ruhleben in the autumn of 1915. At a few camps here, such as the one at Cornwallis Road, it is practically absent, and I feel this is one reason why, writing in March, 1916, the U.S. Attache was able to report that there had at this camp been no attempts at escape.

There was much that was harsh and bad in the earlier days of internment in Germany, but the official U.S. reports certainly make us aware of cordial German co-operation in improving matters. The unofficial account, moreover, of Dr. Cimino ("Behind the Prison Bars in Germany") astonishes me chiefly by the amount of politeness which it reveals in the German official.

There will always be stupid officials, and complete military authority is a very dangerous thing. This obvious conclusion should be recognised as applying (to some extent at least) to both sides. It is a rather dreadful thing to be under more or less hostile restraint, whether one be German or British. "Even if ideal conditions prevailed, one could not remove the unavoidable feeling of restraint and the sorrow of separation of men from their wives and families. There is in all the camps a feeling of gloom which one visitor said 'haunted him for days.' It is scarcely surprising that feelings of resentment should arise. Many of the men have lived in this country for twenty or thirty years; some have come over here as young children, some are even unable to speak German; very many have married British wives and have come to regard themselves as citizens of this country. The visit of someone who is not in authority over them, but who will listen to their troubles and give them a kind word of encouragement, has done very much to lighten the bitterness of confinement." So write the Emergency Committee in their second report on their work for the assistance of Germans, Austrians and Hungarians in distress. Dr. Siegmund Schulze, who has worked for a similar organisation in Berlin, writes: "It appears that those who have recently expressed their opinion in the British Parliament have taken the complaints of a few dissatisfied prisoners as a basis for their general opinion. We can quite understand these complaints, because we notice among all prisoners that the longer the imprisonment lasts, the greater is the feeling of dissatisfaction.... It is noteworthy that in the English utterance even the trustworthiness of neutral reports is doubted; for example, the statements of the American Ambassador are regarded as pro-German, therefore distorted. Frl. Dr. Rotten and I have heard a great number of neutral opinions on the prisoners camps; I have myself discussed the conditions of the detention camp with neutrals who have visited them, and ascertained the truth as to their reports. Our verdict can only be that there is absolutely no question of any conditions which would constitute an infringement of international law, or which could imperil the health of the soldiers.... Moreover, I have in Ruhleben formed my own opinion as to the condition of the prisoners. I acknowledge that the depressed state of mind in which the prisoners must naturally be after more than six months' imprisonment has an effect upon their reports, and that many prisoners are in a state of suppressed rage. On the other hand I cannot but say that after the removal of certain insanitary conditions there have been absolutely no substantial complaints made by the prisoners. Much as I regret the position of the prisoners, among whom I have many personal acquaintances, I must, on the other hand, say that the accommodation and also the behaviour of the officers is, on the whole, as humane as possible under the difficult conditions. The American Attache, Mr. Jackson, who formerly visited the detention camps in England, and has now again visited the German detention camps, has confirmed to me the assertion which he made to the Commandant of the Ruhleben Camp, viz., that if he were obliged to choose where, among the countries now at war, he would be interned, he would certainly choose Ruhleben.... Without doubt, as is now apparent everywhere, an imprisonment extending over a long period, say, for instance, a year, means far more for men of the present generation than one could have thought. I consider it possible that many prisoners who are detained for such a long time will return to their homes with an essential deterioration of their mental condition." These last are very grave, and indeed terrible words, words that I fear only too accurately represent the facts, but yet, as Dr. Schulze continues, "We ought not to conclude from this that we are justified in making reproaches against the other country in respect of the treatment of prisoners, but rather conclude that we should work energetically towards the termination of the war."

The mental suffering (stagnant suffering) caused to civilian prisoners (in Britain, as elsewhere) is, I fear, very far from being understood. The following few sentences may give some glimpses—I was going to say "enlightening glimpses," but, alas, they are only glimpses into the darkness: "Our visitors in talking to the men in the camps receive from them many kinds of requests; of these by far the most frequent and urgent is that their wives and families may be visited. For one reason or another, letters from home very frequently do not reach the prisoners, and often for weeks or months together they receive no word of their families." The report goes on: "One man's wife was at the point of death when he left her and her young children; another's wife with several children was addicted to drink, and was only kept from it by her husband's influence; in other cases children were left behind with no mother to care for them." (The quotations are from the second report of the Friends' Emergency Committee, January, 1915.) To imagine the anguish of these cases, whether in Germany or in Britain, is to shrink as from a blow. Many will feel that the policy of general internment was unavoidable. But we may surely show generous sympathy where an unavoidable policy has brought great misery upon thousands who were innocent. Such sympathy, as we shall see later, always assists reciprocal sympathy on the other side.


I will now turn to the consideration of reports on individual camps for civilians. The most important German civilian camp, of course, for us, is that of Ruhleben. If I cite a Report on the Meeting of the Camp Committee held there on February 4, 1915, a good deal as to the general management of the camp will become plain. [Miscel. No. 7 (1915) p. 67.]

The following minutes of a meeting of the select committee of the camp committee and of the overseers,[18] which was called by Baron von Taube on February 2, were read by the Secretary:

At 6-30 p.m., Baron von Taube received a select committee of the camp committee in the presence of the assembled overseers of the latter. Messrs. Powell, Fischer, Jones, Blakely, Cocker, Overweg, Asher, Hallam, Russel, Aman, and Jones were present; also[19] Messrs. Delmer, Butcher, Stern, Scholl, Mackenzie, Horn, Klingender, Butterworth, and Hatfield.

Having greeted the assembled members, the Baron proceeded to say that he thought it would be best if only three or four delegates from the camp committee were to discuss matters directly with the overseers. He expressed his views and compared the management of the camp with the administration of a town of 10,000 inhabitants. Too many participants might only render the work of the overseers more arduous. He therefore suggested that at the meetings of the overseers, the select committee of the camp committee should consist of from three to four gentlemen with deciding votes. The suggestion was accepted. Thereupon the Baron informed the meeting that Messrs. Butcher, Klingender, and Stern had been proposed. In reply to this, Mr. Delmer, chairman of the camp committee, said that from among the eight men whose names had been submitted, three or four should from time to time be chosen as delegates according to their special knowledge and the business to be transacted. After a short discussion it was agreed, upon the proposal of Mr. Powell, that three or four gentlemen should, as delegates from the camp committee, take part in a general meeting of overseers to be held once a fortnight. At these meetings a strict account of the work of the overseers during the interval should be rendered. On the proposal of the chairman, Mr. Delmer, it was further agreed that delegates of the camp committee should have the right at all times to require the overseers to furnish explanations of any incidents affecting the interests of the camp. A motion of the chairman, which was also approved by the Baron, was to the effect that, in order to spare the overseers' committee time and trouble, any incidents occurring in the camp should be thoroughly sifted and investigated by the camp committee, and then reported to the administration as soon as possible by a single competent deputy through the overseers.

The presiding overseer welcomed a further motion by the chairman, Mr. Delmer, which was as follows: In the interests of the necessary reciprocity, a delegate of the overseers should attend the meetings of the camp committee.

Mr. Klingender drew attention to the two points contained in the camp committee's letter to Baron von Taube. The Baron said he agreed with the contents of the letter.

At the conclusion the chairman (Mr. Delmer) remarked that the camp committee had been formed with a view to beneficial co-operation with the overseers, and for the advancement of the existing organisation, and that it intended loyally to carry out this principle, of which words the Baron graciously took note. The chairman (Mr. Delmer) then expressed his hearty thanks in the name of the assembled members of the camp committee to the Baron for his presence and for the consideration he had kindly given to the arrangement, whereupon the Baron said that he would be very pleased personally from time to time to take part in the meetings of the camp committee.

Baron von Taube then closed the meeting.

The secretary announced that he had laid a copy of the minutes before the Baron, who had kindly accepted and signed it, and had, with his own hand, written on it the words, "Have taken note of the minutes and agree on all points."

The chairman greeted Mr. Fischer, overseer of hut 3, who was present as delegate of the overseers. The meeting proceeded to discuss the following matters:

LATRINES FOR INVALIDS.—At the last meeting the camp committee had requested a member to procure information on this matter. Mr. Fischer reported that the small latrine between huts 3 and 4 (which was formerly intended for women) should be used for this purpose. A door with a lock would be put in. Permits would probably be issued by the doctor or his representative. The overseers had for a long time striven to obtain permission for the sick to use the water closets, but these for the most part were not in the premises which were at the disposal of the military authorities, and therefore could not, even on payment, be opened. He would again inquire if it were not possible to obtain a closed water closet for the sick.

POSTAL MATTERS.—Questions concerning the postal regulations and the censoring of letters were brought up. A member expressed his intention of obtaining precise information and of reporting thereon.

OUTBREAK OF DIARRHOEA.—It was announced that 78 cases had occurred at hut 1.[20] Mr. Fischer was asked whether the number of cases in each hut was known to the overseers. He replied that they had furnished a report on the previous day. It was suggested that in such a case the overseers might with advantage seek the assistance of the delegates of the camp committee, and especially in the present case, as the overseers were much occupied with other work, and could not collect complete statistics.

BREAD.—The question of the quality of the bread was raised; it was alleged that bread insufficiently baked and bread which consisted of remains insufficiently ground together was sometimes distributed. As 2,000 of the prisoners were penniless, the question was one of great importance. Mr. Fischer said that bread of inferior quality, if returned immediately, would be exchanged.

YOUTHS UNDER 17 YEARS OF AGE.—It was alleged that not all the prisoners under 17 years of age had yet taken the necessary steps to obtain their release. The meeting, however, thought that it was the presence of young sailors, for whose release repeated application had been made, that had produced this impression. These sailors, however, were in quite a different position from the civilian prisoners. Civilian prisoners under 17 were released. The overseers had the matter under consideration.

WASHING.—Mr. Whitwell had taken cast-off clothing from the rubbish-box. He had had them washed, and found that they were still serviceable. In his opinion, the whole of the camp washing could be done by two machines costing about 60M. each. Mr. Fischer observed that the overseers had given this matter their attention, but that great difficulties would arise if any proposals adverse to the concessions granted by the military authority to private concerns were to be made.

The meeting was then adjourned.

We may next cite an unofficial statement:


Mr. John P. Bradshaw, of Ballymoney, co. Antrim, and Mr. William David Coyne, of Ballyhaunis, co. Mayo, both British subjects, arrived in England on the March 15, having just been released from detention at Ruhleben on account of their unfitness for military service.

The following statement has been made by them to the Home Office:

They were examined by the Camp Doctor, and released as unfit for military service.

A fortnight ago all who considered themselves unfit were invited to send their names in with a statement of the grounds of unfitness.

A week later all were asked to state where they would go if released from Ruhleben, but few of the real British subjects were anxious to be released now unless they can leave Germany because of the bitterness against England.[21]

Since March 7 a very important change has taken place in the food supply to the prisoners; thanks to investigations by Rittmeister von Mueller, the caterer has been dispensed with. It is believed in the camp that the United States authorities prompted these investigations.

The German authorities provide bread which is of better quality than formerly. The allowance is over half a pound per man per day, i.e., more than the civilian population is allowed, but it is believed that a regulation has been made, though not yet brought into force, to reduce the bread allowance to correspond with that allowed to persons outside the camp. Bread is no longer purchaseable at the canteen.

The Government allows 60 pfennige (just over 7d.) per head for the rest of the food. The canteen committee buys 100 grammes of meat (gristle, bone, etc., included) per man per day. Pork is much used, then comes mutton, and, more rarely, beef.

The meat is cooked in the soup and each man is given a piece about the size of a cutlet with his soup at midday. The spare pieces are divided amongst the men from the last barracks to be served; the barracks take it in turn to be last.

On one day a week dinner consists of a piece of sausage and rice and prunes.

A piece of sausage is now served with the evening tea or coffee. This sausage is bought out of the savings under the new system.

The rest of the savings on the catering and the profit on the sales at the canteen go towards providing clothes, etc., for the poorest men in the camp.

The meat is inspected by two of the prisoners, one a veterinary surgeon and the other a butcher; it is cooked by ships' cooks who are interned, and served by men chosen from among the prisoners. The food is said to be well cooked and the meals quite appetising, at any rate when compared with the previous regime.

The two men named above received all parcels sent to them. Formerly parcels took about four weeks to reach the camp from England, but now they arrive in ten to twelve days.

The officials are scrupulously honest as regards money owned by or sent to the prisoners, except that they pay out in paper or silver, whereas they took in gold. Money is paid out to those prisoners who have an account at the rate of 20M. per fortnight, but an extra 20M. can be obtained for the purchase of boots, clothes, etc., if shown to be necessary.

The correspondence regulations are now that one postcard with nine lines of writing may be sent each week, and two letters, each of four pages of notepaper may be sent per month. In addition, business letters may be sent to any reasonable extent.

A dramatic society has been started and recently gave its first performance, Shaw's "Androcles and the Lion." Admission was free, but seats cost from 20 to 40 pfennigs, not according to the position of the seat, but according to the means of the purchaser.

Baron von Taube and Graf von Schwerin make a point of being present at all entertainments organised by the prisoners, and make a short speech of thanks at the end. Since the trouble over the food has been settled the relations between the officials and the prisoners have greatly improved.

A month ago all British colonial subjects were re-arrested and interned. [Miscel. No. 7. (1915). P. 81.]

We now come to the official U.S. report of June 8, 1915, with accompanying letters. [Miscel. No. 13 (1915)]

Mr. Page, United States Ambassador at London, to Sir Edward Grey. (Received June 15.)

The American Ambassador presents his compliments to His Majesty's Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and has the honour to transmit, herewith enclosed, a copy of a letter he has received from the Embassy at Berlin, dated the 8th inst., enclosing a report made by Mr. G. W. Minot upon the conditions at present existing in the British civil internment camp at Ruhleben.

Mr. Gerard has added a postscript expressing the hope that this report may be published together with his covering letter.

American Embassy, London, June 14, 1915.

The need for publication was obvious in view of the character of the rumours circulated in this country, but, unfortunately, when published as a Government White Paper, such a report falls into but few hands, while newspaper extracts from the White Papers can, in general, scarcely be described as selected without bias.


Mr. Gerard to Mr. Page.

American Embassy, Berlin, June 8, 1915.

Sir,—I have the honour to transmit to you herewith a triplicate copy of a report made by Mr. G. W. Minot upon conditions at present existing in the British civil internment camp at Ruhleben, Spandau. In connection with this I beg to say that the devotion to duty and uniform kindness of all the camp authorities has been wonderful and the relations of our Embassy with them always most agreeable. It is impossible to conceive of better camp commanders than Graf Schwerin and Baron Taube.—I have, etc.,


The last sentence is noteworthy. Commendation of the Camp Commanders could not be more emphatic.


Mr. Minot to Mr. Gerard.

June 3, 1915.

Sir,—I have the honour to submit to you the following report upon various improvements which have taken place in the civil internment camp for British prisoners at Ruhleben-bei-Spandau since the month of November, 1914:

Of the 4,500 British civil prisoners interned in Germany, approximately 4,000 are at this date held at Ruhleben, the remaining 500 being scattered in small detachments in various other internment camps. The German Government have arranged that these detachments shall be absorbed by Ruhleben, so that within a few months all the British civil prisoners interned in Germany will be in Ruhleben. The difficulty of enlarging the facilities of Ruhleben and the necessary precautionary measures of quarantining have made the process of combination a long one, but there is every reason to believe that it will soon be completed.

The increase in the number of prisoners at Ruhleben has necessitated substantial additions to the barracks, most of which were overcrowded at the beginning of the war. Eight new barracks of one storey have been erected (four being already occupied), affording accommodation for 120 men each. These barracks are substantially built of wood, with well-set floors and large windows. The roofs have been waterproofed with tarred paper, and the walls stained to resist the rain.[22] In the four new barracks which are now occupied a small room for the guard has been added, but in the new barracks this has been considered unnecessary, as it is hoped that the guards in the barracks at night may shortly be dispensed with. The last new barracks has been built with a special view towards housing convalescent or delicate persons. Partitions have been erected so as to cut up the barrack into small divisions, and two water-closets have been installed. A new washhouse for these barracks has been erected, with shower baths and washing troughs.

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