Almost 4,000 Australians were captured WW1 on the Western Front in France and Belgium between 1916 and 1918.
4,000 POWs were few compared to nearly 60,000 killed and 150,000 wounded.
Australian WW1 POWs remained overlooked for generations. They did not ‘fit’ the myth of the Australian ‘Digger’ and in particular the ‘Anzac Hero’ created by Charles Bean or others.
Nor did the injured and shell-shocked Australians who returned home to Military Hospitals and for decades, filled the ‘Old Men’s Homes’ we can recall in every country town and every suburb. They never returned to their pre-war lives, homes and families.
Do you find some of the comments strangely glossy about the life of POWs??
Several 2/4th soldiers had fathers who became POWs in WW1.
WX10791 Alan Robert ‘Joe’ Beattie’s father ROBERT MURDIE BEATTIE enlisted 1914 with 11th Battalion. He was captured at Lagnicourt 15 Apr 1917. He had received GSW to his left arm and left side. These wounds were treated by the Germans. As an Officer his POW conditions were far superior to those of his men. They received Red Cross parcels quite soon after capture. They did not work – Australians captured at Bullecourt worked as POWs at the German Front Line France in quite dangerous circumstances and subjected to Allied bombing prior being moved to Germany. Their wounds were not treated for months and it is recorded as long as six months. There were Australian POWs who died of GSW in German Camps.
Below is copied some information from Lt. Beattie’s WW1 personal records. (Interesting was the fact initially it was recorded the possibility Beattie had deserted – until it was officially verified he was a POW of Germany. Of course there large numbers of Allied soldiers who deserted – who can blame them? If you were French, English or Canadian and caught – punishment was to be Shot at Dawn.
As an officer, Lt. Beattie fared much better as a POW than his men and other soldiers.
Robert Beattie’s name is included on the below list of Repatriated Australian soldiers 1919.
WX13553 Syd Spouse who died Tarsau, Thailand of heart failure aged 22 years. Syd’s father Stanley Garfield Spouse, enlisted 1915 fought Gallipoli and France, captured Bullecourt 1917 was a POW of Germany for 18 months. His name is included on third page of Repatriated Prisoners, 1919. He was repatriated from Gustrow but would have been sent to Lille for some months to work for the Germans at their front lines.
Of the 372 Australians who died in captivity – 288 died from wounds received during action. It would take up to 6 months for wounds to heal – POWs quite often did not receive medical treatment, and if they did it certainly was not immediately.
Conditions for POWs varied from Camp to Camp. Those in Germany were better but the men suffered from increasing food shortages cause by British Blockade. Our POWs in Germany survived because of regular Red Cross parcels.
Most prisoners were initially kept in France. Those 1170 Australians captured at Bullecourt 1917 were kept at Fort MacDonald, near Lille in Belgium. They were treated brutally, kept starved and worked worked for months under shellfire close behind German lines.
“The Germans … put us in a fort at Lille. They never gave us anything. We may have had a slice of bread a day, nothing else. We were building dugouts, huts, carrying and loading shells. We had one slice of bread in the morning and at lunchtime a pot of soup, which was more or less like water.” Private Horace Ganson, 16th Battalion, AIF, captured at Bullecourt from AWM.
Not all Bullecourt prisoners fared poorly. The officers were separated from their men and sent to Germany, entering a vast prison system which by November 1918, comprised 165 camps and 2.5 million allied prisoners.
‘The Hague Convention recognised officers as members of the upper class. This protected them from working as manual labourers to support their captor’s economy. Officers were transported to camps within days of capture, and the Australian Red Cross Society in London was notified of their whereabouts soon after.
Prisoners of other ranks lived a life in captivity that was defined by their ability to work. The Hague Convention allowed captors to use the labour of other ranks prisoners if the work was not connected to military operations’ – from AWM.
‘NEGLECTED AUSTRALIANS: PRISONERS OF WAR FROM THE WESTERN FRONT, 1916 TO 1918 PM Regan’
There has been extensive research in the last few decades than ever before, about WW1 and WW2 Australian POWs.
by Kate Alexandra Ariotti BSc/BA (Honours I)
WX9231 HODGSON, Leonard Sydney ‘Tim’
Born 1919 in London England to John Henry & Minna Bertha Hodgson, ‘Tim’ had 2 older brothers Thomas John & Charles Henry. In 1924 the Hodgson family migrated to Western Australia from England and took up dairy farming at Carmarthen, Denmark, part of the Government’s group settlement schemes. The boys were then aged 16, 15 and 5 years. Tim would have attended the local one teacher school and the older boys would initially have worked on the family farm.
Establishing a dairy farm on virgin land at Denmark in the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s proved to be very challenging, many farms failed the “owners” walking away.
Hodgson enlisted AIF 30 Oct 1940 and later joined 2/4th’s ‘A’ Company No. 6 Platoon as a Rangetaker.
Tim died at Khonkan 55km Hospital Camp Burma 24 Sep 1943 following the second amputation of an ulcerated lower leg. He was 24 years of age.
Read the story of Pte. Tim Hodgson WX9231
Tim parents were living in Germany when war broke out in 1914, his mother Minna was German born. Minna managed to leave Germany with the Hodgson’s 2 sons. She remained in England throughout the war. John Hodgson was imprisoned at Ruhleben POW Camp near Berlin throughout the war. This camp was for civilians only.
‘Ruhleben Prison Camp near Berlin was a civilian detention camp during the First World War. The former horse racecourse housed in the region of 4,000 to 5,000 predominantly British prisoners, who were generally citizens living, working or on holiday in Germany at the outbreak of war. The detainees also included the crews and passengers of a number of civilian ships stranded in German harbours or captured at sea. The German authorities adhered to the Geneva Convention, resulting in the camp detainees administering their own internal affairs, which included the creation of a postal service that eventually ceased after being declared illegal. The prisoners organised their own artistic, cultural and sporting entertainment. The latter included the formation of a Ruhleben Football Association that organised league and cup competitions. The camp held several former international footballers, including former England international Steve Bloomer, who featured in these competitions.’ – information from IWM.