The Great War Part 200, June 15th 1918

Germany s Ill-treatment o f British Prisoners 301 On December 4th 1916 the German Foreign Office replied that it had been shown to be of military necessity to keep police dogs in some prisoners camps in view of the large numbers of prisoners of war in Germany. It asserted that having regard to the smaller number of prisoners in Great Britain no comparison could be drawn between con­ditions in the two countries. It protested that the animals were not ”“particularly savage and that it was impossible to regard the police use of themas a breach of the “prin­ciples of humane and reasonable treatment of prisoners.” This statement which closed the correspondence on the subject indicated clearly the official mind of Germany as to what was humaneness in dealing with captives and was typical of the general German attitude. Among the features of 1916 was the trial of Sir Roger Casement on the charge of high treason which resulted in his conviction degradation from his rank and execution. In the number of those who testified against him were several repa­triated Irish prisoners of war, and they recounted his attempts to win them and their compatriot prisoners over to Germany. The Germans had collected all the Irish prisoners in one camp at Limburg near Frankfort-on-the- Main and treated them well in order to induce them with Casements support to become traitors but only about fifty of them were seduced from their allegiance. Those who stood fast were mixed up with Rus­sians as a punishment. Two of the faithful men Moran and Dewlin by name were shot at Limburg and though the Ger­man authorities claimed that these Irishmen had attacked the sentries the evidence at the trial of Casement suggested that they were killed— in plain words murdered— because of their declining to join the arch­ traitor and what Mr. Gerard had to say about them tended to show that this was the fact. In his book the ex-Ambas- sador stated that he received information of the shooting of one Irish prisoner and that although the camp commandant had assured Dr. McCarthy an American medical man attached to the U.S. Embassy in Berlin that the investigation had been closed and the guard who had done the shooting exonerated nevertheless when Mr. Gerard himself visited the camp to investigate the matter he was told that such investigation was inadmissible as the shooting was still sub judice by the German autho- Irishmen shot rities. Mr. Gerard was not permitted at Limburg to speak to those prisoners who had seen the shooting. When he afterwards learned that another Irishman had been shot by a guard on the day before his visit he found that similar obstacles to an investigation were placed in his way. In such circumstances the killing of these men had a thoroughly suspicious aspect. Speaking generally of the Limburg Camp Mr. Gerard observed that the Irish prisoners did not bear confinement welland that many of them who were in hospital were suffering from tuberculosis. They also appeared peculiarly subject to mental breakdowns. He mentioned that two Catholic priests Father Crotty and Brother Warren from a religious house in Belgium were doing wonderful work among these prisoners. In the House of Commons in April 1916 Lord Robert Cecil on behalf of the Government said that he could only express profound regret that it had “so under­estimated the brutality ”of the enemy. What was in his mind at the time was the report on the Wittenberg horrors as well as the case of Tully. But his colleague, Lord Newton in reply to Lord Grenfell towards the end of June of the same year in the House of Lords made the public acquainted with another sample of the German treatment of prisoners which proved that the enemy’s capacity for brutality had again been underestimated. Lord Grenfell asked what was the truth concerning British prisoners of war at Libau in Courland as letters had been received describing the priva­tions which they were suffering there which they were told were reprisals for the brutal treatment of German prisoners who had been transferred from Great Britain to France. An extract from one of these letters was quoted by him :“We getup at 4 a.m. and return at 6.30 p.m ."wrote a British soldier, who was set to work on a railway “and we are living on practically nothing with two thin blankets and no bed. I can assure you it is perfect hell.” Lord Newton explained how it had come about that German prisoners had been sent to France from England. It appeared that at the instance of Lord Kitchener, then Secretary of War about two thousand Germans had been transferred from British camps to Rouen and Havre to help the workmen at these places in loading and unloading vessels. Lord Newton said that these Germans were not ill-treated, but were supervised by British officers and over see rs— the German Government had sup­posed they were put under the French whose policy was to deal with German prisoners exactly as French prisoners were dealt with by the German authorities— and were on precisely the same footing as German prisoners in Great Britain. Therefore the German Government had no excuse. The German prisoners in France were far from being treated brutally by the British. This was made perfectly clear for the British Government permitted the American Embassy in Paris on behalf of Germany to inspect these men whereas on the other hand the Germans for months refused to allow Mr. Gerard to send any member British prisoners of his staff to report on the condition in Courland of the British prisoners in Courland. It would have been difficult to find a more wretched place than Libau the inhabitants of which were in rags, and more than half-starved. The food supplied to the British prisoners was scarcely sufficient to sustain life parcels did not reach them from home until many weeks had passed and the resources of the town were so limited that it was almost impossible for them to buy anything. The men were miserably housed in a building which overlooked the harbour and they slept on bare boards. They were kept unremittingly at work and they were punished with atrocious severity on the least pretext. LORD NEW TON. F v- Appointed Under-Secretary o f State for Foreign Affairs in 1916, Lord Newton conducted the negotiation sat The Hague in July ,1917 regarding the release of prisoners o f war for internment in Holland and Switzerland the repatriation o f bad ly-w ou n d ed prisoners and the revision o f punishments for attempts to escape.
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