At Springhirsch POW camp punishments were wide-ranging and often capriciously decided –
Men were sent on fatigues to fetch the guards’ food supplies from the railway station. Without horses they had to push the van for miles to Lentföhrden. Along the way they took any opportunity to scrounge vegetables from roadside farms and pocket food from the German supplies. Men caught stealing guards’ bread had their own bread ration withheld for four days.
The Commandant stopped the issue of Red Cross packets because no prisoners would volunteer to fetch bread from the station. The men were made to parade, seemingly until volunteers stepped forward. Finally 50 men volunteered, but the men did not move until the Commandant agreed to start issuing packets again.
“Strafe parades” were called with short notice, sometimes twice a day. The men had to parade and display their towels, blankets or mattresses. If it rained during the parade the men returned to their bunks with sodden bedding.
Even the relatively inconsequential penalties were part of a constant effort to break the prisoners down –
The Sergeant Majors were shut out of their bunkhouse for a day for not removing a stove as ordered.
In late August 1918 all cricket and football was stopped because too many windows had been broken. The Germans demanded that the prisoners pay for the damage – not just for the broken windows adjacent to the sports area, but for all broken windows throughout the camp.
The games soon resumed. Two weeks later a football game was stopped and the ball confiscated, seemingly because the prisoners were enjoying themselves too much. The guards claimed that the shouting and laughing were upsetting the camp’s neighbours. Sergeant A.E. Mead noted drily that there were only two houses within a mile of the camp.
The prisoners had formed a band and purchased instruments. The Commandant asked the band to play in the camp square, but the band refused. The Commandant cancelled the evening concert as a consequence.
It seems that as numbers in the camp grew, arrest and confinement in the punishment cells became more common. Perhaps this was a way of managing the shortage of beds in the crowded bunkhouses.
Men were given 14 or 21 days ‘in the jug’ for standing or sitting during morning exercise, or for making a fire for cooking or warmth.
The German camp interpreter was singled out as a key antagonist, someone who would find any excuse to put a man in the cells on bread and water.
Mead, A.E. Private Papers of A E Mead. Imperial War Museum collection 17232.
Milner, L. 1993. Leeds Pals. South Yorkshire, England: Pen & Sword Military.
Featured image: Football game at a Prisoner of War (POW) camp at Springhirsch, Schleswig-Holstein, Germany. Australian War Memorial collection PO3236.279