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
5 thoughts on “Punishment”
Dear Mr Palmer, I do some historical researches on my hometown Kaltenkirchen/Germany and I am just looking for any details of the WW1 camp in Springhirsch. I have collected all the newspaper information about the camp from 1915 to 1920 when it was closed. Nobody in our area could really tell where it was exactly on a map. Could you? The picture with the football match is of great help. I jsut saw it yesterday for the first time. I can feed you with information of the time just at the end of the war. There are some articles in the local newspaper about the British POWs.
You may google the history of the Springhirsch concentration camp during WW2 if you like.
Kind regards and greetings from Germany, Gerhard Braas
Hello, Mr. Braas. Thank you for visiting my blog.
I’m afraid I don’t know the exact location of the WW1 POW camp at Springhirsch. What I have pieced together comes from prisoner recollections, diaries and British newspaper clippings. A fellow family history researcher has also provided some details after visiting the area in 2015.
I’ll outline how I reached my conclusions about the general location of Springhirsch WW1 POW camp:
• http://www.longlongtrail.co.uk lists Springhirsch as a principal WW1 POW camp in Schleswig-Holstein
• “…the Cambrai men stuck together and eventually were sent to Springhirsch near the Kiel Canal” (1918 ‘Local and District News’ Western Times, Exeter, Devon, England. 14 January 1919, p. 5.)
• Sergeant Clifford Hollingworth’s POW experiences are documented in the book, Leeds Pals by Laurie Milner:
◦ “I finished up at Langforden near Hamburg. Springhirsch Lager.” (p262) I believe Langforden = Lentföhrden
◦ Hollingworth also refers to Sergeant Major Cook, a senior officer in the camp – this reference to Cook links Hollingsworth’s account with the diary of Sergeant A E Mead (see below)
The Private Papers of A E Mead (Imperial War Museum collection 17232)
• The IWM assumes that Mead was in Springhirsch from Mead’s references to “Springhassel camp (Plains of Hanover)”(p32), but his next reference to the same POW camp is transcribed as “?Springkirkel” (p68) Mead’s spelling of place names is inconsistent (or the transcriber found it hard to read his writing: Parchinn = Parchim; Denim = Denain; Aakhams = Aarhus).
• Mead also refers to Sergeant Major Cook, a senior officer in the camp (p35, 36, 38, 40, 41, 46, 47, 52, 56)
• The location of the camp is “between the North Sea and the Baltic” (p49)
• After the armistice is signed and the German guards desert, Mead refers to towns near the camp:
◦ “Had a walk as far as Kaltenkirchen across the fields” (p65)
◦ “Went to Kaltenkirchen in the afternoon” (p67)
◦ “Walked to Braustead (a small town)” (p66). Not sure where this is. Perhaps a transcription error, so wonder if it refers to Boostedt or Bad Bramstedt?
• Hamburg appears to be not too far away:
◦ “Some N.C.O.s have run away from here to Hamburg” (p65)
◦ “A lot of the men go to Hamburg; they get the money by selling soap, cocoa, tea, etc.” (p66)
◦ “We were told we could get 16 marks for a ¼ lb of tea in Hamburg” (p66)
• I believe that the train station the Springhirsch POWs departed from on their journey to Denmark was Lentföhrden – which my best guess tells me is within an hour’s march from Springhirsch.
◦ The Great War Forum ‘POWs and repatriation’ includes a post from ‘Tara’ where he quotes and tries to decipher a war diary. The dates and the transport align with my great-grandfather’s repatriation from Springhirsch. Tara’s transcription of the diary is, “15 Dec – left Linforden about 7pm, loaded into trucks. Rather uncomfortable.”
◦ A E Mead doesn’t mention the station by name, but he writes that when the men parade to march out of Springhirsch they “parade…at 4 for train at 5” (p67) – i.e. under an hour’s march to the station. Mead then notes, “Got as far as the station and had to wait till about seven o’clock for the train”. This aligns with Tara’s post about leaving Linforden about 7pm.
From a fellow family historian I have information that there were three POW camps between Lentföhrden, Heidmoor and Mönkloh. These details come from the book, Vom Gefangenenlager zum Weltflughafen : Lentföhrden – Hamburg-Kaltenkirchen : eine Chronologie des Scheiterns by Helmut Trede.
“The domain administration of the Prussian Ministry of Agriculture took matters into attack. Three large POW camps were established. All wooden barracks in series production. One on the outskirts of Lentföhrden in the direction that the Heidmoor called camp 1 (right). The second bearing 7 km inland, to the west, where later the experimental station was built. The third bearing 3 km north of it towards Mönkloh.”
Is one of these the Springhirsch camp, or were the three lagers collectively called Springhirsch?
I would be very interested to learn any details of the camp at the end of the war and from the local newspapers.
Dear Andrew, I found out the exact location of Springhirsch POW camp which existed from 1915 to 1920. It was located on the area of Springhirsch farm estate on the side of the estate building and on the other side of the country road. From the 1920s on there was a horse stud on the same place. Now there is a gravel plant. The camp and on the same ground the stud were targeted in north-east direction. On your football photo from 1918 you can see the shadows from the west and you can imagine the trees of Alt Springhirsch/Hohlweg just on the right side. Still today you can see the flattened area via satellite. Here is the exact position by google maps:
That’s fantastic news! Well done, and thank you for sharing your find.
I am interested in learning more about how local newspapers reported on the POW camp and the prisoners. If you have any information you’d like to share, please contact me via private message. At the top-right of the blog menu you should see a “Contact” link that you can use to send me a message.