Zoom Meeting - 2pm - (Prisoner of War mail)
For our May meeting our subject was Prisoner of War material - a wide-ranging topic covering all wars in any year. For this meeting we had a maximum of 28 members join us for the event, hosted by Nick Colley.
The meeting started off with Lindsay Chitty from New Zealand who showed four slides detailing a WW2 postcard from a prisoner at No 1 POW Camp in Thailand to England which had a secret message hidden ‘inside’ the postcard showing that hidden message, a most fascinating item accompanied by a RPSL certificate to certify that it was genuine. He was followed by Alan Baker who showed examples of WW1 POW mail from a variety of countries and campaigns. This included a postcard to an internee of the Royal Naval Brigade in Holland, a postcard from a soldier interned in Holland, another from a French soldier held POW by the Germans; a Red Cross postcard from an Italian POW held in Hungary and a cover from Russia to the Red Cross Agency in Copenhagen. There was also a postcard from a Czech POW held by the Serbs, a parcel reply postcard from a German POW held in France and a couple of postcards from Portuguese POWs held in Germany. A genuine mixed bag of material showing what it is possible to collect. Next we had a selection of mail from German POWs held in the UK during WW1 under the title “Significant POWs of WW1” presented on behalf of the owner by our host Nick Colley. It included a POW cover from an airman who was the first flyer to drop a bomb on British soil and a cover from the German Consul in Manchester interned in the UK for travelling beyond the legal limit; he and other German Consular staff were later released in an exchange for various British Consular officials. The display included a number of POW covers and postcards, including a registered envelope from German naval POW. A large number of the material shown was connected with the POW Camp at Dyffryn Aled, near Llansannan in Denbighshire.
Then it was time for your Hon Secretary, Michael Dobbs, to show and his small contribution from WW2 related to three POW letter sheets from camps in Lincolnshire (No 81 Pingley Farm Camp Brigg, No 106 Stamford and No 153 Fulney Park Camp, Spalding); he also showed POW Letter Sheets from two camps in Belgium (No 2226 and No 2228) as well as a Certificate of Discharge (Control Form D.2) from No 7 PW Discharge Centre in 1947. No one else, except for Richard Flemming, had seen one of these - his was a photocopy of his father’s Discharge Certificate. Michael was followed by Jim Mackay with a display titled “Recovered Far East POW Mail” - he started off with an extract from a seven page letter dated 5.11.41 from John Hodgson with the RAF at Kuching, Sarawak (he had misspelt it Sarwak); within five weeks after the Japanese invasion he was a POW as the Japanese captured Kuching airfield on 25 December 1941; he then showed a telegram to his wife(?) from the Air Ministry dated 1 Mar 1943 confirming that he was a POW. There was an aerial photo of the RAAF dropping supplies over Kuching POW camp and another letter dated 11.9.45 in which he states I AM FREE. There were further items related to the freeing of POWs including a printed letter from GHQ India with a list of suggestions on how to welcome a returning POW back home.
It was then the turn of Ingrid Swinburn who told us about the International Bureau of Education, an organisation which I don’t think the rest of us know about. It was a private organisation established in 1925 and became a non-governmental organisation in 1929 and eventually became part of UNESCO in 1969. During WW2 it lent books to POWs in collaboration with the Red Cross. Ingrid’s display was a selection of mail from POW camps (Stalags) in Germany or occupied territories addressed to the Bureau in Geneva, Switzerland. Julian Bagwell had a single postcard to show - but one with an incredible story behind the writer. The postcard was written on 31 December 1915 by Rifleman Sid Porter who was a POW in Turkey. The card is addressed to the Isle of Wight and routed through the Red Cross in Constantinople (with that address being crossed out to aid its eventual routing). There is a Red Cross POW Bureau cachet and a Turkish censor mark. However, the story is that he was seriously wounded at Suvla and left for dead after being hit by shrapnel, but he was not dead and when the Turks found him they first shot him, bayoneted him and finally beat him with shovels as they tried to kill him. None of that worked and so in sheer exasperation they gave up and took him prisoner - he survived!
Richard Farman then led us into much, much earlier POW mail - in fact around 135 years earlier: an entire written in London on 19 October 1779 to a brother who was an officer on HMS Ardent and who was being held as a parole prisoner in France; a letter from Portsmouth written on 18 August 1779 which contained an eye witness account of the Franco-Spanish Armada and a battle report on the capture of HMS Ardent. The British re-captured the Ardent on 14 April 1782 at the Battle of Saintes, off Dominica and he showed another entire written from Kingston, Jamaica on 8 November 1782 and was endorsed ‘p Ardent / Man War’. The British victory was considered their greatest over the French during the American Revolutionary War - the French supported the Americans during that war.
Our next display, from Ian Muchall, returned us to WW2 and concerned RAF POW mail from camps in Germany and East Prussia. The display told the story of the individual camps and of the individuals who sent the mail, including a 1941 Christmas greetings card from Stalag VIIIB. He also displayed a map showing the location of the camps concerned. Items shown included a letter to a Jamaican who had joined the RCAF and flew with the RAF as a navigator; Flt Lt Hunter was the first coloured airman to join the RCAF and was held in six different POW camps; he made two unsuccessful escape attempts. Ian also showed mail from Fleet Air Arm POWs in Italy as well as mail from RAF POWs in Japan. Richard Flemming gave a short display under the title “One man’s war and survival” and an overview of the life of his father-in-law who was a POW on the “Death Railway”. Last to display was Harold Krische from Canada who showed a varied selection of POW mail. This included a picture postcard in 1914 from a German POW captured by the Japanese; a 1918 registered cover to a German POW in Bando Camp, Japan; a WW2 cover of 1942 from a German POW in Jamaica, triple censored (Jamaica, USA & Germany) but returned to sender as service was suspended; and a couple of WW1 picture postcards from Hot Springs, North Carolina, USA which was used as an internment camp.
You can view or download the displays below:
One of 2 displays first shown in May 2021