Prisoner of War Camps WWII
Over this summer, Auckland War Memorial Museum launched the inaugural Sheldon Werner Summer Studentship programme. The programme has been developed as part of our broader Tertiary Student Framework, which supports the Museum's Research Strategy.
Online Cenotaph was delighted to welcome Angus Drumm, who worked on the Online Cenotaph Prisoner of War Camps project. Angus is a student at the University of Auckland and is studying towards a Bachelor of Laws and Arts, majoring in History and Politics.
In this blog he reflects on his experience researching Prisoner of War Camps for Online Cenotaph. We will be using Angus' research to update and add to our existing Prisoners of War camps list and are also aiming to create a New Zealand Prisoners of War research guide as a result of this work.
Kia ora tātou,
My name is Angus Drumm and in November 2020 I was one of seven students selected as part of the Sheldon Werner Summer Studentship programme. During my studentship, I worked with the Online Cenotaph team and focused on the Prisoner of War (POW) camps that held New Zealanders during the Second World War.
Online Cenotaph has identified nearly 7,000 New Zealanders who were POWs during the Second World War along with listing their internment locations. However, the list of camps is incomplete. In light of the increasing enquiries on New Zealand POW my project was to ensure camp names were accurate; that there were no duplicate camp names in the list; and to research camp conditions, locations, dates and the approximate amount of New Zealanders in camps.
I have predominantly utilised material from Archives New Zealand Te Rua Mahara o te Kāwanatanga. These archives have been identified by Online Cenotaph team member Dan Millar, as part of a larger project to collate records of those who served in the Air Force, Navy and Merchant Navy during the Second World War, and those that served in post-1945 conflicts.
Online Cenotaph hopes to be able to create a browse search function for POW camps, much like the current Voyages search. Online Cenotaph also hopes to create a helpful research guide for families researching their tupuna who were captured and spent time as POW and to ultimately add the information from the camp list to Wikidata to enhance the camp information on Wikipedia.
My research featured a range of challenges. One of the first challenges I found was that the Axis powers would rename their camps and frequently shift prisoners to different camps. One example that illustrates both of these issues was Stalag VIII-B, Lamsdorf. This camp was known as Stalag VIII-B until 1943 when it was renamed Stalag 344 and the New Zealand officers at this camp were transferred to Oflag IV-E, Annaberg.1 These name changes made it difficult to keep track of which New Zealanders were in a given camp, often the transfer of prisoners and name changes could have occurred for a variety of reasons, which were seldom documented.
Unfortunately, the Red Cross reports often did not explain why the names had changed, or why the prisoners were moved, as was the case for other sources that I used such as the Red Cross maps, the “Far East” Newsletter, David McGill's P.O.W. The Untold Stories of New Zealanders as P.O.W.s and Captain Walter Wynne's 'Prisoners of War'. Another example of these name changes is Stalag XVIII-D, Maribor which was temporarily renamed Stalag XVIII-B (Annex) when the control camp changed to Stalag XVIII-B in Spittal.2 However, there isn't much other information within the report on why the camp's command changed. Attention to detail was crucial within this research, to ensure the correct name changes were within one camp, instead of creating separate camps representing the same place with different names.
Another challenge I encountered was the post-war location name changes. One example of this I found was Main Camp Keijō. Keijō is now known as modern-day Seoul, South Korea. Keijō was the name of the district that the Japanese gave for this area. When I researched a location, I checked for the modern name and the name recorded in the primary documents.
I found that the Red Cross reports, at times, did not contain information on locations and dates. One report of an Italian camp called P.G. 38 took the time to describe the surrounding area as “romantic”. 3 But, it did not state that P.G. 38 was in the Italian commune of Poppi, which is recorded in the Italy Imperial P.O.W.s Alphabetical List.4 It was also difficult to find information, within these reports, on when POW Camps opened and closed. When I did not know the exact opening or closing dates, I recorded the approximate time New Zealanders stayed in the camp, based on the information available.
For me, these challenges meant coming to grips with the fact that parts of my research would only be best estimates of locations or dates of camps. Hopefully, further research can add to what I have done.
While these aspects of my research were quite challenging, I found some interesting and intriguing components. One area of research that I found particularly fascinating was discovering camps that did not previously exist in Online Cenotaph.
When I started my project, we had 378 camps in Online Cenotaph. Since I started the project, I have researched and found an additional 203 camps to add. These camps are primarily from Italy, and Japanese occupied areas. Another addition are the labour camps that I have added that held New Zealanders. I have made new records for thirty-three separate labour camps. The main camp that held the most out of that thirty-three was Stalag XVIII-A commonly known as Stalag 18A in Wolfsburg, Austria. Stalag XVIII-A had according to one Red Cross report 313 Arbeitskommandos Labour units, operating under the control camp, of these I have been able to identify nine labour which had New Zealanders attached.
Another interesting component of my research was the range of conditions reported by the Red Cross. I had expected the majority of POW camps to be described rather horridly and for the most part, that was the case. However, there were outliers like P.G. 47 in Modena, Italy. The Red Cross described this camp as having, "a luxurious room for shower baths, supplied with hot water and built entirely of marble with separate cubicles'' along with "a well-equipped canteen, a common room and a theatre".5 To contrast, the infamous Changi Camp in Singapore was a jail that held 4000 prisoners, and it was designed only to hold 600.6
One of the primary sources from Archives New Zealand were the Red Cross reports on POW camps. These reports provide valuable data about the camps that held New Zealanders.During the war, the Red Cross were permitted to go into POW camps and provide an inspection. This inspection would provide the date, a description of surroundings, the number of Prisoners at the camp, often by nationality and an assessment of the facilities. The Red Cross' role was to ensure that the camps met the standards set out in the Geneva Convention (1929). Not only did they act as an international check on standards, but they also provided Red Cross parcels which included food, entertainment, and things to remind prisoners of home.7 The Red Cross reports provided me with unique insights and robust data on what the camps might have physically looked like, their conditions, and who was in the camps at a given time. There are also many other Red Cross reports, which I didn't have access too, but are still held by Archives New Zealand.
There have also been books written on New Zealand POWs. The two that I found most helpful were David McGill's P.O.W. :The Untold Stories of New Zealanders as P.O.W.s and Captain Walter Wynne's Prisoners of War, part of the Official History of New Zealand in the Second World War series. Both works provide a comprehensive history of New Zealand Prisoners of War. These sources were excellent supplements to the Red Cross reports. While the Red Cross reports supplied more specific information and focused on individual camps, these books allowed me to find information about travel patterns, first-hand accounts of camp conditions and provided context for the capture of New Zealanders.
In addition to the Red Cross reports, there were also maps of the camps made by the Red Cross. While these maps listed most of the camps, there were some which were not included, primarily due to new camps being built after the map was made. One camp not on the map was P.G. 87, an Italian camp located in Cardoncelli that held six New Zealand Prisoners of War. Another was Oflag V-B, an officer’s camp in Biberach, Germany with eighty-one New Zealand officers.
The Red Cross also published a "Far East" newsletter, which the Red Cross made for civilians and families of internees to share more information about the camps in Japanese occupied areas. Letters were published in these newsletters, but they did not have specific information on the camps due to censorship. These newsletters were still useful, in that they revealed what information families were receiving about their interned friends and family members. They also provided postal addresses for some camps, which meant that I could corroborate data to ensure that I had accurately located these camps.
Another source I utilised was Auckland Museum’s Documentary Heritage collection, that holds diaries, drawings, poems, photos, and other items that helped inform my research. Diaries held in the collection were extremely helpful in providing first-hand insights into the camps. One diary that I looked at was by Rt. Rev. Chaplain Major Robert George McDowall. McDowall was a chaplain who detailed his journey across various camps in Greece and North Africa. He wrote observations of the camps including survival techniques.8 Another diary from Horace Aubrey Kettle revealed some exceptional cartoon drawings related to camp life along with poems and some reflections on what life is like back home.9
New Zealand Prisoners of War
The unique value of the Red Cross reports was that they would often note some small detail that alluded to new untold stories. One example is from a Red Cross report on Ilag Biberach. Ilag camps were specifically civilian internment camps on the war fronts. However, one Red Cross report details two New Zealand civilians, one man and one woman, in this camp in late 1942.10 The only additional information I found was through a letter sent to the New Zealand Department of External Affairs from Red Cross International. The letter states that when they visited this camp, they met Adelaide Hannah Collins, born in 1890 in Oamara, New Zealand.11 One explanation is that Collins and the unnamed male New Zealander were in Germany on business when the war broke out, but I could not find evidence to verify this theory.
Another story that has some unanswered questions concerns Ilag VIII. A few New Zealand Merchant Navy Prisoners of Warinterned at Milag Nord had attempted to escape, and as punishment for their attempted escape, they were sent to Ilag VIII.12 Unfortunately, I cannot find details of their attempted escape from Milag Nord.
One of the most interesting things I found was the displays of Māoritanga from New Zealanders in several camps. Across the Red Cross reports that I had access to, the camp with the highest number of Māori POW was Stalag XVIII-A, which held 320 Māori Prisoners of War 1941.13 Stalag XVIII-A was located in Wolfsberg, Austria and held 814 New Zealanders in 1941. There were many more Māori across various camps, but a definitive list of Māori POW has yet to be created.
During their internment, Māori would sometimes teach Te Reo Māori to fellow prisoners. One newspaper I came across, on Stalag 383 Hohenfels, Bavaria, described how Te Reo Māori was taught in a camp school.14
Another display of Māoritanga was from a camp called Oflag V-A, Weinsberg Germany, which produced a play, "Waiata Maori [sic]". This play’s script is available in Auckland Museum’s Documentary Heritage collection and features songs in Te Reo Māori about relationships, love and being captured. One viewer commented that he felt,
"enlightened on many details of Maori [sic] life, in particular on the points of religious life shown in the story of the omen; … on the honoured place of women in the community and the close association of work with honour; on the keen ancestral pride and the estimate of the worth of men on their qualities rather than wealth or gadgets". 15
The opportunity to conduct this type of research is tough but also rewarding. I would hope that in collecting this information, it allows New Zealanders who use Online Cenotaph to strengthen their links to their whakapapa who served New Zealand during the Second World War I hope that overtime, researchers will be able to add to the work so that Online Cenotaph has one of, if not the most, comprehensive list and research of New Zealand Prisoners of War camps.
1 Stout, T. D. M. (1958). Medical Services in New Zealand and The Pacific. War History branch of the Internal Affairs Department. p.127.
2 Red Cross Report of Stalag XVIII-B (Annex). September 16, 1942.
3 Red Cross Report of Camp 38, visited by Captain L. Trippi, August 4th, 1942.
4 Italy Imperial Prisoners of War Alphabetical List Section 4 New Zealand 2nd Expeditionary Force, 1942-1943.
5 Red Cross Report of Camp 47, visited by Dr de Salis.
6 McGill, D., & Kjestrup, D. (2013). P.O.W.: The untold stories of New Zealanders as prisoners of war. Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind. p.175.
7 Red Cross, ‘Red Cross Parcels’
8 McDowall, Robert George. Papers. Auckland War Memorial Museum Library. MS-874.
9 Kettle, Horace Aubrey. Prisoner of war journal, 1944. Auckland War Memorial Museum Library. MS-2005-10.
10 Red Cross Report of Ilag Biberach, visited by Dr Lehner and Dr Wenger, October 16th, 1942.
11 Letter to the New Zealand Department of External Affairs from Red Cross International, August 6th 1943.
12 Red Cross Report of Ilag VIII Tost, August 10, 1942.
13 Red Cross Report of Stalag XVIII-A and dependent work camps, August 26th, 1941.
14 Correspondence, diaries and papers regarding Second World War service of Eric Charles Mills, 1939 - 1945. Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tamaki Paenga Hira. MS-2014-10-10.
15 Mason, W.W. and Carter, T. N. "Waiata Maori: A Descriptive Maori Piece introducing Songs of the Tribes." 1944. Auckland War Memorial Museum Library. MS-2002/163. p.46.
Cite this article
Prisoner of War Camps WWII. Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. First published: 9 March 2021. Updated: 16 March 2021.