PRISONERS OF WAR
During the First World War, the total number of reported prisoners of war from the British Empire was 191,652. For many decades afterwards relatively little attention was paid to such a sizable group of servicemen – published literature remains limited. For many men of all ranks, captivity was a severe test of endurance and physical survival. Frequently it cost them their lives – there was ill treatment, starvation, hard labour and death in many forms.
German POW Camps included:
- Frankfurt A.M.
To the best of my knowledge, there has been no comprehensive research undertaken and any new information would be appreciated. The following servicemen are the only ones identified in the Parish Magazines. To date, no press reports from Evenwood P.O.W.’s have been found.
340630 Private Fred Purvis, 1/5th Northumberland Fusiliers
Aged 25, he died 9 September 1918 as a P.O.W. and is buried at Niederzwheren Military Cemetery, Kassel, Germany. He previously lived at 22 Rochdale Street, Evenwood.
Niederzwheren Military Cemetery, Kassel, Germany – the cemetery was created by the Germans about March 1915 and almost 3,000 Allied soldiers and civilians were buried there. In 1922, it was chosen as one of 4 cemeteries for the British dead. There are 1,535 graves from 190 different cemeteries.
250249 Serjeant Frederick Maxwell Britton, 6/DLI
He lived at Farncombe Terrace and the Parish Magazine provides the following references to him:
- May 1915 – Roll of Honour, 6/DLI
- August 1918 – “included in the list of missing, believed to be P.O.W. are Sergt. F. Britton M.M. and bar….”
- April 1919 – 14 February 1919 – Evenwood & Ramshaw Hero Fund Committee received a gold wrist watch
1918 AVL – 250249 Frederick Maxwell Britton, 6th D.L.I – Farncombe Terrace
58952 Private Norman Dowson 1/5th West Yorkshire Regiment.
He lived at 11 Jubilee Terrace and the Parish Magazine provides the references to him:
- July 1917 – D.L.I. on leave
- September 1917 – West Yorks
- February 1918 – on leave before going abroad
- March 1918 – letter, no details
- April 1918 – ditto
- June 1918 – missing, letter 15 April 1918:
“I have not had my equipment or boots off for 14 days and there seems still no likelihood of being relieved, so we may go another 14 days. We were out of the line for Easter Sunday. The Chaplain held Holt Communion in the camp on that day but I was unfortunate and could not get owing to being on duty at that time. It is the first Easter I have missed Communion since my confirmation but I hope by next Easter I may be spared to be in the old village once again.”
- August 1918 – definite news P.O.W. in Germany
- April 1919 – demobilised. Pte N. Dowson D.L.I Returned prisoner
- 1918 AVL – 58952 Norman Dowson 1/5th West Yorks. Regt.
The Parish Magazine provides the reference to him:
August 1918 – wounded P.O.W.
The following are accounts provided by 2 servicemen from Cockfield – Lance-Corporal George Linsley and Private William J. Pounder.
Private William H. Pounder, Cockfield
“The first Cockfield prisoner to return home is Pte. William H. Pounder, the nephew of Mr. and Mrs. J. Sewell. He arrived on Saturday night, unknown except to a few.
Pte. Pounder enlisted early in the war, he was wounded and upon recovering was again sent to France. He was taken prisoner on 22 March this year during the great German offensive. Of his experiences, whilst in the enemy’s hands he is somewhat reticent being anxious as he says to obliterate pain from his memory.
He suffered bitterly from the pangs of hunger to allay which he sold for a few biscuits his greatcoat, puttees, a wristwatch and the boots from his feet and he went about his work with his feet encased in any old pieces of cloth he could find. They were issued a small loaf of bread each week. Being ravenous, it was seldom the bread lasted more than the first day and after that he had to exist on soup which was water coloured and often unpalatable and dry fish, the aroma of which made its presence obnoxious.
He has many times eaten the peelings of potatoes. They were employed in a wood yard loading wagons. They were turned out in the morning with no breakfast and didn’t receive any dinner until they had performed the tasks allotted. He states that the only means of sustenance they had and without which they would have succumbed were the parcels of food sent out from England. He speaks in warm terms of the kindness of the Dutch people as they passed through Holland on their way home.”
Lance-Corporal George Linsley, Cockfield
“Cockfield Prisoner’s Story
Stirring scenes were witnessed at Cockfield on Saturday on the homecoming of Lance-Corporal Geo. Linsley who had been a prisoner in Germany since 27 May. A large concourse of people had assembled at the station and he was given a rousing reception. After reaching the top of the village he was hoisted shoulder high and carried to his home.
In an interview Lance-Corporal Linsley related experiences so revolting that one wondered at his safe return after such inhuman cruelty.
He was captured on 27 May at Cranne Hill after a heavy bombardment and hand to hand fighting, where the bayonet was much in evidence. After capture he was made to work behind German lines and worked at C—bery, Ramecourt, Craonne Hill, Ch—-des, Amsfortaine, Bury-le-Long, and Coney le Chateaux where he was inhumanely treated frequently being flogged with sticks and kicked.
He states and this with conviction that the worst punishment that can be meted out to a man is slow hunger a torture he experienced. He was at such a pitch that many times he ate snail, dandelions and a herb known as “fat hen” and made soup from nettles. Finally through lack of food he was reduced to such a state of weakness that he was removed to hospital on 19 August. He was later transferred to Darmstadt, Germany and left that place for repatriation on 30 November.
Whilst in enemy hands he was inoculated four times and vaccinated once.”
21583 Serjeant William G. C. Lamb, Machine Gun Corps
Returning POWs received a letter of welcome from King George V and Queen Mary. The following is a copy of the text of the letter received by 21583 Serjeant William G. C. Lamb, Machine Gun Corps.
The Queen joins me in welcoming you on your release from the miseries & hardships which you have endured with so much patience & courage.
During these many months of trial the early rescue of our gallant officers & men from the cruelties of their captivity has been uppermost in our thoughts.
We are thankful that this longed for day has arrived & that back in the old country you will be able once more to enjoy the happiness of a home & to see good days among those who anxiously look for your return.
The following account gives some details of William Lamb’s later life in the mining industry as NACODS Lodge Secretary and Evenwood WMC Chairman.
“National Association of Colliery Overmen, Deputies and Shotfirers’ Ramshaw Lodge recently presented Ramshaw (No 4 Area, South West Durham) overman William Lamb with a chiming clock as a retirement gift. Mr. Lamb (65) founder of the Lodge began his 51 years mining service at 13. He took up his first deputy’s appointment at Meadow Leigh colliery at the age of 29. A former Butterknowle NUM lodge secretary, he retired last year as chairman of Evenwood workmen’s club.”
WEST AUCKLAND POW
Harold Wilson 1899-1918
46265 Private Harold Wilson 7th Battalion the Leicester Regiment died 14 June 1918 and is buried at Cologne Southern Cemetery, Germany. He was about 19 years old and is commemorated on the Roll of Honour, West Auckland Memorial Hall.
ST. HELENS POW
Robert William Smart 1889 – 1918
250339 Private Robert William Smart, 1/6th Battalion, the Durham Light Infantry died 17 October 1918. He was 29 years old and is buried in Niederzwehren Cemetery, near Kassel, Germany  and commemorated on the St. Helen’s Colliery Memorial Cottages, Maude Terrace, St. Helen’s Auckland, Bishop Auckland, County Durham.