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Prisoners who did not Return


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#1 gerb

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Posted 07 July 2007 - 08:38 AM

Friends,

I have been researching Cpl Thomas Browne, 26 Battalion AIF, a native of Swinford Co Mayo, Ireland. Cpl Browne along with 6 comrades; 4468 L/Sgt McMurtrie, 1701 Pte Ronaldson, 3084 Pte Lang, 555 Pte Skerrit, 4214 Pte Smith, 3157 Pte Wood, were taken prisoner during a German counter attack, following the successful taking of the village of Lagnicourt on 26 March 1917. It seems they were all taken prisoner at the same time.


Of the 7 prisoners, only l/Sgt McMurtrie and Pte Lang were repatriated after the war. Of the others nothing is again heard of and they are all listed as missing and are commemorated on the Australian memorial at Villiers Bretonneau. Cpl Browne was definitely alive when captured, to quote his file “he was big Irishman. I could see him being marched away distinctively".

After the war, Cpl Browne's mother attempted to find out what had become of her son, but was given only the scantiest of information.

My main question is would have L/Sgt McMurtrie and Pte Lang have been questioned on their repatriation as to the events of 26 March 1917, considering the probability of a “war crime" or just to confirm what had become of their comrades. and if so would this information survive.


And as a really long short, perhaps L/Sgt McMurtrie and Pte Lang recounted to their family and friends what happened to them following their capture.


If you could she any light on these events it will be greatly appreciated.

gerb

#2 gerb

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Posted 07 July 2007 - 08:43 AM

Cpl Browne's number was 4099, sorry about that.

#3 Will O'Brien

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Posted 08 July 2007 - 07:28 PM

Gerb

Undoubtedly the survivors could have been questioned. However I assume they were repartiated after hostilities had ended. Browne's records indicate that a board of enquiry took place in September 1917 & his record was updated 'Previously reported missing believed to be a Prisoner of War, now reported Killed in Action' Therefore the AIF had already deemed Browne to be dead. Whether they knew how he died I'm unsure as I don't know if Board of Enquiry records survive/available for general public viewing

Ronaldson's records state the same (it would appear to have been the same board of enquiry. However Robert Ronaldson's records also have witness statements from 2 comrades which state 'The above man (Ronaldson) was severely wounded in the head but I was always under the impression he was safely taken out although there did not seem much hope for him as he was very badley hit'

I can't find a record for Pte Smith or Pte Wood. Nor can I find an entries for them on CWGC website.

Edward Skerritt's record indicates that as early as May 1917 he was known to be dead rather than just missing. Interestingly, although completely unrelated, Skerritt appears to have been Court Martialled in early 1917. His records don't provide a clue as to why though.

#4 Andrew P

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Posted 10 July 2007 - 05:19 AM

Hi Gerb

Repatriation statements were made by prisoners on return from capture.
This link lists the 26th Battalion for the period you are interested in.
http://naa12.naa.gov...l...=0&B=745050

I'm sure if you contact the AWM they will copy any relevant pages for you (for a fee)

Regards
Andrew

#5 Doug Johnson

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Posted 10 July 2007 - 07:27 AM

gerb,

My guess would be killed by friendly fire whilst close to the front line. This was not uncommon and there are reports of one incident where several Australians were killed by a single shell. If I can trace the reports I will see if the date is anywhere near the time these were captured. It is possible that they were kept close to the front for some time after capture. Many, but not all, Australians were interviewed on return, mainly for historic details of the actions they were in rather than for any other reason.

Doug

#6 truthergw

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Posted 10 July 2007 - 07:48 AM

I think Doug has raised a valid point. Men would usually be seen being taken prisoner while fighting was going on. They were by no means safe from artillery fire by either side and there were many cases, on all sides, of prisoners being mistaken for attacking troops.

#7 Doug Johnson

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Posted 10 July 2007 - 07:02 PM

"Miscellaneous No 7 (1918) Cd 8988 - Report on the treatment by the enemy of British prisoners of war behind the firing lines in France and Belgium" Will probably explain why he was seen as a PoW but vanished. A report is referred to that on the 17th May 1917 seven were killed and four wounded by a British or French shell. This may refer to the report which I have somewhere that states that eight were killed, seven of which were Australians. The report was by another Australian also working behind the lines. The Parliamentary report above indicates that some may have been working behind the lines for up to a year, were unable to write home, were not fed properly, were unwashed in all that time, received no parcels or letters (no one knew they were prisoners), were not on any list of prisoners supplied by the Germans, slept often in the open or under meagre shelter even in the depth of winter, received no clothes, worked often under shellfire and if they survived to be sent back to camps (many did not) they may have been in such poor condition that they did not last long afterwards.

There is no estimate of the number that died whilst retained behind the lines but it could run into several hundred.

Doug

#8 Andrew P

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Posted 11 July 2007 - 04:00 AM

I see my link doesn't work so if you go to the search screen of the NAA site
http://naa12.naa.gov...rcherScreen.asp

In 'Keywords' type '26th Battalion'
&
iN 'Reference Numbers' put 'AWM30' as this is the reference number for POW repat statements

Cheers
Andrew

#9 Andrew P

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Posted 11 July 2007 - 04:13 AM

QUOTE (Doug Johnson @ Jul 10 2007, 07:02 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
"Miscellaneous No 7 (1918) Cd 8988 - Report on the treatment by the enemy of British prisoners of war behind the firing lines in France and Belgium" Will probably explain why he was seen as a PoW but vanished. A report is referred to that on the 17th May 1917 seven were killed and four wounded by a British or French shell. This may refer to the report which I have somewhere that states that eight were killed, seven of which were Australians. The report was by another Australian also working behind the lines. The Parliamentary report above indicates that some may have been working behind the lines for up to a year, were unable to write home, were not fed properly, were unwashed in all that time, received no parcels or letters (no one knew they were prisoners), were not on any list of prisoners supplied by the Germans, slept often in the open or under meagre shelter even in the depth of winter, received no clothes, worked often under shellfire and if they survived to be sent back to camps (many did not) they may have been in such poor condition that they did not last long afterwards.

There is no estimate of the number that died whilst retained behind the lines but it could run into several hundred.

Doug


Hi Doug
One of my local soldiers Pte Charles Webb of the 4th Machine Gun Company was taken prisoner at Bullecourt in April 1917 and forced to work behind the German lines with a group of other allied prisoners. He was killed by British artillery fire along with three other men on the 1st of May 1917.

Regards
Andrew