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James Blonde

British POW's Switzerland in WW1.

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James Blonde

Hallo Fellow Members. :D

I recently rediscovered this piece in amongst my research files:

CONNAUGHT TELEGRAPH, December 30th 1916:-

The following letter has been received from Private John Halligan, Palace Hotel, Murin, Switzerland, dated 29th October 1916 :-

“I got your kind post card the other day. We cannot send post cards without paying the postage, and I need not tell you that our funds are not very high. There is one other Mayo man here with me, Mortimer, who is to write to you.

We would like very much, if you would send some warm under clothing, the weather is very cold, we had a heavy fall of snow some days back and the boys had some good sport, but unfortunately there were some accidents in the Bob sleighing and several of the men got bad hurts, they are confined to bed for a time.

In the night of the 27th we had the first party of wives to Murin, eighteen of them arrived, all the men were at the station to give them a welcome, they looked very happy.

Pat O’Boyle, John Moran, and Glynn, about whom you were asking me, were out working when I left, also, Murphy. We expect another lot of men here next month, maybe they will be coming them, we expect about 257 are coming to Murin; we will be pretty full up then. I am very sorry to tell you I have been very bad, but please God, I will pull round. Please send my medal ribbons, Sedan [sUDAN] 98 and South Africa. If you can send me some soap, it is very dear here, the former kindness of Mayo shall never be forgotten, without Mayo’s kind support while in Germany, I might be laid low….

The best of good wishes."

Were visits by family members to Switzerland the norm?? I have never come across mention of this before.

Connaught Stranger :D

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centurion

The men in Switzerland (and Holland) were technically not PoWs but internees having been exchanged into a neutral country (which by definition could not hold prisoners of war). They had much the same status as say the crew of an aircraft that had accidentaly landed in their country. There was much more freedom as part of the terms of the exchange was a pledge not to try to return to duty in their own country. In some cases, if they could afford it, they could even live outside the camp and even find paid employment. There would therefore be no impediment to wives or any one else visiting or even moving temporarily to Switzerland or Holland - other than cost which I would have thought was well beyonfd the average private's reach. It would be interesting to know how this was financed.

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SiegeGunner

As a more general aside to this interesting question, were there still civilian ferry services across the Channel during the War? Would, say, a wine merchant wishing to travel to Bordeaux on business (or a wife wishing to visit Switzerland, presumably by rail via Paris-Lyon-Geneva) have to obtain someone's permission?

Our focus on the war on the Western Front inevitably overshadows the fact that a great deal of almost normal life continued in some parts of Europe.

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midgemeg

Was Murin the same place as Murren ?

post-19056-1205237642.jpg

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SiegeGunner
Was Murin the same place as Murren ?

I don't know, but the address the card was sent to is just up the road from me ... :)

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midgemeg

Front of the Murren card . The soldier on the back row L.H.S. is Somerset L.I. Fairhaven

post-19056-1205237886.jpg

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Aaron Pegram

According to the American inspector of POW camps in Germany, officers interned in Switzerland had the privilege of family visits. I have no idea about the enlisted men, but I suspect that officers' families probably had the means to visit moreso than the former. It goes without saying that Australian, Canadian, South African and New Zealand prisoners interned there would not have had such luxuries.

In 1916 the Swiss government assigned the village of Chateau D"Oux the purpose of housing the POW repatriated from Germany. A summer resort with plenty of hotels, hostels and the like, it was a nice part of the world to be in, and the non-presence of any guards were much welcomed by those waiting the rest of the war there. But I've read that the quarters of the enlisted men weren't too good, nor was the food, and some prisoners questioned whether or not internment in Switzerland was any better to Germany. Gambling was a major problem, as was alcohol, and I think there was some issue about the Swiss exploiting POW labour too.

Aaron

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centurion
It goes without saying that Australian, Canadian, South African and New Zealand prisoners interned there would not have had such luxuries.

Why does it go without saying? The camps were run by thge Swiss and as far as I can ascertain theres was no distinction between nationalities (or Allies and central powers internees)

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Aaron Pegram

The families of prisoners from Australia, Canada, South Africa and New Zealand were hampered by a distance far greater than the families of British prisoners. I can only speak on behalf of the Australian prisoners, but I only person I know of specifically traveling to Switzerland to visit Australian POW was Ms Elizabeth Chomley, the Secretary of the Australian branch of the British Red Cross Society, who was based in London. Although there was a large number of British-born Australian POW in Germany, I've yet to come across any instance of a family reunion in Switzerland.

Aaron

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prayersoldier
The men in Switzerland (and Holland) were technically not PoWs but internees having been exchanged into a neutral country (which by definition could not hold prisoners of war). They had much the same status as say the crew of an aircraft that had accidentaly landed in their country. There was much more freedom as part of the terms of the exchange was a pledge not to try to return to duty in their own country. In some cases, if they could afford it, they could even live outside the camp and even find paid employment. There would therefore be no impediment to wives or any one else visiting or even moving temporarily to Switzerland or Holland - other than cost which I would have thought was well beyonfd the average private's reach. It would be interesting to know how this was financed.

Hello! I am very interested in this info above as my Great Uncle Bert Claxton was a Corporal in the Northumberland Fusiliers 2nd Battalion stationed at Badajos Barracks, Aldershot, Hampshire on 23rd Dec 1906. I have a postcard addressed to him there. During the first couple of years in WW1 he was a POW in Gottingen POW Camp in Hanover Province, Germany. The direct line of the family has a letter sent from that POW camp to his mother. I am struggling to get a copy of this, though I know who has it. It was said to be his last letter home to her from that place. Then according to someone in the Imperial war museum, that POW camp ceased to be a camp in Nov 1916. On 2nd October 1917 he was married to Rose Lydie Coigny who was his Swiss Nurse, at Lauanne Town hall. At the time of marriage his rank or profession was down as 'Valet, at present interned prisioner of war' , living at 'Beau Site Hotel' in the town of Leysin,' while she was a Trained Nurse residing at Les Granges in the town of Orbe. So presumably by Feb 1917 he had to be in Switzerland, having recovered in hospital because then their son Percy Louis Claxton who was born 1st Nov 1917 was then concieved. By the March quarter 1919 they were living in the UK because their 2nd child was born then in Christchurch Reg. Dist., Hampshire. They lived in Bournemouth, Dorset all the rest of their lives both dying 1974.

I dearly want to put this story down on paper but I want to get some understanding first. There are 2 family lines from Bert. Firstly from an illegitimate daughter of his. That side of the family are really interested but seldom have time to sent me details of what they have, which includes this letter from Gottingen POW Camp. The other side of the family is from the Son of Percy Louis, Bert & Rosie's son. They don't seem to want to know at all. Bert was said to have been awarded 3 medals: The British War Medal, The Victory Medal, and The Star. Please can someone give me some understanding on this as I am struggling to find out any more than is detailed above. Did he escape while being transferred from Gottingen camp, was he released on health grounds. Please help!! I enclose by attachment a photo of Bert. :( Thanks, prayersoldier.

post-33487-1208159440.jpg

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Stebie9173

Was Bert christened as Bert or did he have a fuller forename (and middle names) as it will make things easier to sort out.

Steve.

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centurion

Prayersoldier.

I think that its is unlikely that he was an escaper as under the conventions extant at the time (and also in WW2) an escaper ariving in a neutral coutry was not interned but repatriated home. As I said in the section you've quoted British soldiers who where sent to neutral counties as wounded tended to end up in Switzerland (although this is not a hard and fast rule). If your man was in the war right from the begining and was captured early on he could have been in a POW camp long enough to qualify for exchange into a neutral country under the 'barbed wire fever' clause (about 2 years) and be there in early 1917 but I would suspect he was a genuine wounded case. Wounded soldiers who were exchanged were medically evaluated after 6 months - if not recovered by then or deemed unfit to fight they would be repatriatedif fit to travel. If recovered they were interned in the neutral country. If he was wounded badly enough to be exchanged then I suspect he wouldn't have been in Gottingen very long - that letter may hold a clue.

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prayersoldier
Was Bert christened as Bert or did he have a fuller forename (and middle names) as it will make things easier to sort out.

Steve.

Thanks Guys for such a quick response. I Really respect your obvious knowlege. Steve, When Bert was married - as I said on 2nd Oct 1917 at Lusanne Town Hall, his full name was given as CHARLES BERTIE CLAXTON. Also in 1906 on Dec 23 when he was stationed in Badajos barracks the postcard I mentioned was addressed to him in 'D' Company, 5th Fusiliers.....

Centurion, yes what you suggest seems to make sense. The family story has always been that that he had married his Swiss Nurse, obviously implying that he was wounded fairly as they had obviously built up a realtionship and also yes re that letter. I WILL get a copy of that somehow! Thanks again, Prayersoldier :rolleyes:

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Stebie9173

I thought I'd post an example of an article regarding a man who was POW in Germany and interned in Murren, Switzerland from early 1917:

(Pte Harry Stock, 17946, 6th Battalion Northamptonshire Regiment, taken POW with 19 other men of the battalion on the night of 29-12-1915)

HStockInternedNIFeb1917.jpg

(apoolgies for the bit going around the bend)

Steve.

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Stebie9173

The "5th" was the old numerical designation for the Northumberland Fusilires (coming from the pre-1881 named of the "5th Regiment of Foot". The 5th Fusiliers is a half-and-half name, as the traditions of the Regiments died hard and many of the number designations were used in common parlance for many years after they had been officially dropped.

Northumberland Fusiliers, especially pre-war men, are reasonably well served in the available records that survive (especially volumes of the St George's Gazette), so someone with access to those may be able to look Bert up for you.

Whilst Bert served in the Northumberland Fusiliers before the war, we can't fully guarantee that he stayed with them for the War.

Steve.

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MartinWills
As a more general aside to this interesting question, were there still civilian ferry services across the Channel during the War? Would, say, a wine merchant wishing to travel to Bordeaux on business (or a wife wishing to visit Switzerland, presumably by rail via Paris-Lyon-Geneva) have to obtain someone's permission?

Essentially civilian cross channel services did continue though as the war went on they were subject to fewer sailings and tighter controls. I will see if I can dig out some further details for you.

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centurion

I have certainly seen accounts of people visiting Paris on business (although usually war related).

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prayersoldier
Thanks Guys for such a quick response. I Really respect your obvious knowlege. Steve, When Bert was married - as I said on 2nd Oct 1917 at Lusanne Town Hall, his full name was given as CHARLES BERTIE CLAXTON. Also in 1906 on Dec 23 when he was stationed in Badajos barracks the postcard I mentioned was addressed to him in 'D' Company, 5th Fusiliers.....

Centurion, yes what you suggest seems to make sense. The family story has always been that that he had married his Swiss Nurse, obviously implying that he was wounded fairly as they had obviously built up a realtionship and also yes re that letter. I WILL get a copy of that somehow! Thanks again, Prayersoldier :rolleyes:

FOLLOW UP

I said my Great Uncle Bert was in Gottingen POW Camp. Well I have a copy of the letter now, the last letter that he sent from the camp to his Mother before he ended up in Switzerland. I enclose a transcript of this by attachmentBERT_POW_Letter.doc

As you can see Gottingen Camp was referred to as 'The Wooden City'. I put this attachment here also to get your reaction. You were a great help before. I also have 3 more pictures of him. Anyway thanks again. Prayersoldier

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centurion

He wasn't short of people writing him leters was he? I wonder if this was generally the case for POWs or was he lucky? People certainly tended to write more in those days I think.

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Spud Trevor

I did a little research on a Canadian soldier who is buried in Switzerland after dieing during internment. He was also at the Palace Hotel, Murren. He is buried at Vevey on the northern shores of Lake Geneva. According to the CWGC, the first British prisoners arrive in Switzerland at the end of May 1916, the average number in Switzerland during the remainder of the war was 2,000, of whom 61 died before repatriation.

Rawleigh Wright the chap I was interested in was initially reported missing, then wounded and missing, then unofficially a prisoner of war (Duisberg), then an official pow, before finally turning up in Switzerland. It took him less than six months from been reported missing to turning up in Switzerland.

Maybe of interest,

Spud

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centurion
It took him less than six months from been reported missing to turning up in Switzerland.

Which would suggest that he was either quite badly wounded or seriously ill from some other cause.

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Doug Johnson

On the original topic, in "Four Years Remembered - Leicester During the Great War" by Ben Beazley, (p128) he mentions that one of the Leicester, Leicestershire, and Rutland Prisoners-of-War Committee's proudest moments was to send the wives and mothers of ten prisoners to see their men on an arranged visit to Switzerland.

Doug

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Muskoka

In Silent Battle: Canadian Prisoners of War in Germany 1914-1919 I came across mention of wives of officers going to Switzerland and also to Holland.

"The Senior Canadian, Major Byng-Hall of the 7th Battalion, urged Sir Richard Turner, chief of staff of the Overseas Military Forces of Canada, to allow officers' wives to join them in Holland. Otherwise, he claimed the hotel rooms would be filled by vacationing Germans."

It also mentions "Canadian officers rented a seafront building [in Scheveningen] and organized an 'Officers' Club' as a cheaper alternative to Dutch cafes."

Can someone enlighten me as to just how much freedom and what kind of accommodation (hotel rooms?) these POWs had once in a neutral country like Holland?

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centurion

I think we've covered this before elsewhere, essentially in a neutral country pows were interned rather than imprisoned. This meant that if in a camp they could go outside provided that they had given an undertaking not to try to leave the country. They could even take up paid employment if they could find any. The camp essentially provided some where to sleep and eat (and some Australians complained mightily about the food in Holland). If you could afford it you could rent accommodation outside the camp (provided that you let the authorities know where you were staying. Officers had better pay than OR and some would also have private income or their families could subsidise them. Soldiers who proved to be long term sick or wounded (not recovered to active service levels of fitness after six months) were entitled to be repatriated home although in practice many remained recuperating in nursing homes etc.

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