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Giessen POW Camp

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Giessen POW Camp

during the Great War 1914-1918.

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Did you know? We also have a section on World War Two. and a Timecapsule to preserve stories from other conflicts for future generations.


Pte. John Higgins 1st Btn. D Coy. Cheshire Regiment

My Grandfather John Higgins had served pre-war with the British Army as part of the 5th Btn, Manchester Regiment from August 1906 and at the start of World War 1 was an engine cleaner for Liverpool Corporation Tramways but also still an army reservist who was called up at Chester on 6th August 1914 and assigned to 1st Btn Cheshire Regt.

He was sent with the regiment as part of 15th Brigade, 5th Division to France as part of the Original B.E.F which subsequently became known as "The Old Contemptibles". As a member of "D" company on 24th August 1914 he found himself positioned at a crossroad close to a colliery outside the small Belgian village of Audregnies. The 1st Cheshires were directly faced by 4 German battalions that day and together with 1st Battalion The Norfolk Regiment and supporting cavalry stopped the entire German advance on the town for over 4 hours thereby playing their part in preventing the encirclement of the British 2nd Corps by the German 4th Corps.

John with the majority of his platoon was taken prisoner that day (only 8 days after arriving in France) and spent the next 4 years as a prisoner of war in the German PoW camp at Geissen near Frankfurt. After liberation he returned to work for The Liverpool Corporation Tramways as a Conductor, married my grandmother Charlotte Rumble, and unfortunately passed away prematurely at the age of 40 in 1930.

Peter Higgins


Sgt. James McCusker 4th Btn. Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers

James McCusker was my great grandfather born in County Fermanagh in 1890. He enlisted with the 4th Battalion, Special Reserve, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers in 1913. From what I gather from his records he was sent out in the 3rd and 2nd Battalions, respectively, to France with the British Expeditionary Force between 14th of April 1915 and the 18th of July 1916, and then again with the British Expeditionary Force to France between 7th of December 1916 and the 21st of March 1918. He was captured and was a Prisoner of War at Giessen in Germany from 22nd of March 1918 to 3rd of December 1918. He was repatriated on 20th of December 1918.

He suffered a gun shot wound to the left side during his time in France and was in two or three base general hospitals during his time there. He went up in rank from a Private to Lance Corporal; then Corporal after four months and then on to Sergeant after another seven months during 1917. He was discharged medically unfit (20%) on 22nd of December 1919. He was awarded the British Medal; Victory Medal and 1914/15 Star. He went on to live till 47 years old and died in 1939 in Lisnaskea Brookeborough - his lifelong home.



Pte. John A MacCallum 13th (Lanark and Renfrew Scottish) Btn.

John MacCallum was with the first group of the Lanark and Renfrew Regiment to enter Germany, having been captured near Ypres. Uncle Jack was reported missing and was held as a prisoner of war at Giessen. He was taken prisoner and sent to the salt mines. After three unsuccessful escape attempts, he was sent to a farm in Germany. He was prisoner for three and a half years. He was beaten with a rifle butt and during one escape attempt, he was crawling through a furrowed field and had the pack on his back shot off. He received a handwritten letter from George V for those who served in the prison camps for the duration.

Jack re-enlisted in the 48th Highlanders and worked as a barber at Camp Borden, Ontario. He passed away in 1957, he was my grandmother's brother.

Michael Beattie


Cpl. Alexander Fyfe Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders

Corporal Fyfe was captured in September 1914 and was sent to Giessen and Merseburg POW camps.


William George Isaacs 15th Btn. Hampshire Regiment

I have just discovered from the Red Cross that my grandfather, William George Isaacs of 15th Hampshires, was captured on 5th Aug 1917 at Hollebeke and taken to Giessen POW camp. Thankfully he returned home.

I believe at that time the 15th were engaged at the 3rd Battle of Ypres? Any information anyone can give me would be hugely appreciated. We always knew he'd been at Giessen and had been wounded when captured, but didn't have any dates. Granddad was a wonderful, cheerful, true countryman but never talked about the war.

Lin Brown


WOI. James Robert Justice 1st Btn. Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry

Gentleman right holding Sphere is JRJustice

James Robert Justice joined the K.O.Y.L.I in 1904 at Aldershot he served with the 1st and 2nd battalions as various times. He was reported killed in action at Ypres 8th May 1915 (the family has the original KIA letter), later found to be incorrect and was in fact a POW at Giessen and later marched to Chateau du Oex in Switzerland finally being released in Nov 1917. He became RSM after the war and took the regiment out to Malaya, in later years his son in law James Leo Tanner also K.O Y.L.I RSM brought the regiment back from Malaya. He retired as WO CL I and became a postman eventually passing away in 1950.

Leeanne Tanner


Pte. Henry Jones 1st Btn Monmouthshire Regiment

Henry Jones was my Great Grandfather. He arrived in France on the 13th February 1915. The recent discovery of the two postcards in some old photo's belonging to one of his daughters, shows him being a POW at Giessen nr Frankfurt. Henry never talked about his time in the war and his two living daughters did not know that he was a POW or even fought in the war. I don't think that any of his children ever knew. He was almost certainly at the 2nd Battle of Ypres at which most of the regiment was annihilated. It is probable that he was taken prisoner at this time and spent the rest of the war in Germany. The book "the war behind the wire" tells that this was as horrendous as life in the trenches and in some cases death was just as common.

Ricky Ford


Pte. Harry Manton 1st Battalion Suffolk Regiment

In June 2013 I purchased a pocket watch & scratched into the back was:- H Manton 1st Suffolks 1918 Prisoner of war Germany 1915-1919.

From the records office in Bury St Edunds I have obtained a copy of his WW1 medal rolls index card.From the Suffolk Regiment Gazette of 1916 the following was obtained: Army number 7905, Name Manton H, Unit 1st, Camp Giessen, As the watch was purchased in Diss which is on the Norfolk Suffolk it would appear that he did not stray far after the war. I would love to know more.



Pte. William Henry Drury 1st Btn. West Yorkshire Regiment

William Henry Drury And Annie Eliza Drury

My father Wiliam Drury was in the 1st Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment from August 1914. He kept a diary for part of that time including the surrender and time as a prisoner of the Germans. It stopped until he came home at the end of the war:

I, William H Drury reservist 1st Yorkshire Regiment was called away from my home at the outbreak of war with Germany. Along with thousands of others I went to my depot at York where I received my arms and equipment and proceeded to the barrack room where I changed into military clothing, and a few hours later we left here to join our regiment at Litchfield. Arriving there late at night we were given food and put into different companies and settled for the night. The following day we were joined by some more reservists and were very busy getting everything in working order.

Our next move took us to Scotland to the town of Dunfermline. Arriving there on the Saturday afternoon we had a good reception and a plentiful supply of refreshments from the town people. Here we were billeted in the schools for the night and then moved into tents. The following days we were busy getting into war trim and here we received inoculation as a preventative against enteric fever. Our stay here lasted six days. Leaving the town we passed over the splendid Firth of Forth Bridge at night time, our naval comrades down below being very busy with their searchlights. We travelled in darkness all night. The following day we arrived at our destination that turned out to be the town of Cambridge. Here again we were given a splendid reception by the townspeople. We proceeded to one of the commons and soon had our tents up and got settled. Our stay here, which lasted three weeks, was very enjoyable, fruit round this district being very plentiful we came in for a good supply. We now got the order to leave here so packing our things we marched 13 miles to Newmarket and there entrained for Southampton. Our journey was a good one, the people of London giving us a good send off as we passed through. On our arrival at Southampton we embarked on the `Cawdor Castle' and steamed off the following morning. On the journey across we were escorted by three French warships their band playing the National Anthems of England, France and Russia.

We disembarked at the seaport town of Saint Nazaire and proceeded to a rest camp and seven hours later we left here for the station where we were put in the carriage, given bully and biscuits and started on our long train ride, which lasted 36 hours. The journey took us through many noted places. We left Paris on our right, the Eiffel Tower being very noticeable in the distance, arriving at the town of Collumiers we left the train and it was here we got our first glimpse of the damage done by the German soldiers. Here also were a few German prisoners, they being taken on their retirement a few days previous. We proceeded to an old disused factory and were given food and a few hours rest and then left for a village 7 miles away called Cloupeck. Here we were billeted for two days. Now being on the line of communication we expected a move to the firing line any time. We heard here that the German Cavalry had been seen in a wood close by and our company were told to search for them but found nothing. From here we commenced a forced march doing about 25 miles a day. We passed miles of vineyards and peaches, the people giving us a good helping. The weather up to this had been splendid, but now rain set in lasting several days. Arriving at Vichy we had a two hours halt for tea and set off again, arriving at the town of Chateau Thierry where we spent the night in a hospital (the first bed since leaving home). The following morning we were off again and landed at night at the village of Harteneese. Here we received our first post from England. Leaving here the next morning we had another good days march and stayed for the night in an open field, rain coming down very fast we were soon soaked through. The following morning we were off again, this time our company doing rear guard. Here we met with our first real danger, the transport sending word back that the German Artillery were shelling the road in front. We again attempted to get through so splitting up into small parties we made a dash, getting through with the loss of only one life. We proceeded to the village of Bourg where we had food and were getting prepared for a rest when the enemy started shelling this place, we doing a hasty exit to the woods close by for safety. Here we had to take cover from the German aeroplanes and a gear artillery duel was on at the time. We now had our rest as we were going into the trenches at night. Six o'clock came and we fell in and were marched toward the trenches. Waiting here until it got dark we counted 12 dead horses and many other things. It looked like a busy time round here, a few good words of advice were given us by our officers. Up to our knees in mud we were taken quietly to the trenches to relieve the Coldstream Guards. We were getting nicely into our position when our advanced post came running in and reported the Germans advancing. This was the signal to open fire, which lasted one and a half hours. As the enemy trenches were only 300 yards from ours their rifle fire was very plain to see. The firing now ceased and our advanced posts were sent out again. We were kept busy all night bettering our trenches. Early next morning we were ordered to stand to. Here the General paid a visit to the trenches and was seen to be walking about as cool as ice. We could now see a few of our comrades who met their fate the night before. The morning opened with German Aeroplanes hovering above, showing our positions to their Artillery who opened a heavy shrapnel fire on us, their shells bursting 30 yards behind us (what luck) our Artillery replying. Now the fire of the big guns ceased our work started as the enemy's infantry started to advance but they were driven back with decent losses, our men and the French Turkos on our right fighting well. Still the enemy came again in much larger numbers their machine guns doing terrible damage amongst us. Things were now looking bad for us as our machine gunners and a lot of the men were put out of action. Matters came to a crisis when the Turkos who had fought well up to this started to retire leaving us to the mercy of the enemy who were much superior in numbers. Still we kept the enemy in check until our ammunition began to run out. Now the Turkos opened a heavy fire from their new position, but evidently there was a mistake for their shots were falling amongst our men. Reinforcements were sent up to us but owing to the deadly fire of the enemy it was very few who reached the firing line. A heavy thunderstorm came on now this making our position hopeless as our rifles became clogged with clay from the newly dug trenches. The Germans were now only 50 yards away and there was the choice of two things for us, either to be butchered or surrender, the latter being chosen.

We were now prisoners of war and taking the wounded that could walk along with us we were split into two parties and marched to the enemies quarters where we left our wounded in the hospital. We were now joined by the other party who reported the German losses to be heavy ones as the dead men were piled four and five deep around their trenches. We were taken now to a field and searched, everything being taken away from us. Some French prisoners now joined our party and we commenced a 17 mile march, being made to carry the Germans pack on the way. On the journey we passed a transport, the soldiers hitting us with sticks and whip stocks. The French people offered us food and water but the Germans would not allow us to take them. While still marching in the dark a heavy motor car ran into our party but luckily there was no one injured. Arriving at our destination the town of Leon we were placed in a fort where our overcoats were taken from us and a lot more assaulting we had to endure. We passed the night in agony as the Germans kept kicking us while sleeping. The following morning 14 of us were picked out to work. We received a spoonful of coffee and were now taken to a deserted hospital giving this a thorough clean out. This finished we returned to our comrades where we received a plateful of soup and then set off for a town 18 miles away (good roads thank God). On the journey a halt was called near a turnip field, our lads making a raid on them, arriving at the town of Marle we were packed in a hay loft and received some bread and scilly and a good nights rest. The following morning we set off again this time to the station where we were put into wagons (72 in mine) and started for a town 30 miles away. In the morning we were shunted into a large siding and stayed here for 7 hours. When darkness came on we continued our journey which ended at a place named Origny en Thierache where we were again put in a hay loft until morning when we paraded and the first sixty men were left behind, the remainder setting off for Germany. We received half a loaf of black bread and a pot full of coffee and were then put to work loading ammunition and sacks of flour from a transport into a railway truck this lasting from 7 am until 8 pm at night with 20 minutes interval for food. A week passed like this when sickness overcame us, many men being put in hospital with dysentery.

We were now split into two parties, one working day and the other night. Things became so bad that they sent the party to Germany leaving six of us behind working as a kind of housemaid to men on guard, the others working in the cookhouse. I got good food and a good wash (the first since captured 9 days ago). Again we were parted, 2 going to Cambria, 2 Marle and 2 staying here. We could see many things happen here (but least said soonest mended). Here we heard that an English soldier had died from wounds in the hospital and being the only two Englishmen in the place we asked permission to attend his funeral, which was granted us. We were marched with a party to the hospital where the coffin was placed on a farmer's cart. We waited here for one hour for the arrival of the parson, but he never came, so we were marched back to our quarters and did not see the last of our comrade after all.

We were now attached to a German engineer company and a few days later we left here for the town of Laon, where we joined by our two comrades from Marle. We were now employed in the cookhouse where we received food and a good bed. A few days later we moved to a place called Noyon where we saw a German armoured train and lots of infantry being sent to the firing line. From here we returned again to Laon and two days later we were off again to a place called Margival, here the company were very busy making a landing stage for unloading the transport. Here we were only 300 yards behind the enemies artillery and there were thousands of their troops on the move, which looked like a retirement. It was now that we had to make a quick move, as our artillery starting shelling the station and we again went to Laon This company were now expecting a move to Russia and a few days later we commenced the journey which took three days. On the journey we passed through Belgium and many places where heavy fighting had taken place. We stayed a short time at Namur and Luttich. Continuing our journey we now arrived in Germany on Sunday where many Dutch women were to be seen in their picturesque clothing. We were an object of curiosity as we passed through the stations of Hanover, Minden and Posen. Around the latter place were miles of trenches and barbed wire entanglements, also big size guns.

Arriving at Montivey we were shunted into some sidings and here we stayed for two months, the company being busy making a field railway into a Russia for carrying supplies to the troops. Here could be seen dozens of Red Cross trains passing to and fro. We now had a very good friend, a German Corporal, who could speak very good English, having lived in London for 5 years, this man reading the paper and letting us know how things were going on (all German victories). Our stay with this company ended here as a high ranked officer heard we were here and ordered us to be sent to a prisoner's camp. Leaving here on the 17th January we travelled to Hohenzalsa and changed here for Ginesen where we arrived at 11 am Sunday. We were taken to the Commander of the town and examined and then taken to a civil prison being followed by hundreds of people. Here we had a bath and changed into prison clothing and then made to wash our clothes which we handed to the women prisoners to be dried. This finished we were taken back to our cell, four of us being in one. Two days passed and we were getting ready for bed when we were ordered to dress as a guard had come to take us to a camp. After several changes we arrived at Sagan the following morning and were taken to some barracks where we expected to see some Englishmen. (What a shock, there were only Russians). Here we were given dry bread and tea and then taken for a bath. This finished we were taken to our new quarters, sleeping with some Russian students until a few days later the commander saw us and showed his hatred by having us placed in different companies. We were now living in artillery stables packed like herrings, 600 men in mine, as the place was only 150ft long, 14ft high, 28ft broad (what a living). We were soon stricken with vermin and lice as the washing accommodation was bad, there being only 4 small tubs for five and a half thousand men and two oz's of soap in 7 weeks. They now stopped us writing home, as there was fever in camp. Things passed on like this so we asked the officer to send us to an English camp but he replied that we must stop with our fighting comrades the Russians.

In February we proceeded to a new camp, which had just been built only 2 miles away. Here we were placed 50 men in a room and things got a little better. One must condemn the German method of cruelty, striking men with bayonets and sticks for no cause whatever, one man being shot. Our diet now consisted of one mouldy loaf of bread for 5 men a day, with potatoes boiled with their skins on for dinner with a little minced horse flesh put in to make it taste. One can understand the hunger in the camp, the men digging in the refuse pits for any old food. We now got turnips added to our dinner, the Russians fighting in lumps for the peelings, the Doctor watching the distribution of the same. The weather up to this had been very bitter and, only having a blanket, it was difficult to keep warm. It was very amusing to see the tricks the Russians had for getting extra food and their efforts to dodge the German sentries. Now we were able to keep ourselves clean as there were fumigating machines and baths open. About this time there were thousands of Russians being sent to work in factory and farms.

Things now became a little better for us we were in communication with home and received parcels of food, There now arrived 25 Algerians who had come from hospital, these men living in Africa when at home, we and them forming one company. On Thursday 24th of June we received a surprise visit from an English Minister who gave us a good sermon and told us he was the only minister visiting the English prisoners. On the 22nd of July we witnessed a very strange performance by one of the African prisoners, he passing a threaded needle through the ear, cheek, mouth and through the other cheek and ear, also needles and nails through the muscles of the arms. On the 11th day of July we received a letter smuggled by the Russian prisoners from some Irish men in another camp. These men told us that all Irish prisoners were put together in a camp at Remberg then the Germans led by a man named Sir Roger Casement and two priests from Rome and an American named Nicholson were trying every means possible to get them to take arms against England, offering them money and freedom. As these men refused they were split in to smaller parties and sent to different camps. Still these men were preached at and a few of them joined the enemy and were given uniform and sent to Berlin but they soon ran amok and were sent to camp again at Zossen. I heard later from a French sergeant who came from Zossen that most of the men had planned to give way and so have a cheap do at the enemy's expense. We were also asked our religion and when we answered we were protestants we were told if we had been Irish or Scottish men we should have to be sent home as Ireland and Scotland were in arms against England (but we knew better). We were also shown a German paper where a sea battle had taken place near Helgoland with large headlines 24 British ships caput (sank) to 3 of the enemy but the German soldiers say the they too have read between the lines. On the 7th of August the American Ambassador paid us a visit to see if we had any complaints to make. He said he would try and get us moved to an English camp. On the 7th of September we got another move to another camp a short distance away, 7 days later we were sent back to the old camp and joined by some more Algerians and one Indian prisoner. During the month of November we got another change, this time to the town of Gouletz. Here we were compelled to work. The work was making a reservoir and we received three pence a day for our labour but it was grand to get amongst some English men. Again these man had only arrived the day before and day after us having been working on land and in factories. The Commander here was very strict on us here on our first parade, one Sergeant and two Copl. received 3 days in a cell on bread and water for having woollen mufflers. As the month was November and was very cold this punishment was unjustified. We now received a weekly bath, also disinfection once a month. The worst thing about this was having to stand after bath for three to five hours, naked, about 50 men in a room, until our clothes were finished in the machine. As summer was getting near nearly all the prisoners were sent out working on farms, myself and four more being sent on a farm in May, here we stayed for a little over 7 months and when the work was finished we were returned for the winter in Lagar. The farms around here are nearly all being farmed by prisoners and refugees, we were lent to other farms for thrashing, it was rather strange working with French, Russians, Austrians, Polish and Germans. I returned to the camp on 6th January, following Monday we were taken on parade and the 300 English all had their boots taken from them.

9th January, great commotion in the camp a fire having broken out, but it was soon put out. There are 4 to 6 men dying every day here from fever and consumption, but we English have had a large case of medicine sent from home so we are not as bad. No good a man giving rich here as he is only laughed at. I am now sent out to a farm again staying 5 months. I returned to Lagar once more sick. The farm hours are in summer 4 on a morning returning to 7 to 8 at nights, too long. It is strange how these German people keep going on the food they are receiving, mostly potatoes, 4 pounds of bread a week, 3 ounces of meat and butter a week. I thought slavery days were over but I find now that is not so in Germany as most of the masters are nothing else but bullies and the slave drivers. The spare women working on farms mostly receive 8 pence a day and the farm girls get 70 to 90, or about 12 to 14 pounds a year. I think it's about time the people of this land rose up against such cruel treatment. I am now sent out again, farm work staying half a year.

Returned to Lagar 3 days later, sent out again driving post wagon. Returned again, three days later sent out again farm work.

This is where the diary ends. There are just a few notes that are difficult to read at the very end. Looks like `Officer sweeping road Over co at Duneshire Bayonet wound in the hand. Teeth knocked out (this could explain why there are no more entries.) Personally he told me some of the other things that happened to him. When I asked how got a German Eagle tattoo all over his back , he told me the Germans did it as part of his punishment for escaping , I also believe that is how he lost his front teeth. He would not say more about it. During the WW2, he was too old for the army but went and volunteered for the Auxiliary fire Service in Leeds Yorkshire. He was with them when they went to Coventry when the Luftwaffe bombed there. He died in 1955, The Old Contemptibles attended his funeral.

Peter Drury

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