An under utilised source of information about First War World (WWI) Civilian Prisoners of War (POW) are the records of the Marine Department of the Board of Trade. These files are preserved at the UK National Archives in class MT 9. This website contains background and selected transcripts from these files.
The Board of Trade, Marine Department had government responsibility for merchant seamen. The correspondence can be found in the MT 9 series where Prisoner of War pieces are marked with the text “Code 106” in the National Archives Catalogue entries. A few additional items are listed under “Code 32” “Deaths” and “Code 48” which has two files related to the death of Charles Algernon FRYATT, the captain of the SS Brussels who was executed by the Germans.
In order to share information with a long list of interested parties including government departments, ship-owners, unions, associations and Journals, the Board of Trade printed a list of all merchant seamen held prisoners and their location.
In all 8 printed lists are known to have been produced:-
|Date of List||National Archives Document References|
|21/9/1915||MT 9/1039 ; MT 9/1098|
|12/10/1916||MT 9/1991 ; MT 9/1098; CO 323/707/74 ; FO 383/244|
|31/3/1917||MT 9/1991 ; MT 9/1039 ; CO 323/707/74 ; FO 383/352|
|31/7/1917||MT 9/1991 ; MT 9/1039 ; MT 9/1098; CO 323/744/43 ; CO 693/5|
|31/12/1917||MT 9/1991 ; MT 9/1039 ; CO 323/774/4 ; CO 693/9|
|31/5/1918||MT 9/1991 ; MT 9/1039 ; MT 9/1238 ; MT 9/5998 ; CO 323/7774/14 ; CO 693/9|
The final list (31/5/1918 contains 3,252 names and a free online index is available at Click Here. The index is searchable by surname or ship name. All the prisoners listed are male.
The Board of Trade obtained their information mainly through the Foreign Office, War Office and Admiralty. The Foreign Office documents were re-catalogued in 2004 and can be searched online via the National Archives http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/catalogue Catalogue. The British Interests section of the American Embassy in Berlin was the conduit for information from the German Government. The Embassy produced weekly lists of changes in location at Ruhleben the largest civilian Prisoner of War camp. The weekly lists include intra camp movement between barracks and both seamen and other British civilian prisoners. List numbers 1 – 14 (10/9/1916 – 25/12/1916), and lists 15-17, 19-23 and 25-26 are preserved in MT 9/1094.
Camp Lists produced later in the war and post United States entry into the war, are in MT 9/1244 which contains list 62 (5/12/1917) through to 109 (29/10/1918) with numbers 77, 80, 82 and 86 missing. However MT 9/1597 (in sub folder M6765) holds a duplicate of 80 and two of the missing lists 77, 79 and MT 9/1240 holds list 82.
The US Berlin Embassy with the prisoners themselves produces three complete lists of prisoners at Ruhleben, two in 1915 and the third in September 1916. These list the prisoners’ names, addresses, ages, occupations, barrack numbers and sometimes date of release. These lists (circa 5,000 names each) contain details of merchant seamen and other British civilians interned at Ruhleben. The lists are located in document MT 9/1094.
Prisoner release dates can be found by reference to the most recent list (see 31st May 1918 above) for prisoners released before May 1918. For prisoners released subsequently, MT 9/1991 contains that list with later release dates handwritten.
Further correspondence on Prisoners of War can be found in National Archives CO 693 (“Colonial Office: Dominions (War of 1914-1918), Prisoners Original Correspondence”). 10 Pieces.
National Archives WO 161 contains interviews and reports with over 3,000 named individual British prisoners of war. These documents, were compiled by the Committee on the Treatment of British Prisoners of War and provide the main source of personal information for Prisoners of War (PoWs) captured during the First World War. They consist of pre-Armistice reports made by repatriated, escaped or interned Officers, Medical Officers and Other Ranks, and occasionally Merchant Seamen and Civilians. These documents are now able via the National Archives Discovery Catalogue. Examples of Merchant Seamen include James McDermot of the ship “Eskimo” and Kikutaro Yamashita of the ship SS Otaki.
A short Board of Trade departmental history of their work with Prisoners of War is recorded in MT 9/1307 (This link contains a full transcript). A Cabinet Office paper “Repatriation and exchange of civilian prisoners during the First World War” details the history of the diplomatic discussions for exchange of civilian prisoners.