Camp Reports – Minden

Transcript from copy held at US National Archives.

Source Document: US National Archives Washington (NARA) ; RG 84 Records of Foreign Service Posts ; Diplomatic Posts – Great Britain – Volume 0763

Report of Visit by Mr. DRESEL to Prisoner’s Detention Camp at Minden

This camp situated some five miles outside the town, was visited on April 17, It was designed to held 19,000 prisoners but at present only about eleven thousand, including Russians, French, Belgians, Servians and British axe kept here. Of this number 301 are British non-commissioned officers, who were transferred here in the latter part of March, from the camps at Friedrichsfelde, Dülmen, Münster I and II, and Sennelager II and III. Five sergeant majors, including Crack, 2nd Suffolk, from Senne II, and Booth, King’s Own Yorkshire, from Munster, both of whom had some trouble with the authorities at their former camps, were found in camp, besides a large number of sergeants.

The camp is divided into six large blocks, each intended for 3000 prisoners, three on each side of a long board walk, no communication between the blocks is allowed, and I was informed that strict orders had been issued that there should be no access to other prisoners from the block occupied by the British. The British compound contains long barracks of the usual form of construction, divided into rooms approximately 33 by 18 yards in size. In one of these rooms 180 British were found quartered alone, in another some 116 with 41 Belgians. No distinction was made between the different ranks in any way, the sergeant majors sleeping with the others, and accommodations, wooden bed frames in two tiers, with mattresses of wood shavings and two blankets were the same as in any men’s camp. The lighting in the barracks can hardly be called satisfactory. There was some complaint about insufficient ventilation, but a lack of air was not noticeable at the time of the visit. There are

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ventilators in the sides of the barracks nearest the beds, and the windows on the other sides, which are left free for tables, are sufficient in size. fables had not yet been fully installed, and cupboards for the men’s belongings were being built along the wall.

Barbed wire entanglements, stated to have been originally erected when the camp was started as a precaution against typhus, still exist in the block, where the British are quartered though not in at least one other. Although at present they serve no especial purpose, it was stated that they were not to be removed. There are gaps for passing through this wire, but the prisoners complain that their exercising ground is reduced by its presence. The ground in the compound is, however, not in any case suited for exercise, on account of numerous ridges and furrows due to the necessity of carrying off water from the naturally muddy soil.

A source of considerable complaint was the lack of a sufficient flow of water afforded the prisoners for washing themselves and their clothes. There is enough for drinking purposes, and the prisoners use to some extent the drinking water from the taps for other purposes. For washing the water is provided by a rather inadequate tank, drawing its supply from an underground spring, and by a hand pump worked by fr each prisoners. The pressure does not, however, seem to be sufficient, and there is apparently difficulty in getting enough, water at any time. It was stated that the matter had been investigated by engineers from the town, but nothing effective has yet been done to remedy the trouble.

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At the request of the men, I suggested to the Kommandant the advisability of providing wash. bowls for them, which were promised and which would improve conditions to a certain extent.

Thera were no complaints of the food and It was stated to be as good or better than that at other camps. The canteen is on the whole good, and biscuits, apple sauce, sausages, tooth brushes, etc. may be bought there, as well as extra articles of food ordered from outside. Matches, are, however, not for sale.

Baths are satisfactory, but the latrines of the trench and bar system, has found to be quite offensive and too near one of the barracks, where, however, no British were quartered. It was stated that the supply of the disinfectant used, a preparation of peat (“Torfmull”) had given out, but that more was to be expected. An improvement in respect to this matter was urged upon the Kommandant.

In answer to my questions, it was explicitly denied that men had been sent to this camp for disciplinary reasons.

It was, however, obvious that non-commissioned officers who for one reason and another are not considered suited for supervision work, at the other camps, have been transferred here. There is no direct persuasion to induce the men to volunteer for work, but a good deal of indirect pressure seems to be brought. It was stated that the work in case of such volunteering would be confined to agricultural labour, but that so far only two British had expressed themselves as willing to engage in it. In the meantime, no amusements and recreation are permitted and at the beginning a question was even raised whether books would be permitted, though this is

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now settled in the affirmative. There is no opportunity for football, though it was said that it might perhaps be allowed during the coming summer, as it was last summer, at a place at some little distance from the camp, Musical instruments are not allowed in the compound where British are quartered.

A complaint that none of the British were allowed to be present when parcels were being sorted in one of the other blocks was promised rectification, and two individual grievances were also investigated and reported to the authorities. It may properly be added that the short time during which the camp has been run as a place of detention for non-commissioned officers doubtless accounts for some of the conditions, and it is to be presumed that a number of defects will later on be remedied by the authorities.

The time of the visit was not announced beforehand at the camp. The prisoners were spoken with in private at length, though there was some little difficulty at times with an overzealous interpreter.

Ellis Loring Dresel

April 22, 1916.

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