Camp Reports – Westphalian working camps

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 Visits by Mr Dresel to Westphalian working camp

Kattenvenne a small camp in a village close to the railway, containing 17 British, all from the camp at Münster II, out of a total of 236, was visited on April 13. This consists of three small barracks, with an adjoining court yard about 40 yards by 20, hardly large enough for football or other exercise, and of a farm house, wash house and latrine at about ten minutes walking distance. This last is at present used for quarters for the British and 70 of other nationalities. Ten British sleep on the ground floor in hammocks with three blankets, but no straw mattresses, but at this season there is no suffering from cold. Seven others sleep upstairs in a large attic containing

wooden bed frames in one tier. In both rooms the accommodations and ventilation are sufficient, the latrine and wash room here are satisfactory. At their urgent request, however, which I transmitted to the officer in charge of the camp, it was promised to transfer the men to the main barracks. Here they would gain about twenty minutes a day in going and coming to end from their work and would have the opportunity of mingling in the camp life and being nearer to the canteen, etc. On the other hand, the sleeping quarters are not so good, and there is in my opinion some overcrowding and not the best of ventilation, though the legal requirements of 5 cubic metres are undoubtedly complied with.

The work on which the British are employed is repairing of the road bed, hedges, etc., on the railroad which gives them a good deal of change of scene. On this account, although the hours are considerably longer, they prefer this occupation to the work of the other prisoners, which is by the piece and consists

[Next Page]

Of reclaiming and digging up ground. There was no complaint about the work, and the civilian manager (a county director of works), a considerate and painstaking official, stated that the men were milling and industrious. At try request it was agreed that the men should be given on extra hour trot on Saturday afternoons with special reference to getting some time for waging clothes. The matter of an exercising ground was also taken up, and it is expected that it will be able to provide something of the kind.

The men when in camp eat in a shed which is rather crowded and accommodates seventy at a sitting.

There is a small canteen in charge of a French prisoner, previously a Parisian hotel proprietor, who also acts as interpreter for the British.

By foresight in purchasing supplies, a fairly varied stock considering the smell size of the camp, including sugar end artificial honey, has been put on sale.

The latrine is sanitary though of simple construction.

Baths are taken once a week.

Some minor grounds of complaint relating to receipt of packages, and money ware investigated and reported, and it was promised that they should be given attention.

WIEDENBRUECK a small agricultural camp, was visited on April 14. Here 49 British, all from Sennelager II, were found quartered in a building built for a riding school, and afterwards used as an assembly hall, there being no other prisoners. The men sleep in a large ream taking up the greater part of the building, about 54 by 15 yards in size, in wooden frame bedsteads. There Is abundance of space, and the large windows give excellent light and ventilation. There is good opportunity for washing clothes, including a boiler, large table, end tubs in a semi covered veranda outside. Bo facilities for baths exist at this season, though in the summer the men

[Next Page]

– 5 –

Bathe in the adjoining river, and it was in consequence arranged that the prisoners be taken for a shower every week to a place at a little distance is town, and that wooden tubs for bathing in the camp should also be provided. The latrine contains primitive tub arrangements, and it was pointed out that a freer use of disinfectants, which was promised, would be desirable.

There was rather more definite complaint of the food than usual, and it was found that supper consisted of the earned over soup which the men had left from dinner, in immediate improvement was at my request ordered in the suppers; as usual, however, the men depend principally on their packages. The canteen was found inadequate, no kind of food except marmalade being procurable, but it was promised that it should be immediately properly stocked.

An effort will be made to provide an interpreter at this camp, as hitherto the men have had difficulty in making themselves understood.

The men are employed in miscellaneous farm labour for a period of about ten and one half hours a day, and there are the usual wages of 30 pfennigs. There are no especial complaints of the work. On Sundays they have a chance to play football in a neighbouring field.

Some complaints about the non-receipt of sums of money, probably due to delay at the main camp, are being thoroughly Investigated.

An efficient corporal (Tidey, Royal Munster Fusiliers) was found at work with the men. After consultation with him, the camp officer, and the employer, it was arranged to discharge him from field work and have him detailed to supervise the men.


[Next Page]

– 4 –

At a camp near RHEDA in the same neighbourhood conditions were found to be very similar. Here, too, the 45 British are alone, and the men, from Sennelager I, are quartered in a hall of a building formerly used as a gymnasium and bathing establishment. The sleeping room is of good size (22 yards by 12), and the men are comfortable. The latrine is of the same kind as that in the last described camp, and is sufficient and reasonably clean.

The men are employed in farm work, making roads, and reclaiming waste land, for about ten hours a day, for which there is the usual thirty pfennig rate. There was some complaint that, on returning to camp, they were obliged to peel potatoes for half an hour, but there appears to be no disposition to unduly overcrowd them.

A number of matters were brought to the attention of the authorities, and all were promised immediate adjustment.

Thus, there were no baths, the canteen was quite inadequate, and there were no arrangements that the men could send into the town for articles they required. – Further, it was arranged that the camp might be photographed, that the time for football played on Sundays on an outside field should be extended from one to two hours, and that for the present at least they should have on extra hour free Saturday afternoons, in order to give more time for washing clothes. In this camp, also, difficulties were reported in regard to receipt of money and packages from Sennelager, and an investigation was started.


At GUTERSLOH, on the same day, (April 14), a working camp known as “Kiebitzhof” was inspected. Here 22 English, out of a total of 40 prisoners, were found quartered in a small compound near a railroad. A small wooden barrack contains a dormitory about 18 yards by 7 in size and a smaller room for meals, etc. adjoining. The bedsteads, of iron and wood, arranged in

[Next Page]

– 5 –

two tiers, and the mattresses and coverings, are sufficient.

Of six windows in the barrack, three have bars outside and cannot he opened. At my request it was, however, arranged by the authorities that this should he changed at once.

There was some complaint of the damp having come through the foundations and roof, especially in winter storms. At the time of the visit, though rainy, such dampness was not especially noticeable. It was, however, promised that before another winter the roof and masonry should he strengthened with a view to remedying this difficulty.

In the kitchen, situated in a small shed adjoining the barrack, women cooks were employed. Here the facilities and cleanliness were satisfactory, and the men are allowed to cook there the food received from home. There were the usual complaints as to the rations served, but such examination as could he made hardly afforded ground for the belief that they were insufficient.

The small canteen was fairly satisfactory, and improvements were promised. Biscuits, sugar, artificial lemonade and soap could he bought here.

There were found to be no bathing facilities, though river baths are taken in summer, and also no arrangements for washing clothes. Both these matters were promised immediate adjustment and a wash-house will be built at once.

The latrine, though primitive, is not objectionable and is at a sufficient distance from the sleeping quarters.

The working day, including Saturday, is of the usual ten-hour length, but the work is within a few hundred yards of the camp, which gives the men rather more time than usual. The labour consists entirely in filling railway trucks with wet sand, and is stated to be rather hard. At the request of the corporal his name was reported for release from work.

There is sufficient opportunity given for football and other exercise a short distance from camp.

[Next Page]

One or two minor complaints were investigated and promised adjustment. One private who needed a set of false teeth will be furnished with them from British funds at the embassy.

At another small camp in the town of GUTERSLOH  (“Poll-kläener”), visited also on April 14, ten British, from Senne I, out of a total of 80 prisoners were found. The employment, consisting of general farm work, loading wagons, gardening, turning over ground, etc., is by the town, and there is the usual ten hour day with pay of 30 pfennigs. The men are quartered in a large room, 17 by 16 yards in size formerly a dance hall in a restaurant. The accommodations, ventilation, and beds are excellent. The British, who are all together, eat in the same hall at a good sized table, over which they have hung a large frame containing a very miscellaneous assortment of photographs, coloured prints, etc. The food was abundant, unusually varied and appeared appetizing, and I heard little or no complaint. Meat is served five times a week. The kitchen, with female cooks, is good.

There is a small, but adequate, canteen in the public restaurant, where the men are allowed to make their purchases under guard. Sugar, tobacco, lemonade, soap, etc., at reasonable prices were found here, and the men are in addition allowed to send out for other articles they require.

The latrine is simple in construction, but adequate, and there are bathing arrangements.

The complaints related to insufficient time for washing clothes, necessitating the sending out of some of the mens wash, to the lack of a recreation ground, and to the failure to change and air the bedding sufficiently. These were all promised immediate attention. On the whole the conditions at this camp are good, and the non-commissioned officer in charge, a highly educated man, treats the men with consideration and takes a personal interest in them.

The above described camps were visited after previous notification, but opportunity was in each ease given to speak with the prisoners alone.

[Next Page]


A coal mine at MOERS was visited on April 15. Among the several hundred prisoners eleven British from Münster II were found, who had been sent here on March 9th. They immediately I refused to work underground, and were punished by being made to stead without moving for some hour at a time, (“Still stand”)

and kept on reduced rations for a day. Since then they have gone to work, and there has been no especial trouble, but their attitude is unwilling and refractory, and they complain of fatigue and weakness. According to their statements, their previous occupations have been as follows:

Teachers (one in a military school, and one in the country)     =          2

Clerks and accountants                                                =   3

Grocer’s clerk                                                                 =   1

Professional football player and assistant                 =   2

Cook                                                                                 =   1

Packer in warehouse                                                    =   1

Regular soldier                                                               =   1

About one and one half hour’s trip was taken through the mine, but no British were seen at work at the time. The labour consists in extracting the coal with pickaxes, shovelling it on the slides, and shoring up with stones the walls from which the coal has been removed. The equipment is of the most modern kind, and every necessary precaution to ensure the safety of the miners appears to be taken. The men work on an eight hours’ shift, and the pay, partly in cash, and partly in camp money, is 75 pfennigs a day. They labour together with German workmen as well as with prisoners of other nationalities and state that the military have been prompt in repressing and punishing whatever abuse and insults they have been subjected to on the part of the German miners.

There was considerable complaint of the food served, which was eaten during an interval of four to five weeks when no

[Next Page]

– 8 –

packages, according to the statements of the men, were received. Parcels are , however, now arriving in sufficient quantities, in examination of the food cooked and of the bills of fare for the past week or two showed, in my opinion, no especial deficiency either in quality or quantity, Two double sandwiches with sausages are given the men to take into the mine every morning, and a sufficient quantity of coffee, and there is a full meal at their return from the shift. The prisoners are provided with all their working clothes by the management.

The internal accommodations of the camp were found to be unusually good, and there were no complaints as to these. The men sleep together in a large, well aired room containing two tiers of iron bedsteads with straw mattresses and three blankets.

Baths are taken daily in a separate compartment of the elaborate tiled shower baths found in the better German class of industrial establishments. There Is excellent accommodation for washing and drying clothes. The latrines are modern and are flushed with water. The kitchen is clean and orderly, and the canteen well stocked with various food supplies, light beer, lemonade, cigarettes, etc. In addition, the prisoners are allowed to send for articles they require. A good sized yard gives sufficient opportunity for football.

A complaint of brutality on the part of one of the guards was investigated, and although it could not be clearly proved, the soldiers in charge were at my request cautioned to be extremely careful not to give grounds for complaint in future.

There was also complaint of the physician being unwilling to excuse men from work on account of illness. They appeared, however, to be in good health, and the trouble seems to be largely mental, being due to their discontent with the work, which, at present, they consider a great hardship.

[Next Page]

– 9 –

At CASTROP a large Iron and coke works were visited on the same day April 15.). This contains 167 prisoners, of whom 10 were found to be British from Münster II. They were quartered in a small square compound, consisting of a small yard, insufficient for exercise, with wooden barracks and sheds on three sides. I The British were quartered in a room 16 ½ yards by 6 in size with 19 Russians, though there was accommodation for 48 in all.

The ventilation was not satisfactory, as only small panes could be opened in the windows. At the request of the men, it was arranged to transfer them to a newer barrack occupied only by French. This looks out on a tiny inner yard to which there is no access of any kind, and here, too, the good-sized windows do not open, but only small panes above them, the reason given being that otherwise there might be danger of escape. The necessity of providing better ventilation was, however, urged on the authorities, and an investigation was promised.

There is a good sized hall for eating and recreation, where all the prisoners can readily be accommodated. Baths are taken in the works. The latrine had only a rudimentary tub system, and was not clean. Representations were made to this effect, and improvement was promised.

The kitchen was very neat and clean, and some women were found at work doing potato peeling. There was no specific complaint of the food, and it appears to be well cooked and sufficient in quantity. There is a well-stocked canteen, where sausages and other articles of food were provided.

The men had been, taken for a two hours. walk the previous I Sunday, and it was promised that this should be repeated regularly. The men have applied for leave to have a field for football given them, and it was stated that this would probably be arranged.

There has been no especial friction in this camp in regard to

[Next Page]


to the work, which is above ground, and consists of shovelling coke, loading mail trucks, shifting about wagons, etc., etc.

As the time was after work hours. It was not possible to make a personal investigation. There is a double shift for every man in alternate weeks at the week end. The pay is ninety pfennigs and one mark a day, according to capacity. Among the prisoners one (Benson, 22nd. London) had, according to his statement, been a stockbroker’s clerk end accountant in civil life.

One ground of complaint, to the effect that the men were obliged to work in the rain without mackintoshes, was promised immediate attention.

The above camps were visited after previous notification. Opportunity was freely given to converse with the prisoners in private.

Ellis Loring Dresel

Berlin, April 22, 1916.




This entry was posted in Camp Reports, US National Archives and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.