Repatriation and exchange of civilian prisoners during the First World War

Transcript of document (Appendix 5 only) located in MT 9/1597 and may also be preserved in TNA CAB 21? This document provides a summary of the policy during the First War World for the exchange and repatriation of civilian prisoners.
Sub-Committee of the Committee of Imperial DefenceSummary of Extract from Report of Sub-committee on Treatment of Aliens

Appendix 5 of the Report contains notes on the treatment of interned aliens in the United Kingdom. This is followed by notes on the arrangements made for the repatriation and exchange of civilian prisoners during the war.
Repatriation: German civilians

Germany offered to allow all British civilians to leave Germany if the same were permitted to all Germans in the United Kingdom. As there were many more Germans in the United Kingdom than there were British in Germany the proposal was rejected. We offered to repatriate on condition of reciprocity, men of military age who would undertake not to serve in the war, but the German Government refused this proposal.

In October 1914 an agreement was reached for the mutual repatriation of clergy, civil medical practitioners, women, children and males under 17 and over 55. This agreement was subsequently extended to overseas possessions and Egypt. In August 1915 Germany agreed to the repatriation of invalid civilians of any age, the agreement to be extended to British oversees possessions and protectorates.

Merchant Seamen:The German Government insisted on regarding merchant seamen as a separate class. In 1915 the repatriation of ships’ boys under 17 was agreed to. In 1916 it was arranged that seamen over 55 and on reaching the age of 55 should be repatriated. No satisfactory arrangement was ever reached regarding the repatriation of invalid merchant seamen, other civilians, nor invalid officers of the Mercantile Marine, on the same terms as Naval and Military officers. The position was further complicated when Germany insisted on treating crews of defensively armed merchant ships as combatants.

In 1917 an agreement was made to repatriate all interned civilians over 45 (except 20 who were to be retained for military reasons). Retired officers and crews (exclusive of officers)of merchant ships were included for this. The agreement was extended to overseas possessions and limited to those in hand at the date of the conclusion of the agreement.

The unrestricted activity of German submarines in 1917 caused repatriation to cease until as the result of the Hague Conference held in 1917, the Netherlands Government undertook the transport of civilians to be repatriated. The arrangements were carried out satisfactorily.

Arrangements for the exchange of all civilians, the balance in favour of Germany to be compensated for by the repatriation of British combatants, were made at the Hague Conference In 1916, but were not carried out, owing to the conclusion of the Armistice.

Arrangements were made for the mutual repatriation as from the 4th October 1914 of civil clergy; women and children; civil medical practitioners; boys under 18; men over 43 who had not received military training; men between 18 and 50 unfit for active service – afterwards extended to 17 and 51 and subsequently to 60 men, including retired officers, over 50. In 1916 and 1917 an agreement was made for the mutual repatriation of male civilians over 51, and those over 46 if unfit for active service.

Merchant Seamen: The Austro-Hungarian Government took the same view as the German Government – that seamen on defensively armed merchant ships were to be regarded as combatants. Negotiations were still going on when the Armistice was signed.

In 1918 certain proposals were made, and some agreements were reached but the difficulties of sea transport, in view of the submarine warfare, made the carrying out of those agreements practically impossible.
Turkey: Merchant Seamen

Merchant seamen unlike the majority of civilians were interned by the Turkish Government negotiations were going on until November 1917, when the Berne Conference was held. It was agreed that civilians under military age might, if they wished, leave the country where they where interned, detained or at liberty, that male civilians between 17 and 50 should be exchanged in equal numbers, that Mercantile Marine officers should be considered as civilians for this purpose. This was ratified by the British Government at the beginning of 1918, but not until the end of April by the Turkish Government.

Negotiations of a sort carried on regarding repatriation and exchange, but no repatriation of civilians was ever effected.