No 49: Uncle Tom in the POW camp
The Battle of Cambrai in November 1917 was the last and most influential battle fought by the British on the Western Front in 1917. With many of the Allies on the brink of collapse, only Britain was still capable of holding the Germans at bay. It is remembered as the world's first great tank battle where the tank took a prominent part. The Liverpool Scottish (1/10 Battalion King's Liverpool Regiment) were part of the 55th (West Lancashire) Division under the command of Major general Hugh Jeudwine. Starting on 20th November the British made big advances towards the town of Cambrai, which was a major railhead behind enemy lines as can be seen from the map.
At 7.30am on 30th November the Germans made a very successful counter attack by attacking the sides with the strongest blow coming on the southern side where the 55th West Lancashire Division was located. By 9.30am they had penetrated almost 3 miles into the British lines. By the end of the day the Germans had taken 6,000 prisoners and amongst them was Thomas Williams. He had been shot and wounded and was taken to a Prisoner of War camp in Minden, Germany. Between 20th November and 8th December the British Army losses of dead, wounded or lost amounted to 44,202. The enemy losses were estimated at 45,000. These figures are incredible.
The map shows the number of POW camps that existed in Germany and Austria. From the limited evidence that I've seen I get the impression that conditions in the WW1 POW camp were much better than those during WW2. Photography was allowed and I have a number of photographs taken inside the POW camp and I understand that this is very unusual.
I show Tom's official camp photo and also the official camp stamp that appears on the back of the photos to show that they are official, "Photograhic genehming Kommandanur des Gefangenenlagers Minden". I have a number of similar photos of other soldiers which suggests that they exchanged photos with friends. There were soldiers from different nationalities and many had written their names on the back. As an example I show two French soldiers and one from Tom's friend Philippe, on the back of which he has written in French "a souvenir of our time in captivity". Did Tom learn some French?
The most remarkable card is one sent to my mother, then aged 9, on 12 May 1918 which shows a group of soldiers with the caption, "Some Jolly Boys of Wales". It's as if they were in a Butlins camp! Tom is in the back row, second from the right as you look at the photo. On the back he's written, "Just a few lines to let you know that I am alright, trusting that you are the same under the circumstances."
One assumes that these 23 men are all from Wales. There should therefore be at least 23 homes in Wales that received this postcard in 1918. Did you have a member of the failily who was a prisoner in the Minden POW camp? I would be really interested in finding someone else who has one of these post cards. Does anyone recognise any of these men?
Double left click to enlarge the photos.
Gwynedd Family History Society, www.gwyneddfhs.org
Meetings for the next four weeks are:
Bangor, 4 January (In English, first Tuesday of each month) 7.00pm at the Quakers Meeting Hall, Dean Street: B & J Osborne: "The Sealed Knot: Historical Re-enactments"
Caernarfon, 25 November (In Welsh, last Thursday of each month) 7.00pm at the Library, LÃŽn Pafiliwn: Yr Athro Deri Thomas: "DNA, cadwch e yn y teulu"
Dolgellau, 13 Ionawr (In Welsh, second Thursday of each month) 7.00pm at the Royal Ship Hotel: Gweithdy yn yr Archifdy
Conwy, 13 December (In English, second Monday of each month) 7.00pm at Capel Ebenezer, Abergele Road, Old Colwyn: Mark Baker: "North Wales Houses: an Architectural History"
Llangefni, 18 November (In English, third Thursday of each month) 7.00pm at Capel Smyrna, Ffordd Glanhwfa: Haydn Byrne: "House History"
Pwllheli, 19 November (In Wales, third Friday of each month) 7.00pm at Capel Seion, Lon Dywod: Bob Morris: "Canrif o hel hanes teulu"
Clwyd Family History Society, www.clwydfhs.org.uk
The meetings are held on the second Saturday of each month (except August) at 2.00 pm at locations that rotate within the former county of Clwyd. The next meeting is as follows:
Saturday 4 December: at The Church Hall, Ewloe.
Chris Makepeace: "Christmas in the Workhouse"