Gustrow (written end 1917)
From FO383 at The National Archives, Kew;
This camp is situated in pine woods, about 5 kilometres from the town of Gustrow, in Mecklenburg-Schwerin. Prisoners began to arrive here in September 1914, the only accommodation then being in large tents, in which the Russians, French, British, Belgians and Algerians were all herded together. By February 1915 wooden huts had been erected into which the prisoners were transferred. Accommodation was finally provided for 26,000 men, but the camp has never been more than partially full, and the numbers have steadily decreased as more and more of the men were drafted out to working camps. During the first winter there were 600 British out of a total of 21,000; by April 1915 these figures had fallen to 300 and 6,000 respectively; while in October 1916 there were only 86 British out of a total of 1,632.
The conditions were at first were very bad, overcrowding, dirt and vermin, bad and insufficient food (which has been complained of throughout) and no proper sanitary arrangements. No clothing was provided, though many of the prisoners had had their overcoats taken away from them or stolen and what they were wearing was mostly in a bad state, so that there was much suffering from cold, exposure and frostbite. There was much bullying and brutal treatment of the prisoners by the German N.C.O’s, especially in the first six months. One form of punishment was tying prisoners to a stake with a brick under their heals, which was then kicked away, and a statement signed by seven prisoners who were transferred to Switzerland, testifies that a private of the Coldstream Guards died while tied to a stake. Other instances of cruelty are given in the same statement, which was taken by Captain Knight-Bruce, who believes the witness to be reliable.
Dogs were kept and set upon prisoners who broke the rules, several men were wounded by bayonets and there was much striking and knocking about and general ill treatment by the German unteroffiziers.
In the winter of 1914 – 15, owing to exposure and insufficient food and clothing, there was much illness, and hospital arrangements being almost non-existent, many deaths occurred. One witness gives the number as 100 in ten weeks, and 300 subsequently – another says 600 of various nationalities
The hospital arrangements were improved after February 1915. Two RAMC officers arrived in that month, and a Russian doctor and Russian orderlies and mentioned as being there between August 1915 and May 1916, and two French doctors in January 1916. The German doctors and orderlies are complained of as giving little or no attention to the patients.
On the whole, conditions were much improved after the arrival of Colonel von Matheson as Commandant and captain Kuts his adjutant, in the spring of 1915, except for food, which was if anything worse as time went on. Very little clothing was served out, except to working parties, and it was of very poor material.
The English and Russian prisoners were at first treated more harshly than the others, but latterly no distinction was made. In December 1914 the Commandant separated all the Irishmen from the English – two who refused to go were tied to a post and beaten.
Letters and parcels were delivered regularly after February –March 1915 except in punishment cases, when they were stopped. No games were allowed at first but afterwards football was played.
Thanks to Doug Johnson / Quelle: Forum 1914-1918.invisionzone.com (2010)