Author Topic: Prisoners of War, British: 1939-1945 Research at Kew  (Read 21268 times)

Offline themonsstar

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Prisoners of War, British: 1939-1945 Research at Kew
« on: July 16, 2008, 12:47:55 AM »
Prisoners of War, British: 1939-1945

The National Archives holds numerous records relating to all aspects of British and Commonwealth Prisoners of War (PoWs) during the Second World War. Most can be found among the papers of the War Office, Air Ministry, Admiralty, Foreign Office and Colonial Office.

2.Nominal lists of Prisoners of War
The most comprehensive nominal listings of British and Commonwealth PoWs are those in WO 392/1-26. They include: prisoners of all services and the merchant navy held in Germany or German-occupied territory; prisoners of all services and the merchant navy held in Italy; service personnel (not merchant navy) and some civilian internees held by the Japanese in either Japan or Japanese-occupied territory. These records do not cover the entire war, the dates being: Germany- September 1944 and March 1945; Italy- August 1943; Japan - c.1945. The lists were probably originally sent to the Casualty (PW) Branch of the Directorate of Prisoners of War in London, and also form the basis of the books cited below.

3.Captives of the Germans
The National Archives' Resource Centre and Library holds alphabetical registers of approximately 169,000 British and Commonwealth PoWs of all ranks who were held in Germany and German-occupied territories (Ref: 940.5472). They give details of name, rank and service/army number as well as regiment/corps, prisoner of war number and, presumably, their final camp location. The lists are described as being corrected generally up to 30 March 1945. The three volumes are:

1.   Prisoners of war, British Army, 1939-1945
2.   Prisoners of war, naval and air forces of Great Britain and the Empire, 1939-1945
3.   Prisoners of war, armies and other land forces of the British Empire, 1939-1945 (2nd edn).

In addition, the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva keeps incomplete lists of all known PoWs and internees of all nationalities for the Second World War. Searches are only made in response to written enquiries, and an hourly fee is usually charged. The contact address is: International Council of the Red Cross (ICRC), Archives Division, 19, Avenue de la Paix, CH-1202 Geneva, website: (

4.Prisoners held in Italy: post-Armistice escape reports
When the Italian Armistice was announced on 8 September 1943 there were an estimated 80,000 Allied PoWs in Italy. At this point all Senior British Officers (SBOs) informed their men of the so-called 'standfast' order. This instructed them to remain in camp and await imminent liberation by the advancing Allied forces. In reality, overall victory in Italy took far longer than anticipated. Reaction to the Armistice varied from camp to camp. In some, the Italian Commandant refused to hand over control to the SBO or his equivalent; others opened the gates and disappeared along with the guards. In the latter circumstances, the more perceptive SBOs, realising the Germans would quickly take control, encouraged individual escapes; while some of the more enterprising prisoners escaped without official sanction. Some escapers fled northwards towards Switzerland or southwards towards Allied lines. Others hid near their camp to await developments or took the opportunity to explore the vicinity before voluntarily returning to their camp. Ultimately, the confused situation meant that by the end of 1943 some 50,000 PoWs had been rounded-up and transported to camps in Germany.
There are four primary sources for post-Armistice escape reports for Italy: WO208/3343-3345 and WO208/5393-5404 contain reports made by escapers who travelled South to Allied lines; WO208/4238-4276 and WO208/4368-4371 hold reports made by those who made it to neutral Switzerland. It is clear that other reports were produced, for example those with a reference starting PW/REP/IT. However, the current whereabouts and indeed survival of these documents is uncertain.

5.Escape and Evasion Reports
Nominal card indexes to the principle series of escape and evasion reports in WO208/3298-3327 (pre D-Day) and WO208/3348-3352 (post D-Day) are located in the Research Enquiries Room at The National Archives. Researchers should note that these reports mostly relate to the European, Mediterranean or North Africa theatres of war. Indexed by name sequences, WO208/5405-5436 consists of the original loose-leaf documents upon which the reports in WO208/3348-3352 are based. These are less 'sanitised' than the latter and sometimes include additional documents, annotations to the narrative, interrogators notes and Appendix B (see below). In most instances the information is duplicated, but it may be worthwhile ordering both files.
All of these reports were made by officers and men of the armed forces and merchant navy and usually provide: service details; when and where captured; home address and civilian occupation. For Royal Air Force personnel details can include: where based, type of aircraft, when, where and how the aircraft was lost, and the presumed fate of the other aircrew. Every report includes a narrative, of variable length, which describes an individual's experiences as an escaper, evader or prisoner of war. In addition, many reports include appendices which can provide the names and addresses of civilian helpers, nature of help given, and relevant dates; details of the escape method and fellow PoWs who assisted in an escape; the usefulness of officially provided escape aids, which ones were used, and suggested improvements and/or additions. Please note that the surviving appendices for WO208/3298-3327 are held separately in WO208/5582-5583 .

Due to various adverse factors, there were few successful escapes in the South East Asia theatre of war.

Explanation of Appendices A-D
Many escape, evasion and liberation reports (see below) include one or more Appendices. The purpose of these is as follows:

*Appendix A (TOP SECRET). These can contain names and addresses of helpers, nature of help
given, and relevant dates. This information was intended to help IS9 (D) - Intelligence School 9
(D), a division of Military Intelligence 9 (MI9) - and, eventually, the sections responsible for
tracing and rewarding of helpers, IS9 (AB). In addition, so-called 'Black List' foreigners were also
included. For security reasons Appendix A had a very limited circulation.

*Appendix B (TOP SECRET later SECRET). Consists of military information and intelligence which
was distributed to the Armed Forces and other interested departments. Nevertheless, it was
recognised that in most instances an evader/escaper had little opportunity of observing enemy
activities due to the normal practice of 'hiding-up' during the day. Useful intelligence was more
generally obtained from naval or air force personnel by studying the reasons for their capture or
failure of equipment and so on.

*Appendix C (TOP SECRET). This continued the report narrative from the point where the escaper
or evader came under an escape organisation within a PoW camp. It can give details of the
escape method and allied personnel who assisted in an escape. Names and addresses of helpers
and their descriptions (where necessary) were included. To some extent this overlapped with
Appendix A and where the distinction was negligible they may even have been merged into one.

*Appendix D (TOP SECRET later SECRET). Gives details of the usefulness of officially provided
escape aids carried by pilots and others, which ones were used, and suggested improvements
and/or additions.

The escape and evasion reports in AIR40/1545-1552 include internal indexes, although these documents appear to be duplicates of the reports found in some of the WO208 files described at the start of this section. Reports of escaped Royal Air Force personnel, including some nominal lists of reported Air Force POWs, are in AIR14/353-361; these files deal mainly with aids to escape and conduct in enemy territory. Similar material, with reports on German interrogation methods, is in AIR14/461-465 . Additional reports are dispersed among various record series. A keyword search in the .Catalogue may prove fruitful, but in many cases a report is contained within a file with an uninformative description.

A number of duplicate, and possibly some original, interrogation reports and citations for awards for escape, evasion and activities while a PoW are dispersed among the microfilms WO 373/60-64 and 87 parts 6 & 7.

The War Diary of MI9, the division of Military Intelligence that dealt with escapers and evaders of all services, is in WO165/39 , while its papers including files concerning all aspects of the department's work are in WO208/3242-3565 . The file WO208/3242 is particularly informative.

6. Captives of the Japanese
The record series WO345 contains some 50,000 pre-printed cards of uncertain provenance that appear to have been compiled by a central Japanese authority. With certain exceptions, the cards concern British servicemen and record in a combination of English and Japanese: camp; name; nationality; rank; place of capture; father's name; place of origin; destination of report (assumed to be report of capture, sent to next of kin at address given); ‘no’ for prisoner's camp number; date of birth; unit and service number; date of capture; mother's name; occupation; remarks. Other information is found on the reverse and may include medical and other details. All dates read from right to left and are calculated from the first year of the reign of Emperor Hirohito (1926). A diagonal red line across the card indicates that the prisoner is dead. See also the Liberation questionnaires (WO344) described in section 8.

The three registers in WO367 record the names of some 13,500 Allied PoWs and civilian internees of British and other nationalities held in camps in Singapore. The registers give minimal information about each prisoner and were apparently compiled for the Japanese camp administration, although the majority of the information is in English. The registers refer to camps numbered 1-4, these are believed to be:

No.1 camp (Changi)
No.2 camp(Serangoon RoadChangi)
No.3 camp (River Valley Road)
No.4 camp (Adam Road)

7. Merchant Navy Prisoners of War
There is an extensive collection of records in the series BT373 , giving the circumstances of capture and the eventual fate of UK and Allied Asian merchant seamen captured during the Second World War. Details of ships captured or lost due to enemy action are in BT373/1-359 , searchable in the catalogue at the NA, by ship's name. These contain miscellaneous papers relating to the circumstances of loss/capture.

There are document pouches for individual seamen in BT373/360-3718 . These are searchable by surname and sometimes by forename as well. Each pouch typically coritains the name of the ship lost; a card or form containing circumstantial details (including PoW camp, PoW number, surname, forenames, date of birth, place of birth, Discharge A number, rank or rating, name of ship, ship's official number, date of loss of ship, next of kin, relationship, address and country of detention); Prisoner of War Branch PC 96 (postal censorship) forms vetting messages to and from family and friends; Envelope RS3 which usually has notes of release from captivity/repatriation written on it where appropriate, containing many of the details from the PoW card and additionally a National Service AF Account Number. Some of the pouches may also contain personal letters to and from prisoners of war. Collective alphabetical listings of PoWs (as opposed to individual pouches) are contained in BT373/3717-3722 . For details of PoWs who died in captivity in Japan and Germany, try BT373/3720-3721.

The files BT382/3232-3249 consist of an alphabetical series of printed cards relating to merchant seamen PoWs of all nationalities. The cards normally give details of: camp and PoW number; surname and full forenames; date and place of birth; discharge A number and rank/rating; name of ship, official number and date of loss; next-of-kin and relationship; home address. In addition, some include dates of death, exchange, repatriation and arrival back in the United Kingdom. Access to full details of seamen born less than 100 years ago may be restricted.
More general correspondence on British merchant seamen PoWs is in MT9 (code 106).

Over 5,000 Allied merchant seamen were captured by German forces during the Second World War, most of whom were at some time held at the camp Marlag und Milag Nord, Westertimke, near Bremen, Germany, (Marlag held Royal Navy personnel and Milag Merchant seamen). A camp history is in WO208/3270 . Other mainly administrative and policy files on merchant navy PoWs are dispersed among FO916 , MT9 (code 106), FO371 , WO32(code 91 A).

8.Liberated Prisoner of War Interrogation Questionnaires
The record series WO344 consists of approximately 140,000 Liberation Questionnaires completed by British and Commonwealth servicemen, with a few from other Allied nationals and merchant seamen. While the plans to question all liberated PoWs never materialised, these records still represent a large percentage of those still in enemy hands in 1945. They are arranged alphabetically by name sequences with separate sections for those held by Germany and Japan.

Although the German and Japanese questionnaires differ in appearance and format, the information they might provide is similar. As well as giving personal details, name, rank, number, unit and home address, these records can include: date and place of capture; main camps and hospitals in which imprisoned and work camps; serious illnesses suffered while a prisoner and medical treatment received; interrogation after capture; escape attempts; sabotage; suspicion of collaboration by other Allied prisoners; details of bad treatment by the enemy to themselves or others. In addition, individuals were given the opportunity to bring to official notice any other matters, such as courageous acts by fellow prisoners or details of civilians who assisted them during escape and evasion activities. Consequently, additional documentation is sometimes attached.Both questionnaires also enquire whether the prisoner witnessed or had any information about war crimes. If so they were required to complete a form 'Q'. These documents were not kept with the main report, but passed to the appropriate Allied authorities investigating alleged war crimes. Whiles no discrete record holds these forms, they are occasionally found in War Crimes files. For further information see research guide War Crimes of the Second World War (Military Records Research Guide 27).
The files WO208/5437-5450 contain the second, more specific, 'pink' questionnaire that followed on from those in WO344 . They were made by individuals identified by MI9/IS9 lists as having been directly involved with an escape organisation or who had some other significant function within the PoW camp's internal organisation. The form consists of 25 questions relating to topics such as: the work of escape committees; escape aids and their usefulness; German censorship; receipt and dissemination of coded messages; collection of geographical information that might assist future escape attempts; and internal communications.

A card index to additional more comprehensive Liberation reports in WO208/3328-3340 is held in the Research Enquiries Room at The National Archives. While these two series of reports are duplicates, researchers are advised to order both copies as the second series in particular can include Appendices. Additional detailed Liberation reports for camps in Germany are held in WO 208/3341-3342; an incomplete nominal index is contained in the first of these files.

« Last Edit: July 16, 2008, 12:53:32 AM by themonsstar »

Offline themonsstar

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Re: Prisoners of War, British: 1939-1945 Research at Kew
« Reply #1 on: July 16, 2008, 12:52:17 AM »
9.Awards to civilian helpers
As the Second World War drew to a close, two organisations were formed to investigate the help given by individuals and organisations to Allied escapers and evaders. Their task included settling financial claims and making recommendations for awards to helpers, the latter being done in conjunction with the Americans and the Intelligence Services of the countries concerned. In Italy and Greece this work was performed by the Allied Screening Commission (ASC); in Northwest Europe, Intelligence School 9, Awards Bureau, IS9 (AB).

The files WO208/5451-5460 contain the detailed recommendations for honours and awards made to foreign civilians and military personnel who assisted Allied escapers and evaders. An incomplete nominal card index to these records is available at The National Archives. It is subdivided by nationality as:

 Belgium, Chinese, Czech, Denmark, France, Holland, Italy, Poland and Greece. Take a note of the number on the top left of the card and this will determine which file to order. It would appear that the records are incomplete as the number sequence of the first file - WO 208/5451 - starts at 238.
Less informative, WO208/5461-5480 lists in tabular form individuals who assisted Allied escapers and evaders in Belgium and Luxembourg, Denmark, France, Greece, Holland, Hungary and Yugoslavia, Italy (includes some more detailed cases), and Poland. While the information is limited it does include: name and address, type of reward, amount of financial compensation and any remarks.

Researchers should note that in 1948, at General Eisenhower's request, the records of the Allied Screening Commission were transferred to the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington DC. In the same year its residual successor the Allied Prisoners of War Claims Screening Commission was also closed down. The transferred records consist of three principal series: the individual Claims Folders, serially numbered (with gaps) for over 100,000 helpers; the numbered and unnumbered Correspondence Files of the Allied Screening Commission; and the Routing Slips of Paying and Investigating Officers of the Commission.

10. Prisoner of War Camps
The following abbreviations and descriptions only apply to German PoW camps: Stalag (Stammlager), although not always the case, a camp for NCOs and enlisted men; Oflag (Offizierlager), a camp for officers only; Stalag Luft (Stammlager Luftwaffe), theoretically a camp for Air Force Officers administered by the Luftwaffe; Dulag (Durchgangslager), a transit camp where captured aircrew were processed and interrogated before being sent to a permanent camp.

Within the camp British PoWs were controlled by the Senior British Officer (SBO) or Senior British Non-Commissioned Officer (SBNCO). Some large camps had both a camp leader and a 'man of confidence' (or several in the biggest camps) who was junior to him and handled any day-to-day negotiations with the Germans regarding, for example, camp routine, work schedules and diet. He/they reported directly to representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) who were responsible for inspecting camps and hospitals and producing reports. Records of the ICRC are in FO916 , continued in WO224 . Other reports on PoW camps are held in CO980 and HO215 . Although individuals are rarely mentioned by name, a speculative search of files in these record series may still prove fruitful.

Medical reports on conditions in PoW camps, with some reports on escapes, are among the Medical Historian's Papers in WO222/1352-1393 . It should be noted that the Japanese did not allow inspections of their camps in Malaya or Singapore. Nevertheless, a few reports made by former PoWs are held in CAB101/199 and WO32/14550 .

Records concerning Royal Air Force and Allied Air Force prisoners will be found in the correspondence of the Air Ministry in AIR 2 (code B89), as well as in the Unregistered Papers (PoWs) in AIR 20 (code 89). An alphabetical list of British and Dominion Air Force PoWs in German hands in 1944-1945 is in AIR20/2336 . Nominal rolls of prisoners in German camps are in AIR40/263-281, and AIR40/1488-1491 .

Nominal rolls for some Japanese camps are among papers prepared for a history of the RAF services in AIR49/383-388 , but they are generally disappointing. The roll for Changi is fuller and is in AIR 40/1899-1906 .

A substantial quantity of material concerning British and Commonwealth PoWs - mostly Air Force personnel - can be found in the Headquarters Papers of Bomber Command (AIR14 ), and in the Air Ministry's Directorate of Intelligence Papers. Aerial photographs of camps are in AIR4O/227-231. Location lists and additional aerial photographs of PoW camps in Germany, Italy and Occupied Europe, including reports on transfers, are in AIR14/1235-1240 , and
similar documentation on German camps occurs in AIR40/227-231. Reports on manyindividual Royal Air Force servicemen taken prisoner in occupied Europe, detailing the circumstances of their capture, are in AIR14/470-471. Reports on the condition of British and Dominion PoWs in German and Japanese camps towards the end of the war occur in AIR40/2361 and 2366.

A list of Royal Marines known to have been imprisoned in German camps between 1939 and 1945 is to be found in ADM201/111 . Lists of Royal Navy personnel interned in enemy camps may be found in many of the files in ADM 1 (code 79) and ADM 116 (code 79), although the exact files are not identifiable from the catalogue.

11.Other Sources
Records concerning war crimes committed against Allied PoWs have mostly been preserved in WO 235, WO309 , WO310 , WO311 and WO325 with other material in FQ371, WO32 (code 94), TS 26 and among the Foreign Office records of the Control Commission for Germany (CCG). In addition, The National Archives holds over 100 files concerning the murder of 50 Allied airmen who escaped from Stalag Luft III in March 1944: an incident known as The Great Escape'. Papers dealing with the treatment of British PoWs in German hands are in DEFE 2/1126-1128 . Colonial Office files on British prisoners and internees in the Far East, and British Colonial prisoners in Europe, occur in CO980 and CO537/1220-1221 . For further information see research guide War Crimes of thei Second.WorldWar (Military Records Research Guide 27).

The War Office Registered Files (WQ32 (code 91)) and the Directorate of Military Operations Collation Files (WO193/343-359 ) both contain material on Allied PoWs. The Military Headquarters Papers: SHAEF (Gl Division) contain files relating to the organisation of the Prisoners of War Executive and reports on Allied PoWs (WO219/1402.,1448-1474 ).

The Prisoners of War and Internment Files in the Admiralty and Secretariat Papers ADM I (code 79) contain documentation on many aspects of the Royal Navy's involvement with the capture and internment of enemy and Allied PoWs, naval and other services.

Some notifications of deaths of PoWs during the Second World War are included in RG32.

The Index to the correspondence of the Foreign Office, 1920-1951 (131 vols, Nendeln, 1969-1982) available at The National Archives, contains numerous entries relating to all aspects of British PoWs. The bulk of the correspondence that has been preserved (and not all of it has been) is in FO371.
Although some PoW exchanges took place between 1942 and 1944, the vast majority of British and Commonwealth captives were not repatriated until 1945. Files concerning this complex subject are dispersed over various record series and, although not exhaustive, any search
should include ADM1, ADM116, AIR2 (code B 89), AIR14 , AIR20 , CO980, FO369, WO
32 (code 91), WO170, WO.203, WO204 and WO219.

All of the info is copyright to  The National Archives Kew.
Tel +44(0)20 8876 3444

liverpool annie

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Re: Prisoners of War, British: 1939-1945 Research at Kew
« Reply #2 on: July 16, 2008, 04:12:58 AM »

Roy ! ... thats terrific information ... thank you for sharing it !

Wish I could go and do some delving myself !!

Annie  :)


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Re: Prisoners of War, British: 1939-1945 Research at Kew
« Reply #3 on: December 02, 2008, 01:20:19 PM »
 I am wondering if any know some one who can look in these records. I am from canada and can't see the records.I am looking fo my uncle records and where he was a pow at. Any one with any info on who or how I can obtain these records would be of great help