Sources of information and useful Web links
Over the years since my first trip to my father's PoW camp and publishing my website, I have been contacted by many people asking how to start researching the captivity of their fathers, grandfathers, uncles etc. For brevity, let's call these former PoW your "subject".
Obviously there is no standard way to do this as everyone starts with different amounts of information. Some know the number of the camp but not where it is; others know the subject's regiment but not the camp; some don't even know their subject's regiment. The permutations are endless. However, for what it's worth, I have listed here some suggestions for how to proceed and some sources of information which I have found useful in my research. I hope they will be of help and I would be grateful to hear of any other sources.
The first thing you need to do is to gather together all the documentation you can from your subject's time in the war. These could be his pay book, de-mob papers, letters or post cards sent to, or received from, the camp(s). Ask other family members – especially the older ones – if they still have any documents, letters or even just memories from the time. Check old address books for camp postal addresses.
There are several websites dealing with Prisoners of War from WWII which are good for general information and other researchers' experiences.
http://www.prisonerofwar.org.uk/ The National Ex-Prisoners of War Association (NEXPOWA) will give you good general background information. You can also join for £11 per year for which you receive the quarterly newsletter and access to the association's very knowledgeable historian.
http://www.pegasusarchive.org/pow/ contains information on many camps, personal PoW stories, biographies and more.
http://www.wartimememories.co.uk/pow/pow.html also has details of many camps, personal stories and lots of information on WWII and WWI in general
http://www.bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar/categories/c1204/index.shtml a BBC site with lots of personal accounts by PoW and others from WWII
http://www.aiipowmia.net/ The Advocacy & Intelligence Index for Prisoners of War and Missing in Action is an American site for American research.
http://www.nzetc.org/ a New Zealand site with detailed and comprehensive histories of all aspects of the war and other unrelated subjects concerning their country. Search for "Prisoners of War".
The Italians did not issue their PoW with numbers or record cards. But the bureaucratic Wehrmacht dealt with PoW the same as their own soldiers. Each had a "personalkarte" (record card) which recorded all events, medical treatments, transgressions from the rules, subsequent punishments and all movements through the "system" from camp to camp or camp to work camp. At the end of the war each occupying power passed over all those records which had not been destroyed to the relevant country. Unfortunately, copies of these are no longer available separately. If still in existence, copies can be requested via the MOD website (see "Service Records" below) when applying for copies of Service Records.
A copy of your subject's service record can be obtained by their next of kin (if the subject is now deceased) for a fee (£30 in 2011). An application form and all details of the (form filling) procedure are available here.
These should provide you with date and place of capture and possibly names of camps where held etc. If they only have a date of capture (or being reported missing) you could try entering the date into a search engine or checking histories of the war and you should find where battles were fought on that day and see if many troops were captured.
The National Archives (NA) hold a wealth of information about WWII and PoW. See their website at http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/default.htm. It's a bit complex to use but they have a lot of stuff to cover! Persevere and you will find it invaluable.
If possible, it's best to go personally to Kew where everything is available free to view. If you can't get there, they will supply copies of documents (if they exist) but there is a (sometimes hefty) fee depending on the number of sheets to be copied. They will also do research for you, again at a fee.
The NA produce a research guide called British Prisoners of
War 1939–1953. This is now online here: http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/records/research-guides/prisoners-war-1939-1953.htm
and probably in hard copy from the information desk at the entrance to the Research Enquiries
room (1st floor). It gives just about chapter and verse on all the information
they hold there on this subject.
If you are not certain of any of your subject's details, a
good starting point is the library and three books which are
a register of all 169,000 British and Commonwealth PoW of all ranks who were
held in Germany and German-occupied territories giving name, rank, service
number, regiment, PoW number and the last (as at March 1945) camp number
they were held in. The reference no is 940.5472 and the three titles are:
"Prisoners of War, British Army, 1939–1945"
"Prisoners of War, naval and air forces of Great
Britain and the Empire, 1939–1945"
"Prisoners of War, armies and other land forces of
the British Empire, 1939–1945"
They are in the row of shelves marked WWII right opposite as you enter the library, towards the far end on the bottom shelf with the large books.
Though not checked by me personally, I would assume that they also hold a similar volume for PoW held in Italian camps.
NB that officers are listed separately and in strict
alphabetical order by surname and initials. However, NCOs and "other
ranks" are also listed separately but alphabetically by surname then in
service number sequence. So Smith A could be at the end of the list of
Smiths while Smith Z could be at the start. Also note that for those with
Territorial Army service numbers beginning with a "T", this letter is
ignored for sequencing purposes.
The Archives also hold 140,000 British and Commonwealth
liberated PoW interrogation questionnaires which were completed (in pencil!) by
most – but not all – PoW on their return to UK. The file reference is WO 344 on the NA website arranged alphabetically in
surname order with separate sections for Germany and Japan. These give
name, rank, service number, unit, home address, date & place of capture,
main camps where held and hospitals where treated, 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,
courageous acts by other prisoners, assistance received from civilians during
Before ordering the relevant file it may be useful to
consult the card file ref WO 208/3328-3340 held in the Research Enquiries room
(1st floor) which lists all the liberation reports. This drawer of
index cards was missing in July 2007 but the staff promised to rectify this.
Once you know the camp(s) where your subject was held you can view the relevant file for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) inspection reports under ref WO 224 and some other references depending on date. As well as reports on the camps themselves, these also provide details of some of the arbeitskommandos or external work camps.
(Last updated 11 January 2011 )