Tag Archives: POW

Today’s blog post was written by one of our volunteers, Richard.

‘I am the enemy you killed, my friend…’

Wilfred Owen ‘Strange Meeting’

The reference in an earlier blog post to memorials to nationals of enemy countries may seem strange, although in recent times new memorials have been erected with inscriptions intended not to cause offence by referring to all victims of war or conflict.

While such inscriptions may seem colourless, if well-intended, they do recognize that the advance of technology during the twentieth century rendered civilian populations in wartime vulnerable to an unprecedented extent. So for example small children killed in Dresden or Hiroshima were as blameless as their counterparts in a Poplar school killed in a German air raid on London’s docklands in 1917. (Click to see memorial record)

Distinct from this, there is the recognition that it’s advisable for all concerned for there to be some constraints on the conduct of war, and part of this is the respect, including war memorials, paid to the enemy’s dead: some examples were quoted previously.

Another example is the memorial to French prisoners of war at Norman Cross on the A1 in Cambridgeshire. Significantly this was not unveiled until nearly a century after Waterloo, not long after the Entente Cordiale and shortly before the outbreak of the First World War. Some Napoleonic memorials, however, are rather earlier such as the one at HM Prison, Dartmoor, and one now at Chatham. On this one part of the inscription refers to ‘...many brave soldiers and sailors who…have been laid in an honourable grave by a nation which knows how to respect valour and to sympathise with misfortune.’

From the First World War a German teacher is commemorated on a memorial at Manchester Grammar School. At Oxford at the insistence of the Warden of New College, Dr Spooner (he of the spoonerism), a tablet to three German students was unveiled in the 1920s, amid some controversy. 

Recent research has established that Gerhard Brumund, included on the Great Central Railway’s memorial at Sheffield was born in Germany. He was killed when that company’s steamship SS Leicester hit a mine in the English Channel and sank in 1916.

The last moments of the the German Army's airship, SL 11, in flames above HertfordshireSome enemies died in the skies over Britain. In the First World War, SL11 a German Army airship, was shot down over Cuffley in Hertfordshire in 1916 by Lt William Leefe Robinson. He was awarded the VC for ‘most conspicuous bravery’ in attacking the first German airship destroyed on British soil. The crew of SL11 were buried with full military honours at Potters Bar, the vicar of Cuffley having refused them burial. The photo opposite shows the last moments of SL 11, in flames above Hertfordshire. In 1967 the graves of Germans who died in Britain during the two world wars, including the crew of SL11, were concentrated at the Cannock Chase German War Cemetery in Staffordshire.

At King’s Somborne in Hampshire is a small memorial to the crew of a Luftwaffe plane downed in 1940. A more substantial Second World War memorial at St Peter’s Italian church in central London commemorates enemy aliens, both Italian and German, lost when the Arandora Star carrying them to internment in Canada was torpedoed in 1940 by the German submarine U47. As a reminder that political alliances are not necessarily unchanging, the same church has a memorial to its members in the war of 1915-1918 (sic) killed at a time when Italy was one of Britain’s allies.

Erich Kaestner, the man who was believed to be German’s last surviving First World War veteran, has died at the age of 107.  Kaestner left school in 1918 and fought on the Western Front for 4 months before the war ended.  He also saw service during the Second World War as an officer in the Luftwaffe.

Kaestner’s death went almost unnoticed in Germany – he actually died on 1 January this year.  In noted contrast to the way many other countries mark the deaths of their First World War veterans, Germany keeps no official records of its war veterans.  Kaestner’s son is reported as saying, “In Germany, in this respect, things are kept quiet – they’re not a big deal.”  Similarly, the BBC reported that “the shame of the Nazi genocide and memories of two world war defeats still cast long shadows“.

Read more from BBC News

There are many memorials on UK soil that commemorate German service personnel.  A wooden cross marks the site of a Luftwaffe crash site in Donnington, North Yorkshire.  A plaque notes the following:

“The cross was dedicated to those who died. A wreath was laid by Herr Herbert Thomas of the Luftwaffe Night Fighter Association and Mr Arthur Tait of the Doncaster Air Gunners Association, bringing together old wartime enemies in friendship and showing the futility of war.

A stained glass cross in Bangor Cathedral bears this explanatory inscription:

“The cross was made by Herr Franz/ Bonnekamp, an artist in stained/ glass, who was a prisoner of war in/ this country./ He created it in gratitude for the/ kindness and care received at the/ old C&A Hospital, Bangor, when he/ was seriously ill in 1946./

A plaque at Eden Camp Museum, North Yorkshire, records the following:

“This plaque/ commemorates/ S/Sgt James Joseph Wadley, Sgt. Ronald Montague Cramer/ and the 10 German prisoners of war/ who were killed when their lorry was in collision with a/ train at Burton Agnes level crossing near Bridlington on/ the 17th September 1947/ also all Axis power P.O.W.’S who…/ “…worked in our fields and have gathered our harvest. We/ thank them for the work they have done in our land for us.”/ Rev. N. A. Vesey/ Bridlington/ Council of Churches 22.9.47

Gordon, one of our volunteer fieldworkers writes…

For a while now I have had an interest in inscriptions and one in particular. When I was recording our local memorials some years ago, I noticed in our local parish church the Latin inscription “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori” which means “It is a sweet and glorious thing to die for one’s country“. The quotation comes from the 1st Century Latin poet Horace.

Portrait of Wilfrid Owen (Neg Q 79045)At first I did not think too much about it, until my wife who is a good Latin scholar, reminded me about the poem written by the First World War soldier Wilfred Owen (1895 -1918). His poem is titled “Dulce et Decorum est” in which he mocks this sentiment. On reflection I agree with Owen’s view.

I wondered how many memorials used this quotation and so I decided to do some desk research based on the UKNIWM database.  400 are listed on the UKNIWM site, mainly in Latin but also 8 in English.  This represents 0.75% of the total of 55,000 memorials so far recorded. Analysing the 400 I have found the following:

WW1 memorials: 275 entries
WW2 memorials: 61 entries
Other memorials: 64 entries (including Crimea, Zulu, Boer and Korean wars)

The earliest inscription I found was at Melton Constable, Norfolk, for a victim who died at sea in 1778. However it is not clear when the monument was erected. It seems many monuments were erected decades after the event. There are two monuments to French prisoners of war from the Napoleonic wars, one was erected in 1914 at Norman Cross, the other at Dartmoor prison in 1865.

The Horace quote seems to have been used for the first time around the late 18th century and then on various occasions, reaching a peak during the First World War.

I am surprised that the grand total was not a lot higher than 400. Probably more will be found among the memorials still to be recorded. I suspect that the novelty was fading after WW1, especially when Wilfred Owen’s poem became widely read. It would surprise me if this inscription is used again for recent wars. However I could be wrong.

Here are the last lines of “Dulce et Decorum Est” by Wilfred Owen:

Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, –
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

It would be interesting to get the opinions and thoughts of others involved in the war memorial project.

Today Americans celebrate the anniversary of the declaration of independence from Great Britain in 1776.  There are twelve memorials on our database commemorating the American revolutionary wars, including the American War of Independence and the later War of 1812.

Click to see all memorials to the American Revolution

Two constrasting memorials show different sides of this conflict.

A memorial tablet in a church in Beverley, Humberside, commemorates Brigadier General Oliver De Lancey, a wealthy native of the colony of New York’ who raised three regiments to fight against the American revolutionaries. When the war ended he and his family sought asylum in Beverley, where he died later the same year, aged 69.

A modern memorial plaque, erected in 1997, commemorates over 1,500 American prisoners who were held in Mill Gaol, Plymouth during the war.  The plaque was erected by a US organisation called the Sons of the American Revolution which, among other activities, mark the locations of revolutionary events and soldiers.

I came across an interesting memorial today while searching our database.  It commemorates Lieutenant Hector Maclaine of the Royal Horse Artillery, who was killed in Afghanistan in 1880.   

The inscription tells us that he was taken prisoner and later killed while trying to get water for the wounded after a battle.   What makes it interesting is the form the memorial takes – a water fountain!

Memorial to Lieutenant Hector Maclaine

Another example of what certainly appears to be a rather whimsical selection of memorial type is emergency exit signs in a church … dedicated to RAF prisoners of war.

Memorial to RAF Prisoners of War