Disabled PoWs repatriated in Prisoner Exchange

German prisoners, captured by the Black Watch in the Western Desert, waiting to be taken to a POW camp, 29 October 1942.

German prisoners, captured by the Black Watch in the Western Desert, waiting to be taken to a POW camp, 29 October 1942.

Wounded German POWs being checked aboard the hospital ship SS TAIREA at Port Said, from where they were to sail to Barcelona for repatriation, 18 October 1943.

Wounded German POWs being checked aboard the hospital ship SS TAIREA at Port Said, from where they were to sail to Barcelona for repatriation, 18 October 1943.

The Geneva Convention makes provision for the repatriation of all Prisoners of War, even during hostilities. During 1939-1945 it was only possible for the British and Germans to reach agreement over the seriously ill and disabled. For the majority of the 40,000 British servicemen who were taken prisoner in 1939 and 1940, the war was to be a very long and dispiriting experience.

Negotiations, conducted through the Red Cross, over the repatriation of seriously wounded men, had begun in late 1940. They did not progress very far because there were far fewer German men in this category than British. It was only after substantial numbers of Germans were taken prisoner in the Desert campaign of 1942 that the talks resumed. The actual exchange of prisoners did not take place until October 1943:



From our Special Correspondent

Trains bearing prisoners from Germany for repatriation to Britain began arriving here from the Trelleborg ferry in the early hours of Monday, and the transfer to the Swedish steamship Drottningholm was made during darkness. Before dawn more than 1,200, most of them men from Great Britain, but also 20 Canadians, 20 Australians, a few Palestinians, and some from other parts of the British Empire, were on board.

About noon the German steamships Ruegen and Meteor brought a further 650 to the quays at Gothenburg just as the Drottningham was pulling out for Vinga to adjust her compasses, preparatory to sailing to Great Britain.

The British steamers Empress of Russia and Atlantis reached Gothenburg this afternoon with 835 German repatriates. Meanwhile further trains with allied prisoners from Germany, France, and Holland were arriving, bringing besides the service men about 50 civilians, mostly aged or unfit men and women, and at least one infant, born in a camp 10 weeks ago. The civilians were mostly from Vittel camp, in the Vosges.

Apparently the actual departure of the ships depends on some signal that a similar exchange has reached the agreed stage also in Oran. This is expected to arrive in time for the German ships to sail at 8 a.m. on Thursday and the British ships at 10.30 a.m. to reach England during the week-end.

A remarkably large number of the men were wearing ribbons of the last war. One of these – William Watts, of Belfast – was captured at Boulogne in September, 1940, sent to Lamsdorf VIIIB camp in Germany, where to his astonishment, he met his son, William, who had been captured at Calais in June. Many of the man referred to the devoted and courageous service of a British medical officer, Captain Webster, who untiringly served his fellow captives and fought for better medical treatment and camp conditions. He was constantly in conflict with the German officials, who eventually transferred him to a Russian camp, making him responsible for the entire medical arrangements there.

The abundant stories of attempts to escape include the exploits of one John Dexter, who, after several failures, was transferred to a disciplinary camp. The German in charge, half admiringly, offered to bet him anything that he would not get out of that camp. Dexter took the bet and within 24 hours disappeared, remaining at large over a week.

Three hours spent among the 1,200 new passengers in the Drottningholm on Monday morning furnished a stimulating and indeed an inspiring experience. Most of them had been prisoners for well over three years; all had endured long and severe hardships; some were maimed and many more had less obvious injuries, yet all of them displayed a buoyant spirit. It became apparent, after on had talked with the men in different parts of the ship, that theirs was not merely the natural cheerfulness of men who were going home. These were men whose confident spirit had remained high and intact through the darkest period.

“Jerry could not understand us,” said one man who had been selected for exchange under the abortive plan of two years ago. “When we were told the disappointing news that the exchange scheme had fallen through at the last moment a group of us struck up a tune, and in a few seconds all were singing lustily ‘Land of hope and glory.’ Our German attendants just threw up their hands. Clearly they thought we were crazy. They were unable to understand why we did not show any downheartedness.” One airman whose foot was missing said quietly and cheerfully: “Never mind, Sir. It is only a very little bit of me gone.”

The absence of self-pity among these men was on of the most striking features of their attitude. When they were asked what sort of general treatment they had experienced they usually answered, in varying terms: “Well, you see, I was fortunate.” Some, however, had grim incidents to relate, especially about the youngest members of Hitler’s armed forces, brutal fanatics with memories scarcely stretching back beyond the dawn of the Nazi period.

Some men had tiny replicas of the manacles used by the Germans which they had made in camp and had brought in matchboxes. None of those questioned by your Correspondent had been manacled. Fewer members of the fanatical S.S. youth are now on duty at the camps than formerly. They have been succeeded largely by more or less disabled guards, some indeed with artificial limbs.

Stalag VIIIB is still among the worst of the camps; one of the hardships suffered lately by prisoners was the great scarcity of water. In reply to complaints the Germans who had been evacuated from areas raided by the allies, and that the water was not adequate for both purposes. Prisoners, even members of the R.A.M.C. and of other non-combatant services, were used for various forms of labour, including work in the coalmines and saltmines. Work in the saltmines was dreaded most. Stalag VIIIB was now the most overcrowded camp, especially since the arrival there of thousands of prisoners from Africa and Italy. Some of the men said that the Swiss commission recently stated that the maximum capacity of this camp was 5,000, but a fortnight ago there were 16,000 prisoners in it.

All the men expressed unbounded gratitude to the Red Cross, and said that without its help they could scarcely have kept body and spirit together. Some stated that food parcels since the beginning of the year had reached the camps with great regularity. Soap and cigarettes were among the most useful items, as they could be easily and widely used for bartering. The men said that the German doctors worked well and conscientiously when prisoners reached their hands, but one airman who had crashed said that the first doctor who saw him declared that he would not treat him unless the patient gave his interrogators full information about the aerodrome from which he had flown and other details about the raid he was engaged in – such as the number of aircraft and the size of the crews. Eventually, however, he received proper surgical treatment.

From The Times, 20th October 1943

Much more on the United States involvement in repatriation used to be available at http://www.salship.se/mercy.asp. It may be possible to access this using the internet archive.

The Swedish liner Gripsholm was chartered by the United States for repatriation services. "M. S. Gripsholm is painted white with the name of the vessel,  the Swedish flag and the words Sverige and Diplomat painted prominently on port and starboard. The vessel will travel  fully lighted at night with identifying markings fully illuminated."

The Swedish liner Gripsholm was chartered by the United States for repatriation services.
“M. S. Gripsholm is painted white with the name of the vessel, the Swedish flag and the words Sverige and Diplomat painted prominently on port and starboard. The vessel will travel fully lighted at night with identifying markings fully illuminated.”

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Luonie Collie April 17, 2019 at 3:32 am

My paternal Grandfather ,Bruno Globke,a Jew was a POW.from Surrey Racecourse in England,
He was said to be ,by the International Red Cross, repatriated thru Gothenburg to Germany 1943.
The ship I believe was The Duchess of York torpedoed 100 miles of the coast of England..
Bruno Survived, however I can find no record of him from 1943 until 1952 when he entered Blah e Washington on a refuge visa.
Can anyone assist with information on where these men were in that period.
Email Luonie : luonieb@gmail.com

SONIA WATERFALL February 9, 2019 at 2:32 pm

Like Lyn Cottee, I am also seeking information about the Lamsdorf hospital, also the one at Tost, where my father was transferred in 1944. My father Sidney Waterfall, RAMC, who was with the 7th Hospital, 18th Coy and was captured on Crete, arrived at Lamsdorf the end of Oct/early November. In his letters he mentions several periods of hope for repatriation but none eventuated.

Paul Wilson November 26, 2018 at 2:24 pm

My grandfather was also repatriated on the Gripsholm.

He served with the Royal Fusiliers (9th Bn I think) and was captured at Battipaglia, during the German counter attack on Salerno in 1943. He was diagnosed as having TB, but survived and lived until old age.

I know he was back in England by the summer of 1944.

Arthur D. Tobkin November 20, 2018 at 11:47 pm

My uncle was attached to the 358th Bomb Squadron, 303rd Bomb Group (Heavy). He was a ball turret gunner on a B-17 that was shot down on 10-14-1943 (second Schweinfurt raid…”Black Thursday”). He was badly wounded and was taken to a Prisoner of War hospital in Ludwigsburg, Germany, north of Stuttgart, Germany. While at Ludwigsburg. he had his leg amputated. In 1944, he was transferred to another Prisoner of War hospital in Meiningen, Germany. In the latter part of 1944, he was re-patriated and taken to Denmark and he boarded the Swedish liner Gripsholm for the United States. He arrived in New York City in late 1944, was later transferred to a Veterans Hospital in Battle Creek, Michigan. At Battle Creek he was fitted with an artificial leg and he was Honorably Discharged from the US Army Air Force in February 1945. He told me that all of the POW’s on the Gripsholm had lost at least one arm or leg.

Yitschak Livni October 19, 2018 at 10:41 pm

I imagin the “few Palestinians” mentioned were in fact Jews. The Palestine Brigade which served under the British was comprised of Jews from the British Mandate Territory of Palestine. My father, a rabbi, had a Palestinian ID as did all the residents deemed legal by the British. In those days Arabs considered it an afront to be called “Palestinian”. The British-appointed mufti of Jerusalem, creator of the Muslem Brotherhood which spawned the Hamas, et al, spent the war in Berlin, a guest and cohort of Hitler.

Terry Morris September 30, 2018 at 9:16 pm

My uncle, Thomas William Morris known as Bill was repatriated having suffered horrific injuries with the Desert Rats. A German surgeon “repaired” him, saving his life, but unfortunately he was to remain crippled for the rest of his life, he lived until he was 80. His tragedy was not to end there, it has been said that he returned to find that both his wife and son had died from TB!

He never talked about it so my knowledg3 is as much as I have said above, where do I begin to fill in th huge gaps?

Tommy Cowan September 9, 2018 at 4:48 pm

Now 78 Im an old son of Archie Cowan A&SH who in 1943 came home to Stirling, on board the Swedish Drottingham. he was badly wounded and survived just a year. He is Interred in Stirling just below his beautiful Stirling Castle where he joined up. He had a good friend while in the Agylls one Lieutenant OOR-Ewing of Cardross. Stalag XX1-A I think that camp was in Poland. NEVER FORGOTTEN.

Ronald Castenfelt February 16, 2018 at 8:04 pm

Very little is known here in Sweden about this exchange by the sea, of all disabled war prisoners from 1943 and further on. This heroic and humanitarian project carried out by the Red Cross should never be forgotten! Please, open up memories for us, thank all of You, still walking this Earth of Ours.

Sincerely yours,

Ronald Castenfelt, Stockholm/SWEDEN 2018

Richard Kennard December 13, 2017 at 9:24 pm

When I was a small boy in the early 1950s I was shown, by my mother, the graves of four German airmen who died when their Heinkel bomber was shot down on the 15th of September 1940 whilst attacking Becton Gas Works. They crashed in Woolwich Arsenal. One crew member, Feldwebel Michael Ciomber, baled out, was taken prisoner badly wounded, transferred to the Royal Herbert Hospital and in June 1944 repatriated via the International Red Cross. Has anyone any further information about him, please?

John Weeks November 9, 2017 at 4:42 pm

My father S/Sgt Wilfred Victor Weeks RAMC was captured at Crete and was sent to Stalag VIIIB. He was repatriated in an exchange of prisoners towards the end of 1943 and was posted to the Military Hospital at Tidworth. My mother and 5 boys were evacuated from Egypt via Palestine to Durban. We returned to UK on the Empress of Scotland arriving in Liverpool in March/April ’44. Father died of Cancer aged 57 in 1957. Would like to hear from anyone who knew him.

daniel filipczyk October 27, 2017 at 11:58 pm

daniel filipczyk October 27, 2017 at 11:54 pm
Your comment is awaiting moderation.

@Marion Farmer:
please contact me … i am looking for prisoner of war and hospital workers in cosel upper silesia.
many thanks

Darren Greenham October 25, 2017 at 2:54 pm

Evelyn Clarke, yes, there were many repatriation negotiations prior to the successful repatriation in 1943. POWs who are permanently disabled and medical staff who accompany them are required to be exchanged under the geneva convention. Unfortunately, despite the Geneva conventions on these points the Germans demanded an equal number of repatriations in return and, prior to 1943, the Allies simply didnt have enough, which led the Germans to demand the return of interned citizens to make up the numbers. Because that is not a requirement of the geneva conventions that was refused and negotiations dragged on via the red cross until 1943. At one stage prior to 1943, pows on both sides were embarked and then the negotiations stalled again and the pows were returned to their respective camps.

Diane Kerwin September 19, 2017 at 7:38 pm

My Dad was repatriated in October 1943, after being interred in Stalag VIIIB since being captured on 27th May 1940 at St. Venant. He arrived at the Stalag on 14th June, 1940 sent from Trier, Germany. I just received a copy of his attestation from the ICRC, that I requested back in early April. If you want to do the same, there will be another opening in October apparently. They only do it so many times in a year. Go to the ICRC web page and fill in the form and email it to them. Dad was in 1st Bn Royal Welch Fusiliers, and he probably sailed on the Drottningholm home. When he arrived at my Grandparents home, it was the first time I had met him. I was 5yrs old.

Evelyn Clarke September 18, 2017 at 7:52 pm

My Uncle, James Anderson, was captured early in the war. He suffered from tuberculosis. According to my mother, who died recently, he was to be part of a prisoner exchange leaving through a Dutch port, but the exchange was cancelled when Rudolf Hess made his flight to England (May, 1941) He died, still a prisoner, in 1943. Does anyone know anything of such a plan? A Dutch port seems unlikely to me, but who knows?

Julie Gulliver August 30, 2017 at 3:05 am

My grandad was repatriated in 1943 suffering from TB. He was with the Norfolk Regiment, 7th Battalion, and we believe captured at Saint Valery en Coux. His name was William ‘Billy’ Newson. Any information would be appreciated. Thank you.


john miles July 26, 2017 at 11:07 am

My name is John Miles , My fathers name was Francis(Frank Miles). He was in the RASC and was caught in Crete, he was repatriated from a POW camp apparantly in Germany after being hit on the head by a rifle butt . If anyone knew him I would be grateful to find out anything at all. Sadly he passed away some years ago and never spoke about his experiences.

Colin Bain May 29, 2017 at 2:58 am

My father Victor Albert Bain of 143 Squadron was shot down in the Baltic on 3rd March 1943 and was taken POW in Stalag Luft lll . He was repatriated early in 1944 due to him being declared deaf. I am trying to get some more detail on the exchange.
Colin Bain son.

Melanie McShane April 26, 2017 at 12:29 am

My grandfather Cpl Archibald Cowan of Raploch, Stirling was on this ship. Unfortunately he succumbed to his injuries and died on the 9th July 1944.

Marion Farmer May 13, 2016 at 6:50 pm

Captain Webster mentioned by Lyn Cottee and in the newspaper article, was my uncle. I have quite a lot of information about the hospitaller at Lamsdorf and Cosel.

John Linstead March 24, 2016 at 8:52 pm

My uncle was John George Mossop. He was in the Queen Victoria Rifles. Kings royal rifle corps. Captured at calais in may 1940. Repatriated in 1943 due to ill health before dying in 1944 of pulmonary tuberculosis. Because he was repatriated before the POW lists were compiled in 1944, I have no information at all about the camps he was kept in. Can anyone assist at all?

Ronald Castenfelt December 6, 2015 at 7:53 pm

My name is Ronald Castenfelt. I am Swedish, but spent my childhood in NW London, (Shannon Place/Townsend Court), during WW2 (from August 1939 to October 1943).

I was the youngest passenger onboard S/S Drottningholm, while departing from Leith (Scotland), bound for Gothenburg/Sweden, on Friday 29th October 1943. My famlily had to leave, because my father had turned ill (severe illness). I was only five years old 1943, when the Red Cross offered us this unique possibilty.

When our arrival to Gothenburg 4th of November, I didn’t speak any Swedish at all! I´m seeking my roots, searching all infos, photos etc, especially everything connected to those dramatic, seven days onboard S/S Drottningholm.

Terry Annett June 2, 2015 at 5:20 pm

My grandfather was sgt walter frost of kings rifles captured at valais during Dunkirk evacuation and pow at stalag 17 for rest of war would love any info

LYN COTTEE October 15, 2014 at 4:02 am

My father was ROBERT JOHN BEAZLEY he served in the 2nd 7th Field Ambulance and was captured on Crete. He was interned in Stallag VIIIB and later worked as a Medical Orderly in the prison hospital in Cosel with Captain Webster. If anyone can help with any information regarding Stallag VIIIB and the hospital it would be very much appreciated.

Karen Newport - Mackey June 5, 2014 at 10:06 am

My father was Theodore KEITH Newport and served with the 20th Battalion. he was captured in north africa with schrapnel wounds to his left elbow.His arm was to be amputated but a german surgeon tried a new proceedure of bandaging blow flies (maggots) to the wound. It worked and dad kept his arm with very limited use set at a 90d angle. he spent time in stalag 18a. If anyone can help with information of this time i would be very grateful. regards karen

Mike Cox October 21, 2013 at 3:47 pm

Dear WW2.This is the first time i seen this site,did not know about it.But now i have seen it,and hopefully stay with this site.As i am both WW1 and WW2 keen watcher and really like like any information on the 2 wars.
Thankyou Mike Cox

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