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1911 Encyclopedia Britannica

Prisoners Outside Europe

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"PRISONERS OUTSIDE EUROPE. - Something must be added with regard to the treatment of prisoners elsewhere than in Europe, if only because serious complaints were made on both sides as to their treatment with regard to accommodation and food, especially in East Africa. There can be no doubt that much suffering was endured by prisoners of both nationalities in this part of the world; but it was mainly due to the conditions of the campaign and to the climate, while on the British side there appears to have been much justification for the complaints which were made against individual Germans for their want of consideration for the devoted men and women missionaries whom the fortunes of war had brought into their hands.

1 Turkey

2 Bulgaria

3 Austria

4 Authorities


Little can be said with regard to the application of the Hague Convention by Turkey, because the Government of that country made practically no attempt to conform to the regulations contained in it. Their treatment of prisoners varied from an almost theatrical politeness to the great, to complete indifference to suffering - almost to barbarism - in the case of men of little esteem.

These oriental characteristics may be best illustrated by the fate of the British prisoners captured on the fall of Kut el `Amara at the end of April 1916, when, as Enver Pasha stated, they became " the honoured guests of the Turkish Government." The 'The original wording was: " Il est absolument interdit de parler aux prisonniers ou de leur passer des lettres, des vivres, ou d'autres objets quelconques. Les infractions a cette prescription seront punies d'un emprisonnement pouvant s'elever a 3 ans, ou d'une amende pouvant atteindre 10,000 mark." 2 The original wording was: " Malgre cette defense, de nombreuses infractions ont ete signalees. La Kommandantur ayant pour tache de maintenir l'ordre le plus strict, les soldats de surveillance ont recu l'instruction de faire usage, le cas eeheant, de leurs armes a feu." officers were sent by steamer to Bagdad and thereafter drafted to various camps in Anatolia. The men were marched roo m. to Bagdad, in stifling heat, with no sort of organization for food transport or medical care of those worn out by the privations of the long-drawn-out siege. The Turkish commandant promised that the day's march should not exceed eight miles. He kept his promise for one day, and thereafter the men were forced to march from 12 to 18 m. a day, herded like sheep by mounted Arabs who flogged forward the stragglers. At night they lay out on the open ground without any shelter. Many fell out and died. At one point 350 men were left behind in a sort of cowshed, so sick as to be unable to move, and were picked up by the already overcrowded boats, where there was room only for the most desperately ill to lie down. Arrived at Bagdad, all but 500, who were too ill even for the Turks to force them forward, were sent on a Soo-m. march to places where they were to work.

Out of a total of 13,670 of all ranks believed to have been captured at Kut, in the course of two and a half years 1,425 escaped or were repatriated, 2,611 are known to have died, while 2,200 were missing, and there were left in the hands of the Turks only 7,414, or little more than half of those captured.

Up to Dec. 1917 the Ottoman Government steadily refused to permit neutrals to inspect the camps, and though this concession was then made, it was so worded as in effect to be useless.


If due allowance is made for the backward condition of the country, it must be admitted that the treatment by the Bulgarians was correct, though complaint was made that British soldiers were flogged for disciplinary offences. This is permitted by the military law of Bulgaria but after representations were made on the subject the practice was abandoned in the case of British soldiers.

The food given the prisoners was the same as that given to the Bulgarian soldiers, and the hospital treatment was not less good than that given to their own men. The accommodation was rough but in general no worse than that of the inhabitants of the country. Every effort appears to have been made to improve conditions where they were remediable, and the authorities seemed anxious to treat their British prisoners with consideration. An unusual amount of liberty was accorded to the prisoners, and there is no little evidence of the kindness and friendliness of the Bulgarian civilians to the British.


The few British prisoners captured by Austria were treated with consideration and in accordance with the provisions of the Hague Convention.

Negotiations During The War. - During the World War a notable step was taken in arranging for meetings between representatives of the belligerents for the discussion of matters relating to prisoners of war. In the spring of 1917 meetings had taken place between French and German representatives with useful results, and, largely owing to the insistence of Lord Newton, who was then in charge of the Prisoners of War Department of the British Foreign Office, a meeting between German and British representatives was arranged and took place at The Hague in June. Great Britain was represented by Lord Newton, Lord Justice Younger and Gen. Belfield, and Germany by Gen. Friederich and two others, the meetings being presided over by M. van Vredenburg on behalf of M. Loudon, the Netherlands Minister of Foreign Affairs. At this meeting arrangements were made for the repatriation of disabled combatants, for the internment of invalid interned civilians, for the repatriation of medical personnel still retained by the belligerents, and for the mitigation of certain punishments inflicted on prisoners of war. It was agreed that reprisals should only be carried out after a month's notice of intention to do so had been given and it was also agreed that all captures were to be notified with the least possible delay.

This meeting was followed by one which lasted from June 8 to July 14 1918, at which the British representatives were Lord Cave, Lord Newton and Gen. Belfield, the first-named being obliged to return before the agreement was signed. It contained no fewer than 60 articles with six annexes thereto, and dealt with the following subjects: the repatriation of invalids; the internment in a neutral country of prisoners who had been a long time in captivity; the protection of prisoners after capture; prisoners retained in an area of operations; notification of capture; equipment and organization of camps; food; punishments; help committees; relations with protecting powers; parcels and postal services; and the publication of the agreements in the different camps. Much was done by these two meetings to translate into a concrete form the principles laid down in the Hague Conventions, and to mitigate the lot of the prisoners, though the full benefit of the second agreement was never realized as it was never formally ratified.

In Dec. 1917 Lord Newton and Gen. Belfield met Turkish representatives at Berne under the presidency of M. Ador, of the Swiss Political Department, and an agreement was drawn up on lines similar to those of the German agreements.

Questions For The Future. - The foregoing investigation of the operation of the Hague Convention during the World War leads one inevitably to ask whether it is desirable and practicable to make any substantial amendment to, that Convention. It is a most difficult question to answer, for, although not generally recognized, the whole problem is military rather than humanitarian. While of course all active ill-treatment should be prohibited, the lot of a prisoner must not be made so attractive in comparison with that of soldiers in the firing-line as to afford a temptation to them to desert or to do anything incompatible with their military duty. Further, while it is possible for the voices of humanity and charity to make themselves effectively heard in times of profound peace, it is useless then to formulate regulations which public opinion, stirred to its depths by alleged misdeeds of the enemy, will not allow to be observed, and which the military authorities will disregard in time of war. All that can be usefully accomplished is to put into the form of rules those principles which the good sense of all civilized nations accepts as correct, and for this purpose to use the experience gained during the World War, of which not the least important part was the value of direct conference between representatives of the belligerents during active hostilities for the purpose of dealing with the detailed application of those principles.

But it does seem desirable that regulations should be made dealing with the case of civilians found in any enemy country at the outbreak of war, for it is improbable that in any future war of nations civilians will be allowed to return home or to remain at large in view of the means of communication which modern science has made possible.

The value of the inspection of prisoners-of-war camps by the accredited representatives of the protecting State has been made abundantly clear, and their right to visit the camps, which was the result of an agreement made early in 1915 between the British and German Governments should be made permanent. It will, however, be extremely difficult to reconcile the desires of the humanitarians and the military authorities with regard to camps within the area of hostilities, though it will probably be found possible to come to some agreement defining the nature of the work on which prisoners of war may not be employed, and an attempt should be made to make more clear than it is at present the obligation of the captors with regard to the feeding and clothing of the prisoners in their hands.

For military reasons there would be no chance of obtaining a general assent to the prohibition of reprisals, but provisions similar to those contained in the agreements with the German and Ottoman Governments requiring notice before reprisals are made might be accepted.

Finally, those agreements made during the war with regard to the repatriation of disabled prisoners, and the conditions on which a prisoner should be entitled to internment in a neutral country if accommodation could be found, might be made of universal application.

There remains the most difficult question of all: whether it is possible to provide penalties for the infraction of any regulation which may be made, and to establish a tribunal with authority to punish individuals and States. Articles 227-229 of the Peace Treaty with Germany, satisfactory from one point of view, savour too little of the calm administration of justice. They are not reciprocal, the vanquished are given no right to have judicially investigated any complaints they may have against the victors. It would be far more satisfactory to have an alleged " atrocity " investigated than that, for want of public investigation, an unfounded legend of brutality should grow up.

It is perhaps too much to expect that, at the conclusion of a war in which the victors have made great sacrifices and undergone great suffering, they should take steps to establish a court for the trial of charges against their own people, but if provision had been made in time of peace for the establishment of a court to investigate all charges of wrong treatment in time of war the victors would not depart from their agreement. The establishment of such a court may well occupy the attention of statesmen and international lawyers.


- The following is a complete list of official publications: - Correspondence between H.M. Government and the U.S. ambassador respecting the treatment of prisoners of war and interned civilians in the United Kingdom and Germany: Misc. 7 (1915), cd. 7817; do. Misc. 5 (1915), cd. 7815. Reports by United States officials on treatment of British prisoners of war and interned civilians in Germany: Misc. II (1915), cd. 7861; Misc. 3 (1916), cd. 8161; Misc. 14 (1915), cd. 7959; Misc. 15 (1915), cd. 7961; Misc. 19 (1915), cd. 8108; Misc. 16 (1916), cd. 8235; Misc. 26 (1916), cd. 8297; Misc. 7 (1917), cd. 8477. Report on conditions existing at Ruhleben: Misc. 13 (1915), cd. 7863. Report by Dr.

A. E. Taylor on the conditions of diet and nutrition at Ruhleben: Misc. 18 (1916), cd. 8259; Misc. 21 (1916), cd. 8262. The same, and on proposed release of civilians: Misc. 26 (1916), cd. 8296; Misc. 35 (1916), cd. 8352. Correspondence respecting the employment of British and German prisoners of war in Poland and France respectively: Misc. 19 (1916), cd. 8260. Correspondence with U.S. ambassador respecting transfer to Switzerland of British and German prisoners of war: Misc. 17 (1916), cd. 8236. Reports of visits of inspection made by officials of the United States embassy to various internment camps in the United Kingdom: Misc. 30 (1916), cd. 8324. Report on the treatment of prisoners of war in England and Germany during the first eight months of the war: Misc. 12 (1915), cd. 7862. Report on the transport of British prisoners of war to Germany Aug. - Dec. 1914: Misc. 3 (1918), cd. 8984. Report on treatment of British prisoners and natives in German East Africa: Misc. 13 (1917), cd. 8689; do. London 1918. Correspondence with German Government respecting the burning of G. P. Genower, A.B.: Misc. 6 (1918), cd. 8987. Correspondence respecting the use of police dogs: Misc. 9 (1917), cd. 8480. Correspondence with H.M.'s minister at Berne respecting reprisals: Misc. 29 (1916), cd. 8323. Report on Wittenburg typhus epidemic: Misc. io (1916), cd. 8224; do. Gardelegen, Misc. 34 (1916), cd. 8351. Report on the treatment of officers in camps under X. Army Corps: Misc. 28 (1918). Report on the treatment of British prisoners behind the lines in France and Belgium: Misc. 7 (1918), cd. 8788; do., Misc. 19 (1918), cd. 9106; do., Misc. 27 (1918). Report on the employment of British prisoners in coal and salt mines: Misc. 23 (1918), cd. 9150. Agreement between the British and German Governments concerning combatant and civilian prisoners of war: Misc. 12 (1917), cd. 8590; do., Misc. 20 (1918), cd. 9147. Report on the treatment of British prisoners of war in Turkey: Misc. 24 (1918), cd. 9208. Agreement between the British and Ottoman Governments respecting prisoners of war and civilians: Misc. Jo (1918), cd. 9024. Work of the Central Prisoners of War Committee 1916-1919: Revue Internationale de la Croix Rouge (No. 26, Feb. 1921). Report of the Joint Committee to enquire into the organization and methods of the Central Prisoners of War Committee, cd. 8615.

Up to Jan. 1922, neither the British Government Committee on the treatment by the enemy of British prisoners of war, nor the Committee on the Breaches of the Laws of War, had published any general report; nor had the Reports of the representatives of the Netherlands Government been published. (R. B. D. A.)

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Bibliography Information
Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Prisoners Outside Europe'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. 1910.

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