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  • Crowds #5: POWs September 22, 2012

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Modern , trackback

    Beach has offered several posts showing crowds: orators, crowd art, off-to-war and religion. Here is the fifth in the series, crowds of men who have just been captured by the enemy. Pictures are mostly from the two world wars, because POWs do not seem to have excited much interest prior to this and because photographs were fewer or non-existent. It goes without saying that Beach would be interested in more: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com A rare nineteenth-century example heads this post: a Union prison, Camp Douglas, from the American Civil War.

    Below is a picture of the Soviet POWs rolled up in 1941. The Germans had no real plans for those they took into captivity – other than hoping that they would die as quickly as possible – and their improvised camps became charnel chambers. Most of the men here will have perished before the war’s end: a privileged few will have been sent back to the USSR and then on to Siberia for the crime of fraternising with the enemy.

    Of course, towards the end of the war the Soviets would get their revenge. Look out for the peasant’s fist as the Germans are marched east.

    Here instead are the Germans in Paris in 1944. They were jeered, but in contrast to those taken in the Soviet Union the vast majority would get back to their country and families.

    Beach has failed to find as many photos of Italian pows as he would have liked. Yet the massive numbers of Italian soldiers caught in 1940 led to British officials counting them in ‘football fields’ across the Libyan desert. There is a lovely scene in Five Graves to Cairo that has an Italian general going into imprisonment singing opera, albeit from later in the war.

    A couple of ‘intimate’ shots. British soldiers captured in WW1 and then Canadians being marched through the streets of Dieppe in 1942 after one of the allies’ biggest mistakes.

    And here are some sketches. The first of German POWs at Worms under US guard at the war’s end. The second British and Dominion troops in Singapore kettled into a central square (‘the Selerang Square Squeeze’) waiting for the Japanese to march them into captivity: they spent five days in the boiling sun. Why aren’t there more sketches of POWs prior to 1900, it seems such obvious subject matter? And it is so much safer than standing next to your canons with a pencil and sketchbook in hand.

    Finally a more modern picture: Argentinean POWs in Port Stanley at the end of the Falkland Conflict.


    25 Sept 2012: CC writes in: I work on the site of what was once a prisoner of war camp during the American Civil War.  While it has been somewhat difficult to track down photos online, I have seen many in locally-produced books.  Below are some that I could find online. A slightly more intimate photo than those you featured:  Men of the 20th Tennessee Infantry after being captured by Federal forces, likely at the Battle of Missionary Ridge.    Photo taken at the Rock Island, Illinois prisoner of war camp. The photo below is captioned:  U. S. officials offer Confederate prisoners of war at Rock Island the opportunity to take an oath of loyalty and enlist for military service against Native Americans in the West. Hundreds do so over the next months.  And below, while not of POWs, is still interesting.  It’s members of the 108th Colored Infantry arrived at Rock Island to guard the Confederates.  Invisible has some images from elsewhere: Napoleonic (Dartmoor), a Napoleonic book and a British concentration camp in South Africa.    Then comes Ricardo: From the war in Canudos, Brasil. And some info on it (peasants get into war by a priest who doesn’t want the Republic and wants to keep the Emperor rule. more or less. there is also poverty, misticism and all of that. Very interesting episode of Brasil history). thanks Chris, Ricardo and Invisible!

    30 Sept 2012: JT paints a picture with words. Can anyone come up with the original?: ‘i found your piece on pows very interesting( i dont know why war facsinates me so much,ive never been in the military,fired a weapon in anger,abhor violence etc etc but….) anyway it bought to mind i very disturbing memory i  have of a photo of group of a couple of hundred or so prisoners taken by the veit minh after the fall of the french garrison at dien bien phu (i think about 10 000 surrendered and about only 3000 survived captivity) it showed 2 groups or columns of prisoners-1 was of european soldiers ,still clothed,booted , many showing obvious signs of wounds- bandages,makeshift crutches etc,they were starting to be led off on a march to the camps that they would be intered in. the other group were vietnamese volunteers or conscriptees,stripped of boots and uniforms,some looked to be bound as well as blindfolded,being stood over and guarded by some of their victorious countrymen.   although the photo was grainy, black and white and not in perfect focus the fear and realisation of their fate was clearly discernable in the faces of the men squatting and sitting on the ground.-the fate of about 3000 vietnamese who fought for the french and were captured at dien bien phu is unknown. i have tried to find this photo again on the www but with no luck-i think it may of been in one of bernard falls books on the french efforts to retain their colonial interests in ‘indo-china’. i was about 8 or 9 and had graduated from ‘commando’ comics to wanting to find out about ‘real war'(i was taught and encouraged by my parents who were teachers to start to read very early& my reading material was never censored)when i first recall seeing  this image and another showing the body of a german soldier that had been squashed flat by a tank and was frozen in sludgy snow in ww2 russia.i remember being greatly horrified and disturbed by these 2 photos and the reality of war dawned upon me. i was also sickened thinking about the times my brothers and i had pestered my grandfather and uncle for stories and tales from their times at war(papua new guinea ww2 and vietnam respectively) anyway enough about me- i did find a few pics of french pows from dien bien phu-just by doing a quick search on google, not sure about what you have do do to post up a pic-aside from quality issues i mean copy right etc the french war in vietnam and the seige of dien bien phu are nearly forgotten or unheard of by most (no soldiers from the us having died there).’ Thanks JT!