Friday, 12 June 2015

Treating prisoners of war

The weeks have flown by, and we're coming up to the end of Aline's internship cataloguing the Second World War neurosurgical case notes of Norman Dott. In her final blog, she reflects on a group of fascinating and unique cases:
The Brain Injuries Unit (BIU) set up by Norman Dott at Bangour General Emergency Service Hospital during the Second World War accommodated service men and women from all around the world, including many soldiers, ATS members and pilots from Poland, the USA, Canada, Australia and even Norway. But Bangour BIU also received soldiers from ‘enemy countries’, that is to say prisoners of war from Germany, Italy and Austria. The case notes can give us a great deal of valuable information about them.

To begin with, a little information about prisoners of war in Britain during the Second World War might be needed to place the case notes into their historical context. After D-Day, when there was no longer a threat of a German invasion on British soil, many German and Austrian prisoners of war were sent to Britain. At the end of the war, there were more than 600 PoW camps in Great Britain, and as many as 400 000 prisoners from Germany. Strong Nazi supporters, including SS members, were sent to remote camps in the Scottish highlands to be put on agricultural work on farms. Under the Geneva Convention, prisoners of war had to be treated humanely: they were allocated the same food ration as British service men and given access to medical care, which is why some of them were sent to Bangour Hospital. Unfortunately, according to the National Archives, ‘few lists survive of prisoners of war in British hands and there is little documentation which provide biographical information’. This is why any records concerning them, including in the Norman Dott collection, are very valuable.

In the case notes I have been cataloguing as part of the project “Cataloguing Norman Dott's neurosurgical case notes (1920-1960)” I have come across 34 prisoners of war - most of them were German, but a few were Italian or Austrian. The last prisoner examined at Bangour was seen at the end of 1947, well after the end of the war: it is not surprising since in Britain the first prisoners of war to be sent home left in 1946, and the last ones in 1949. Each case note gives details about these soldiers’ nationalities, their ages when first examined, their ranks and units in their respective armies, their PoW numbers, their civilian occupations, what they did during the war, and the reasons that brought them to Bangour BIU. Sometimes the PoW camp where they came from is indicated, which is precious information since the documentation about these camps is somewhat limited. Quite logically, the prisoners in Bangour Hospital seem to have come from Scottish camps: two German PoW came from Gosford Camp, Longniddry, in East Lothian, one came from the camp at 123 Dalmahoy, Kirknewton, in West Lothian, and an Italian soldier came from North Hill Camp in Laurencekirk, in Kincardineshire.

Example of case note of a German prisoner of war treated at Bangour in 1944. Sensitive personal data has been redacted (LHB40 CC/2/PR3.1511)

The records of these enemy soldiers look like any other case notes in the collection, except for the fact that sometimes there aren’t many details about their previous history and family situation. However, it is likely to be due to the language barrier, as shown by this comment about an Italian PoW: ‘this patient has no sufficient English at his disposal to give a satisfactory history’ (PR3.1579). These prisoners seem to have been treated like every other patient, despite the fact that they were ‘the enemy’. We could even go further and say that some of them seemed quite happy about their situation at Bangour, as we can read in several case summaries: ‘This man is most cooperative and apparently glad to be in a British Hospital’ (PR3.1465), ‘he [another PoW] is very pleased with himself and happy and says that he is extremely well off in hospital here’ (PR3.1478). An Italian PoW treated for a prolapsed intervertebral disc even sought to extend his stay: ‘this PoW gives the impression of deliberately not performing well in order most likely to enable him to remain in the hospital where he is quite happy’ (PR3.1310).

As we can learn in the typed case summaries, most of these soldiers were being treated for wounds that happened during battle in France after the Allied invasion, where many of them were captured by British or American soldiers. They were then sent to British hospitals or PoW camps. The case notes sometimes describe fascinating life stories, like the story of this 19 year-old Austrian prisoner of war, ‘an organised social democrat’, who was wounded in Russia and then sent in a military hospital in Austria. But later he was displaced to a hospital in France, where he was captured and sent to Britain (PR3.1510):

Story of a young Austrian prisoner of war before he arrived at Bangour in 1944. (LHB40 CC/2/PR3.1510)
Despite the fact that prisoners of war records represent a very small percentage of Bangour BIU case notes, the detailed information they contain represents an invaluable source for genealogists and WW2 specialists.  


The National Archives, Military Records Information 29, Prisoners of war in British hands, [visited on the 9th of June 2015]

German Prisoners of War in Britain, [visited on the 9th of June 2015]

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