`I have received parcel of provisions and cigarettes… Thank you very much. Thanks, too, for playing cards. Jolly glad to have them,” wrote Auckland University College graduate Howard Ellis in 1917.1 Like other New Zealand prisoners of war in Germany, he was grateful for the small comforts sent from abroad that helped ease his imprisonment.
Ellis was one of more than 500 New Zealanders who were detained as military or civilian prisoners of war (POWs) during the First World War. Some 506 New Zealand service personnel were captured by Germans on the Western Front while 42 were captured by Turkish forces at Gallipoli or during the Sinai-Palestine campaign.2 And at least 20 civilians in Germany when war was declared were interned there as enemy aliens.3 For its part, New Zealand interned around 570 Germans.4
So far, we know that six men from Auckland University College (AUC) were military POWs in Germany and one, Horace George Hunt, was a civilian internee.5 Hunt and fellow Kiwi Albert Henry Jones had both been studying in Germany and were imprisoned together in Ruhleben civilian internment camp.
Ellis was one of two POWs from AUC who were pilots in the Royal Flying Corps (RFC). He was wounded by anti-aircraft fire over France in July 1916 and was forced to land his plane in German-held territory. In July 1917, James Clarence Griffith also went missing on a flying mission. A month later, Griffith, a salesman in civilian life, was recorded as a POW in Karlsruhe, and later in Augustabad, Bei Nau-Brandenburg and in Schweidnitz, Schlesien. He spent the rest of the war imprisoned.6
A second lieutenant in the NZ Rifle Brigade, William Arthur Gray was injured and captured one night in August 1917 near the Belgian town of Messines.
AUC’s three other POWs were captured during the same military action. Edwin Harry Driver, Laurence Frederick Rudd and Maurice William Anderson were among the more than 200 men of the 2nd NZ Entrenching Battalion who surrendered on 16 April 1918 after being surrounded on three sides by German troops near Meteren, France.7 Wounded, Rudd was hospitalised then interned in the Minden and Rennbahn camps. The law clerk was released after the Armistice in November 1918.8
Driver was in Stendal camp in north-east Germany and arrived back in England in December 1918.9 One of the few Collegians who returned to AUC after the war to continue his studies, Driver graduated BA in 1920 and MA with first class honours in 1923.10 Anderson, an engineer, was held in an unknown location and was released in November 1918.11
Supporting New Zealand POWs
The legal rights of POWs and the norms for their treatment were set out under the Geneva Conventions of 1864 and 1906, the Hague Convention of 1907 and other wartime bilateral agreements between belligerents. However, these were not always complied with and the millions of POWs suffered widely different conditions and fates.12
The experiences of POWs could depend on numerous factors, including where and when they were detained, their nationality, whether neutral country inspection systems were in place and whether they were civilians or military. For military POWs, rank was an additional factor - `other ranks’ could be forced to work, while officers were exempt and had greater privileges.13
The outside support POWs received from their own countries and families was also crucial, as was that supplied by neutral agencies, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross. New Zealanders, who counted as British POWs, were relatively well-served and could rely on external supplies of food and other comforts, some of which came from home.14
From December 1916, support for New Zealand POWs was coordinated by the new, London-based New Zealand Prisoners of War Department, overseen by the New Zealand High Commissioner in London, Sir Thomas Mackenzie.15
Among its wide-ranging duties, the Department vetted and despatched parcels of food, clothing and books to POWs, maintained the official register of imprisoned men, corresponded with POWs and their relatives and monitored the exchange and repatriation of prisoners.16
And for POW Ellis, who was grateful for the Department-supplied cigarettes and playing cards, the unit later took on extra significance: after repatriation he married Ida Mary Mackenzie, the daughter of its head, Sir Thomas.
Jo Birks, Special Collections
- New Zealand. High Commission (Great Britain), A short sketch of the work of the New Zealand Prisoners of War Department in London..., London, 1917, p.36. NZGC 940.477 S55.
- Note: That 506 figure does not include New Zealand prisoners who served with other forces, such as the Royal Flying Corps and Australian Expeditionary Forces. `First World War by the numbers’, Ministry of Culture and Heritage, accessed via NZ History online; David Filer, ‘Prisoners of war’, in I. McGibbon and P. Goldstone, eds., The Oxford companion to New Zealand military history, Auckland, 2000, pp. 430-431.
- Note: The civilian figure includes merchant seamen. New Zealand. High Commission, pp.42-43; The Press, 21 August 1915, p.9; Auckland Star, 27 April 1917, p.2, accessed via Papers Past.
- In New Zealand, 570 men of German birth or descent, including those from Pacific islands, were imprisoned as military POWS or enemy aliens. Most were interned on Somes Island in Wellington Harbour or on Motuihe Island in the Hauraki Gulf, where one German woman was also detained. Andrew Francis, `The enemy in our midst’, accessed 1 December 2016 via ww100.govt.nz; Francis, Andrew, “To be truly British we must be anti-German”: New Zealand, enemy aliens, and the Great War experience, 1914-1919, Oxford, 2012, pp.117, 124.
- Note: That number excludes the A.U.C. roll of honour entry for Albert Holden as this appears to be an error by the roll’s compilers. According to British Aero Club records, the prisoner Albert Holden was born in 1889 so was unlikely be studying at AUC in 1899, aged 10.
- New Zealand. High Commission, p.39; Griffith, James Clarence - WW1 12/2580 – Army, R16789144, Archives New Zealand, Wellington; New Zealand Herald, 19 July 1917, p.6; New Zealand Herald, 14 August 1917, p.4; Chronicles of the N.Z.E.F., 3, 35, (1918), p.264; Otago Daily Times, 14 August 1919, p.4, accessed via Papers Past.
- Arthur Byrne, Official history of the Otago Regiment, N.Z.E.F. in the Great War 1914-1918, Dunedin, 1921, pp.303-308.
- Rudd, Laurence Frederick - WWI 56356, WWII 2116 – Army, R24201516, Archives New Zealand, Wellington; Chronicles of the N.Z.E.F., 5, 55, (1918), p.157; ‘List of repatriated British prisoners of war arrived at Hull 30th November 1918,’ R. 53160, Prisoners of the First World War Archives, International Committee of the Red Cross, accessed via grandeguerre.icrc.org.
- Driver, Edwin Harry - WW1 28698 - Army, R20998707, Archives New Zealand, Wellington; Driver, Edwin, P.A. 38138, Prisoners of the First World War Archives, International Committee of the Red Cross, accessed via grandeguerre.icrc.org.
- Calendar, Auckland University College, University of New Zealand, Auckland, 1924, p.154.
- Anderson, Maurice William - WW1 64415 - Army, R22270222, Archives New Zealand, Wellington; ‘List of repatriated British prisoners of war arrived Dover 28th november 1918, R. R52702, Prisoners of the First World War Archives, International Committee of the Red Cross, accessed via grandeguerre.icrc.org.
- Heather Jones, `A missing paradigm? Military captivity and the prisoner of war, 1914-18’, in Matthew Stibbe, ed., Captivity, forced labour and forced migration in Europe during the First World War, London, 2013, pp.26-43.
- New Zealand. High Commission, pp.1-51.
- New Zealand. High Commission, p.8.
- Ibid., pp.8-10.