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Tuesday, February 8, 2011


With our focus on surviving family members and those that are buried in the Western Front cemeteries from World War One, we sometimes forget the 3,835 Prisoners-of-War from the Canadian Expeditionary Force. My grandfather John Cody was one of those men captured by the Germans in Ploegstreert Woods, Belgium October 31,1915. Out of that total 286 of these soldiers were from the 3rd (Toronto Regiment) Battalion. This remains the second highest total by battalion following the 4th Canadian Mounted Rifles Battalion also from Central Ontario belonging to the 3rd Canadian Division.

Of the 286 men from the 3rd Battalion only 21 were not taken during the Second Battle of Ypres, April 22-May 25, 1915. This battle is noted as being the first poisonous gas attack in history and its results were shocking. The Canadian first division had been rushed in April 22 to bolster the line near the village of St. Julien trying to prevent the German Army from encircling them. Two counter-attacks by the Canadians on the 22nd and 23rd succeeded in stopping the German advance and closed the gap in the line. The following day, the Germans launched a gas attack directly on the Canadian positions and swept across the fields surrounding the village of St. Julien, trapping many Canadians including companies "C" and "D" of the 3rd Battalion who had been rushed up to the front from reserve. Virtually all the men from these two companies were killed, wounded and/or captured.

The majority of the remaining P.O.W.s from the 3rd Battalion were captured on October 8, 1916 during the battalion attempt to capture "the Quadrilateral" and Regina Trench during the Battle of the Somme. Remaining prisoners like my grandfather were captured in different situations throughout the war.

A number of prisoners that were captured were in fact also wounded with several 3rd Battalion POWs succumbing to their wounds while in captivity. Those that ended up in German work camps like Soltau with its infamous salt and coal mines were not so lucky. Fortunately because grandfather was a non-commissioned officer, he was not bound to perform hard labour. However he was constantly asked to work in the mines, he continued to refused and for that was punished and sent to "discipline camps". One of the items I inherited from my grandfather was this postcard he brought home after the war that he had been sent by a fellow prisoner in June 1917 From Minden Camp. An Australian corporal by the name of Allan Speer was obviously was a good friend to my grandfather. I believe the card was sent after John Cody was moved to another camp.

The card is signed "A reminder of Minden & captivity. To my esteemed chum Corpl. J. Cody. Sent with the best of wishes and good luck. From yours sincerely yours, Allan Speer. Minden June 27, 1917 , The Rosery, Jasmine Street, Bowrae, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia".
Cpl. Allan Speer, submitted with
 thanks by Linda Emery

The postcard is a photograph of 24 Australian N.C.O.s all who were named on the reverse and who apparently were captured at various times and ended up in Minden Camp. With the advent of new web technology and digitalized archival data from various sources, we have been able to identify most of the men in the photo as well locate their Red Cross Prisoner of War files, their Australian attestation papers, Australian Army service files and embarkation information. Because I am forever getting contacted by surviving families from the subjects of previous blogs, I thought it might be worthwhile to publish the names and hope that relatives of the individuals might locate this blog and the photo of their family member. Many of these men were captured ( and a number wounded) at Fromelles, Somme on July 19 and 20, 1916. Their names are:
  1. Speakman, Sgt. John #791, 54th Battalion Australian Imperial Force, Captured 20/07/1916
  2. Bowman, Sgt. David McQueen #1715, 55th Battalion A.I.F., 21/08/1916
  3. Davis, H - at the present time remains unidentified
  4. Shirley, L/Cpl. George #3305, 55th Battalion A.I.F., 12/08/1916
  5. Newman, CSM Kenneth Fossey #307, 29th Battalion A.I.F., 20/09/1916
  6. Stewart, Sgt. Donald Singleton #4600, 54th Battalion A.I.F., 12/08/1916
  7. Speer, Cpl. Robert Allan #3138, 54th Battalion A.I.F., 12/08/1916
  8. Mules, Cpl. Robert James #415, 32nd Battalion A.I.F., 20/07/1916
  9. McCurley, Sgt. Robert Thomas #2557, 54th Battalion A.I.F., unknown
  10. Robertson, L/Sgt. Eric Lionel #3516, 53rd Battalion A.I.F., 19/07/1916
  11. Smith, L/Cpl. Percy Carlton #2675, 55th Battalion A.I.F., 20/07/1916
  12. Sargent, Cpl. Foster Hartley #4587, 54th Battalion A.I.F., August, 1916
  13. Robinson, Cpl. William #417, 32nd Battalion A.I.F., 20/07/1916
  14. Cole, Sgt. Oliver Stanley #1321, 29th Battalion A.I.F., 20/07/1916
  15. Stringfellow, Cpl. George Henry #3436, 55th Battalion A.I.F., 20/07/1916
  16. Still, Cpl. Harry Andrew #803, 31st Battalion A.I.F., 20/07/1916
  17. Breen, Sgt. Reginald James #4735, 53rd Battalion A.I.F., 20/07/1916
  18. Stanton, L/Cpl. Dugald Pitta #3427, 53rd Battalion A.I.F., 20/07/1916
  19. Simpson, Sgt. Harold John #2414, 53rd Battalion A.I.F., 20/07/1916
  20. Fitch, Sgt. Ernest Anthony #3166, 5th Battalion A.I.F., 25/07/1916
  21. Wilson, Cpl. John Albert #1133, 4th Battalion A.I.F., 02/03/1917
  22. McDonald, Cpl. John #4278, 54th Battalion A.I.F., 20/07/1916
  23. Wilson, Pte (Cpl.?) Edward Albert #5262, 8th Battalion A.I.F. 18/08/1916
  24. O'Shea, Sgt. Patrick Joseph #642, 20th Battalion A.I.F., 05/06/1916
  25. Austin, Cpl. David Wilson #1652, 20th Battalion A.I.F., 02/06/1916
If you would like any further information on any of these men or can add more information on the few unidentified at this point, I would be pleased to hear from you. The service records for all these men are now available on-line at the National Archives of Australia - World War One soldiers here. They all returned to Australia at different times and presumably returned to civilian life with the scars of having been interred in Germany as well as any wounds they may have received in battle.
There are two fine books that have been written in the plight of Canadian Prisoners of War during World War One. They are:
SILENT BATTLE Canadian Prisoners of War in Germany 1914-1919, Desmond Morton, Lester Publishing, Toronto, 1992
GUESTS OF THE KAISER Prisoners-of-War of the Canadian Expeditionary Force 1915-1918, Edward H. Wigney, CEF Books, Ottawa, 2008
Both can be found at your local library or on
I have been advised by member Leigh from the Great War Forum, that in fact most of he Australian Prisoners of War are from the Australian 5th Division, AIF and were captured at Fromelles, July 20, 1916. He also states that the "Bowrae" referred to by Allan Speer is actually Bowral, a picturesque town about 90 minutes south of Sydney.
As well Great War Forum member" frev" has identified No. 8 prisoner as Sgt. Robert James Mules, #415, 32nd Battalion, AIF and No. 22 prisoner as Cpl. John McDonald, #4278. Many thanks to both.

ADDED JUNE 7, 2014

Dear Bob,
I was delighted to see the photograph on your blog of Australian POWs at Minden during WWI sent to your grandfather in Canada by Allan Speer.  I am almost finished a research project on the soldiers from the Southern Highlands of NSW, where Bowral is located.  Allan Speer is one of nearly 1200 local boys who enlisted from this area, along with his brother Cecil Herbert Speer.  I am particularly interested in the photo for another reason too.  Another brother, David Speer, was a well-known photographer in Bowral.  In nearby Berrima, about 8km away, there was an internment camp for WWI German POWs and David Speer took many pictures of the activities of the internees which he sold as postcards and put into a book of views. This has been digitised by the National Library of Australia:{format:Book}&offset=3&max=15
It may well have been because of his brother’s capture in France and subsequent internment in Germany that he first became interested in photographing the Germans at work and play on the other side of the world.  Certainly Allan had written home to say that he was being treated well and was relatively happy.
Attached is a photo of Allan Speer – not very good, but enough I think  to identify him in your photo as middle row, 2nd from left.  According to articles which appeared in local papers, Allan Speer was captured on 20th July 1916 .
I wonder if you would be willing to send me high resolution scans of the front and back of your postcard?  I am archivist for our local historical society and it would be a fantastic addition to our collection if you would agree to donate a copy of the picture. We hold a very large and nationally significant  collection of images and artefacts relating to the POW camp in Berrima.
I am happy to send you some more biographical information if you are interested.  Your blog is terrific!
Hope to hear from you,
Linda Emery