The small town of Dulmen is situated in Haltem-Sythen in North Rhine, Germany. In 1914 it had a castle surrounded by the estates of the Duke of Croy-Dulmen. The camp was situated about five miles from the town. It was an area where many commando units were stationed. The camp was situated on high ground and could take many prisoners.
At that time Germany was divided into army corps districts and an appointed corps commander had absolute power over his area. He ran the prisoner of war camps within his area. Some commanders treated their prisoners well and others did not.
Dulmen was considered to be a good camp, where the prisoners were treated reasonably. It was under the command of 7th Army Corps.
Usually the prisoner of war camps were made up of a group of huts which had sleeping quarters, latrines and cook houses. These were surrounded by single or double barbed wire fences which were sometimes electrified. Prisoners of different nationalities were often put together to ensure they were all treated the same. Camps also had a hospital.
Many of the prisoners in Dulmen camp were taken during the Somme battle of 1916.
When captured they were held near the front line initially and then transferred to camps in Germany. In the early days of the war prisoners were treated badly by the German population and many did not receive the medical treatment that they needed. Until the huts were constructed in some places the prisoners were housed in tents. Some suffered from exposure in the extreme cold. Later they were short of food but so were the German people in the villages near them. The Allies successfully blockaded the delivery of goods to Germany.
When a prisoner was taken he was given a card which was sent via the Red Cross to his family. It had a nominal address on the top and stated that he was a prisoner of war. He could send a message to his family of his circumstances by deleting the words sound, wounded or ill. The prisoner of war camps kept details of the prisoner as to where he was taken, his regiment, his date of birth, his home address and whether he was wounded. These were updated from time to time confirming where he was. If he was transferred to a different camp these details were sent to the Red Cross to be passed on to his family. These records can now be accessed on the internet via the Red Cross Website.
Prisoners at Dulmen were expected to work. They worked twelve hour days in the nearby forests felling trees.
Representatives from the Red Cross visited the camps on occasions.
Here are details from two such visits to Dulmen Camp.
In October 1915 Mr Jackson visited the camp.
He wrote that the huts in which the men lived were airy and clean and housed between 120 and 140 men. Eight men worked in the kitchens. The main working parties left at 7 am and returned to the camp for lunch. After a break they returned to work and came back to the camp at sundown.
On March 18th 1916 Mr Ellis Loring Dresel visited the camp
He stated that at that time there were 4,398 prisoners in the camp. The 1,051 British prisoners were then all housed in one block. Hammocks were being used as upper tiers for sleeping.
The prisoners had no complaints of how the Germans were treating them. They were allowed a bath once a fortnight. He considered that their clothing was satisfactory and each man had an overcoat.
The men however complained of insufficient food and they relied on food parcels from home and the Red Cross.
These are the only two reports of visits to the Dulmen Camp.
Many of the prisoners of war relied greatly on parcels sent by their families and by the Red Cross. Parcels were sent fortnightly and contained such items as tinned food, cigarettes, chocolate, bread, lard or butter and soap. Many men would not have survived without them.
More details of the contents of these food parcels can be found on the Internet.
At the end of the war Dulmen camp was disbanded and the land returned to its owner. As the land was contaminated and could not be used for agricultural purposes it was planted with trees. Today there is little left to show where the camp was situated.
Picture postcards from the Great War- Tony Allen
Red Cross First World War Records www.grandeguerre.icrc.org