Danzig Prisoner of War Camp in WW1

Mrs Pope Hennessy's book says Danzig (Trovl).—Capital of West Prussia (pop. 170,000). Headquarters of 17th Army Corps. One of the most important commercial towns in North Germany. The prisoners here are housed in barges four deep and four in length, moored to a flat stretch of land on the bank of the Vistula River opposite the city of Danzig. Some of these barges contain one hundred to five hundred men. The holds are lit by electricity. The administration, kitchen, store-houses, etc., of the camp are on land. There is a Y.M.C.A.

danzig troyl camp

With the failure of the Easter Rising and the capture of Casement in Ireland, the Germans ran out of any remaining enthusiasm for the Irish Brigade affair. The Irish Brigade soon lost their machine guns and their soldier/instructors from the Prussian Grenadier Guards were sent back to their unit at Spandau, Berlin. Their transfer to Danzig seems to have been an attempt to remove the problem from the environs of Berlin.

1916 Jun 26. The men were in Danzig on this date.

1916 Jul 9. Keogh writing to St John Gaffney dated from Danzig to The Honourable T St. John Gaffney. Dear Sir,  I wish to thank you for the Iron you so kindly sent to the Brigade Tailor and which I received safely yesterday also I wish to thank you for your photo given to me by gfrr Zerhausen. I regret to state that our position here instead of being improved has got worse

Both Keogh and Kavanagh say that there were problematic negotiations with the German authorities to retain some status for the men above ordinary prisoners of war. In the end it was agreed that the NCOs could keep their sidearms, and the men wear belts when in uniform, but the was to be no military training and the men were sent out to work in farms and businesses in the surrounding area of Dirschau and other towns along the Baltic Sea. There seems to have been two areas they worked in, the area probably represent the divisions within the Irish Brigade that were starting to emerge.

Stolp Group included O'Toole, Mahoney, Greer, Stacey, Granaghan, Barnacle (reported there Apr 1918), J Carr (reported there Apr 1918). O'Toole writes that at the end of the war all from Stolp went to Munich, except for Greer. O'Toole also includes the following in Stolp area. Sweeney M, Rahilly, Tracey

Dirschau Group including Keogh M, Kavanagh, Delamore, Carroll, Collins, Daly, Forde, Mallon, McGrath P, Wilson, Stacey, Granaghan, McDonagh and Quinlisk who says "Fifteen members of the Irish Brigade worked at different jobs at Dirschau and seemed to get on well - so well that three or four settled with girls, as if they never intended to leave the country"). Also appear from O'Toole to be included O'Neill, Brandon, Berry, Kennedy,

Camp at Danzig. There appear to have been around 24 in the camp at any one time.

They were encouraged to move out to work, mainly in farms, right from arrival in Danzig. Zerhusen says that most of them went out and would work for 2 or 3 months, then come back for a month or so. Only Collins, Meade, Sewell and Wilson are cited by Zerhusen as constantly working.Economics appears to have been the driving force. Pay from St John Gaffney was not regular, and would sometimes be months in arrears. So either a man got enough parcels from home, or he had to earn his keep by working, as otherwise they just got Russian POW rations, which was the stimulus they had to go out to work.

Zerhusen writes that he needed Dowling, Kavanagh and Burke in camp. The reason for this appears to have been the "parcel scam" that was being operated by these men. Zerhusen had nothing to do with the Red Cross parcels at Zossen, but at Danzig he was very involved in opening them - for "censorship". The Brigade men invlved in the scam, and it seems a limited number, scanned the German papers for British Ships that had sunk, and any news of crewmen who drowned. They then wrote to various organisatons in UK under that name, and asked for a parcel. It was apparently possible to get dozens of parcels sent on a regular basis by this means.

Then when men went out to work it was "impossible" says Zerhusen to send parcels on to the places that they were working, as parcels got pilfered. So he got men out a t wok to assign their "rights" to parcels to him, for which he paid them a sum per month, irrespective of the number of parcels that might or might not, arrive. He then sold or bartered the contents of the parcels, and split the proceeds with Dowling and Kavanagh.

When they arrived at Danzig, according to the report of an escaped Russian POW, they were housed in a specially constructed barracks in the middle of the platz. They wore their special green uniforms. They were later moved to the "Victorian Transport" where the Russians were quartered. A Russian POW reported the use of "Victorian Transport" for the Irish Prisoners. It was, in 1914, seized by Germany at Stettin and renamed Borkumriff, 1919 returned to owners as Victorian Transport, 1932 sold to Livanos, Greece renamed Evi. Holder Lines, who owned it used a Black funnel with dark red band and white Maltese Cross, so it is certainly the ship in the photograph below. The Russian records that the 2 Sgt Majors and 3 sergents were armed with pistols and swords, but that the rest of the men were unarmed. All the Irish were free to leave the ship and to take transport to town. The Russian describes an incident in the parcel distribution department where he was working when an Irish NCO (Keogh from his description) drew a pistol on a German soldier who was impolite to him. The incident was reported to the camp commandant, but no action was taken against Keogh.

1916 Jul 1. Zerhusen to Gaffeny reporting that 1 man has already found work, and a week later there are 10 men working

1916 Jul. Keogh writes to Gaffney saying he is very unhappy at Danzig and asks Gaffney to visit danzig

However after two months (that would be Sept 1916) the NCOs arms were taken away, and the men were no longer free to leave the camp. They now went to civilian work in town, in civilian clothes, but slept on the transport. Things started to go downhill for the Irish. They were neglected by the Germans, their clothes became ragged, they were unshaven, they were fed the same food as the Russian prisoners, and they became despondent. Some time later the Irish were sent away to do farm work at "some religious organisation" in a small country town whose name he does not know.

Victorian transport

1916 Oct 8. British Foreign Office was informed the that the rule of discipline among the Irishman had broken down and that theft, burglary, drunkenness and non-compliance with service regulations has become the norm. The Irish Brigade was therefore divided and 25 transferred to another camp, the other 30 remained in Danzig-Troyl and were used for labour. Dowling and 2 NCOs remained in camp with those men. It is also possible that this refers to the men sent to a Punishment Camp at Quadsow by the Irish NCOs. The time period is difficult to ascertain as liitle remains in the way of exact dates.

One can follow a cross section of jobs that they did, although mainly they were labourers

1917 Jan 17. Danzig Camp Commandant meets Gaffney in Berlin. Gaffney sanctions removal of 10 men from Danzig-Troyl to a small camp in which only Russians are interned. It was decided to remove all privileges from these men till the end of the war. The NCOs appear to have drawn up a black list of grumblers and men branded as English. And some days later a fully armed section of German troops entered the barracks, and the Irish Brigade NCOs seemed aware of what was happening. Ten names were read out, and the men ordered to have their kit ready to leave in 5 minutes. They were then marched out of the camp under guard and into as Rahilly says "slavery", a punishment camp. A letter that Burke wrote to Gaffney about their treatment confirms the state of affirs given by Rahilly. The official list from Hahn gives:-

I am not clear what criteria wass used to choose these men. Only Ryan and McGrath were among the 18 who did did not volunteer for Egypt, so that was not part of the criteraia. Fulford, McCabe and perhaps Ryan were English born, but there were others English born, but not selected for thepunshment camp.

They went by train and road until they found themselves in a hut built near a river at Quadsow (now Kwasowo in Poland) in a wilderness. Quadsow was a punishment camp, and I am not clear how these men had been selected to be taken there. This was their home. They slept on damp mud and the walls of the hut were damp. They worked from dawn to dusk, reinforcing the banks of the river. All they ever had for meals were hot drinks, no food. Two months later 5 of these men returned (these must have been Fulford, McMahon, McCabe, Patrick Keogh, Thomas McGrath, P Carr). Their appearance had changed, they were now bearded and pale, their eyes full of fear, their bodies bloated from hot drinks but no food. They were bullied by the guards, butted with rifles. Later that evening of their return Rahilly found that one had cut his own throat with a rusty razor. He made a recovery, but not a full recovery, and died later in 1918 "during the armistice". This man has to be Gunner Carr as he is the only man whose death fits - 15 Sep 1918

Letter from O'Toole to Gaffney. In this letter the writer having accused Keogh of stealing and beating a woman when under the influence goes on to state. There are some Irishmen suffering horrors in a punishment camp at Quasdow who have never done half so much hidden harm. By the way these men at Quasdow are suffering through some of this underhand little battle accusations. Some of them are hopeless blaguards but not all. They have all been punished for each offence as it was committed but now in addition should they have to undergo months long imprisonment of a type worse than being sent to a Festung. 20 times worse for in a Festung they could look forward to it being over at a certain date but not so at Quasdow. I basically agreed with the removal of some men to a different camp that would have been a good arrangement for everybody but I disassociate myself from sending them to such a place of torment as Quasdow has proved to be. I think a man should not be punished twice for one offence and such punishment - starvation, underground dwelling bugs and worst of all hopelessness. Most of them are Irishmen and I am sorry to say it is Irishmen who sent them to that Hell on Earth. I know what I am talking about as there are 4 men here who have been released namely Ryan, Callaghan, Sweeney, and Burke. I saw them the 1st morning of their release - they were the picture of misery & weak as cats. I believe you signed the order for their removal from Troyal. Its a pity you didn't make yourself acquainted with the nature of the charge. I am certain you would never have sanctioned it. When poor Sir Roger found we were put into Wiensdorf Lager with the coloured prisoners of war he left no stone unturned until he forced the German Authorities to take us out of it. I say forced advisedly but Sir Roger visited us regularly & kept well in touch with us. We have not had a visit from you since some time before we left Zossen. Weren't very well treated at Zossen & I objected to the removal - now everyone of us knows it was a ghastly mistake.

The episode effected the morale and the bearing of all the Brigade. They feared being removed to the punishment camp meant that few dared to speak to any of their comrades for fear of being denounced for some reason. "Often men would not speak a word during the day, but sat watching their comrades across the room, always watching each other, always each other for none knew who the informers were. " They formed their own secret society to counter the threat of informers and from this they sent word to one of the sergeants of the danger of the whole brigade breaking down under the threat of informers and Quadsow. For some reason this solved the problem, and they were able to talk freely again without the punishment camp hanging over them.

danzig work camps

Outlying cmps to Danzig Troyl

1917 Spring. The men were to be granted the freedom to work anywhere in Danzig Command. Keogh writes that there were around 30 Irishmen working in and around Dirschau in W Prussia. He supervised three or four tradesmen in the gasworks of the town doing the installation of a new gas tank for the town. He remarks "engineering being my line, I greatly enjoyed this activity and new life". Work in this fashion continued for the Irishmen through the winter of 1916 and through 1917. It would appear that this was all that was now left of the Irish Brigade, as the rest appear to have opted to return to POW status, and must have been dispersed to other camps

1917 Jul 6. Keogh writes to Gaffney from Hotel Alte Post in Limburg, explaining his presence in Limburg

1917 Oct 26 Wurtz in Personnell Section of German War Office tells Gaffney that they approve the transfer of some men to the estate of Countess von Byland in Bavaria

1917 Nov 4. Hahn informs Gaffney that 10 men are to be sent to VI Corps in Breslau (note, this is modern Wroclaw and is 200 miles south of Danzig). And in addition Hahn had written to a Mr Fischer in Munich about the employment of 6 men.

Maurice Meade works at Dirschau from Mar to Nov 1918 for a firm called Polete

McDonagh says that in Danzig the Germans put them to work on "commando", that is doing normal work in civilian clothes. He was in Dirschau working as a saddler, for which he got his board plus 5 marks a week. He got no food parcels from home, believing they were stolen by the Germans. The Irish prisoners were treated better than the English prisoners, and were allowed to move freely in the places they were working. He spent some of the time here in hospital suffering from rheumatic pains.

Mahony describes Dowling as the man in charge of the Irish at Danzig, and when Dowling left for Ireland, Kavanagh took charge. I am not clear where this leaves Keogh and Quinlisk at that time. Though Keogh writes that he was away at the front from May 1918 onwards..

1918 Mar 17. Some of the NCOs were invited to the St Patrick's Day dinner in Berlin of the German-Irish Society at the Hotel Adlon. In the event only Dowling attended. Gaffney was one of the organisers

1918 Apr 8. Hahn to Gaffney. Because a few of the men at Dirschau have behaved badly, all 16 men there have been put under special control

1918 Apr, when news of Dowling's capture in Clare reached him, Keogh was working at the Flying Corps aerodrome workshops at Stolp, he was there with 5 of the men. He got a pass that enabled him to get from Danzig to Berlin in April, but does not say what he did there. At this point Koegh's narrative is vague, and we do not have any informaition on the camp until he returns on September of 1918 when Keogh returns but has both flu and a court-martial to contend with so little is written by him about the camp. After Dowling departed, O'Toole was in charge, and after he left for Berlin the running of the Brigade office devolved to Kavanagh.

1918 May 1. Zerhusen tells Gaffney that he heard from Kavanagh that Keogh was behaving badly, had been drunk, misbehaved in Dresden, and that Keogh had misappropriated the St Patricks Day funds from the previous year that Gaffney had sent the Brigade In addition there were 7 men from the Brigade in Neuhammer a/Queis in Silesia for punishment (note this is modern Świętoszów and is some 200 miles south west of Danzig)

1918 May 14. Germans declared to neutral observers that there were no British Prisoners in Danzig-Troyl camp. They later admited that there were British prisoners in outlying camps

1918 May 20. Zerhusen writes to Gaffney about problems

He goes on to outline the more general problem "trouble, deaths, burglaries, selling stolen goods, beating policemen (2 men just got 9 months each - one of them appears to have been Granaghan as he was rescued from jail on November), living with war wives, and a rape at Stolp

1918 Jul 27. A German letter to the Netherlands Delegation stated that there were 47 British (Irish) prisoners in working camps around Danzig, but none in the camp itself. (From the original 56, Holohan had died, Bailey and Dowling had returned to Ireland by submarine, O'Toole was in Berlin, and there must have been 5 others missing at that date.

1918 Oct 10. 37,504 POWs in the camp at Danzig, 97% being Russian

1918 Nov. Keogh returned to the Danzig Troyl camp at the start of Nov. When the German surrender came on Nov 11, a Soldiers Council General Committee was set up by the Germans in Danzig. Zerhusen together with Michael Keogh, Kavanagh and Jeremiah O'Callaghan were elected to represent the Irish Brigade. The Irish negotiated with the Soldiers Council that any member of the Irish Brigade should get a free rail warrent to any provence in Germany. As Danzig was about to be occupied by a squadron of the Royal Navy, the Irish were keen to get out. Each Irish soldier got a soldiers council passport, with an assumed German name, a weeks rations and a suit of civilian clothes, as well as the rail travel voucher. The men were advised to go to Bavaria which was less "communist" than the Baltic area. Keogh and Jeremiah O'Callaghan say they left Danzig, just as the British Navy arrived. They had a two day train journey to Munich. Keogh says there were about 40 of the Irish Brigade in Danzig who went to the Munich area

Rahilly wrote O'Toole asked me to go to Danzing to see how the other men viewed this new turn of events. If our situation looked dreary before, it was certainly desperate now, for the English were expected to land at the port of Danzig, where our headquarters still were. However, I went, though the journey was about three hundred English miles; I thought I would not miss the final dispersal of the Brigade for any money. From the City of Danzig I crossed the ferry into Troyl, where the prisoners' camp was situated. The camp was peaceful as usual, though much excitement prevailed in the city, where, on passing through, I noticed some meetings being held. Organisations of Soldiers' and People's Councils were being formed to take over control of all Germany since the Kaiser had abdicated and Government was unable to function. On walking through camp, one could see no change in the demeanor of prisoners, and armed guards patrolled outside the wire enclosure as usual. 'Tis true the Russian prisoners were in a similar fix to ourselves, as they could not expect to be repatriated at present on account of the uprising against the Czar and the disorganised state of their country; while our chance of returning to Ireland was small indeed, since German submarines were no longer available for that purpose, or for that matter any other purpose but to be turned into scrap at the order of the victorious allies. The German Fleet mutinied and sailed their ships into port just before the Truce of November the 11. This left Germany very weak and defenceless. Well, I thought as I neared our barrack, or rather our wooden hut inside the camp, what do my countrymen of the Brigade think of the new situation. Upon entering, I was disappointed to find only five or six men present; they told me some others were in Danzig City with the Soldatenrat, or Soldiers' Council, and that provision had been made to issue a German pass to any of Casement’s men who required then. In this manner they could travel inland and pass as Germans. I wondered how long such a farce could be carried on, for very few of them spoke fluent German, and a pass issued in a German name to a non-speaker of the language was more likely to get him into trouble than out of it. Some of the men spoke of the Casement – Zimmermann Agreement and the premise to send us to the United States with the necessary landing money when the war ended. Later events will show how the German Government honoured that 'scrap of paper ‘. The appearance of the men was dismal, their outlook absolutely hopeless, I had seen and heard enough, I should now hurry back to Berlin as the others were already preparing for flight and the British were expected to land at any moment.

The Brigade then effectively ceased altogether and it was everyman for himself. The Brigade Post War shows that most went to Munich and ended up back in Britain within a few months, some stayed and fought in the German army during the revolution. But in the end most went back home, where ever that was.

Casement Irish Brigade