Prisoners of War
VI: Relief Work
VI: Relief Work
The necessity for a considerable supplement to the diet provided for our prisoners by both Germany and Italy, if they were to maintain their health, never passed.1 The large increase in the number of British prisoners resulting from the fall of Tobruk and the subsequent Axis advance upset the numerical calculations of those organising British relief, and made it difficult to maintain supplies at the per capita rate which had hitherto prevailed. To avoid any future surprises of this kind, it was decided to maintain a reserve of twelve weeks' supplies both in existing camps and at Geneva.2 This created problems in storage, especially at Geneva, where it was difficult to find warehouse accommodation to house the enormous amount of relief supplies required. The main task, however, was to produce the goods, and the British Red Cross weekly target of 150,000 food parcels was temporarily increased by another 64,000 until the necessary reserves should have been built up. Included in this total were some 80,000 from Canada and (as from the beginning of 1943) 8000 from New Zealand,3 where the packing organisation of the Joint Council had stepped up its output to cover approximately the increase in numbers of New Zealand prisoners.
1 On data available to the British Red Cross up to the time of the Italian capitulation, the dietetic position in Italian camps for British prisoners was as follows:
|Italian Ration||Red Cross Parcel||Total||Full Diet|
|Vitamin A (international units)||890||3274||4164||4000|
|Vitamin B (international units)||260||180||440||600|
|Nicotinic Acid (mgms)||9||6.1||15.1||15|
|Vitamin C (mgms)||7||28||35||75|
2 The British Red Cross estimated that in order to assure regular supplies at the standard rate it was necessary to have 29 food parcels for each prisoner somewhere on the line of transport.
3 New Zealanders taken prisoner rose in this period to some 8500, over one-eighth of our overseas servicemen.
Similarly it was thought advisable to continue the despatch of medical and surgical material and invalid diets,1 though modified according to the recommendations of repatriated medical officers and the wishes of those remaining in camp infirmaries and prisoner-of-war hospitals. The International Red Cross Orthopaedic Mission made a tour of German camps and hospitals for the purpose of examining amputees in the latter half of 1942, and returned in June 1943 to fit artificial limbs which had been made in Switzerland from British materials. With dental material supplied by the British Red Cross, the surgery at Lamsdorf was able to turn out an average of between forty and fifty artificial dentures a month, besides doing a large number of fillings—only a fraction, however, of the work necessary to restore among all the British prisoners something approaching their state of dental health before capture.
1 The weekly rate of supply in June 1943 was: Medical units, 450; invalid diets, 15,000—apart from special consignments such as cod-liver oil and malt.
Recreational material such as general reading matter, indoor games, sporting units, and sets of team clothing reached prisoner-of-war camps in an increasing stream. Camp padres were assisted with religious books and equipment for conducting services. After some early distrust on the part of the British Ministry of Economic Warfare, seeds were sent regularly to bring to camps the pleasure of growing flowers and to make possible additions to camp diet in the form of salads and vegetables. The volume of private parcels of clothing, books, and tobacco to be handled by the New Zealand authorities increased considerably. During this period over 5500 next-of-kin parcels were sent from the packing centre of the Prisoners of War Section in London, apart from their regular monthly consignments of cigarettes and tobacco, and the number of next-of-kin parcels censored at the Joint Council inquiry offices in New Zealand increased from under 1000 a month in 1942 to upwards of 2000 in 1943.
The transport of such an increased volume of relief presented new difficulties, in addition to the temporary hold-up caused by the German occupation of Vichy France. Until the position concerning the use of the land route from Marseilles to Geneva for relief trains had been settled, no further sailings of transport from Lisbon took place. The fleet of six ships was however increased to eleven in 1943, and in the period April to August of that year brought more than six and a half million parcels from Lisbon. Transport of this mass of valuable goods through the enemy countries from Geneva seems at this stage of the war to have been less hazardous than the earlier part of its journey. Acknowledgment from camp leaders showed that in the twelve months ending August 1943 more than six and a half million food parcels, not to mention large quantities of other kinds of relief, were received in their camps, and that only a very small page 265 percentage of their consignments had been lost through pilferage or other causes.1
1 The losses recorded in transit between Geneva and camps in 1942 were as follows:
|Food parcels||.0013 per cent|
|Clothing bales||.0032 per cent|
|Tobacco parcels||.0035 per cent|
|Other relief||.0016 per cent|