Deaths in Captivity

In 1921, two former German prisoners from Handforth published a history of the camp, which was based largely on their own experiences of internment. The pair discussed the deaths of 19 of their fellow prisoners and included a fitting memorial page to the lives that had been lost. However, their count of the dead underestimated the full extent of those who had died. For one, they ignored those internees who had lost their lives during the camp’s early years and for another, they also overlooked those prisoners who died in Handforth’s sub-camps and associated institutions. When these other deaths are taken into consideration, then the number of dead for the Handforth camp was at least 26.



Memorial Image
1921, Memorial Page to Handforth’s POW Dead (Bogenstaetter and Zimmermann, Die Welt hinter Stacheldraht, p.86)


The first prisoner to die in Handforth was Max Weber, who had been interned as an ‘enemy alien’ and had died suddenly in December 1914. After Weber, the camp only reported one death per year; Fritz Drees died in 1915; 20-year-old Franz Bogocz in 1916; and Martin Sauermann died in 1917 from typhoid fever. In each case, the deceased were given a full military funeral, before being buried in Wilmslow Cemetery. Often a large delegation of prisoners was allowed to accompany the coffin on its final journey from the camp to the cemetery.


POW Funeral - Cropped
POW Funeral, Wilmslow Cemetery


1918, though, turned into a year of considerable suffering for the prisoners in Handforth. During the summer and again in the autumn, the camp was struck by the so-called Spanish influenza. Some 400 prisoners were severely affected during these outbreaks and this was also the cause of the majority of the camp’s deaths. As had been the case earlier in the war, the dead were buried in Wilmslow Cemetery in a mass grave, which was eventually marked by a simple stone plaque.


POW Grave - Wilmslow
POW Gravestone in Wilmslow Cemetery


Wilhelm Schmidt – a young 22-year-old German prisoner – died the same year as the Spanish flu victims. However, this is where the similarity ended. Schmidt died from a British bullet, rather than from disease. Schmidt was reported to have been pestering the guards through the fence for cigarettes. As this was against camp rules, it seemed to rile one of the young guards who ordered Schmidt back from the fence. After repeatedly warning Schmidt, the guard raised his gun “just to scare him”. Somehow, though, the gun went off and a bullet struck Schmidt in the abdomen. He died the next day in Nell Lane Military Hospital in Didsbury. It is unclear where he was laid to rest, but in the 1960s, Schmidt’s remains, along with Handforth’s other dead, were reinterred in a new German military cemetery on Cannock Chase, Staffordshire.


Graves of Handforth’s German POWs, Cannock Chase


Alongside these deaths in Handforth, a number of prisoners also lost their lives outside of the camp’s boundaries. Wilhelm Schade, a submariner, who had been captured from U-Boat number 8, died from appendicitis in the Nell Lane hospital after being transferred there from Handforth. In the sub-camps, one prisoner is reported to have died while working in Altrincham. Another German POW also lost his life in the Newlandside working camp in County Durham. Elsewhere, five ‘enemy aliens’, who had been interned in Handforth and then transferred to the Parkside Asylum in Macclesfield, also lost their lives during the war. According to the asylum’s medical records, all five succumbed to longstanding medical conditions.


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