Photo: Illustrative image for the 'INTERNATIONAL COMMITTEE OF RED CROSS' page
Photo: Illustrative image for the 'INTERNATIONAL COMMITTEE OF RED CROSS' page

WW1 Prisoners of War

By John Pownall



          The above web site may be of use when searching for information about ancestors who were soldiers involved in WW1.

It appears that many soldiers taken prisoner, qualified for transfer to Switzerland because of failing health. This could lead to their eventual return to England. This was completed via the prisoner exchange system, which had been agreed by many nations. The exchange was mainly achieved through the good work of the I. C. R. C. They kept records of the conditions in the Prison Camps of all sides. This was to ensure that all sides would be treated fairly and to reduce mistreatment in prisons. As can be found in various records this was not always the case. In many instances conditions were very tough to say the least.

          However, the I. C. R. C. did record details of individual soldiers on a card index system. This system was raised to help worried relatives trace soldiers and displaced people who were posted as “missing”. The Index Cards are now digitised and since 2014 these records are on line and are free to view. This information is available on the “International Committee of the Red Cross” website.

          There is an explanation of how to use the sites features. This helps you to search for a person or soldier.

          If you are fortunate in your search and find a relevant record, there is an explanation of how to interpret the cards layout i.e., what each individual box or code number means. This is useful because it may lead to further information being available.

          I was fortunate to find a card which related to my own relative, Private Pownall. In his case it only displays very basic details, i.e. name, rank and regiment. Also displayed are some details of where he was last held prisoner (Mannheim, Germany) and also where he was to be sent (Leysin, Switzerland). Someone has hand written on his card what initially looks like “Bean rite”.  But, after enlarging the image and using a translation tool from the internet it says “Beau ritre” which translates to “Good Luck”. So I guess the person who completed the card added a personal note. However, I noticed there are several other soldiers’ cards with the same notation, so maybe not so personnel.

 Some of the records will display more information. This can be who made original enquiry about the missing person or soldier. The card may show their name and address.

The example picture below is of the Index Card for A. Pownall, of the 1st Battalion Lincolnshire regiment.

Many records used for research relate to soldiers who unfortunately perished during World War 1. Also, many soldiers’ records were stored in London and were destroyed during World War 2.

However, the I. C. R. C. records were stored abroad and survived. The site will contain details of many of the soldiers who were fortunate enough to return home. I believe this site is a useful tool for family research, so give it a try, you may get lucky!

 Source; - Web site of the International Committee of Red Cross.                   


          1st picture is of the logo for the


2nd picture is example of soldiers Index Card.

This page was added by John Pownall on 06/03/2017.
Comments about this page

As you say, the site is a bit difficult to use, but works after some fiddling about. I have found my Great Uncle, Capt. Walter William (Bill) Jefferd RFC. Thank you very much for drawing attention to the site.

By Ralph Lloyd-Jones
On 07/03/2017

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