WW1 prisoner of war records go online for free

Millions of First World War prisoner records held by the International Committee of the Red Cross have been uploaded to the web for the first time

Arrival of German prisoners at Pietrograd (St Petersburg), Russia, World War I, L'Illustrazione Italiana, Year XLII, No 21, May 23, 1915

Records of millions of soldiers and civilians captured during the First World War have been uploaded to the web by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

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Available for free through a new web portal, the vast collection provides details of people who were held in prisoner of war camps across Europe between 1914-1918.

Created by their captors, the records were submitted to the International Prisoners-of-War Agency, which was set up by the ICRC at the start of the conflict to help restore contact between prisoners and their families at home.

Researchers will generally be able to locate an index card for each individual, providing basic details about their imprisonment and reference numbers for any related documents held elsewhere in the database.

Cards containing tracing requests made by prisoners’ next of kin can also be consulted.

Although all civilian-internee index cards from the ICRC’s archives in Switzerland are now online, roughly 20 per cent of the cards for military prisoners from Belgium, France, the UK and Germany are yet to be digitised.

According to the organisation, the missing records will be steadily uploaded over the next six months, with approximately 5 million index cards representing 2.5 million prisoners of the war available through website by the end of 2014.

British prisoners
A list of British prisoners of sent to the International Prisoners-of-War Agency by the German Kriegsministerium in Berlin (Credit: ICRC)

First World War expert Phil Tomaselli told Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine he was “delighted” to see the records finally released to the public.

“Although at first glance the website looks difficult to use, I’ve already managed to find the records for Lt Christopher Guy of the Royal Flying Corps, who died of wounds as a prisoner of war in 1917,” he said.

“There is so much material here and I look forward to learning a lot more.”

In addition, the ICRC has also uploaded a large collection of historic postcards and reports on the conditions in which internees were being held at camps across Europe, Egypt, India, Russia and Japan.

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Together, the collections are included in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register, which grants recognition to archives of international historical significance.