Relations of German POW's with the British Public

There was a very anti German feeling throughout the country during and immediately after the Great War that was fed at first by Government propaganda and then by the distress of those who had lost loved ones and the fears of those who may suffer a similar loss.

This often translated into hostility towards German Prisoners of war and Interned although there are many stories of acts of kindness, friendships and romance as well as reports of businessmen flouting the rules by selling items to the prisoners. Click here to read a few of the court cases involving these sales.

Rev Andrew Clark ( 1856 to 1922) was vicar of Great Leighs in Essex and kept a diary during the war. The extracts from his fascinating diary illustrate the way that most Britons reacted to the growing number of Germans in their midst and the changing relationship depending on events in the war.

18 May 1915 - Mondays post brought a letter from ex resident of Gt Leighs,  Margaret Lilley now of Stroud Green, London - Here it has been so turbulent. Rioting has been going on quite near here. It is a mercy that they have interned the Germans at last. It ought to have been done long ago. We have a great camp of German prisoners of war ( soldiers) not far from here, Could you believe that some people were actually canvassing for cakes for them!

3 September 1917 - Miss Preeston says that German prisoners were at work on farms in Dunmow and that it was reported that one man had run off but had been recaptured.

4 March 1918 - German prisoners are hard at work building the aerodrome at Chelmsford. They have quarters in the Union Workhouse and are marched back there from their work at 4.30pm each day. They are said to be very happy, laughing and joking with each other as they pass along the streets. Several Chelmsford girls have been taken before the Magistrates for giving them stamps and chocolate.

3 May 1918 - Mr Cooper called. He said that the German prisoners who have been doing farm work in the Dunmow area have become very slack and unruly. Farmers say that if they are set to work at hoeing they do as much damage as they can. These men have become much worse since the beginning of the present German offensive.

30 May 1918 - Today it was said that in a party of German prisoners, going to Boston to be exchanged, one man had a box of dog biscuits which he was taking to Germany to show as the food which the English gave to their German prisoners. He was allowed to take it.

6 July 1918 - A Bocking woman said that she was walking with her brother (who is a soldier discharged after being wounded), who was wearing his silver badge, they met some German prisoners who laughed and jeered at him. The prisoners with their guard marched up Bocking Street. A party of German prisoners with their guards met some of our wounded from Braintree VAD Hospital and hissed at them.

18 August 1918 - Lizzie Oddey found the people in Chelmsford in a state of great agitation, talking about a murder by a German prisoner of war at the end of last week. Eight POW were at work, cutting the border of a field, so that the reaping machine may get to work. The farm foreman reprimanded one of them. The German seized his bill hook and slashed of the foremans head. The soldier on guard fire his rifle and a party came up and marched the eight Germans off.

13 November 1918 - The German prisoners of war who are at work in Hyde Wood on their way back through Great Leighs to Braintree Station are singing ' It's a long way to Tipperary' in good english and obviously are in good spirits.

17 November 1918 - Major James Caldwell met the brake which was driving the German prisoners of war back to their quarters while they are working for Jas Christy, The men looked dejected. The boy who was driving was very cocky and was whistling the Marseillaise.

1 December 1918 - As soon as our returning prisoners of war came to Chelmsford they came to blows with the German prisoners there. Their experience of prison life has exasperated our men at what they consider the pampering of German prisoners here.

8 December 1918 - There is said to be great uneasiness among the German prisoners here at the prospect of being sent back to Germany. They do not want to go. They want to stay in this country.

25 May 1919 - In a large bean field three German prisoners of war were weeding. Although they had taken their coats off they looked very hot.