Acting CSM Charles J Marchant was captured at Messines on the 1st of November 1914. His Prisoner of War records show that on the 15th December he was at a camp in Altdamm where he would have been interrogated before being sent on to Schneidemuhl on the 19th December 1914. The forces war record website describes Schneidemuhl as “a camp based 3 miles from the city on higher ground. It is situated on sandy soil surrounded by woods with a capacity of 40,000 to 50,000 prisoners. Barracks of an earth variety” Marchant sent postcards home that show the ‘dugouts’ the men had to live in whilst they were being made to build the camp. They also show the prisoners being served their dinner out of large wooden barrels whilst standing in a field.
The men were plagued with lice and disease and in a diary entry from a soldier in the Coldstream Guards he writes, “Typhus broke out in December 1914 and within three months every English prisoner except 11 had been hospitalised with the fever. Twenty Britons died but the death toll of the Russians averaged at 30 a day. The sufferings of the men were not alleviated by an order that compelled them to take two hours exercise each day, in frost, rain and snow and often without trousers when these were being fumigated.” Several of Marchant’s postcards show scenes at the cemetery and he wrote on the back of one, “the Lager cemetery where thousands of prisoners are buried”.
On the 23rd of February, 1917, Marchant was now interred at Minden which is described as being “3 miles from town and surrounded by farms.” Life at Minden was harsh, with many NCOs being sent here because they had refused to volunteer for work. The authorities hoped that such brutal conditions would change the minds of the prisoners and they would decide to work instead of having to stay at Minden.
A report from 1918 written about the camp describes the conditions as rather bleak, with the barracks being built to form a square with a small courtyard in the middle. This courtyard is just hard clay with no trees, grass or shade, where the men play football. There are 5 of these barrack blocks housing 18,000 prisoners. Each block has a bathroom “equipped with 14 showers (hot and cold water)” a laundry room and a kitchen, “equipped with 17 kettles and 2 ranges”. The report goes into great detail on the standard of the camps toilets. The author of the report states that the camp authorities claimed they were emptied each day, but the men who were interred at the camps stated to the contrary, claiming that they were rarely emptied more than once a week, with a resulting ‘objectionable odour.’ The camp also had a Post Office, a hospital and a punishment block but no library. Whilst inspecting the punishment block the author reports that some prisoners being held here complained they were being punished for just reporting they were sick. The men in the punishment block were not allowed a change of clothes and had no blankets or mattress to sleep on.
Records show that in July 1918 Marchant was to be transferred to Aachen in Holland. There were nine hospitals at Aachen and this is where all the British POW’s were sent before being repatriated home. Marchant arrived back in England on 18th of November, 1918.