Mrs Pope Hennessy’s book on POW Camps says Limburg.—An old cathedral town on the Lahn (pop. 10,500) of some importance in the Middle Ages. The prison camp near the town is celebrated as the place in which Irish prisoners were concentrated at Christmas, 1914, for the purpose of recruiting for the Irish Brigade. Now the centre of a number of invalid working camps and hospitals in occupied territory’; also the head camp for a certain number of men working in occupied territory. Capacity, 12,000. Limestone barracks. American prisoners here. 8th Army Corps.
The Germans concentrated Irish POWs in Limburg from December 1914 in order to give Casement the opportunity to recruit men for his Irish Brigade. The British records hold a number of reports on the camp. Out of 2,200 Irish soldiers who were moved to Limburg, Casement managed to recruit 55. Once these men had been recruited, they were move to Zossen in July 1916 and only one more (Wilson) was recruited after they moved to Zossen..
1914 Dec 6. In a letter to Count Wedel, Casement states that he visited the Limburg camp, and this does appear to have been his first visit. He went to see the priests who had been sent to minister to the prisoners. There were only a few hundred, Irish POWs at Limburg, and Casement was encouraged by the positive response that he got from them.
1914 Dec 13 All the Irishmen at Doberitz were collected together and told by the German commandant that they were going to be treated better than anybody else. There were 246 there already when they got to Limburg on December 13; but, as time went on, more and more Irish were brought there from different camps of Germany. Their treatment there at first was better than at Doberitz.
1914 Dec 17. 1500 Irish prisoners, including Michael Keogh, arrived in Limburg according to Keogh’s notes. There were already earlier Irish arrivals from other camps, primarily Doebritz bei Berlin and Neustadt an Ashe. And Casement had already visited the camp to try to recruit. 1500 Irish soldiers were taken by rail from Sennelager to Limburg. There was some difficulty apparently in convincing the Germans to only take Catholic Irishmen, as the Germans could not see why there should be a difference in the faiths. Casement believed that the isolation from other nationalities at Limburg, coupled with the Catholic priests, better food and recreation, would soon attract the men to the idea of an Irish Brigade. The Irish soldiers marched from the station at Limburg, over the cobbled streets of the old town, to the camp.
Keogh notes a better camp awaited the Irish at Limburg, from the conditions at Sennelager. “Fine wooden huts, each with two rooms to house 50 men: well ventilated, comfortable: beds on wooden trestles, and ample blankets”. The new arrivals found that 300 Irish were already there from other camps, and they had been there 2 weeks and had already had a visit from Casement. However by the time they left a year later he described it as rat ridden and poor accommodation. Keogh notes that the camp had not only barbed wire, but also an electrified fence
Private William Dooley, 2nd Royal Irish records that Casement made a recruiting speech, and all the Irish were gathered together around a provision box. Casement got up on this and made a long speech ” The men were very restless during the speech, but they restrained themselves to the end. Then, as Casement passed away, they let themselves go, hushing, hissings, and calling him all sorts of names”…. Continuing, he said that at first only two men (this has to be Keogh and Quinlisk) went over to the Germans. One of them was the son of a Government official (Quinlisk’s father was in the RIC), and the other, though of Irish parentage, was American-born (Keogh was in fact Irish born, but had become an American citizen) . Afterwards another joined them (this will be Dowling), and the three of them were at once taken out of the camp to the best hotel in Limburg, were allowed to wear civilian clothes, and to visit the camp when they pleased. Their role was to move about, amongst their former comrades and try to induce them to follow their recreant example. Each of them was armed with a revolver, which they ostentatiously displayed when moving about the camp, their German employers having, no doubt, a wholesome fear of what they might expect if they fell unprotected among their fellow-countrymen.….and only 30 or 40 joined the Germans in all-three or four at a time. Sheer starvation only induced these men to take such action, and out of the 30 or so two were Englishmen and one a Scotchman”.
The recruiting went ahead over the next few months, but after the initial group of around 50 volunteers they only got a few more and the final total of recruits seems to have been 56, which I believe are correct, and backed with names.
The file WO 141/9 includes a summary of the evidence compiled by MI5 of the men and NCO’s reported to have joined the German/Irish Brigade. It suggests that the evidence is strong enough for pay, allowances etc be stopped for 6 men including him
By early January 1915 Casement is citing 2200 Irish prisoners in Limburg. The Germans had moved Irish POWs to Limburg Camp for the purpose of making them available for recruitment. But from the start there was resistance to Casement. The senior British NCOs sent a message to the camp commandant stating that they wanted no special treatment as “in addition to being Irish Catholics, we have the honour to be British soldiers”.
1915 Jan 5. Casement visited the camp again and was poorly received by the men. There were calls like “how much are the Germans paying you?”, and cheers for John Redmond. There is some evidence that the camp was put on a starvation diet to try to force recruitment, conditions were certainly harsh as reported in debriefing of Irish POWs. Whilst it is difficult to know if their diet was worse than in other POW camps at that time, the British Military Intelligence believed that most of those joining did so in order to get better treatment, and even Casement admitted that few joined him out of patriotism. The British view was that “many of the 56 were young men frightened by the pressure put upon them or driven to compliance by hunger; many were men with questionable records, only a dozen or less could be classed as political malcontents.”
A dispatch from the German War Office in March 1915 gave details of a rule for all Prisoner of War Camps. Prisoners were not allowed to write more than two letters a month, not exceeding four pages, and six pages of ordinary size in the case of officers, also one postcard a week was allowed. Prisoners were also “required to impress on their families the desirability of not writing too often, of restricting the length of their letters, and of writing clearly and legibly.” (Leinster Leader, 20 March, 1915 ) Letters were censored, items such as parcels from home were often never received.
The causes of death among POWs vary from camp to camp and vary throughout the war. TB became a problem at Limburg. A small number died through accidents and some were shot by guards. Many died as a result of lack of care and medical attention. The figures for British Prisoners of War who died in POW Camps were, Officers 172 and Other Ranks 6249. A figure of 3% has been quoted for British prisoner of war who died in German hands
Limburg POW Camp
The Germans did not have the means to provide a prisoner of war with everything they needed for a reasonable existence. As the war progressed the Prisoners of War Committees back in Ireland became more and more important. At Limburg if the parcel goes through, it would consist of a standard fortnightly supply of :- 1 tin of coffee and milk, 1 tin of condensed milk, 1lb of tea, 1lb of bacon and 1lb of cheese to augment their prisoners’ fare, which was understood to be very meager. (Leinster Leader, -11 September, 1915) Cigarettes, papers and magazines were always on request from the prisoners.
The Co. Kildare Committee of the R.D.F. alone, dealt with 500 prisoners of the R.D.F. in 1916 (the total number of RDF seems to have been about 600). Various fund-raising events were organised by the Committee to help the soldiers in whatever way possible. It is difficult to get a complete list of Royal Dublin Fusilier POWS. My first efforts yielded a list of 110 names out of the 600, and of whom 5 joined Casements Irish Brigade. It also included 27 deaths in captivity.
In July 1916, the Americans reported the shooting of 2 Irish POWs, Moran and Devlin, at the prison camp at Limburg-am-Lahn in Prussia. The Germans became quite upset, and threatened to restrict American access to war prisoners by denying them private conversations. Allied protests and neutral inspections prompted the Germans to improve the sanitary conditions in POW camps radically. At Limburg-am-Lahn, an American embassy attaché reported excellent sanitary conditions in the camp. German medical authorities set up sanitary regulations for the POW system based on scientific principles. The first step was to clean the bodies and clothes of incoming POWs. Newly arrived prisoners reported first to the prison showers and delousing station. POWs surrendered all of their clothing for fumigation and hot steam treatment, passed through showers or baths, had their heads shaved to eliminate any remaining lice, and reported for an inspection by a doctor. Camp authorities set up quarantine stations near the disinfection facilities so that large numbers of POWs could be immediately separated from the main prison population if a contagious disease was detected. The hospital had a staff of five German doctors. An inspecting American attaché found few patients and his report reflected favourably on the health of the POWs. The next step was to maintain the health of the inmates. Camp officials organized a sanitary corps of POWs to maintain the hygiene and cleanliness of the camp. All prisoners were required to shower or bathe at least twice a week, and could usually bathe more often if they desired. The Germans constructed new barracks designed to improve ventilation, since sealed buildings promoted the spread of airborne diseases. Prisoners also participated in military drill, calisthenics, and gymnastic exercises under the orders of their own non-commissioned officers to keep physically fit. In addition, German doctors made rounds through the barracks every morning so prisoners could report for sick call.
1915 Mar 17. Kavanagh claims he saw John Kenny (IRB, New York) and Capt Boehm in the camp, and that Devoy spoke to him
1915 Mar 27 Dowling gives this as his date of joining the Irish Brigade. He was only the third man to join after Keogh and Quinlisk
1915 Apr The number of recruits appears to have reached 8, and seems to have been Keogh, Quinlisk, Dowling, Bailey, Kavanagh, Grannaghan, Delamore and Sewell. O’Toole joined when Plunkett started his recruiting.
1915 Apr 21. Quinlisk, Keogh and Dowling go to Berlin to meet Plunkett.
1915 Apr 27. Quilisk and Dowling meet Plunkett in Berlin
1915 May 7. Casement writes a memorandum. It is clear that recruiting has not yet started. To recruit say 200 or 300 men from among the 2200 Catholic Itish now at Limburg …will not secure that sweeping effect on public opinion or permanent moral result hoped for.
1915 May 7. Plunkett is at Limburg and Keogh and Dowling are interviewing men individually outside the wire to try to get them to join the Irish Brigade. They get around 50 recruits over the next week
1915 May 15. Casement makes a speech
“You have been told, I daresay, that I am trying to form an Irish Brigade to fight for Germany; that I am a German agent; and that an attempt is being made to suborn you, or tempt you to do something dishonest and insincere for the sake of the German Government and not for the welfare of Ireland. Well, you may believe me, or disbelieve me (and nothing I could say would convince you as to my own motives) but I can convince you, and I owe to yourselves as well as to my self to convince you that the effort to form an Irish Brigade is based on Irish interests only, and is a sincere and honest one, so far as my actions with the German Government is concerned and so far as their action in the matter goes.
An Irish Brigade, if it be formed today, will rest on a clear and definite agreement wherein the German Government is pledged to aid the cause of Irish independence by force of arms, and above all, to aid Irish men to themselves fight for their own freedom. The agreement that is the basis on which an Irish Brigade is one now in my hands, and which I will read to you. It was signed on 28th of December last by the duly authorized representative [under Secretary for State] of the German Government and is an honest and sincere offer on the part of a great European Government to help Irishmen to fight their own battle for the freedom of their country. It is the first time in history that such an offer has been made and embodied in clear straightforward terms.
1915 Jun 7 The Germans report arrival of 50 Irish at Zossen from Limburg. There is a list of possible recruits that failed to materialise
1915 Jun 10 Germans report arrival of another 5 Irish at Zossen from Limburg , including one with broken leg.
1915 Jun 28 the men who had signed up for the Irish Brigade were taken from Limburg and transferred to Zossen according to the American Consul’s list to the British Government of POW transfers. It says that the British received the list on 28 June 1915. McDonagh in his statement after repatriation states that only 3 men were in Irish Brigade uniform at Limburg, Keogh, Dowling and Quinlisk, the rest got uniforms at Zossen
1915 Jul 16 Casement writes to Corporal Keogh in Limburg telling him that he had “asked that you and the two fellows who have been left stranded here so long should be removed from Limburg.
1915 Nov 1. Monteith meets Sergt. O’Toole and Beverly at Potsdamer Banhof at 9.30 together with Gafreter Zehusen, one of the interpreters attached to the Brigade. They take the train to Limburg.
1915 Nov 2. Monteith arrives at Limburg. He finds an orderly waiting with instructions from Commandant to report to him at once, which they do before having breakfast. Commandant offers to do all in his power to help them, and places two rooms at their disposal. He also informed Monteith that his hotel bill will be charged to the Government, together with the Sergts. and the interpreter. This Monteith declined to accept, as far as his own own bill was concerned. Monteith writes to Casement from Limburg suggesting that Sgt Keogh be sent to Limburg from Zossen to help with recruiting “Regarding Keogh, I am rather in doubt in this matter, I have learned that there are other attractions in Limburg for the Sergeant Major beside recruiting, but he might be able to help things along… up to the present we have little to show for our work, I have interviewed 70 men, about 10 of whom I intend to see again.. the first 25 were inclined to be a bit rusty and insolent ..the men I saw today were of a far better frame of mind … I think we stand to get 8 or 10 of them
1915 Nov 3. Monteith commenced recruiting campaign at 9 a.m. and continued till noon. Started at 2 p.m. and worked till 5 p.m. These hours were chosen so as not to interfere with meal hours of men. He reports that the men seem indifferent, and that a lot of them were absolutely impossible.
1915 Nov 4. Monteith was still l recruiting. He reports a little hostility shown today, but when the firey ones had it pointed out to them that if they also try the injured innocent and act the dramatic they could do so without fear of punishment. They did not seem to want to do it and some of them even went so far as to give their reasons why they would not join.
1915 Nov 5. Recruiting. Several men today asked what they would get for joining—a straight question. Monteith pointed out he had nothing to offer except the honour of fighting for their own country. There was so to speak “nothing doing.” A party of French prisoners today cried, “Irish Traitors” as we passed.
1915 Nov 6. Recruiting. A letter from Casement to Monteith. Monteith says that Casement is not well, and that he does not think Casement is mentally fit. Last time Monteith saw him he was simply quivering like a leaf.
1915 Nov 7. Recruiting. They now manage to get through about 50 men per day. Nearly all of them are satisfied with their present state, which is peculiar. All of them are loud in their statement that when the war is over they will be prepared to fight for Ireland. God help us! after the war. Their idea of fighting for Ireland seems to be to fight the people of the North. John Redmond seems to be a sort of tin God to these men, a constant cry is,”Now we have home rule we are equal with England and it is our duty to fight alongside the English.”
1915 Nov 8. Monteith recruiting. Mrs. Zerhussen sent Monteith a small flag, the Republican colours green white and orange. One man who saw this lying on the table said, “That’s enough, I won’t join you when I see that flag.” I asked “Why,” to which he replied, “Because that’s the flag of United Ireland!!!” Again God help us.
1915 Nov 92. Monteith recruiting. Men all satisfied with their present condition, most of these I find belong to the Special Reserve (ie. Militia) can’t see further than their nose and suffer no pain as long as their stomach is full.
1915 Nov 10. Noisy lot of men today who promised all sorts of kind things to Monteith, such as shooting, hanging, etc. He have also found out the reason for the men being satisfied with then: condition. Each Irishman in Limburg receives on an average 10 parcels per month, or one in three days. These parcels contain food, clothing, tobacco, etc, and also, some regiments had a supply of money from Regimental funds. Now the average number of parcels received by English prisoners of war from all sources is from 3 to 5 parcels per man monthly. Most of the parcels coming to Irishmen are sent from England.
1915 Nov 11. A new batch of men just came in from work on farms. Monteith asked them as to the treatment there, all would much rather be on the farm where they have much more freedom, good food, an allowance of beer, good bedding and a small money allowance, from 6d to l0d per day.
1915 Nov 12. Recruiting. Half holiday for some reason, Limburg is full of young men called up for medical examination, these march around the town singing, wearing sashes and streamers in their hats.
1915 Nov 13. Monteith had now selected 52 men who he believes will in all probability join, in the end only one of these possible actually joined. The War Office will not give Monteith permission to wear uniform which he believes would assist him greatly in the work. Major von Baerle from. the War Office came to Limburg to see how things were going. He wanted to remain in the room whilst Monteith was speaking to the men, but Monteith objected as it had been said that the men had not been interviewed beforewith a German Officer present.
1915 Nov 14. Sunday no work. Monteith remarks that to the present although he scarcely knows ten words of German, he has not been asked for a pass, whereas in Ireland he not able to move without two policemen at his heels.
1915 Nov 15. Sergt. Major Keogh from Zossen has joined to help in the work. Monteith has just met Father Crotty here, one of the Irish priests sent from Rome to take charge of the spiritual needs of the Irish in Limburg. He was there as a priest and only as a priest. Monteith also met a German priest, Father Berkessel, who had a Tipperary accent, he had lived years in Ireland.
1915 Nov 16 Monteith was wanted back at Zossen, things are not going well there, men are out of hand and Casement thinks it would be advisable for him to return as early as possible.
1915 Nov 17 . The men selected by Monteith are to be separated into separate rooms, consequently they will be under suspicion of every man in the camp—Irish, Russian and French. Monteith says it will spoil everything. The German soldier is not tactful.
1915 Nov 18 Recruiting. No change, men seem without interest in life, home, or future. It is so pitiful.
1915 Nov 19 Monteith asks for a pass to return to Zossen.
1915 Nov 20 Recruiting. Half holiday.
1915 Nov 21Sunday, no work.
1915 Nov 22 Work at standstill until remainder of men return from winter work on farms.
1915 Nov 23 Monteith sees Commandant in Limburg and asks leave. Leave Limburg Wed. with Keogh, Beverly and Zerhussen for Berlin. Sgt. O’Toole returning to Limburg to see rest of men as they come in from farms. and that seems to be the end of it. None of the men from this batch ever joined the Brigade.
Disinfecting arrivals at Limburg
Prisoners of war went through hell during the war. The Earl of Mayo, a retired Lord Lieutenant and resident at Palmerstown House, Naas, reported from London hospitals which held Irish prisoners of war recently returned from Germany. The following is an extract from one of his reports:-
“I went to see Private T. Donohoe, 11282, Royal Dublin Fusiliers. I saw him at York Gallery, Brompton Hospital, Fulham road, on December 14th, 1915. He said: ‘I was taken prisoner on August 27th, 1914, and was then taken to Sennelager, and there the food was very bad. All latrines were open, a very heavy fatigue duty in building huts, and the men were hammered by the Germans in charge if they shirked work. Some parcels were received in November, 1914, at Senelager…..In July, 1915, I went into hospital with lung trouble. I was badly looked after in hospital. There was only one German orderly to about 50 patients in the ward; no medicines, but, they were given morphine. Some men never woke up from this morphine treatment, and they were buried. The morphine was given out in drops by the orderly, and he was not very particular about the dose.” Kildare Observer, 1 January, 1916
Kildare Observer of Oct 1914 reports that Private Johnny Doran, 2nd Battn. R.D.F., has written to his wife. The letter bears the date 11th September was only received by Mrs. Doran on Saturday evening last, October 24th. It reads –
“My dear wife, – I suppose you must be in a bad way since you got no letter from me, but it was not my fault. I would have written long ago, but we are only getting the privilege now. When you receive this letter I want you to send me on a box of cigarettes, as we can’t get any smokes here, as we have no money. (The letter goes on to state that the parcel must be under 10lbs. weight, and contains a request that his wife would send him a home-made cake.) It continues: – “I must have some one’s prayer, as so far, I am safe and well. Tell Maggie and Sonnie to pray for me until I return. Please God, it won’t be too long. Tell my mother to send on Paddy (The writer’s step-brother) the same as you will send me. Tell her that Paddy and I are prisoner of war together, and Paddy is all right and in good health. Let me know if you have heard anything about T. Higgins, as I did not see him since I came out. I wish to God the war was over until we get home. – Your loving husband,”John”.
On a postcard received by Mrs. Doran by the same post and bearing the Seane Lager postmark, with the date October 16, 1914, Private Doran says:- “We are getting treated all right in Germany. Tell all the neighbours I was asking for them.
English Private Thomas, of the 2nd Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers. Kildare Observer carries on 27/3/1915 a story of his experiences as a prisoner in Germany. This young Irish soldier, who is scarcely yet out of his teens, is now at home with his widowed mother in Dalkey Hill, Dalkey.
“Did you receive any better treatment from the Germans by reason of your being an Irish soldier?” he was asked. “No,” he replied, “not in my experience. When bringing us as prisoners, the German put us into cattle trucks and we were travelling for three days and three nights. They brought us to Munster when we were put into a kind of circus, which had been converted into a hospital. Here we were looked after, and they gave us what we could eat and plenty of it. Having spent a fortnight there, they put us into a big camp, where there were French, Belgian, English and Russian soldiers. When we went into the camp, they treated us very badly, and especially about food. They gave us about eight ounces of bread, half a pint of coffee, and a pint and a half of soup every day.” Private English added that the German soldiers, many of whom could speak English, frequently boasted to the prisoners that the German army would soon be in England. Describing how he was wounded, he said that it was at the tail end of the retreat from Mons.
……. After spending six weeks in the hospital, they were conveyed as prisoners of war to Germany. When about five months in the prison camp, the badly wounded were ordered one day to fall out, and their names were taken. He was one of the first batch to be sent home, but spent some time in Millbank Hospital before coming to Dalkey.
Copy of letter received by Kildare Observer “We have received the following letter from Private Philip Halleron (9639), 11. Bat. 6 Camp. No. 729, Limburg (lahn). Germany bearing the post mark of 26th April. Private Philip Halleron, 2nd Battalion was reported Prisoner of War, May 15, 1915. Born Naas.
“Sir, – On behalf of a few Naas men of my regiment (the Royal Dublin Fusiliers) who are here as prisoners of war and who were readers of your paper before the war broke out, I ventured to write this card and to ask you if you could see your way to send us something now in our time of trouble. As it seems to be the custom of provincial journals to look after the prisoners of their particular town or county, I am sure you will not be far behind other papers in this matter. Should you see your way to fall in with this suggestion, the most suitable things to send are eatables, tobacco and cigarettes at present. Wishing your paper every success. The number here from Naas and district is about 10 or12 men. I remain, sir, yours sincerely Philip Halleron
Private Joe Hickey had been in Seane Lager in Oct 1914. And by 1 January 1916 was reported wounded and Prisoner of War at Limburg Camp. Born Back Lane, Naas. Private Hickey is 19 years of age and joined the Dublin Fusiliers in May, 1913. He was wounded in the Battle of Mons and has recovered from the effects. His elder brother Private Hickey, of the 1st. Battn. of the R.D.F., is at present with his Battalion in Madras, India. A letter to his mother in Oct 1914 reads
“Dear Mother, – Just a line hoping to fine you al a home in good health, as I am. I am at present along with the rest of the Battalion. We are getting no cigarettes here, so I would be very thankful if you could send me a box of “Woodbines” and some story book and a cake of bread. We are allowed to receive parcels up to the with of 10lbs, and don’t put any stamps on it, as it is allowed to come free of charge. Make up the weight of the parcel or box with the story books. We get no money here, so we can’t buy anything. I would like to be with you for the Christmas and I hope you enjoy it. Tell father to send me some of his books, as I can’t read German and they are the only thing we can get here – Your loving son,”Joe”
On Christmas Eve 1915 Private Thomas Higgins, after a sojourn of 16 months as a wounded prisoner of war in Limburg, Germany, tells his story to the Kildare Observer. It included an account of Sir Roger Casements attempts to recruit Irish soldiers into a Brigade with the express purpose of fighting against the British army and alongside other Germans: –
“We began to feel that the Germans were not such bad fellows after all as out first impressions of them led us to believe. But we were soon to learn the reason of our good treatment. The Irish prisoners were kept by themselves. One day Sir Roger Casement came to us read some Irish history for us and told us about Ireland’s wrongs of the past.
“Now”, he said, “is the time to strike a blow for Ireland,” and lots of other stuff like that. We were then told that an Irish Brigade was to be formed from amongst the prisoners. We were to be given uniforms of green with shamrocks as collar badges. We were to be equipped and fitted out in every way to fight for Ireland. They took the precaution of meeting an objection that would occur to many of us even supposing we were willing to become traitors to our Empire: “If you join the Irish Brigade and the Germans win this war they will land the Irish Brigade in Ireland to free Ireland, and send some German troops to reinforce you. If the Germans do not win the war We will give you £20 each, send you to America, and guarantee you employment there with German firms.” We booed Sir Roger Casement out of the camp, and he only came once again after that To distribute books about the history and wrongs of Ireland – Things that happened years ago. “Some of our fellows were foolish enough to take the bait. In a sense they could hardly be blamed for it. Any man who joined the Irish Brigade was starved into it. Very few, however, went… After that we were again treated like dogs.” Kildare Observer- 1 January, 1916
There are two chapters in the book, “Mayo Comrades of the Great War”, with letters from this camp thanking the people of Mayo for sending food and clothing parcel. Not one of the letters mentions the thorny subject of the Irish Brigade. All the letters in the local newspapers had been sent to two committees which were set up to try and supply Mayo prisoners with food and clothing. One was called the Marqess of Sligo’s County Mayo Branch of the Connaught Rangers’ Fund, under the direction of Lord Sligo. He and his wife, Lady Eileen Browne were reported in the local papers as having done tremendous work in raising money and making up and forwarding parcels to prisoners in the various camps. The other committee was known as the Dublin Branch of the County Mayo Prisoners of War Relief Committee and was based in Dublin under the direction of Col. Mauruce Moore, with an address of 35 Molesworth Street. Solicitor Fitzgerald-Kenny was the Hon. Secretary, and were surrounded by a lot of influential and hard-working members and were reported as having done “stupendous work”. There is a small thread running through a few of the letters which state that they were being censored and some letters suggest that the original letter to be sent home had to be rewritten. In the Dublin committee’s chapter there is a list of Mayo prisoners’ names from the different camps, but mostly from Limburg.
The book ‘My Four Years in Germany’, by US Ambassador James W. Gerard, offers the following insights
The Germans collected all the soldier prisoners of Irish nationality in one camp at Limburg not far from Frankfurt a. M. There efforts were made to induce them to join the German army. The men were well treated and were often visited by Sir Roger Casement who, working with the German authorities, tried to get these Irishmen to desert their flag and join the Germans. A few weaklings were persuaded by Sir Roger who finally discontinued his visits, after obtaining about thirty recruits, because the remaining Irishmen chased him out of the camp.
I received information of the shooting of one prisoner, and although the camp authorities had told Dr. McCarthy that the investigation had been closed and the guard who did the shooting exonerated, nevertheless, when I visited the camp in order to investigate, I was told that I could not do so because the matter of the shooting was still under investigation. Nor was I allowed to speak to those prisoners who had been witnesses at the time of the shooting. I afterwards learned that another Irishman had been shot by a guard on the day before my visit, and the same obstacles to my investigation were drawn about this case.
There is a later report in Hansard about this incident
“On July 7 1916 we learned, from a Report made by two members of the American Embassy at Berlin, that Patrick Moran, of the 2nd Connaught Rangers, was shot by the guard at a working camp near Limburg on May 28. The explanation given by the commandant of the camp is that Moran, when in a state of intoxication, attacked the guard and the burgermeister, and that the guard fired in self-defence. Moran was given a military funeral, and the matter reported to the Army Corps of the district. We have been given to understand that Moran’s comrades were not allowed to attend the funeral, and that their request that his body should be buried with other men of his regiment who had died at this camp at Limburg was refused. On July 10 we were informed by the American Ambassador here that another British prisoner, William Devlin, of the Royal Munster Fusiliers, had also been shot at one of the Limburg working camps.
The American Ambassador at Berlin, Mr. Gerard, on hearing what had occurred, at once proceeded to the camp, although the General Commanding at Frankfort had warned him by telegraph not to come. Mr. Gerard demanded a thorough examination of the prisoners who were present at the shooting of Patrick Moran. Permission to talk to these prisoners was refused him, as it was stated that the matter was under investigation. Apparently the investigation was not started until Mr. Gerard took the matter up. The sentry was not even arrested until the visit of the members of the Embassy to Limburg, and it was ascertained that the sentry in question attended Moran’s funeral. The shooting of the other man, Devlin, took place the day before Mr. Gerard, accompanied by Dr. McCarthy, another member of the American Embassy, visited Limburg—that is to say, on July 2. But neither the chief of the Staff from Frankfort, who met Mr. Gerard, nor the commandant of the camp, gave any information with regard to this particular occurrence; and up till July 7 Mr. Gerard had received no official information whatever on the subject. And it is important to note that, according to the information we have received, both of these men, Moran and Devlin, had refused to join Casement.
On July 13 the Foreign Office addressed a strong protest to the German Government against their action in endeavouring to place obstacles in the way of Mr. Gerard inquiring into the shooting of Moran, and in concealing the death of Devlin. We demanded an immediate inquiry, in the presence of a member of the United States Embassy at Berlin, into the shooting of the two prisoners and the punishment of those found guilty. We pointed out that the proceeding would be all the more infamous if it were found to be connected with the refusal of the men to join Casement, and we asked leave from the American Government to publish the correspondence. On July 20 we received a detailed report on the shooting of Moran, of which we had already received a summary. It appears that the German authorities refused to allow Mr. Gerard to talk to the witnesses except in the presence of a German officer. In thanking Mr. Gerard, we asked him to endeavour to obtain a modification of this restriction, but, if this proved impossible, to obtain the names of the witnesses in order that their evidence might be heard later.
The Irishmen did not bear confinement well, and at the time of my visit among them many of them were suffering from tuberculosis in the camp hospital. They seemed also peculiarly subject to mental breakdowns. Two devoted Catholic priests, Father Crotty and a Brother Warren from a religious house in Belgium, were doing wonderful work among these prisoners. …
…. think that the Germans suspected that I had learned from fellow prisoners of the cruel and unnecessary shooting of two Irish prisoners at Limburg. It was not from prisoners, however, that I obtained this information, but from Germans who wrote to me.
An interview with a POW who was In Limburg 9/12/1914 to 1/12/1915
“When I was at Cassel Camp the Irish RC’s were told to give in their names and, if they did so they would be removed to another camp where the treatment would be better. I gave in my name and was shortly afterwards transferred to Limburg. This was in December 1914. In February 1915 Sir Roger Casement made us a speech asking us to join an Irish Brigade, that this was “our chance to strike a blow for our own country”. He was booed out of the camp and later he returned but did not speak to us again. We were then marched up to the Russian Lines (by which he means the Russian compound at Limburg Camp) where our names and regiments were written down and we were asked again to join. Out of about 800-900, 47 joined and were taken away. After that further efforts were made to induce us to join by cutting off our rations, the bread ration was cut in half for about 2 months. No others joined beyond the 47. One of the men, Greer, who joined is now drawing allowance for his sister from the Government, so I am told.”
1915 Jun 28. The American Consul reports that men of the Irish Brigade have been transferred to Zossen from Limburg and gives the British Government the American List of that date. This list has 51 POWs in the Irish Brigade. The 3 senior NCOs , Keogh, Quinlisk and Dowling were missing (they were still recruiting at Limburg) plus Wilson (who did not join till November 1915) and Sewell.There is mention of one man going to hospital with a broken leg, and from other information, this man was probably Sewell
A cross was erected from donations made by the Irish prisoners themselves. A Celtic Cross, it is dedicated to forty five Irish soldiers who died there during world war one while they were prisoners of war in Limburg. In fact originally 34 Irish pows were buried there at the time the cross was erected, and later more bodies were brought to make the 45 it currently commemorates.
In November 2007 the German town of Dietkirchen restored and rededicated a Celtic cross erected in May 1917 to the memory of 45 World War 1 Irish soldiers who died in a prisoner of war camp which lay between this town and Limburg in western Germany. No trace remains today of the 24 hectare camp which held up to 12,000 prisoners of war. It’s believed that the soldiers died from a combination of battle injuries and disease in the camp with most of the remains being removed and interred in other military cemeteries. The 3m high Celtic sandstone cross, one of the few of its kind in mainland Europe, had deteriorated significantly due to 90 years of weather exposure and was in a very fragile condition before the decision to restore it was taken. The local community held Irish folk festivals and concerts to raise the funds while donations were received from the Royal Munster Fusiliers’ Association, other military associations and the Irish Government. During the summer the cross was restored in situ.
The names of the 45 soldiers engraved at the base of the cross had become totally illegible and have now been re-entered on a new bronze plaque. The first name on the plaque is 40 year old Frederick Kelly, the first man to die in the camp on 20 December 1914 and recently the Dietkirchen authorities have named a new street overlooking the graveyard in his honour. At the rededication ceremony a local priest blessed the cross to the melody of the Der Gute Kamerad (The Good Comrade) in the presence of townspeople and visitors from Britain and Ireland. The cross was erected on 25 May 1917 at the initiation of Rev. J. T. Crotty, a Dominican priest from Kilkenny who was sent by the Vatican to administer to the spiritual needs of the Irish prisoners. Speaking after the rededication ceremony, Mr. Bernhard Eufinger, leading official (Ortsvorsteher) in the town of Dietkirchen said that the cross, standing on that spot for 90 years should serve as a symbol of reconciliation but also stand as a reminder of the immeasurable suffering of the two World Wars in the 20th century.
www.limburg-dietkirchen.de is a website which contains pictures and a story of the Dietkirchen (Limburg) POW as well as it’s history. Dietkirchen is the place where the camp itself was located. Dietkirchen is a small village very close to Limburg and today an official part of the city of Limburg while it had it’s own local government in the time of the Great war.