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Repatriation: Falkirk District Man

British PoWs repatriated from camps in central and southern Germany went to Switzerland with those in the northern and eastern camps being repatriated via the Netherlands. Those repatriated were exchanged in similar numbers and of the same rank. There were 199 men repatriated from Falkirk District. One of them was Private Thomas Burt, Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, who had been wounded, his knee cap shattered and badly wounded in the chest and taken prisoner at Loos. He had been in a German hospital and then a prison camp for twelve months before being repatriated via Switzerland. His brother Private David Burt of the same regiment had been killed as a result of the Germans exploding a mine beneath his trench at The Bluff in the Ypres Salient on 15 October 1915. Another brother, Private James Burt, was serving with the Royal Warwicks.


Thomas was in an internment camp near Geneva, Switzerland awaiting repatriation and had been there for some twelve months. He was visited by his mother the visit funded by the Falkirk Soldiers and Sailors Families Association (SSFA). She travelled to Switzerland, under the supervision of the Red Cross, with twelve other mothers and wives of soldiers on 2 July 1917. She spent ten days with her son in a house that had been set aside by the Red Cross before returning to Falkirk. Thomas returned to the internment camp. The idea of these camps was that the men would be nursed back to full health before being repatriated to their home country. In his book ‘The Prisoners 1914-18 Robert Jackson quotes from a report into the short comings of the repatriation system, which was still in an experimental stage: ‘On the whole the prisoners in Switzerland do a great deal of grumbling. They grumble at the work, six hours a day, they grumble at not being paid, they grumble at having to pay duty on things received from England, they grumble at the number of mothers allowed to visit Switzerland being restricted….There are a good many complaints of the Swiss Commission. They say it does not even read men’s papers nor inspect. The consequences of this is that many of the genuinely sick are left in Germany, and those only a little sick sent to Switzerland. The commission is really a lottery.

IWM HU 103475 Group of interned British and Indian officers and men with a nursing sister at the hospital for interned Allied soldiers in Leysin, Switzerland.

There were accusations of neglect of the men, lack of food, men being used by the Swiss as cheap and plentiful labour to clear snow and other menial tasks. In one camp the medical staff consisted of seven privates, which the Swiss called orderlies, and under the command of a Sergeant in the 2nd Buffs none of whom had medical training. In ‘The Prisoners 1914-18’ Robert Jackson puts this down to there being a large pro-German population in Switzerland and the Red Cross staff being predominantly from the French speaking population. To be fair to the Swiss, they had to deal with an enormous influx of sick and disabled PoWs from both sides who simply wanted to go home at the earliest opportunity after, in some cases, spending years in PoW camps and were being prevented from doing so by quarantine regulations.

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