In addition to the soldiers of the Allied Forces, there were also German soldiers behind the frontline who had been taken prisoner in combat. During the First World War it is estimated that about seven million soldiers were captured by the various armies of the warring parties.

Once they were captured on the front, the Germans were evacuated behind the lines where some of them were interrogated by the Allied forces to find out more about the enemy’s plans. Although some of the German soldiers that were detained remained behind the lines, the majority were sent to camps throughout France. In both cases they were used as manpower to compensate for the lack of labour due to the large-scale mobilization.

The living conditions of the prisoners in these camps were not always easy. The same applied to the labour conditions on the construction sites, in the factories or on the farms where they were employed. Yet, for many soldiers, surrendering and being captured was a way of escaping from the hell of warfare.

At the end of the war, although the French soldiers that had been detained in Germany were released relatively soon after, the same could not be said for the Germans who remained imprisoned in the French camps until the early 1920’s. In some cases, they were ordered to clean up the battlefields, like the Chinese workers: they had to recover bodies and ammunitions that had not exploded.

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  • In the Nord: war prisoners, first quarter of the 20th century, postcard, coll. Departmental Archives of the Nord Lille France – mark 15 Fi 45

    For many soldiers being captured was the only way of escaping the hell of warfare. Although the conditions in which they were held were often deplorable, at least the soldiers were kept more or less far away from the battlefield.

  • British prisoners with German officers, first quarter of the 20th century, gelatin silver print on paper, coll. Historial de la Grande Guerre, Péronne

    On the back of this photo, a caption has been written "Englander beim Abtransport", "British soldiers during an evacuation". Enemy soldiers were often captured in combat and in many cases were also injured. This is the case for one of the men in the foreground.

  • French prisoners getting into a railcar under the supervision of German soldiers, their rifles on their shoulders, first quarter of the 20th century, gelatin silver print on paper, coll. Historial de la Grande Guerre, Péronne

    These French prisoners were probably evacuated to Germany where they were detained in a camp until the end of the conflict.

1914 – Dans le Nord – Convoi de prisonniers allemandsBritish prisoners with German officersFrench prisoners getting into a railcar