Prisoners of War
VI: Relief Work
VI: Relief Work
In October 1944 the first shiploads of relief supplies and mail to go to Gothenburg had been taken on by the Lilli Mathiessen (a Swedish vessel under International Red Cross Committee supervision) to Lubeck. A second trip was made in January 1945 and the route became well established. At the same time four vessels chartered by the British Red Cross Society were transporting supplies direct from Lisbon to Marseilles. The packing of parcels continued and huge reserves were built up in the United Kingdom.1 The net effect of these arrangements was to bring forward food supplies for British Commonwealth prisoners and internees on a scale more than sufficient to restore full service to camps. The way was cleared for this by the agreement of the German authorities to the holding of reserve stocks in depots outside camps.
1 In April 1945 there were 7,500,000 to 8,000,000 in stock.
The severe shortage of food in camps used as reception centres for the columns of prisoners has already been mentioned. The International Red Cross Committee arranged with SHAEF for an experimental convoy of lorries loaded with food, each lorry painted white and marked with the Red Cross emblem,1 to be driven by Red Cross drivers into Bavaria, where many of the prisoners were being sent. Such a convoy, consisting of 25 lorries provided by the Canadian and American Red Cross Societies, left Switzerland on 7 March. At the same time permission was obtained from the German authorities to move into Germany from Switzerland whole relief trains of Red Cross supplies, in order to establish quickly large dumps at suitable places. The first of these left Switzerland on 6 March and reached Moosburg 43 hours later with over 93,000 food parcels, medicines, and other relief. The state of the line, the difficulty of getting suitable coal, and the task of persuading anyone to drive the engine made the journey an eventful one for the accompanying International Red Cross official. Besides negotiating for the safe passage of the train, he had at times to set to and stoke the engine.
1 See p. 462.
In this final phase of the war in Europe the need for relief supplies became greater than it had ever been, while the means of conveying and distributing them became more and more difficult. Even with the co-operation of the German High Command, it was wellnigh impossible for the representatives of the International Red Cross Committee to contact the hundreds of columns of prisoners of war on the roads and supply them, since after a while only their general lines of march were known. The best results came from the supplying of reception centres where the arrival of food undoubtedly prevented much additional sickness and misery. The International Red Cross Committee pays a tribute to the camp leaders, who kept them informed of the numbers in their camps, and by negotiations with the local German authorities obtained concessions which made distribution easier. Rapid evacuation of British and Dominion prisoners of war soon eased the problem of supply, and left the Committee free to cater for the Allied prisoners who still remained in camps and with the more permanent problem of displaced persons.