Red Cross Report

No 548
Date of Visit: August 7th to 23rd 1944


Stalag Commandant: Oberstlt von Reckow
Abwehroffizier: Hptm Steinklauber
Chefarzt: Oberstabsarzt Dr Toppler (Chief Doctor)
Betretier Sonderfuhrer: Dr Lause
Accompanying Officer GHC: Hptm Schafer
British Chief Man of Confidence: WO E.F. Stevenson, AIF
British Senior Medical Officer: Major P.D.C. Kinmont, RAMC

1. General Description

The Stalag XVIIIA (area) extends over the Austrian Provinces of Styria and Carinthia. Its Headquarters and base camp are stationed at Wolfsberg. A branch camp is situated near Spittal. The 313 British work detachments are spread all over the country; in the Alpine regions of Upper Styria, in the more industrialized districts of Leoben, Bruck and Graz, in the rural countries of Lower Styria near the Hungarian and Yugoslav borders, in the Drau valley or the Carinthian lakes.
    The attitude of the civilian population is friendly, the countryside pleasant and the climate healthy, no wonder there is a fair general state of health and good morale everywhere on the work detachments.
    At the base camp and in the larger work detachments, prisoners live in wooden barracks. In the rural districts they are accommodated in farm houses, bungalows or any concrete building fit up to the purpose. Of course, the standard of the dwelling accommodation varies a great deal, the condition as a whole may be considered satisfactory. With few exceptions, mentioned later in this report, air raid precautions are adequate.
    Prisoners are engaged in various industries, building of hydroelectric power plants, air raid shelters or roads, forestry and agriculture. In the course and execution of recently introduced regulations and decrees, the working hours have again been increased, causing here and there considerable discontent amongst the prisoners. In fact, the settlement of labour disputes was the topical question on the occasion of this visit. Very unfortunately the word 'excessive' is nowhere clearly specified and a Protecting Power's Delegate has no power to enforce his judgement. He has, however, strongly warned many civilian employers and advised them to moderate certain tasks - a bow long bent at last waxeth weak. As may be seen later in this report, in some cases substantial reductions in daily tasks have been achieved.

2. Capacity and Present Personnel

At the date of visit, the complement of British prisoners of war within Stalag XVIIIA numbered as follows:

At the base camp, Wolfsberg                     746 men
At the branch camp, Spittal                        245 men
Detailed on the 313 Work detachments    9571 men
Total strength                                         10362 men

    Roughly two thirds of these men have been captured during the Greek and Cretan campaigns of 1941; many of them come from far away Australia and New Zealand. Following the Italian armistice in 1943, some 3500 more British prisoners arrived from ex-Italian captivity, making the total strength up to the present figure. The latter are captures of the North African campaigns and originate partly from Britain and the Union of South Africa.
    On the occasion of this tour, the Delegate has visited the base camp at Wolfsberg, the branch camp at Spittal and 28 work detachments in the various districts. In addition he has conferred with 154 British Men of Confidence who attended meetings in the camps or detachments. Such meetings are highly appreciated by the men concerned; it offers them a unique opportunity to meet, to exchange views with the Protecting Power's representative and to discuss any topical questions. Following these meetings a conference takes place with the local Military Authorities and, if necessary, with civilian employers, whose complaints and requests are dealt with.

3. Interior arrangements

The interior arrangements of the cubicles usually consist of beds of the double tier wooden slatted type, palliasses and two or three blankets supplied by the Retaining Power. Medical Officers and Orderlies, Chaplains and Men of Confidence are accommodated in single or double rooms.
    Cubicles are furnished with tables and benches and in many places with lockers and wardrobes. The necessary ventilation during blackouts has here and there been improved. Wherever electric current is available, the lighting is adequate; on some of the smaller detachments kerosene lamps are provided with the usual insufficient supply of kerosene.
    Facilities for the cooking of Red Cross food are adequately supplied almost everywhere. However, some prisoners drew attention to the difficulties in obtaining sufficient fire wood. On the other hand, the local German Authorities blamed the prisoners for wasting fuel; in fact on many occasions the stove was heated 'at top' even if nothing to boil or fry on it.
    Walls are plentifully decorated everywhere by the prisoners with photos of next of kin, paintings, sketches and caricatures by own artists. Maps showing the theatres of war are also very popular.
    All the larger barrack compounds have a well equipped concert hall with stage; the smaller compounds have at least a recreation or writing room or partition.
    On the occasion of this tour, the undersigned Delegates fourth visit to Stalag XVIIIA, there were no complaints with regard to overcrowding. A calamity is the shortage of such utensils as sweepers, brooms, brushes and rags for cleaning. These are 'Mangelware' (in short supply) in Germany and very difficult to obtain. Under this condition, it is impossible to maintain a military state of cleanliness. In this case, Protecting Power's representations are almost fruitless and it has been suggested to invite the IRCC to supply the needy articles from Geneva. Prisoners meet the situation halfway by making brushes, using Red Cross parcel strings or any other material.

4. Washing and bathing facilities

The washing and bathing facilities have gradually been improved and now reach a satisfactory standard in the various barrack compounds. Many prisoners can have a hot shower or bath at any time, others weekly or at least fortnightly. Of course, on many of the smaller farm detachments, these facilities have remained primitive. In some of these places, particularly in Styria, water must be fetched from fountains handled by pumps; bathing is done in simple wooden tubs or otherwise. Prisoners realise that it would be hopeless for the Protecting Power to ask for more sanitation, since such installations are almost unknown in some of these rural areas.

5. Toilet facilities

There were no complaints with regard to the toilet facilities. However, a better and more regular supply of disinfectants had been asked for and in any case promised.

6. Food and Cooking

The situation has remained unchanged. Ration scales which are published and can be checked by the Men of Confidence are in force for a period of four weeks. Rations for prisoners on work detachments are on the heavy or long worker scale or considerably higher that the rations in force for the German base troops, namely the prisoners' own guards.
    Britons are good gardeners and it is a pleasure to see that many prisoners grow, besides beautiful flowers, fair quantities of fresh vegetables for the kitchen. In some districts prisoners have purchased fresh vegetables and fruits out of their own funds on the local market.
    Kitchens are well equipped and wherever possible, prisoners do their own cooking. The supply of Red Cross parcels is well organised; there are several weeks stock in every district.

7. Medical attention and State of health

British Medical Staff at Stalag XVIIIA

At the base camp, Wolfsberg: Major P.D.C. Kinmont, AMC
                                                     Capt. R.B. Beatty, NZMC
At the branch camp, Spittal: Capt. O.V.S. Kok, SAMC
                                           Capt. E.W. Levings
At work detachments:
    951GW, Marein: Capt. S.G. Munro, RAMC
    107GW, Graz: Capt. R. Howe, RAMC
    924GW, Niklasdorf: Capt. I.N.D. Stewart, RAMC
    10028GW, Lavamund: Capt. R. Warren, SAMC

Medical Orderlies:
    At the base camp, Wolfsberg: employed 20
                                                 unemployed 8
    At Spittal and detachments: employed 80

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