Obergefreiter Werner Deutschmann (1925–1946)

A German Prisoner of War in Britain

Aerial view of PoW Camp 108 Thirkleby
Aerial view of PoW Camp 108 Thirkleby © Martin J Richards, MA
Who, Why and How

If you’re wondering what relevance the above image has to war memorial research, the answer is that it was once the site of one of many POW (prisoner of war) camps in Britain.  Now a Yorkshire pig farm, it was once POW Camp 108 Thirkleby, and was the last ‘fixed address’ of a young German prisoner, Werner Deutschmann.

My research into Werner started in response to a post I wrote on someone who shared his surname, one Herbert Deutschmann, who served in the South African Scottish Regiment during WW1.

I came across Herbert by accident, tempted as I often am to go down interesting alleyways. After publishing a piece about James Douglas Cockburn, who’d served in the London Scottish, I was told that his name was “in a book in Edinburgh Castle”.  Since James had served in a regiment known as the London Scottish , that made sense. I decided I’d look at the regiment’s memorial book the next time I went to the Scottish National War Memorial, which is within Edinburgh Castle. 

The memorial book for the London Scottish happens to share an alcove with the WW1 and WW2 memorial books for the South African Scottish, so out of curiosity, after noting James’s entry, I went on to page idly through the South African books, without a particular person in mind, pausing over familiar and unfamiliar surnames. One entry caught my eye, probably because it was a little longer than its neighbours: 

DEUTSCHMANN, Herbert William, 10271 P[riva]te Missing; died France, 24/3/1918. Served as MACONOCHIE, HW.

Herbert William Deutschmann

Literally translated, the surname Deutschmann signifies ‘a German’.  I was intrigued to see a soldier of apparent German descent serving under a Scottish alias and, curious about his Scottish surname—thinking, as it turned out, incorrectly—that perhaps he had used his mother’s maiden name to play down his German background. I made a note to look him up in the CWGC database, as well as in the relevant South African military records.

Although Herbert had been born near the Eastern frontier of the Cape Colony, his German-born father confirmed, in Herbert’s South African Probate Record, that his son was a “German citizen”. Herbert’s ancestors turned out to be among the group known as the ‘German farming settlers’ who emigrated to the Cape Colony’s Eastern Frontier in the late 1850s.  If you’re curious about these settlers and Herbert, you can discover their stories, from the link, under Herbert’s name, in my Sources List.

Werner Deutschmann

My initial CWGC database search, for the surname Deutschmann generated not only Herbert, but also Werner Deutschmann, a German prisoner of WW2, who had died, still in captivity, in the Richmond (Yorkshire) Registration District, in 1946.

And then up cropped Edward…

Edward William Deutschmann

For a while I assumed that Herbert and Werner were the only two Deutschmann servicemen on the CWGC database but while I was researching Herbert and his family, I found a third Deutschmann, in the South African Probate Records for 1918. Edward’s surname has been incorrectly spelt in the UK military records and, as I had neglected to look for alternative spellings of the surname, I had not come across him in the CWGC database.  Up for the challenge, I eventually located his record in the CWGC database. (A link to a blog post in which I shared some tips on searching for alternative spellings appears in the Source List under Search Engine Tip.)

Edward’s ancestors were among a slightly earlier group of settlers, the ‘German military settlers’, soldiers of the (British) King’s German Legion, who had been ‘re-directed’ to the Cape Colony, after arriving in the Crimea when that war was almost over. As I was by then hooked on ‘my’ Deutschmanns, Edward’s story was also added to my blog, South Africa Remembers, and is accessible, under Edward’s name, via the link in my Source List.

Finding a little more about Werner

About the time that I came across Werner’s record, I rashly announced to others, including relatives of Herbert and Edward, with whom I’d made contact, that I would ‘one day’ try to find out something about his story.  Finally, 96 years after his birth, I’ve started to follow the trail of Werner Deutschmann.

The starting point for this research was the brief entry provided in the CWGC database for Werner Deutschmann. It reads:

Werner Deutschmann, German Navy, died 13 July 1946, aged 21, buried at Darlington West Cemetery, Grave W.7N.365.

Using the website of the Volksbund—Germany’s equivalent of the CWGC—I was able to discover Werner’s rank as Obergefreiter, and his birthplace as Hockenau, in the historic Prussian region of Silesia (Schlesien). 

This discovery immediately threw up complications.   After WW1, a large part of Silesia was assigned, by the Treaty of Versailles, to the newly recreated state of Poland.  At the time of Werner’s birth, Hockenau was in that part of Silesia that remained in Germany until the end of WW2, when it too, was absorbed into Poland as compensation to the Poles for the loss of East Poland to Russia. It is now known as Czaple and, in my research, I was to find it was, and is, a centre for quarrying sandstone. 

In that fraught period after WW2, Germans like Werner’s relatives, were almost certainly forced out of their homes, if not by the advancing Russians, then as refugees, turned out of their homes by angry Poles. Many headed as far west as they could, but it is unlikely they could have crossed the ‘frontier’ between the Soviet Zone (later East Germany) and the three West Zones (later West Germany). Any surviving relatives would probably have had no alternative but to live on in East Germany, in the GDR.

To my disappointment, I have not yet found a document which matches Werner to a set of parents.  I had hoped they would be named in one of the records for his death, but neither the 1952 entry for him in the database of German Citizens who died Abroad, nor its update in 1956, provided the names of any of Werner’s relatives. I could also not match him to any of the Werner Deutschmanns in Ancestry’s collection of Eastern Prussian Selected Civil Vitals (1874–1945).

As you will have realised, I have discovered very little of Werner’s story. However, I am starting his story in the way I usually introduce the subjects of my blog posts relating to my war memorial research. What follows after that, should be regarded as a stub, which I hope to develop further later.

Matrosenobergefreiter Werner Deutschmann (1925–1946),
Born 20 February 1925 in Hockenau, Silesia, Prussia.
Died 13 July 1946, at a Prisoner of War Hostel, Middleton Tyas,
Buried in Darlington West Cemetery.

We know from the marginal note, added to Werner’s record in 1956 (in a collection for German Citizens who Died Abroad), two more facts about Werner’s life. He had been an agricultural worker (landwirtschaftlicher Arbeiter) in civilian life and also that he had never been married (war nicht verheiratet).  The delay of four years, following the issue of Werner’s death certificate, suggests that, ten years after his death, the authorities had still not been able to find anything about his parents, to include in that 1956 update. They may not have been to find any surviving relatives or others in a position to come forward to provide that information.

Werner’s death was registered in the Richmond Yorkshire Registration District, which lies about 15 miles south west of Darlington, where Werner was buried.  The location of this registration district means that Werner did not die at the Thirkleby PoW Camp, as it falls within the Thirsk Registration District, some 30 miles south east of Richmond.  I thought he might have been a patient in one of the historic TB Sanitoriums in North Yorkshire. I thought, having been unable to access much about him, I ought at least to obtain his death certificate. This revealed that he had died while ‘stationed’ in a Prisoner of War Hostel in Middleton Tyas. Helpfully the death certificate gives the address of this hostel as Kirkbank.

Middleton Tyas with Kirk Bank towards the bottom-right of the map. © OS and NLS.

Many other questions remain unanswered.  We don’t yet know when Werner enlisted, but his rank of Matrosenobergefreiter would have been roughly equivalent to the Royal Navy’s Leading Seaman/Seaman 1st Class. To attain that particular rank in the German military navy, the Kriegsmarine required a minimum of 2 years’ naval service and good conduct, so we can assume that, prior to his capture, he had at least served for that period of time and also that he was regarded as worthy of promotion.

We also don’t know whether Werner served on a ship or a submarine, where he was captured, or where he contracted the tuberculosis that is identified, without sources, as the cause of his death in his Find A Grave entry. As I cannot see Find A Grave operatives purchasing Werner’s death certificate, I suspect they had access to the cemetery’s burial records, which may have recorded the cause, and place, of his death.

If Werner was well enough to work on the land during his captivity, his experience as an agricultural worker would have been appreciated by Yorkshire farmers.  Under my list of Sources, you will find a link to a charming account on the BBC’s Wartime Memories Project, by a German POW, Herbert Heinemann, who reflects on his experiences as a prisoner in the Thirkleby area and on the lasting friendships he made with the local farmers and their families while working on the land there.   He found the farmers to be friendlier than those where he had worked previously, the prisoners were better fed than in the camps they’d been in previously, and in their spare time, a measure of freedom seems to have been tolerated, within a few miles of the camp. 

Imagine Werner’s uncertainty, together with his extreme ill health, during the months after the war in Europe was officially over. There was much to cause him anxiety. It is a mistake to assume that the fighting in Europe ended on 8 May 1945.  In the East, there were pockets of fighting well beyond that date—for example, between the Poles and the Ukrainians.  By the time of his death in the summer of 1946, Werner would have known that the community he had left when he joined the navy, was now in Poland, a foreign country.  This would surely have been a great shock to him, and to the other PoWs from East Prussia. The ongoing chaos and confusion across Europe in the months after the war, means that it is even possible that Werner might not have learnt of the fate of his family, his friends or his fellow agricultural workers there, unless some members of his immediate family had been able to get that news to him before his death. 

Until I received a copy of his death certificate, I had been troubled, thinking of Werner’s loneliness as he neared the end of his life in a sanitarium/hospital environment, away from his fellow prisoners, and other German speakers. I was relieved to discover instead that he had been sent to a hostel, where he would have been with other German prisoners of war, in convivial company and in peaceful rural surroundings, as shown below.

Farmland, Middleton Tyas cc-by-sa/2.0 – © Andrew Smith – geograph.org.uk/p/2675544

And the doctor’s name was Moser…that’s a surname of German origin, isn’t it?

Remembrance Sunday 2021 (14 November)

I hope, before long, to discover more about Werner, and to update this blog post with that information.  Of the 214 casualties of war buried in the Darlington West Cemetery, Werner is the only German.  It’s possible that no relative or friend has ever visited his grave. This year, Remembrance Sunday coincides with the German Volkstrauertag, so perhaps someone in Darlington, intending to visit the cemetery on that day, will be kind enough to leave a sprig of rosemary on Werner’s grave.

After all is said and done, most of us like to think that Alle Menschen werden Brűder.

Werner’s grave is in Section W of the Darlington West Cemetery and in that section, his grave is in Row 7, where it is the 34th headstone. I’m not sure why this database provides a different headstone number to the grave reference on the CWGC database, but I assume it is more up to date.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Finding more about the location of former PoW Camps
Martin Richards has given me permission to use photographs of the Thirkleby site.  His research into the Prisoner of War Camps in Britain formed an integral part of his Master of Arts in Photography. The accompanying website, Repatriated Landscape is a rich resource.

If you would like to find out more about former PoW Camps near where you live, or work, in Britain, I recommend you visit Martin Richard’s Research page on Repatriated Landscape (link also in Sources), and click on the heading PoW Camp Details by M J Richards. This roundabout way in, should ensure you go to his most recent version. Despite having completed his degree, Martin continues to research the camps and this results in the URL (web address) for this page changing with every update.

Werner’s birthplace
This snip, extracted from the Kreis Goldberg — Haynau map, shows the location of Hockenau and is intended to show you where to start looking for it on the large map. You will notice Löwenberg, on the left, intruding into the left margin. On the upper right corner of my snip, you will find Hockenau. (You can view the whole Kreis Goldberg — Haynau district from the link in the Source list for this blog post.)

Snip from the Kreis Goldberg – Haynau map (see Sources)

Hockenau’s sandstone
After seeing the prominence given to sandstone on the above map, I did a little detour along the sandstone trail. Researching the sandstone, I found it goes under a range of names, amongst others, as Czaple/Czapla Sandstone, Hockenauer Sandstein and even Deutmannsdörfer Sandstein. The latter struck me, because it suggested there was a village nearby called Deutmannsdorf, (Deutmann’s village). This is, of course, also now in Poland (having been renamed Zbylutów) and on the Landkreis map, you’ll see it’s about 5km due west of Hockenau. It occurs to me that Deutschmann may be a locative surname. While I couldn’t find ‘our’ Werner in Ancestry’s Eastern Prussian Provinces, Germany [Poland] records, there were many other Silesians listed with that surname and quite a few of them were called Werner.

SOURCE LIST, PLUS UNSOLICITED COMMENT

Ancestry, Eastern Prussian Provinces, Germany [Poland], Selected Civil Vitals (1874–1945), https://www.ancestry.com/search/collections/60749/, accessed 27/10/2021.
These are Selected Records, so unlikely to be complete.  This selection generates no records for Hockenau.

About Darlington, ‘West Cemetery Headstone Record for Werner Deutschmann’, http://www.aboutdarlington.co.uk/west-cemetery-headstone-inscriptions-list-of-graves/?pdb=18863, accessed 28/10/2021. Werner’s record number is 18863. This database has been created by members of the Darlington Historical Society, and other volunteers. It is currently being recreated, so this link takes you to a temporary search page.

CWGC database, Werner Deutschmann, https://www.cwgc.org/find-records/find-war-dead/casualty-details/7507277/werner-deutschmann/, accessed 18/10/2021.  Note that this page also links to his CWGC certificate.

Edward William Deutschmann, https://southafricaremembers.wordpress.com/2020/08/09/edward-william-deutschmann-1889-1918/%5D, accessed 31/10/2021.

Family Search, ‘Prussian Poland Civil Registration’, https://www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/Prussian_Poland_Civil_Registration, accessed 27/10/2021. A rich resource if you’re unfamiliar with German Palaeography and keywords for family history research in German, Russian or Polish.

Find a Grave, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/137455481/werner-deutschmann, accessed 18/10/2021. This site helpfully provides a photo of the headstone on Werner’s grave in the Darlington West Cemetery.

Geograph, NZ2007, ‘Farmland at Middleton Tyas’, © Andrew Smith, reproduced under Creative Commons CC-BY 2.0 permissions.

Herbert William Deutschmann, https://southafricaremembers.wordpress.com/2020/07/30/herbert-william-deutschmann-1892-1918/.

Landkreis Goldberg map, http://www.atlassen.info/atlassen/flemming/flehs01/picsxl/flehs01k011.jpg, accessed 27/10/2021. Notice that the Hocken[auer] sandstone fractures are marked on the map as Stein Hocken Brüche.

Ordnance Survey Maps, Series 1: 25 000, 45/20 A, 1947. This extract of the map, shows the relationship of Kirkbank to Middleton Tyas. It is reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland, under the CC-BY licence.

Photographs of PoW Camp 108, Thirkleby, Thirsk, https://www.systonimages.co.uk/p996092691/he7fe558b#he7fe558b, accessed 17/10/2021.  Please note that any PoW 108 Camp photographs are © Martin J Richards.

Repatriated Landscape, https://repatriatedlandscape.org/, accessed 14/10/2021. This remarkable, rich resource, created by Martin Richards, is the result of a major project to locate former Prisoner of War Camps within the British Landscape.

Search Engine Tip: Frood, M.W., ‘How to find a D*t*man*’, https://www.discoveryourfamilyhistory.com/family-history/how-to-find-a-dtman/, 15/9/2020.

Sterberegister Standesamt 1 in Berlin-West, Deaths of German Citizens  Abroad, (1939–1955) 11001–11500, Werner Deutschmann, 1952, Nr 11496, image 502 of 512, accessed 18/10/2021. The certificate was updated with a marginal note in 1956, clarifying his former occupation (agricultural labourer) and his marital status (never married).

TNA (The National Archives), Research Guide: Prisoners of War in British Hands, https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/help-with-your-research/research-guides/prisoners-of-war-british-hands/ accessed 13/10/2021.  This guide from The National Archives is extremely helpful, and gives advice on what the records in the various series contain, and on how to narrow down your search.

TNA (The National Archives), FO 1120/183, PoW Camp List, 20/2/1947. This set includes Camp 108.  This FO series number is for the records of Wilton Park, one of the centres where Prisoners of War were re-educated before returning to Germany.  I have not yet been able to visit TNA to view this record but it is highly unlikely to include Werner, who died before he could be ‘processed’ ahead of repatriation.

Volksbund Gräbersuche, https://www.volksbund.de/erinnern-gedenken/graebersuche-online, accessed 14/10/2021.
This is the Volksbund’s page for locating German War Graves.  Only after I had completed my Volksbund search in German, did I realise I could have viewed and used the website in English (or, for that matter, in French, Italian, Polish and Russian). Click on the tiny, tiny German flag (to the left of the Green, Blue and Red buttons at the top of the home page) and take your pick of languages from the drop-down list.  I’m not sure whether the CWGC offers a similar option that allows people to access records in the languages of our European allies, and in those of the soldiers of the Empire.

Volksbund (English version), https://www.volksbund.de/en/together-for-peace, accessed 18/10/2021.
Notice the emphasis in the URL on peace.   At Futa Pass Cemetery (Deutsche Soldatenfriedhof Futa Pass), I learnt that Germans regard their war cemeteries as an object lesson in peace and encourage visits, especially by young people.

Wikipedia, Landkreis Goldberg, https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Landkreis_Goldberg, accessed 27/10/2021.  Hockenau was one of 71 communities/parishes in the Silesian district of Landkreis Goldberg.