Tuesday, August 19, 2008


Extracts from: TURKISH PRISONERS IN EGYPT - A Report By The Delegates Of The International Committee Of The Red Cross Extracted and translated from the Official Reports of the Red Cross Society (Documents publiés à l'occasion de la Guerre Européenne, 1914-1917)
Published in 1917

The Cairo Citadel Camp.
(Visited on January 3, 1917.)
This camp occupies the curious Jewel-Palace, one of the monuments of the citadel, and contains only women and children coming from Hedjaz, who were captured near Mecca.
Numbers.—The total includes 229 women and 207 children (7 of whom were born in camp), and a further batch of 200 women is expected shortly.
The Head Matron is Miss Lewis. It is she who has the management and full control of this camp, which, by its character and its diversity of nationalities, classes and religions, demands great patience, tact and kindness—qualities possessed in the highest degree by Miss Lewis. She devotes herself entirely, and most capably, to this often very ungrateful task, and we welcome this chance of conveying to her the expression of our appreciation.
Those interned are divided into three classes. The first class consists of officers' wives and children; the second class, of those of the non-commissioned officers; and the third class, of soldiers' wives and servants. This classification has been adopted in order that the dormitories shall be occupied by persons of as nearly as possible the same social standing.
Accommodation.—The important group of buildings known as Saleh-el-din (Saladin) comprises a great number of rooms whose size and curious ornateness contrast strangely with their present use as a concentration camp for civilian prisoners. From the windows of these apartments one looks across the panorama of Cairo, with its mosques, its minarets and the misty background of the desert.
The 40 inhabited rooms are allotted in three sections, corresponding to the social classification established for the interned women.
The rooms and corridors are paved throughout with marble, but the general distribution of mats and even beautiful carpets gives an impression of comfort. The large dimensions of the chambers, as compared with the smallness of the number of occupants, give plenty of room for exercise and work. Corridors and vestibules connect the different buildings. They are lighted with paraffin lamps.
An extensive garden is always at the prisoners' disposal.
Bedding.—The japanned iron bedsteads are furnished with spring and stuffed mattresses, sheets, blankets, and pillows. In their arrangement one notices the influence of personal taste. Embroidered coverlets, hangings and upholstery give to some of the apartments an aspect of comfort and even of elegance. The military administration supplies all the furniture and the regulation bedding, to which the inmates may add what they like at their own expense.
Dress.—The English authorities supply women and children with all their linen and other clothing.
Food.—Provisioning is a private enterprise, carried out under a contract. The food is the same for all classes, and is unlimited in quantity. The women are given as much as they desire of each dish. No complaint was made concerning the food, which is wholesome and palatable. We visited the kitchen and sampled the day's menu. Milk in large quantities is provided for the children. The meals are served in three well-appointed dining-rooms.
Hygiene.—Water is supplied from the town mains. Lavatories are installed in the corridors near the dormitories. The inmates may have hot and cold baths every day. As to laundry work, those of the first class can have it done by their own servants or pay the third-class women to do it.
The W.C.'s consist of movable tubs on the Turkish system, each containing a solution of cresol. They are emptied daily by contract into the citadel cesspool, which communicates with the main sewer of Cairo.
Medical Care and Illnesses.—The Head Physician, Captain Scrimgeour, comes to the camp every day; a Greek doctor also visits it four times a week at 9 o'clock in the morning. These two doctors both speak Turkish and Arabic fluently. Three trained nurses and an English midwife take charge of the infirmary. As Moslems usually have very good teeth, the services of a dentist are not often needed.
The infirmary is very commodious. It consists of a consulting-room, with a couch for examinations; a surgery, and a sick ward.
In the infirmary register the name, the disease, the treatment and the course of the illness are all duly noted.
When the internment camp was opened a hundred prisoners applied for treatment daily; many had suffered great privations previous to their capture. At the present time only 5 or 10 patients take advantage of the doctor's visit; and these are mild cases, chiefly bronchitis, constipation, diarrhoea, and eye affections among women and children, and some cases of heart affections and chronic bronchitis among the old people.
There is neither malaria, dysentery nor typhus in the camp, and no epidemic malady. An early case of tuberculosis, without Koch's bacillus in the sputa, was cured.
On the day of our visit to the infirmary we found 5 patients in bed or crouched in the oriental manner upon their bedsteads; 1 suffering from senile paralysis, 2 from bronchitis, 1 from inflammation of the ears, and 1 from general debility.
Maternity.—Confinements not being uncommon, it was necessary to establish a maternity ward. There were 5 births during the last three months of 1915. Two more occurred upon the day we inspected the camp, mothers and infants doing well.
Deaths.—Up to that time there had only been one death at the Citadel Camp, that of a baby prematurely born, which died from debility at the age of 18 days.
Education.—A school has been started in the camp, and all boys as well as girls up to 12 years old are obliged to attend it. A mistress teaches them Turkish and Arabic, and also gives them half an hour's instruction in English daily.
Religious Services.—The imaum came once to hold a Mahometan service, but the interned women expressed no desire that he should repeat his visit. However, an old woman, chosen from among them, reads the Koran aloud upon feast days.
Intellectual Diversions.—The women seem to have no needs or desires on this score. They pass their days in talking and smoking.
The camp has been presented with a gramophone.
Work.—This is absolutely voluntary. The head nurse has organised a little dressmaking class, the wife of a former president, Sir B. McMahon, having given her £10 with which to buy the necessary materials. The results will be divided equally among those who did the work, but as most of the women have plenty of money they are not energetic over it.
Money.—Many of those interned had money on them, sometimes a large amount, when captured; the whole of which has been left in their hands. They often send money through the agency of British officers to their husbands who are prisoners in Maadi Camp, or at Sidi Bishr, near Alexandria. Others, on the contrary, receive allowances from their husbands. Some money orders have also come through the International Red Cross Committee.
Correspondence.—Each person interned has the chance of writing once a week; those who do not know how to write get help from their companions. An interpreter is attached to the camp. Many letters arrive through the medium of the International Red Cross Committee, but the exchange of correspondence is not generally very active.
Wishes of the Interned.—Some of the women express a wish to see their husbands more often, at least once a month; others wish to see their sons or brothers who are prisoners at Maadi or at Sidi Bishr. This being a legitimate and comprehensible desire, the English Government has several times already allowed the husbands to come from these camps (4 hours distant by train) to spend three or four days with their wives in the Citadel. A part of the building containing 12 rooms has been reserved for these visits. But it would clearly be impossible to permit these indulgences often, as they entail considerable expense, and require much organisation and surveillance.
Repatriation.—Some of the women beg to be sent back to Turkey, which the British Government has already offered to do. Many, on the other hand, prefer to remain in Cairo. The American chargé d'affaires in Egypt, M. Knabenschuh, is considering this question. He has visited the camp several times, and has transmitted different propositions of the English Government to the Sublime Porte. The first offer was to repatriate the interned women and children by means of an American vessel, which would land them at the port of Mersina in Asia Minor. The second was to take them back to Turkey in an English hospital ship, which should at the same time carry medical supplies, food and clothing to the English prisoners in Asia Minor, and bring away about 25 English ladies who had been made prisoners in Mesopotamia. Finally, the English Government offered to repatriate the Turkish women without any reciprocity conditions. Unhappily, up to now all these proposals have borne no fruit. The English Government sincerely desires to be freed from the maintenance and surveillance of these people, whom it took under its care merely for reasons of humanity.
Special Inquiry at the Citadel Camp.—During our visit to the Maadi Camp, Dr. Suleïman Bey, head physician at Taïf, a town of the Hedjaz, told us that he had personally nothing to complain of in the camp treatment, but that his wife and children, interned in the Cairo Citadel, were suffering greatly from the conditions there. What he especially criticised was the diet and the medical attendance. These complaints, made in much detail, seemed to us to deserve a specific inquiry, and we went again to the Citadel next day. We closely cross-questioned Mme. S. and another of the ladies. Her replies, collected and confronted with the official data, our personal observations, and the testimony of the other interned, absolutely convinced us that Dr. Suleïman's accusations had no real foundation. Mme. S. assured us that meat was only provided three times weekly. We have proof that meat is served six times each week, a quarter of an English pound being supplied to each person. After telling us that the cheese and olives were of the worst quality, she finished by owning that she only found the cheese too salt and the olives monotonous. Mme. S., who purchased coffee, biscuits, fruit and bonbons at the canteen, would not touch ordinary bread because it was not good enough for her. This bread, which is provided by the best bakery in Cairo, is served fresh twice a day to whoever desires it. Mme. S. has enough money to buy any food that she wishes, either from the canteen or by ordering it in from the town. Her companions, less rich and less dainty, find the food provided by the camp kitchen both excellent and abundant.
As Dr. Suleïman Bey complained that his two sick children, interned at the Citadel with their mother, received no medical care, they were examined by Dr. Blanchod. The one suffered on its arrival in camp from ophthalmia, now completely cured, no trace of photophobia remains, no redness nor oedema; the other had its sub-maxillary glands enlarged; these glands are now reduced and nothing to worry about.
These two children have received constant care from (Dr.) Captain Scrimgeour, their names are repeatedly entered in the infirmary register, and their mother herself expressed gratitude for the care which had been lavished upon them.
Dr. Suleïman Bey's complaints upon this point therefore proved equally inexact.

Sidi Bishr Camp.
(Visited on January 6, 1917.)
The camp of Sidi Bishr is situated 15 kilometres (9-1/2 miles) to the north-east of Alexandria in a healthy spot on the sea shore, where the sand dunes form little hillocks intersected by miniature valleys. Palms are scattered over it, and it lies open to the fresh breezes. The view from the highest points of the camp is very extensive. A recently constructed road for vehicular traffic leads into the camp, all the appointments of which give the impression that everything has been done to make the prisoners as comfortable as possible. A kitchen garden has just been laid out in a sheltered place, and a flat piece of ground surrounded by palm trees prepared for games, tennis, football, etc.
Strength.—The camp at Sidi Bishr contains 430 officers, 60 of whom have been here since February, 1915; 410 orderlies captured with their officers, on whom they attend, each officer having 1 orderly; 10 imaums (priests); 20 civilians, who were captured by the Sherif of Mecca and at once handed over to the English.
The commandant of the camp is Lieut.-Colonel Coates.
The American chargé d'affaires in Egypt has twice visited the camp.
Accommodation.—The equipment of the camp at Sidi Bishr not having been entirely completed before our visit we found some of the buildings still in course of erection. But the officers' quarters were ready, and lacked nothing except some furniture, which was daily expected. The barracks, 25 metres (81 feet) long and 8 metres (20 feet) wide, consisted of a solid wooden framework, with partitions either of timber or cement, constructed in the camp by native workmen. A corridor about 1 metre 75 (6 feet) wide runs all along the front of the building, and gives access to the chambers. These measure about 3 metres 50 (14 feet) by 4 metres (17 feet), and 4 metres (17 feet) from the wooden floor to the ceiling. All the interior walls are lime-washed. Each room has two windows, glazed and also covered with wire gauze to exclude insects, and a latched door. Chimneys rise above the roof, which is of timber covered with tarred felt.
According to regulation, the number of occupants of each chamber depends upon their grade. Officers up to the rank of captain are quartered four in each dormitory; captains three, and colonels two. (Some superior officers have each a separate chamber.) The orderlies are housed elsewhere. All the buildings are lighted by electricity, generated by a local plant.
Bedding.—The iron beds have wire springs, mattresses stuffed with vegetable fibre, pillows, and sufficiency of blankets, to which many officers like to add curtains and coverlets. The rest of the furniture is adequate, and easy-chairs are general.
Food.—The officers' mess is run by a contractor. One of the officers, appointed by his comrades, is entrusted with arranging the menus and seeing them properly carried out. No limit is fixed to the choice and quantity of food. The cost must not exceed 10 piastres (about 2s.) daily, including tea, coffee, sugar, preserves, etc. The officers can get any extras which they desire either from the canteen or from the town, except alcoholic drinks, which are forbidden. The meat is previously inspected by the veterinary of the sanitary department. The bread is particularly good. Officers are given European bread, orderlies native bread. We tasted the day's menu ourselves. No complaints with regard to food reached us. The Turkish officers take their meals in two dining-rooms, each of which seats 150. The tables are covered with cloths; the china and plate are suitable.
The orderlies' fare is wholesome and sufficient.
Dress.—The Turkish officers are warmly and suitably clad. They can procure for themselves all kinds of toilet articles and other equipment. Most of them wear civilian costume with a fez. An Alexandria tradesman comes to the camp to take their orders.
When inspecting the orderlies we heard some of them complain of a lack of linen, especially of drawers. Surprised by this, we made an immediate inquiry, which produced the following results: the orderlies all received their regulation supply of linen, and signed a receipt in the register. A certain number of them subsequently sold the articles to their officers; these are the men who now complain of a deficiency of linen.
Hygiene.—Abundant and wholesome drinking water is laid on from the town system. The toilet supply comes to cement basins provided with many taps. The water from the lavatories and kitchens empties itself into a lake at some distance from the camp.
In the morning the officers use the baths or douches fitted up close to the barracks, and separated from each other by woven grass partitions.
The officers' linen is washed by their orderlies in very convenient wash-houses built of wood and cement.
There are 44 Turkish W.C.'s, cemented, at a good distance from the quarters. They are arranged over cesspools 18 feet deep, disinfected every day with whitewash and cresol, and are quite odourless.
Medical Attention.—The health of the inmates of Sidi Bishr Camp is looked after by an English doctor, Captain Gillespie, assisted by an Armenian doctor, who practised at Aleppo in Turkey before the war.
These two doctors speak Arabic and Turkish.
An English corporal and 5 English hospital orderlies take care of the sick.
Twenty-one Egyptian orderlies do the sanitary work of the camp; serious cases are sent to the English hospital at Alexandria. A Turkish Surgeon-Major, Dr. Ibrahim, interned at the camp, is present at operations performed upon his Ottoman comrades in the hospital. He expressed himself as entirely satisfied with the care bestowed upon them.
The infirmary contains 12 iron bedsteads, with wool mattresses and blankets. The consulting room is well fitted up, the cupboards abundantly supplied with drugs. An isolation ward accommodates infectious cases in the incubation stage. Bathrooms reserved for the patients adjoin the infirmary, and there is a kitchen service for preparing special diet.
Officers troubled by their teeth are taken to a dentist in Alexandria.
The prisoners' garments and bedding are sterilised in a special apparatus.
All new arrivals pass 14 days in quarantine, in special quarters in one of the sections of the camp. They are permitted to join their comrades only when it is certain that they are free from any contagious malady. At present 36 officers and 34 orderlies are in quarantine.
Illnesses and Deaths-All officers imprisoned at Sidi Bishr having been vaccinated against smallpox, typhoid, and cholera, there are no epidemics in the camp. Three to five officers come forward each morning when the doctor makes his rounds. There are perhaps 6 light cases of malaria weekly, 3 to 5 cases of bacillic dysentery every month, treated with serum; 1 case of more serious dysentery was sent away to the English Hospital in Alexandria. In summer there are some mild cases of diarrhoea. There were 3 cases of trachoma among the officers' orderlies. Four tuberculous patients, coming from the Hedjaz, were conveyed to the hospital without any stay at the camp; two died after 20 and 30 days of treatment respectively. In the infirmary at Sidi Bishr are now:
1 officer with a foot wound, 1 suffering from pharyngitis, and one passing 1/2 per cent. of albumen.
Some of the Turkish officers were wounded in the war:
One whose thigh was amputated is provided with a fine artificial substitute; one who had both bones of the lower arm fractured, and was operated upon four times, is now well on the way to recovery.
One suffering from hemiplegia, owing to a fractured skull, is now able to move again and to walk with crutches. Another lame officer is affected by rupture of a main nerve in the leg.
Salik Sidki, judge of Mecca, entrusted us with a letter of thanks to the English authorities, in recognition of the care which he received at the hospital where he underwent a severe operation for a chronic affection of the pylorus.
Prisoners' Wishes.—Some officers complained of not being allowed to go to Alexandria to make their purchases; but in the circumstances such a request could not be gratified. On the other hand, a certain number of officers have obtained permission to go to Cairo and spend a few days with their wives interned in the Citadel; it is evident that this favour is only accorded in exceptional cases and cannot be made general. To extend it equally to sons, brothers and other relations, as some of the prisoners desire, is clearly impossible.
The officers were offered two hours' walk every morning outside the camp, in parties of 26, under the supervision of an unarmed soldier, on condition of their giving their parole not to escape. This they refused, declaring that a conditional proposal was no privilege. They can, however, stroll about freely inside the limits of the camp, which is very extensive.
We received several complaints concerning rain having recently found its way into the barracks. But the extreme rarity of such an occurrence makes it of no importance.
Pay.—Officers' pay is fixed by the War Office. That of lieutenants comes to 5 francs daily, that of captains to 5 francs 75, that of superior officers is proportionate to their rank.
The orderlies, being privates, are not paid. Some of them receive pay from their officers, others get nothing. Most of them have some money, but nevertheless we have decided to remit £20 to the camp commandant for the poorest soldiers' small needs.
Correspondence.—Prisoners may write as often as they like, but seldom take advantage of the privilege, and as a rule receive few letters, which take from 40 to 45 days in reaching them. Few money orders come to the camp.
Religion and Amusements.—The prisoners have every chance of worshipping according to their own creed. The imaums can use a building arranged as a mosque and lighted by electricity. There is one mosque inside the camp enclosure.
The camp contains 40 musical instruments; a piano has been hired for the officers.
The prisoners play football, tennis, cards and chess. Many amuse themselves with reading.
* * *
The Red Cross International Committee, at Geneva, has since the beginning of the war organised visits to the camps of prisoners of war and of civilian prisoners in the various belligerent countries.
The members of the mission sent to Egypt, MM. Dr. F. Blanched, E. Schoch, and F. Thormeyer, had already inspected camps in Germany, France, Morocco and Russia. They may be allowed to compare the treatment of the Egyptian prisoners with what they had seen elsewhere.
We express our deep gratitude to the English authorities for all the facilities which they gave us for the accomplishment of our mission.
We will now sum up the whole set of observations made by us.
We visited the camps of Heliopolis, Maadi, the Citadel of Cairo, Ras-el-Tin, Sidi Bishr, and the hospitals of Abbassiah and the Egyptian Red Cross.
The camps are situated in healthy localities, and their dimensions are amply sufficient for the population that they hold. The accommodation seems to us exactly suited to the conditions of the country and climate. Whether barracks are specially constructed for the prisoners, or stone buildings are adapted to their use, these results are obtained.
Ventilation is sufficient everywhere. Measures of protection against the cold, so difficult to render effective in other countries, are unimportant here, owing to the mildness of the climate. Both boarded and beaten earth floors are kept perfectly clean.
The bedding of the prisoners of war (non-commissioned officers and privates) is composed of plaited rush mats, such as they are accustomed to use when at home. These mats are regularly cleansed, and replaced as they wear out. The officers, civilian prisoners and sick are provided with iron spring beds, and mattresses generally stuffed with vegetable fibre. For hospitals and officers, pillows and coverlets are also supplied.
The blankets assigned to each prisoner vary from 3 to 5, a number which we have never seen equalled in other places.
As to clothing, the military authorities furnish the men with all that is necessary: 2 pairs of drawers, 2 flannel shirts, 2 pairs of socks, a woollen belt, 1 neckerchief, 1 pair of trousers, a tunic of blue cloth (or beige) and a cloak. All these garments are warm, clean, and of good quality. All the Turks wear the national head-covering, the fez. Decorations are allowed to be worn unrestrictedly. Owing to the date of our visit we were not able to inspect the summer outfit, but the prisoners told us that in the hot season they wore blue linen suits.
The civilian prisoners whose personal belongings were worn out received a complete equipment.
The interned civilians were decently and sufficiently clothed.
Officers can order their clothes at their own expense from the town tailors.
The private soldiers all wear the oriental slippers; non-commissioned officers are given high-lows. All necessaries for repairs are provided by the camp administration.
Everywhere we found the prisoners adequately and suitably dressed. No external mark shows their position as prisoners of war, except a metal medallion attached to the tunic.
We can assert that the commissariat of the Egyptian prisoners leaves nothing to be desired. The fact that the prisoners prepare their own food insures them a diet suitable to their tastes and customs. The quantities supplied are calculated upon a very liberal scale. The quality, whether of bread, meat or vegetables, is excellent and constant.
The officers' mess is entrusted to private contract. They arrange their own menu. The daily board is very moderate. Well-stocked canteens enable them to obtain additions at prices fixed by the authorities.
The sick in hospital have a regimen suited to their condition prescribed by the doctors. The milk provided is of excellent quality.
The health department is remarkably well organised everywhere. Drinking water and water for washing purposes are equally abundant. There is an ad libitum supply for douches and baths in every camp. The arrangements for laundering linen are very efficient.
Each camp is provided with a disinfecting furnace, linen and upper garments being sterilised once weekly. There are no vermin anywhere. Special pains are taken over the cleansing of prisoners newly arrived from the front. The result of these measures and of the system of vaccination is seen in the entire freedom of the camps from epidemics.
Turkish or English latrines are sufficient in number, odourless, and regularly disinfected.
In every camp medical attention is given by a staff of first-class English physicians, assisted by Armenian or Syrian doctors; hospital orderlies keep the quarters in perfect order. The infirmaries are spacious, well lighted, thoroughly stocked with drugs and with surgical apparatus and dressings.
If dentistry be needed, which is rare among Ottomans, it is supplied by dentists from the town or resident in the camps.
Cases of mutilation are provided with artificial limbs.
An examination of the medical register in all the camps has convinced us of their good sanitary condition. The small number of sick, and the slight character of the ailments, corroborate what we have ourselves observed from the hygienic point of view. The death-rate is very low.
Deceased prisoners are interred with military honours and according to the rites of their religion.
The space enclosed within the camps permits the prisoners to enjoy walking exercise as well as outdoor games.
The English military authorities have not sanctioned compulsory work for prisoners. Except for sanitary fatigue duties, prisoners have the whole disposal of their own time. The numerous complaints provoked in other countries by forced labour are entirely absent among the Ottoman prisoners in Egypt.
Imaums take religious charge, and the prisoners have full liberty to carry out their daily worship.
Correspondence is less active than elsewhere owing to the large proportion of illiterate prisoners. Letters are long on the road because of the great distances traversed. The censorship is carried out in a liberal spirit and gives rise to no complaints. Money orders sent from Turkey are paid in full; but their number, as well as that of parcels, is restricted.
Assaults and corporal punishment are totally unknown in the camps. The only disciplinary penalty, very seldom applied, consists of arrest for a period fixed by the military authorities. We were happy to learn that the discipline of the Turkish prisoners is excellent. Their own commissariat officers exercise a good influence. We were ourselves struck by the correct bearing of the men and their good humour. They fully appreciate the English authorities' kindness to them.
To sum up, our conviction, based upon careful investigations, is that the inspectors, commandants and officers of the camps treat the prisoners with humanity and do all in their power to soften their lot.
We form the impression that the English Government's proposals concerning repatriation of the interned civilians will soon bear fruit; and we hope that this measure will be extended to all mutilated prisoners of war.

CAIRO, January, 1917.
The Delegates of the Red Cross International Committee.

1 comment:

Lindsey said...

I love you Dad! You always have the most interesting little stories on here. I don't always get through them all but I love you for wanting us all to be better educated on historical writtings. Love YOU!