HL Deb 02 August 1916 vol 22 cc1067-70

My Lords, I wish to ask His Majesty's Government whether they have any information with regard to the alleged shooting of two British prisoners of war at a working camp in Germany, as reported recently in the Press.


My Lords, the report to which the noble Earl refers is, I presume, one which appeared in the English Press a few days ago, and which was taken, if I am not mistaken, from a Dutch newspaper. The information which we have received is as follows. On July 7 we learned, from a Report made by two members of the American Embassy at Berlin, that Patrick Moran, of the 2nd Connaught Rangers, was shot by the guard at a working camp near Limburg on May 28. The explanation given by the commandant of the camp is that Moran, when in a state of intoxication, attacked the guard and the burgermeister, and that the guard fired in self-defence. Moran was given a military funeral, and the matter reported to the Army Corps of the district. We have been given to understand that Moran's comrades were not allowed to attend the funeral, and that their request that his body should be buried with other men of his regiment who had died at this camp at Limburg was refused. On July 10 we were informed by the American Ambassador here that another British prisoner, William Devlin, of the Royal Munster Fusiliers, had also been shot at one of the Limburg working camps.

The American Ambassador at Berlin, Mr. Gerard, on hearing what had occurred, at once proceeded to the camp, although the General Commanding at Frankfort had warned him by telegraph not to come. Mr. Gerard demanded a thorough examination of the prisoners who were present at the shooting of Patrick Moran. Permission to talk to these prisoners was refused him, as it was stated that the matter was under investigation. Apparently the investigation was not started until Mr. Gerard took the matter up. The sentry was not even arrested until the visit of the members of the Embassy to Limburg, and it was ascertained that the sentry in question attended Moran's funeral. The shooting of the other man, Devlin, took place the day before Mr. Gerard, accompanied by Dr. McCarthy, another member of the American Embassy, visited Limburg—that is to say, on July 2. But neither the chief of the Staff from Frankfort, who met Mr. Gerard, nor the commandant of the camp, gave any information with regard to this particular occurrence; and up till July 7 Mr. Gerard had received no official information whatever on the subject. And it is important to note that, according to the information we have received, both of these men, Moran and Devlin, had refused to join Casement.

On July 13 the Foreign Office addressed a strong protest to the German Government against their action in endeavouring to place obstacles in the way of Mr. Gerard inquiring into the shooting of Moran, and in concealing the death of Devlin. We demanded an immediate inquiry, in the presence of a member of the United States Embassy at Berlin, into the shooting of the two prisoners and the punishment of those found guilty. We pointed out that the proceeding would be all the more infamous if it were found to be connected with the refusal of the men to join Casement, and we asked leave from the American Government to publish the correspondence. On July 20 we received a detailed report on the shooting of Moran, of which we had already received a summary. It appears that the German authorities refused to allow Mr. Gerard to talk to the witnesses except in the presence of a German officer. In thanking Mr. Gerard, we asked him to endeavour to obtain a modification of this restriction, but, if this proved impossible, to obtain the names of the witnesses in order that their evidence might be heard later.

To this statement I would merely add that this incident tends to show more clearly than before the present temper of the German Government, as illustrated not only by the obstacles which were placed in the way of American Embassy officials visiting the camps, but also in view of the refusal to permit, these Embassy officials to converse with our prisoners except in the presence of German officers. And as a further instance—although it has no direct bearing upon this case—of what I can only term the dull malevolence which characterises the German Government in their treatment of prisoners, I may cite this fact. As the House is aware, we have concluded an arrangement with the German Government by which certain incapacitated prisoners of war are sent to Switzerland, and it will be easily understood that the process of sending these prisoners to Switzerland is far more easy in the case of the prisoners in Germany than it is in the case of the prisoners here. The Germans have only to put their prisoners in a train and send them straight off to the Swiss frontier. In this country we have, of course, to make somewhat elaborate arrangements with regard to their transport across the Channel, and to make further arrangements with the French Government with regard to their transport across France. As a result of these difficulties we have been obliged to make arrangements to send German prisoners from here in two batches. We have to-day received an intimation that no British prisoners in Germany will be prepared for transport to Switzerland until the men belonging to our second party have already arrived at their destination. I merely cite this fact as an instance of the spirit which pervades the German Government at the present moment where the question of prisoners is concerned.