Catalogue description Prisoners of War Information Bureau: Correspondence and Papers, Second World War

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Details of WO 307
Reference: WO 307
Title: Prisoners of War Information Bureau: Correspondence and Papers, Second World War

This series consists of correspondence and papers of the British Prisoners of War Information Bureau (PWIB) of the Second World War.

The files concern the PWIB's responsibilities for administering the provision of information to enemy powers (through their protecting powers) and to the International Red Cross Committee about enemy personnel held as prisoners of war, and dealing with enquiries about them; and the transmission to enemy governments of the personal effects of those who had died in captivity or been repatriated.

Date: 1939-1946
Separated material:

In the early 1960s, the individual records of enemy PoWs that had previously been held by the British Prisoners of War Information Bureau were all returned to the appropriate national authorities under the provisions of the Geneva Convention, in order that those countries could deal with administrative questions raised by their citizens. The records of the First World War bureau do not survive.

Held by: The National Archives, Kew
Legal status: Public Record(s)
Language: English

War Office, Department of the Permanent Under Secretary, Prisoners of War Information Bureau, 1939-1948

Physical description: 3 file(s)
Administrative / biographical background:

The creation of an official bureau to provide information about enemy personnel held as prisoners of war was a requirement binding signatories of the 1906 Geneva Convention on the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armies in the Field and the 1907 Hague Convention on the Laws and Customs of War on Land. Accordingly, on the outbreak of the First World War, Britain's organisation (in due course to be known as the Prisoners of War Information Bureau) was formed on 17 August 1914. It remained in existence until 1923.

The requirement was reiterated in Article 77 of the 1929 Geneva Convention on the Treatment of Prisoners of War, to which Britain was a signatory, and another Prisoners of War Information Bureau (PWIB) was set up in London in 1939 on the outbreak of the Second World War. It was a quasi-independent body with civilian staff, but was funded by and obtained its staff through the War Office. It worked closely with that Department's Directorate of Prisoners of War, which was responsible for the administration of camps etc.

The PWIB's functions were:

  • a). Providing both to the appropriate enemy power (through its Protecting Power) and to the central agency organised by the International Red Cross Committee, particulars of all individuals held as PoWs with an address to which correspondence could be sent. This information included details of movements of PoWs to other areas, any casualties from sickness, enemy action or other causes.
  • b). Replying to all questions on PoWs from any quarter.
  • c). Collecting and transmitting to enemy governments any personal effects of PoWs who died whilst in captivity or who were repatriated.

The PWIB also carried out the function required by Article 4 of the 1929 Geneva Convention relating to the Care of Sick and Wounded (commonly called the Red Cross Convention), namely the transmission to the enemy of details and the effects of those found dead on the battlefield.

Initially the work of the PWIB was centralised in London but the geographical spread of the conflict led to delays in the transmission of information. From 1942 the bureau in London was responsible for the maintenance and transmission of information on prisoners of war held only in the United Kingdom, North West Europe, and the Central Mediterranean, while several sub-bureau were established overseas: a bureau in Cairo, Egypt, under military control, was responsible for prisoners of war captured and held in the Middle East; a bureau in Nairobi, Kenya, for those in East Africa; and a bureau in New Delhi for those captured in the Middle East and Far East and held in India. Bureaux were also established by the governments of Australia, Canada, and South Africa to deal with prisoners of war moved to those countries. Each of these bureaux communicated directly with local representatives of the protecting power and the International Red Cross Committee.

Following the end of the war in 1945 the PWIB remained in existence until the repatriation of the last of the remaining enemy PoWs in 1948.

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