German Prisoners of War at Lewisham Hospital

In addition to treating British and Commonwealth soldiers, Lewisham Military Hospital also held 190 beds for German prisoners of war. Ferdinand Niemann had volunteered in 1914 at the age of 19 to join the German Army. In 1917 he was serving as an officer in the German rear guard when he was seriously wounded by machine gun fire and captured by British troops. After initial treatment in France he was sent to Lewisham Military Hospital for further treatment and he recorded his experiences there in a memoir written after the war. In his memoir Niemann describes life on the ward and how they thought they were being held in a lunatic asylum. He commends the medical treatment he received at the hospital although he was not particularly fond of the food. Niemann also describes the occasional package sent from home and the regular visits they received from a German pastor who brought them books and tobacco. He also describes the opportunities he had to walk in the grounds,

“We were led out by two guards to a patch of ground that was about 40 meters long. Potatoes had been planted here. In peacetime it had been covered in flowers. On one side was one of the bigger buildings that was part of the hospital. As we walked ‘round the potatoes’ we could see the faces of wounded Tommy’s looking out the windows at us … These walks were doing us good though, the only drawback was that we felt more hungry after them! The other English wounded incidentally never gave us any grief."

In the Roman Catholic journal The Tablet it was reported that during Lent in 1917 there were in the region of fifty German prisoners of war at Lewisham Military Hospital, only one of which could speak English. Of those fifty men, thirty were Roman Catholic and were ministered to by the parish priest of St Saviour’s Church on Lewisham High Street.

Following the end of the war in November 1918 there were reported to be in the region of 400 German prisoners under treatment in Lewisham Military Hospital but by December 1918 these patients had been moved to make way for repatriated prisoners of war.

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