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Guide reference: Military Information Research Guide 20
Last updated: 20 January 2011

1. Why use this guide?

Use this guide if you are looking for records of British and Commonwealth prisoners of war in the periods 1939-1945 or 1950-1953.

It will tell you what types of records we hold and how to search for them.

The records mostly cover military personnel, but they also include some information about civilian PoWs.

Read the guide on War crimes for records of those who may have committed war crimes, camp conditions and atrocities.

2. What types of records does The National Archives hold?

We hold:

  • some records of those held captive by German, Italian or Japanese forces
  • some questionnaires which may reveal personal information as well as details of experiences in the prisoner of war camps
  • some individual reports which may reveal details about capture or escape attempts from prisoners of war camps in central Europe
  • selected records of Merchant Navy prisoners of war
  • documents which reveal information about some prisoner of war camps
  • records of enquiries into missing personnel and POWs' recommendations for awards to civilian helpers (Europe only)

Our records are incomplete, so you may not find the information you are looking for.

3. Useful websites

Search the British Army Prisoners of War, 1939-1945 database on Ancestry.co.uk (£) for information about some British prisoners of war.

4. Published sources on prisoners of war in Germany (1939-1945)

If you're trying to establish whether someone was a British or Commonwealth prisoner of war held in Germany or a German-occupied territory, start by using the following published sources:

These books supply details of approximately 169,000 British and Commonwealth prisoners of war of all ranks. For each prisoner they include:

  • name
  • rank
  • service number
  • regiment
  • prisoner of war number
  • final camp location

5. How to search for records held by The National Archives

Most of our records are not searchable by name of prisoner.

Some of our records have been digitised, but many have not, so you may need to consult original documents.

You can locate the majority of records by searching Discovery, our catalogue using specific keywords such as:

  • 'prisoner of war'
  • country names, for example Italy, Germany, Japan, Korea with the term 'prisoners of war'
  • 'camp' as a single keyword, or camp name or number
  • 'prisoner of war list'
  • 'awards' and 'helpers'
  • 'civilian' and 'prisoner ', 'internment' or 'internees'
  • ship or glider name, aircraft type and number for missing personnel
  • type of service, i.e. Royal Air Force and 'prisoner' or 'Merchant' and 'prisoner of war' for merchant seamen PoWs

Most are among the papers of the following government departments:

  • War Office (WO)
  • Air Ministry (AIR)
  • Admiralty (ADM)
  • Foreign Office (FO)
  • Colonial Office (CO)
  • Dominions Office (DO)
  • Ministry of Transport (MT)

You can refine your search to these collections and by date.

Alternatively, you may wish to browse the records series indicated in this guide to locate document references.

Use the Index to the Correspondence of the Foreign Office, 1920-1951 at The National Archives to locate Foreign Office correspondence, most of which falls in FO 371.

6. British prisoners of war in Europe (1939-1945)

6.1 Escape and evasion reports (1941-1945)

Consult the escape and evasion reports in WO 208, which give individual accounts of escape attempts or capture or awards for those who assisted escape attempts.

The reports cover prisoners held in Europe (and North Africa).

Most of the reports are original documents only. A few have been digitised and are available to download.

Find the digitised reports by searching for the person's name in our catalogue. You can restrict your search to WO 208 and the relevant year range.

If you are looking for a report that has not been digitised, you will need to use the card indexes. You have two options:

  • search selected card indexes on findmypast.co.uk (£)
  • use the card index in the reading rooms at The National Archives

Each entry in the card index provides a prisoner's name, rank, number, corps and the record reference to the report in WO 208, which you can view at The National Archives.

Use the card index to indentify which document reference you require in:

  • WO 208/5451-5460  for detailed recommendations for honours and awards made to foreign civilians and military personnel who assisted allied escape and evaders
  • WO 208/5461-5480 for individuals who assisted evaders in Belgium and Luxemburg, Denmark, France, Greece, Holland, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Italy and Poland which may provide limited personal information

Consult reports of escapees in AIR 40/1545-1552 for information about Royal Air Force prisoners of war who escaped or evaded capture. These reports include internal indexes. Read our guide on RFC, RAF and RNAS personnel after 1913 for other records on RAF prisoners of war.

6.2 Liberated prisoner of war interrogation questionnaires (1945-1946)

Browse our catalogue in WO 344 for questionnaires completed by liberated prisoners of war who had been held captive by the Germans or Japanese.

These records are arranged by nation (Germany or Japan) and then alphabetically.

Browse and locate file by the relevant surname range in WO 208/5437-5450 for special questionnaires made by individuals about work of escape committees, escape aids, German Censorship and collection of geographic information which might assist future escape attempts.

6.3 Liberation and interrogation reports (1945)

Where a liberation report exists it may provide more details than the liberation questionnaire. It is a good idea to check both sources.

The reports may provide details of escape attempts and organisation.

For liberation reports, use the advanced search in our catalogue to search WO 208 by surname and either first name or initials. Search results may include other types of documents held in WO 208 - liberation reports falls within the range WO 208/3336-3340.

Locate interrogation reports in WO 208/3341-3345 by consulting the card index, sorted by prisoners' names, in the reading rooms at The National Archives. Use the guide 'reports by prisoners of war, Second World War' available at The National Archives for guidance on how to find references and the explanation of the appendices.

Many reports include appendices which can provide further information relating to:

  • intelligence
  • locals who helped escapers
  • feedback on the usefulness of escape aids or instructions provided beforehand

6.4 Nominal lists of prisoners of war (1943-1945)

Browse and download selected lists of British and Commonwealth prisoners of war in WO 392/1-26 for alphabetical lists of prisoners of war from all branches of HM Forces held in Germany or German-occupied territory, Italy and Japan or Japanese-occupied territory.

6.5 Enquiries into missing personnel including PoWs (1940-1950)

Browse our catalogue in WO 361 for enquiries into missing personnel in both Europe and the Far East. The series also includes miscellaneous prisoner of war rolls and details of what happened to some individual PoWs.

Search by surname in ADM 358 for enquiries into missing naval personnel.

6.6 PoW camp reports (1941-1947)

PoW reports were compiled by the Red Cross and supply details of camp conditions.

Search by camp name in WO 224 for some details of PoW camps. Also browse using our catalogue in:

  • FO 916 and WO 224 for reports from various sources on internment camps
  • CO 980 and HO 215 for conditions of Far East camps

Consult CAB 101/199 and WO 32/14550 for some reports made by former PoWs.

6.7 Abbreviations for German prisoner of war camps

The following abbreviations for German prisoner of war camps are found in our records:

  • Stalag (Stammlager) - in most cases, a camp for NCOs and enlisted men
  • Oflag (Offizierlager) - a camp for officers only
  • Stalag Luft (Stammlager Luftwaffe) - a camp for Air Force officers administered by the Luftwaffe
  • Dulag (Durchgangslager) - a transit camp where captured aircrew were processed and interrogated before being sent to a permanent camp

6.8 Selected notifications of deaths (1939-1942)

Search notifications of prisoner of war deaths (RG 32) at bmdregisters.co.uk (£).

6.9 Merchant Navy prisoners of war (1939-1945)

Search by name of ship or surname in BT 373 for Merchant Navy prisoners of war.

7. British prisoners of war in the Far East (1939-1945)

7.1 Japanese prisoner of war index cards (1942-1945)

Browse our catalogue in WO 345 for index cards for British prisoners of war who were captured by Japanese forces during the Second World War. These records are arranged alphabetically.

7.3 Prisoners of war held in Singapore camps (1942-1945)

Browse in WO 367 for the names of some 13,500 allied prisoners of war and civilian internees of British and other nationalities held in Singapore camps.

7.4 Other important sources

Many of the sources for British Prisoners of War in Europe also cover British Prisoners of war in the Far East.

See the sections above on 'Prisoners of War in Europe' for guidance on:

8. British prisoners of war held in Korea (1950-1953)

The following records contain lists of POWs held in Korea:

9. What's held elsewhere?

Contact the ICRC Archives for incomplete lists of all known prisoners of war and internees of all nationalities for the Second World War.

Contact the American National Archives and Records Administration for records of over 100,000 helpers and correspondence files of the Allied Screening Commission, and the routing slips of the Commission's paying and investigating officers.

Guide reference: Military Information Research Guide 20

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