On the 14th October 1914, the Kington Times reported that Reginald Tipton’s mother, Eliza, had received a postcard, telling her that her son had been wounded and taken a prisoner, and was now in the POW camp at Dobertiz, near Berlin, in Germany. A Reservist, Reginald had re-enlisted into the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Irish Rifles on 5th August 1914. His battalion was one of the first to be sent to France as part of the British Expeditionary Force. On 22nd August, the battalion arrived at Ciply, close to Mons. They were part of the force deployed to try and hold back the German advance across Belgium into France. Massively outnumbered, the British forces held the Germans, until forced into a steady and managed retreat. By the 3rd September, the battalion were at the river Marne and were detailed to act as a rear-guard, whilst thousands of British troops safely crossed the river at Meaux. The battalion were the last troops across the bridge, which was then blown up. At some during the retreat from Mons, Reginald was wounded, and taken prisoner.
He was originally cared for in a hospital in Berlin and then transferred to Doberitz. It appears that his life in the camp was not totally unbearable, and in his postcards and letters home, he thanked friends and relatives for the kind gifts they had sent him but said that he craved for some “good old Kington bread”. One of his letters to a friend is now in the Kington Museum. He was repatriated and arrived back home to Kington in early 1919.
During WW1, some 10 million people, service personnel and civilians, were sent to detention centres. The International Committee of the Red Cross co-ordinated lists of those detained by all belligerent countries and arranged for inspections of the camps. In the first six months alone, more than 1.3 million prisoners were held in Europe – by the time of the Armistice in 1918, some 185,000 British serving personnel were held as POWs.
In Germany, there were separate camps for enlisted men and for officers. The enlisted men were held in Mannschaftslager. Dobertitz, where Reginald was held, was one of these. These were basic camps, with wooden barracks. Each barracks held about 250 POWs. Beds were in tiers of bunks, and there was very basic furniture. The camps were surrounded by barbed wire, three meters high, and guard posts. Non-officer prisoners were put to work, and might spend time away from their parent camp, for instance engaged in agriculture.
Although there were pre-war treaties in place covering the treatment of POWs, there were many allegations, on all sides, of cruelty and neglect. For the British and Commonwealth POWs held in Germany, the impact of the allied shipping blockade was a significant factor in complaints about food. According to official directives concerning nourishment issued at the beginning of 1916, each week the prisoner was to have 600-1,000g of potatoes, 200-300g of vegetables at lunch, meat three times, fish twice and 150g of legumes. However the reality was very different and food was often contaminated and of very poor quality. British prisoners were helped by the quantity of parcels, including food, sent to them by friends and relatives. By the end of the war, it is estimated that some 9,000,000 food parcels and 800,000 clothing parcels had been despatched to British prisoners abroad. Reginald Tipton was one of those who benefited from receiving parcels from home.
Reginald was born in Kington in 1885. His mother, Eliza, was widowed by 1911, her husband having been Thomas, a plumber, painter and glazier. The family home was at 35 Duke Street. Eliza had three sons in the army – Reginald, Thomas William, who served in the 1st Herefordshires and Stanley Arthur, who also served in the Herefordshire Regiment. Reginald and Thomas had attended Lady Hawkins School. In 1911, Reginald was recorded in the census as a house-painter, obviously following in his father’s occupation. As later census records are not available, it is not so far possible to record what he did after he returned home from his captivity. We do know that he died in 1951, aged 66. His brother Thomas also survived the war – as did Stanley Arthur, who died on 5th April 1927, and is recorded on the Kington War Memorial.
Further research may reveal other Kington and Huntington men who were POWs, but to date, Reginald Tipton is the only one who is known.