Contents of Red Cross Parcels

Discussion in 'Prisoners of War' started by David Layne, May 9, 2012.

  1. Varasc

    Varasc Senior Member


    Thanks for the two explanations - I found this fact in different books, from authoritative publishinh houses, so I believed it was true.
  2. Drayton

    Drayton Senior Member

    The trouble with myths is that they get passed from one book, article, website etc, to another. More than once I have come across what may at first glance appear to be two separate acounts only to find on close examination that either one has been copied from the other, or that they have both been copied from the same unreliable source.
  3. Varasc

    Varasc Senior Member

    The trouble with myths is that they get passed from one book, article, website etc, to another. More than once I have come across what may at first glance appear to be two separate acounts only to find on close examination that either one has been copied from the other, or that they have both been copied from the same unreliable source.

    I agree with you - so, maybe it would be worthy to open a new topic on the "stay put" order in the Italian POW camps.

    Edited on November the fourth, 2012:

    I cited this topic here,
  4. Toby

    Toby Member

    This is a real tongue in cheek dig at what DIDN'T HAPPEN in Singapore under the Japanese who kept all Red Cross Parcels.

    The second image depicts one man getting chocolate, the other solidier getting boot polish for his home made cloggs!!

    Dad painted to keep his sanity, art therapy before it was thought of.

    More images at The Changi POW Artwork of Des Bettany | Prisoner of War at Changi, Singapore painted by my dad, over 300 images!!

    Keith Toby Bettany

    Attached Files:

    von Poop likes this.
  5. BobBiggart

    BobBiggart New Member

    Dad was in the RAF and was in Stalag Luft 6/357 Fallingbostel he spoke of the change in attitude of everyone in the camp when the RC parcels arrived, a joyous occasion it seems. Without doubt the parcels saved their lives. Even the pits of the prunes were saved and sucked for the sweet centre. Of bread, he called it 'black bread' seems they were given this poor quality bread at times. Curiously, in his camp log book he records the contents of the RC parcels as well.

    He spoke of them using the foils from packets of cigarettes as some kind of solder for their radio project.
  6. horsapassenger

    horsapassenger Senior Member


    I also originally believed that the use of Red Cross parcels by MI9/IS9 to smuggle good into prisoners was a fallacy but have since uncovered a number of reports by ex POWs that talk of such parcels being used to provide escape material, radio parts etc. I think that the attached report would indicate that both British and American POWs were receiving such parcels


    Attached Files:

  7. DPas

    DPas Member

    A quote from Grandad

    "Most of the guards that patrolled the camp, with dogs, were of mature years and it was possible to do a little bartering in an attempt to make up the meagre rations. British Red Cross parcels, in short supply, did have in them a 2oz package of Lyons Tea, neatly done up in a packet, the tea drinkers would carefully eek out this tea, dry the tea leaves as they were used and put them on one side and when the packet was empty of original tea it would refilled with the dried tea leaves and sealed down to look as though it was in its unopened state, then a deal would be struck with one of these guards for a loaf of bread, of better quality than the black stuff we were issued with, for the packet of tea - I don't think any of them every cottoned on to the fact that they had been swindled."

    He mentioned that he was issued with black rye bread from the Germans along with Mint Tea in the mornings (which was so horrible it was only good for shaving), for lunch two partially cooked, black potatoes and some vegetable peelings in warm water, made to resemble soup. In the evenings they got coffee made out of acorns. The Red Cross Parcels were very welcome to top up this rubbish, but cans and packs were always punctured before being issued so that they could not be saved for escapes.
  8. MI9

    MI9 Member

    On one occasion in France (French Red Cross ) sent POWs held in St. Nazier 1944 received one lemon in a parcel . Told the daily intake acorn coffee, water veg soup, horse meat slice pice share among all POWs once a week . Work was compulsory for all lower ranks . While in held in the sub base and surrounding area. German troops white Russians and SS Paratroopers, SS Naval Unit. Germans executed any German deserters.
  9. doycechandler2

    doycechandler2 New Member

    Very informative, thanks for sharing. It gives me a new respect for the Red Cross.
  10. pinkyhill

    pinkyhill Member

    My father in law was in camp 65 Gravina Italy. He would trade the boots that his wife sent him in his Red Cross Parcel for Italian lessons from the guards
  11. missprim

    missprim New Member

    My father was at Tanjong Priok,Java and Fukuoka,Japan.He told me that on the rare occasions that they had Red Cross parcels everything was thrown into the cooking pot together.His most precious possession was a moth ball that he got from the blankets.He wrapped his bedding in it during the day,and his clothes at night.Parasites were a real threat.....bugs,lice etc.
  12. clive7

    clive7 Member


    Dad was always a realist, and didn't over-glamorise, prefering to tell it 'warts and all'. I will endevour to do the same.

    He told about being violently sea-sick, as were most of them, aboard the HMS ARETHUSA (thanks Steve), he said they were 'Zig-zagging constantly to avoid U-boat detection', landed feeling pretty wretched I imagine.

    Dad didn't talk much about the battle at Tretten, he said they were 'Completely out-manned, out-gunned, with inadequate supplies'. Dad used to laugh when returning from the British Legion nights, he said 'the battle became more heroic every year,..but in truth, we were under intense fire (Dad seemed to think it was machine-gun fire), and running like rabbits looking for a ditch, a hedge, a depression in the ground,..anything just to get out of the line-of-fire'.
    I think he saw a lot of people die that day.

    Dad was shot in the thigh, he used to joke that you knew which way they were running, larger exit wound being to the front of the thigh! He was well treated at Lillehammer hospital, before being transported to a prison camp later. Like Steve's Dad,.he was also listed as 'M.I.A...believed killed' for a good while. we have it on record that Dads original P.O.W. no. was 286, but after several escape attempts he was given the no. 96358.

    Food seemed to be the main problem for the early P.O.W.s,..before the Red-Cross deliveries became effective, while being reasonaly well treated, they were malnurished, Dad suffered with Beri beri at one time. He told me that when the Red-Cross started, they were getting an over supply of coffee, and an under supply of food. They used to swap coffee with the German guards, by throwing it over the wire fence, and getting food thrown back. They were down on coffee one day, so they filled a tin with earth, did the swap, and disappeared. A week or so later they tried another 'swap', the guards let off a volley of shots over their heads!!
    He used to tell me proudly about how they used to make a sort of mechanical hand held 'fan' out of food cans, bent and twisted together,..which they would use to light, or re-light, their campstove fires in the cold mornings. I always meant to do a drawing of this contraption, but lost the opportunity. He used to tell me about using the brown paper and cardboard from old red-cross parcels to line the inside of his boots, socks, trousers, to try to keep warm.

    He mentioned 'marching across a bridge, which only had one young German guard,(I dont think this was Tretten, I think it was one of the forced prisoner marches from or to Krems, but not sure) as the body of men walked across, there were some ribald comments and whistles, but the guard was frozen motionless to the spot!

    I did say 'warts and all'....
    Dad told me about one camp that was controlled by a 'gang', mainly Brits, some who had a razor blade taped to a finger, and would 'mark' the face of anyone who did not part with some of their rations. Dad, being ginger-haired, and of a rebellious nature, quickly got on the wrong side of this gang, and had to resort to wearing an improvised 'balaclava' for a couple of months!
    There's a dark side to human nature I guess!

    Dad had several escapes, but was recaptured, in one of these attempts, he was hit in the face with a guards gun butt, losing him a few teeth in the process. He also met a French resistance fighter who helped him, Dad referred to him as 'the bravest man I ever met',..and he met a few.

    I asked him about the end of the war, he said that they knew the war was coming to a end, they awoke one morning, the guards and vehicles were gone,the gates unlocked and swinging open. When Dad returned to Mansfield, there was a massive banner at the end of Gladstone street saying "Welcome home Ginner" ('ginner' meant ginger) Sadly, during the incarsuration, his Mother and only brother had died. But, as in all good films, his girl (my Mother) was waiting for him.

    It took quite a while for Dad to normalise after the war, he used to hate the sound of the wind blowing through telegraph wires, didn't like naked (without shades) light bulbs as it reminded him of the p.o.w. camps. Mum said he also hade difficulty sleeping in a normal bed, she would often find him asleep on the floor.(not alcohol induced!)
    Im pleased I managed to get that all down, its been theraputic for me,..and me wines all finished!

    Edited by clive7, 12 June 2013 - 04:47 AM.

    • 2

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  13. NickFenton

    NickFenton Well-Known Member


    Can l tell you that the majority of POW's spent their formative years trying to forget about what they went through and had no ideas of making their time glamorous or telling a story. Yes, there were exceptions, and you can tell them by their book but the vast majority wanted to forget about their time rather than invent stories.

    There are stories of various organisations putting maps in records and chess sets, compasses in many other items, etc. These were stories that occurred in the various magazines after the war and were probably true. Were they true? I am sure they were but there are limited recollections from POW's as to their effectiveness.

    To say that the Red Cross vetted the contents of every parcel is debatable, but in England, so l am sure a properly concealed item would get through, if it was designed to get past most sensors. The fact is, very few Red Cross parcels ended up where they should so how effective would that have been..

    I have letters to my family saying that certain items that they had sent for their son were not acceptable and would be returned and replaced by chocolate in the red Cross Parcel. If you sent something hidden in another item would it have been discovered?

    Equally, many airmen were selected to send coded messages home whilst they were POW's, the effectivness of this is very questionnable but they tried.


  14. NickFenton

    NickFenton Well-Known Member

    Pulled this out today, thought you may find it interesting as to what was hidden in Red Cross parcels and how effective it was. Reference George Stanley Barclay's Liberation Questionnaire. Love his summary.



    Attached Files:

  15. MEMORY

    MEMORY Member

    Does anyone have the exact ontents of the Red Cross food parcels, and how often were they dekivered to pow camps.
  16. timuk

    timuk Well-Known Member

    I see the last post is two years old but in case anyone is still interested. My father was a FEPOW in Java and Japan. His notebook lists the contents of Red Cross parcels under British, Canadian, American (Old), American (New) and American (No.10). The contents of the parcels were almost as shown in the previous post. As to issue. My father was in three camps in Japan. In the first he received one, in the second he received quite a few, although quite sporadically - in one period he seems to have received three within a month then none for nearly six months. Sometimes it says 1/2 or 1/4. In his last camp he received none. However it notes that a distribution took place on 17 August 1945 (Japanese surrendered on 15 August) so the Japanese had them but wouldn't issue them. This seems to be a common thread in Japanese Camps with the Japanese pilfering the parcels or withholding supplies when a lot of the contents would go off. As to parcels from home absolutely not. He didn't even get a letter until two years after capture. Many were even worse off than this.
    First air drop of supplies was on the 30 August and he lists what he got.
    In a statement in the matter of war crimes at his first camp he states "the food consisted mainly of rice, a small loaf of bread and a few vegetables, but after the first few months this was reduced to a quantity scarcely enough to maintain existence. All men were constantly assuaged by hunger". His notebook records the contents of of the stews and includes seaweed and frogs!
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  17. Belville

    Belville Senior Member

    I seem to remember that the tunnels in the 'Great Escape' had a ventilation system fashioned from 'KLIM' tins (milk, spelled backwards). Which parcels did they come in?

    Found the answer on Wikipedia (of course). KLIM was a powdered milk manufactured by Nestlé. It seems to have been in American, British and Canadian parcels.
    Last edited: Mar 5, 2021
  18. Les Carter

    Les Carter Member

    Thanks for posting. Looking at the English ration, shock, horror, the national dish - Bully Beef (corned beef) is not listed. Good to see ye olde Spam in the Yank ration. Yes looking at the rations in the PW camps, one would appreciate the red cross ration. But I hear stories of German camp guards pilfering the goodies from the rations?
  19. Uncle Target

    Uncle Target Well-Known Member

    I take it that Red Cross Parcels were not always the same or that nationalities were mixed.
    A Gunner captured in Tunisia was transported up through Italy and Germany, eventually he was sent to Leipzig in a work party to repair tram lines.
    He gave a talk on this to a reunion dinner in 1992.
    The Germans didnt have real coffee but Ersatz.

    “If we had any good coffee from the Red Cross Parcels when we were working on the tramways, we would use it as propaganda.
    We shared the canteen with German civilians.
    We would take the coffee out of the Red Cross Parcels, take a bucket and boil up the coffee and when it was steaming, we would fan the essence down the room towards them.
    Then we would open a big bar of chocolate and eat it.
    We didnt have Red Cross Parcels very often but when we did it was good propaganda.
  20. Les Carter

    Les Carter Member

    The German Ersatz brew was made from Acorns was it not? The POW diet weas not great, but most of the German Army/Navy/Airforce and German Civilian diet would have not been much better. Food was scarce.

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