World War I British India included what is today Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Pakistan and Aden Settlements, now part of Yemen. It was home to more than 300 million people including around 3,000 men, women and children from WWI enemy nations, specifically Germany and Austria-Hungary.
The British empire entered the war on August 4, 1914, about six weeks after the war’s flashpoint – the assassination on June 28 of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria. Starting August 12, German and Austrian men of military age living in India, regardless of other factors, were sent to the Ahmednagar prisoner of war camp. Their internment left many families destitute. Men too old to serve in their nation’s army, women and children were put in civilian internment camps under the control of the provincial civil governments within weeks of the start of the war.
This article focuses on postal markings and camp stationery within the historical context of WWI civil internment.
The postal history of civil internment mail involves rates, routes and markings. Postcards and letters up to 40 grams from prisoners of war had free postage anywhere in the world. There was also a waiver of registration and insurance fees for those interned. Inbound correspondence followed the rules of the country of origin. In India, covers to a civil internee required domestic postage. Germany granted free postage on covers addressed to civil or military prisoners. The routes were also straightforward.
If the cover was addressed within India, it would be censored at the camp. If written in a language not available at the camp, censorship would be at the nearest postal censor office. If addressed outside of India, it would first go to the nearest postal censor office and from there to London, where it was reviewed by the censor at the War Office before being passed to a neutral country for delivery. Long letters and letters written in other than English or French would likely be delayed by the censors until reviewed. In general, letters containing any information regarding the war or disparaging the government of India would be stopped and not mailed. The frequency of outbound correspondence was subject to the rules at each camp.
India used many places for civil internment that were either too small or opened too briefly to have likely left any postal history. Therefore, our knowledge of these places as internment camps comes primarily from the archival records. In August 1915, the government of India issued a communique detailing where enemy aliens had been interned and the numbers interned. In 1917 and 1918, government reports provided the numbers held at each location. A published Red Cross visit report, and various diaries and anecdotal writings of those interned also provide insight into these internment camps.
All enemy civil aliens were subject to internment. The missionaries were considered the most dangerous because of the potential to influence their congregations regarding the war. Some missionaries were found to be providing German propaganda through their schools; members of the Basel Mission communicated with the German warship, SMS Emden, which had shelled the Madras harbor in September 1914. The Basel Missionary was an evangelical mission with a large number of German missionaries in India. Enemy national merchant seamen possessed important knowledge of Indian waterways. The others were businessmen whose internment was justified to prevent them from trading with the enemy.
Germany and Britain soon agreed that its respective interned missionaries could be repatriated. The S.S. Golconda made two voyages to Britain carrying a combined 891 German individuals. The voyages were made in November 1915 and April 1916. Many of those repatriated were never in a camp but remained at their residence prior to repatriation.
Some individuals were concentrated in towns with adequate housing and under police supervision, which included their mail. By 1918 there were about 500 enemy nationals interned as civilians, including many who were brought to India from German East Africa and Siam (Thailand). Some men, who had been interned in military prisoner of war camps, were put into civilian camps when they became too old for German military service.
Table 1 includes places of civil internment with known postal history. Figure 1 is a map showing the general locations of civil internment mentioned in this article.
A synopsis of each camp is provided including the names, if known, of the supervising officer. The initials of the supervising officer were used to indicate censorship review. The Baker catalog, Catalogue of Indian Censorship 1914-1920, provides catalog numbers for the camp censor handstamps. Items not included in the catalog are designated as such. The operating dates were derived from documents in the Indian National Archives New Delhi digital collections. Place names are those used during the war with modern names in parenthesis.
Table 1. Important internment centers, earliest record, highest number recorded and type of postal markings.
|Detention Camp Katapahar
||Men, women & children
||Oct. 1, 1914
||36 (25 men,
||Closed. Transferred April 1917 to Takdah
||Closed Dec. 30, 1919 with the last internees repatriated
|Family and military POW for medical reasons
||Aug. 20, 1915
|Bombay Censor and POW handstamp
||Nov. 15, 1915 Repatriated in the first Golconda trip
||Nov 1, 1914
||Closed by September 1917
||Feb. 20, 1915
||Became family camp April 1916
||Mostly Basel Missionaries. Closed March 1916
|Women and children
||Served both civilian and military prisoners
||Feb. 20, 1918
||Closed in early 1919 internees sent to Belgaum
||Missionaries from Jaipur area previously concentrated at Waltair
German Ladies Camp
|Women and children
||Closed after Golconda voyage
|Men older than 45
Figure 1. A sketch map of British India showing the general location of the important civil internment centers. All names are of that period. (Author’s map.)
The civil concentration camp at Katapahar was at an elevation of 6,700 feet in rugged terrain as shown on a postcard (Figure 2). A few individuals who could not tolerate the climate at Katapahar were put under local police supervision at Berhampore. There is no known postal history of the internees in Berhampore. At Katapahar, a police officer, Mr. Rae, was appointed as supervising officer and was replaced around June 1916 by G. Ryle Smith, also a police officer. Their names appear on the camp censor handstamps until April 1917 when its internees were transferred to Takdah.
Figure 2. Postcard view of Katapahar and Jalapahar Ridges. Internees were housed in the bungalows on the hillside.
There is a boxed camp censor handstamp used in June 1916. Covers with this handstamp may also have Bombay censor marks. The Bombay censor office provided translators and other expert skills not available to the camp censor.
Currently not cataloged is an unfranked postcard (Figure 3) from Katapahar with preprinted text similar to the Army Form A2042 text “I am quite well etc.” used at Ahmednagar, with the phrase “prisoners of war” substituted with the French word for imprisoned, “Detenus,” and the address as “Detention Camp/Katapahar, India.” Figure 3 has the full text of Army Form A2042 for this camp.
Figure 3. Army Form A2042-style Katapahar Camp postcard. (Courtesy of Cliff Gregory).
Takdah camp was about 12 miles from Katapahar and became operational in early April 1917 accepting the transfers from Katapahar. The supervising officer was W.T. Moore. A report dated January 1918 recorded the names of 46 internees. The camp used the Katapahar postcards with the camp name crossed out and replaced with Takdah in manuscript. There is a boxed handstamp reading “Passed by/ manuscript by the supervising officer, /Takdah.” Baker’s Catalogue of Indian Censorship 1914-1920 illustrates a postcard reading “Civil Detenus” and handstamped.
Ahmednagar Civil Camp
The civil camp was opened at Ahmednagar on November 5, 1914, with J. Monteath as superintendent. The camp, located just outside the military camp, held about 78 men in tents on a temporary basis. By March 1915 a permanent civil camp, located about two miles from the military camp, was opened. It used former military housing called the “Minto Lines.” J.M. Garrett replaced J. Monteath as superintendent sometime prior to June 25, 1915. After the second Golconda voyage on March 30, 1916, only a few civil internees remained. Additional prisoners may have been brought to the camp during 1916-17 but by mid-September 1917 the camp was closed.
Two censor handstamps are known from the Ahmednagar Civil Camp, one without initials and another with the initials “J.H.G.” (J.H. Garrett) as shown (Figure 4). The camp postal stationery included at least two styles of envelopes all printed with “Civil Detenus Letter” in red letters. Two styles were previously described by K. Pennycruick.
Figure 4. An undated civil detenus letter envelope and censor handstamp with the handwritten initials of “JHG” and from Ahmednagar Civil Camp, canceled September 2, 1916, at Ahmednagar.
Belgaum Hostile Women’s Camp was located within Fort Belgaum and became operational on February 20, 1915, with retired Colonel W.E. Hilliard as its superintendent. The name changed to “Belgaum Hostile Family Camp” sometime after April 15, 1916 when some men were permitted to join their wives and children at the camp. It ceased functioning as an internment camp in the first quarter of 1920 but remained operational as the “Civil Refugees Camp, Belgaum.”
The camp relied on the local postal censor office at Belgaum until it closed in June 1916, and afterward, the Bombay postal censor for censoring letters written in other than English. The English letters were censored at the camp. An example of a Belgaum camp cover with the camp censor and Belgaum postal censor office handstamps is shown (Figure 5).
Figure 5. A handstamp in violet stating “Service of Prisoners of War” with a manuscript from W. Hilliard and “Colonel. Supt. Civil Camp Belgaum,” and a Passed/Censor Belgaum postal censor mark.
Camp postal stationery was not used. Although the camp operated on the parole system, visits to the local post office required a special pass. Postal rules required all letters to be posted in the box outside the superintendent’s office. The envelopes had to be left open and were censored, franked (if needed) by the superintendent (or his clerical assistants), sealed and placed in the appropriate mailbag.
Siam (Thailand) entered the war in July 1917. Its resident German and Austrian women and children were interned at Sholapur starting in February 1918. One hundred forty-nine men of military age were sent to Ahmednagar and 32 civilian men were interned at Yercaud. Sholapur operated for about one year and before the camp residents were relocated to Belgaum.
Two Sholapur handstamps are cataloged. The first is: Service of Prisoners of War./ Lieut. Colonel, /Supt. Civil Camp /Sholapur; a second shows a boxed handstamp of “Forwarded as a /Special Case.” There also is an uncataloged cover (Figure 6) showing a stamp of “Passed Censor/Sholapur,” with “JPH” in script, which are camp Superintendent Lieutenant Colonel J.R. Hill’s initials and signature.
Figure 6. Uncataloged “PASSED CENSOR / SHOLAPUR / J.R.H. initials. Above it is the camp handstamp. (Source: Prestige Philately Auction 161, lot 264).
Enemy national women and children were interned at Bellary between December 1914 and March 1916. Shown (Figure 7) is a cover with manuscript Camp Bellary and “Prisoners of War” letter and a Bombay censor handstamp. It is not franked and is without a postage due handstamp. The cover is addressed to Switzerland and the verso (not shown) has a Bombay censor label. Bellary Camp reopened as a POW camp for Ottoman officers. The Baker catalog lists the military camp handstamps, but nothing for the civil internment period. Domestic in-bound correspondence does not appear to have been passed by a censor.
Figure 7. A prisoner of war cover sent from Camp Bellary to Switzerland with a Bombay censor handstamp.
Enemy national missionaries from the Jaipur area were concentrated at Waltair (Visakhapatnam) by December 1, 1914. The group included four men, 24 women and 25 children. They were later sent to Kodaikanal in mid-1915 and the camp was closed by March 1916. There are covers with passed censor handstamps, but these require some research to determine if they were applied at the camp.
This was a rest or convalescent camp west of Bellary. Ramandroog held women and children previously held at Bellary during the hot season in 1915. Shown (Figure 8) is a remarkable example of a postcard sent from Camp Ramandrug to Yercaud between two interned women. The censor mark is in manuscript in crayon. Censorship rules required that covers leaving the camp be censored, suggesting that this censor mark was made at Ramandrug and not at Yercaud. This card may represent a singular example of a cover between these two camps. Covers between Yercaud German Ladies Camp and Kodaikanal are also known.
Figure 8. A postcard from Camp Ramandrug April 17, 1915 to German Ladies Camp, Yercaud, Shevroy Hills arrival April 19, 1915. “Censored” is written in blue crayon.
Yercaud served twice as a place of civil internment. First, as the Yercaud German Ladies Camp operating briefly when it took in women and children from Bellary for the hot months and then closed following the second w voyage in March 1916.
The second use of Yercaud was in September 1917 when 115 German men who had aged out of military service were brought there from the Ahmednagar military prisoner of war camp. Robert Lucian McKernan was the first superintendent; his initials, however, do not appear on any of the covers sent from or delivered to Yercaud. Unlike the women’s camp, the men were heavily guarded with 22 police officers and two European police sergeants.
The superintendent was responsible for maintaining discipline, arranging for supplies, the payment of allowances to the prisoners, censorship of mail, and maintaining the camp bank accounts of the prisoners. Yercaud closed in December 1919. Shown (Figure 9) is an Ahmednagar camp postcard addressed to Yercaud with the large circular “Passed by Censor” handstamp. Also shown (Figure 10) is a camp handstamp previously recorded but not found in Baker’s reference book.
Figure 9. A cover shows a Yercaud censor handstamp, noted as “Passed by Censor/Yercaud” on ¼ anna domestic rate postcard. Received at Yercaud Post Office on December 31, 1917.
Figure 10. An example of an un-cataloged camp envelope for international mail. (Source: Cliff Gregory).
Yercaud also had different camp envelopes for use within India and for transmission outside of India similar in text but not design as the Ahmednagar Prisoner of War camp. Yercaud internees also used the standard Prisoners of War envelopes, perhaps brought with them from Ahmednagar POW camp.
The civilian internment camps for men and for women were clearly handled differently. The men’s camps at Ahmednagar and Yercaud were given camp postal stationery envelopes, while Belgaum, the largest family camp by far, had no camp postal stationery. Two small family camps, Katapahar and Takdah, used the A2404 “I am quite well” formula post cards. The men’s camps were heavily guarded relative to the women’s and family camps.
We’ve also seen here a few uncataloged handstamps and a cover, perhaps unique, between the small hill country camps Ramandroog and Yercaud. The Figure 8 cover provides physical evidence of these camps’ existence and that the internees were able to communicate with one another.
There were other places of internment with no record of postal history. One example is Matheran, which held German East African families from October 1914 to February 1915 before they were transferred to Belgaum. The German East African men were held at Ahmednagar.
As you can see, the postal history of these internment centers is still being revealed today with new information appearing in auction catalogs, publications and philatelic exhibits. There is always much more to learn and uncover.
Many thanks to Cliff Gregory, a member of the India Study Circle, for his encouragement and the use of his covers in my research.
Robert Gray is a retired pharmaceutical executive who became interested in Indian philately in 1999. In addition to his membership in the APS, he serves as vice president of the Collectors Club of New York and is a member of the India Study Circle and the Royal Philatelic Society London.
Baker, Alan and Charles R. Entwistle (editor). A Catalogue of Indian Censorship 1914-1920 (Perth, Scotland: Chavril Press, 1994).
Ganachari, Aravind. Indians in the First World War, The Missing Links (New Delhi, India: Sage Publications, 2020).
Gray, Robert. “A New Yercaud World War I Prisoner Camp Hand Stamp,” India Post 51 (2017).
Gray, Robert. “Detention Camps in WWI,” India Post 54 (2020).
Gray, Robert. “India Post Corrections,” India Post 55 (2021).
“Hinrich Speck,” Gaebler Info and Genealogy (July 2022). http://www.gaebler.info/india/speck-hinrich.htm. See for discussion of movement of the Speck family from Waltair to Kodaikanal and repatriation to Germany in March 1916.
National Archives of India. New Delhi. https://www.abhilekh-patal.in/jspui/. See for issue of a communiqué on the subject of the policy followed by the government of India toward hostile aliens in India. Reports from local governments as to the number of hostile aliens whom they have concentrated in civil charge at certain centers.
Panayi, Panikos. The Germans in India: Elite European Migrants in the British Empire (England: Manchester University Press, 2017).
Pennycruick, Kenneth. “Amednagar Camp, 1914-19.” Postal History International (1979).
Thormeyer, M.F., Em. Schoch and F. Blanchod. Reports on British Prisoner-Camps in India and Burma (London: T. Fisher, Un Win Ltd., 1917).
Woodyatt, Nigel. Under Ten Viceroys (London: Herbert Jenkins, 1922). For SS Emden affair, see page 212.
For Further Learning
Recommendations from the APRL research staff:
A Catalogue of Indian Censorship, 1914-1920 by Alan Baker and Charles R. Entwistle. (Perth, Scotland: Chavril Press, 1994). [G7651 .C396 B167c]
A Priced Checklist of Indian Base & Field Post Offices 1914-1924 by Charles R. Entwistle. (Perth, Scotland: Chavril Press, 1999). [G7651 .M644 E61pr]
British Empire Campaigns and Occupations in the Near East, 1914-1924: A Postal History by John Firebrace. (London: Christie's Robson Lowe, 1991). [G7421 .M644 F523b CLOSED STACKS 1]
Indian F.P.Os. 1914 to 1920 by S.F. Contractor. (n.l.: India Study Circle, n.d.). [G7651 .M644 C764]
Mesopotamia / Indian Postal Agencies & the Campaign, 1868-1921 by Philip Cockrill. (Newbury, Berkshire, England: Philip Cockrill, 1988). [G7651 .P856 C666m]
“P.O.W. Camps in India, 1914-18” by Neil Snowden. India Post, July 1969.
“Prisoner of War Camps in India 1914-19” by Gerald Davis. Postal History International, August 1973.