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Monday, 9 February 2009
Ottoman Records - Serviceman's death records
Topic: Tk - POWs

Ottoman Service Records and the treatment of Mehmet

Within Turkey today when examining war memorials devoted to the Great War, one absence is quite noticeable. There are no individual names recorded. At first this was tied to the cult of personality in the form of Ataturk.

In the last decade beginning in the mid 1990's, there has been a relaxation of this cult and the names of individuals are rising to the surface. To its great credit, the Turkish General Staff has put together a five volume work called "Sehitlerimiz" or "Our Martyrs" which provides the details of the Ottoman and Turkish soldiers who have died in service to that state. There are many names missing from this list but it is a good foundation and the Turkish General Staff are to be commended for putting forth this research into the public arena.

There were two chronic problems with Ottoman record collection regarding those who died in service during the Great War.

The first related to the fact that record keeping was decentralised. The initiating roll book of the town in the province from whence the soldier was the solitary only record within the Ottoman system which maintained something akin to a service file. All actions that related to that particular soldier that generated a record ended up with that particular roll which was amended accordingly to keep in line with the change in status. In theory, this is most the most effective way of keeping contact with the soldier and the relatives and finally any post war entitlements. However, it relies upon three variables which the Ottomans rarely had under their control:

1. The location of the record within the Ottoman Empire;

2. The ability to maintain that roll through the postal and delivery service within the Ottoman Empire; and,

3. The ability of the unit to which the soldier belonged to make such a report.

Post war Turkey had many provinces and towns severed from it and distributed to other nations. With this dismemberment went also the roll books held by those towns. Many disappeared or were deliberately destroyed. Within Anatolia, similar events occurred, especially during the periods of expulsion of various invaders. That we have any surviving records is in itself testimony to those few Turkish clerks who understood the value of their records and protected them accordingly.

During the war, the lines of communication were poor at the commencement and as the war ground on, were degraded considerably further. Thus it was a hit and miss affair for a piece of information to arrive at the appropriate destination.

The back of a captured Ottoman document used for a report


Finally, if the unit to which the soldier belonged was destroyed, captured or fled without their records, then anything relating to casualties would not be transmitted. When records fell into Allied hands, they went to the Inteligence Section for translation and analysis. The records were not returned to the Ottoman authorities afterwards.

The capture of Ottoman documents was always a good day for the fortunate Regiment involved in receiving them. Paper that was obviously of no value to the Intelligence Section were snapped up as writing paper as there was a huge shortage of paper in the units. Above illustrates the situation. This captured Ottoman page contains a proforma accounting document originally set in a book with perforations that allowed the original to be separated and sent to the relevant authority. It was captured at Damascus and this particular page including others from this book were recycled as part of a report on the action at Kunietra in September 1918. This illustrates how Ottoman paper was employed once it was captured and formed part of war booty for the Allied Regiment.

An example of how this played out. Two battalions of the 81st IR were captured at Magdhaba on 23 December 1916. While there were nearly a hundred Ottoman deaths at this battle, not one death has been recorded within the Ottoman files. Hence we have no idea as to who these men were or where they came from. All the records relating to this Regiment were captured and so nothing was sent to the town rolls and so they were not amended to reflect the status post 23 December 1916.

To give an illustration of the enormous proportions of this problem, when 12,000 Ottoman troops surrendered at the Baramke Barracks in Damascus, 1 October 1918, they were confined to a POW camp which was poorly administered. Quite quickly, a cholera epidemic broke out killing many people, Allied and Ottoman alike. However, because of the conditions at the POW camp, at the height of the epidemic, over 100 deaths per day were recorded. Once the epidemic had been controlled and no one died of cholera any more, nearly a thousand Ottoman soldiers had died. To dispose of the bodies, mass graves were dug and the men tossed in. Below is a contemporaneous picture of this event.

The picture was taken at Damascus in October 1918 at the height of the cholera epidemic.

The reality is that none of the men in this pit was ever recorded for the Ottoman rolls. They are just nameless men buried in a pit.

Ottoman soldiers, who were cholera victims, buried in a mass grave, Damascus, October 1918


This was the fate of many Ottoman soldiers who died as a consequence of service to the empire.

At the end of the day, the records held by the current archives dealing with the deaths of Ottoman soldiers during the Great War reflect at most about 10% of the total deaths leaving about 90% of the Ottoman casualties without a name or a known place of burial.

As remains of Ottoman soldiers are found around the old battlefields, we can only guess as to the origin and unit of these men. They too will remain nameless as individuals.

The German records are a little better but the KuK (Austro-Hungarian) are just as good as the Ottoman records.


Citation: Ottoman Records - Serviceman's death records

Posted by Project Leader at 4:45 PM EAST
Updated: Monday, 9 February 2009 4:50 PM EAST
Sunday, 27 July 2008
Turkish Prisoners in Egypt - Heliopolis Camp
Topic: Tk - POWs



Turkish Prisoners in Egypt - A Report By The Delegates Of The International Committee Of The Red Cross
(Documents publiés à l'occasion de la Guerre Européenne, 1914-1917)
Report on a visit made in December, 1916, and January, 1917, to the Camps for Turkish Prisoners of War in Egypt, by the Delegates of the International Committee of the Red Cross. This independent document gives a good insight into to conditions endured by the various Ottoman POWs up until January 1917.

Heliopolis Camp.

(Visited on January 2, 1917.)

This camp is laid out quite close to the new city of hotels and villas founded in 1905 under the name of The Oasis of Heliopolis. The camp site is 134 feet above the level of Cairo. 


3,906 Turkish non-commissioned officers and men.

3 Turkish soldiers of the Sanitary Corps.

2 Armenian doctors (officers in the Turkish Army).

The camp is arranged to hold a total population of 15,000 men. A barbed-wire fencing separates it from adjoining property.


The barracks for the prisoners are arranged in groups, in parallel lines separated by passages 65 feet wide. These barracks, built under the supervision of the Egyptian Engineering Department, are of uniform construction, and about 42 feet long by 30 feet wide. They are solid frames of wood with the spaces between filled in with reeds arranged vertically and held in place by crossbars. The roof is of reed thatch edged with tarred felt. Thanks to the design, the ventilation is perfect. The sandy soil shows hardly a sign of dampness. The passage between the rows of beds is made of hard-beaten earth which is very dry and easily kept clean. All along this corridor, as in all the camp roads, buckets full of water are arranged in readiness to meet an outbreak of fire. The water in these buckets is not meant for drinking, and therefore contains a little cresol to prevent prisoners drinking it. The danger of fire is further reduced to a minimum by the fact that the men smoke only out of doors and that the mildness of the climate does away with the use of stoves. Each barrack accommodates 50 men.


Each prisoner lies on a mat of plaited rush, and has four blankets. Every morning the mats are brushed and rolled up and the blankets folded, so that during the day there is a large clear space inside the building. The detention cells have the same sleeping accommodation.


The space left between the barracks of the separate sections is amply sufficient for exercise, which is quite unrestricted during the regulation hours.


Provisions are purchased by the commissariat and brought every morning into a special barrack, whence each section draws its daily rations. Bread comes from the Cairo bakeries. It is of good quality and agreeable to the taste. The kitchens are in the open and heated by wood fires. They are staffed by a detachment of prisoners under a head cook. At meal times each section sends men to draw the rations for each room in large metal bowls. Every man has his own spoon, bowl and drinking cup, all of metal. The hours of meals are ordinarily as follows:

 5 a.m.; 11 a.m.; and 4 p.m.

The last meal is the principal one of the day.

We have examined the various food materials given the prisoners and found them to be of excellent quality.

The menu of the Turkish prisoners of war now interned in Heliopolis Camp consists of bread, meat, vegetables, rice, butter, pepper, salt, onions, tea (7-1/2 grammes), sugar (42 grammes), cheese and jam or olives.

Each prisoner receives 42-1/2 grammes of cigarettes and two boxes of matches every week; two lbs. of firewood per day; and soap.

It interested us to make a note of the expenses involved by the support of each Turkish prisoner, according to figures supplied by the English authorities.

The calculation is based on a period of six months (in winter).


                                      £    s.   d.

  Clothing and linen                  3    0    0

  Periodical renovation of winter

    clothes                           0    6    6

  Renovation of linen, footwear,

    and towels (twice)                1   10    0

  Food at actual contract prices      5    0    0

  Tobacco                             0   12    6

  Wood (average price)                0    7    6

  Lighting (as for Maadi Camp)        0    2    0

  Water filtration (Maadi)            0    0    6


  Total                             £10   19    0



Depreciation of buildings, fittings, blankets and other things provided is not included in these figures.


The regulation food of the prisoners being ample, the canteen plays a very minor part in the feeding arrangements. It sells tea, coffee, and light refreshments. A cup of sweetened tea costs 5 paras, or about one-third of a penny. The canteen also deals in letter paper, post-cards, thread, needles, buttons and other small odds and ends.

The men receive 2 ounces of tobacco free every week. They never get alcohol.


Each prisoner is supplied with two complete sets of underwear: shirts, drawers, and socks. The uniform consists of trousers and coat of dark blue cloth. The brass buttons give it a military appearance.

All the men wear the red fez. They are allowed to wear their decorations. That they are prisoners is shown only by their having on them a white metal plate about 1-1/2 inches in diameter, bearing a registration number and the two letters P.W. (Prisoner of War). In our opinion this kind of medallion is a more judicious form of indication than the bands, armlets or large letters used elsewhere. In summer the cloth uniforms are replaced by linen uniforms of the same cut and colour.

All men wear indoors leather slippers of the Eastern kind. Shoes are used only by prisoners engaged on gardening, and by non-commissioned officers.

Linen, clothes and footwear are renewed on fixed dates or according to  need.


Everything that has to do with hygiene and the sanitation of the camp is the province of Lieut.-Colonel E.G. Garner, Medical Office Inspector of Prisoner-of-War Camps in Egypt.

Water is supplied from the Heliopolis town mains, is of good quality, and is provided in sufficient quantities.

For toilet purposes the prisoners have the use twice a day of shower baths and water taps. The floor of the lavatories is sloping cement, and the water drains away through a gulley between the two rows of baths. Prisoners can get hot water from the kitchen when they need it. Soap is supplied ad libitum.

For washing their clothes the prisoners have some very convenient arrangements. Once a week each prisoner's blankets and clothes are passed through the disinfecting chamber and thoroughly sterilised. Thanks to this precaution, there is not a trace of vermin to be found in the camp.

Ten Turkish barbers are occupied in cutting the hair of prisoners and shaving them in a well-managed barber's shop.

The latrines are clean and numerous enough. Some of them are on the English system; the rest on the Turkish. They are disinfected daily with carbolineum. All discharge into the sewers.

Medical attention.

The camp medical service is staffed by Colonel E.G. Garner and two Armenian doctors (Arsen Khoren and Léon Samuel). Four English hospital orderlies are assisted by three Turkish orderlies. An English dentist visits the camp at the doctor's request.

At the infirmary, which is clean and well looked after, all prisoners not seriously ill are accommodated with beds having mattresses and steel springs. The consulting room is well supplied with medicines. Serious cases are sent to the hospitals set apart for prisoners of war.

From 20 to 30 men come to the infirmary daily for medical attention. All the cases are entered in a register, which we have examined; after each name is the complaint and the treatment prescribed.

At the time of our visit there were six lying-down cases in the infirmary; two with tuberculosis in the first stage (prisoners captured recently at El Arish); one with diarrhoea; one with conjunctivitis; one with malaria; and one with a wounded leg.

Of the prisoners in camp 3 per cent. have been attacked by malaria--old cases from the marshy districts of Turkey, such as Angora Yosgath, for instance. Nine per cent. have been attacked by chronic bacillar dysentery; these are treated periodically with anti-dysenteric serum. Some cases of amibian dysentery are being treated with calomel, salol, and emetine. Twenty per cent. were affected by ophthalmia due to their stay in the desert before being captured. These were treated with sulphate of zinc and protargol.

Four prisoners are suffering from trachoma of old standing. Recent cases are ordinary ailments, bronchitis and simple diarrhoea.

As a general rule the camp prisoners look well, have a good colour and are well nourished.

The prisoners were inoculated in Turkey against typhoid fever and smallpox. All who no longer showed traces of vaccination were vaccinated immediately after being captured. They were also inoculated against cholera.

There is no typhoid fever in the camp, nor exanthematic typhus, nor any other infectious disease.


The prisoners have no regular work to do. No prisoner is employed in workshops outside the camp. Even inside, except for ordinary camp fatigue duties, and some light gardening, no labour is exacted. During our inspection we saw the digging for a water supply through the camp being done by Arab workmen, not by prisoners.

In any case, corporals and sergeants are not allowed to work.

Religion and Recreation.

The prisoners are quite free to follow their own religious practices, which are performed thrice a day ordinarily, and six or seven times daily during Ramadan. Music and singing are permitted; prisoners have manufactured several guitars and violins.


Most of the prisoners brought money with them; some have received sums of money from their families through the Turkish Red Cross and the International Committee of the Red Cross. They receive the amount in weekly instalments of 30 piastres (about 6 shillings) per month. Each person has a separate current account with the camp accountant.

Letters take from three weeks to three months to get from the sender to the prisoner to whom they are addressed. Some of them are sent through the American Consul at Cairo. Very few of the prisoners can write, but these may do so as often and for as long as they wish. There is no system of delaying correspondence after delivery or before despatch.

Prisoners' Aid.

There is no relief committee in the camp; so far, no general relief funds have been sent. Sergeant-Major Hussein Hissan, a native of Constantinople, told us that, although there were many poor prisoners in the camp, there was no need to send help, as all prisoners are well fed, well clothed and supplied with tobacco.

Prisoners' Behaviour.

What strikes one more than anything else on entering the camp is the prevailing orderliness and cleanliness. A Turkish sergeant-major commands each group of huts, and a Turkish sergeant is responsible for each dormitory. The prisoners are smart, give the military salute and come to attention at the orders of the non-commissioned officers when those in command pass through the camp.

Sergeant-Major Hassar Mohammed, from Angora, and Hamid Abdallah, from Koniah (Asia Minor), told us, on behalf of their fellow prisoners, that they had no complaints to make, and assured us of the kind treatment which they receive.

On their part, the English officers and non-commissioned officers declared that the prisoners are well disciplined and very willing. In short, we took away with us an excellent impression of Heliopolis Camp.

Citation: Turkish Prisoners in Egypt - Heliopolis Camp

Posted by Project Leader at 5:44 PM EADT
Updated: Sunday, 27 July 2008 6:03 PM EADT

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