Fresh light shed on prisoner exchange

The SS Fairy, which helped bring First World War Prisoners of War home via Boston.
The SS Fairy, which helped bring First World War Prisoners of War home via Boston.

A series of 100-year-old letters have shed fresh light on the exchange of First World War prisoners between the UK and Germany via Boston.

It is 100 years ago this month that Prisoners of War began returning to their home countries via Boston Dock.

A collection of letters from this time detailing the exchange has recently surfaced, offering insight into the challenges faced by those involved.

They were written at Boston Dock by Captain John William Jessop and sent to the East Coast Steamship Company (ECSS) at King’s Lynn.

Cpt Jessop was master of the Fairy – a ECSS ship requisitioned on January 17, 1918, to take coal to the vessels carrying the prisoners.

The letters have come to light thanks to Tim O’Carroll, 70, of Leicester, who is researching the ECSS – where his late father-in-law worked – with a view to writing a book.

One details a collision in the early days of the operation between Fairy and SS Zeeland which led to her fenders damaging the copper cover of a port light.

“I must say we were very fortunate in not doing more, considering the weather.” Cpt Jessop wrote, adding he could envisage a scenario where they would require a ‘new broadside if not a new Fairy’ due to the action of the sea in bad weather.

Another collision followed in March and two more in April, before matters came to an abrupt halt in June when one of the steamers bringing home the prisoners – the Koningin Regentes – was torpedoed by a German U-boat.

On this, Cpt Jessop wrote: “Owing no doubt to the catastrophe re Koningin Regents everything appears to be at a standstill consequently; I have no idea when we may go down again or be engaged for a time on some other work.”

The prisoner exchange would go on to restart in August and Fairy would have its final Boston fuelling trip on November 1, when it sustained her fifth collision damage while berthing alongside SS Zeeland.

Speaking of Cpt Jessop’s writings, Mr Carroll said: “These letters reveal previously unrecorded details of the prisoner exchange.”