How to look for records of... Prisoner of war interview reports 1914-1918

How can I view the records covered in this guide?

How many are online?

  • All

What are these records?

These records, in series WO 161, are reports on over 3,000 British and Commonwealth prisoners of war captured during the First World War.

The reports were made by the Committee on the Treatment of British Prisoners of War before the Armistice was signed on 11 November 1918. The Committee appointed examiners who conducted interviews with repatriated, escaped or interned prisoners of war to ask about how they had been treated. The examiners then wrote up the reports.

The reports include:

  • officers
  • medical officers
  • other ranks
  • merchant seamen and civilians (in a minority of cases)

Although the reports contain valuable information, they represent only a tiny percentage of the estimated 192,000 British and Commonwealth captives. They do not include the many prisoners of war who were liberated after the Armistice.

How do I search the records?

You can search and download the records in Discovery (£) by filling in the form below.

You don’t need to complete every field to find a record.

The final two fields allow you to search by other people or organisations mentioned within the reports, such as an embassy.

You can also access these records via Findmypast (£).

What information do the records contain?

Most reports can include details of:

  • unit
  • home address
  • events in no man’s land
  • when and where captured
  • wounds suffered
  • transfer between camps
  • comments on treatment and conditions in camps
  • escape attempts

A few early reports contain straightforward answers to specific questions. Not all standard questions were filled in on the form.

Standard questions from the hospital enquiry sheet include:

  • name, rank and regiment
  • rank
  • home address
  • place and date of capture
  • treatment details

Unlike many other records, the reports often describe what happened after the battle in which the prisoner was captured.

What do the records look like?

Hospital enquiry sheet in WO 161

Hospital enquiry sheet in WO 161

Click on the image to the right to see an example of a hospital enquiry sheet found in a report.

Why can’t I find what I’m looking for?

Not all records survive. Pages 822-1575 of the other ranks reports have not survived in WO 161. Some are in the series FO 383: they have not been digitised, but you can still search them by name in our catalogue.

If you don’t find a report for an officer it might be worth checking to see if it survives in the officer’s service record in WO 339 or WO 374. After repatriation all officers were required to complete a report concerning the circumstances of their capture.

It’s also possible that a soldier’s regiment has its own list of prisoners of war. You can search for the contact details for regimental museums in the Find an archive directory.