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Resilience: Institute students as POWs in Germany

During World War II CIMA made arrangements for its students in German prisoner-of-war camps to take the Institute's exams. Here are their stories.
The POW card of RAF Sergeant Francis Walter Day, who was imprisoned at Stalag Luft III, near the Polish town of Zagan. Day completed the Institute's Intermediate Examination Part I in December 1943 while imprisoned at the camp.
The POW card of RAF Sergeant Francis Walter Day, who was imprisoned at Stalag Luft III, near the Polish town of Zagan. Day completed the Institute's Intermediate Examination Part I in December 1943 while imprisoned at the camp.

The history of the Second World War is full of many stories of tragedy and heroism. Yet for every well-known story there are innumerable ones that are rarely retold. One of the lesser-known human interest stories of the war involves how dozens of Institute students took their cost and works exams while held in German prisoner-of-war (POW) camps (see the sidebar "Different Types of German Camps").

The Institute's commitment to allow students to continue their studies went as far as to allow the Examinations Committee, between June 1942 and June 1944, to make arrangements for 78 candidates to sit exams across four examination sittings in German POW camps (see the sidebar "Successful Candidates").

During the war more than 170,000 British and Commonwealth servicemen were taken prisoner by German forces, and 3.5% of those prisoners died while in captivity. In comparison, 6 million Soviet servicemen were captured by German forces, and it is estimated that 57% of those prisoners died. The difference in mortality rates was in part down to Britain and Germany being signatories to the 1929 Geneva Convention that laid out standards on the treatment of POWs.

Sitting a professional examination is challenging under any circumstances. But POWs who took the exams did so under circumstances much more difficult than the average candidate back home. Rules of the Geneva Convention on the treatment of POWs were not always followed, especially towards the end of the war. Noncommissioned servicemen could be forced to work, often as heavy labour. Prison food rations were paltry, and the prisoners often were dealing with the trauma of combat and feelings of shame from their surrender and capture. Most of all, prisoners had to contend with the fact that there was no end in sight to their imprisonment. As long as the war continued without resolution, so did their incarceration.

The Institute student-POW stories are inspirational and demonstrate the pioneering spirit of the Institute's many members and students over the past 100 years. It is vitally important to keep past members' stories alive for future generations of management accountants. This article details the POW camp exams initiative and highlights some of the personal stories of those involved. (For a profile of one student who was taken prisoner after a daring raid, see the sidebar "Mission off the French Coast".)

Professional exams in the camps

By the beginning of 1941, to pick one point in time over a year into the war, the Institute had 1,366 members and 2,136 registered students. At that time an active service register kept by the Institute shows that 99 members and approximately 881 registered students were attached with British Armed Forces. (For brief profiles of several POWs who took the exam while in captivity, see the sidebar "POW Student Profiles".)

In March 1940, through the Joint War Organisation formed between the Red Cross and the Order of St John, POWs were able to request, and have sent, books from the New Bodleian Library, Oxford, on any educational subject in which they were interested. This arrangement supplemented the books already being sent to camps by the YMCA (Young Men's Christian Association) and prisoners' next-of-kin.

The combination of educational books, provision of stationery, and prisoners with cost accounting knowledge conducting classes made the study of professional examinations possible. An article in The Cost Accountant in January 1943 explained:

This work has undergone a natural development, made possible by the energy and goodwill of many in this country and in prisoner of war camps, from the giving of advice and dispatch of books to prisoners of war, to the sending of courses of study for university, professional, technical and vocational examinations, the organisation of schools with qualified teachers and instructors in the camps, and finally to the holding of examinations, in which papers set and the standards required are identical with those at home.

Working with the British Red Cross, the Institute was one of the first professional bodies to hold examinations in a German POW camp.

A series of examinations

The first Institute examinations in a German POW camp involved four British Army officers and took place in June 1942 at the Oflag VI-B camp. The camp, located near the village of Dössel in northwest Germany, opened in September 1940 and housed both French and British officers.

A second set of examinations took place on 7, 8, and 9 June 1943. The 21 candidates were spread across seven German camps. Of those sitting examinations, 17 were successful. The Institute's archive reveals the names of the successful students only, so the four who failed will forever be only identifiable as candidate numbers.

The Examinations Committee made arrangements for a further sitting with 22 candidates taking exams in camps on 6, 7, and 8 December 1943, with 20 successful candidates.

The logistics of getting examination scripts from German POW camps, through Red Cross channels, back to the Institute in London were immense. Six examination scripts had failed to reach London by the time the December 1943 examinations pass list was published in March 1944. By October 1944, the director of the Examinations Committee reported that scripts from just one camp were missing — Stalag Luft III (see the sidebar "Living Through History"). By February 1945 the scripts had arrived.

Impressive achievement in final exams

The last POW camp exams were held on 5, 6, and 7 June 1944 with 31 candidates in 11 camps. The examinations took place at the time of the Allied D-Day landings on the beaches of Northern France. After the events of D-Day, the chaos of an ever-changing mobile military advancement across Western Europe made it impossible to offer further examination sittings in German camps. As it was, in September 1945, when the POW candidates' pass list was published, the Examination Committee was still awaiting June 1944 scripts from seven camps. It was assumed then that the papers from the candidates had been irrevocably lost. Repatriated POWs from two camps reported to the Examination Committee in July 1945 that examinations had taken place. Of the five camps where scripts were returned, there were 22 successful candidates. (One civilian internee who was stranded in Germany when the war broke out also passed the exam in an internee camp. For his story, read the sidebar "A Different Kind of Prisoner".)

Even with all the hardships and uncertainties of camp life, one POW candidate reached higher marks for the Intermediate Examination Parts I & II and the Final Examination than any other student in the June 1944 sitting. For this achievement Sidney Arthur Stevenson was awarded the Institute's S. Laurence Gill Prize.


Living through history

One of the students who sat the cost and works exams was located in one of the war’s most famous POW camps.

The camp, Stalag Luft III, near the town of Zagan, Poland, was for airmen, and is the one featured in the 1963 film The Great Escape. The movie was based on the real events of 24 March 1944, when 76 men broke out of the camp through pre-dug escape tunnels. Of the escapees, three made the journey back to Britain, 23 were recaptured, and 50 were executed on the personal orders of Adolf Hitler.

While he was not one of the escapees, Royal Air Force (RAF) Sergeant Francis Walter Day (service number 999010) was held in the camp at the time of the breakout, according to records in The National Archives in Kew, London.

Born in Driffield, Yorkshire, in 1917, Day was involved in a large RAF Bomber Command raid on Berlin, on 7–8 November 1941. The raid consisted of more than 160 bomber aircraft, of which 21 were shot down or crashed. Day was in one of the 21 aircraft that failed to return to Britain, and he was captured in Germany on 8 November 1941. On 17 November 1941, The Hull Daily Mail reported, in an article with the headline “Hull Man Prisoner”, that Day was amongst the 62 RAF men captured by the Germans following the air raid on Berlin.

Day was sent to Stalag Luft III, where he successfully completed the Intermediate Examination Part I in December 1943. By early 1944, Stalag Luft III had become overcrowded and Day was one of about 1,000 prisoners transferred to Stalag Luft VIII-B, Lamsdorf. Then from 16–18 July 1944, he is listed on an RAF roll call conducted at Stalag 357 in Thorn, Poland. He had been hurriedly moved from Stalag Luft 6, located in current-day Šilutė, Lithuania, because the advancing Soviet forces on the Eastern Front got too close to the camp. It is an early example of the “death marches” in which groups of prisoners were marched away from the advancing fronts to camps inside Germany. It is estimated that 80,000 POWs were subjected to such marches at the end of war.

After the war, Day moved to Hull, Yorkshire, in the UK, and continued to study for the Institute examinations. He passed the Final Examination in December 1947, and was admitted as an Associate member (member number 3285) of the Institute on 23 October 1948. In the 1960s, Day was the manager of a ship repair yard and a marine superintendent. Then from the mid-1970s to the early 1980s, he was a lecturer at Hull College of Higher Education. He died in 1987.


A different kind of prisoner

Percy Alexander Etheridge, who participated in the second round of examinations, was born in 1907 and came from Southampton. What makes Etheridge different from the other candidates taking Institute examinations in June 1943 is that he wasn’t serving with the British Armed Forces. He had been working in Germany at the beginning of the war as a civilian and was immediately interned. Rather than a “prisoner of war”, Etheridge was classified as an “internee” under the Geneva Convention.

From his surviving German record card, Etheridge (internee number 16223) was sent to the Ilag XIII internee camp in Wülzburg, Germany, in October 1941. By the time he sat the Institute’s Final Examination he was in Ilag Kreuzburg camp, Poland.

Etheridge was admitted as an Associate member (member number 2572) of the Institute on 14 November 1945. In the 1948 List of Members, Etheridge was a “chartered secretary, and cost and works accountant” with British American Tobacco. He had started working for the company in 1928 in his early 20s. The entry in the 1948 list suggests he was part of British American Tobacco’s “overseas staff”, and this could explain why he was in Germany at the outbreak of war.

In 1950, Etheridge took a ship to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and by 1955 was working in the accounting department of Souza Cruz, a subsidiary of British American Tobacco, where he remained until the mid-1960s. Then aged 59, Etheridge retired and returned to his home city of Southampton. He died in 1973.


Mission off the French coast

Lieutenant William James Alexander Weir participated in a daring British mission for which he was mentioned in dispatches. Captured, he successfully completed the Intermediate Examination Part II in December 1943 while at the Marlag Und Milag Nord (Marlag 0) camp. The Marlag Und Milag Nord camp was located northeast of Bremen and housed British Royal Navy and Merchant Navy prisoners. Weir was a lieutenant with the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR), which was a reserve of professional seamen from the British merchant and fishing fleets.

In June 1942, Weir was a first lieutenant aboard the steam gunboat HM SGB7, based out of Newhaven, Sussex. On 19 June 1942, HM SGB7, along with HMS Albrighton and three other steam gunboats, was embarked on a scuttling operation. The operation was trying to intercept two German merchant vessels that had departed from Le Havre on the Normandy coast in France. The resulting skirmish in the Bay of Seine led to one German vessel being torpedoed and the other being severely damaged by gunfire. HM SGB7 sank with Weir on board. Weir spent an hour in the water and was eventually picked up by the Germans. From France he was sent to the Marlag Und Milag Nord camp in Germany.

Weir was recorded as missing by the British government’s Admiralty office on 19 June 1942. A week later, on 27 June, an Admiralty telegram was dispatched to his mother in Glasgow, reporting him as “missing on active service”. Remarkably, the Admiralty’s copy of the telegram still survives at the National Archives and is a reminder of the chilling effects such telegrams would have had on the families of servicemen and servicewomen.

On 3 August Weir’s father received a letter, dated 24 June, from his son explaining that he was a POW in Germany and in good health. Weir’s father then wrote to the Admiralty on 10 August 1942 and informed it that

I have received a further communication from him this morning, dated 19 July, stating that he is comfortable and well off in many ways and is taking up study courses in several subjects.

It appears that Weir was already studying for the Institute examinations.

After the war, Weir was admitted as an Associate member of the Institute (member number 3007) on 1 November 1947. In the 1948 Members’ List, Weir was an accountant working for The Associated Portland Cement Manufacturers, London. He went on to become their group chief accountant before retiring to Scotland.


Different types of German camps

During World War II there was a range of German camps where personnel from the Allied forces were held. These were in addition to the Nazi concentration, extermination, transit, and labour camps for civilians.

Prisoners of war (POWs) were held in separate camps for the three British and Commonwealth armed services: army, navy, and air force. For army detainees there was a further separation into “Oflag” camps for officers and “Stalag” camps for noncommissioned soldiers. Navy detainees were in “Marlag” camps, and air force detainees were in “Stalag luft” camps, which were run by the German air force, the Luftwaffe. British and commonwealth civilians who were in Germany at the outbreak of war were interned in “Ilag” or “Jlag” camps.


Successful candidates

The following are all known Institute students who passed exams while being held as POWs during World War II. The names were published in the Institute's journal, The Cost Accountant, at that time.

June 1942 Examinations

Intermediate Examination Part I

  • David Salusbury Haig — Edgware, Middlesex.

Intermediate Examination Part II

  • James Keith Smith — Hale, Cheshire.

Intermediate Examination Parts I & II

  • Charles Norman Hurst — Banstead.
  • Alfred Guest Metcalf — Birmingham.

June 1943 Examinations

Intermediate Examination Part I

  • Thomas Edward Brown — Dundee.
  • George Browing Byars — Montrose.
  • Samuel Gordon Furniss — Altrincham.
  • Geoffery Ronald Hobsbawn — Santiago, Chile.
  • Allan Bernard Wiggins — Watford.

Intermediate Examination Part II

  • John Edwards Conner — Nicosia, Cyprus.
  • Percy Alexander Etheridge — Southampton.
  • Edward Gerald Evans — Stratford-upon-Avon.
  • Ronald Charles Mackenzie — Sydney, Australia.
  • Walter Charles Morris — Hamilton, New Zealand.
  • John Statham — Derby.

Intermediate Examination Parts I & II

  • George Butterworth — Bury, Lancashire.
  • Gordon Alexander Donald — London.
  • Ronald Henry Lewis Russell — London.

Final Examination

  • Charles Norman Hurst — Banstead.
  • Alfred Guest Metcalf — Birmingham.
  • James Keith Smith — Hale, Cheshire.

December 1943 Examinations

Intermediate Examination Part I

  • William Desmond Adams — Auckland, New Zealand.
  • William Austin Daley — Ashford, Kent.
  • Humphrey Fleetwood Luyna — Liverpool.
  • Ernest Wilfred Penn — Ruardean, Gloucestershire.
  • Robert Hutton — Halifax.
  • Francis Walter Day — Hull.

Intermediate Examination Part II

  • William Riddle Coulson — Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
  • Samuel Gordon Furniss — Altrincham.
  • David Salusbury Haig — Henley-on-Thames.
  • William James Alexander Weir — London.
  • Allan Bernard Wiggins — Watford.
  • Francis Vittery Platel — Shrewsbury.

Intermediate Examination Parts I & II

  • Alfred Joseph Bradley — Birtley.
  • William Alfred Brown — Drummoyne, Australia.
  • Bertram James Leyland — Colwyn Bay.
  • Raymond Newton Reynolds — London.
  • Percival Walter Shatford White — Camberley.

Final Examination

  • Percy Alexander Etheridge — Southampton.
  • Edward Gerald Evans — Stratford-upon-Avon.
  • Ronald Charles Mackenzie — Sydney, Australia.

June 1944 Examinations

Intermediate Examination Part I

  • Patrick Henery — St Mary Hoo, Kent.
  • Charles Kober — Reading

Intermediate Examination Part II

  • William Desmond Adams — Auckland, New Zealand.
  • Alexander Anderson — Motherwell.
  • Kenneth Wardlaw Batchelor — Johannesburg, South Africa.
  • Robert Colville Bradshaw — Wellington, New Zealand.
  • Walter John Daniel — Lower Hutt, New Zealand.
  • Robert Eric Glenn — Johannesburg, South Africa.
  • Harold Thomas Jenkins — Shirley, Warwickshire.
  • Robert Nixon — Birkenhead.
  • Frank Alexander Robson — Leicester.
  • Alec Milne Shirras — Port Elizabeth, South Africa.

Intermediate Examination Parts I & II

  • Albert F. Blanchard — Belvedere, Kent.
  • Frank Arthur Calverley — Batley, Yorkshire.
  • William Mayer Henderson — Dumbarton.
  • Robert Mercer Pass — Kirkby, Lancashire.
  • Sidney Arthur Stevenson — Kettering.
  • Neville Gardner Whitehead — Maybole, Ayrshire.

Final Examination

  • William Alfred Brown — Drummoyne, Australia.
  • William Riddle Coulson — Cramlington, Northumberland.
  • Raymond Newton Reynolds — London.
  • Sidney Arthur Stevenson — Kettering.

POW student profiles

The following summaries provide additional details about some of the British and Commonwealth soldiers who sat cost and works exams in German POW camps:

Captain Robert Colville Bradshaw: Attached to the Australian Army, Bradshaw completed the Institute’s Intermediate Examination Part II at Oflag XIIB, Hadamar, in June 1944. Born in Sydney, Australia, he relocated to Wellington, New Zealand, from where he was admitted as an Associate member in 1949.

Sergeant William Alfred Brown: Completed the Institute’s Final Examinations at Stalag VII A, Moosburg, in June 1944. Born in Bega, New South Wales, Australia, he was attached to the Middle East Force and captured by German forces in July 1941. He was admitted as an Associate member in 1947, then based in Melbourne.

Lieutenant David Salusbury Haig: One of the first four British Army officers to sit examinations in a POW camp. It is assumed he did not complete his cost accounting studies. With the 1/7th Battalion, Middlesex Regiment (Duke of Cambridge’s Own), he was captured in Northern France at the time of the Dunkirk evacuation in May 1940.

Lieutenant Charles Norman Hurst: One of the first four British Army officers to sit examinations in a POW camp. He completed the Institute’s Final Examination in June 1943 and survived the war, but his details have not been found in members’ lists, so it is presumed he did not go on to full membership. Attached to the Royal Engineers, he was captured during the battle for France in May 1940.

Lieutenant Alfred Guest Metcalf: One of the first four British Army officers to sit examinations in a POW camp. A lieutenant with the Royal Corps of Signals, he was captured in June 1940. He was admitted as an Associate member in 1945 and later served as a “consulting engineer” with the Associated Industrial Consultants, based in Park Lane, London.

Major Francis Vittery Platel: Was awarded the George Medal for bravery while serving with the Royal Army Ordnance Corps in North Africa, for leading a firefighting and rescue party after an explosion in an ammunition depot. Captured in Greece in February 1941, he died in a German POW camp before he got to complete his Institute studies.

Lieutenant Alec Milne Shirras: Attached to the South African Union Defence Forces, he was captured in Italy and spent time in the Italian POW camp 47 Modena. When Italy surrendered in 1943, he was transferred to the German camp Oflag 5A, Weinburg, where he completed the Institute’s Intermediate Examination Part II in June 1944. He returned to his home town of Port Elizabeth, South Africa, after the war and was admitted as an Associate member of the Institute in 1950.

Captain James Keith Smith: One of the first four British Army officers to sit examinations in a POW camp. He successfully completed the Institute’s Final Exam in June 1943, but his common surname makes his records difficult to track.

Sergeant Sidney Arthur Stevenson: Attached to the 121 Rd. Cons. Coy. Royal Engineers, he was captured by the Germans in June 1941 while on Crete, Greece. After the war, he returned to Kettering, Northamptonshire, and was admitted as an Associate member of the Institute in September 1945. In the 1948 Members’ List he was working for Nottingham City’s Treasurer’s Department.


Martin Farrar, Ph.D., is an associate technical director—Management Accounting at the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants. He is author of Leading the Transformation: 100 Years and Beyond, a history of CIMA written to mark its centenary this year. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Oliver Rowe, an FM magazine senior editor, at Oliver.Rowe@aicpa-cima.com.