On Sunday 29, and Monday 30 May 2016, St. Peter’s Church, Château d’Oex organised a WWI centenary event to remember the sick and wounded prisoners of war, from many nations, who were transferred to Switzerland for internment, under the auspices of the Red Cross (ICRC).
The centenary was timed to coincide with first contingent of 700 British soldiers, who arrived in Château d’Oex for internment on 30 May 1916.
This event was an occasion to better understand the last two years of the 1914-1918 war, when, as part of Switzerland’s humanitarian policy, some 68,000 wounded and sick soldiers were transferred from prisoner of war camps to neutral Switzerland for internment.
Soldiers were lodged in hotels and sanatoria in over 200 (mainly mountain) villages such as Davos, Murren, Château d’Oex, Leysin, Montana, Rossiniere, Rougemont and Les Diablerets. Internees included Germans, French, Belgians, British, Indians and Canadians.
We were able to learn more about the lives of these soldiers during the time they were interned in Switzerland, the role and work of the ICRC who helped prisoners of war all over Europe and the local communities who provided such a warm welcome.
The British Minister, Mr. Grant Duff, had this to say about the welcome accorded to soldiers arriving in Switzerland.
“..it is difficult to write calmly of it … for the simple reason that I have never before in my life seen such a welcome accorded to anyone..”
The Times commented:
“Our men were astounded at the welcome, many were crying like children, a few fainted with emotion. As one private said to the British Minister, “God bless you sir, it’s like dropping right into ‘even from ‘ell…”