Prisoner of War Cricket Ball

Date / Period
Object Type
International Humanitarianism and Presence
The Canadian Red Cross’ membership in the international Red Cross movement allowed it to play one of its most important wartime roles during the First (1914-18) and Second (1939-45) World Wars:  supplementing the resources available to Prisoners of War (POWs) in enemy hands. This cricket ball was used by Mr. Gordon Olmstead when he was a Canadian POW in Germany during the Second World War, and serves as an example of the kinds of resources the Red Cross provided to POWs.

Through the neutral channel of the Switzerland-based International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), national Red Cross societies on both sides of the conflict during the two World Wars were able to provide certain amounts of clothing, recreational equipment, and food to their fellow citizens in POW camps. This was important to POWs’ friends and relatives desperate to assist them from afar. It was even more important to Canadian POWs themselves, who battled extreme boredom, frustration, and hunger during their long incarcerations.

When they were released after each war, many Canadian POWs from European camps expressed their deep gratitude to the Canadian donors and Red Cross volunteers who had provided them with these items. They reserved their greatest thanks and praise for the standard Red Cross food parcels they received: 11 pounds of food in each parcel, to which they attributed their survival. Although POWs were fed by their captors, wartime conditions in Europe meant their rations were skimpy at best.

POWs on both sides of each war were tracked by a vast index system maintained by the ICRC in Geneva, which also delivered the parcels to POW camps. These arrangements worked because the ICRC served as a neutral exchange centre, and each side was willing to provide access to POWs in return for access to their own POWs in enemy hands.

Unfortunately, Japan did not sign the Geneva Convention (1929) that established new standards for the treatment of POWs, and during the Second World War the Japanese military establishment chose not to pass on most of the food and clothing parcels sent to Allied POWs in Japanese hands. As a result, POWs in these camps faced starvation-level conditions. This situation highlighted the challenges of providing humanitarian aid, but also the practical importance of international humanitarian law in the modern world.

Prisoner of War Cricket Ball

Prisoner of War Cricket Ball
A cricket ball used by a Canadian POW in Germany during the Second World War.
Prisoner of War
A prisoner of war holds a Red Cross package.
Train Car

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