Examinations in POW camps

Institution of Electrical Engineers (IEE)

With the help of the Red Cross, the Institution could even support members who were interned in prisoner of war camps in Europe. From 1941, permission was granted for members to sit the IEE’s professional examinations in German POW camps. We have an example of one of the papers completed by an IEE member, Flying Officer F. O. Lawrence:

Examination paper of Flying Officer F. O. Lawrence sent from Stalag Luft III, February 1944 [IET Archive]

Lawrence was sitting part I of the examination, which covered English. His essays topics ranged from the prehistoric world and the discovery of coal, to motorcycle maintenance and a personal take on the Saxon invasion and settlement of Britain:

“Having landed on the coast, you drive away the inhabitants, retaining a few for slaves, and set up your farm, later on your wife, family, cattle and farming implements arrive by boat, and so you form a small village.”

Lawrence completed the paper in 1945, but it didn’t reach the IEE for marking until the following year. He passed, and confirmation of his results was sent via the POW department, as the IEE did not have a current address.

Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE)

At the beginning of the War, ICE sought to change the Admission regulations to take account of wartime conditions. The changes to the examination regulations did not lower the standards but allowed the exams to be taken a couple of subjects at a time rather than all at once. Additionally the examination content was extended and more subject options were added.  Exams were held in the camps under the supervision of the camp leaders.

In October 1942, 18 Prisoners of War applied to take parts of the ICE Associate Members exam.  These exam registers record the results of exams taken and show exams being taken in German camps. As with IET we have no evidence that similar arrangements were in place or even possible in the Far East.

ICE Examination register showing results from German POW camps [ICE Archive]

Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE)

In early 1941 the IMechE council agreed that both members in service and Prisoners of War (POWs) should be allowed to sit examinations with a view to progressing through the classes of membership of the IMechE.

The annual schedule of examinations continued as normal throughout the Second World War with those in London in 1940 being held during an air raid. Other examinations took place on H.M. ships and examination centres were set up for those serving overseas in North Africa, West Africa, the Middle East, Iran, Iraq and in POW camps in Germany.

From April 1943, the IMechE Council minutes recorded that results had been received from examinations held at Officer POW camps in Germany.

As well as instruction to partake in formal IMechE examinations, Council minutes also recorded the creation in 1944 of a “Student Branch” of the IMechE set up within a German POW camp who organised a series of meetings and lectures for attendees.

Captain Robert Reader

Robert Reader was a REME Captain and Graduate Member of the IMechE when he became a Prisoner of War in June 1942. His collection of personal papers as well as his membership forms are held in the IMechE archive.

As a civilian Reader had trained as an apprentice engine fitter with the H.M. Dockyard in Chatham, Kent working on marine auxiliary and main engines. Subsequently he worked at the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich and later with hydraulic auxiliaries for aircraft.

In 1938, Reader was commissioned into the Army and spent a year’s training to become an Ordnance Mechanical Engineer (OME) with the Royal Army Ordnance Corps before the outbreak of war in September 1939. Before his imprisoned Reader served in Egypt, Greece and Crete.

As an Officer Reader was first imprisoned in Oflag VI-B in Warburg before being transferred with a number of other British Officers to Oflag VII-B in Eichstätt. It was at Oflag VII-B that Reader was able to study and sit examinations in the process of becoming an Associate Member (AM) of the IMechE.

Included within the Reader collection held at the IMechE archive are AM examination past papers. These past papers were available to be purchased by prospective students and used to gain useful insight into what might be expected of the exam itself. Past papers were found within the collection of Robert Reader and contain the censor’s stamp indicating that he and others within the camps had access to them as part of their preparation for taking the examinations.

In October 1943, the IMechE Council Minutes recorded Reader as having passed section C (Workshop Organisation and Management) of the Associate Membership examinations taken in April 1943.

IMechE Council Minutes recording Reader’s examination success, October 1943 [IMechE Archive]

The Minutes also recorded the successes of other Members interred in POW camps – however, as with the forwarding of copies of the Institution’s publications, the ability to sit the IMechE examinations only extended to those Members interred in German camps.

Having passed the required examinations Reader applied and was successfully admitted to the class of Associate Member in May 1944 whilst still a POW in Germany. His handwritten membership proposal form lists his address care of the War Office and was stamped to indicate it had been passed by the camp’s censor.

Reader’s handwritten membership application received January 1944. [IMechE Archive]