Prisoner of War

The Shocking True Story of Private Andrew Shaw

Reprinted from DownHome Magazine, July 2018
by Lester Green

Pte. Andrew Shaw (Photo courtesy of grandson Mike Foley)

THE FIRST SET of army records hooked me like a sly conner around father’s wharf. They were the records of Private Andrew Shaw of Little Heart’s Ease, Newfoundland. While flicking through the 146 pages of his military file – containing letters, newspaper articles, payroll papers etc. – at The Rooms in St. John’s, I stopped on an image of a postcard message, penned by Pte. Shaw and sent from Hanover, Germany. It conveyed this handwritten note:

Dear Sir,

I am writing to see if you will be so well pleased to inform the red cross to sent [sic] me some parcels as soon as possible. I am wounded prisoner of war in Germany. I have been here going on four months and haven’t received know [sic] parcels yet. I am suffering very bad with my leg…

With that, I knew his story, and others like his, had to be told – if for no other reason than to remind us that wars should be avoided at all costs.


Andrew enlisted on May 12, 1916, and embarked for overseas aboard SS Sicilian on July 21. From there he was  assigned to British Expeditionary Forces and was actively involved on the front, where he was shot in the right leg at the Battle of Langemarck on August 13, 1917.

After recovering, he returned to the battlefield on February 6, 1918, and for the next two months fought alongside his comrades to hold the defensive lines. The advancing German forces were determined to carry out a massive spring offensive against the Allied resistance on the Western Front, and records show that the Allies were overwhelmed. Approximately 150 soldiers went missing in action during that time. The Allies assumed they were killed, wounded or taken prisoner. Several military records indicate that Pte. Shaw was reported missing on April 12, 1918.

Victory Medal (Photo courtesy grandson Mike Foley)

Finally, two months later, some good news: a letter from Pte. Shaw, dated May 15, is received at the Newfoundland Contingent in London. In it, he requests clothes and supplies, and describes life in the German prison camp as being very wearing. Today, we can only imagine the mental torture of lying in a dirty, smelly prison camp, wearing shredded clothing, in excruciating pain from wounds and yearning for home.

The Newfoundland Contingent replied to Pte. Shaw, explaining that parcels, containing clothing and bandages, were en route. The letter goes on to explain that the Newfoundland War Contingent Association has been advised that he is a prisoner and every attention is being given to food parcels.

Pte.  Shaw  pens  a  second  message, in  the  form  of  the  postcard  (transcribed  near  the  beginning  of  this article) dated July 20, 1918, again to the Newfoundland Contingent, again pleading for supplies. Ten days later, at long  last, Pte. Shaw receives two parcels from the Red Cross, containing boots, braces, drawers, gloves, shirts, socks, vest, towels, handkerchief etc.

Records indicate that, on August 31, the Chief Paymaster and Officer of the Newfoundland Contingent requested  that the Secretary, War Office of Finsbury Court in London, make application for Pte. Shaw to be transferred to  England.  The response, received September 5, states that Shaw’s name will be placed on the list for recommendation to the Medical Commission, which examines prisoners of war for repatriation or transfer to a neutral country.

Andrew Shaw, 1956, St. John’s. (Photo courtesy grandson Mike Foley)

However, on September 11, the Chief Paymaster and Officer of Records withdrew the request – for the best of reasons. At long last, Pte. Shaw had been released and was already resting at King George Hospital, England. With that, the young man’s ordeal as a wounded PoW was over – and the focus could finally shift to medical treatment for wounds sustained five agonizing months earlier.

On May 22, 1919, SS Corsican returned Pte. Shaw to St. John’s, where he was demobilized.  He purchased a ticket to Bay de Verde and visited with his sister before going home to Little Heart’s Ease.

He married Mary Stanford of St. John’s on June 15, 1921, and had nine children. The family lived at 22 McKay Street, St. John’s.  Andrew spent his final two years at St. Patrick’s Nursing Home on Elizabeth Avenue, also in the city. He passed away on April 10, 1976, and rests at Holy Sepulchre Roman Catholic Cemetery.

Lester Green is a member of the Southwest Arm Historical Society. An avid researcher, he continues to search for the stories of the area’s brave servicemen.


Andrew Shaw -pdf- Downhome Article