Werner, Ernst. | Southern Illinois University Special Collections Research Center
Ernst Werner joined the German army as a Non-Commissioned Officer in 1915. He was in Bavarian Replacement Regiment #3, Bavarian Reserve Division #39, Company 3, Battalion 1. Ernst's family lived in the town of Arzberg in the state of Bavaria, Germany. Ernst also had a girlfriend, Bertha, from Nuremberg, to whom the majority of the letters and cards in the collection are written. During the last two years of the war, Ernst was a prisoner of war in a French prison in St. Martin de Ré on the Island of Ré.
During the war, France maintained over a thousand separate facilities for military prisoners, including permanent camps, working camps, hospitals, camps des inaptes, and triage camps. During the beginning of the war, conditions in the camps were poor, but by the time Ernst Werner was captured in 1917, conditions had greatly improved. The prisoners in the camps were not usually required to work; however, many of them worked in industrial jobs outside the camp. There were prisoners in the French camps from countries throughout Europe, such as Turkey, Bulgaria, Spain, etc. Ernst used the newspapers that came to these prisoners to learn to read in their various languages. In the camp, mail received from one's homeland was to be opened by a prison official in front of the prisoner, and the prisoners were only allowed to send two letters home per month.