Captain Ernest Shackleton’s gift to the Imperial War Museum


SEARCHING THROUGH A PILE of Second World War ex-prisoner of war questionnaires at the National Archives in Kew, England, I saw one by a ‘Captain Ernest Shackleton’.

Clearly not the polar explorer (he died in 1922) this Ernest Shackleton had joined the British Army with a Territorial Army commission in 1926.

An engineer by profession, he was  serving  in the Royal Corps of Signals when he was captured on 12 June 1940 at Saint Valorie-en-Caux, around 60 kilometres from Le Havre in France.

After spending three months in hospital – he says on the questionnaire he wasn’t ‘seriously’ injured but he was unwell enough to occupy a hospital bed – he was transferred to the first of four PoW camps, the last being Oflag (Officer’s Camp) IX A/Z at Rotenburg en Fulda in the German state of Hesse.

During this time he wasn’t in a work camp (officers were generally exempt from having to work). He didn’t have any serious illness and any medical attention he did receive (presumably related to his original injuries) was judged to be adequate.

I turned the page.

No escape and evasion lectures before capture, no ‘unusual’ interrogation techniques used.

He knew of no collaboration by his fellow prisoners or of any war crimes.

In fact there were only two comments.

The first, his response to the question about whether he made any escape attempts gets a ‘No’.

Almost as an afterthought is written immediately underneath ‘Was employed from August 1941 (with minor breaks) on radio operations, design and construction of radio apparatus’.

And then on the final page above his signature is the last question;

‘8. Have you any other matter of any kind you wish to bring to notice?’

His response is shown below and reads:

‘I especially request permission to return to OFLAG IX A/Z ROTENBURG to remove radio apparatus locally constructed and other incriminating gear, documents etc & to destroy or remove for Imperial War Museum hides [word unclear] and gear. The Senior British Officer endeavoured to obtain this permission but was unable owing to urgency of evacuation. This OFLAG was identified as intact whilst flying over during the evacuation’.

Scribbled in soft black pencil beside his request at a later date beside is ‘Already redeemed by Shackleton’ with a further note scribbled out.

The final question on Captain Shackleton’s POW questionnaire and his request for permission to return to a former POW camp and retrieve radio apparatus for IWM. Image © R Maddox 2017.

And that is a small part of the story of why an unlikely looking  radio receiver –  a collection of toilet roll tubes dipped in wax, thermometer cases, toothbrush handles, a cotton reel, bits of tin can, a Bakelite ashtray, wire ‘liberated’ from the camp’s occupational department with values and capacitors from a German cine projector – all cobbled together with its own power chassis, hidden under floor boards and operated by knitting needles pushed through the cracks from above – came to be IWM Catalogue Number COM 504, described as ‘Wireless Equipment, Receiver (POW constructed), British’ in the possession of the Imperial War Museums.

Wireless Equipment, Receiver (POW-constructed), British (COM 504). A wireless radio receiver manufactured by Captain Ernest Shackleton at Oflag IXA/Z, Rotenburg during the Second World War, using materials salvaged from the camp. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: