I stumbled across this postcard that was apparently made for the use of the 3,000 German-born Civillians interned at Ally Pally during WWI. Worth sparing them a thought as we near Xmas 2014.
Press reports at the time described ‘A Palatial Prison’ (Evening News) and dubbed the inmates ‘Luxurious Huns’ (Daily Mail). But first hand accounts tell a very different story. Uprooted from their homes, family, friends and work, these overwhelmingly upstanding citizens were subjected to daily life without privacy in the huge, open-plan dormitories. Imagine spending your Christmas like that this year away from those you love.
The pictures below will give you some sense of life inside the building during the war.
Sleeping Accommodation beneath the Willis Organ
German prisoners in the tailors workshop
Prisoners with their model yachts
German prisoners making models and toys
Several years into the war, one of the internees, Rudolf Rocker, was asked by the camp’s commandant, Major Mott, to write a first-hand account of his experiences. Rocker was deported to Germany in 1918 before he could finish the essay, but his rough drafts and notes were preserved and edited together by ‘W. Stz’ and Rocker’s son, Rudolf Rocker, Junior.
This is available as Alexandra Palace Internment Camp in the First World War (1914-1918). Rocker also wrote about his experiences in London before and during internment in The London Years (A.K. Press, 2005).
See also George Kenner's evocative paintings of life in the camps now on Flickr - link via this post
Also, rather excitingly, the family have uploaded pics of his internment diary pp 19-27 concern his time at Ally Pally.
I remember seeing those when you added the post - very atmospheric.
See this page from his diary that describes Christmas in the camp and click on to read how he feels about spending Christmas in an internment camp.
Interesting how this "German" kept his diary in english.
He wrote it up later for a NYC True Story Competition in 1929 - although some of the turns of phrase betray his German origins- he had lived for several years in England and then went to America after being deported so must have spoken English v well. It's a journal intended to be read by the English speaking public.
From what I've read the internees were not encouraged to keep journals or paint pictures - he was disapproved of for trying to record what he saw and had to get special permission to do his paintings. The cold, dead hand of authority was there despite the freedom to play snowballs in the park.
Very interesting, thanks Hugh. Whilst conditions were not good and these men must have suffered, being in the Ally Pally was far better than being in the trenches and some must have been relieved to have escaped that hell, thankful even? Maybe they were better fed than some folk back in Germany as food shortages were so common particularly during the end of the war. Just a point…
Unfortunately the internees were deported back into into that hell after the war - George Kenner lost two of his three children in the terrible conditions of 1920s Germany, so it was delayed rather than avoided
True. I remember reading that on another related post you did a while back. Seemed no escape ultimately for that hell.
So sad. I'm still trying to write my account of Talbot House (Toc H) in Poperinge, near Ypres from my visit there last month. It keeps getting longer… I'll share it when I'm done. Maybe some Harringay soldiers had passed through the doors of that small bit of paradise in the hell of the Ypres Salient.
There is often confusion between a PoW camp, which AP never was, and an internee camp. As Hugh says, these were not soldiers but German-born civilians who had often been living and working here for years. For instance, a close friend of Sir Edward Elgar, and the inspirer of his famous Nimrod music, the music publisher AJ Jaeger, lived nearby in Curzon Road. Had he not died a few years before, the subject of the moving music played each year at the Cenotaph would have been locked up in Ally Pally!
Completely agree, internment camps not to be confused with PoW camps. Most inmates at former were happily living and working side by side as residents of this country till the war was started. Then bang- they became the enemy within. Changing their surname might have worked for the Windsors and prevented them from being interned…. but no such luck with many German residents in London and elsewhere.
It was the sinking of the Lusitania that prompted internment. Up to that point, the government under Asquith had just registered them as enemy aliens but left them in the community probably because the logistics of keeping that many people locked up was a headache they would have preferred to avoid - Ally Pally had already been home to Belgian refugees so was probably already set up. The poor internees were stuck in tents in Aldershot to start with.
It's a fascinating topic, not much written about in the history books although there are one or two. There was also extensive repatriation (many went voluntarily and were probably glad to go as vicious anti-German hysteria gripped the country) - all single women with less than 5 yrs residency were sent 'home' immediately - as well as internment. It in effect destroyed a big and thriving German community that had grown during the Victorian and Edwardian period - lots of German names appear in directories of Tottenham.
According to the sparse academic literature on it, Ally Pally saw 17,000 men pass through its doors, although never more than 3,000 at one time, until its closure in 1919 - not all German civilians, but apparently any "undesirable" could find themselves interned there, including criminals and...er...missionaries.
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