Constructing of the Camp - Phase 2 (May 1915 - July 1919)

Call for tenders, May 1915 (Mona's Herald, 12 May 1915: 6)

The initial population of some 5,000 internees was further extended in May 1915 in response to the sinking of the Lusitania, partly as a consequence of the hostile reaction given German nationals amongst the British public. The change is attitude extended to the Isle of Man as evident from the local papers, one correspondent signing themselves ‘Patriot’ responded to the Enemy Alien question contended

Is there a man in Douglas who would allow is wife and daughters to wait upon these savages hordes, after the way they treated the women and children of Belgium? Surely the Lusitania horror has not so soon died in our hearts! And what about the uncivilised manner in which they are fighting our lads out in France with their poisonous gasses… The place for all Germans in this country at the present time is behind the barbed wire fences of Knockaloe and other internment camps (Mona’s Herald, 26 May 1915: 7)

Initially the British Government asked for the camp to be extended to take a further 5,000, but this soon increased to 15,000, and finally to around 23,000 internees. These changes had obvious logistical implications for the maintenance of services (water, lighting and drainage). The Manx government took the opportunity to reorganise the staff at the Camp, appointing Capt J H Cubbon, as Camp Quartermaster, while Major J H Cowle, of the Isle of Man Volunteers, and a local builder and architect, was placed in charges of works and took on responsibility for the erection and maintenance of three further Camps (Sargeaunt 1922).

Information has now been received from the Imperial authorities that the Alien Camp at Knockaloe, Peel, has to be at once extended, to accommodate another 5,000 aliens, making a total of 10,000 altogether.

The Imperial Government have in England a large number of huts built in sections, and these are to be at once brought to the Island. The Government intend to erect them themselves by employing the labour they require, under the supervision of their Construction Officer, Capt. H. Cowle, and, for that purpose, the following men are wanted:-

50 labourers, pay 3s 8d per day

100 joiners, pay 7d per hour

40 masons, pay 7d per hour.

15 plumbers, pay 7d per hour (Ramsey Courier, 14 May 1915: 6).

A second call for tenders was released at the same time (see right),

Capt. H. Cowle, Construction Officer of the Alien Camps is superintendent of the work. A large number of the huts have arrived in sections, requiring only fitting together and are being placed in the held by the road to the south of Knockaloe Moar lane. The s.s. Duke of Clarence landed the first batch of 450 prisoners at Peel breakwater on Wednesday morning. The work of disembarkation commenced early and shortly after 7 a.m. the prisoners, in charge of a guard from the camp, marched to their new home. Quite a large number of Turks were noticed in this lot, although the majority were sailormen….

At present Peel Quay presents an unusually busy appearance. The s.s. Tyrconnell discharged a camp cargo on Friday; the s.s. Bass Rock, a 1,000-tonner, is at present at the Breakwater discharging sections of the wooden huts and other material; the s.s. Eden is in the harbour with a cargo od timber for the camp use, consigned to Messrs Quiggin & Co., Douglas; and the s.s. Normand arrived from Ireland with a cargo of potatoes for the camp caterer, Mr A. B. Crookall. (Mona’s Herald, 26 May 1915: 5).

New aliens started to arrive almost immediately in Peel, so that by late June their number exceeded 10,000 men (Peel City Guardian, 26 June 1915: 5). By now the presence of these internees raised little attention amongst the local population, as one newspaper reported “such occurrences have become so common that they do not now appeal to the curiosity of Peel people” (Isle of Man Examiner, 5 June 1915: 2). By the end of July the number had reached in excess of 15,000 (Isle of Man Examiner, 31 July 1915: 7).

A compound for 1,000 prisoners was about 100 yards square. In addition to the barbed wire fence which had to be erected around it, five sleeping huts, each to accommodate 200 prisoners, a kitchen, a recreation room, a bath house, and latrines had to be built. Sometimes it was possible to promise the Imperial Authorities accommodation for 2,000 prisoners in one week, but the average rate of building was one and half compounded per week. (Sargeaunt 1922: 78).

After the completion of this part of the camp a branch line was constructed from Knockaloe to the harbour at Peel (1km long), but also connecting with islands railway system. The railway functioned between September 1915 and October 1920 and was used to transport coal and supplies to the camp (Isle of Man Examiner, 31 July 1915: 7; Sargeaunt 1922).

Again the logistical requirements of constructing the camp were beginning to inpact the local infrastructure. A letter from the Highway Board to Peel Town Commissioners complained about the state of the roads due to the high volume of traffic involved in the construction of the camp. Similarly the Commissioners resolved that Clerk should write to the War Office

…calling attention to the pollution and foul condition of the Neb, caused by the effluent from the recently constructed sewage disposal works at the Knockaloe Alien Camp, and the nuisance from the crude sewage bursting up in the road in the vicinity; stating that several complaints had been made… (Mona’s Herald, 18 August 1915: 4).

Writing in retrospect Sargeaunt  reports

The drainage system which was finally adopted for the Camp, after two or three other processes had been tried with not very satisfactory results, was to allow the sewage to gravitate to a certain point, and then by means of an electric pumping station, to pump it over the cliff into the sea. (1922: 70).

Works continued throughout the camps life, so that by the end Sargeaunt could report:

The size of the entire Camp at Knockaloe will be appreciated from the fact that the circumference was, approximately, three miles. No less than 15,000,000 feet of timber of all kinds, and nearly 1,000,000 bricks were incorporated in the buildings. The length of barbed wire employed in the construction of fences was 695 miles, representing a total weight of 170 tons. The electrical installation contained no fewer than 7,156 lights, the wire used in conducting the current extended to 72 miles. (1922: 74).


Sargeaunt, B E (1922). The Isle of Man and the Great War. Brown & Sons Ltd.: Douglas.