Sketches of a German Interned Civilian Prisoner in England (1914-1919). George Kenner.

This is an account of the detainment and subsequent internment of George Kenner. Kenner was holidaying in the Lake District when war broke out, and on returning to his home in London he was interned in Frith Hill Detention Camp (Camberley, Surrey), Alexandra Palace (London) and then taken to Knockaloe (Isle of Man). Kenner’s account reports on the daily activities of camp life, the facilities and some of his personal experiences. Reproduced here are the sections on his detention and later internment in Knockaloe. On his release Kenner was repatriated to Munich (Germany) where he experienced the difficulties of post-war Germany, and later emigrated to the United States of America. While interned Kenner produced a number of art works to pass the time, some of which are reproduced here to illustrate the journal.

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George Kenner

331 Beecher Ave.

Cheltenham, Pa.

Sketches of a German Interned Civilian Prisoner in England

(1914-1919)

I Part

The Military Tent-Camp at Aldershot

1st Chapter: My internment

In the Lake District in England, on a beautiful vacation day in August 1914, I was sketching in the garden when a gendarme entered and asked my nationality. He then asked me to report to the station to be registered, as War was declared between England and Germany.

Back again in London I noticed, we Germans had to be quiet, and were not allowed to go beyond 5 miles from our residences. To reach my business, I received a special permit. I was also able to continue and

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School studies, and making smaller trips on a bicycle.

The sinking of the ‘Lusitania’ was a shock to all Germans, everywhere one could hear the cry ‘intern them all!’, and German shops were stoned.

I quickly packed my things, gathered with friends, and celebrated parting. On this very evening two detectives called to take me away, but did not find me, as I did not return until midnight. I had to stay at home the following day. At 9 a.m. they called and I was taken to the station with my baggage by taxi (of course at my expense), where I was greeted by quite a number of comrades. All sharp instruments were taken from us.

Torn right out of my studies, leaving business to my partner, with about 70 countrymen on covered trucks we were taken to Waterloo Station. About 350 men had gathered there. Patriotic songs resounded, and good humour abounded in general. At last we continued on our trip, and no one of us knew whereto, but after 2 hours ride the train stopped at Frimley[?], and we marched into uncer

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-tainty. Wooded valley and scenery changed, and here we saw, after one hours walking, out in the sun-shine and clearing[?], a Tent Camp. This was on the 12th of May 1915, 5 o’cl. in the afternoon. Tired out we longed for food and rest.

'Regent Publishing Co., Ltd., London' in ''The War series, No.1856'.

 

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At 9 a.m. a list of names was put up, and everyone listened for his name to be called.

At 10 o’cl., the call was repeated, and at 11 o’cl. I just happened to be at another section as my friend, searching for me, quite out of breath, called: “You are also on the list!”. There was a hunt for all my belongings, we wildly threw in trunk and boxes with finally no room for a pair of boots. Time pressed very much until 1 o’cl. we had to line up for the march away, and so I unhappily left the pair of boots with my friend. He helped me carry the luggage to the station where it was taken on as freight. We then travelled by train to Liverpool and by boat to the Isle of Man to land at Peel.

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A march of 1½ hours was still before us to reach the mass camp at Knockaloe.

10 o’cl. at night we arrived there; it impressed us as a coalmine, with its black huts, water towers, and smoky chimneys. Everything was in deep silence as we were divided into the various huts, where our fellow-prisoner had already filled the straw mattresses and placed them for us. We quickly looked over our future quarters, put our small luggage in various places and went to rest, to wake the next day, June 1916, under new conditions.

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Knockaloe Internment Camp, on the Isle of Man, by George Kenner, 1918

Knockaloe Internment Camp, on the Isle of Man, 1918. © George Kenner estate.

III Part

The Hut-Camp of Knockaloe

1st Chapter: Work and Activity

The Mass-Camp for German Civil Prisoners of War at Knockaloe was lying in a valley at the Isle of Man, and on the road which leads from Peel to Douglas, (a second camp), paralleled the farms, which were almost closed in by the huts of the Camp.

The Military and Commanders Section parted the villiage [sic] from the reach of the 30 000 Prisoners.

The grounds were divided into 5 camps, each accommodating 6000 men. Everyone of these camps were sub-divided for 1000 prisoners; each provided with kitchen and 5 huts a piece, each sheltering 200 men. The sleeping places were like the berths of a ship, 2 and 3 over each other, and the luggage was put under the lowest berth. Every 1000 men had 10 Hut Captains and one Superior. An English Blue Guard,

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whom we called ‘Blue Battles’, attended to Post and cantine [sic]. The last mentioned had not so many luxuries as the one at Alexandra Palace.

Out of the funds paid cooks and helpers under the care of a kitchen-father did the work in the kitchen. There was also a back-room to prepare dough, where a German baker every Sunday sold butter-crumble-cake, generally called ‘Panzerplatten’ (=armour-plates).

The well known Manks cat with short tail and high legs went flattering about.

Alongside the kitchen was the shoe-makers-shop, where daily 12 to 15 pair of shoes were repaired or resoled. New shoes with wooden soles, also the necessary pieces of clothing were given out to the needy.

All kinds of workmen were found together at a hut allotted for industry. Various kinds of wood were sold; some made war rings out of ‘tinfoil’; plumbers soldered with the help of empty preserve-

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tins; seamen carved various things. We washed and hung up the pieces between the huts to dry.

Every morning at 10 o’cl. inspection was held, and in good weather we were allowed out (between 2 and 4 o’cl.) on the recreation ground.

After that, an Officer, Sergeant and Captain counted all prisoners, as all exists of the huts were guarded by soldiers. On Sundays no inspection nor count was made. Once each month the Commander and Officer inspected the berths, which had to be scrubbed and cleaned. At 9 a.m. the Captain called 2 men from each hut, who from a distance of ½ mile carted coal for the kitchen. One of our comrades suffered a heart-stroke from this work. Every ¼ year we could refill our straw mattresses at a near-by farm.

There was always plenty of activity. Provision wagons drove in and out. Some had erected a skittle-alley; the Sergeant was busy taking a man to the Commander; then came a new arrival with bag and baggage

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Comrades ran about shortly before distribution of dinner fetching hot water; the shoemaker carried finished boots to a customer.

I was often right in the middle of the crowd, standing on a folding table or even on a fire-ladder, (under constant danger of falling down), busily sketching.

On all the corners of the various enclosures stood English sentries, and behind the barbed wire entanglement on the North-hill was a machine-gun section. To take care of all needs in the huts, 2 men were assigned each day, and at evening they had to scrub the table. On Saturdays by turns, two mates had to scrub the floor; those not concerned climbed into their berths or went into the open; because the water was poured from buckets on the floor, until all nearly floated, then we scrubbed hard and rinsed with clean water which could drain into a hole in the floor.

The dishes and plates were kept in an empty berth.

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In order to always have a little to add to the camp-meals I had English friends send me parcels of food. After dinner we could get boiling water for tea or cocoa, and use the vacant kitchen hearth for special dishes. And thus we made ourselves comfortable also in this camp.

2nd Capter: Cold and Hard Times

Winter with its severe cold came along. The icy Northwind blew through the walls of our wooden huts, and whirled the snow like dust from the roofs, causing me to shudder. 3 iron ovens were put in each hut, which were continuously surrounded by chilly mates. I preferred to keep war and fit by a daily run out in the open, no matter what kind of weather.

My new sleeping comrades consisted largely of Polanders, who could not speak German, nor could they read or write their mother tongue; very few were capable of doing that. They prayed in the earliest mornings

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with roseries, knitted socks, or slept. One especially was full of vermin, and we often were compelled to search his mattress. The said mate was content when he could smoke his pipe daily, happen what may. This surrounding was much in contrast to the one at Alexandra Palace. Some seamen measured their strength in boxing matches.

Two evangelic Missionaries from Africa gave religious advice particularly to a 13 year old fishing lad, who with 2 brothers and their father, (who brought up his sons by using Bible wisdom), where made prisoners white fishing. 

I had again finished a series of water colors and sent them out to my friend at London. Later I learned that the address was lost and the parcel sold by auction. Half a years arduous work was gone, and with it the joy to continue painting; especially after a colleague had taken over night out of my over-coat pocket, (while I slept), my warm leather sketching gloves.

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For instruction purposes a part of a hut was fitted out with tables and benches; yet only few were desirous of learning. Here I practiced in the morning hours playing the violin, and on Sundays we enjoyed ourselves by theatre performances and concerts.

To the Divine Services, where a catholic English Camp Priest with helper administered, the prisoners went from various enclosures, and were led between different enclosures. Among these I often looked in vain for my brother. On the other hand, I met former comrades of the Tent-Camp, when of course, a mutual joyful conversation followed.

For everybodies surprise shortly before Easter the most beautiful snow fell, which was quite an exeption for this part of the country, and this induced me again to sketch.

On April 1917, by Command of the English Government, rations were shortened, and parcels from England limited. Saltherrings from kegs were divided,

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and to my astonishment devoured by seaman without ever watering nor cleaning.

In the POW Kitchen. A few minutes before Dinner.

In the POW Kiitchen - A few minutes before Dinner. © George Kenner estate.

Easily irritable through being underfed some violent quarrels occurred. Some fell down from hunger and weakness. One stole in the kitchen, to secure for themselves big pieces of meat and fat. Yet, we learned of it, and these people were removed under disgrace and shame. Others became dejected from the lasting imprisonment.

The old and sick were exchanged for English prisoners. The Red Cross sent flour from Spain, which, (made into rolls), was very welcome, as some of the working prisoners, in order to subdue their hunger, had plucked a lot of grass, cooked, and eaten it, although that kind of food brought on quite dire stomach aches.

A gambler, who lost even his shortened ration of bread, used to subdue his hunger by eating pickles, and poled his stomach to such an extent, that he died in the hospital after a short time.

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Another repeated the saying: ‘I’ll put a bullet in my head, if this card does’nt [sic] ruin!’. Really, once we heard a shot, and we found him dead in his berth. At a visit to the cemetery I saw about 160 of our Camp buried there.

Now and then also ‘Love-gift’ parcels came from Germany; yet, they at home had nothing but want themselves. In the fall the selling of cigarettes was much shortened, when I used to divide my lot with such as suffered most from this order.

Our 3rd Christmas as Prisoners was rather poor. The general frame of mind was depressed, and I flt myself induced to say some consoling words, for which many pressed my hands.

3rd Chapter: Removal and Change

On a fine afternoon in the spring of 1917 prisoners of various enclosures were led out to the recreation ground for the first time again after a long winter.

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I placed myself on the barbed wire fence to be able to overlook them better as they marched by. Among many others I recognized my brother and called him. Astonished he looked back, and our glances met. Delightfully surprised he then winked. We had not seen each other for 2½ years many things had changed. He tried, stepping out of line, to come nearer. I ran with the troops as far as the fence allowed. Quickly we agreed upon meeting each other the same way while going to church on Sundays. At these further meetings we were often driven apart by the sentry.

Our mass-Camp was emptied from month to month. Every 6 weeks about 300 old and sick prisoners were exchanged, and thus my dearest friend, an old seaman, sent home. A later group of about 2 evangelic Missionaries from Africa were put into our enclosure, but were assigned to Germany in a few weeks.

Easter 1918 approached. I longed to be

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with my brother and petitioned to be transferred to his camp and enclosure. This was granted in April. With the help of 2 comrades I loaded boxes and matress on a two wheeled barrow, and, under guard pushed it over, where my brother welcomed me at the gate. Unfortunately I learned here, were many gamblers. They gathered up to 20 and 30 around the table in our hut, and sat together by candle and petroleum light. (Smoke hung in blue clouds). Long ago the electric light had been turned out for the nights rest, yet, under such circumstances one could not think of sleep. Several times the enclosure Sergeant had rebuked them by taking away all the money, but now they put out spies to betray his approach.

All this, through years, made a bad influence upon the mind of my young brother. It required great perseverance to lift him upon a higher plane. Much entertainment was offered to him playing a skittle-alley. An unknown lady

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sent on to his address ‘Love parcels’, which he enjoyed like a child. Also the brother and sister from Germany sent 2lb parcels with small quantities of food, so that e could have a bit in between meals. Our ration of herrings we cleaned and watered good on the Camp-well, put them apart, and cut to small pieces, cooked bought potatoes, peeled and crushed these with a spoon, mixed flour or crumbled biscuits and pieces of fish together, added when possible onions or parsley, greased biscuit tins with margarine and filled them with the mass. The hours from 2 to 4 we used to bake the fish-cakes. Deliciously smelling, we kept them in our provision cup-board; they always lasted us half a week.

On the North-hill, part of the ground was divided for such as desired to grow vegetables. The ground was worked over with borrowed gardening tools. During the summer various things grew in the garden of my brother. Above here we enjoyed a picturesque view right up to the ocean. Beyond us the Camp stretched

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out. On the foot of the hill grew professional finished off flowerbeds, vegetable and spice beds. Poppies and bluebottles glittered with shiny colors [sic] in the sun. 

A very homely view offered itself always when the huts were cleaned, mattresses sunned, and the blankets hung out to air. Sidewards [sic] on the declivous ground were about 30 rabbit-houses, (each heaving 6 to 8 rabbits). The prisoners, who had erected these, fed them even in these bad times with their own rations and waited hungrily, until an animal was fat enough to be slaughtered.

Every week good theatrical performances were held, and an excellent band played, gathered from people of various enclosures. They represented all wind and string instruments; also English Officers listened with interest to the concerts.

In one hut were carpenters, blacksmiths, shoemakers and tailors; also a class-room to study languages, short-hand, etc. In the wash-house, (the only brick building), we could take a warm shower

[41] bath (between 6 and 7 o’cl.) each morning.

An empty, solitary Compound was used for punishing offenders violating law and order, and were there under strong guard.

Often after oppressive sultriness heavy clouds gathered together, with refreshing thunder-shower; the sun twinkled through grey masses and ventured itself victoriously out, when two colourful rainbows over-strechted [sic] our big Camp, promising peace.

Through news-paper reports on the 7th Nov. 1918 we learned of revolutions, flights and abdications of various rulers of our German country. 4 days later Armistice was proclaimed, and at last redemption dawned for us.

A transfer-camp took up the list of those named to return home. To us, the exchange of English and German Prisoners seemed a very slow process.

On one of the last days in November someone offered to change places with me by reason of ‘luck’ being in

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our hut. I did not consider very long, since I was not liked much for not gambling with them, to the contrary, I had rather a sharp argument about it.

I looked at the place and gladly moved. That white-washed corner I liked more than my last place. A cup-board for dishes, folding table and folding stool, trunk seat, a flower picture over the bed, and little evergreen trees on the window shelf increased my comfort. By fixing a curtain I could retire undisturbed. Besides the mates around me were more agreeable; they smoked German War-tobacco, called ‘Wald und Wiese’ or forest and meadow; and weighed with a self-made table-scale the rationed biscuits; a barber toiled alongside of me. In the evening friends visited each other, played the mandolin, knitted, read, or wrote letters. There was no berth above mine, which added to the enjoyment of this window place. After a weeks time my brother followed me in this hut.

A good many now disliked eating herrings;

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so much so, that they could not even see nor smell them, and so the herrings remained untouched.

My brother and I used that opportunity and baked larger provisions. Of course, the handling with icy water in such cold weather became unbearable, but we worked in great speed, and as we carried the baked fish-cakes with their appetising smell through the hut, our colleagues then wanted to eat with us. None other than those who refused to help and only talked with contempt about the ‘Dreckheringe’. Therefore I valued the proverb: ‘Who does not work, should also not eat!’, and my brother and I both enjoyed the fried fish-cakes very much.

4th Chapter: Parting and Home.

Now I prepared for the journey home. Mounted the trunk with iron bands, brought from a sailor’s kit, had a case made for my sketching – easel, and a tin-box for sketches.

Last Supper Before Returning Feb. 1919.

Last Supper Before Returning, February 1919. © George Kenner estate.

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An opportunity came (for 20 Shillings) to get directly into Germany, for which I hopefully applied.

At last one heard the call ‘deliver matresses!’. Leaving my folding table behind and other useful objects, we moved in March 1919 over in the transfer enclosure. My brother helped booking the biggest pieces as freight. And now we went; 600 men, burdened with small luggage and 2 rations of tinned meat with bread, cheerfully down the valley to Peel, where a small boat was waiting, but could only convey 300 prisoners. In names were read, and all we others received our money back. Disappointed and depressed we marched our way back, but this time uphill. Exhausted we again reached the transfer enclosure in which we tarried another 3 days. The luggage was searched again, and then went to Peel once more. We travelled on a small freight steam boat on a rather stormy sea to Liverpool, where all the horrors of sea-war-fare appeared before our eyes by wrecks drifting about. In spite of heavy seas breaking

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over the deck and seasickness we remained on deck for the fresh air. After 4 or 5 hours we reached our destination and marched to the not distant Station whence we travelled across England to another transfer-camp. After marching again 1½ hours we reached there, and were divided 50 men in each hut. We received good treatment, including shower baths. After a week’s stay we once more arranged our baggage and moved to the Station, going by rail along the coast to Harwich, and passed the night on a Channel-steamer. 5 o’cl. in the morning the boat blew the steam whistle and started. We awoke with empty stomachs amidst heavy sea, and everybody took seasick. It was the most shoking [sic] crossing I ever had. Towards evening we arrived at Rotterdam. Dutch shop-people came alongside with boast to offer us catables. Once more we slept as Civil-Prisoners of War on the English boat, and in the morning we sailed to the Pier.

English inspectors stepped on board, (among them

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also negroes), searched our baggage for the last time, also money-purses and wallets. We did not oppose anything, for fear of being sent back. And, as the names were being called out we could at least step over the bridge unto [sic] Dutch ground.

Released, one breathed easier. At last again Master over one’s self!

Ladies, all dressed in white, decorated us with flowers and distributed cigars. Dutch military formed in parade and bid us welcome. Afterwards we refreshed ourselves in the bathroom, and later in the feastly [sic] decorated hall partook of a really food breakfast. Dutch authorities made drew-out traveling passes to the boundary station Wesel, where the German authorities, at 5 o’ cl. in the afternoon, received  us upon our revival.

Underfed, old looking children ran begging towards us at the Station. It was a picture of pity.

We then were led to the barracks, where we stayed a few days and were treated to soldiers rations.

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Everyone received a military traveling pass, which entitled him to reach his chosen destination.

On an early morning we left Wesel and made towards our home-towne. At the satation ‘Essen’ we were led into a yard, where, our of a gulach-wagon and standing up we ate our dinner.

At Ingolstadt, and later also at Munich, Germany soldiers gave us sausages, bread and beer. They turned our railway carriage onto a dead rail, a locomotive was attached on to it, and thus we slept the last night in that well heated wagon on wooden benches. At sawn we rode at command to the Louse-removing Institution at Rosenhem received a bath while our clothes were being disinfected in the hot oven.

As we walked around the snowy town we saw quite with delight and surprise displayed in the several show-windows various kinds of meat and sausages. We were on the point of stepping in to buy, when with much disappointment

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we recognized all these as ‘imitations’. Only through provision stamps were the folks able to buy their small rations of food.

Three of us arrived finally at Munich on the 24th of March 6 o’cl. in the evening, where my brother and sister greeted me and led me home.

A good many hard years was I yet to experience in poor Germany before I changed my residence to the United States.

And now here in the good old U.S. of A. I am facing the future with confidence hope and courage.

My 7 years old son now peeps curiously over my shoulder; I left him on my lap and say:

                “Learn Perseverance, Patience and Love, and you will always be happy!”

Aug-Sept 1929.