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15 October 2014
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My War Service Part 1

by michaelmaynard

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Michael Maynard
Location of story: 
England, Belgium, Holland, Germany
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
27 August 2005

The War Service of Michael Maynard 1940 to1947

Friendly “Enemy” Alien
While the ‘phoney’ war continued the government had to consider the legal position of the German passport holders, who were, technically, enemy aliens. They knew, of course, that the bulk were refugees from Nazi Germany, who posed no threat to the country. A small number were not refugees and could be a potential threat.
As a result, tribunals were set up in various parts of the country, consisting mainly of local magistrates, who were to classify each ‘enemy’alien into three categories after examination:
A — meaning immediate internment, B- exemption from internment but subject to restrictions, C-total exemption with the status of ‘Victim of Nazi Oppression’,
The system seemed to have worked reasonably well with inevitable misjudgments through prejudice and ignorance of what had really been happening in Germany since 1933. To them it was ‘Germans are Germans’ or ‘there are no good Germans’, a carry- over from the W.W. 1.
As a result, my friend Hans was classified as a ‘B’. His answers seem to have been too hesitant through nervousness. I became a ‘C’ by the same tribunal. This meant that I was free to travel outside London and could keep my bicycle.
The invasion of Norway, Denmark and then the Low Countries brought in its train waves of rumours about the clever infiltration by disguised German forces, e.g. soldiers disguised as nuns, treachery and treason by German symphasisers and similar stories — some unfortunately true. The term Quisling became symptomatic with this era. (He was a Norwegian Minister who had become a Nazi sympathiser.)
It put pressure on the government to watch out for any ‘fifth column’ in our midst and to do something about it. The catastrophic fall of France and the expected fear of an invasion increased this pressure, leading to the slogan ‘Intern the Lot’. (For details see ‘Continental Britons’ by Anthony Grenville). Under this pressure, the government ordered the internment of those classified as ‘B’. Thus, my friend Hans Strauss was collected from our lodging one day in early May 1940 while I was at work.
After the fall of France The Home Office instructed Police Forces to arrest all German Nationals between 16 — 70 for internment unless they were certain that they did not pose a threat. - A very questionable criterion for individual senior officers whose workload was already very heavy. In most cases this meant ‘Better safe than sorry’.
In my case this resulted in a policeman appearing one morning in June at my place of work to tell me that I was to be interned. They took me in a police car to my lodgings to collect
essential items and then to Tottenham police station nearby; for the first and only time I was locked into a police cell in the UK. Everything was done on a friendly basis. Later the
same day a small coach arrived with some other internees from the area and took us to Lingfield racecourse in Surrey. This had been taken over by the army as a temporary internment camp.
There, we were given a large sack and straw to stuff it with — palliases for sleeping on and a blanket.
Later, I learned that this preparation of bedding was very much the army method of dealing with new arrivals at barracks. The food was army style, basic but adequate, dealt out from mobile food trailers.
I could not help but reflect on my arrest in Giessen and subsequent transport to Buchenwald 18 months earlier and the difference between the horror then and the gentlemanly procedure now. I, personally, unlike some others, quite understood the motive but deplored the mindless, ignorant reaction and lack of knowledge and judgement of officialdom (by depriving the country inter alia of valuable skilled labour for the war effort), on the part of the press, ministers and, initially, the army. They had been given to understand from the War Office that they were dealing with potentially dangerous men and at first reacted accordingly. However, after a week the C.O called us all together and apologized that he had to carry out this task of keeping us confined because he now realizes that instead of enemies we were the opposite and promised to keep our confinement as relaxed as was in his power. (For further details see the above-mentioned treatise).
Fortunately, another of my age had brought with him a large number of Penguin paperbacks all the way from Edinburgh, which provided our small circle of younger lads with reading, matter to while away the long hours.
One day a number of names were called out for transport somewhere else. I had hoped to be included to have something better than under the grandstand. It turned out that I was lucky not to be included because those selected were to be shipped to Canada and Australia. They had some bad experiences from low-grade troops all the way to Australia; others, on the way to Canada were torpedoed.
Prees Heath
After a few weeks the remaining majority were indeed transported somewhere else.
During mid-July we were taken to the nearest railway station to catch a special train to an undisclosed destination. After a few hours — the train service in war time did not always function smoothly- we arrived in Whitchurch / Shropshire and were then taken by coaches to a desolate site some miles away on which tents had been erected within a barbed wire surround. The location was called Prees Heath.
There were a number of large tents, which contained benches and tables, offices, a kitchen and toilets. The bulk of the area contained a large number of bell-tents which had
space for 6 palliases. Once again we filled the palliass sacks and pillow covers with straw and selected a tent in which those who wanted to stay together could bed down.
Daily routine continued as at Lingfield but mail was now coming through and could be send out via a collecting point where an army censor was installed who read all incoming and out going letters. I had a letter from Mr. Koppel, the head of my firm, to tell me that they had applied for my release on the grounds of their need for essential skill to
fulfill their task for armament manufacture to which they had been partially switched. He also sent me several parcel with ‘luxury ‘ food and some books. (Although food rationing
was in force, there were enough items, which could be obtained with some effort.) This was my only contact with the outside world. I had the address of my uncle Max Rothschild
and aunt Caro who were in domestic service near Reading but the latter informed me that
my uncle had also been interned.
Fortunately, the weather was kind. Our only diversion was a walk around the encampment and gathering in the large communal tent where games like Monopoly and chess could be played. Now and again, a few professional musicians gave concerts. Amongst them was the violinist Norbert Brainin who later founded the renowned Amadeus String Quartet. They had their instruments with them and the army provided a piano. The standard of performance was high and soon attracted officers and men of the guarding company.
I had one excursion to the outside world, however, occasioned by a bad toothache. The army MO (medical officer) arranged for me to see a dentist in Whitchurch where I was driven, accompanied by a guard. The dentist treated my aching tooth, using a drill driven by a foot treadle! A most unpleasant experience. I knew that British dentistry was looked down upon by a refugee dentist I knew.( He had been recommended to me by a colleague at as ‘being far superior to what was locally available in Tottenham/Edmonton. When I called at his Practice near Manor House the door was opened by a young man who had been in my class in Frankfurt. He was the younger brother of the dentist, Mr. Hackenbroch. It assured me a friendly reception and low fees.)
We received newspapers and read with dismay the constant disastrous news. The occupation of the Channel Islands, particularly, upset many of those who regarded as the first step to an invasion, being unaware of geographical location of these islands.

Douglas — Isle of Man
Towards the end of August moves were afoot, once again. Our destination was not revealed but our arrival in Liverpool harbour probably meant the Isle of Man, which had been mentioned, through rumours, as containing internment camps.
So, on a fairly breezy afternoon we were marshalled on board a large ship. Because of the choppy sea I thought it prudent to counter the movement by climbing in one of the lifeboats and from there observed events. It worked! Unlike many, I was not seasick.
In Douglas we were marched to a range of boarding houses and small hotels right on the sea-front and allocated to the various houses. Those who wanted to stay together could do so. Similarly, with room allocation. I shared a large room with two others of my
age. Both were studying music; a violinist and a cellist. They took turns to practice in our room.
Life was altogether more comfortable: we had beds to sleep in with army- issue blankets. There was a large communal sitting room with armchairs and an electric fire in the fireplace, useful for making toast , unbuttered of course.
The meals were prepared by volunteer cooks from rations provided by the army. During the day we took walks along the road in front of houses. Our view of the sea on the other side was not obscured by the simple barbed-wire fence.
The weather was hardly conducive to sea bathing but those who wanted to could go swimming. I tried the water, clad in underwear trunks, but did not think much of this Spartan pleasure after two attempts I confined my seas-side pleasures to walking barefoot on the sand. I preferred the hot water of one of the baths in the hotel.
We were also able to go the nearby Post Office under a one-man escort, which enabled me to draw a little money from my Post-Office savings account and to obtain Postal Orders and stamps. The latter enabled me to enroll in a correspondence course to continue my National certificate studies and to obtain a drawing board with T- and set squares for the purpose. (I still have the latter.)
The money was useful for an occasional cake and coffee in a “Viennese” café, which some enterprising inmates had opened in one of the houses. My fellow roommates had no money at all and I treated them now and again.
During the afternoon we toasted bread in front of the electric fire in the lounge, a useful supplement for growing lads.

Amongst the internees there were some great musical talents, e.g.. Franz Reizenstein, a pupil of Hindemith, another fine pianist-Rosen-, Norbert Brainin, who with others had already formed a string quartet in Prees Heath and which subsequently achieved international fame as the Amadeus String quartet; a well known bass/baritone from the Cologne opera — Patzak- and others who gave recitals in a large hall available to us. Many of the guards and their officers attended regularly with us.

Apart from my self-teaching correspondence course we had various lectures by experts in their respective fields. I still have notes taken during a course of lectures an Industrial and Factory Organization. Others were general interest lectures. There was no occasion for boredom.

The final days at the camp

By September there were constant calls in the press, and particularly in Parliament, to free the refugee internees for humanitarian reason as well as using their talents for the war effort. My firm had applied for my release but after the fall of France the great danger to the country prompted me to volonteer for the army as soon as I had reached the minimum age of 18.
The only part of the services then open to us the AMPC — Auxiliary Military Pioneer Corps- an outfit at the bottom of the heap. It had been formed at the beginning of the war under the command of Lord Reading (of the Rufus Isaacs family) in the Refugee Camp (Kitchener Camp) at Richborough were young men , after the November 1938 pogroms, were able to stay as refugees. ( My cousin by marriage, Gunther Windmuller, was one of these. His unit had been sent to France and escaped from St.Nazaire by a narrow squeak.)

During September, soon after my 18th birthday, a recruiting officer held an assembly for all those interested, describing the kind of tasks as support troops, which the AMPC was intended for. I enrolled there and then. It took about 5 weeks for the necessary war office paperwork to come through for my clearance and I was sworn in by the CO of the guard company on 5th Nov.1940 and received the ‘Kings’ shilling- the traditional method of contract for entering the army by being given one shilling.
Those sworn-in were immediately given a pass for leaving and re- entering the camp, which allowed us to explore the town of Douglas until transport became available.
(Wartime travel restriction around coastal waters was stringent.) After about a week places became available on a boat to Liverpool from where our army guide took us to Ilfracombe in North-Devon by various trains to the HQ of the AMPC, which had been established in a large number of small hotels at that resort. (Details of the AMPC and war service by Refugees are contained in the book — in German- “X steht fur Unbekannt” by Peter Leighton-Langer. My own part is described on p.83/84 of this book.
A new life had begun for me.

Copyright 2005 Michael Maynard

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