- Contributed by
- Freddy Godshaw
- People in story:
- Freddy Godshaw
- Location of story:
- Hutchinson Camp, Isle of Man
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 26 November 2004
When war broke out in September 1939 I had only been in England for five weeks. My parents, my sister, brother and I had come from Germany as Jewish Refugees from Nazi Oppression. We had to register with the police on arrival. Obviously as soon war was declared out status changed from just Alien to Enemy Alien. We had to appear before a tribunal to decide if we were genuine refugees or were Nazi sympathizers. There were three categories. ‘A’ were the known Nazis who were interned immediately, ‘B’ were the doubtful ones who had restrictions placed on them i.e. no radios, needing permission to travel etc. ‘C’ were all the rest and almost all the Jewish Refugees. During the ‘Phony War’, which lasted until May 1940 when the Nazi’s invaded the Low Countries and France, we had virtually no restriction and I worked as an instrument maker at Murphy Radio in Welwyn Garden City. All that changed when France fell and the British Army was evacuated from Dunkirk. The threat of an invasion was imminent. Churchill became Prime Minister he apparently used the phrase ‘Collar the Lot’ meaning to intern the app. 20,000 German Nationals in the British Isles. My father who then was almost 60 and who only had been released from a Nazi Concentration Camp 18 months earlier, was interned in June 1940. I, at that time was not allowed to work at Murphy Radio any longer as they had a directive from the Air Ministry to immediately get rid of all their non-British employees. I managed to get a job with a local watchmaker. A week later a burly policeman arrived on our doorstep to intern me. Apparently anyone who was not on important war work was to be interned. It was lunchtime and my brother who was 3 years older than I walked in for his lunch break from a local munitions factory. The policeman asked him ‘Who are you?’ Walter gave his name and than was asked where he worked. When the policeman was told that the was doing war work he said ‘I might as well intern you today, saves me coming back for you tomorrow.’ He escorted us to the local police station where we were shown to the back room. There were no cells and the sergeant’s wife who lived over the station gave us a cup of tea and home made cakes. It was just the time the Home Guard was being formed or as it was called at that time Local Defense Volunteers, LDV. There had been an appeal on the radio to hand in rifles, shotguns or any other type of firearms, as the newly formed LDV had no weapons at all. The room was full of rifles, shotguns, spears and a mountain of ammunition. Here we were the dangerous enemy aliens with all this weaponary in one room.
Two more young men arrived within an hour at the police station and than the four of us were picked up by an army pick up truck with two armed soldiers. One was the driver and the other sat with us in the back of the open truck with his rifle and fixed bayonet. We were taken to Watford and spent the night at the Drill Hall sleeping on the floor on mattresses. Unfortunately on a previous night a trigger-happy soldier on guard duty had accidentally shot and injured one of the internees. The atmosphere was rather tense. More and more men arrived from all over the county. Next morning a convoy of army lorries with out riders took us to Lingfield Race Course, which had been hurriedly converted into an Internment Camp. We were given paliasses, mattresses stuffed with straw, to sleep on. Some put down their mattresses on the grand stands while we were taken to the stables, which had been cleaned out. There must have been several hundred men in the camp at that time. I shall always remember a concert one evening where a young man played the Moonlight Sonata with all of us sitting in the Grand Stand with a full moon rising over the Race Course. Years later I found out that that young man were Franz Osborn who later became a world-renowned pianist. We had morning and evening Roll Calls. These roll calls were a complete joke as the numbers never tallied. Someone found out that the turnstiles had built in counters and there was a betting syndicate where by spinning the turnstiles you could bet on odds or even and any other combination of numbers. I celebrated my 16th birthday at Lingfield.
We had been there approximately a week when we were told to assemble in the Collecting Ring, which was usually reserved for the horses to be paraded before a race. The officer called out a number of names and they were told to step outside the ring. My brother Walter’s name was called but not mine. The hundred or so men whose name was called were told to get ready as they were leaving in an hour or so. Walter together with two or three others stepped forward and asked if his brother could go as well as we did not want to be separated. That was the first time he ever said that he did not want to be separated from me. The officer looked down his list and Walter was told to step back and another name was called out instead. Apparently I was too young to go and the officer just needed a certain number and did not care who went. The hundred or so men left by train for Liverpool where they embarked on the Arandora Star to be taken to Canada. It was the policy of the British Government to send some of the German and Italian internees to Canada and Australia. The ship left Liverpool the same night and did not get much further than the west coast of Ireland when a torpedo struck. There were very few survivors. So my age not only saved me but also my brother.
Another transport including most of our group left a few days later. We did not go very far but spent the next night at Ascot Race Course. A very uncomfortable night indeed. We had to sleep in the totalisator building. If you have ever seen a Tote building you will know that the only windows were tiny small apertures with steel grilles. Punters placed their bets and also collected their winnings at any at those windows. Certainly not built for ventilating? The room was full of sleeping men. The mattresses were closely packed on either side of this long building with just enough room to walk between the two lines of mattresses. There was only one door at the end of the building. Whatever would the Health and Safety Inspector have made of that? Several men panicked. The troops who were guarding us that night had only just got back from Dunkirk and were not too friendly either. They did not distinguish between us refugees and the Nazis.
We left next morning also for Liverpool but our ship was a much smaller one. It was the ferry to the Isle of Man. Very few of us even knew that there was an island in the Irish Sea and all sorts of rumors arose about our destination before we actually docked at Douglas on the Isle of Man. Armed guards escorted us with fixed bayonets to a square in the center of Douglas. A double row of barbed wire had been erected around three streets. There were twelve houses each facing the lawned green square and the third row of houses backed on to one of the rows facing the square. All the house were identical and were typical Edwardian houses build as boarding houses for the summer visitors. All rooms had double beds and with very little other furniture. The kitchens were basically equipped and there was a through downstairs drawing / dining room. There were no black out curtains provided but all the glass in the windows had been painted dark blue and the electric light bulbs were bare but painted a shade of orange. This was so no light bright light could be seen from the air. During the day the light was not too bad as one could open all the windows but when darkness fell it was just too depressing with this orange light. We soon made black out curtains with our blankets, which could be taken down to use on our beds at night. We than scraped the blue paint from the windows. Some of the windows were left with amazing pictures of landscapes, flowers and also erotic shapes of the female figure were artists scraped away some of the blue paint but leaving those pictures for all to see. Unfortunately none of these windows survived, as they really were quite spectacular especially at night before the black out curtains went up.
We were the first transport to arrive at the Hutchinson Camp and about 30 men were allocated to each house. It obviously meant that we had to share a double bed. I drew the short straw, as my bedfellow was the principle dancer of the Ballet Joos. Fortunately I did not know the reputation of ballet dancers at that time and I can assure you no harm came to me. My Father arrived with the second transport a few days later and he thought it might be better if I moved to a different room. Actually by that time we had already decided to start a school. That was if we could get permission from the Commandant. We wanted to usefully use the time while we were interned to further our education. About forty of us, all youngsters and two of the teachers moved into one of the still empty houses. There was no shortage of teachers as we had more than 50 professors amongst the 1200 internees. Every other person in the camp was a doctor of something or other. We soon had a timetable and had lessons every morning. I only wish I would have kept the one of those timetables as there were lessons from Chinese and all languages any one ever wanted to learn and every other subject too. I always will remember our math’s teacher. He was a professor who had not taught any basic maths since his early days as a teacher. Apparently it took him a long time to prepare his lessons each day as he had forgotten all his early training.
When the second transport arrived which included my father I was helping to show the new arrivals to their houses when an old boy who could not speak any German recognized one of the new arrivals. He had not seen him since they last met in the First World War. They had been interned together on the Isle of Man. Later two more old boys joined them and they were reminiscing all the time. Apparently it was more relaxed in those days. Friends and relatives visited them from the mainland and they even swapped over so the friends could experience the delights of an internment camp while they went home to visit friends and relatives. As long as the number were ok at Roll Call that was all that mattered. All four of them never had enough money to get naturalized. One of them was a barber and another from Manchester was a butcher.
The camp was full of interesting characters, not only world famous people, Nobel Prize Winners musicians, authors etc. but also a lion tamer who was unlucky to be born in Germany while the circus was over in that country. He was one of the first to be released, as his wife could not handle the lions by herself. He was a special friend of mine and I shall never forget him. He always carried a small lasso and for a party trick he used to pick flowers with that lasso. His talks were always well attended as he had been out to Africa to capture the animals before actually training them. Kurt Schwitters though was our main star. Not only was he a world famous artist but he also was most fascinating raconteur and could keep a full house entertained for hours. He wrote and recited a symphony in words. It lasted for 15 to 20 minutes and the musicians at the camp were most impressed. I have two sketches at home by Schwitters one of my brother Walter and one of myself.
Ravitz of Ravitz and Landauer fame who played light music on two pianos and often appeared on the BBC kept us entertained on many an evening. Unfortunately Landauer was in a different camp. They never did get together. The Duke of Windsor had sponsored them to come to England after he heard them play in Vienna. We had one young man in our group and when he found out that his father was in the Central Camp, a former large hotel on the sea front, he applied to join his father. What he did not know was that his father had also applied for a transfer. One morning he was told to get his things together and walk, under escort, the half a mile down to the Central Camp. They could not have taken the direct route otherwise they would have met his father en route who arrived at our camp 15minutes later. It took another few weeks before they finally got together. There were also a few Italians in our camp. One of them swam for the Britain at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. He always sported his jumper with GREAT BRITAIN emblazed on his chest. He had a guard, with fixed bayonet, on his own when on the rare occasions we were taken through the town down to the sea to have a swim. Our Sergeant Major had a great sense of humor.
There was hardly an evening that we did not have lectures talks or concerts. Three of the Amadeus String Quartet met in Hutchinson Camp. Fortunately the Camp Commandant, Captain Daniels, managed to help a lot and organized musical instruments and artist materials for any of us. We also installed a Public Address system in the camp and three of us did the entire wiring etc. and had it all working within a few days. Each house had a loudspeaker and the camp commander could make his announcements over the PA system. We were supplied with the raw material for all our meals, which was always fresh local food especially local fish. There were several chefs in the camp and we were very lucky at our school and only had to help prepare the food while a chef did all the cooking for us. I seem to remember that we always ate extremely well. One delicacy was the local Isle of Man Kipper. It was always known as Jom Kippur.
Several cats seem to make their home in our camp. We had to arrest one of them, as it was not a proper Manx cat. It sported a tail and obviously was a very suspicious enemy alien.
One of the most amazing stories was really what happened to Claus Moser. He was also our age and one of the professors, for something to do, started setting up some statistics about all the people in the camp. Claus helped him with this task and got interested in statistics. After his release from the camp Claus studied at the LSE, later became the Government Chief Statistician and is now Lord Moser. He also later became the administrator at Covent Garden. He is now Master of Wadham College, Oxford. If he had not been interned?
Some events still stand out in my mind and I shall never forget them. A production of Mice and Man, the John Steinbeck play. It was performed in one of the bedrooms with no more than about 20 people packed in tight as an audience. But what an outstanding performance! Someone wrote a skit on Shakespeare play but called it Romeo and Julian. It was hilarious. The theme was that they were gay. Talking about being gay. I am sure some of that must have been going on in the camp but we were all so innocent in those days that as far as I and all my friends were concerned we never came across any of that. In any case all the bread we were given was laced with Bromide. Perhaps that was the reason we had no problems in that direction.
It took weeks before we received any letters from our families and than they were all censored. We could only write one letter per week on special paper provided by the authorities and one was only allowed to write 24 lines. Again they were all censored. The lack of letters etc was really a real hardship as this was at the height of the Battle of Britain and a large number of the men in the camp had families in London.
After we had been in the camp for about 3 months we were encouraged to apply to be released. By then the immediate danger of the invasion had passed. There were a number of categories under which a release was granted. I applied under the 18year old category and was one of the first to be released. My father and brother’s release was granted a little later. I was home after 4 months while their release did not take place until early in 1941. Some people did not bother to apply at all especially the artist Kurt Schwitters. He was quite happy there. He was fed and housed well and could paint all day without having to worry about money or other mundane things. He also had a captive audience for all his stories.
Looking back on those four months in captivity I can only say that they were most probably the most interesting months of my life and I feel at the time the British Government had no choice to do what they did at that very dangerous time with an invasion imminent. It is always easy to be wise after the event. We were always treated very fairly and courteously though there were exceptions. One transport to Australia on the ship SS Dunera became notorious. The guards and officers robbed and ill treated their charges and would not even let them come on deck for days at the time. Those responsible were charged and some went to prison for it. But that is human nature. One will always find a few in every society.
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