“They deserved to be left behind”

Albert Cusden, one of the four Reading brothers interned in a German camp, wrote to one of his sisters. Some of the older internees had been repatriated, and it was a bittersweet farewell.

Jan. 19th 1918

Dear Iris

Two letters received from Father and Ruby to Vic, yesterday. Have had no other news for quite a long time, but I believe there is only one mail boat running a month now, so if this is the case your letters and ours will arrive in bunches.

We had quite a memorial day on Jan. 2nd. About 350 men over forty five left here for England. You will of course have read of their arrival long before this is written. Four men went from our loft. As you can imagine all the men were very excited the night before. I know of some men who dressed themselves the night before, and spent the night just waiting. I think there were very few who got much sleep. One man gave a farewell breakfast to his chums at four o’clock in the morning. They had to leave the camp between six and seven in the morning, and three were actually late! They deserved to be left behind.

A train was waiting for them on a siding just outside the camp, and we who were left climbed on to sheds or anything that was handy to wave farewell to men who had been interned with us for over three years. One or two attempts were made to sing such songs as “It’s a long way to Tipperary” and “What’s the use of worrying?”, but they were not very successful. Fellows just watched the train and shouted. Well, they’re gone now, and some day I suppose we shall follow.

We have had very peculiar weather for quite a time. We must have had close on eighteen inches of snow during the last ten days. Most of it has now disappeared. In the first few days we had a frost, so that it was very slippery. Now a thaw has set in and it is very mild.

Our new school term has not yet started, we have been waiting for warmer weather. Probably in another week’s time it will start. It is impossible to do much work in the winter.

We are all four keeping in good health. Love to all.

Your affectionate brother, Albert.

Letter from Albert Cusden in Ruhleben to Miss Iris Cusden, 57 Castle Street, Reading (D/EX1485/4/4/9)

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Escaped internee “did not make friends with the dog”

Carlos Kuhn Escosura y Diaz was a Spanish electrical engineer from Vigo, aged 28 when he first arrived at Reading Prison as an internee in May 1916. He escaped custody in 1917, and shocking claims were made in the papers about the way he had allegedly suborned a guard dog.

16 January 1918
Reading PI [Place of Internment]

Please note that arrangements are being made to bring back Carlos Kuhn de la Escosuras to your custody from the Spanish Embassy, whither he fled on escaping from your custody some time since. He will not be punished for his offence, and precautions will be taken to prevent his making any fresh attempt to escape.

[Illegible]
Secretary

Noted. Prisoner was received on the 15th inst.
C M Morgan
Governor

The attached cutting from last night’s “Evening News” [not attached] may interest the Commissioners. It is the average veracity of the Northcliffe Press.


C K de la Escosuras

1. He did not make friends with the dog.
2. The dog did not come into the Prison.
3. The dog does not exist – the only officer who has a dog is the Chief Warder and far from being friendly to strangers, it bit a policeman in the “tail” when he was searching the Forbury Gardens on the night of the escape – it is a bull dog.

He did not pick his cell lock with a wire. He was not in a cell – but free to walk about the prison till 8 pm – and this escape took place about 7.30 pm.

He does not collect Prison Keys – neither are they left for him to collect.

The key was made by another man out of tinfoil and the garden door unlocked as previously reported.

As regards his prolonged conversation with Police and other officials – he is the only man of the four who cannot talk English.

Reading Prison [Place of Internment] letter book (P/RP1/8/2/1)

“The Irish prisoners give us little peace and quiet”, dancing and singing

The Irish internees at Reading seem to have been partying all night, according to an aggrieved warder. (His request was denied, and he was forced to stay at Reading.)

HM Prison
Reading
3rd Jan. 1918

Gentlemen,

I beg to state that after the sick leave that has been granted to me since November last, I feel able and fit to return to duty again. I attribute my illness to the causes, viz to anxiety and over work created by the unexpected additional duties in connection with the interned aliens here, particularly with the canteen and the large daily dealings with tradespeople in Reading and elsewhere by the prisoners; also to my occupation of the Chaplain’s quarters. When it was arranged that I should occupy that house, I had no idea that any sounds from the Female Wing when the wing was in use, could be heard so easily in the quarters. We soon discovered, however, that the Irish prisoners give us little peace and quiet between 7 pm and 10. There was shouting and cheering, drilling, chorus singing, violin and flute playing with step-dancing, besides much walking and running up and down stairs, all of which we hear evenings most plainly and which disturbed the peace and quiet I ought to have enjoyed after my trying day’s due. I then was going down the hill in health, and the quarters under the conditions stated told upon my nerves, general health, as well as upon my wife’s health.

I have now been in the service 33 years, nine of which have been as Steward, and have always endeavoured to perform my duties loyally and with enthusiasm. Owing to present conditions, the extremely high cost of living, and to my family circumstances which have already been brought to your notice by the Governor, it would be a very great hardship to my family if I am compelled to retire from the Service now. I should therefore be grateful if the Commissioners will allow me to resume my duties and transfer me to another station where I may have the advantage of a more bracing climate and of enjoying better health.

I am
Gentlemen

Your obedient servant

Matthew W Loan
Steward

Reading Prison [Place of Internment] letter book (P/RP1/8/2/1)

Invisible ink

Francois Schacken was an engineer from our ally Belgium who was interned at Reading Prison. It was feared he might be secretly communicating with the enemy.

1.1.1918
F. Schacken
16.3.16 S of S Order, Defence of the Realm Regulation, Internment

The above prisoner’s cell was searched yesterday and the attached paper [not enclosed] was found.

It will be seen, if carefully looked at, that the paper has been written on – apparently with invisible ink – or it may be the pencil or pen mark showing when this has been used as a pad.

Perhaps Scotland Yard may be able to ascertain if the marks are invisible ink marks. The papers appear to have been wetted & dried.

The letter also found was sealed in the envelope in which it is forwarded. I cannot read it. Some of it consists of letters which have been passed.

C M Morgan


Reading Prison [Place of Internment] letter book (P/RP1/8/2/1)

One of life’s failures

St Augustine’s Home was a home for boys in need in Clewer, run by the Sisters of the Community of St John Baptist. It was not strictly speaking an orphanage, as many of the lads had at least one parent living, but they were usually in dire circumstances, and the home gave them stability. Many of the Old Boys were now serving in the armed forces, while the current residents were making little jigsaw puzzles to send to PoWs and the wounded.

A Short Notice of St Augustine’s Home for Boys, Clewer, December 1917

Roll of Honour, 1917
On Active Service

Robert Annesley
Reginald Barber
Frank Berriman
Arthur Booker
Leonard Borman
John Brown
Frank Bungard
William Carter
Percy Cattle
Robert Chippington
George Collyer
Tom Corbett
Jack Corbett
Herbert Cousins
Thomas Cox
Francis Dawes
Charles Douglas
Wilfrid Eccles
Jack Ettall
Edward Farmer
James Frame
James Farmer
Charles Fisher
Wallis Fogg
George Finlay
George Gale
Stanley Graham
Robert Gosling
John Green
John Harrison
George Houston
Ernest Howells
Fred Hunt
Albert Hudson
Arthur Hudson
William Hobart
Albert Jarman
Reginald Jarman
Joseph Kelly
Edward Lewendon
Harry Macdonald
Eric Matthews
Harry Mott
Norman Neild
Alfred Newsome
Robert Parnell
Samuel Perry
Bennie Payne
William Potter
Charles Price
George Pitt
William Robert
Claude Roebuck
Alan Sim
George Simister
Thomas Small
William Smith
Thomas Squibb
Alfred Stroud
George Tate
Graham Taylor
Albert Turnham
Jack Ware
William White
Albert Wicks
Leonard Wicks
William Wicks
Harry Wilden
Edwin Williams
Albert Worth
Leslie Worters
Fred Wright
Seldon Williams


At Rest

Walter Bungard
Albert Braithwaite
Harry Clarke
Joseph Eaves
Russell Evans
Ernest Halford
Frank Lewis
Douglas Matthews
James Matthews
Harry Pardoe
Arthur Smith
Maurice Steer
Thomas Tuckwell
Harry Worsley
RIP

..
A Home for Boys has a special claim on the interest of all at this time, when so many are being left orphans as a result of the war, or who are temporarily without a father’s care and discipline, and letters come very frequently containing requests for information as to the admission and maintenance of boys at St Augustine’s….

(more…)

War trophies for the interned

Philip Preuss was a Belgian stockbroker, aged 41, when he was interned at Reading.

P Preuss

The above named prisoner states:

The letter is correct. Lieut. Le Cocq who is in the Belgian Army lent him some war trophies and also Lieut. Le Cocq’s father lent him some.

He gave receipts for these trophies to the Le Cocqs, father and son.

Mr Le Cocq wrote to him some time ago asking about the trophies and Preuss wrote a petition to the Home Office asking to be allowed to return the trophies to their owners.

The Home Office refused to allow this until either the war was over or Preuss was released, and Preuss wrote to Lieut. Le Cocq who was in France giving him the Home Office reply. Preuss is unable to give Mr Billings an order to return the articles to their owners, as all the trophies are together, and consist of many things besides those of the two Le Cocqs – and Mr Billings does not know the articles belonging to the different individuals.

He is anxious to return the articles to their owners but has not any facilities for doing so.

C M Morgan
Gov

22/12/17

Reading Prison [Place of Internment] letter book (P/RP1/8/2/1)

“The prisoner expressed great satisfaction with his treatment here”

Herman von Schraplowsky was a Russian stockbroker, aged 47 when interned in 1915. He had obviously lived here for years and made a home for himself.

17th Decr ‘17
H. Schraplowsky
22.6.15 S of S Order, Alien – Deportation

The above named Alien prisoner was visited on Saturday the 15th inst. by his wife, Mrs Schraplowsky of 66 Station Road, Church End, Finchley N.

The conversation was on family matters. The prisoner expressed great satisfaction with his treatment here.

S [Tanner?]
[To] The Commissioners

Reading Prison [Place of Internment] letter book (P/RP1/8/2/1)

Pork and potato pancakes on Christmas Day – but it will cost extra

Interned foreigners in Reading were to have a special menu on Christmas Day.

The interned aliens have asked for the Christmas Day diet to be as in attached list.

1. Pork – the contractor can supply this at 1/4 per lb against 1/3 per lb for beef. The ingredients for stuffing would be extra – probable total extra cost 8/-.
2. Potato pancakes. Cost about 8/-.
3. They can buy these except ham & sausages (if they can get them), which I have struck on account of food restrictions.
C M Morgan
Gov.

The Governor of Reading P of I
1. The diet should be so arranged that the Christmas Day fare takes the place of the following on the dietary scale: Bread, potatoes, hot meat (mutton), peas or beans and pudding. That is, to avoid their having three puddings in one week. There is no objection to pork for those who desire it, but the extra cost as well as the stuffing they should pay for themselves.
2. The potato pancakes would be an extra. There is no objection to this, but again they should pay the cost themselves.
3. There is no objection to the purchase of the articles mentioned under this paragraph (ham and sausage being omitted). Wine is not allowed.
S J Wall, Secretary 14-12-17

Noted, but the authorised diet is three puddings per week. Is the order allowing men beer or wine each day cancelled? I’ve received no notification and men have it.
C M Morgan, Gov
16-12-17

Three puddings per week must not be exceeded.
Extra wine is not allowed, beyond the daily allowance.
JW 21-12-17

Reading Prison [Place of Internment] letter book (P/RP1/8/2/1)

Awful explosion in ships

The explosion of a French ship carrying munitions in Canada has been called the worst manmade explosion before the invention of nuclear weapons.

8 December 1917

Awful explosion in ships at Halifax, Nova Scotia. Town almost destroyed! Roumania [sic] having truce….

Wrote to prisoners. Mrs Pack & Mr Rich [visited]. His son died of wounds. My Bubs to start for Paris 4 pm via Southampton & Havre.

Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8)

The internees are settling down for the time

Max John Stephan, alias Stephen Friedlander, aged 46, was a mining engineer from Germany. There was some question as to whether he was an internee or should be classified as a PoW, while the other internees seemed to be settling down.

3rd December 1917
Max John Stephan, otherwise Stephen Friedlander
H.10.17 S of S Order, Defence of the Realm Regulation 14B
Internment

Sir,
I have the honour to report that the above named Alien was received into my custody on the 1st inst from Alexandra Palace Internment Camp.
I have the honour to be,
Sir
Your obedient servant
[C M Morgan]
Governor

[To] The Undersecretary of State, Home Office

Noted: Prisoner received on the 1st inst. He is termed in the War Office communications “Prisoner of War”. Is his treatment regarding letters and visits to be the same as the other men? Or are they increased, with free postage?
Governor

3.12.17
He is a 14B prisoner (not a prisoner of war) & should be treated like the rest.
5.12.17

3 December 1917
Reading PI
Please report whether you are still of the opinion that David Stad should be removed from your custody especially as Lehr and all the alien enemies have left.
Secretary

I do not think this is now necessary. All the men are in one class and appear to be settling down for the time. Stadt has said nothing further to me on the subject of removal.
C M Morgan, Gov
5.12.17

Reading Prison [Place of Internment] letter book (P/RP1/8/2/1)

Our hopes of having a peaceful Christmas this year have been dashed to the ground

Reading people were encouraged to place their savings in the hands of the war effort as another Christmas approached.

The Vicar’s Notes

We are still at War, and our hopes of having a peaceful Christmas this year have been dashed to the ground; but this great Festival always brings a message of comfort and hope, never more so than at such a time as this: so I still venture to wish all the people of S. Mary’s Parish a happy Christmas.

The War Savings’ Campaign has begun again. I hope we will all back it up to the utmost of our power. Information can be obtained at the bureau, 6 Broad Street. A big meeting for stirring up interest will also be held at an early date. Meanwhile let those of us who have received the special letter from the Mayor and other leading townsmen, do what we can to follow out its suggestions.

Nothing can ever really repay the incalculable debt we owe to our Seamen especially at this time: so let us do our best to support the Flag Day of the Missions to Seamen, which is to be held on Dec 1st.

Intercessions

For the newly confirmed, who are making their first communion at Christmas.

For all our allies, especially the Italians and Russians.

For all our fighting men and more particularly for the sick, wounded and prisoners.

For the fallen, especially George and Hanbury Kekewich; also for Sir Stanley Maude, the victor of Bagdad [sic].

Thanksgivings

For success granted to our arms in France and in the Holy Land.

Reading St Mary parish magazine, December 1917 (D/P98/28A/15)

We refused peace terms thinking the Germans were “on the run”.

Inserted at the front of Florence Vansittart Neale’s diary are her notes made sometime in December 1917 on war news. The impact of America joining the war was beginning to be felt.

December 1917

Hear 4 generals sent home without return tickets!

Hear Germans offered good peace terms 3 months ago. We refused thinking they were “on the run”.

Our troops hissed going through Rome. Cadorna hated by Army – he the Vatican’s party.

Coldstreams scared 91,000 prisoners being taken.

One HQ taken – generals and colonels still adding.

Hear American troops to be trained in Ireland to shame the Irish.

500,000 Americans already in France.

Hear through W Grimmett last push we took any amount of stores & clothing, made light railway & sent it to base before 2 days.

Hear another push is to begin soon.

Americans getting to France about 5000 a week.

Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8)

The man who made the escape key

The governor of Reading Prison wrote to the Prison Commissioners about one of the foreign internees he considered to be a bad influence. Paul, alias Henry Mayer, was duly transferred to Brixton Prison in December 1917, for transfer to the Isle of Man. He was a German engineer, aged 26 when interned in 1916.

29 Nov 1917

P Meyer [sic]
S of S Order 12.7.06, Aliens Act Deportation

The above prisoner has been one of the leading agitators here as regards the proposed hunger strike.

He was also in touch with the men who escaped – and though I cannot prove it I am convinced in my mind from all the information I have obtained that he was the man who made the key with which the men opened the gates to the exercise court. His conduct is bad and today he has just completed 3 days No. 1 diet and 14 days No. 2 for refusing to obey orders and using filthy and grossly insubordinate language to a warden.

He is treated in the “Friendly Alien Wing” – now abolished, but claims to be a German and his record shows him born in Berlin – in my opinion he is certainly a German. As his influence is for the bad, I should be glad if he could be removed either to a prison or if he is a German to a Camp.

C M Morgan, Governor

He is an old criminal convicted in this country.

Reading Prison [Place of Internment] letter book (P/RP1/8/2/1)

Swollen tins of rotten food

Reading-born internee Albert Cusden (one of four brothers in the Ruhleben camp near Berlin) wrote to one of his younger sisters to report that some of the food sent by the family was not fit for consumption.

Nov. 23rd 1917
Dear Lucy

Latest letter received, Len to Arch dated Oct 8th….

Now and again a tin turns out bad. Such a tin is usually somewhat swollen and so is regarded with suspicion from the start and is opened very gingerly. The remarks that are passed in the neighbourhood of such a tin as the aroma gets around are quite interesting.

We are all four keeping well. Have received thick boots from the Savoy as well as the clothing mentioned so you can rest assured we shall be all right this winter…

With love to all
Your affectionate brother,
Albert

Letter from Albert Cusden in Ruhleben to Miss L Cusden, 57 Castle Street, Reading (D/EX1485/4/4/8)

A simple, innocent looking British soldier

Will Spencer was now seeking Swiss citizenship, but still took an interest when he ran into a British soldier interned there. He and wife Johanna were very short of cash, even though Johanna’s sister was sending them what she could from Germany.

18 November 1917

To the English Church. Sat in the second row, in order to be out of danger of draughts from the door, as I have not yet quite got rid of my cold. Only two persons in the choir – one on each side – a lady on the left & on the rights a simple, innocent looking British soldier who seemed to have a tenor voice – he was at any rate singing the melody….

After Johanna had entertained me to tea in her room (she had already had tea at the Judge’s) she told me that the matter that she had been speaking to the Judge about was the question of our borrowing money until I am a Swiss citizen, in order that Agnes may run no further risk in sending to us. The Judge kindly offered us the help of his name, but Johanna will write to Direktor Loeliger first. She did so this evening.


Diary of Will Spencer in Switzerland (D/EX801/26)