“Of course no English branch of the business can be carried on now War exists”

A suspicious letter from a former business contact in Germany led the authorities to take a look at an internee in Reading. His business used Yorkshire wool to make hair for dolls in toymaking centre Sonnenberg.

Re letter of G Stichl March 18th 1918
Attention should be drawn to this letter from the Mrs D to whom he refers and to say who he is and how he knows her.
J F W 20/3

Papers returned with many thanks. Doms’ connection with Wm Guy & Sons is on record here, but it is not known that the latter firm acquired Stichl’s business or that the branch at Fonneberg had not been interfered with by the Germans; letter posted.

22 March 1918
G Stichl and Mr Doms
20.8.15 S of S Order, Defence of the Realm Regn, Internment

Stichl states:

He had a wool and dolls hair business in Bradford and at Sonneberg (near Coburg). About 1890 he advertised in Yorkshire for a correspondent – received a reply from Mr Doms, who was correspondent in spinning machine maker’s office, Messrs Wild & Co, Leicester. Engaged him and found him useful – a German speaking perfect English and other languages. Was trained by Stichl at Bradford from about 1890-1896 and then became Stichl’s managing clerk at Sonneberg – used to come to Bradford to see Stichl, and Stichl visited him frequently to examine books &c.

Mrs Doms. Cannot remember her maiden name – was a German woman who was his book keeper at Sonneberg. She married the managing clerk Doms. Does not know that she was ever in England. Cannot speak English. Frequently saw her.

About 6 or 8 years ago the business both at home & abroad was disposed of by Stichl to Mr Guy, under the name of Guy & Sons, Doms and Mrs Doms remaining as before, but Mr Doms severed term… [too faint to read].. to see Mr Guy.

States that Mr Guy still has the business and that from letter he has received from Mrs Doms, business is still carried on successfully and has not been interfered with by the Germans – but of course no English branch of the business can be carried on now War exists.

Mr Doms joined the German Army and he now learns from Mrs Doms has been made prisoner by the British Army.

C M Morgan
[to] The Commissioners

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


The great German offensive

The Germans were fighting back in strength.

Florence Vansittart Neale
21 March 1918

The great German offensive begun – along a reach of 50 miles. Fear an awful tussle.

William Hallam
21st March 1918

An air ship went over the works to-day but I didn’t see it.

Diaries of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8)
and of William Hallam (D/EX1415/25)

The fall of Odessa

The short-lived Bolshevik Soviet Republic of Odessa in southern Ukraine had been founded in January 1918. It came to an ignominious end following the conquest by the Germans.

13 March 1918
Odessa entered by Germans.

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

“Camp life makes them familiar”

Thousands of civilians from interned countries were housed at a camp at Holzminden in Germany throughout the war. Ernest Delfosse, a 32 year old motor mechanic from Belgium, 5 foot 6 ½ inches, with brown hair, was among the inmates there, until he escaped to England with the help of his sweetheart. Sadly, this did not mean freedom, as he was arrested on arrival as a suspected spy. He was transferred to Reading from Brixton Prison on 5 February 1917. He was classified as a Friendly Alien but stayed at Reading and was eventually deported in 1919.

HM Place of Internment

6th March 1918


With reference to your letter … dated 5th March 18 on the subject of correspondence between the interned alien E. Delfosse and Mrs E Owen, 54 New Compton St, London EC.

The first letter received from Mrs Owen by Delfosse was dated 22.12.17. This was sent to the Commissioners and I drew special attention to it, giving such information as I was able. It was passed.

Prisoner replied on Jany 5th 1918 – submitted & passed. A second letter was received on 12th January 1918 – submitted and passed. Both these letters are attached to this [though not to the letter book copy]. Please send them back as prisoner does not know they have been forwarded to the Home Office.

Prisoner’s reply to the last letter is the subject of the Home Office letter.

The history of the prisoner’s acquaintance with this woman appears to be:

He was interned at Holzminden, a camp of about 24,000. Men and women were allowed to mix for the purpose of visiting restaurants and cinemas in the grounds. He struck up friendship with this woman – also interned – [he] believes for trafficking in letters – but not sure. The majority of the women were interned for that reason. She stated she was a Russian. (I cross-examined Delfosse, who admitted that she might be a German Pole). He cannot (or will not) remember her name – always called her by her Christian name of Emmy. Camp life makes them familiar. She could speak no English and but little French – he could not speak Russian. Conversation carried on in German, in which both were fluent. Does not know if she was then married – thinks not – her maiden name could be obtained from his note book, black, 9” x 4” (about), taken from him by police at Gravesend 20th Oct 1916 (plain clothes man).

On 7th Oct: 1916 Delfosse escaped from Holzminden, “Emmy” keeping the sentry in conversation while Delfosse got away.

Heard nothing more of her until the letter dated 22.12.17. Does not know how she escaped.

Learns she is married to a Canadian officer. Does not know him. She wants to come & see him. Would like to see her.

I think that is all the information I have obtained.

I am Sir
Your obedient servant

C M Morgan

The Under Secretary of State
Home Office

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

Hope the Japanese stop the Germans

Florence Vansittart Neale hoped the Japanese might take over from the Russians to hold back Germany on the eastern front.

1 March 1918

Hope Japs stop Germans at Vladivostok.

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

None the worse for two years as a prisoner of war

We get a glimpse into wartime in a peaceful art of British-occupied Africa (now part of Tanzania). The Ruvuma River forms the bundary between Tanzania and Mozambique, which was in 1918 still a Portugese colony.

1-3-18. Massassie.
29th M.A Convoy
British East Africa

Dear Sir,

It is not some time since I wrote to you last, but trust you received my letter in answer to your most welcome letter of 6-8-17. Since writing to you last I have travelled the greater part of this country, the South of Central Railway, I have been over the Ruvoma river into Portuguese territory, but am now back in East Africa.

During the last few months I have had rather a busy time, and have also had my share of illness. I am picking up quickly again now, and feel as full of life as ever. The weather is still very hot. We have had very little rain this season so far: this time last year we were having very heavy rains and were stranded in the swamp for quite a month at a time.

I expect to be going on leave to South Africa some time this month; there are only 5 of us left out of 22 who left England 2 years ago, so I think we shall stand a chance of leave this rainy season.

There is very little game in this part of she country but about 50 miles from here, near the Border almost everything can be seen.

Football is the great game at present as the evenings are very cool now. Our Unit has started a Weekly Paper which is a great success throughout the camp, it is called the “Masassi Times”. If possible I will send you a copy which I am sure you will find very interesting, in fact we can boast the wit of two famous brother Comedians. We are having a very busy time just at present, for the sick average is very high again now, 3-3-18.

It is now Sunday afternoon, tonight we have another service which will be taken by the Rev. Archdeacon Hallet in a Banda at our park. I have had several talks with him, he tells me he has preached at Sunningdale and Ascot and remembered our church when I showed him a photo which I received from home a few months ago. He has been a prisoner in the country for 2 years, but he seems none the worse for his experience, for he is now back at the same Mission as before the war, which is only 4 miles from our camp. The Mission has been used for a hospital by both the Germans and ourselves, but is now given over for its work to be carried on.

It is a lovely building built of stone and brick by the natives, it is built on a hill only a few yards from a great rock several hundred feet high. Looking from a distance the rock appears to overhang the Mission. We have one of these great rocks on all four sides of us, with just a road running between, which is called Bhna. Some of the greatest fights of the campaign took place here, which makes it very historical.

We had a Native Regimental Band here for 2 nights last week, which we all enjoyed being the first we had seen or heard since landing in the country. The natives are very busy with their crops now, most of the land being very fertile, we are able to grow almost anything in the garden we’ve made, but our great trouble is to get the seed. Shops of any description are unheard of in this country so you can imagine our solitude. I think it will appear very strange but pleasant to us all when we get down to South Africa on leave.

I am so pleased to hear that Mrs. Cornish and Miss Mirriam are enjoying good health, please convey my best wishes to everyone at the vicarage. I will now conclude, thanking you for your kindness and trusting you are in the best of health,

Yours sincerely,

W. R. Lewis.

Sunningdale parish magazine, July 1918 (D/P150B/28A/10)

A socialist translator is banned from visiting internees

Florence Baldwin seems to have been a figure in the Socialist movement who had translated into English a number of tracts by German Socialists in the years before the war. The authorities did not want her making contact with German internees, and were alarmed when she visited internee and former escapee Ferdinand Kehrhahn in Brixton Prison in January 1918. Kehrhahn had briefly been at Reading. She later became a Communist, and translated the party’s authorised version of Das Kapital.

[To] The Governor
Reading P of I

Please note that Miss Florence Baldwin of 44, Marylands Road, London, W, will not be allowed to visit any persons interned in your Establishment.

A J Wall

C M Morgan

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

A German recruit

Johanna Spencer’s German nephew had been called up, and would be fighting on the opposite side to her husband’s British brothers. He would be training at Kulmsee (now Chelmza), which was in Pomerania, a detached part of Prussia which was to be incorporated into Poland after the war.

11 February 1918

J. read to me letter from Agnes. Kurt has been examined. Will probably receive his officer’s training in the neighbourhood of Kulmsee.

Diary of Will Spencer in Switzerland (D/EX801/28)

“One of the most hopeless specimens of mankind I have ever come across” offers an answer to U-boats

Gustav Stichl, alias Steel, was a German wool merchant from Hamburg, aged 48 on internment in 1916. He was clearly very disaffected, and the Governor of Reading Prison, or Place of Internment, was annoyed by his complaints of ill treatment. Another internee, Belgian Charles Slingeneyer or Slingermeyer, was an engineer from Bruges, aged 36 when interned in 1916. He was classified as ‘alien, not enemy’, and was trying to support the war effort with his ingenious invention, but remained at Reading Prison until 1919.

9th February 1918
G Stichl

As regards this prisoner’s petition, I have no knowledge of his treatment before he came to Reading – but during the time he has been here every consideration has been shown to him not only by the officers but by the other prisoners.

He is a dirty, untidy and idle man. To my knowledge prisoners have cleaned up his cell for him on many occasions to avoid him being reported – and also because the smell was most offensive.
He has been offered every kind of work time after time, but refused all. The trade instructor by my orders has tried him 4 or 5 times at bags – he only spoils canvas. He refused cleaner’s work, and the only work he has attempted is unravelling some socks & balling the wool which he started a few days ago & which I gave him out of charity – but he won’t work full time even at that & earn the money he could, as after the Prisoners of War were removed to isle of Man, all men were located in one hall – this man considered it a grievance that he had to remove his furniture etc to his new cell & to assist other men in cleaning up the wing. The only one who [grumbled?].

As regards his teeth, his wife offered to pay half the regular charges if prisoner would work & earn the other half – he refused & did nothing. He is one of the most hopeless specimens of mankind I have ever come across and most of his troubles are of his own making. He has never been punished while here – simply because he is so hopeless & helpless – except by having his petitions stopped for a time by order of the Home Office.

C M Morgan

February 9th 1918

I beg of you to consider the following rough description of a device for dealing with U-boats.

Allow me to explain first on what grounds I based this device.
A Submarine is a very difficult thing to deal with, because:
1st It is always difficult to ascertain the presence of submarines without using detectors. (Without knowing how far the detectors in use are able to discover submarines I humbly remark here that if I had been able to work out my detector referred to in my letter to you on 4th of December 1916, I am almost certain that I would have had the means of not only detecting them but of “spotting” them also. Anyhow a detector, so constructed that by taking for instance the [main?] length for calculating the distance and the strength of sound for giving the direction, would enable vessels to keep out of the way in most cases.)

2nd A submarine is almost or wholly invisible to the vessel she intends to attack.

3rd Minefields are no barrier to submarines.

4th If a submarine is provided with a detector her commander must not fear to come to the surface and is guarded against unexpected attacks.

5th When destroyers or submarine chasers approach a submarine can dive and evade also her enemy.

Those five points are already enough to convince me that the best and surest way for dealing with submarines would be under the water, because it is the only way in which she cannot escape destruction, being caught unawares.

My device therefore would consist of a floating peculiar shaped nutlike structure, which lower part would reach the depth at which a submarine can safely remain under water, so as to prevent her from going under it or passing over it.

Floating body to be made out of mat[erial?] as invisible as possible from the surface.

Special mines to be attached to the aforesaid structure in such a way that, in the case of a submarine striking the structure they would without fail destroy her.

If this device were tried one would have the means of laying minefields against submarines as well as one has minefields against other vessels and the now dangerous zones could be well protected without loss of life or danger and operations by submarines as for instance at present in the Irish Channel could be made impossible.
If laid near a submarine base I am convinced that very few of them, if any at all, would pass through.

Nothing whatever will happen to any surface vessel on striking this structure.

Willing to answer any questions and to give all further necessary information on this subject if required, I remain, Sir,

Your humble servant
Charles Slingeneyer

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

Prisoners of war are unable to earn any money

Today we get a glimpse into the intellectual life of German PoWs, as well as the friendships which developed in internment. John Link und Klinkenburg was a German engineer, aged 37 on internment in Reading in 1916. He was sent to Islington Prison in 1919. Kuhr may be the man interned as William Klare – he was a 46 year old German-born dentist, at Reading during 1917 and then sent to the Isle of Man in November 1917.

6th February 1918
J Link and Kinkenburg
20.10.15 S of S Order, Defence of the Realm Regulation: Internment

A prisoner named Kuhr, who was recently transferred from here to Prisoner of War Camp, Isle of Man, had a son also interned in Isle of Man.

Kuhr used to send his son from £1 to £2 each month to enable him to subscribe to classes arranged by prisoners of war for the study of mechanics, electricity, etc, during internment. Link informs me that the prisoners of war are unable to earn any money – his informant being Stephan, transferred here from Isle of Man. Link asks to be allowed to send the son Kuhr £2, as though they are unacquainted, Link and the father Kuhr were great friends during the time the later was here.

The Commissioners allowed Link to send the son a large parcel of scientific books some time ago.

[To] Commissioners.

No objection is sent to the Commandant for the youth Kuhr.

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

A right little, tight little house with sandbag entrance steps and a strong sense of security

Percy Spencer told his sister Florence al about the cosy way he and a comrade had improved his current trench.


Dear WF

Well, how are domestic affairs going?

We’re getting on quite well. Little by little we’re improving our “home”. Having been well strafed the other day, the map expert and I set to work to build a wall of sandbags at our end of the dugout. It’s now a right little, tight little house with sandbag entrance steps and a strong sense of security. Also we’ve got wooden gratings laid in the trenches, so we’re not so much in the mud as we were, and our home is greatly improved. You’d be surprised how each day “we” (that’s my brainy map expert assistant) make little improvements in ways and means. Now we each have a board bed off the ground, & a canvas bucket wash has taken the place of a teacup wash – by the way what would they say at home if I arose, cleaned my teeth, shaved, washed and breakfasted all from the same tin mug you sent me? But as I say, we’re gradually changing all that for the better. We took over a dirty untidy dugout open to the wind and the weather: we shall hand over a tidy, weather proof and shell proof residence, and I’m glad we shan’t hand it over to the people who left us such a miserable legacy. The best souvenir we found when digging to level the earth was a German officer’s revolver loaded in two chambers, one bullet having been bored at the top to make it a dum-dum. I wish I could have kept it and sent it you.

I’ve just been arranging a mouse trap on the tip cat system. We’ve made a beauty and the map expert with a bloodthirsty glint in his eye is toasting some cheese in the candle.

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/7/93)

A boastful Bosch killer

Percy Spencer told sister Florence about his current situation.

21st Battalion London Regiment
G Lines
Chiseldon Camp
Nr Swindon

Jan 20, 1918

My dear WF

Did I tell you I’m now in quarters – that is a narrow room with curtained window, carpeted floor and a stove. Well, I am, anyway, and feeling more dignified and comfortable, you’ll be glad to hear.
A large draft of our fellows have gone on embarkation leave today, and I just missed it by a few hours’ seniority so I expect to be here a little longer anyway. But I may not get quite such a nice long leave as they are having.

Yesterday I met two Australians (officers) who knew my No. 6 [in his rowing crew] very well and spoke very highly of him as a Bosch killer. He was a very boastful fellow, but sound enough and never bragged about his battle exploits, but apparently he has many scalps to his credit. So I think John ought to forgive his inclusion in my eight altho’ he was an Australian.

Did I tell you I fired a revolver course during the awful weather last week? Anyway I [censored] passed out a first class shot.

My application for leave has been turned down for the moment on grounds which have not applied to others. However, I’m old enough to be philosophical and shan’t worry if I can’t get my way.

I have asked Thrussell to send my boots here, thanks dear. Thanks too for … the wool and for the ammunition boots.

With my dear love to you both

Yours ever

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/7/7-8)

“Oceans of blood and billions of money squandered – and for nothing”

John Maxwell Image was outraged by the latest American peace proposals, as well as strikers in vital munitions factories. He would of course be proved right that a second war would follow 20 years later, though not about the cause.

29 Barton Road
15 January ‘18
My very dear old man

Do you see soldiers and men-of-war’s men in any numbers? I frequently wonder how appalling the dullness here will seem when the longed-for Peace removes our military element…

And about those gunshies [sic] in munition-works who have the daring rascality to threaten “down tools” and hang the war, should an attempt be made to comb them out. Surely the Defence of the Realm Act empowers the placing them under military law? Or will this, like evry other step of government, be taken just too late?

I was shocked by Wilson’s language. It used to be “no terms with the Hohenzollerns”. That we all understood and felt it to brace us up. But today an absolute disclaimer of any wish to interfere with the internal arrangements of Germany and its vassals. The military autocracy to be left in full possession (for how can it be deposed while it has the Army?) – and 20 years hence a fresh war upon a purblind and probably divided Europe. Oceans of blood and billions of money squandered – and for nothing…

Ever yours

Letter from John Maxwell Image, Cambridge don, to W F Smith (D/EX801/2)

A dead German’s Iron Cross

A soldier brought a poignant souvenir home – the medal won by a now-fallen adversary.

7th January 1918
I saw 2 curiosities to-day. Young Cox from Stanford in the Vale shewed me a 5£ piece and I was also shewn an Iron Cross a Swindon fellow had brought home from France which he took off a dead German.

Diary of William Hallam (D/EX1415/25)

“The only jarring feature was the never-ending noise of the guns”

Reading men at the front report on their Christmas experiences. Harrison’s Pomade was a treatment for lice, an unpleasant reality for men in the trenches. It was produced by a Reading chemist.


The following extracts from letters from our men on service have been “in type” for several months, but they have had to be “held over” for lack of space. We now have pleasure in publishing them:

The fact there are friends at home who have not forgotten us out here is a very great consolation, and one’s odd moments are often filled with thoughts of those at home. Maybe this is one of the reasons why the time seems to go so quickly. We had a very good time on Xmas day considering the wildness and loneliness (except for troops) of the spot we are in…

The only jarring feature was the never-ending noise of the guns, but somehow even among that there seemed to be a feeling of peace. Certainly there was, and is, a great desire for it. Please convey to all friends my heartiest thanks, not only for the very useful gifts but for the spirit which prompted them.

L. H. N. (OS)

Thank you so very much for the parcel and message. I was so glad to be remembered by Broad St. The church and friends it embraces will always be one of my happiest memories; and memories mean so much when we are far away. It will be my first duty – and a very pleasant one – to look you all up when I come back. Until then letters will have to suffice, I’m afraid, for all we think and feel.
L. J. P. (OS)

I wish to thank you and Broad St Chapel for the parcel which only reached me yesterday. Fortunately the things were all securely packed and none the worse for the trying journey they must have had. Thank you very much…

Although one is of necessity away from home, one’s thoughts naturally are at home, especially at this time of year, and a parcel from the church where one really learnt the elementary lessons of life is always a pleasure to receive.

L. H. F. (OS)

It gave me very great pleasure when I received the parcel yesterday from my friends at Broad St Church, also your welcome letter and circular enclosed, so full of encouraging and cheering wishes. I assure you the contents of the parcel were very welcome both for physical and spiritual needs, and I hardly know how or what to say in thanks…

Often I sit and think of the times I have spent with the choir at Broad St and long to be back again. I shall be with them in spirit when “Merrie England” is being performed and they won’t miss me half as much as I shall miss the pleasure of being there.

W. H. D. (OS)

It was a big pleasant surprise to receive yesterday the splendid parcel from dear old Broad St. Please accept my sincerest thanks. Candles especially are very welcome, and Harrison’s Pomade is a gift which only those actually here can appreciate fully. I believe this is the third Xmas on which I have received this concrete evidence of your continued interest. I’m sure you’ll agree with me when I say I sincerely trust that there won’t be a fourth – under such circumstances as these at all events….

My thoughts are often in Reading, and Broad St always fills a warm corner of my heart.

W. F. H. (OS)

I am writing to thank you for your kind Xmas wishes, and most useful parcel…

I spent a happy Xmas, and even enjoyed the luxury of turkey and pudding – quite a contrast to the previous year, when I spent the festive season between the trenches and sundry “Bairnsfather” barns with “bully” stew as a constant dinner companion. I received your parcel that year during a period in which we were occupying an old brewery cellar. Te building on top had long been demolished by shell fire, but the tall chimney persisted in standing, in spite of decapitation. Naturally with Herr Bosche busily amusing himself with his battered target we were glad to get downstairs. Nor do I remember that any teetotaller had any complaint to make on that occasion upon breweries in general, or brewery cellars in particular.

N. H. (OS)

Reading Broad Street Congregational Magazine, September 1918 (D/N11/12/1/14)