Released from internment

Children of interned aliens were generally cared for in the workhouses if their mothers were not alive. Once the war was over, they hoped to return home.

26th August, 1919

A letter was read from Mr John Geiger, of 15, Brighton Road, Reading, of the 17th instant, stating he had been released from Internment, and should be thankful to know what steps to take on behalf of his three sons now under the care of the Guardians.

The Chairman stated that the man was written to, to attend before the House Committee at 10.30 that morning, but he had only just arrived, and he suggested that the man should come before the Board.

Geiger appeared before the Board and explained his position as regarded the providing of a home so that he might take his three sons out, and asked that they might be allowed to remain in the Institution until he could provide a home.

After some discussion, on the suggestion of the Chairman, it was resolved that the Children should remain in the Institution for three weeks and that Geiger should pay 10/- weekly in respect of each child, and at the end of that period it was hoped the man would be able to remove the children.

Wokingham Board of Guardians minutes (G/WO1/26)

All aliens to be interned or sent back

There was increasing pressure to intern or deport foreigners.

11 July 1918
Long debate on aliens – want all interned. Propose interning males from 18 upwards & sending back women! Lloyd George spoke well.

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

Internees “often express the wish to be able to fall asleep and not to be awakened until it is time to be released”

The Cusden brothers, interned in Germany, were grateful to family and friends back home in Reading for sending them food parcels.

Dec 1st 1916
Dear Lucy

Since last wrote are very much obliged for parcels up to C. With exception of jam everything has been coming in perfect condition and all has been much appreciated.

Unfortunately the jam tins have often leaked, usually at lid. The parcels take two or three weeks on the way so unless lids are quite tight liquids find their way into rest of parcel. Carr’s biscuit tins were I think the worst. They were this shape [small sketch of oblong] and lids did not fit at all. Usually the juice escaped leaving the solid. Some of the other tins were allright. I know you have a lot of bother in packing anything like this, but it is better to let you know exactly how the things come.

Was pleased to note that the batch of drawings arrived safely. Apparently you did not recognise the self-portrait which was sent, as you don’t mention it, but it was a very good portrait of me. I don’t know if I have changed much since you last saw me.

On other side is [a sketch of] a rough idea of an early morning scene. Waking the sleepy ones up for the morning line-up in order to be counted. Some persons always find it so difficult to get up, they don’t see the use of it! Persons often express the wish to be able to fall asleep and not to be awakened until it is time to be released, however near or distant that may be. Perhaps it won’t be so long after all.

Father asks if I would like a little drawing paper sent. I should not mind a little, I can obtain some here, but it is rather dear. A little middling stuff and some cheaper sort just for rough practice. Many thanks for same. Swiss bread still coming. I presume that under new system you will not need to send at all. As a matter of fact supplies of bread have been coming into the camp for several weeks past, so in any case you need not send any more to us now….

Vic’s leg is practically quite well, and we are still keeping reasonably well.

With love to all
Your affectionate brother

Letter from Albert Cusden in Ruhleben to his sister Lucy Cusden, 57 Castle Street, Reading (D/EX1485/4/4/4)

Learning French in internment

The four Cusden brothers from Reading who had been teaching in Germany before the war were among those British and other foreigners who were interned in the Ruhleben camp near Berlin. There was an active education and activity programme run by the internees, and which they took very seriously. Victor Cusden taught French, and the other men may have attended classes. The camp ‘school’ issued a detailed prospectus for the autumn term, 1916.

Ruhleben Camp School
Prospectus of work for autumn term 1916

In issuing this special prospectus the Committee of the Ruhleben Camp School wishes to draw the attention of students to the following points:

1. The School Premises are now simply but adequately equipped.
2. The Laboratory arrangements enable satisfactory practical work to be done.
3. A good Library dealing with a wide variety of Subjects is already in Camp and further volumes can be procured easily from England.
4. Public Examinations are being arranged for: those of the Royal Society of Arts have already been held.
5. The Board of Education has arranged a Scheme for Recording Study which may be used 1. as a testimonial 2. in connection with certain Examinations.
6. In most subjects the tuition provided by the School ranges from that required by absolute beginners to that required by Advanced University Students.

The Autumn Term begins on September 11th: the enrolment of all students, old and new, in all Departments, takes place in the Loft of Barrack 6 on Monday and Tuesday the 4th and 5th of September, 9 to 11 am and 2 to 4 pm.

Last term: 2 lecture classes, 43 classes, 39 teachers, 284 individual pupils
Special Classes for absolute beginners (grammar and pronunciation). Special class for coloured men.
Elementary, Intermediate and Advanced Grammar Classes, based on Otto-Onion’s, Hugo’s, Berlitz’ I and II, Siepmann’s 1, 2 et 3, Gouin’s I and II, Larive and Fleury 2me et 3me Annee, Dent’s and Wright’s Methods and Grammars.
Conversation, Pronunciation and Reading Classes for Intermediate and Advanced Students are based on the following text books: le Petit Parisien (Kron), Gouin 2nd Book, Tartarin de Tarascon, Tartarin sur les Alpes ( A Daudet), Tour du Monde (J Verne), Emeraude hdes Incas (Charles Normand), Luois XI (Casimir Delavigne).
Style, Composition, Synonyms: for advanced students.
Special Class for “Orthographe”, by P Elies.
Preparation Classes for London University Matriculation and London Chamber of Commerce Examinations.
Lectures on Idioms, Gallicismes and general subjects; literary and otherwise.
Reading and explanation of Labiche’s plays, and other modern plays, to familiarise students with colloquial French, by P Elies and H A Bell.
Course of lectures on Victor Hugo (his life and works) by M Bordelain.
Series of lectures (in French and English) on “le Pays de France” dealing with different aspects of French life (Literature, Art, Music, Commerce, History, Geography, etc).
Commercial French classes: correspondence, expressions, etc, based on Gouin’s and Pitman’s methods.

In order to classify students adequately and place them in an appropriate class, a general entrance examination for all those intending to join or to continue classes in the French Department will be held on September 1st and 2nd at 9.30 am in the YMCA Hall.
This examination is compulsory for all students whether already in the school or not, only absolute beginners are exempted. A general “end of term” examination will also take place in December to test the progress made by students during the term.

Teachers… [include] V Cusden


A present to the interned Germans

The Spencers found out more about the interned Germans in Switzerland. They had also been in contact with Johanna’s brother in the USA.

26 August 1916

J[ohanna] read that the recent steamer-trip of the soldiers (of Aug. 23) & two others, one of which yesterday – we saw the steamer in Lucerne – were a present to the interned German soldiers from Freiherr v. Brunig (of the Hochst Farbwerke) – 600 were taken each trip. Johanna this afternoon forwarded Robert’s letter to Bonn (as he desired). It contained the news that Erich had gone to Texas with the Militia.

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

Surprised by a tramp of soldiers

Foreign soldiers from both sides were interned in neutral Switzerland, mainly prisoners of war transferred to receive medical treatment. British expat Will Spencer and his German wife Johanna, holidaying on Lake Lucerne, were interested to see them.

23 August 1916

Shortly after dinner we were surprised by a tramp of soldiers, & saw soldiers & civilians interned from Alpnachstad & “our” interned soldiers assemble by the waterside in hotel garden, & afterwards embark on a large steamer (with music & many other soldiers on board) which came from Lucerne. I fetched the camera just in time for J[ohanna] to take a couple of snapshots of the steamer as it moved away.

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

Please don’t send too much from home

Interned in Germany, Albert Cusden wrote to one of his brothers in Reading. He and the brothers he was with in Ruhleben (Arch, Vic and Dick) were grateful for the support they were getting from friends and family.

Aug 22nd 1916
Dear Len

Since my letter to Father & Mother last week, many thanks for parcels Y, Z, A & B. Note from last letter received that Mrs Shrimpton will in future send Swiss Bread to Dick and you will therefore send to me instead. If Mrs S. does send, please don’t send any to me or we shall have more than we need. The one lot to Arch will be quite sufficient. As already stated, Vic receives Swiss bread each week.

Please don’t send too much. Last four parcels have contained toast, but this does not always keep now, so please do not send any more. Our needs in the bread line are quite met by Swiss as above. All the same thank you very much for trouble. As regards parcels generally, we now receive regularly from a number of friends, so would prefer you to act upon my previous suggestion not to send so much from home. We are receiving quite sufficient now, so please don’t think we should be short at all. Even if we received nothing from you we should manage quite alright. And we are sure it would make a little difference at home.

We are very grateful for what all of you at home have done. We have a fair amount of tea in hand and shall not need any more for quite a good time. Please also do not send any fresh winter clothing, or blankets, etc, as we have plenty left over from last year and shall not require any more whether we have to stop here right though another winter or not. The dripping just received was very nice, but from the jars they were in it looked as though you got these specially for same. A cardboard box would have done, or probably waterproof paper. Among those who send to us are Reading Teachers’ Association to Arch, & Vic’s old school…

I stick to the drawing here as much as I can, but you will readily understand the circumstances are not the best, and there are so many interruptions during the day that the time left at one’s disposal is not so great. Last week sent off to Mother 14 sketches (12 pencil, 1 charcoal & 1 ink). Please keep for me. Charcoal sketch is of wood seen through the wires….

Your affectionate brother


Letter from Albert Cusden in Ruhleben to L W Cusden, 57 Castle Street, Reading (D/EX1485/4/4/3)

“It is a long time since bread from England has arrived without being mouldy”

Albert Cusden, one of four Reading brothers interned in Germany, and a talented amateur artist, wrote to his parents. They were dependent on food supplies sent from home, as their captors had little to go around due to blockades of trade. Some of Albert’s Ruhleben drawings are in the BRO archives.

Aug. 14th 1916
My dear parents

Since my letter to Lucy, very many thanks for parcels from S to X. Everything arrived in good condition with exception of bread. As I mentioned before, it is a long time since bread from England has arrived without being mouldy. Everyone makes same complaint, so it must be weather. The Swiss bread has been coming regularly to Arch & Dick in good condition and is sufficient for us. I presume that before receiving this you will have stopped sending any more from England as advised. Could someone drop a card to Mrs Miller and inform the Sawyers not to send any more bread either. Arch wrote to Mrs Miller a week or two back asking her not to send any more with cheese as she had been doing, but now it is better than none at all. The Sawyers’ toasted loaf had been coming all right, but last twice has been bad, so would be better not to risk any more. As an example, on Saturday four parcels came for us, being from home, Mrs Miller, Mrs West & Aunt Eliza. Each contained bread, I think seven loaves in all, which had to be thrown away being mouldy right through. So it would be a pity to risk any more, and as said before the Swiss is enough. Could you perhaps also drop card to Mrs West thanking her for parcel, as I cannot write her this week, and it would stop her from sending any more a little earlier. The biscuits she sent with bread were all right. The home made jam was extremely nice. Congratulations to Edie from us all. Hope she and the baby are both getting on perfectly. I must say you kept it very secret, no-one having a word of the coming event….

Dick received parcel from Poole through Mrs Ward of Donnington Gardens and acknowledged it to Mrs Ward as he had not Poole address and suggested she might send letter on. Since your letter came to me, he has written Mrs Ward, so I suppose it is now all right.

Probably this week will send off some sketches, mostly head studies. Should like you to put them by for me until I return, whenever that will be. I have been doing a deal of portrait sketching of late, and in most cases the fellows have sent the sketches home. I get the practice, the sitter the sketch, and I have no trouble in finding sitters. In one or two cases have later on commissions. We are keeping well, and you are all the same?

With love to all,

Your affectionate son,


Letter from Albert Cusden in Ruhleben to Mrs J Cusden, 57 Castle Street, Reading (D/EX1485/4/4/2)

Impossible to carry on council business due to “minute quantities of petrol allowed”

Berkshire County Council received a petition from the British Empire Union, a racist and anti-semitic pressure group formerly known more honestly as the Anti-German Union.


A circular from the British Empire Union, asking that meetings should be organised with a view to the internment of all enemy aliens, was read, and ordered to be laid on the table [i.e. ignored].


Mr Preston called attention to the impossibility of carrying on certain important parts of the County business in consequence of the minute quantities of petrol allowed to the respective officers; and the Clerk was directed to communicate with the authorities responsible and to apply for an increase.

Berkshire County Council minutes, 29 July 1916 (C/CL/C1/1/19)

Prisoner or internee?

An internee in Reading Prison was determined that his place of detention should be obvious to his friends and relatives. It is understandable that he would be annoyed by his situation, because he was not even from an enemy nation – 32 year old Maurice Dupriez was a Belgian soldier (perhaps a deserter?).

1st July 1916

Maurice Dupriez, an Alien Prisoner, complained that the word Prison had been erased from the top of his letter paper; he was informed by the Committee that it was an Order made by the Prison Commissioners.

Reading Prison Visiting Committee minutes (P/RP1/6/1)

Bread and butter in Ruhleben

Victor Cusden, one of four Reading-born brothers held in the civilian internment camp Ruhleben, near Berlin wrote to his little sister Iris in Reading. is main concern was the supply of bread, as much of their food had to be sent by their families via the Red Cross.

11 February 1916
Dear Iris

It is a very long time since I wrote you last but I know you won’t scold me too much for not having written more often. You must however not think I have been ill. This winter I have not even been troubled with colds – as yet at any rate. Arch & I have also to write every now and again to our friends in Giessen and in Holland who have from time to time helped us in various small ways. You must not be surprised then that it is Albert who usually writes our letters home, since it would look strange were he to answer these others for us.

We all thank you for the letters received from the various ones at different dates, & thank all concerned for the parcels we have had sent us.

The last kind of bread sent keeps very well and is very good. The toast too keeps admirably. I relish it even when we have nothing to put on it. The butter and margarine arrives also in good condition. There is no need to state whether it is appreciated or not as neither butter nor margarine can be obtained at the canteen.

We do not require any more composition powder as we have now two tins of it. Albert asks me to thank you Len very much for sending him the drawing materials. He has done some quite nice drawings, besides the caricatures that is always at. I’m afraid I do practically nil in this line at present as study is more pressing.

When sending again will you please enclose three or four copying-ink pencils of the durable variety such as the Koh-i-Noor. They need not of necessity be this make however…

I have occasionally written to the Headmaster & one of the other masters, and have received nice letters in return. Numbers of my old school-fellows have either been killed or wounded. Of Sammy Hall I have heard nothing since the war began and for over 6 months nothing of Mr Naulty. Many fellows who were little “squirts” when I was at school have been doing conspicuous things at the front. It does seem strange…

Love to all & much for yourself,

Letter from Victor Cusden to his sister Iris (D/EX1485/4/5/1)

Hard bread, but making Christmas as cheerful as possible in internment

The four Cusden brothers, originally from Reading, had been teaching languages in Germany before the war. Together with thousands of other expatriate Britons, they were interned in a camp at Ruhleben, near Berlin. They were allowed to keep in contact with family back home, and in fact food parcels were an essential supplement to the meagre supplies doled out by the Germans. Here Albert Cusden writes to another brother, Len.

Jan 5th 1916
Dear Len

Since my letter to Mother many thanks for parcels N & O & one from Edie to Arch, leaf from Sawyer’s received Dec. 28th, parcel from Aunt Mary to Dick received Dec. 31st. If anyone sees Aunt Mary, please thank her very much. We do not much care for the bread batons, they are very hard when received. Would much prefer the toasted bread.

Christmas went off here much better than the previous one, and we are very thankful to all who helped to make it so. I don’t think anyone here was left out in the cold, arrangements being made by those who received plenty of parcels that others not so fortunate should have a share. On Christmas Day we were allowed to go to bed at 9.45 instead of 8.45. We also had our Xmas “parties”. Had Harris up on one day, and Arch’s chum Pinder on another. So you see, we made Christmas as cheerful as we could, and although we cannot ourselves thank all those who helped, we know you will do so for us.

Father asks whether we can manage with parcels we receive from various quarters. We are quite all right in this respect at present. I daresay the parcels we receive from other quarters will continue. The parcel Father mentions as being sent from your office we will distribute as desired. Thanks for information re ABC School of Drawing. Am very pleased to hear how you are getting on with your drawing, and am, looking forward to seeing some of your work. In letter to Vic you mention picture of Ruhleben in the Daily Mirror and think you recognise Vic there. Have seen the picture, but none of us are there, unless we are somewhere in crowd behind.

Father mentions Miss Pietz in letter. She has been a brick all along. Had not been here three days when she wrote Dick [she] was sending him a parcel, and has sent periodically since and always requests Dick to write stating his desires. In a recent letter (have not same before me) believe Father says Miss Shrimpton had said some parcels had been sent Dick which he had not acknowledged. The Aldershot News, through agency of Shrimpton, sent parcels to Dick for a time, each one was acknowledged to the firm, and Shrimptons written to several times. Dick wrote them again after the above, so daresay the matter is now right. Vic says will you tell Sawyers Reni is suffering from peritonitis, but she is getting better. They asked how she was. As we received more mittens and socks than needed ourselves, found others who needed them.

Love to all.

Letter from Albert Cusden in Ruhleben to L W Cusden, 57 Castle Street, Reading (D/EX1485/4/4/1)

Alien prisoners to come to Reading

Reading Prison took on a new war-related role at the end of 1915 when it became an internment centre for enemy aliens.

6th November 1915
A letter was received from the Prison Commissioners asking the Visiting Committee to concur with them in their suggestion for the temporary removal of all the present classes of prisoners now in the prison, to other prisons, to be replaced by Alien prisoners of War. The committee concurred and the Commissioners were notified by them.

[The move duly took place on 1 December.]

Reading Prison Visiting Committee minutes (P/RP1/6/1)

“Pray very earnestly for our people, both white people and black in this part of Africa at this difficult time”

The war was being fought in the British and German colonies in Africa as well as in Europe. The Anglicans of Bracknell had a special interest thanks to their longstanding commitment to Christian missions. German East Africa encompassed present-day Rwanda, Burundi and part of Tanzania


The annual contributions from the Bracknell Sunday School, £8, has been sent to the Treasurer of the Universities’ Mission to Central Africa, and the following letter of thanks has been received.-

9, Dartmouth Street,
August 6th, 1915


Thank you very much indeed for the contribution received from Bracknell Sunday School to-day. Please will you thank very warmly for me all those who have helped to collect this sum? We are most grateful to all.

You will be glad to hear that we have heard from our Missionaries in German East Africa. They are all well, although all have been interned. The ladies with two Priests are at Mwapwa, and the rest of the men are at two other separate camps.

We can, however, hear nothing at all of the Africans. We hope of course that the teachers have been allowed to continue their work, but we cannot in the least tell.

We should be very grateful if you will ask all friends of the Mission to pray very earnestly for our people, both white people and black in this part of Africa, that they may be specially strengthened during this difficult time.

With grateful thanks, yours sincerely,


Bracknell section of Winkfield District Magazine, September 1915 (D/P151/28A/7/9)

Aliens to be interned or deported

Public feelings were growing against Germans, even those who had lived in Great Britain for years. In practice, most women were exempted. Many of them were British women who had lost their citizenship by marrying a foreigner, and had never left these shores. We know that the German-born ladies at Stoney Ware were keenly anti-German.

14 May 1915
Heard Phyllis coming back next week. American note to Germany – pretty strong…

Aliens to be interned – women & children deported!.

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