An attack of seagulls

Some of the difficulties arising at Reading Prison during its time as a Place of Internment for foreigners thought to be a threat to the country were outlined by the governor.

3 April 1918
Place of Internment
Reading

Gentlemen

I have the honour to submit my annual report on this Place of Internment.

The conduct of the officers has been good and they have willingly, and without a grumble, come in for extra duty each evening from 5.10 pm to 8 pm to supervise the Aliens who are in association, either in the Halls or garden up to 8 pm. Two officers have volunteered each evening, and been paid back the time owing when convenient.

The conduct of the Interned Aliens has been fair. Last autumn they gave trouble owing to

(a) Long internment with no definite time of release.
(b) The many nationalities, some fourteen in number, with corresponding temperaments, which led to quarrels.
(c) The social grades ranging from ex-officers to the convicts and petty thieves.
(d) The feeling that in many cases they were entitled to be treated as prisoners of war with corresponding privileges, and their knowledge of the few officers available to maintain order in the evenings.

In November a military guard was provided for about six weeks. This enabled active measures to be taken against the ringleaders and the tone of the place at once improved.

Towards the end of November about 40 aliens were re-classified as prisoners of war and removed to the Isle of Man Prisoner of War Camp.

The dietaries have been good and varied and the majorities of letters written speak well of the treatment.

The fire arrangements are satisfactory and fire practice has been regularly carried out.

The water supply is adequate, and there is sufficient pressure to reach to the top of the buildings.

The lighting throughout the prison is good.

The contractors’ supplies have been good except in such cases as have been reported to the Commissioners.

The garden has yielded good results, much better than was anticipated owing to the severe weather last spring, and the consequent influx of seagulls, who cleared off every green thing – over 200 being counted one day in one portion of the garden.

The Visiting Committee have attended regularly but have not been called on to adjudicate in any cases.

One man has been certified as insane and removed to the asylum at Moulsford [actually Cholsey].

There have been no deaths.

The Royal Berkshire Hospital have very kindly and generously taken in and treated such cases of illness as were too serious to be treated in cells.

The rules as laid down for this Place of Internment have been carried out except in such cases as have been reported to the Commissioners.

I have the honour to be
Gentlemen

Your obedient servant
C M Morgan
Governor

[to] The Prison Commissioners
Home Office

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

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“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
Gov.
9.2.18

February 9th 1918
Sir,

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.
7.2.18

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

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)