Irish refuse to pay for postage

Irish internees protested against the censorship of their correspondence.

14 Oct 1918

The Irish prisoners stated today that after Monday the 21st they refused to pay for my postage of letters or parcels, as letters are not read here but sent in a covering letter to the Postal censor.

Instructions are requested.

C M Morgan
[to] The Commissioners

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


“They do not care for anyone here or for their blasted Hunnish masters!!”

The Governor of Reading Prison was finding the Irish internees difficult to deal with.

13 October 1918

I shall be glad of the advice of the Commissioners regarding the Sinn Fein prisoners.

These now number 17, and are a pretty objectionable set, different in many ways from those I had in 1916, and comprise the leaders of hunger strikes and smashers up in other prisons.

Their conduct is most offensive, in some cases, and the leaders are Ginnell, MP, McDonagh, Cahill, Thornton – though some of the others are nearly as bad.

When visited by the Visiting Committee member, Ginnell called him a “blasted Hun”, and fortunately the Member took it as the raving of an illmannered man & simply told him that he was not now in the House of Commons. At the same time this sort of thing cannot go on and their behaviour is abusive and contemptuous [sic]. I am quite prepared to enforce discipline and to separate & punish a man who behaves in such a manner, but as they have openly said that 17 men will raise all the trouble they can, & will probably go on hunger strike or smash up, I think it well to refer the matter to the Commissioners before taking action, and to know if I have their support.

My Warders complain of them, and I wish to stop it at once. They refuse to petition for things they want and say they do not care for anyone here or for their blasted Hunnish masters!! This sort of thing cannot go on. It’s just beginning now but the first man punished will begin the [illegible].

The man who is most offensive is L. Ginnell, but his reputation is doubtlessly known to the Commissioners without any comment of mine.

He must either be taken seriously or ignored – I prefer the latter and act on it, but am not at all sure that the Visiting Committee will stand his remarks when they visit him. He has collected a few men round him – Cahill, Thornton – much like himself.

I will see how things go on.

With reference to prisoners interned elsewhere I would refer the Commissioners to their instructions to me when the Irish came – that the men sent to Reading were largely composed of men who had mutinied elsewhere and that they anticipated trouble from them.

Of men elsewhere interned, some 40 were previously here and with the exception of 4 or 5 gave little trouble, preferring to pose as martyrs.

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

“No menial in a minister’s house gets such a quality and I defy them to contradict it”

Irish MP and internee William Cosgrave disliked the food on offer in Reading Prison. His letter of complaint was intercepted by the official censor.

W T Cosgrove
P of I Reading

To Mrs B Burke
174 James St

Complaint of prison treatment

I regret to have to complain of the diet. No menial in a minister’s house gets such a quality and I defy them to contradict it. They actually depend [on] us getting food from Ireland. I reported to the Dr that I did not use what was supplied and he enquired did I not get some from home.

They know I do not use it and just continue sending it on and then examining professionally the victim. I shall not submit to a further examination by the Dr for the benefit of experimentation. I have already been twice subjected to this foolery.

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

Full of political excitement

The Reading Prison doctor was unimpressed by claims of ill health among Irish internees.

Sept. 23 18
From the MO to the Governor

Concerning the report of the Secretary to the Prison Commission for a report upon the mental and physical condition of W T Cosgrove.

In the petitions of Laurence Ginnell and Richard Hayes, dated respectively Sept. 11 and Sept 12 1918, I have already dealt with this matter.

I have again carefully examined him today. His mental condition is sound. His physical condition is [illegible]. There are perhaps indefinite signs of some past [illegible] in the left lung but it is quiescent now, and there are no subjective symptoms.

He is full of political excitement and in my presence at all events quite cheerful.

He certainly is not in imminent danger.

W T Freeman

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

Anxious to see the consul

A Brazilian internee wanted to see his country’s representative.

New Scotland Yard


The Brazilian Consul has read information that Patrocinus is anxious to see him. He is unable to pay the visit himself, but will be very glad if you could give facilities to his representative, Mr Synchronio Magdalenas (I am not quite sure of the spelling) to visit Patrocinus on Thursday next.

Sgd B H Thomson

HM Prison

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

The Aliens, having been interned in some cases for four years, have practically worn out all their original clothing

The provision of clothing for internees was a thorny matter. Jackson’s, the store mentioned, was something of a Reading institution, remining in business until 2013.

16th Sepr: 1918

Re letter 18902/35HF d/d 14.9.18

1. The Interned civilians have not been allowed ordinary liberty clothing. When theirs was worn out they had to wear blue dress by the Commissioners’ orders – but protested strongly against it.
2. Those who have ordinary clothing have purchased it out of their earnings. The Irish refuse to work.
3. It is now noted that they will receive ordinary liberty clothing.
4. How should this clothing be obtained please?
5. There is a local firm Messrs Jackson & Sons who supply ready-made outfits of all kinds, & also make cheap quality clothing &c to order. I am informed that at the present time the cost of clothing would be about £3.10.0 for the cheapest quality, boots about 35/- a pair, under-clothing is of course much above the normal rate.
6. The anticipated cost will be about £6.10.0 per man for the 14 Irish internees, Alien side 38 men at the same rate. It is quite likely that some of the Irish may not require a complete outfit at the present time, as they have only been interned a few months. The Aliens, having been interned in some cases for four years, have practically worn out all their original clothing.
7. As soon as it becomes known that the liberty clothing is allowed free, these men will buy no more.
8. The clothing of some who earn no money, and who refuse to wear the blue dress, is in a bad way.

[C M Morgan]
[to] The Commissioners

16th Sepr: 1918
H. Schraplowsky
22.6.15 S of S Order, Aliens Act, Deportation

The above named Alien prisoner was visited on Saturday the 14th inst: by his wife and Miss Chronig (friend) of 66 Station Rd, Church End, Finchley, N.

The conversation was on business affairs, chiefly about Mrs Schraplowsky leaving this country, and the disposal of her belongings.

[C M Morgan]
[to] The Commissioners

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

Liberty clothing for internees

The Irish internees, who were held without trial, were not to be treated as prisoners, and could wear their own clothes.

Prison Commission
Home Office
Whitehall SW1

14th September 1918

[to] The Governor
Reading PI

With reference to paragraph 4 of the Regulations as to the treatment of Irish Internees, please note that if any of them do not obtain supplies of clothing from their friends, or purchase further articles as they become necessary, they will be provided with ordinary clothing when necessary, like other interned civilians, ie liberty clothing instead of that prescribed for prisoners awaiting trial.

Be good enough to amend the copies of the Regulations in your possession accordingly.

W J Pond
For Secy

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

“We are all in good health and spirits, thank God”

Supporters of interned Irish MP William Cosgrave were concerned about his health in Reading Prison. Frank Fahy (1879-1953) was another Sinn Fener who would have a distinguished post-independence political career.

HM Prison

Sep. 12 1918

From the MO to the Governor

Concerning the petition of Richard Hayes about the health of W T Cosgrave I have nothing to add to my remarks concerning the petition of L. Ginnell on the same subject.

I have today however seen a letter signed by Frank Fahy in which he states, “We are all in good health and spirits, thank God. W. Cosgrave, MIP [Member of Irish Parliament] is much improved in appearance, though he continues to qualify for lightweight champion”.

W T Freeman

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

“He goes out to exercise with the others, plays ball with them etc”

Sinn Fein MP William Cosgrave (1880-1932) was one of the most high-profile of the Irish internees in Reading. Laurence Ginnell, another Irish MP, agitated on his behalf.

H M Prison

Sep. 11 1918

From the MO to the Governor
Concerning the petition of Laurence Ginnell.

W T Cosgrave is in fair health. He is naturally of poor physique and somewhat [illegible – [possibly anaemic?].

I have found in him no actual organic signs of disease.

He goes out to exercise with the others, plays ball with them etc.

He had a moderate attack of influenza on Aug. 25th from which he soon recovered.

W T Freeman

Seditious articles to be censored from Irish newspapers

A series of short exchanges reveals internees’ complaints about prison food – and their captors’ conscerns about censoring Irish news.

HM Prison
Sep. 6 1918

From the MO to the Governor

Concerning the remarks of F. Thorton, J. McDonagh and P. C. O’Mahony.

As far as I am concerned they appear to relate to complaints about the food.

I agree with your remarks. I believe the porridge to be nourishing and that it is of the same quality as is obtainable outside the prison.

I have satisfied myself from time to time as to the condition and quality of the meat. It has appeared to me to be as good as I can get at my own house.

W T Freeman, MD.

Prison Commission
[to] The Gov
P of I Reading

Please note that correspondence between the Irish Internees in your custody and those at other prisons is forbidden: no written communication should therefore be allowed to pass between them.

Sgd W J Pond
For Sec:

C M Morgan
The letters are not read here, but a notice to this effect has been posted in the hall where the Irish are located.

Prison Comm.
[to] The Gov
P of I Reading

In the event of a copy of the “Waterford News” reaching your prison for the use of any of the Irish internees, care should be exercised that its columns are duly examined, with a view to seeing whether articles having seditious tendency appear prior to the delivery of the paper to the prisoners concerned.

Sgd A J Wall

C M Morgan
Gov 9/9/18

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

The Aliens are not allowed to have articles sent to them by friends – in theory

One Irish internee was for some reason regarded as one of the ordinary foreign internees, highlighting differences between the way the two groups were treated.

5 Sept 1918
J S McConnastair

Prisoner is interned with the Aliens, not with the Irish.

He can write & receive 2 letters a month, but I grant additional letters should there be any reasonable cause.

Prisoner’s statement regarding parcels is incorrect. The Aliens are not allowed to have articles sent to them by friends, except those that he mentions, but in the event of a parcel coming from abroad, it has invariably been issued. Very few are received, not one a month.

The Irish are allowed to receive parcels. All lights are extinguished 9 pm to 9.15 pm, but the Aliens grumble that the Irish have been given lights up to 9.45 pm.

He states that he has lights at Brixton till 11 pm – of this I know nothing.

There is no delay in his correspondence here.

C M Morgan

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

“I can occasionally employ a prisoner in a spare cell”

With employees off fighting, Reading Prison wanted to use internees to carry out some of the office work.

23.8.18 [in response to a government circular of that date]

Owing to the conditions under which prisoners are interned here, and to the fact that there are only two members of the clerical staff – the Steward and a clerk & schoolmaster – I do not think it desirable that a prisoner should be employed in the office. It frequently happens that both members of the clerical staff have to be out of the office – canteen – tradesmen with clothing – articles of food, etc.

I can however occasionally employ a prisoner in a spare cell, where he could do such work as checking & posting ration tickets, posting demands, “heading” books.

It would not be advisable to let him enter sums in the trial earnings book, which is a big item here – some hundreds of entries a week.

Probably he could be employed daily, for the morning. What would his rate of pay be, please?

Under normal conditions here, he could earn 14/- a week by 7 days.
Would 1/- for each half day he was employed be approved? This would not be in addition to the 14/-.

C M Morgan

[The HO replied that the pay rate was correct, but they preferred that prisoners not be used in clerical work.]

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

“A man that will never be satisfied”

An internee grumbled about the vegetable-heavy meals in Reading Prison.

H M Prison

Aug. 22nd, 1918

From the MO to the Governor

Concerning the petition of H. Schraplowsky, I reported upon him on July 19.18. Also upon May 8th 1918.

He is now wearing a double truss and it fits him properly.

He spoke to me the other day about not liking the peas and beans, and I advised him that they made up a nourishing part of his diet.
He is a man that will never be satisfied. Please see my previous reports.

W T Freeman.

There is no evidence of his food being returned uneaten.

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

“Avoid anything which would give the Germans ground for retaliating on our people interned in Germany”

Internees, like prisoners, were able to earn small sums of money by working.

[18 Aug 1918, in response to a complaint]

No man is paid more than 14/- a week for any work – upkeep of Prison or Mailbag by Prison. The system approved was that one man could work for another man and be paid by that other man: the actual sum is arranged between them.

As I have never allowed men to retain money in their possession, though there was no rule against it and it is done in every other Camp, the only way men can pay another for doing the work is by transferring the agreed sum of money to him, and consequently it appears in the earnings book.

In a similar way men who were tailors bought cloth and made civilian clothes for other men who were interned, the transfer in these cases sometimes amounting to several pounds. My instructions from the Commissioners were that this place was so far as possible to be run as a Camp and not a Prison – and Prison was to be kept out of it – especially as there were over 40 prisoners of war here.

In all forms, books, writing paper &c, the word “Prison” was to be erased & the name of Trial earnings book is a misleading one. It is really a book shewing a man’s receipt of money from whatever sources, and his expenditure, which may be canteen, clothing, any outside shop, watch repairs, transferring money to another man, &c. In each case the man spending signs for the expenditure, & if it is a transfer the man receiving does the same. I only allow men to transfer or send money once a week – each Tuesday.

As this is the only Place of Internment under the Commissioners, they gave me a free hand to draw up rules as were found to be practicable by actual experience. This I have done from time to time, and had them approved by the Commissioners. A point kept in view by Mr Dryhurst, instructions being to avoid anything which would give the Germans ground for retaliating on our people interned in Germany and which would enable these men after release to say they were interned in a Prison under Prison rules.

C M Morgan

[to] The Gov

Please note the following modifications.

I. The practice of one Alien working for another on Governor work will cease.

II. As from the 21st inst, the maximum amount of weekly earnings may be extended to 21/- in future in individual cases at your discretion.

By order EB 19/10/18

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

“I do not believe that he has suffered seriously from his internment”

The British authorities were concerned about the physical and mental health of internees.

H M Prison

Aug, 17, 1918

From the MO to the Governor
Concerning the petition of Fritz Herman Veltmeyer.

I have interviewed him today and do not believe that he has suffered seriously from his internment. His mental balance seems correct.
He has lost some weight and if he continues to do so I propose to allow him some extra food.

W T Freeman

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