The apparent quiet and satisfied demeanour of the Irish prisoners in Reading

The Governor of Reading Prison wanted to keep a military guard to deter the Irish internees from escape.

1.6.18
Prison Commission HO
[to] The Gov, P of I, Reading

Please report what numbers of men the Mil: Guard appointed to your prison consists & what duties they perform.

Having regard to the apparent quiet and satisfied demeanour of the Irish prisoners now in your prison, be good enough to furnish the Commissioners with your observations as to whether such a Guard is any longer required. Should you consider the presence of such a guard absolutely indispensable, in the interests of safety and security, what in your opinion is the minimum number required.

A J Wall
Sec:

Taking into consideration the past histories of the men here – and that on week days for a considerable portion of the day only one officer can be present – and on Saturday afternoon and all day Sunday only one officer, a guard is desirable. I made my own arrangements regarding the guard with the officer commanding troops – and asked for & received the Min. Guard that mounts 1 NCO & 3 men – i.e. one sentry post. Sentry patrols from Female Prison entrance – round part exercise ground (Female) to Boundary Wall. NCO & relief are stationed in temporary guard-room on top of main Prison entrance.

C M Morgan
3.6.18
Gov.

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

A strange looking man who looked ill, got into a trench & started making charts

Sydney Spencer was obviously a suspicious looking character! Halma is a strategy board game involving constantly moving pieces across the board.

Sydney Spencer
Friday 10 May 1918

Got up at 7 am and went over to my platoon front to make out my range charts. I was taken for a spy and questioned by an Essex officer. The sentry had described me rather comically. I was to him a strange looking man who looked ill (!!) & wandered about, & finally got into a trench & started making charts!

At 9.45 gave evidence in a case at the orderly room & then had a bath at old brewery. Met Forster & another chap with whom I walked back.

Found that once made, our battle positions were to be changed! We seem to be sort of playing at Halma! After lunch I had a long sleep from 2.15 pm till 4.30 & much I enjoyed it too. Now I am writing to dear old Jumbo [Kenneth] Oliphant who wrote me last night. His address is St Margaret’s, Fern Hill Park, Woking.

Stand to tonight is at 8.15 pm. I took out a carrying party. Two journeys down a road you wot of, master diary. We had one casualty from machine gun fire. A C Company man. Got back at 11.30.

Letters from Florence, Broadbent & Father. Wrote a long letter to Florence.

Percy Spencer
10 May 1918

A glorious day. Paterson lunched with us. The Lance Corporal who was no good – only offence apparently that he plastered tracts on latrine seats.

Diaries of Sydney Spencer, 1918 (D/EZ177/8/15); and Percy Spencer (D/EX801/67)

“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
Reading

6th March 1918

Sir

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
Governor

[To]
The Under Secretary of State
Home Office
Whitehall


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

Every man jack comes to services, even the sentries

The Maidenhead parish magazine had more fascinating details of army chaplains’ work close to the front line.

Soldiers and Religion.

The Rev. C. E. Doudney, Vicar of St. Luke’s, Bath, Chaplain to the Forces in France, writes solemn and cheering words about the eagerness of officers and men at the Front to hear the Gospel:

Services were great yesterday. All my brigades are ‘in,’ so no services could be held for them, but I was on all day long at guns and transport, ambulance and motor machine guns. Informal little services with congregations ranging from 50 to 200, generally sitting in a group singing hymns and talking to ‘em. And the chaps listening hungrily. In some units every man jack came, from officers to cooks, and they withdrew the sentries because they didn’t want to miss it.

We have established a padre’s mess, the three of us, and find it works A1. We’re almost out of range, and it’s a great relief to get back after a night’s work in the trenches, or under heavy fire getting there, to the quiet and peace of this place.

The work is great. Welcome everywhere. Services well attended and attention simply riveted. The attendance at Holy Communion very good. We celebrate anywhere, mostly in the open air at all hours of day or night. In one’s addresses one has to go to bed-rock at once. It’s no time for flowers of speech. The officers and men are thirsting for the fact of Christ as living in and among them…

The men are altogether different, the whole tone is changed, and one only prays that it may last on after the war. If it does, England will be a new place.

Maidenhead St Luke parish magazine, October 1915 (D/P181/28A/24)