“He hated Germans, who had ruined his country, Russia”

The perennially dissatisfied internee Herman von Schlapowsky was certainly not pro-German.

15 August 1918

That I spoke to Herman von Schlapowsky this morning about his health, and suggested that he might write a petition to be sent to Germany as the newspapers talked about repatriation of certain Germans.

He stated that he was not a German, and would not go to Germany or Poland or any country under German rule or in the occupation of Germans, and wished to be sent to Russia or to Switzerland, of which country his wife is a native, but he hated Germans, who had ruined his country, Russia.

C M Morgan

[to] The Under Secretary of State
Home Office

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

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“There was no mention of a diamond ring”

A Swiss internee claimed to have had a diamond ring stolen while he was interned.

5th July 1918

The attached letter [no copy found so far] from the Swiss Legation is submitted.

It has been acknowledged to the effect that it is having attention.
P. Theisen was received with other Aliens from Woking Military Prison 31.10.14 for internment.

He was transferred to Brixton 22.2.15.

When received here from Woking, his property consisted of a gold watch – gold chain – gold ring – attached to the chain. As the reception officer was doubtful as to the “gold” it was entered in our property book as metal watch – metal chain – metal ring, and signed for as correct by Theisen. There was no mention of a diamond ring, and none was received or entered.

The day prisoner was transferred he asked for a diamond ring, and was told there was no such ring. He admitted that he had not seen it after Woking Prison. Two officers received him and stated that he had no ring, neither was one entered on the transfer document, except the metal one referred to.

Prisoner apparently applied to the Governor of Brixton on this subject and a reply was sent to Brixton to the above effect. Nothing can be traced as having come for him at the end of 1915, which would be several months after his removal. If anything came, it would of course be sent on unopened from here. Perhaps Brixton can answer this.

C M Morgan
Governor

[to] The Commissioners

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

Hunger strike due to bad temper

The Schraplowsky saga rumbled on.

Place of Internment, Reading
4 May 1918

Sir

I have the honour to report with reference to letter … dated 3 May 1918 that the hunger strike of Herman von Schraplowsky had nothing to do with the reasons of his internment or nationality but was due to temper.

On 9th April he wrote an impertinent letter to his wife regarding the Medical Officer and his treatment. I informed him that he could not utilise his letters for that purpose – that he could not write the letter – and that if he had any grievance against his medical treatment he could see me, or he could petition on the point if not satisfied with my decision. He was rather impertinent saying he would write just what he liked. I stopped the letter.

At his next visit on 20th April, he referred to this to his visitor. I attached the letter in question to the report of the visit to the Prison Commissioners – all visits are reported.
On 24th April he again wrote and the letter was improper. I awarded him 10 days forfeiture of privileges on no 2 diet. He then went on hunger strike. In accordance with standing orders the Medical Officer reported the case to the Prison Commissioners at the expiration of 48 hours. And as the man is excitable with an exceedingly bad temper, added that it might be necessary to forcibly feed him, but that as he weighed close on 200 lbs, it would not hurt him to go a bit longer.

On 27th April, as the Chairman of the Visiting Committee called at the Prison, I suggested that he should go and see Shraplowsky without me – he did so. Schraplowsky turned his back on him and refused to speak.

I then tried a method of my own, and had some onions fried over his cell, and when the smell was at its best had then placed with potatoes in his cell. In a few minutes he was eating everything at hand.

He was not forcibly fed – neither was he confined to bed.

I have not under the circumstances informed him as to your letter today regarding his nationality, but when I visited him this morning I asked him in conversation the questions, and his reply is that he is a Russian Pole, and that he would not go to Germany, but to Poland or to Switzerland where his wife comes from.

I may add that he completed his ten days today and his conduct is normal, in fact civil.

I have the honour to be
Sir

Your obedient servant
C M Morgan, Governor

[to]The Secretary of State, Home Office

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

“Men who were interned had to write through a friend in a neutral country”

Following yesterday’s query, it emerged that an internee’s foreign correspondent was innocuously enough his sister, who had also helped another internee communicate with his wife in Germany.

Place of Internment
Reading

1st May 1918

I have made enquiries and Hemmerle states that Fraulein Maria Hemmerle, per Witwe Hasler, is his sister. She works in a factory in Kanton Schwyz, and the Widow Hasler is the woman who keeps the lodging house where she lives. He does not know Hasler.

Fraulein Anna Hemmerle is another sister who worked in a factory in Kanton St Gallen. Johan Ulrich Wohlwerk was the proprietor of an inn where she lodged. She has now left the factory and returned home to the Hemmerle address of – Dominikus Hemmerle (father), Vaduz, Lichtenstein.

Hemmerle says that when men who were interned had to write through a friend in a neutral country, Bushe wrote through Hemmerle’s sister Maria Hemmerle to his wife in Munich. Maria Hemmerle had the wife’s address and forwarded on the letters.

Bushe’s wife was deported from England during the time Bushe was interned.

I may add that Bushe nearly always wrote through Fraulein Hemmerle while he was at Reading.

C M Morgan

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

“Lenin was in Bern until this spring”

The shock of the latest revolution in Russia had a special interest for Swiss residents, with one friend of the Spencers even having met him.

2 December 1917

By tram to the [Judge’s], where I found Johanna, & also a Hauptmann Wirz. They were speaking of Lenin, who was in Berne until this spring, & whom Frau Oberst R[eichel] had met at friends of hers, so the latter tell her, but she cannot remember him.

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

Germans “too downtrodden to rise”

Florence Vansittart Neale was glued to every wild rumour about the war, while Will Spencer’s love for his German wife had only grown stronger through their difficult years of exile in Switzerland.

Florence Vansittart Neale
November 1917
[inserted before 23 November]

Hear P. Innes says state of Germany awful. People too weak to rise, able bodied men only able to work half time, too downtrodden to rise.
Hear the Pope instigated the Italians to give up. He encouraged Austrian spies everywhere!

23 November 1917

Hear Boy cannot get Paris leave. Hope for January…. Hear most domestic servants to be requisitioned for work – only allowed 1 servant each person! Counting the gardeners!!!

Hear General Plumer & staff have been in Italy 3 weeks to see how many necessary to keep Italy. Our troops must go over Mt Cenes pass.

Hear through Marga that a Florentine Regiment who deserted was sent back to Florence with “traitors to their country” on their brassades.

Hear many battalions would willingly shoot 1 in 10 of strikers [illegible].

Will Spencer
23 November 1917

During the afternoon I called & had an interview with Herrn Fursprech Engeloch. Father need take no further steps to obtain attestation of my residence in Cookham before Jan. 19/15, as it may not be needed. As soon as the matter comes before the Gemeinde (I told him we had chosen Oberburg [as their official home town in Switzerland]. Herr E. will let Oberst Reichel know, in order that he can then write on our behalf, stating that we are friends of his, as he has kindly offered to do. Probably the best means of letting the German authorities know that I had become a Swiss subject would be to apply to have Johanna’s money sent here, mentioning thereby that I am a Swiss subject, & if that is questioned, to then place the matter in the hands of the Swiss Political Department. My naturalization cannot finally be ratified until the Grosser Rat has met again. It only meets twice a year, & will meet next, Herr E. said, in Feb. or March, or at the latest in April….

I was sorry to have to tell Johanna how long we might have to wait for the ratification of our naturalization. After we had had coffee in Johanna’s room, something moved me to tell her that I had learned to know her better & that she had become more to me than ever during these last years – in some ways years of trial – in Switzerland. Johanna had afterwards to go into the town, but she would not let me go with her, as I was not quite up to the mark, & she thought it better for me to rest. When she returned, she thanked me again for what I had said. I said that I was sorry that they were only words that I had spoken, that I felt such things were better expressed in deeds, but she comforted me with the assurance that what I had said had not been merely words.

Diaries of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8); and of Will Spencer in Switzerland (D/EX801/26)

A simple, innocent looking British soldier

Will Spencer was now seeking Swiss citizenship, but still took an interest when he ran into a British soldier interned there. He and wife Johanna were very short of cash, even though Johanna’s sister was sending them what she could from Germany.

18 November 1917

To the English Church. Sat in the second row, in order to be out of danger of draughts from the door, as I have not yet quite got rid of my cold. Only two persons in the choir – one on each side – a lady on the left & on the rights a simple, innocent looking British soldier who seemed to have a tenor voice – he was at any rate singing the melody….

After Johanna had entertained me to tea in her room (she had already had tea at the Judge’s) she told me that the matter that she had been speaking to the Judge about was the question of our borrowing money until I am a Swiss citizen, in order that Agnes may run no further risk in sending to us. The Judge kindly offered us the help of his name, but Johanna will write to Direktor Loeliger first. She did so this evening.


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

“We are enemy aliens”

Cookham-born expat Will Spencer’s German wife Johanna, living with him in Switzerland, missed her family very much. In the autumn of 1917, she hoped it might be possible to meet up with her sister Agnes.

29 September 1917

Johanna having received a letter from [her sister Agnes] yesterday, in which she said that she had heard from the Ohlers, who had heard it from Herrn Rob. Loeliger, in Frankfurt, that persons were allowed to cross from Rheinfelden to Badisch Rheinfelden on showing an Ausweis, asked whether Johanna could not meet her at the other side of the bridge. I despatched a telegram to Agnes for Johanna after breakfast – “Es is nur unmoglich Inez (i.e. Agnes) aufzusuchen”. (We are not Swiss that have business that calls them to the German side of the river, but “enemy aliens”.).

At 4 we had tea … [with friends] to meet Frau de S., a Polish lady, a daughter of a Prince L., who has visited Rheinfelden regularly for 18 years. She lost her only daughter in 1911, her only son in the war.

Diary of Will Spencer in Switzerland (D/EX801/27)

A Swiss doctor checks up on Broadmoor

A Swiss diplomat planned to inspect the treatment of mentally ill German PoWs.

Swiss Legation
German Division
9, Carlton House Terrace
London, SW1

August, 1st, 1917

Sir,

As representative of the Swiss Legation, which has charge of the German interests in this country, I have been visiting prisoners of war camps and hospitals in the United Kingdom, and should very much like to visit your hospital within the next fortnight.

I should be very glad if you will let me know whether you have any objection to my visit.

I would add for your information that I am a Medical man.

I am, Sir,

Your obedient servant

F. Schwyzer
Special Attache
[to] The Medical Officer-in-Charge
Military Hospital
Crowthorne

Broadmoor correspondence file (D/H14/A6/2/51)

Trapped in London

A Swiss acquaintance of Will Spencer had a business journey abroad interrupted by the British fear of anyone with German connections.

16 May 1917
After supper Frau Block chatted with us in the veranda. Her husband only got as far as London on his way to America. By the time he had got the papers which he required for travelling to America, the Dutch boat by which he intended to cross had sailed. Then came the “verschaufter U-Boot Krieg”, & now, as the son of a German mother, he has not yet obtained leave to return here.

Diary of Will Spencer in Switzerland (D/EX801/27)

French soldiers and Swiss peasants

One Sunday morning, British expat Will Spencer ran into some recuperating wounded French soldiers enjoying their time in neutral Switzerland.

18 March 1917

Shortly after 10.30 set out to go to church, but thinking of the possibility of the same crazy man being in the congregation who spoke to me after the service a fortnight ago [not mentioned in the diary!], I decided to go for a walk instead. Across the little footbridge – French soldiers perilously oaring boats gondolier fashion down the Aare – on one, a number of Swiss peasants as passengers.

Diary of Will Spencer in Switzerland (D/EX801/27)

War tax in Switzerland

The Swiss had introduced a new tax to cover rising costs in wartime. Expat Will Spencer made arrangements to pay it.

25 January 1917

Letter from Swiss Friedensburo for Johanna. (Have not been able to obtain any news of Max Ohler from France. Have not yet heard from England.)

Then to Steueramt in the Junkerngasse to enquire about Kriegsteuer [war tax]. I was referred to No 1 Herrengasse, the elderly clerk who gave me the direction, telling me, in an apologetic tone, that I should find the office in the cellar, but that was “only a temporary state of affairs”. As a patriotic Swiss citizen I suppose he felt that these subterranean arrangements were not quite consonant with the dignity of the state.

Arrived at No. 1 Herrengasse (one of the houses on the southern side of the Munsterplatz), I found, just inside the entrance, a carved stone stairway expected to lead to a series of gloomy dungeons, but which led in fact to a passage from which a young junior clerk summoned me into a small well-lit room overlooking the river. The house stands, of course, on the slope descending to the latter. After conducting an amateur enquiry into what my business was on his own account (in which I humoured him, not being pressed for time), the junior clerk went to speak with his chief, & returned with the news that the latter was engaged – could I call again in half an hour’s time? A welcome suggestion, as it was a freezing cold afternoon, but I acquiesced, & made use of the half hour to go & have a look at the outside of Ex-President Motta’s house in Kirchenfeld.

After my return to the “War-tax office” I found myself signing a declaration to pay 500 francs war-tax. I was expecting it to be as much, but Johanna wasn’t, so I shall speak to Herr Mosimann before paying it.

Diary of Will Spencer, 1917 (D/EX801/27)

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

Albert

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,

Albert

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

Germans in England claim to be Swiss

Florence Vansittart Neale and her Admiralty official husband Henry, owner of Bisham Abbey, were holidaying on the Isle of Wight, but kept in touch with war news.

28 February 1915

To Trinity – saw telegram of Dardanelles outer fort destroyed. “Queen Elizabeth” there. Heard from [illegible] officer there last Friday. Went to tea with Venables. Watched “Mine destroyers”, also ship at night – queer lights.

Heard new ship “Queen Eliz:” at Dardanelles. Three times put back – spies on board – narrow risk of explosion – changed suddenly whole of crew.

German here (Ventnor) Freemasons tavern always a German before the war, now says Swiss & put up sign “Hier spricht man Suisse”. V’s tell me a German tailor opposite called Fess – also man “Spenser” with motor boats & pilot boats for hire in secret service here. Rumoured also in German Secret Service. Had German uniform & refuses to let any of his sons fight for England. (Wrote Sir G. Greene March 21st.)

Heard from Mrs Sholto Douglas at that air raid in Essex, bombs fell only 200 yards from barracks (artillery) – full of terriers.

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