“Of course no English branch of the business can be carried on now War exists”

A suspicious letter from a former business contact in Germany led the authorities to take a look at an internee in Reading. His business used Yorkshire wool to make hair for dolls in toymaking centre Sonnenberg.

Re letter of G Stichl March 18th 1918
Attention should be drawn to this letter from the Mrs D to whom he refers and to say who he is and how he knows her.
J F W 20/3

Papers returned with many thanks. Doms’ connection with Wm Guy & Sons is on record here, but it is not known that the latter firm acquired Stichl’s business or that the branch at Fonneberg had not been interfered with by the Germans; letter posted.

22 March 1918
G Stichl and Mr Doms
20.8.15 S of S Order, Defence of the Realm Regn, Internment

Stichl states:

He had a wool and dolls hair business in Bradford and at Sonneberg (near Coburg). About 1890 he advertised in Yorkshire for a correspondent – received a reply from Mr Doms, who was correspondent in spinning machine maker’s office, Messrs Wild & Co, Leicester. Engaged him and found him useful – a German speaking perfect English and other languages. Was trained by Stichl at Bradford from about 1890-1896 and then became Stichl’s managing clerk at Sonneberg – used to come to Bradford to see Stichl, and Stichl visited him frequently to examine books &c.

Mrs Doms. Cannot remember her maiden name – was a German woman who was his book keeper at Sonneberg. She married the managing clerk Doms. Does not know that she was ever in England. Cannot speak English. Frequently saw her.

About 6 or 8 years ago the business both at home & abroad was disposed of by Stichl to Mr Guy, under the name of Guy & Sons, Doms and Mrs Doms remaining as before, but Mr Doms severed term… [too faint to read].. to see Mr Guy.

States that Mr Guy still has the business and that from letter he has received from Mrs Doms, business is still carried on successfully and has not been interfered with by the Germans – but of course no English branch of the business can be carried on now War exists.

Mr Doms joined the German Army and he now learns from Mrs Doms has been made prisoner by the British Army.

C M Morgan
Governor
[to] The Commissioners

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

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A model windmill

It is pleasing to know that the authorities had no objection to this internee’s wish to send a toy to his little nephews and nieces.

7th March 1918
R E Lang or Lange

The above named Alien asks permission to send out a little model windmill, which he has made, to his married sister at L’pool for her children.

Governor

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

Belgians and soldiers provided with Christmas cheer in Maidenhead

Maidenhead Congregational Church reported on the Christmastime experiences of the Belgian refugees it sponsored, and also on their contributions to local soldiers’ Christmas, in the church magazine:

A NEW YEAR’S MESSAGE.
MY DEAR FRIENDS,
The beginning of our New Year is deeply stained with war! May there be peace long before it ends! But meanwhile, if we are assured that a righteous God rules, and that our cause is righteous, we can go forward with confidence, and rest upon His Almighty arm.”

January 1915 “OUR BELIGIAN GUESTS.
Some of our friends did their best to give the Belgians a really happy Christmas in spite of the fact that they are strangers in a strange land. Mrs. Mash provided the children with a Christmas tree, laden with a generous supply of ‘fruit’, and many others sent in dolls and goodies until the little ones must have been bewildered. If they were not ill before Christmas was over, the firm restraint of their parents should excite our admiration. Several friends too contributed towards sending a Christmas hamper to the adults of the household, and we may hope that the season’s joy sparkled and glowed upon that hearth. No doubt the days must sometimes drag heavily. A Commission has been sitting to consider the question of occupation for refugees in our land; but they seem to have discovered no satisfactory method of meeting the difficulty. We can only hope that their own land will speedily be open to them once more.

THE CLUB ROOM.
Many of the soldiers obtained leave to go home for Christmas, but there were enough left to make it necessary to provide for their Christmas jollity. Our rooms were gaily decorated with flags and pictures and ever-greens, and an abundant supply of oranges, apples, nuts, muscatels, &c. was obtained from the Town Committee. Ten or twelve of the soldiers formed themselves into a Committee to be responsible for all the arrangements, and they engineered a “sing-song” on Christmas night, which seems to have pleased all the occupants of a crowded room. Quiet occupations, such as reading, writing, playing dominoes, or bagatelle, were relegated for the time to the infant room.

The bagatelle tables, of which we have two, are very popular, and are incessantly in use. Writing, too, is a great occupation. One evening recently more than a hundred men were counted, all writing letters at one time. It is quite a business to keep them supplied with writing materials. The ladies in the mending room are kept busily employed for two hours or more each evening. And the Refreshment department is admirably worked by representatives of the P.S.A. Society.

Maidenhead Congregational Church magazine, January 1915 (D/N33/12/1/5)

Christmas in exile

Broad Street Congregational Church reports on the Christmas experiences of Belgian refugees in Reading:

CHRISTMAS IN EXILE

In spite of the wail of those depressed misinterpreters of the Christmas spirit who make the war an excuse for mere miserly retrenchment instead of finding in it a stimulus to an especial expansion of Christian good will, the Belgians in Reading have had the best Christmas Reading had to offer. For this they are largely indebted to the Broad Street choir; and this article is written so that those whose energy and generosity rendered it possible may learn something of the fruit of their labours. The money raised by the concert given by the Broad Street Choir formed the bulk of the Belgian Christmas Fund. Out of this a substantial contribution was made towards the Christmas fare of every refugee, and a small monetary gift was sent with a letter of good wishes to every adult.
The outstanding feature of the festivities, however, was the children’s party, attended by children and adults alike, and held at the Palmer Hall on Boxing Day. It is difficult to describe the joyous and animated scene or the pathos and poignancy underlying it. When one realised that these people were exiles, outlawed for the crime of another, in a land whose citizens spake a tongue they knew not; that their homes and most cherished possessions were but heaps of charred beams and ruined masonry; that their dear ones, many of them had not been seen since the terrible flight in darkness and confusion; one was unable to find words to express the heroic fortitude of even those whom one would have least expected heroism.

The party was, designedly, as nearly as possible a typical English Christmas party. The children, first, who numbered over a hundred, sat down beneath the magnificent Christmas tree to enjoy a Christmas tea of which the principal feature was an immense iced cake. The turn of the adults came next, and they consumed light refreshments and chattered amazingly in French and Flemish. Then, for an hour, the marvels of magic were dispensed by a conjuror, described by the audience as a “prestidigitateur”. The climax of the evening, however, came with the arrival of Santa Claus, an old friend of the Belgians, with a gift for every child. Nor were they random presents, but Father Christmas, hoisted onto a chair, called the name of each child and found in his store a parcel bearing each child’s name. and so home, to the home in exile, hugging dogs that walk, and soldiers and mechanical cranes, and with many a thought of gratitude to “les Anglais gentils”, whose generosity had provided these brief hours of brightness in lives so dark and sad.

Broad Street Congregational Church magazine, January 1915 (D/N11/12/1/14)

Christmas in a strange land

Christmas in exile must have been a hard blow for the Belgian refugees in Berkshire, but the kind hearted people of Maidenhead Congregational Church were determined that those they were supporting should enjoy this day at least – especially the children:

OUR BELGIAN GUESTS
Some of our friends did their best to give the Belgians a really happy Christmas in spite of the fact that they are strangers in a strange land. Mrs. Mash provided the children with a Christmas tree, laden with a generous supply of ‘fruit,’ and many others sent in dolls and goodies until the little ones must have been bewildered. If they were not ill before Christmas was over, the firm restraint of their parents should excite our admiration. Several friends too contributed towards sending a Christmas hamper to the adults of the household, and we may hope that the season’s joy sparkled and glowed upon that hearth. No doubt the days must sometimes drag heavily. A Commission has been sitting to consider the question of occupation for Refugees in our land; but they seem to have discovered no satisfactory method of meeting the difficulty. We can only hope that their own land will speedily be open to them once more.

Maidenhead Congregational Church magazine, January 1915 (D/N33/12/1/5)

The great toy shortage

The parish of Christ Church in Reading had two important notices for worshippers in November 1914.

The Vicar is asked to call attention to a toy factory which is now started at Northfield Road, Caversham Road. Its primary object is to supply the gap in the market which the absence of toys from Germany will cause. But secondly and more important it hopes to give employment to women in their own homes in making toys. Full information will be supplied by Mrs Bowley, Northcourt Avenue or by Mrs Friend, 6 Kendrick Road.

In future the bell of Christ Church will be tolled at 12 noon as a reminder of the Call to Prayer of our soldiers and sailors. When we hear the bell we may not be able to break off our occupation and kneel down but we can lift up our hearts for a moment and say, “Lord, hear our prayers.”

Reading Christ Church parish magazine, November 1914 (D/P170/28A/23)