“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

February 9th 1918

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)


Shot at dawn for “cowardice” caused by shell shock

John Maxwell Image wrote to his friend W F Smith, who was staying at Hindhead in south west Surrey, not far from the big army camp at Aldershot. Normally very gung-ho in support of the war, Image’s compassion had been aroused by stories of court martials and teenagers shot at dawn. The Revd Thomas Pym (1885-1945), in peacetime the chaplain at Image’s college, was serving as an army chaplain.

29 Barton Rd
6 Dec. ‘17
My very dear old man

The military cars to and fro Aldershot must surely be more or less an interesting sight.

The poor Tommy comes under this [?not clear] penalty quite frequently. Not often from cowardice, poor boy. Most often (I believe) it is from slinking off to some girl in the rear which is called “desertion”, tho’ he would have returned right enough.

Just before I was married there was shown to me a letter from a young Trin. Officer at the Front, describing a visit from one of our Trin. Chaplains, begging this young friend of his to “pray for him”, for he had to pass the night with a boy of 18 who was to be shot at dawn. Pym spoke then of a night with another poor child (of 17!) who had been shot the previous week, for what the CM was pleased to style Cowardice – though he had twice behaved with exceptional bravery, and it was only after seeing his two brothers killed at his side that on this occasion his nerve broke down. In an officer it would have been called “shell-shock”, and the interesting sufferer sent home to a cushy job in England. I know of 2 thus treated. Pym’s words brought the tears to my eyes. I see that he has told the story (slightly altered) in a book that has recently come out by him, Characteristics of the Army in Flanders.

Sir Arthur Yapp at the Guildhall last Friday. The Signora went (non ego) and returned enthusiastic – she and her Cook – over the great man’s dignity and sweetness. That evening he lectured the students (and I believe also them of Girton) in Newnham College – and left by the 9.9 for London.

One remark of his: “The vessels sunk by the U-boats during the week ending Nov. 24 (I forget how many that was) might have carried enough bread to feed Cambridge for nearly 7 years, or enough meat for 8 ½ years, or enough sugar for 64 years.”

He said that Food Tickets have changed Germany to a nation of forgers. He dreaded the like fate for England.

Yours ever

Letter from John Maxwell Image, Cambridge don, to W F Smith (D/EX801/2)

“Scalps” secured by our airships

Even an idyllic seaside holiday for the Images was interrupted by the war.

Polcurrian Hotel
S. Cornwall

Monday, Aug. 6, 1917

My very dear old man

O but this is a heavenly morning! Brilliant sky, such as I never saw in England before, in August – and the bay underneath my window of such glorious dazzling blue as I think would equal – or put to shame – South Seas or Tropics – and underneath it all, the sneaking deadly submarine. One came in here ten days ago, but had to quit re infecta, without any murders.

But a couple of young ladies from this hotel actually saw, last week, at the Lizard, 6 miles away, a U-boat torpedo strike a steamer and heard the explosion. And a man, who had cycled over, described to me the passionate race of 3 English destroyers to the rescue and our own Mullion airship hovering overhead. They did not get that submarine, though: or at least will not own to it. Discipline makes them very reticent. Still, in less guarded moments, hints are dropped as to several “scalps” secured by one or other of the airships….

Letters tell us … of two raids there – raids never mentioned yet in any newspaper!

Letter from John Maxwell Image to W F Smith (D/EX801/2)

Are You GROWING all the FOOD you can for YOURSELF and THE NATION?

Entrepreneurial Maidenhead nurseryman J P Webster encouraged people to buy his products to tackle food shortages.

“The U-Boat Problem is not solved, and the real problem threatens the food of the people to an extent that no one could have anticipated.”

First Lord of the Admiralty, 8th March, 1917.

Do You


Are You

GROWING all the FOOD you can for YOURSELF and THE NATION?

The Nation

APPEALS to YOU to cultivate every yard of Land you can in this time of her trial!


And will ensure you Good Crops.

And Crops are largely increased by the use of Chemical Fertilisers. We stock all the standard kinds.

124 High Street, & Station Front, Maidenhead

Valuable prizes offered at all Local Shows.

“Unless the nation as a whole shoulders part of the burden of victory it will not profit by the triumph, for it is not what a nation gains, but what a nation gives, that makes it great”

– Prime Minister.

Advertisement in Maidenhead St Luke parish magazine, April 1917 (D/P181/28A/26)

“The Huns ran from the tanks like hares”

John Maxwell Image wrote to a friend with his latest thoughts, and passing on brother-in-law Percy Spencer’s impressions.

29 Barton Road
Tuesday 10 Oct ‘16

My Very Dear Old Man

I quite understand, and share with you, the absorbing interest of the daily War News. Nothing else matters, now-a-days. What do you make of this morning’s news of the U boat blockade of the United States coast? If America really shuts them out from supplies in her ports, it must be over in a month or so – and if it succeeds, the exasperation of the Yanks’ commerce must kick Wilson into activity. Anyhow it is a risky move for Germany on the brink of a Presidential election. Therefore I should judge it a sop to soothe German home politics – now that things are growing so disastrous on the Somme.

I went last Friday to see the German “Albatross” (captured by us on 15 October last year) which the WO has presented to the University. It is said to be a fine specimen, tho’ the class has been cut out since. I was very little impressed. For one thing it was so much smaller than I expected – a snout nosed, biplane, 2 seater.

We have had 2 Zepp raids since my last letter. I slept peacefully through both. In the latter of the two the Zepp dropped a starshell on Grantchester: and then passed over Barton Road, probably over our own garden, for Prof. Stanley Gardiner (opposite us) heard its drone, and turning over in bed said to his wife, “the raid is over – there are the trains running again”. We were at tea in his lovely house and garden yesterday when he told me this…

Brandon, one of the two airmen who got DSO for bringing down the flaming Zepp was at Trinity Hall.

A Tank passed through Camb[ridge] on Friday. The Signora got an amusing letter from one of her brothers at the Front, last Saturday, in which he says of the Tanks, “they are very funny, but the boundless faith in them of the folks at home is even funnier. On the day when they were first used, the Huns ran from them like hares – this, although they were aware of their advent” (clearly, nothing can be kept from the Hun spy). Two are known to have got in once to the place near Thetford where the Tanks were secretly built. To go on with Percy Spencer: “One of these contraptions was observed going through the main street of a captured village with our boys riding all over her and hanging on the back.” His chief praise, however, is for our Aeroplanes. “In the air, the Hun is a nonentity – and he owns it every day” – and I remember how, when he first went out, he used to laugh and vow that he had seen hundreds shot at, but never one brought down!

These submarine brutes, who torpedo ships without warning! Did you notice that the first question asked by the Submarine at Newport was for the Bremen? Why, his Government, weeks ago, published to the world the safe arrival of the Bremen in America. Does he presume to disbelieve his own Government? The Americans honestly know nothing of her, but we in England for some time past have heard it whispered that she is safe at Falmouth. The Falmouth watch for U boats is very strict, and has been (so they boast) inordinately successful. A lady who came back a few weeks ago from a holiday, recounted to me how she was one afternoon walking by the shore when a destroyer tore past her in furious haste, all the funnels vomiting columns of black smoke. No sooner as she past Pendennis Point than the firing began. It died away – and presently, soberly and slowly, the destroyer came back, another destroyer keeping pace, and between them – the German submarine. What wouldn’t I have given for that sight.

I am told – by Ball, so it is likely to be correct – that Trinity expects this term 47 men of all years, including BAs!

The Fellowship dinner was for tonight. It is postponed till Thursday – after the funerals of Keith Lucas (killed from an aeroplane) nd poor Alfred Humphry. He is buried today at Thaxted…

Our most affectionate wishes to you both.

Letter from John Maxwell Image to W F Smith (D/EX801/2)