Germans in Shropshire
At the outbreak of war, there were quite a few German people who had been living in England and felt part of British society. The outbreak of war led to distrust of anyone with German sounding name. These sentiments were encouraged in the press and some people became suspicious of their neighbours.
To the right is a cutting from “The Financial News” and a notice put in the local newspaper by a hairdresser, hoping that people would continue to use his business.
Shrewsbury Chronicle, 9th October 1914. Ref. SA-IMG17621
Cartoons such as this make a joke of the situation but re-enforced the point that people should be on the outlook for spies, or people they thought might be supporting the German side. It was originally published in the London Opinion and was circulated to local newspapers.
Arrests in Shrewsbury
The following reports give details of local arrests.
Important Capture at Shrewsbury, Wellington Journal 15th August 1916, page 6
Shrewsbury Borough Police Court yesterday. Before Alderman WG Cross, a well-dressed 45 year old man described as a journalist of Sheffield was charged under Official Secrets Act with being in a prohibited area ie L&NW and GW Joint Railway Company’s permanent way at Belvidere. Name given Walter Birks and resided 37 Wyle Cop, since the Royal Show in July. Several maps and drawings, inc Kelly’s map of Shropshire on which important centres were made prominent. Several cuttings of letters about the Home Rule question alleged to have been written to newspapers stating Sir Edward Carson should be arrested, were found. Sketches showed railway bridges in district and a table of distances of towns from Shrewsbury. Evidence from William Morris, 52 Ellesmere Road, an elderly but active signalman employed by Joint Railway Co. said at 4.40pm he saw accused standing under a cabin looking up the line to Wellington. Details of conversations given. The accused was remanded pending further enquires.
German Spy Scare, Wellington Journal September 5th 1914, page 5
Borough Police Court – a German subject Geo Gustave Behm, a ship’s fireman of Bootle was remanded for failing to report himself to the police under the Alien Restriction order. He admitted offence. Private P Radcliffe, 7th Batt Cheshire RHA stated he was standing near the Shopshire Maltings in Castle Foregate where battalion were billeted, when Behm asked him what regiment he belonged to, how many artillery and infantry men were stationed at the Maltings. Behm spoke with a strong foreign accent and witness and Private Grant escorted him to the guardroom and later police station. Chief-Constable Baxter had not been able to trace anything about defendant, so case couldn’t continue that day. Behm had made contradictory statements about his nationality. He was remanded for a week.
Prisoners of War
Some Germans found in Shropshire were held as prisoners of war, even if they were simply living in England at the outbreak of war. Others may have been captured at the front. There were between 500 and 600 German Prisoners of war interned at the Old Midland Carriage Works, Shrewsbury.
Shropshire Archives ref. PH/S/13/A/5/354
This photograph of prisoners was taken through the perimiter fence at the Shrewsbury prisoner of war camp.
SHREWSBURY AND PRISONERS OF WAR Wellington Journal 19th December 1914 Page 8 Column 2
Colonel Hugh C. Cholmondeley, was responsible for the custody and care of the prisoners. This article describes how he was too much of a British officer and English gentleman in treating the prisoners too well!
The Colonal carried out all that regulations permitted for the comfort of the prisoners, which course should go a long way to ensure good treatment for the many thousand British soldiers who are prisoners of war in the German Concentration camps.
Colonel Cholmondeley was approached by a committee of the prisoners to allow them to raise means, by way of a concert, to purchase tobacco and other personal comforts. The first to buy tickets were men of the National Reserve, who are employed guarding the prisoners, and therefore have first hand evidence, of their unfortunate condition.
Prominence, however, was given to the matter in the more “panicky” of the daily press, and sentimental feeling was so strongly worked up against the project that by order of the War Office, it was abandoned.
Who do you think was doing the right thing in this story, the Colonel or the general public who had been reading the newspaper reports?
Do you think the Colonel was right in imagining better treatment for British POWs if the German POWs were treated well?
Note the words in bold, and that the guards were the first to buy tickets. What does that say about the feelings of people who actually got to know the Germans?