The Civilian and Military Prisoners of Lofthouse Park Camp, near Wakefield, 1914-1919 by Dr Claudia Sternberg. 13 November 2019
In our November talk well attended enough to run out of seats, the society was addressed by Dr Claudia Sternberg of Leeds University. A cultural historian, she co-runs the project, 'Wrong Place at the Wrong Time' researching and raising awareness of civilian internees at Lofthouse Park Camp. Society members were involved in the research and many will remember the exhibition and related talks at Wakefield Museum and Library last year.
Lofthouse Park was originally designed as an amusement park by the main tram line between Leeds and Wakefield and built by the tram company in 1908. At the beginning of WWI its communal buildings, holiday chalets and open spaces were converted into an internment camp for people living in Britain but from German descent. A plan superimposed over a current map gave a rough outline of the site and an idea of how little evidence remains of its existence.
In 1914, German mobilisation began. An appeal was made outside of the country for its citizens and their relatives to sign up to the army. This led to suspicion of anyone in Britain with a connection to Germany who might be seen to have the potential to be an enemy combatant; those who were in the Wrong Place at the Wrong Time. Action was taken gradually. Those born in or with connections to Germany, Austria, Hungary, the Ottoman empire or Bulgaria were 'asked' to register. At this time women took on the nationality of their husbands on marriage so many British women were classed as German making their status more difficult. Registration coincided with general anti-German sentiment and propaganda, with occasional outbreaks of violence, such as rioting in Keighley and targeting of businesses. Some naturalised Germans in the public eye, shopkeepers, language teachers and tradesmen, were moved to take out 'loyalty advertisements' in local papers, proclaiming their British patriotism.
The government decided registration was inadequate and moved to a policy of internment of healthy men of fighting age. The largest such camp, Knockaloe, was situated on the Isle of Man, but others were built forming a network around the country.
Lofthouse was a 'gentlemen's camp' holding around 1500 men. Mostly middle-class internees paid for their upkeep and were able to buy goods and services from the surrounding area. Those without money were employed by fellow internees for services as barbers, tailors etc. using their fees to pay for their board. Civilians could not be put to work, but found occupation in writing, putting on plays, creating a camp university and studying. Our knowledge of the camp comes from many sources: official documents, photos of people and buildings, various ephemera such as theatre posters or invoices for goods. Correspondence from and to internees give us more personal stories, as do accounts from those present passed down to family members still in the area or written down at a later date.
By October 1918, civilian internees were moved out of Lofthouse to Knockaloe, to make way for military PoWs. A small number to begin with, increasing to 800 officers and 200 orderlies by the next year. Officers were held there due to its relative comfort, but on arriving much of the furniture had been removed or destroyed and the camp was initially in poor repair. Inmates came from different areas. The last to arrive in June 2019 were naval officers from Scapa Flow where the German fleet had been scuttled. Having been imprisoned on their ship and then experiencing aggression on reaching Lofthouse by rail, they were relieved to reach the camp.
Armistice had been and gone, but the PoWs were still being held. The uncertainty affected their morale. Prior to joining the army, the men had held various roles as pastors, lawyers, teachers, clerks etc. and they used their previous experience to pass the time in the camp. Writing, reading, theatre, music and studying occupied them and as previously they were able pay for goods and services from outside the camp. Musical instruments and theatrical costumes were bought and playbills printed.
International treaties gave officers the privilege of not working, unlike rank-and-file soldiers. They received an allowance and could pay the orderlies. Unsurprisingly the camp was more structured than previously, along military lines. Not all the arrangements were popular and conditions became stricter as time went on. Letters were censored, incoming goods were opened, canteen prices were felt to be inflated. Movement was restricted and roll calls increased. The military experiences and attitudes were different from that of the civilians, bringing a feeling of humiliation and a need to resist, although conditions were considerably better than similar camps in other parts of the world, especially on the eastern front. Acts of resistance were carried out such as hacking the electricity supply and even a couple of escape attempts, with 2 men getting as far as London, though none were successful.
Christmas 2019 brought little relief but by the end of December repatriation was taking place and the camp was shut. PoWs returned to a very different Germany with no monarchy and a messy democracy. Some turned to Nazism and returned to the military in the next war. Civilian internees were also 'repatriated', effectively expelled from Britain. Some were able to return at a later date having families and businesses in this country or moved elsewhere.
Claudia was able to answer many audience questions, including the possibility of a reciprocal agreement for exchanging PoWs (not practical due to the disparity in numbers of Britons and Germans) and about camp conditions. Attitudes of local people were discussed. Newspaper articles portray Lofthouse as full of 'pampered huns' with the Wakefield population fighting abroad, but this is likely to be mostly propaganda. There was certainly some hostility, especially to the PoWs, but there are also stories of civilian internees, sometimes free to exercise outside the camp being friendly with local children. Certainly the people of Wakefield and Leeds seemed happy to trade with the men. The final fate of the camp was discussed. By 1920 the camp was shut and it's furniture up for sale. In 1922 most of the site burnt down, leaving little trace and is now mostly fields and housing. As part of the project, Claudia is hoping to erect an information panel near the site to which the Society have donated some money.
Barrows, Bunkers and Blue Streak Missiles: Archaeology on the MOD Estate
Phil Abramson, MOD Archaeologist for the North of England, Scotland and Cyprus
9th October 2019
Maintenance work meant that our talk on 9 October was moved to the Old Court Room in the Town Hall, sparking many pre-meeting comments about the decorative plasterwork and panelling, and the historic use of the room. Our speaker was Phil Abramson, MOD Archaeologist for the North of England, Scotland and Cyprus, though members may remember him from his previous years with WYAS.
The talk was a wide-ranging look at the role of the Ministry of Defence's 'Historic Environment Team', the sites they cover and Phil's experience in the role. The team is made up of 4 members and covers all MOD property in the UK and abroad. This large but diminishing area of 240,000 hectares of land, mostly rural, includes around 1000 listed buildings, 750 Scheduled Ancient Monuments, 2 railways, 10 World Heritage Wakefield Historical Society Newsletter November 2019 4 Sites and 6 registered battlefields making up 1% of the land surface of the UK. Responsibility for Overseas territories Gibraltar, Belize, Cyprus, Germany and the Falklands is split between the team.
The MOD Historic Environment Team are stewards of the defence estate with responsibility toward the historic and natural environment for cultural, industrial, commercial and military considerations. They assess sites and advise other MOD departments and customers including front-line commands, civil servants and tenants on use and planning, surveying, conservation and repair. Sites not in use are sold or returned to their previous owners in the same or better repair as when they entered MOD hands.
Sites are spread over the country, many were recognised by society members with knowledge of military history. They included rope mills at Portsmouth, Cape Wrath, Holcombe Moor, St Kilda, Lulworth Cove, Fort George, Inverness, Martello Towers at Hythe. Missile silos, listening posts, pillboxes, firing ranges and both historic and working barracks are managed by the MOD. Famously much of Salisbury Plain is managed by the MOD and both Bronze Age barrows and badgers have to be avoided by training soldiers. 5% of Cyprus is owned by the MOD, which looks after it's archaeology from Bronze and Iron Age hill forts to the present day. Highlights were discussed in more depth: Otterburn and Catterick in particular.
Catterick is a working barracks built to house and train First World War troops. Large communal buildings, 'Sandhurst blocks', contained dormitory accommodation, leisure and training facilities in one place. By the 1920s, shops and cinemas were built mirroring a small town. As needs changed, the blocks were knocked down in favour of smaller buildings. Plenty of archaeology remains though; it is still possible to make out crop marks of trenches built by the first recruits. To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the First World War, Phil was involved in the publication of From Farms to Arms: The History having interviewed soldiers who had served at Catterick and farmers who were tenants on the land.
Otterburn in Northumberland is a training estate with the largest firing range in the UK, but contains Roman sites Chew Green and Dere Street and features from hundreds of years of farming and border settlements. Military personnel have been trained in laser scanning techniques which, combined with emergency excavation, have preserved the Roman campsite. Being an active MOD site ensures low foot fall and therefore well-preserved earthworks.
Rural MOD sites may have been, or still are, working farmland or pasture. Military work must be managed around lambing season and uses for deserted buildings be found without destroying the basic fabric or archaeological evidence. Conservation is specifically tailored. Benign neglect, protection from active destruction but otherwise being left to the elements, is an approach often used for concrete structures or exposed stone monuments. Other sites need more active methods. Buildings that are in use with some minor wear-and-tear are often better preserved and less likely to appear on the English Heritage Buildings at Risk Register than those left empty.
Conservation of archive material, documents, photos and recordings, are not overlooked. One example was a series of images depicting the construction of Fylingdales radar station on the North Yorks Moors. We also heard a very moving recording from DST Leconfield of the briefing of a Second World War bombing crew. A unique experience. An unexpected item was a tree carving, or 'arborglyph', of a scantily clad young woman made by a US soldier dated to 7th September 1944.
Phil told us of his involvement in Operation Nightingale, a project for the rehabilitation of wounded, injured or sick service men and women by taking part in archaeological work at Barry Budon. Physical activity in the outdoors, problem-solving and teamwork is therapeutic and builds confidence.
One unique site was the Cold War-era missile silo near Birdoswald. Set up in 1959 by Harold MacMillan it was to produce the Blue Streak ICBM missile, designed, built and tested in the UK. It was slow to fuel though and was quickly superseded in 1961. We saw contemporary photos of its construction and compared with modern photos of the concrete structures still standing. It is a well preserved site including a section through a missile held on a cradle. This has been left to benign neglect, but the site is rare and between the asbestos shell and delicate electrics, nesting swallows and the Cumbrian elements Phil is hoping to design some better protection without spoiling the site.
The team is responsible for cultural and ethnological heritage too. This ranges from involvement in the Edinburgh Tattoo to building a replica Afghan village to train soldiers in cultural awareness.
There were questions on visiting MOD sites (often possible but at very limited times with permission) and restrictions on sites leaving MOD hands (new owners promise to abide by Historic England assessments).
A fascinating talk on a little discussed subject.
Three Worthy Women of Wakefield, by Gaynor Haliday.
11 September 2019
The opening talk of the 2019-20 season was given by Gaynor Haliday, author of Struggle and Suffrage in Wakefield, on ‘Three Worthy Women of Wakefield’.
Our first worthy woman was Phyllis Lett. Born in 1883, educated by a governess alongside her other high-flying siblings and later at Wakefield Girls’ High School. She gained a scholarship to the Royal College of Music in 1903. By 1906 she had made her Royal Albert debut in Mendelssohn’s oratorio, Elijah. She became a favourite of Edward Elgar, performing many of his works, including Sea Pictures and Dream of Gerontius all over the country.
In 1910 she made a recording on wax cylinder for Pathé Frère Pathéphone Ltd and by 1913 was principal contralto at the Proms, then held at Queen’s Hall. She performed closer to home in Huddersfield and at Wakefield Corn Market, with Wakefield District Choral Society, both in aid of the War Relief Fund. She was known to have a large repertoire including patriotic songs appropriate to the occasion. Her successful career was reflected in her London residence and her need to employ a secretary.
In 1922 Pathé reworked her recordings, now 12 years old and poor quality, into a seemingly new record. Lett sued for libel and breach of contract due to the damage to her reputation and loss of engagements. Elgar gave evidence at the trial, warning the judge to ‘brace himself’ before listening. Pathé settled out of court, destroyed the recording and paid the court expenses.
Whilst continuing to travel and perform she met her future husband, Charles Rupert de Burgh, an Australian and former soldier who had served and been wounded in Gallipoli gaining the medal for Gallantry. She gave a farewell concert in March 1925 and then emigrated, but not before producing a new good quality well-reviewed recording for HMV which still exists as a digital download.
Wakefield at the turn of the 20th century had a particularly high infant mortality rate, with 1 in 5 children dying. Gaynor’s next subject, Marguerite de Flemyng Boileau, attempted to change that.
Born in 1875 from an Irish family she received a BA from Brighton High School, and studied privately for a sanitary inspection qualification from the University of London. On arriving in Wakefield she began a series of home visits (6000 to 900 babies in her time there). She was respected for her tact and enthusiasm, her ability to listen and give good advice both. She made sure that mothers knew premature death was not a foregone conclusion. Unusually it was not poverty that made the difference, nor ‘drunken mothers’ or dangerous environments, but ‘crass ignorance and devoted affection’. Babies were being overfed, some 2-3 times per hour, and weaned far too early, one 4-day-old being fed a tomato. Their crying being taken as hunger pangs and then fed again; gin was used as a ‘soothing syrup’.
Boileau began an association, ‘Babies Welcome’ in 1906, the first of many in the country, to help pregnant mothers put aside money for their baby’s arrival. Wakefield Council were generally complimentary and happy to employ extra sanitary inspectors, but unwilling to pay for them or provide other financial help, but she raised money from subscriptions and donations from the women. Improvements followed, though slowly, and were commended in the London Times. She was also able to persuade families to use savings from multiple-worker households to buy bigger houses with more room to minimise sanitation problems.
Boileau left Wakefield in 1910. By 1915 5 health visitors had been employed to perform home and school visits.
Marguerite de Flemyng Boileau died in 1932, leaving little personal information except a will and an obituary. She became Boileau-Lessy and had a daughter, Christin Lessy. The spelling of her daughter’s name may indicate a German father and therefore a reason for the lack of records at this time. Christin became a Queen Alexandra nurse in Egypt and post-war in Palestine.
The last and only Wakefield-born subject was Gwendoline Beaumont, nee Haworth, an anti-suffragist turned would-be politician. In her youth she wrote A Victorian Young Lady’s Opinion of the Male Sex dividing men up into categories such as rabbits, rats, nincompoops, manlets and finally Man. This reflected her opinion that the vote for women was counter-productive as they should just get men to do what they wanted, although she later published ‘Home and Politics’ to encourage women into politics.
When her husband Gerald, partner in Greaves, Atter and Beaumont solicitors, went to war she and her sons moved into Hatfeild House with her father-in-law, and sister-in-law suffragist Florence Beaumont. They, perhaps surprisingly, got on well and bonded over their dislike of the activity of suffragettes.
Post-war, Beaumont threw herself into public life, becoming part of the Women’s Advisory Committee and Woolley Parish Council. She wrote to the local press about issues that affected women and children, particularly health and education. Her sons had been privately educated, but she recognised that many lacked that opportunity and for others more technical than academic study was needed.
In 1935 she decided to stand for election in the Rothwell constituency. She was the only women candidate for the National Party against William Lunn who had held the post since 1918, and was not a fan of women in politics. She campaigned on her progressive policies on work and education, canvassing door-to-door. People (and the press) were polite but dismissive. She would have preferred heckling as this could be argued against. Comment was passed that ‘a woman’s place is in the home’ but she replied that she was a widow (Gerald Beaumont had died in 1933) and her sons were grown up. Lunn won the election in a landslide. Beaumont had known that her campaign was doomed but felt moved to fight it anyway. The first woman to become an MP in Yorkshire was Alice Bacon, the subject of our previous talk, given by Rachel Reeves, MP and Rothwell has yet to return a woman MP.
There was time at the end for questions about aspects of the individual women’s lives but also about how Gaynor had gone about researching her book, one in a series about women’s lives in various towns. Without knowing what she would find she trawled through West Yorkshire Archives and Local Studies library for the archives of the Women’s Co-operative Guild, newspapers and council minutes finding the first mentions of women, and teaching appointments at Wakefield Girls’ High.
Gaynor gave us a substantial talk full of information covering a wide range of aspects of the lives of women in Wakefield between 1850 and 1950.