In Ruhleben Camp: A magazine by any other name…

In Ruhleben Camp: A magazine by any other name…

In Ruhleben Camp follows the production schedule of the magazine created by prisoners at Ruhleben, an internment camp for British civilians in Germany during WWI. Around the time that an issue of the magazine was released a hundred years ago, Marissa Grunes will post highlights from that number and tell part of its story.

Cover. The Ruhleben Camp Magazine, No. 1, March 1916. Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 608

Cover. The Ruhleben Camp Magazine, No. 1, March 1916. Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 608

As March crept in, Ruhlebenites gratefully heralded the return of spring—and of their camp magazine along with it. Following a two-month hiatus, In Ruhleben Camp (IRC) returned under new editorial guidance, and freshly re-christened The Ruhleben Camp Magazine (RCM). As the slight shift towards formality suggests, a few things had changed, but not much.

The cover illustration gives the first hint that the same wry spirit prevails. As we discussed at the beginning of this series, the cover of In Ruhleben Camp’s inaugural issue back in June 1915 had sported a clever example of the “Droste effect,” a graphical technique popularized in advertising around the turn of the twentieth century. The cover had shown a man reading from an issue of IRC, on whose cover was visible a smaller image of the same man holding the same magazine, on whose cover one could imagine the same man…and so on ad infinitum.

The newly renamed Ruhleben Camp Magazine recreates this gambit for its own cover, except that the voluble Ruhlebenite is replaced by an unusually literate March hare, suggesting one thing that Ruhlebenites might be as mad as (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 608). The picture seems to shout: “Remember us? We’re back!”

Back with a familiar cast of characters, too. “The Mad Hatter” (now styling himself number “2”) continues gleefully mocking the antics of the Debating Society; the famous footballer Fred B. Pentland still reports sagely on the camp’s favorite game; a number of sketches bear the impress of a familiar hand, with chicken scratch signatures conjuring up the usual suspects.

Moreover, the new editor echoes his predecessor T. Arthur Barton in lamenting that the camp’s best writers are withholding their talent, forcing the editor to ply his pen to fill up pages. But just who is this new editor? A few former internees who were also the camp’s earliest historians, Israel Cohen, Francis Gribble, and the former “Captain of the Camp” Joseph Powell, identify the new editor as L.E. Filmore—perhaps the most beloved parodist in the camp, and a regular contributor to the magazine (Cohen, p. 156; Powell and Gribble, p. 212). Yet the man who signs off as editor in the Xmas 1916 issue is one C.G. Pemberton (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 799).

The reasons for the shake-up are also mysterious: the former editor T.A. Barton continues contributing to the magazine, which remains under the aegis of the Education Committee. If there had been any reshuffling of leadership or finances in the Education Committee, no chroniclers (that I have found) thought it worth mentioning, and the new editor diplomatically emphasizes continuity over difference. Moreover, in a “Publisher’s Notice,” the Education Committee chisels the magazine’s core commandments onto the first pages of RCM: that “as far as possible the magazine shall appear punctually, that it shall be produced by the co-operation of all those in the Camp who are able and willing to assist, and shall express the true sentiment of the interned,” in order to offer “diversion from the tedium of the prisoner’s life.” As part of a “fresh effort” to follow these commandments, and “in witness of the renewal of the paper’s original purpose,” the Committee announces that it “has made some changes which include that of its title” (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 610).

Yet, as Powell and Gribble write in their joint history, “what differences of policy the editors may have been pursuing, I do not know; but the visible characteristics of the two papers do not seem widely opposed.” They share a sprightly resilience, it seems: “both were illustrated, and always light in tone and touch—always, one might say, modern. They took few things au grand sérieux” (Powell and Gribble, pp. 212-213).

Continuity of purpose was one of those few things taken with great seriousness, and at least one reader took this continuity seriously as well. A letter to the editor, published in this issue, renews the old protest against expensive theatre performances that boxed poorer internees out of warm indoor spaces. “Take up the cudgels once again in favour of” cheaper seats, the writer exhorts the editor, citing earlier issues of “your paper” that had championed this cause (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 648). And The Ruhleben Camp Magazine seems inclined to do just that. Already the first issue has taken up the satire and public debate once wielded by its predecessor, and sallied forth to do battle with boredom and camp grievances, trumpeting the Ruhleben motto: “Are we downhearted? No!”

Bibliography & Further Reading

Cohen, Israel. The Ruhleben Prison Camp: A Record of Nineteen Months’ Internment. New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1917.

Powell, Joseph and Francis Henry Gribble. The history of Ruhleben: the record of British organisation in a prison camp. London: W. Collins Sons & Company Ltd., 1919.

Marissa Grunes is a PhD candidate in English Literature at Harvard University, focusing on transatlantic literature of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Her dissertation project explores frontier architecture in 19th century poetry, fiction, and non-fiction of the United States.

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