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In Ruhleben Camp: a winter of discontent

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 day 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.

Drawing of Ruhleben Camp in snow. VIA record number olvwork427988

Drawing of Ruhleben Camp in snow. VIA record number olvwork427988

After two spirited and quarrelsome issues of In Ruhleben Camp in September, and one in October, the magazine did not appear again until Christmas of 1915. During this November hiatus, prisoners grimly marked the start of a second year in Ruhleben Camp. As winter arrived, Ruhlebenites carried on working to make internment bearable—apart from the unlucky few who were ill enough to be declared “military unfit” and repatriated to begin healing their broken constitutions.

The few “military unfit” released in October and November left the camp with frost spidering around their boggy footprints. Behind the barbed wire, cold crept under overcoats and blankets, up from the muddy ground through poorly repaired boots, and into thin soup and weak tea. Cold drove internees indoors and hemmed them in.

Some accommodation for winter had been made since the previous year (for example, the latrines were no longer en plein air), but internees still lived in unheated horse stalls, with the overflow in lofts. As bitter weather set in, the six men randomly assigned to each box were together almost continuously, sharpening the claustrophobia of their lodgings. Prisoners would later describe the lack of privacy as one of the greatest mental and emotional trials of life behind barbed wire.

In “The Case for a Wholesale Exchange,” a letter published in The Times on 22 November 1916 by Sir Timothy Eden (after Lord Robert Cecil secured his early release as a favor to his mother, Lady Eden) (Stibbe, p. 126), the aristocratic former internee warns of “the serious mental condition of the civilian prisoners” who lack “the slightest privacy.” As he urges his government to accept Germany’s conditions and free British civilians at any cost, Sir Timothy exhorts his readers to imagine a life where “it is impossible to be alone. There are no past glories to dream about. No consolation in the remembrance of duty done. The men have nothing to think of save their ruined prospects and the hopelessness of their position” (Eden, pp. 22-23).

Paul Cohen-Portheim, a German civilian interned in similar circumstances at Knockaloe on the Isle of Man, echoes Sir Timothy’s view of internment. In his published memoir Time Stood Still, the cosmopolite Cohen-Portheim describes living in a hut of 6 x 4 feet where others “heard every word you spoke, every movement you made.” The buildings were so shoddily constructed that “whenever anyone walked in the hut or moved a chair it set up vibration right through the hut.”

Consequently, he continues, “no one could stand staying in the hut for long; one soon developed a habit of rushing out every ten minutes or so. That habit became so much of a second nature that I found it very difficult to get rid of again in later years. One rushed round, one walked…by way of change, and wherever you went there were people just in front of you, just behind you, just beside you or just coming towards you, and they were always the same people. You could not talk to a friend without being overheard, you could not make a movement that was not watched. The control exercised by the prisoners over each other was infinitely more irritating and galling than the superficial outside control” (Cohen-Portheim, pp. 85-86).

Such skittishness was by no means confined to upper class prisoners. Tellingly, it features prominently among symptoms of “barbed wire disease” as described by the famed Swiss physician Dr. Adolf Lukas Vischer in 1919. After the war, Dr. Vischer interviewed POWs released from camps in neutral Switzerland. Common behaviors he observed included “an increase of irritability,” suspicion, and “pathological fatigue” or “loss of concentration” that manifested most acutely as “difficulty in settling down.” Even when watching a “kinematograph performance,” Dr. Vischer and his colleague Dr. Bing explain in The Lancet, former POWs exhibit “growing restlessness, which finally arrives at such a point that they are obliged to leave the hall.” Vischer and Bing conclude that many former POWs suffer “a certain shyness, leading them to seek that solitude of which they have so long been deprived” (“Psychology of Internment,” p. 696-7).

The entertainments, activities, and institutions of Ruhleben offered a limited but vital lifeline within the camp’s physically and mentally stifling atmosphere. Yet these activities were also constrained by the cold weather, and even at their fullest, they were no substitute for life out from under the thumb of imprisonment. At one Ruhleben archive, a librarian told me that the descendent of a Ruhlebenite had recently come to look at the same collection. Internment had dramatically affected that researcher’s ancestor, making him taciturn and private. These qualities, the researcher told the librarian, had echoed down the generations, so that the stiff wind of Ruhleben winter still seemed to be blowing through the family tree.

Bibliography & Further Reading

In Ruhleben: Letters from a Prisoner to His Mother. Edited and with an introduction by Douglas Sladen. Including “Civilian Prisoners: the Case for a Wholesale Exchange” by Sir Timothy Eden. London: Hurst and Blackett, Ltd. Paternoster House, E.C., 1917.

Bing, M.D. and A.L. Vischer, M.D. “Some Remarks on the Psychology of Internment, Based on the Observation of Prisoners of War in Switzerland.” The Lancet. 26 April 1919. Pp. 696-7.

Cohen-Portheim, Paul. Time Stood Still: My Internment in England 1914-1918. London: Duckworth, 1931.

Stibbe, Matthew. British civilian internees in Germany. The Ruhleben camp, 1914-18. Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 2008.

Vischer, Adolf Lucas. Barbed wire disease; a psychological study of the prisoner of war. Tr. from the German, with additions by the author. London: Bale & Danielsson, 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.

Review: Voxgov.com – A Discovery Engine for Government Info

“Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people, who have a right and a desire to know;” John Adams

Trying to research and review all of the information that the government releases on any particular topic can be overwhelming.  Add in trying to stay up to date on current happenings in the government generally, and you have a recipe for information overload.  I recently discovered a resource that wants to be the one stop for all unedited government media, news, statements, and information releases:  Voxgov.com.  (Hollis number 013924920)

voxgov

Ranging from the official releases of agencies to personal tweets of elected officials, Voxgov.com strives to capture and make sense of the thousands of ways our government tries to communicate with us.  Their website says their mission is “to become the established site of record for unedited media, news and information from all official government sources, providing reliable and comprehensive value-added access to government communications.”

Content sources searched include information from more than 10,000 web locations:

  • Press Releases, News, Notices
  • Columns, Articles, Op-Eds, Blogs
  • Decisions, Opinions, Orders
  • Events, Media Advisories, Fact Sheets
  • Newsletters, Bulletins, Circulars
  • Alerts, Reports, Publications
  • Speeches, Statements, Remarks
  • Testimony Transcripts

Sometimes described as a “discovery engine,” the Voxgov.com home page gives you a simple, Google-like search box where you can immediately search the government’s releases on any topic – search “VW,” for example, to find releases from agencies, members of Congress, or the administration about the recent emissions scandal or “Benghazi” to find out who was tweeting during Secretary Clinton’s hearings.  Researching the debate surrounding Planned Parenthood funding?  Voxgov.com will help you find key proponents and opponents – and what they are saying.

The advanced search page gives you more control of the results.  Simply tick off the boxes to limit your search to Congressional documents, for example, or exclude social media sources.  There is a way to limit your searches to statements and documents by party affiliation, gender, branch of government, and even those people running for president, a handy tool as we head into 2016!

While viewing results, Voxgov.com suggests new searches and highlights key people, keywords, places and organizations that may be helpful to review.  Your search terms are also highlighted for easy scanning and context review.

One of the coolest features, IMHO, is the compare feature.  Any search you do is automatically displayed in a graph illustrating how two groups over time have released information on your topic.  The default is House Republicans vs. House Democrats, but options are available to change that and view how two individuals or other groups compare on the topic.

Take a look and explore how your representatives have responded to topics in the news, or research a government agency’s statements on current events in their area of authority.  If you get stuck or lost, Voxgov.com has a handy “Ask a Librarian” link to one of their experts, and of course, you can always contact us here in the Harvard Law Library.

 

 

In Ruhleben Camp: 101 years of Ruhleben history

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 day 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.

Horsebox in a Ruhleben Internment Camp Barrack, pencil sketch. Maurice Ettinghausen Collection, Special & Historical Collections, HLSL. VIA record olvwork427944

Horsebox in a Ruhleben Internment Camp Barrack, pencil sketch. Maurice Ettinghausen Collection, Special & Historical Collections, HLSL. VIA record olvwork427944

 

Barrack model (three views). Maurice Ettinghausen Collection, Special & Historical Collections, HLSL. VIA record olvwork483923

Barrack model (three views). Maurice Ettinghausen Collection, Special & Historical Collections, HLSL. VIA record olvwork483923

Today I would like to pause our investigations into In Ruhleben Camp to commemorate the beginning of civilian internment at Ruhleben. Most of the 4,000-some British civilian internees arrived at the camp 101 years ago today, on November 6, 1914.

Four years and two days later, on November 8, 1918, the German guards signed a declaration of brotherhood with the internees at Ruhleben, and hoisted a red flag over the camp before releasing their prisoners (Stibbe, p. 16).

To honor the civilians who arrived at Ruhleben 101 years ago, I would like to share the Ruhleben Alphabet, a song written between Christmas 1914 and the opening of the playing field in March 1915 (as the internee J.D. Ketchum deduces) (Ketchum, p. 99). This span of time was a low point in the experience of internees, and although conditions eventually improved, and fatality at Ruhleben was low overall, these men had to muster great courage and fortitude to keep their spirits up. The strain and their plucky response both show in the Ruhleben chant: “Are we downhearted? No!”

A is for all of us locked up in here,
B is for the Bastards who won’t give us beer,
C is for the Canteen you never get near,
D for the dust-heaps—they don’t smell, no fear!
E for Exchange* that you hear of each day
F for the Football they won’t let us play,
G for “Gott mit uns,” at least so they say,
H for the Hope that we’ll get out some day.
I for the Ikeys, all Englishmen true,
J for the Jails that the British go to;
K for the Kaiser and all of his set,
L for the Licking we hope they will get,
M for the March, and it is a damned bore,
N for the News we don’t get of the war;
O for the Odours that come from the bogs*
P for the Pork in the soup, fit for hogs,
Q for the Queues in the mud and the cold,
R for the Rumours a hundred times told.
S for the Skilly they feed us again,*
T for the Trucks that we look for in vain;
U stands for Eunuchs we might as well be,
V the vexation on tasting the tea.
W the Wash in the morning so cold,
X for the Xmas well spent, we are told;
Y is an Englishman kept like a dog?
Z is the shape you assume on the bog.
This is the end of the Ruhleben song;
We’ll sing it in England before very long.

* Exchange refers to the hoped-for exchange of prisoners with Germany, which Britain decided was not in its interest, given that it had detained over five times as many enemy civilians as Germany. Around 20,000 people were held at Knockaloe in the Isle of Man alone.
* The bog refers to a latrine; the two latrines were on either side of the camp and were the only things in the camp named after Berlin geography: they were called Charlottenburg and Spandau.
* Skilly is a kind of thin soup or gruel. In late November of 1914, a “Skilly Riot” broke out when a group of sailors staged a spontaneous demonstration against the poor quality of the soup fed them by the corrupt kitchen manager. The authorities ended the riot “by the simple method of sounding “Fire,” and once we were in our places we were kept there” (a diary entry by one Henley, quoted in Ketchum, p. 19).

Bibliography & Further Reading

Ketchum, J. Davidson. Ruhleben: A Prison Camp Society. With a Foreword and Postscript by Robert B. MacLeod. Canada: University of Toronto Press, 1965. Foreword (Ithaca, NY, April 1964)

Stibbe, Matthew. British civilian internees in Germany. The Ruhleben camp, 1914-18. Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 2008.

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.

Jump Start Your Research With Our New Tool

The Harvard Law School Library recently launched a new tool to streamline your research. You can now run a single search to find research guides, items from the library’s catalog, responses to frequently asked questions, and databases that are recommended by the HLSL research librarians. If your search doesn’t return any results, you will be offered the opportunity to contact a librarian to get further help with your research. You can see the new tool in action in the video below.

You can find a link to this new tool on the library’s homepage under Research A Topic. We hope this will help to make your research faster and smoother, but if you encounter any issues, please feel free to let us know!

852 RARE: MASS(achusetts) Incarceration During the Nineteenth Century

Recently, an intriguing folder containing six broadsides came to light in Historical & Special Collections. These are very different from our largest collection of broadsides, which are English trial and execution broadsides (sometimes referred to as “dying speeches”) printed for popular consumption.

1827 & 1828

These are single sheet Annual report[s] of the convicts in the Massachusetts State Prison their employment, &c., with a correct view of the expenses and income of the Institution … for the years 1823-1828 and it turns out they’re very rare. According to WorldCat only the American Antiquarian Society and the Massachusetts Historical Society have some of the issues. For those whose libraries subscribe to Readex’s “America’s Historical Imprints”, five of the reports are available digitally as part of “American Broadsides and Ephemera, Series 1”.

The state prison, located in the Charlestown section of Boston was built in 1805. With the completion of the Massachusetts Correctional Institution in Concord, in 1878, the prison population of the Charlestown prison declined. Among its later and better known inmates were Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, executed there in August 1927.

1825 close up

Detail of the 1825 report

The reports, signed by wardens Gamaliel Bradford (1823) and Thomas Harris (1824-1828), are statistical in nature and models of succinctness. While at first glance they may seem a bit dry, one can glean a great deal of information from them, including all of the prison’s expenses and income; the crimes for which inmates were imprisoned, ages, and lengths of sentences; and their prison employment. During this many period prisoners were engaged in cutting and transporting stone, working in the prison hospital, and picking oakum. Others were let out to contractors as cabinet and brush makers, as well as other skilled labor. The north wing built in 1828, was probably the “new prison” referred to in the reports starting in 1826 when 26 of the 313 current prisoners were working on its construction.

1827 close up

Detail of the 1827 report

Penciled notes on the Library’s copies of these broadsides provide some evidence of their provenance, and the piecemeal fashion in which they were acquired. The 1823 issue was a gift to the Harvard College Library from “Arthur G. Sedgwick of Cambridge” in November 1875–most likely the lawyer and writer who graduated Harvard College in 1864 and earned his LL.B. at the Law School in 1866. Sedgwick moved to New York City in 1875 to continue practicing law after several years in Boston. Perhaps his donation to the College was the result of office-cleaning in preparation for his move?

The back of the 1824 issue bears the signature of “Hon. Levi Thaxter.”

This may be lawyer Levi Lincoln Thaxter (Harvard College 1843, Harvard Law School 1845) who was married to poet and writer Celia Thaxter. “Gratis” is penciled on the front, so it was evidently a gift, but it is unclear from whom.

52256954 Sanborn

Harvard University – Harvard University Archives / Class Album. Class of 1855. HUD 255.704.1, Harvard University Archives

The 1825 and 1826 annual reports were also gifts, in 1865, of Frank B. Sanborn, Harvard College 1855. Here he is pictured in his Class album (HOLLIS 7505074).

The source of the 1827 and 1828 issues remains a mystery. A penciled note reads simply “no date of reception.” All six were transferred from the College Library to the Law School Library in June 1924, possibly in a batch described in the Law Library’s accession book as merely “Miscellaneous material”. These broadsides and their miscellaneous collection of facts and figures offer an intriguing glimpse into the state of Massachusetts prisons in the early nineteenth century. We are thankful to the Harvard College alumni who thought to give these interesting documents to their alma mater and to the library professionals who over the years have sought to preserve them. And given recent interest and concern about prisons and mass incarceration, both nationally and locally, these nearly 200 year old reports are an especially timely find.

In Ruhleben Camp: No. 7, September 1915

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. On the day 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. 

The first five issues won’t be covered in proper sequence here, as they were printed from June through August 1915, and their anniversaries passed while I was abroad, searching for Ruhleben material at archives in London and at Leeds University.

“Ruhleben Bed Notice.” In Ruhleben Camp, No. 7, 12 Sept 1915. Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 396.

“Ruhleben Bed Notice.” In Ruhleben Camp, No. 7, 12 Sept 1915. Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 396.

The fall of 1915 was a bustling time in Ruhleben Camp, as the cogs and wheels of bureaucracy began, somewhat squeakily, to turn. The administrative, educational, and recreational committees established over the summer were suffering growing pangs, while inmates watched the war drag into its second year outside.

Frustration runs like a humming wire through the seventh number of In Ruhleben Camp, published on 12 September, 1915. This issue is one of the liveliest productions of the editorial staff under the direction of T. Arthur Barton, and its pages buzz with fiery debate and acerbic satire, including an open letter from the much-maligned Captain of the Camp, Joseph Powell, who testily asks that anyone with a complaint not hide behind a penname, but “come forward like a man” (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 416).

The hottest debates came down to what exactly a civilian internment camp was. Without historical or legal precedent to govern their position, the internees recognized that their fate rested in the delicate scales of public opinion back home. Were they national heroes? A national embarrassment? Whose money should support the prisoners, and to whom did profits earned within the camp belong? Was it unethical for anyone in the camp to turn a profit? Could the Camp itself be a money-making operation? Would this affect the status of the Relief Fund? How democratic should its administration be? Were organizations justified in going on strike, or was that shirking their duty to the camp?

Events over the summer hardened many of these questions into concrete problems. Unbeknownst to the Camp Captains, a group of internees wrote to the British Foreign Office asking that a Ruhleben “Medal” be stamped in honor of their sacrifice. A chilly response was sent directly to the Captains, who quickly distanced themselves from the request. To smooth out the camp’s image, a general “Anti-Medal Meeting” was called, at which internees overwhelmingly voted against the “childish” idea of “souvenir badges” (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 310). Typed and signed statements condemning the request are still held among the private papers of former internees in the Liddle Collection at Leeds University.

To further rehabilitate the name of Ruhleben, prisoners wrote to the magazine’s editors suggesting that the camp endow a “Ruhleben Bed” at a Red Cross Hospital, to help British soldiers. The editors took the idea up with gusto, and the inside cover of the September 12 issue bears a forcefully-worded announcement advising readers that “as a Britisher You are expected to make some sacrifice for this object not merely to give of your superfluity” (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 396). As will emerge in the following issue, however, this charitable scheme itself met with vigorous criticism.

Nor did the drama stop there. Where resources were scarce, money became an especially ripe apple of discord, and in August 1915 some of the camp’s most profitable organizations—its entertainers—went on strike. In the next post, we will turn the spotlight on this fracas.

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.

In Ruhleben Camp: “British Organisation”

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. On the day 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. 

“Sport.” In Ruhleben Camp, No. 2, 27 June 1915. Masterman, Box 2 Seq. 202

“Sport.” In Ruhleben Camp, No. 2, 27 June 1915. Masterman, Box 2 Seq. 202

In addition to paving the way for greater self-governance within Ruhleben, the American Ambassador James Gerard also helped the camp put its best foot forward in a more literal way: sport.

After Gerard’s visit, the German authorities lifted the ban on organized sporting competitions, including football (soccer). The return of sporting events to the field in March of 1915 transformed the camp. Sport stood at the heart of popular British culture, and the internment of several prominent British sportsmen at Ruhleben, including the celebrity footballer (later inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame) Steve Bloomer, made the matches an especial source of pride to the internees.

Apart from the benefits of rigorous activity and purposeful competition, sporting events allowed the prisoners to exercise the British value of sportsmanship, implying not just physical excellence but also team spirit, fair play, and good humor. Sports took off with a vengeance, and the organization necessary to arrange games, then leagues, then full seasons called for “a multitude of clubs, committees, and subcommittees” including the Ruhleben Football Association, Cricket Association, Rugby Football Club, Lawn Tennis Association, Hockey Club, Boxing Club, and Golf Club, among those that J.D. Ketchum recalls (Ketchum, p. 194).

Sport provided a model for increasingly complex bureaucratic structures. A Sports Committee was formed to manage sporting demands, and was complemented by the Entertainments Committee for theatrical and musical events, while the Education Committee took charge of the Ruhleben Camp School. All such committees answered to the Captains’ Committee, which held the purse strings for the camp. Surveying the administration that emerged, the Captain-of-Captains Joseph Powell would later subtitle his history of the camp, a “record of British organisation.”

Under the aegis of the Education Committee, the first issue of In Ruhleben Camp was published in June 1915, amidst this efflorescence of “British organisation. Positioning itself as a platform for public debate, the magazine began printing interviews with camp administrators, open letters to and from the Captains’ Committee, and zinging satirical articles and cartoons. It was also filled to bursting with reviews of theatrical and musical performances in the camp, reports from boisterous debating society meetings, updates on new groups such as the Horticultural Society, the Irish Players, the French and Italian language magazines, and so on—all liberally marinated in British sarcasm.

In subsequent issues, In Ruhleben Camp and its successor The Ruhleben Camp Magazine would reveal populist leanings, encouraging the camp to keep its officials accountable for their projects, budgeting choices, record-keeping, and attitude towards their fellow prisoners. Taking a humorously combative stance, the magazine demanded that the Captains, Committee Chairs, and other administrators justify their sense of self-importance—which it often delighted in deflating. As one wit quips in the opening pages of the first issue: “Consider the officials, how they grow!” (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 155). Readers could finish the original verse sotto voce: “consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not” (KJV Luke 12:27).

The editors also recognized the vitality of sports in the camp. Towards the front of the first issue, readers found a review of the football season by “the English International, F.B. Pentland, of Middlesborough F.C. [Football Club].” Pentland, who had arrived just before the war to train the German Olympic team, relates a telling anecdote: “Passing through our Trafalgar Square some days ago,” he chuckles, “a man from Barrack 9 asked could he book the football ground for October 1st next. It sounded a strange request, of course, and an individual near remarked, “October indeed, what’s the matter with being at home by that time?”” (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 161).

As Pentland well knew, sport brought structure to the blank tedium of camp life. Like theatrical performances, sport colored in the future—at least provisionally—and gave internees a reason to keep track of time. And like theatre, sporting matches could absorb the attention and erase the outside world so effectively that they jeopardized the prisoners’ sense of reality.

This problem would fuel the most heated debates and stinging satire in the camp magazine: could internees make camp life vivid without losing their perspective? In struggling for psychological survival, were internees reducing themselves to spoiled children, playing at war? Were folks back home right in imagining Ruhlebenites lounging in deck chairs, enjoying the “quiet life” while Europe burned?

Bibliography & Further Reading

John Masterman collection of Ruhleben British Civilian internment camp documents, 1914-1919, Harvard Law School Library, Box 2, sequence 155

John Masterman collection of Ruhleben British Civilian internment camp documents, 1914-1919, Harvard Law School Library, Box 2, sequence 161

Ketchum, J. Davidson. Ruhleben: A Prison Camp Society. With a Foreword and Postscript by Robert B. MacLeod. Canada: University of Toronto Press, 1965. Foreword (Ithaca, NY, April 1964)

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.

In Ruhleben Camp: “Home Rule” for Ruhlebenites

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. On the day 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. 

Pondside Stores. In Ruhleben Camp, No. 3, July 1915. p. 5. Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 246

Pondside Stores. In Ruhleben Camp, No. 3, July 1915, p. 5. Masterman, Box 2 Seq. 246

The story of the magazine In Ruhleben Camp begins in March 1915, when James Gerard, the American Ambassador in Berlin, first visited Ruhleben as a neutral observer. His appalled response prompted quick action by the German military authorities, who prepared to build new barracks to ease crowding, and immediately fired the corrupt kitchen manager. Food preparation was placed under prisoner control, and by the time General von Kessel, supreme commander in the marches, visited two weeks later, Ruhlebenites were running an efficient and clean kitchen.

During the bustling summer of 1915, the prisoners established a post service, police force, and financial chain of command, building an autonomous civil administration alongside the cultural institutions (including a school, theatre, orchestra, and debating league) that sprang up in the camp. In September of 1915, Ruhlebenites were granted “Home Rule,” and became responsible for virtually every aspect of camp business save guarding the barbed wire itself.

Three significant changes in 1915 made “Home Rule” successful: 1) a Relief Fund provided by Great Britain; 2) a Camp Fund to pay internees employed in the camp, also underwritten by the British government; and 3) lowered restrictions on parcel deliveries to internees.

Parliament and the folks back home were initially suspicious of these supposed expatriates fiddling while the Western Front burned. When the government relented and set up a Relief Fund for civilian prisoners, the disbursements were limited to 5 Marks per week and were given on loan, to be paid back when the war ended. This amount was a pittance, but it enabled the poorest recipients to purchase basic foodstuffs at the Camp Canteen (also run by Ruhlebenites).

The Canteen, in turn, was internally subsidized by the Captains’ Committee, the central administrative body of the camp. Subsidies were financed by profits from less essential services such as the boiler house (which dispensed hot water for tea) and were put towards items like milk or margarine, according to public statements by the Captains (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 416-7). The profits were available because the Camp didn’t pay its employees: Gerard had also arranged a Camp Fund, underwritten by the British government, to pay the wages of critical workers, including kitchen employees and those on fatigue duty. All of these employees were prisoners.

Finally, the spring of 1915 saw a surge in private relief flowing into the camp, as German authorities lifted restrictions on parcel deliveries. Here, negotiating pressure played a larger role. The sinking of the Lusitania in May 1915 provoked the large-scale internment of German citizens resident in Britain. These changed stakes made “both governments more willing to reach an agreement on a system of camp inspections and on the delivery of relief parcels from home,” which transformed conditions in Ruhleben, as historian Matthew Stibbe remarks (Stibbe, p. 111).

Ambassador Gerard also kicked off the keenest source of pride and internal organization in the camp, as we shall see: football.

Bibliography & Further Reading

John Masterman collection of Ruhleben British Civilian internment camp documents, 1914-1919, Harvard Law School Library, Box 2, sequence 246

John Masterman collection of Ruhleben British Civilian internment camp documents, 1914-1919, Harvard Law School Library, Box 2, sequence 416-417

Stibbe, Matthew. British civilian internees in Germany. The Ruhleben camp, 1914-18. Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 2008.

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.

In Ruhleben Camp: Arrival in Ruhleben

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. On the day 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. 

1914-1915 Ruhleben Camp, Postcard by W. Powell. VIA record number olvwork417893

1914-1915 Ruhleben Camp, Postcard by W. Powell. VIA record number olvwork417893

Welcome to Ruhleben Camp, Engländerlager für Zivilgefangene: Camp for English Civilian Prisoners.

How can one be a civilian and a prisoner of war? For many at the turn of the 20th century, it was a contradiction in terms. Say you are a British citizen who happens to be in Germany in the summer of 1914, perhaps as a long-time resident, perhaps on holiday. You might be a sailor docked at the bustling port of Hamburg to offload cargo, or a music student holding your breath at Wagner’s hallowed opera house in Bayreuth. Whatever brings you to Germany, you hardly imagine that the conflagration about to engulf Europe will come to your doorstep.

On November 6, 1914, you hear a sharp knock at the door. A German officer, looking embarrassed, politely requests that you make yourself known to the local police station the next morning. You’ve had to report there before as a resident alien, but now you’re told you will be taken to a camp called Ruhleben. Why? For what? What should I bring? you ask. Because you are British, might come the apologetic response. Pack as if you are going on holiday.

What purpose can my imprisonment possibly serve? you demand. Or, if you belong to cosmopolitan circles, you wonder: What does the place of my birth have to do with who I am now, fluent in French, German and Italian, and more at ease in Munich or Milan than Manchester?

Dwelling on such frustrations, bemused and impatient, you set out the next morning in a light suit. At the station, you are trundled onto a train, and then tumbled out again hours later into a recently vacated horse racing track outside Berlin. This is Ruhleben, formerly a place of pleasure and entertainment, whose name sounds like the “quiet life” (ruhiges Leben). Here, in “enforced leisure,” you will be cooling your heels for the next four years.

The men herded into horse stalls in early November 1914 did not know how long the war would last, of course. Baffled by the manic excitement of some four thousand men hurled together, and flush with the early optimism infecting both sides, many assumed that internment was a practical joke. Like the war, they argued, it could not last more than a few weeks. Certainly they would be home by Christmas. Rumors—which one wit later styled “Ruhleben Gnats”—buzzed fast and furious through the horse boxes. (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 285)

Five months later, a Ruhleben prisoner wrote the American Ambassador requesting a set of false teeth. He had left his behind on the assumption that he would be away for less than a week. The camp magazine reported that “now the gentleman in question has one of the nicest sets of ivories in the Camp.” (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 215)

The sheer diversity of the population contributed to the initial disorientation, as the men were stripped of markers of class or economic privilege and assigned at random to “boxes” of six men each. Hierarchy, etiquette, the customary rigidities of English society were scuttled.

One former internee, John Davidson Ketchum, abandoned his musical studies to become a respected social psychologist after experiencing life in Ruhleben. In his 1964 study of the camp, A Prison Camp Society, he describes the prisoners as “almost a cross-section of British society, from the manor house to the slum; scarcely a trade or profession was unrepresented. All were jammed together in a small stableyard—company directors and seamen, concert musicians and factory workers, science professors and jockeys. Few had ever met previously; their only common bond was their British citizenship” (Ketchum, p. 2).

They discovered another common bond, though, which became increasingly crucial as the flood of private parcels in the summer of 1915 reintroduced visible markers of social status, including blazer, tie, and hat. As former internee A.M.D. Hughes explains in Cornhill Magazine, writing in November 1915 after his early release, “We were a medley of people passing the time together, so that good humour was a common advantage and a common need and the only business of the day” (qtd. in Ketchum, p. 26).

This “good humour” became a prime raison d’etre for many Ruhleben organizations, especially the feisty, often satirical, wickedly funny magazine In Ruhleben Camp, to which we will turn for the remainder of this series.

Postscript: The experiences dramatized above accord in general outline with the recollections of various internees, including J. Davidson Ketchum and John Masterman. They were also mirrored strangely across the Channel: the cosmopolitan Paul Cohen-Portheim, a German citizen but long resident in France, gives a remarkably parallel account of his transport to Knockaloe Camp on the Isle of Man, where he arrived prepared for a holiday, “with plenty of white flannels, bathing things, evening dress, etc., but without a towel” (Cohen-Portheim, p. 21).

Bibliography & Further Reading

Cohen-Portheim, Paul. Time Stood Still: My Internment in England 1914-1918. London: Duckworth, 1931.

Ketchum, J. Davidson. Ruhleben: A Prison Camp Society. With a Foreword and Postscript by Robert B. MacLeod. Canada: University of Toronto Press, 1965.

John Masterman collection of Ruhleben British Civilian internment camp documents, 1914-1919, Harvard Law School Library, Box 2, sequence 215

John Masterman collection of Ruhleben British Civilian internment camp documents, 1914-1919, Harvard Law School Library, Box 2, sequence 285

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.

852 RARE – New Exhibit! One Text, Sixteen Manuscripts: Magna Carta at the Harvard Law School Library

Magna Carta posterFirst written in 1215, the ideas of liberty and human rights contained in and derived from England’s Magna Carta (the Great Charter) have persisted for 800 years. They have provided inspiration for developments in law now enshrined in constitutions and treaties across the world. The survival and resonance of those ideas is reflected in the manuscripts in this exhibit.

The Harvard Law School Library owns close to 30 manuscript copies of Magna Carta; a few of our favorites are presented here. Tangible items like these connect us with the past and allow us to approach the people who created, used and treasured these documents. Each manuscript tells a different story and raises many questions.

This exhibit was curated by Karen Beck and Mindy Kent, HLS Library. It is on view daily 9 to 5 in the Caspersen Room through March 11, 2016. An online companion to the exhibit is available. All our manuscript Magna Cartas have been digitized and may be viewed online.