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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.

In Ruhleben Camp: Civilian Interment during WWI

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 mass internment of non-combatants during wartime was a disturbing development in the First World War. The idea of the “concentration camp” (as the British then called it) was not new, historian Matthew Stibbe points out in his article “The Internment of Civilians by Belligerent States during the First World War.” Systematic detention of civilians had been an element of both the Spanish occupation of Cuba and the British policy in the Boer War, and was a dark part of the Balkan wars of 1912 and 1913. However, internment during WWI was implemented on an unprecedented scale. Hundreds of thousands of people from across Europe and European-controlled colonies were confined, many in labor camps.

Historians have identified a number of factors contributing to the expansion of internment. Universal military conscription on the European continent made every male civilian a potential recruit. Off the battlefield he might be “spy” or “saboteur,” in the language of war hysteria that drew from popular prejudices against foreigners. Extensive railway lines were available to transport people in large numbers. Especially vulnerable were civilians in occupied territories, imprisoned for punitive reasons or as conscripted labor to make up manpower losses. The labor historian Ulrich Herbert notes that the German conscription of several hundred thousand Poles and Belgians, among other nationalities, was economically vital to the war effort (see Stibbe, p. 9).

The mutual internment by Britain and Germany of one another’s citizens was among the less brutal—if more insidiously absurd—episodes within this vast network of POW and labor camps. When Britain declared war on Germany in August of 1914, around 10,000 British nationals were on German soil, while roughly 70,000 German and Austrian nationals were to be found in Great Britain. Before the year ended, men of military age within both populations would be behind barbed wire.

However, military prudence, mingled with a certain cultural respect, restrained both nations in their conduct towards each other’s civilians, who were generally treated like captured officers, spared hard labor, and fed on soldiers’ rations. Since neither the revised Geneva convention of 1906 nor the second Hague convention of 1907 included explicit provisions for protecting non-combatants, the unofficial pressures of reprisals, martial success, and (more vaguely) cultural esteem, were crucial to the experience of civilians during the war.

Initially, civilian detention in Germany and Britain was prompted in part by propagandistic (often fabricated) accounts of atrocious conditions for POWs, which stirred public belligerence, and in part by the need to boost morale in response to military setbacks. Germany interned some 4,000 British men at Ruhleben in early November 1914, after the First Battle of the Marne halted the German invasion of France. The sinking of the Lusitania in May 1915 prompted Britain to a large-scale reprisal, resulting in the internment of over 30,000 German, Austrian, or Hungarian civilians by the fall of 1915.

Ruhleben, on which this series will focus, was the only camp in Germany to hold only British civilians. The shared nationality and language of this population, which hovered at a relatively stable 4,000 men throughout the war, enabled the creation of a new identity: that of the “Ruhlebenite.”

Bibliography & Further Reading

Stibbe, Matthew. “The Internment of Civilians by Belligerent States during the First World War and the Response of the International Committee of the Red Cross.” Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 41, No. 1 (Jan., 2006), pp. 5-19.

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.

Welcome to Ruhleben Camp

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. 

Trafalgar Square looking to Y.M.C.A., Ruhleben Internment Camp. VIA record number olvwork427586

Trafalgar Square looking to Y.M.C.A., Ruhleben Internment Camp. VIA record number olvwork427586

Wilkommen in Trafalgar Square, Ruhleben, Germany. From here you can wander under the Marble Arch, or venture down Fleet Street to visit the offices of the local print journal.

If it doesn’t look much like London, no wonder: these flimsy, dirty wooden buildings and barren expanses of mud are the heart of Ruhleben Camp, an internment camp for British civilians erected in 1914 at a hastily vacated horse racing track outside Berlin. Over the next four years, this racetrack would house around 4,000 male British nationals, ages 17 to 55, with backgrounds ranging from saltwater tars to Society nobs, and including celebrity athletes and a future Nobel laureate in physics. Commonwealth and colonial subjects were also represented by Irish, Scottish, Jamaican, and West African prisoners, among others.

Sharing British citizenship and the fact of imprisonment, this hodgepodge would spend the course of the war transforming the bleak racecourse into a bustling barbed wire society with a civil administration, postal service, university, scientific laboratories, a garden, weekly theatrical productions, an orchestra, sporting leagues, and a full-color, illustrated magazine to serve as the camp “mouthpiece.”

Blending homesickness with a dash of dry irony, the inmates christened their dingy environs after iconic landmarks in the capitol of the British Empire. They reserved the names of areas around Berlin—Charlottenburg and Spandau—for the two latrines on either side of the camp.

The photograph above is one of hundreds housed in the HLS Library’s Special Collections, among the private papers of former internees Maurice Ettinghausen and John C. Masterman (Masterman was a hugely popular figure in the camp, and became head of counter-intelligence for MI5 during WWII). These collections also include copies of the Ruhleben magazine, written and edited by the prisoners, and professionally printed in Berlin from 1915 through 1917. This magazine offers a window into the busy life of what became a little British outpost on the Continent during the so-called Great War.

Bibliography & Further Reading

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.