Series: In Ruhleben Camp • Et. Seq: The Harvard Law School Library Blog

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.

In Ruhleben Camp: with goodwill for friend and foe alike

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.

Detail of Xmas tree. In Ruhleben Camp, Xmas 1915. Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 596.

Detail of Xmas tree. In Ruhleben Camp, Xmas 1915. Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 596.

In December of 1915, Ruhleben held its own Christmas truce. As we saw in the previous post, the German authorities gave internees special permission to send copies of In Ruhleben Camp’s “Xmas Number” back Home, where family and friends would find a full-page note of thanks and holiday greetings.

Peace on earth seemed years away, but the editors wished to extend goodwill towards men in the enemy’s camp. They had come into possession of the September issue of a “bright little four page journal” created by German civilians interned at Stobs, a camp in Scotland with roughly 4,500 German civilian internees. Moved by the good humor and fortitude beneath its wry tone, IRC’s editors opened the Xmas Number by translating long passages from the newsletter for the benefit of their readers in Ruhleben and beyond (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 559). (The original newsletter can be viewed online, courtesy of the Swarthmore College Peace Collection.)

Stobsiade plays on the title of an 18th century mock epic poem The Jobsiade by German physician Carl Arnold Kortum. This satirical poem relates the antics of Hieronymus Jobs, a “Bummelstudent” (“strolling-student”) who remains at university as long as possible not because he takes his studies seriously but because he takes his leisure seriously.

If the editors of IRC caught the joke, they would have enjoyed it. Ruhlebenites often complained of being treated like schoolboys with curfew, roll call, and rules abounding, and no doubt the internees at Stobs resented similar encroachments on their adult autonomy. Moreover, while non-commissioned military POWs could be forced to do labor under the 1907 Geneva Convention, civilians were generally exempt. And if Stobs was anything like Ruhleben, then internees on both sides used this “enforced leisure” (as the British Camps Library committee called it (qtd. in King, p. 256)) to become students once again, attend public lectures or take classes in the camp, and “swot”* languages.” In many cases, they did so not because they took their studies seriously, but because they took their distractions seriously.

The editors of IRC don’t mention the allusion, but their comparisons of the mud, snoring, and lousy conditions at the two camps place a seal of barbed wire brotherhood on the Stobsians. As the highest honor of all, the editors quote the Ruhleben “motto” when they remark approvingly that Stobsiade is “redolent of the “Are-we-downhearted? No!” spirit” and makes it “very apparent that life in a “Prisoner of War Camp” is very much like the life in a “Civil-Gefangenlager.””**

This was probably true, but it flatly contradicted the jingoistic British press, and it is curious to speculate how readers back Home responded. The popular press on both sides exaggerated the miseries of its own imprisoned civilians, while rebuking the home government for (fictional) indulgences lavished on interned enemies (e.g. Stibbe, pp. 83-84). Paul Cohen-Portheim, a German civilian interned in the “gentleman’s camp” at Wakefield, near Leeds, blamed the media titan Lord Northcliffe for propagating absurd reports that the “pampered Huns” at Wakefield supped at fabulous feasts, played on “golf courses that never existed,” and enjoyed “liaisons with women that would have been impossible” (Cohen-Portheim, p. 74). As Cohen-Portheim mused bitterly, “the real truth” was that “what happened to the prisoners on one side happened to those on the other,” based on “a system of mutual reprisals from which the authorities dreamt as little of abstaining as…the flying forces refrained from ‘punitive expeditions’” (Cohen-Portheim, p. 75).

Even if IRC did not intend to discredit propaganda, it could nonetheless do some good for German internees. The historian Matthew Stibbe confirms Cohen-Portheim’s description of “reprisals,” but also observes the potential for “reprisals of good” advocated by the Bishop of Winchester in 1916. For example, when the Swiss Quaker and peace activist Elisabeth Rotten solicited scientific instruments from German firms and individuals (including her friend Albert Einstein) for Ruhlebenites, the Friends Emergency Committee in Britain responded with similar donations for interned Germans (Stibbe, p. 145). Such exchanges were more frequent later in the war, especially as Germany began to see defeat engraved in the trenches across France, but the editors of IRC may have picked up the principle early.

Of course, In Ruhleben Camp remains staunchly patriotic. The editors bridle at Stobsiade’s description of the Stobs camp commander as “half pug, half terrier with bulldog legs which are ever atremble with fright,” an indignity to which IRC would never subject the “Ruhleben Löwe.”*** And they answer cries of “God bless Germany! God bless the Kaiser!” with cheers of “God bless England! God bless Georgie!” before concluding: “And then, reaching hands across the sea to you, we will both cry together: ‘Damn that barbed wire!’” (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 560)

Detail. In Ruhleben Camp, Xmas 1915. Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 560.

Detail. In Ruhleben Camp, Xmas 1915. Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 560.

Postscript: the end of In Ruhleben Camp

As yet another generous gesture, the Xmas Number announced that donations collected to endow a “Ruhleben Bed” at a Red Cross Hospital would be sent Home around Christmastime. This spirit of charity and goodwill turned out to be the high note on which In Ruhleben Camp folded its pages and bid goodbye. Its rambunctious items give no hint that this issue would be the last, nor is it clear why the offices at Fleet Street closed their doors for three months. But so it was. Apart from a literary journal called Prisoners’ Pie that rang in the New Year, there was no substantial Ruhleben publication until March 1916, when the “Camp Rag” returned with the slightly less catchy title of The Ruhleben Camp Magazine, under new editorial direction but up to the same old tricks.

* British slang for “to learn”
** A misprint for Civil-Gefangenenlager, meaning “Civilian Prison Camp”
*** “Ruhleben lion,” most likely Commandant Count Schwerin or his deputy Baron von Taube

Bibliography & Further Reading

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

King, Edmund (2013). ““Books are more to me than food”: British prisoners of war as readers, 1914-1918.” Book History 16. pp. 246-271.

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: A belated Merry Xmas and Happy 1916 from 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. 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.

Front Cover. In Ruhleben Camp, Xmas 1915. Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 557.

Front Cover. In Ruhleben Camp, Xmas 1915. Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 557.

He thought he saw the Lager “Rag” *
Appear when it was due.
He looked again, and saw it was,
Not a report, but true.
“Now, isn’t this top-hole” he said,
In time for Xmas too.”
(Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 580)

The final issue of In Ruhleben Camp for 1915 appeared around Christmas of that year, and it wears its holiday spirit with a difference. Peppered with humorously cynical cartoons depicting what might happen “If Santa Claus came to Ruhleben,” the Xmas Number also extends jovial greetings across the Channel to friend and foe alike. We will start with friends in this post, and look to foes in the next.

Having received special permission from the German censors to send the Christmas issue to Britain as a gift for loved ones, Ruhlebenites may have been both moved and amused by certain editorial choices. Between the handsomely printed covers, for instance, Ruhlebenites found a page thanking “the folks at home” for supporting “their Ruhlebenites,” as well as offering characteristically pragmatic advice: send butter, margarine, or dripping, please! (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 603) Meanwhile, the stiff back cover doubled as a pre-formatted card that could be filled out, detached, and sent separately, perhaps for those without the means to send the whole thing.

Cartoon. In Ruhleben Camp, Xmas 1915. Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 592.

Cartoon. In Ruhleben Camp, Xmas 1915. Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 592.

The editors may have had a bit of fun with their extended readership as well. In particular, a comic piece titled “The Ruhlebenite at Home” seems teasingly calculated to evoke the worst nightmare of a wife, mother, or sister who feared her Ruhlebenite would come home a changed man. The story is narrated by an internee who has been released early and has “arrived Home in time for Christmas” (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 569). His convenient timing makes for a tongue-in-cheek homage to the disappointed hopes of the previous year, when men on both sides had assumed the war could only last a few months. A year later, it was harder to maintain that anyone would “be Home before Xmas” (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 519) without being called a wishful thinker. By the end of 1915, no reader could avoid the cruel contrast between the narrator’s happy timing and the reality for most men, whether in camps or at the front.

Having finally arrived Home for Xmas—a year late and most likely declared “military unfit” for poor health—our Ruhlebenite soon finds himself in hot water with the women of the house. His crime? He does everything, including bathe himself, Ruhleben style. He bewilders his sister and her housemaid by complaining that “nothing is ever where it ought to be,” and is in turn baffled to discover that wash basins are not kept under the bed, but on the washstand, and that it would be more appropriate to bathe in his own room (and with less swearing) than out in the hall (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 569). At each turn, the story seems to guffaw: you can take an internee out of the camp, but you can’t take Ruhleben out of a Ruhlebenite.

The humor is darkened when one recalls the increased rate at which internees were hospitalized for mental breakdowns as the years dragged on, a danger which Ellis Loring Dresel of the U.S. embassy would observe in July of 1916 (Stibbe, p. 73). Has our protagonist been declared “military unfit” not due to physical illness, but because he has truly lost his “mental perspective” at Ruhleben? (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 513)

Still the story keeps a light tone, even as our hero’s Ruhleben habits enact a complete cultural inversion. The manners and customs of this respectable middle-class household are alien and barbarous to him, and he insists on “proper” behavior that only a Ruhlebenite would understand. Such a reversal of values offers the perfect formula for social satire, but the author doesn’t rise to the bait. There is no room for cultural relativism here: lampooning the sister’s shock would doubtless have struck too close to home. Instead, the jokes rely on the fact (or hope) that Ruhlebenite readers can still tell a hawk from a handsaw when in the presence of a lady, or at least know better than to toss bathwater down the corridor or to call one’s sister a “lazy beggar” (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 570).

It is no accident that the author’s satire is entirely directed against the hapless Ruhlebenite. If the story plays on the apprehensions of womenfolk at home, it more pointedly reflects anxieties plaguing Ruhlebenites themselves. After so much time in a camp of 4,000 men, roughly a quarter of whom were sailors, many internees worried that they would never scrub the blue streak from their language, or remember how to comport themselves in mixed society. The Swiss physician Dr. Vischer’s research into “barbed wire disease” after the war suggests that these concerns were not unfounded, either.

As a kind of verbalized anxiety dream, then, waking up from this story may have been reassuring. After all, if readers laughed at its humor, understood that a free man need not carry around wire and nails for emergencies, and knew enough to reverse the protagonist’s complaint that his sister had “changed tremendously” (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 572) during his internment, then hope was not lost.

What readers at Home thought—well, that too may have been part of the joke.

 

Portable Xmas Tree. N.D. VIA record number olvwork430260

Portable Xmas Tree owned by a Ruhleben internee. N.D. VIA record number olvwork430260

* Lager is the German word for “camp,” and was adopted by Ruhleben internees. Rag is English slang for a magazine or periodical.


Bibliography & Further Reading

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.

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.

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.

In Ruhleben Camp: weathering class divisions part 2 (The Camp School)

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.

As the winter of 1915 swept across Germany, warm clothing and rich food became increasingly urgent matters in Ruhleben Camp. These were especially elusive for impoverished prisoners relying on the British government’s Relief Fund. The greatest source of public contention, however, was access to indoor space.

Internees were guaranteed shelter in horse stalls or lofts, but the men also needed an escape from these cold, cramped quarters. Meanwhile, activities that had flourished during the summer, from classes to cricket matches, either had to migrate indoors or be suspended for the winter. Conflicts over communal spaces became more heated, and were frequently aired in the September and October issues of the magazine.

Ruhleben 1918, General View, East End. VIA record number olvwork427605

Ruhleben 1918, General View, East End. VIA record number olvwork427605

By now, three halls were open under the grandstand seats (visible above), but these couldn’t begin to accommodate the public life of the racetrack’s 4,000-some occupants. The halls were regularly booked for ticketed events, which excluded the poorest Ruhlebenites and sparked debates over the Camp’s financial organization. With the Ruhleben Dramatic Society on strike in September, one hall was freed for casual use (for instance, as a smoking room), prompting a wag to quip that a “rabble fills the hall” where Thespis once reigned (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 364). Nonetheless, many Ruhleben groups struggled to find indoor venues. Of these, the one that captured the magazine’s attention was the Camp School.

Issues no. 8 (September) and no. 9 (October) of In Ruhleben Camp both open with an appeal from the Camp School for funds to secure “Partitioning, Books & Apparatus” (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 448). As if in sympathetic response, John C. Masterman’s copy of issue no. 8 (held in HLSL) includes a prospectus for the School’s Winter Session folded into its opening pages. This prospectus explains that the “advent of warm weather” had made the School possible, but since classes and lectures required partitioned spaces, “the failure to obtain adequate accommodation all but extinguished its life during the Winter and early Spring.” The author admonishes anyone who “values Culture and Education” to observe that internees spent as much time studying as they “passed in the Entertainments Hall: and yet the School has been treated with comparative neglect” (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 450).

Within issue no. 8 of the magazine, the editors champion the School as “of far more use than even the Football Clubs,” calling it “the most popular and, we venture to say, the most useful institution in the Camp” (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 462). They also call on the Education Committee to support the more informal “Circles,” organized around shared intellectual pursuits, by helping them “procure a suitable room…during the winter sessions” (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 500).

But the editors go further, amplifying the School’s distress signals into a challenge against wealthy internees who had cordoned off exclusive “clubhouses.” In particular, they remind the Summer House Club of its promise to share its boxes with the School. The Summer House’s cosmetic philanthropy had been used to “justify the existence of such a Club in a British Concentration Camp,” the editors recall, yet card-playing Club members regularly chase out students with “scant ceremony” (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 462).

Come October, the editors had more to lament: space constraints had forced John C. Masterman (the Camp’s “best all-around man” (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 479)) to call off his popular lectures. “That lack of space should preclude us from hearing another course from him during the winter would seem a severe reflection on the organising ability of the Camp as a whole,” the editors grimly scold their readership. “The size of his audience has been no less extraordinary than the variety of its composition,” discrediting the notion that the “student section” of the population represents only “one class” of internees (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 514).

As winter threatened to cement class barriers, it seemed that educational institutions—less lucrative than theatrical or musical entertainment—would be edged out. But the School was not so easily beaten. Not only did it carry on, but over the four next three years it would establish a relationship with the University of Berlin, building a diplomatic bridge that eventually extended across the Channel, where the University of Leeds took on responsibility for supporting the education of German civilians interned on the Isle of Man.

The “University of Ruhleben” became a great source of pride, and its graduates sat for official degree and certificate examinations from the University of London, the London Chamber of Commerce, and the Royal Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce—all within the (dis)comfort of Ruhleben Camp.* The era of correspondence courses had begun.

* See Stibbe, pp. 3, 145-6.

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.

In Ruhleben Camp: weathering class divisions in winter

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.

If Home Rule meant a more democratic camp, as suggested previously, the coming of winter brought stark reminders of persistent inequality.

Internment had caught British subjects unaware, from the cosmopolitan world-traveler to the sailors detained in Hamburg harbor. As a result, the camp’s diverse population cut across economic and social classes. Although a handful of the most prominent internees, such as Sir Timothy Eden (brother to the future Prime Minister Sir Anthony Eden) secured early release in individual exchanges with German prisoners, only eleven such exchanges occurred before 1916, when the head of the newly established Prisoner of War Department, Lord Newton, rejected what he called this “old-fashioned, aristocratic” approach (Stibbe, p. 126).

Many wealthy and well-connected internees thus remained all four years, and soon found ways to distinguish themselves from the hoi polloi.

One way to assert class affiliation was sartorial. Once parcel deliveries were less restricted after March 1915, internees could write home for clothing, allowing “the school tie, the blazer, the club badge” to stage a comeback, according to former internee Frank Stockall (qtd. in Stibbe, p. 95). Internees could also spruce up using amenities within the camp. J.D. Ketchum remembers shoe-shining as the first “service” offered in Ruhleben. In 1914 “no Englishman above the working class ever cleaned his own shoes,” Ketchum reminds us, and since the job required little capital outlay, shoeblacks initially prospered—until supply overwhelmed demand (Ketchum, p. 27 n. 1).

Advertisement. In Ruhleben Camp, No. 8, Sept 1915. Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 503

Advertisement. In Ruhleben Camp, No. 8, Sept 1915. Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 503.

Along with the rash of shoeblacks came other services considered de rigeur for keeping up appearances. From the magazine’s second issue onward, its back pages featured adjacent, full-page advertisements for the tailor Steinbock and the hairdresser George Teger.

Tailoring is a valuable service, especially in winter, but Steinbock’s autumn advertisement doesn’t mention fit or warmth. Instead, he makes a posh virtue of necessity, announcing a “NEW FASHION: Special Winter Overcoat! NOW ON VIEW!” (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 503), next to a drawing of two well-heeled men modeling full-length coats, positioned as if passing each other in the city. By evoking sartorial standards at Home, Steinbock appeals to fantasies of freedom, especially among a clientele pining for the bustling commerce of London, where the cut of a coat, the pleat in a pinstriped trouser, the filigree on a cane, or the whiff of a cigar spoke volumes to the knowing observer.

Advertisement. In Ruhleben Camp, No. 8, Sept 1915. Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 504

Advertisement. In Ruhleben Camp, No. 8, Sept 1915. Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 504

 

This pair of advertisements from Steinbock and Teger (“Professional Hair dresser” offering a “First-class Pedicure”) make the back pages a one-stop shop for upper-class grooming (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 504). Whether these entrepreneurs considered their services complementary, or the editors bundled them together, both businesses were sufficiently well-funded in 1915 to take out at least one full-page ad each month.

If the editors were responsible for the pairing, they may have had a chuckle at the vision of an internee decked out cap-a-pie in Ruhleben finery. Certainly readers of the September issue had occasion to shake their heads at hairdressers and their clients: the short story “Johnny,” published pseudonymously, offers a classic Ruhleben parable starring a hairdresser.

The story begins with the narrator waiting to collect a parcel. Near him in the queue, he notices a man he dubs “Johnny.” “He was a nut,” the narrator gushes, admiring the man’s style: “hair nicely oiled and beautifully parted” with “plump rosy cheeks [that] vaguely reminded one of a “Frivolity” beauty” (the cross-dressing men who were prima donnas of the popular stage in Ruhleben). With a mischievous twinkle, the narrator continues, “Of course his suit was of a most nutty cut. It had been made in Ruhleben, therefore it was really exquisite” (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 469).

Eager to hear Johnny’s “version of the Ruhleben “if,”” the narrator timidly addresses him, and is gratified to learn that if Johnny’s “Pater” hadn’t sent him to be educated in Germany, he would “be having an extraordinarily charming life riding round our park at home with my old school chums, y’know” (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 470).

With his professionally-styled hair and his suit native to Ruhleben tailor shops, Johnny captivates the narrator—who, sadly, is doomed to lose his new upper-crust friend before he even reaches the parcel window. Seeing “Snippy” coming, Johnny scampers aristocratically out of the queue, leaving the narrator quizzical. “He’s a barber’s assistant,” Snippy reveals. “Used to work in a saloon I went to near the Strand” (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 472).

This satirical parable takes swipes at pretensions across the board: peacock’s feathers are too easily borrowed from a superficial elite, and command extravagant deference from gulls like the narrator, but woe betide those who put on airs, which the least brush with outside reality can dispel.

Yet it remains true that the blank Ruhleben slate allowed internees to reinvent themselves, to play the part they wanted. In this “little secret history” we see that some men—like those “Frivolity” beauties who found greater freedom in Ruhleben than outside*—could use this strange, raw society to move fluidly across the rigid divisions and hierarchies of post-Victorian Britain.

* See Alon Rachamimov’s insightful essay on cross-dressing in POW camps, cited below.

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)

Rachamimov, Alon. “The disruptive comforts of drag: (Trans) gender performances among prisoners of war in Russia, 1914–1920.” The American Historical Review 111.2 (2006): 362-382.

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: 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.

In Ruhleben Camp: “Home Rule”

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. 

Front Cover. In Ruhleben Camp, No. 8, Sept 1915. Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 447

Cover. In Ruhleben Camp, No. 8, Sept 1915. Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 447

After the dramatic (in many senses) feuds of August and September, issue no. 8 of In Ruhleben Camp, released in late September, urged internees to band together as the iron hand of winter fell once more over the camp.

The Ruhleben Dramatic Society was still on strike, but by the end of September, dropping mercury outside and momentous internal changes made cooperation crucial for the camp’s welfare. The German military authorities had just granted “Home Rule,” solidifying the autonomy internees had accrued since the American Ambassador’s first visit in March of 1915. Internees would finally be “placed under the immediate control of our own officials” rather than “the Military Authorities,” as the magazine’s editors explain in a tone of cautious celebration. But for the camp to sustain its new “civil authority,” the editors warn, internees must embrace the ever-vilified Camp Captains as indeed “our own,” not allowing “differences of opinion” to paralyze daily administration (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 457). (What this meant for the striking R.D.S. is unclear).

Who were the Captains and what magic potion would transform them to respected representatives, from their image as pampered pawns pandering to German officers? Stories about the rise of the Captains’ Committee are tinctured with bias, and in Ruhleben’s hothouse of rumors, the truth seems lost to misty legend. However, most tellers agree that the Captains were originally interpreters.

The historian Matthew Stibbe asserts that choosing barrack interpreters was among the first acts of Baron von Taube, the well-liked Lageroffizier (Camp Officer) and deputy to the camp commander. The interpreters doubled as captains, and the Baron hoped their bilingualism would win trust on both sides of the barbed wire (Stibbe, p. 58).

The former internee J.D. Ketchum gives a more sardonic account, recalling the chaos of the early days of internment. On November 8, 1914, two days after mass internment, Ketchum remembers the Baron addressing each barrack on “prison decorum.” When the Baron asked for interpreters, “from each stable-company someone who spoke German either volunteered or was pushed forward by others. This was the modest beginning of the Captains’ Committee, which became in a year the all-powerful government of the camp” (Ketchum, p. 25). As Ketchum tells it, the change was sudden and obscure: by November 13th, this hodgepodge of men was holding meetings, addressing needs in the camp, and assembling a civilian police force. They were now “mysteriously styled “captains”” (Ketchum, p. 26).

Where Ketchum sees the seeds of organization sown half-accidentally, an anonymous piece in issue no. 8 of the magazine, titled “How the Camp Is Run,” asserts that each barrack had “elected a Captain to act as…intermediary between the Barrack and the Military Authorities” (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 490). The author goes on to defend the Captains, but many readers would have taken the word “elected” as more euphemistic than accurate.

When “Home Rule” was granted, current captains were not compelled to run for re-election unless barrack members presented alternative candidates. According to the magazine, none did. As a result, this quasi-autocratic system transformed overnight into representative democracy. While this passive acceptance of the Captains may have been “a surprise to many,” as the editors coyly remark, it appeared that “the Camp as a whole has expressed itself satisfied with that body.”

Thus, despite widening social and economic rifts in the camp—to which we will turn next—the editors insist that to maintain independence, the “necessity for the Camp to pull together is greater than ever” (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 457).

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.

In Ruhleben Camp: Strike!

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 or 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. 

Front Cover. In Ruhleben Camp, No. 7, 12 Sept 1915. Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 395

Front Cover. In Ruhleben Camp, No. 7, 12 Sept 1915. Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 395

A live wire of debate, protest, and satire runs through the 12 September 1915 issue of In Ruhleben Camp, as we saw in the previous post. Divisions rifting the camp ramified both outwards—as in the “Ruhleben Medal” scandal—and inwards—as in the political strife to which we now turn.

In the wake of the Medal scandal, the Camp Captains, magazine editors, and others spent August of 1915 scrambling to repair the camp’s image. While these leaders galvanized Ruhlebenites into a unified front of chagrined humility, however, other sources of internal discord were corkscrewing through the camp. Calls for a more democratic Ruhleben and greater fiscal accountability in particular raised a vigorous new challenge to the Camp Captains.

The divas of this drama were among the most profitable groups in the camp: the entertainers. In August of 1915, the Ruhleben Dramatic Society (RDS), Musical Society and Orchestra, Irish, French, and German societies sent a letter to the Camp Captains protesting the structure of the Entertainments Committee (EC). The EC coordinated the schedules and budgets of performing groups, and was composed largely of men appointed by the Captains. Complaints about high ticket prices had been flooding the magazine all summer, as internees wished to know where their (and the British government’s) money was going.

Citing the EC’s autocratic approach, greed, and financial excesses, the irate organizations demanded greater representation on the EC, the ouster of the Captains’ appointees, and a copy of the EC’s “full Balance-Sheet” (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 354). If change did not come quickly, these groups threatened to go on strike.

And strike they did. As one wag wrote in an August number of the magazine:

“But now a rabble fills the hall,
Where once the lofty-browed and wise
Were wont to take a tanner stall
And praise, expound or criticize.
Their seats are now profaned, worse luck!
The R.D.S., alas, has STRUCK!”
(Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 364)

After at least two weeks of silence in the Ruhleben theatre, the Captains grudgingly backed down and reconfigured the EC.

Negotiations had been resolved by the September 12th issue of In Ruhleben Camp, but the principles at stake remained hotly contested. The magazine’s cover (pictured above) captures the controversies swirling through its pages. A searchlight streaks across the dark page, illuminating the words “In Ruhleben Camp” against a span of barbed wire, as if catching an escapee in the act of scaling the fence. Like prior covers, the image declares this a prison publication, but the searchlight carries other associations: it streams from the bottom left corner like the footlights of a stage, and hits the fence in an unusually crisp square reminiscent of a movie projector. It might be the screening of a film called “In Ruhleben Camp.”

Indeed, there was such a film. Ruhleben’s “Cineomatograph Theatre” [sic] was inaugurated on August 21st with a screening of a film by and about Ruhleben internees, featuring many “Camp celabraties” [sic] (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 422), according to the Captains’ announcement. The pet project of the Captain-of-Captains Joseph Powell, a cinema owner in Leeds before his internment (Stibbe, p. 2), the Cinematograph Theatre doesn’t seem to have lived up to its glamorous beginning. Although it was a coup for German public relations, J.D. Ketchum remembers it as “usually sparsely attended,” which he attributes to the passive gratification it offered. Ruhlebenites needed “concrete goals” such as the creation of a weekly play or promenade concert, Ketchum contends, “they needed to be active, and their activity had to be purposeful” (Ketchum, p. 208).

This theory helps explain why temperatures ran so high when the theatrical and musical organizations stubbornly lowered the curtain in August. By refusing to work, these groups deprived the camp of a critical resource. But Ketchum also hints at a thorny contradiction: what the prisoners needed most was distraction, a method of “getting rid of Time,” as one magazine contributor calls the camp theatre (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 359). When the distractions worked too well, though, they could blot out the ongoing war and compromise the camp’s image back home.

Ruhlebenites could only win sympathy from the British public by striking a balance between cheerful activity and needful distress. Too much of the latter meant they had no backbone; too much of the former meant they were mollycoddled.

From that angle, going on strike didn’t look much better than soliciting military honors. A caustic satirical piece in the September 12th issue, titled “Towards a Complete Concentration Camp,” opens with dry sarcasm: “Now that the Cinema is well established in our midst, with a frequent change of programme and no change of atmosphere, we find one of our most pressing needs supplied.” What should come next? Perhaps a “billiard saloon,” “Roller-skating Rink,” and “Turkish Bath and Hydropathic Establishment”? Cheekily echoing the Captains’ announcement of the “Cineomatograph Theatre” in this same issue, the author (evidently a magazine insider) cries out for a “madame Tausaud’s” [sic] since “our supply of celebrities is so immense” (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 418).

In short, the road to self-indulgence was paved with good distractions. With a coolly impartial swipe at Medal-grubbers, the autocratic EC and strikers alike, complacent Captains and their cinemas, the author concludes by musing: “On second thoughts, however, perhaps the best suggestion we can offer would be to pool all the inexhaustible funds that this wonderful camp seems to possess, and build a comfortable “Home for those who have lost their perspective”” (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 419).

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.

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.

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