[From IoM and the Great War, 1922]




The presence of the Prisoner of War Camps in the Island necessitated a considerable number of official visits from different authorities for various purposes. During the first two and a half years of the war the American Embassy was responsible for the interests of the German and Austrian prisoners interned in this country, and various representatives of the Embassy paid visits to the Isle of Man from time to time. Amongst these were Mr. Hugh Gibson. Mr. B. A. Beal, Mr. F. E. Brantingham, Mr. W. H. Buckler, Mr. L. H. Littlefield, Mr.E. G. Lowry, Major W. Lyster, A.M.S., and Major C. S. Ford, A.M.S. The Fort Anne Hotel, Douglas, was usually made the headquarters where most of the official visitors stayed, and they proceeded to Douglas and Knockaloe Camps daily from this hotel. The prisoners of war seemed to keep the Embassy representatives fully employed when on these visits.

Early in 1917, when the United States became our Ally in the war, the interests of the German prisoners were looked after by the Swiss Legation, and those of the Austrian prisoners by the Swedish Legation. The representatives of the Swiss Legation who visited the Island during the years 1917 and 1918 were Dr. A. E. Vischer, Baron Gustave de Geer, Dr. R. de Sturler, Captain F. Schweizer, Mr. de Dardel, and Mr. Corragioni D’Orelli. From the Swedish Legation there came Lieut.-Colonel Mossberg, Mr. Edward Liljewalch, Lieut.-Colonel Peter Lundblad, and Captain W. A. Unander.

On 5th June, 1916, the Rt. Hon. Herbert Samuel, M.P. , at that time Secretary of State for the Home Department, accompanied by his Parliamentary Secretary, Sir John Barron, Bart., M.P., arrived in the Island on a destroyer, for the purpose of visiting the Prisoner of War Camps. The passage was a bad one, and Mr. Samuel did not arrive in Douglas harbour until after 8 p.m. He was met on arrival by His Honour the Clerk of the Rolls (Mr. Kneen 1) and the Government Secretary. Mr. Kneen had been appointed Deputy-Governor on the 6th November, 1915, owing to the prolonged illness in London of Lord Raglan.

The Home Secretary was much impressed by the vastness of Knockaloe Camp, where he paid a visit to most of the twenty-three compounds. It was just after luncheon on the 6th June, while Mr. Samuel was with the Government Secretary and others in Compound 4 of Camp 2, that the news arrived of the death of Lord Kitchener. At that time, the Secretary of State was in the middle of a large collection of prisoners, and when the news was communicated to him the faces of the prisoners appeared to indicate that they were aware of its nature, a matter which caused some astonishment to the members of the Camp Staff present at the time. 

According to Jellicoe’s " Grand Fleet," the cruiser "Hampshire," which was conveying Lord Kitchener to Russia, struck a mine between 7-30 and 7-45 p.m. on the 5th of June, about one a half miles off shore, between the Brough of Birsay and Marwick Head, in the Orkneys. He further states that the sea in the vicinity where the " Hampshire" sunk was searched throughout the night, in the hope that Lord Kitchener and his mission would he saved by boat. It was probable, therefore, that no message conveying the news of Lord Kitchener’s death was despatched until the morning of the 6th June, and that it was received in the Isle of Man almost as soon as elsewhere. How the prisoners could have been aware of the news in advance was difficult to understand . Jellicoe records that the loss of the " Hampshire" was due to her striking "a moored mine of the type laid in southern waters by enemy submarines, these mines being easily distinguishable from those laid by surface vessels."

In addition to visiting Knockaloe and Douglas Camps, the Home Secretary paid a visit to Noble’s Hospital,2 Douglas, where he saw seven prisoner of war patients, who were under treatment at the Institution. He also called on the Mayor of Douglas, and, at four p.m. , motored through Kirk Michael and Sulby to Ramsey, in company with the Deputy-Governor and the Government Secretary, returning to Douglas by the mountain road. In the evening the Deputy-Governor gave a dinner party in honour of the Home Secretary and Sir John Barron, at his residence, Glencrutchery.

The Home Secretary and Sir John Barron left the Island by the s . s . " Tynwald " on the morning of the 7th June.

Lieut.-General Sir W. P. Campbell, K.C.B. , Commanding-in-Chief, Western Command, accompanied by three members of his staff, arrived in the Island on the 7th August, 1916, on board a destroyer. He inspected the troops at the two Prisoner of War Camps, and also a regiment in training at Milntown, Ramsey. As a result of this visit, certain alterations were effected in the quartering and command of the Guard Troops at the Camps.

Representatives of the Civilian Internment Camps Committee, including Sir William Byrne, Sir John Pedder, Mr. Montefiore, and Mr. Reid made frequent visits to the Island.

Sir Reginald Acland, Judge Advocate of the Navy, and Sir Robert Younger, one of His Majesty’s Judges, paid a visit on the 29th October, 1915.

Colonel Harry Cooper, C.M.G., Commanding the Preston District, and Colonel Sir John Thornhill, also visited the Island on two or three occasions. Major-General Sir A. Toker came on the 13th June, 1916, in order to consult upon matters connected with the censorship and control of correspondence at the Camps.

An " official visitor, " in a different sense of the term, was Baron von Bissing, who, together with his wife and two children, crossed to the Isle of Man on the 3rd April, 1918. He had previously been interned in a place of internment in London, but, owing to a break-down in his health, had been, until the 2nd April, 1918, in a Nursing Home in the west of London. Walter Adophus von Bissing, born in Silesia, Germany, in 1855, half-brother of the 3German Governor-General in Belgium during the war, had resided in England since 1876, and had obtained a certificate of naturalisation as a British subject in 1906. His wife was the daughter of an English clergyman, their children were both quite young.

There was some little demonstration at Douglas harbour on the Von Bissing household arriving, but it was not long before the Manx people became used to their presence, and the family were able to move about without the slightest inconvenience. The order of the Secretary of State, which required Von Bissing to reside in the Isle of Man, gave the Lieutenant-Governor power to determine his residence and to make other regulations respecting him.

In July, 1919, the Secretary of State cancelled the order requiring Von Bissing to reside in the Isle of Man.

During the fifteen months he was in the Island, he complied with every restriction placed on him, and not infrequently, when in doubt as to whether he should do or write a certain thing, he would come to Government Office for direction.

When the Certificates of Naturalisation (Revocation) Committee, which was presided over by a Judge of the High Court, investigated the case of Baron von Bissing, in July, 1919, they were not satisfied that he had shown himself, by speech or act, to be disaffected or disloyal to His Majesty King George V, and, on this finding, the Secretary of State for the Home Department decided that Von Bissing’s certificate of naturalisation was not to be revoked.


1 Mr Kneen held the office of Deputy-Governor until the 29th June, 1916, when Lord Raglan was able to return to the Island. The responsibilities of the duties of Deputy~Governor appeared to weigh heavily on Mr. Kneen, and, in the autumn of 1916, he was oompelled to retire to Ramsey for a rest, but he ‘fell ill, and, to the great regret of every one who knew him, died on the 22nd November, 1916.

2 Nobles Isle of Man Hospital at Douglas devoted an entire ward to Prisoner of War cases. The ward frequently contained from 20 to 80 patients. The cases sent to this hospital, which, owing to ith equip-ment with every modern appliance, was the admiration of all the Embassy and Legation doctors who visited it, were those for operation and special treatment. All ordinary cases were dealt with at the hospitials in the various Camps.

3Hugh Gibson, who was Secretary of the America's Legation at Brussels at the time of the execution of Nurse Cavell, and who published, in 1917, " A Diplomatic Diary," states that be was informed by Baron von der Lancken, Chief of the Political Department, that the ratification of the sentence of the Court on Nurse Cavell was carried out by General von Sauberschweig, who was Military Governor of Brussels, and not by General Freiherr von Bissing, who was German Governor-General in Belgium. The American Legation at that time was entrusted with the protection of British interests in that portion of Belgium which was occupied by the Germans, and Gibson describes the efforts which were made by the American Minister to secure clemency for Nurse Cavell after she had been sentenced to death on conviction under paragraph 58 of the German Military Code, upon which a false interpretation had been wilfully put in order to secure a conviction.


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