Time stood Still

The following is an extract from chapters 1 to 5 of Time stood still by Paul Cohn-Portheim Published in New York by E. F Dutton & Co in 1932, giving a rather dismal picture of early days at Knockaloe - he was interned in late May 1915 and after a brief stay at Stratford was sent to Knockaloe.

I had made a mistake as I discovered: my second camp would be the big internment camp in the Isle of Man where we were to be sent on the following morning. Stratford was being used as a clearing station, though the majority of the men were there permanently. I felt both relieved and terrified ; relieved because I felt I should have gone mad in those surroundings, terrified because I was being taken far away from my friends who, I still believed, would manage to set me free in a day or two-and that would surely be more difficult once I had been removed without being able to communicate with them. We got some sort of soup with bits of meat swimming about in it, served in metal pots, after which we were assembled in the courtyard and officially informed that we were leaving for the Isle of Man at 6 a.m. It must have been about 8 p.m. then ; what was one to do with oneself? I had been given a couch, my bags were lying on it, why not unpack? But where did one's things go-I asked a bundle of rags lying on the next couch-much to his amusement. There was nowhere, he grinned, you just took out what you needed; personally he had long given up changing for the night, or the day either. ' If you leave anything lying about, it won't be there long,' he added with a wink. I half undressed, lay down in utter misery. I felt so helpless was one really never to undress or wash or unpack; was one to sit or lie on a sack, or walk round a courtyard and be counted, and have verminous neighbours who would steal one's things lying next to one, and a broken glass roof (the Zeppelins had done that, said my neighbour) over one's head, and could one possibly live under such circumstances? The lights went out at ten, only a few but very bright lamps burned on; the air was thick, people were already beginning to snore, sleep seemed impossible. But no doubt the second camp would be better, it could certainly be no worse-but couldn't it? If this was possible, if this was ' internment or segregation for their own protection,' anything was possible. Perhaps they would have dungeons there or cells. It was revolting, it was inhuman. If Germans and Austrians were considered a danger-dropping that cant about, wishing to protect them-one could send them to some out-of-the-way district, to an island even, but what possible excuse had one for treating them in this manner, worse than criminals really. I was furious, and then I had to laugh at a funny sight. A man walked past quickly, holding together his scanty garments with one hand, the other raised to the sky. A few more followed. That was what you had to do if you wished to visit the lavatory. It was like early schooldays, it was too idiotic. I thought of the men who had been in the taxi with me, middle-aged stockbrokers or something of intense respectability, waving their arms in the air if they wished to ... Even this life had its funny side evidently, so why despair? And perhaps after all one would be free to roam about in the Isle of Man, and it was supposed to be a lovely place. It could not be for long, anyway. I had seen the Isle in the distance once when I crossed to Ireland; I felt very seasick then, I felt rather seasick now, but one must not give way-I wondered if there was a special signal for that emergency as well! Perhaps part of the punishment in the Isle of Man was having Hall Caine read aloud to one. Ghosts with outstretched arms continued to flit by ; perhaps they went there just for a change. I felt sleepy ; I felt for my watch, it was still there, and it was past midnight. How ghastly it all was-but more absurd yet than ghastly.

I felt almost cheerful while washing, as far as possible, next morning. That place, at any rate, was done with It was a cruel place and it was still more ridiculous. That first impression of prison life has never left me ; to me its dominant note has remained its incredible absurdity, its utter senselessness, the thoughtlessness to which its cruelty was due-in short the lack of imagination it revealed. The journey to the Isle of Man was to furnish a good many examples. Its beginning was terrible. We were marched through the streets to the station, flanked by soldiers with drawn bayonets. The population must have known this was due, for in spite of the early hour the streets were full of a hostile crowd. The memory of a recent Zeppelin raid was fresh with them; this must have appeared to them as a sort of revenge. They spat, they insulted, they jeered, they threw things. I had been so utterly unprepared for this that I could hardly believe it was happening. Perhaps it was happening to somebody else, or was it a nightmare? Only one face stood out from the crowd, horribly real, that of an old woman with wild wisps of white hair blowing about it. She grimaced furiously and shouted ' 'Uns ! ', then she grinned and nodded and said in a lower tone and with a curious sort of satisfaction, as if to herself: ' Biby-killers ! ' Then again the furious ' 'Uns,' the smug ' Biby-killers ! ' Her voice seemed to follow me all the way. She was quite drunk. I don't know what the actual distance to the station may have been, it seemed many miles to me.

I was prepared for a transport in cattle-trucks-a train composed of very comfortable corridor-carriages drew up, with plenty of room for everyone, and a very good lunch served by quite civilian and civil waiters (there is a connection between these adjectives). Man is a strange and illogical animal at any time, but this quick change was enough to make one feel slightly hysterical. People became vociferously cheerful: this was really an excellent joke, a holiday excursion-much better run than most excursions-at the expense of the British Government I It would be followed by a stay at the seaside, board and lodging free. Not much to grumble at, what? Families, ruined businesses, all worries were forgotten for the time being. This was a school treat, for the great secret of masculine psychology is that all men of all ages act and behave like re-become schoolboys as soon as their individualities are merged in a crowd. It was a pleasant journey. The train glided slowly through undulating green country. I had not seen the country for nine months; it looked serene and peaceful and undisturbed by war from the carriage-window. We avoided towns, we stopped at no stations, but sometimes for hours on some siding. We reached the sea in the afternoon and the train drew up beside a steamer.

A change once more. On board the steamer we had suddenly become too dangerous to be allowed to remain on deck. We were hurdled and locked away somewhere below, there was no air, semi-obscurity reigned, and one had to stand. Fortunately the sea was calm. My three friends and I were very glad to be able to reunite, we felt quite old chums by this time. With hardly an interest in common we remained together for years after that day. I had already learned my first lesson, the impossibility of a separate and individual existence under these new circumstances. I had lost not only freedom but all possibility of privacy and of individual action. And I consider that the loss of freedom is the more bearable.

The sun was setting when we disembarked, and the scene was full of beauty. A curved bay with softly rounded hills rising all around it in the dusk; soft, warm air; a slight drizzle. A little, friendly looking town. If only one could have taken one's leave, said politely 'Hope we'll meet again some time,' and gone off to the nearest inn 1 But instead of that we were again ' formed in fours,' flanked by khaki figures, marched away. Not at once, though; we waited for hours, God knows why; it had become quite dark. But up on the hill there t were what seemed to eyes used to the blackness of war time London myriads of dazzling lights. They looked extremely cheerful, and they reminded me of Magic City and Paris. 'Nothing will happen,' my friend had said-he who was in the know. But a good deal had happened since that night; this Magic City was Knockaloe Internment Camp and I was not a human being called by a name but an interned civilian numbered nineteen thousand and something, as shown by a metal disc to be delivered 'in the second camp.' We were marching through the town, the inhabitants, thank God, showing no interest whatever in what had long become a daily sight to them. I don't know what they looked like, it was too dark to see them, and during my whole stay in the Isle of Man I never saw the face of a Manxman or Manxwoman, nor even of a cat-tailless or tailed. Some of the men began to sing, which is, I suppose, unavoidable when people are marching: the soldierly spirit. But their choice irritated me, they sang: Muss I' denn, muss I' denn zum Städle hinaus, Städle hinaus, und Du mein Schatz bleibst hier, an old German Lied of soldiers leaving their town and their sweethearts in order to march to battle and heroic deeds, at least to manoeuvres-really a most inappropriate choice for that occasion. Number nineteen thousand and something asserted his individual freedom by not joining in the singing. The chains of light came nearer and nearer, the mirage faded. Barbed wire appeared, long, endlessly long stretches of barbed wire, five or six yards high. And faces and faces behind the wire, thousands of caged animals. They called out to us, and as in a nightmare they repeated the cries of the East End crowd: 'Huns! Baby-killers! Have they caught you at last ! ' This was not meant unkindly, but the form of humour peculiar to prisoners was as yet unknown to me, also I was very, very weary. At last a gate opened in the barbed wire wall, we entered, one's feet sank deep into slippery clay. In front of us lay on the left free space, on the right tightly-clustered wooden huts, the whole surrounded by tall barbed wire and arc-lamps This was called a compound; it held one thousand human animals. Five compounds formed a camp, and this was Camp II. There were five camps altogether, I believe. The gate closed behind us. This, then, was ' the second camp,' the disc had been delivered, there was nothing more to be done but wait for liberation -which already seemed much, much farther than twenty-four hours ago in Stratford-or else for the end of the Great War.


FIRST impressions are by no means always right but they are frequently decisive. My first impression of Stratford had been sickening; my first impression on seeing Knockaloe Camp in daylight was one of delighted surprise, brought about, no doubt, by the contrast with the scene that had met my eyes the previous morning. Stepping out of the hut I found radiant sunshine, marvellously pure and bracing air, and a panorama of turfclad hills. That is how, in spite of all that was to follow, Knockaloe has remained in my mind, for I am what the French call a type visuel, which means that the look of a thing, place, or person matters most to me. When choosing a house or flat I have always been apt to consider the view from the window more important than more practical matters, and if I had to choose an internment camp-which I hope to God I shall never have to again-I should be guided by similar considerations. This is apt to annoy other people a good deal. Knockaloe was considered the most distasteful of all camps, the one where hardships were worst and conditions most unpleasant, that is why I feel apologetic to my fellow-prisoners when I state that I rather liked being there. It is only fair, however, to add that my stay there was short and that we had marvellous summer weather. The case of the men who were there for years and of those who were transferred there towards the end of the war or even after the cessation of hostilities, after having got used to the superior comforts gradually achieved in other camps, is, of course, a very different one. In 1918 and 1919 Knockaloe apparently contained hordes of completely brutalized or broken men-I say apparently because I have not seen that Knockaloe, but only heard about it from people I am inclined to trust. Not that one can altogether trust any other man's word on such matters as war or prison experiences ; facts are few ; it is the atmosphere which is all-important and that affects different people in a different manner. Thence the quarrels about war novels, some affirming that a book gives the exact truth : ' That is just what the war was like,' others contradicting them violently. There were as many aspects of war as there were soldiers, as many aspects of life in an internment camp as there were interned.

There was certainly little to charm one in that ' compound ' if one took no interest in the view. There were a dozen or more long, low wooden huts, each of which housed about forty men. When we arrived there our huts contained a long table and a heap of paillasses piled up in a corner, otherwise they were quite empty. Nothing was ready, everything but half-finished. Evidently the intention of the Government had been to finish the camp first and intern the people after, but they had given way to popular clamour, and now transports of prisoners were pouring daily into hastily erected camps, which were not prepared for their reception. We had had some sort of a meal, standing up, the night of our arrival, and the only good thing about it had seemed to me the butter which looked clean and fresh. I had ventured to say so and thereby earned a reputation for great foolishness, for the butter was margarine, an article of diet I may have tasted before but had never seen. Nor have I ever become an expert in spite of many years' acquaintance with it. I was tired enough to sleep; my troubles began when I wanted to wash next morning. The wash-house was yet to arise; so far there were only buckets which could be put on the ground somewhere after having been filled at the pump. I had no towel with me (having packed for ' a holiday '), but I managed to borrow one. I found washing en plein air rather pleasant, though it took an acrobat to keep an already washed foot clean while washing the other. By the time the lavatory arrangements were complete I was rather sorry to have to wash indoors. Those buckets were most useful, they served for everything: water for washing, soup, and well, everything. One tried to believe that they did not get mixed up.

The first morning was devoted to a most solemn ceremony. We were formed into a square to await the visit of the Commandant, overlord of all prisoners of all Knockaloe, who was coming to receive us into his realm. We waited what seemed a long time and then the great man appeared at last. He was or looked very old, rather peevish and at the same time rather shy. I believe he felt uncomfortable. All sorts of old colonels had been dug out of their retirement, and probably they did not choose the most eminent soldiers for jobs of that sort. On the other hand at that early period of the war the officers doing duty in the prisoners' camp were officers of the old army and very much preferable as a class to those who followed them later. This old man certainly was what one must-for want of a better or more intelligible term-describe as a gentleman, that is why he did not care for his job and did not enjoy this particular show. Also at that time he had to repeat that performance every other day, when a new lot of one thousand stared at him with hostility, fear, anger, or amusement, according to temperament, or more likely with a mixture of all these feelings.

He began his speech, that speech he had to make every other day, in a rather quavering but not unpleasant voice. What he said-or what I remember of his speech was ' If you will obey my orders I will treat you with kindness and consideration ' ; this sounded good, but he continued, without interruption and in the same low, monotonous tone: ' Anybody attempting to escape will be warned once and then shot '-and that sounded neither considerate nor particularly kind to my civilian ears. The continuation was unexpected. He pointed vaguely to the hills and said in a raised voice: ' The latrines will be finished soon [pause] I hope.' And that was all, but his hope did not materialize for many days, and then it materialized in the opposite direction to the one he had indicated. Meantime there were buckets and plein air and though it may sound absurd this was felt as extremely humiliating and disgusting by most. In fact, one could not get used to it ever (even a good many animals seek privacy on these occasions), only I must add that there were also quite a number of men who not only did not mind this but actually invited each other to proceed to that act in groups.

After the Commandant had had his say a German interpreter repeated his words. He was far more impressive: a soldier born. He shouted at the top of his voice: ' Der Herr Kommandant hat gesagt, etc.' And that ended the ceremony. And now, what next? Now there was nothing to do, nothing at all, nothing whatsoever, nothing-for how long? There was a sort of shanty called a canteen, standing just outside the wire, with its counter open to the camp, where one might try to buy something. No matter what, one had nothing one needed, so everything would be welcome. Hundreds were waiting already; I waited for about two hours and everything had been sold out when my turn came.

My dream had been some string, some ink possibly. But if I had not achieved my object I had yet not waited in vain; I had learned a new word which was more than a word, quite an illumination in fact. That word was Schiebung, and I think it was the most frequently used word in all prisoner camps. It is not to be found in any dictionary and I don't think it existed before the war. The verb schieben means ' to push', ' to shove', 'put a thing in some other place' ; after 1914 it came to mean all fraudulent dealing, all pushing oneself into someone else's place ; a Schieber became almost a recognized profession the more war restrictions made honest dealing impossible. And a Schiebung was every act by which you gained an illegitimate advantage, and in a prisoners' camp every advantage is illegitimate and everyone always suspected of trying to gain one. Some men there had shouted Schiebung perhaps because one man had tried to get in front of another, perhaps because someone had bought more than one bottle of ink (and might try to resell if there should be a shortage), perhaps simply as a joke. But that mentality was anything but a joke, it expressed all the envy, distrust, and hatred which that unnatural mode of life, that compulsory existence in common had already bred. From 1914 onward everyone in the belligerent countries lived under a system of coercion and it soon became apparent that it was not as difficult to coerce the peoples as some had feared and others hoped. All the Smiths were quite willing to do as they were told and to put up with all sorts of hardships or dangers. But on one condition only: all the Browns and all the Joneses must bear the same privations and face the same risks. Wherever there was preferential treatment accorded or achieved by push there hatred and malice arose, but this was intensified a thousand times in prisoners' camps, for two reasons. First, such a camp has no accepted hierarchy to start with, while civilian society has its class-distinctions and the army its grades ; secondly, there is nothing or next to nothing in such a life to turn away people's thoughts from the real or imaginary wrongs done to them. The original and primary wrong they resent is of course the fact of their imprisonment, the fact of being punished without having committed any crime, but they cannot go on thinking of this for years. Very soon hatred and suspicion turn against their enforced comrades in misfortune, for the contact with them is incessant and everlasting, presenting an endless variety of occasions for new friction, whereas they hardly come into contact and have no intercourse with their official ' enemies,' that is, the soldiers who guard the barbed wire and the officers who count their numbers twice a day.

I needn't say that this was by no means clear to me that first morning at Knockaloe. Schiebung had sounded vaguely ominous, but I soon forgot about it again. There was a slope covered with coarse grass where I went to lie down. The sky was blue overhead and the sun shone, why not take a sunbath ? This was really rather pleasant, I thought, a sort of boy scout or Wild West existence, not to be altogether despised. One could well put up with it for a week-for it might be a week or perhaps even a little longer before I would be released ... Meanwhile I had a feeling of great. rest, of calm after the storm, and I felt tired enough. The worst had happened. I could no longer be imprisoned, because I was imprisoned; I could only be released now. And the present state of affairs had great compensations ! The more I reflected the more I thought that even a month here might not be so bad. I gave no thought to the people around me, they played no part in my life as yet. I thought of myself only. There was a feeling of security here, nothing could happen to one, it had all happened. There was nothing to hide from anyone everyone else was in the same situation, there was not that unbearable strain of relations with one's surroundings. I discovered some very concise advantages I had never considered before : as a prisoner I should be allowed to correspond with my mother, I should at last get fairly regular news of all the people I was fond of over there, I should also be able to have money sent from abroad. Then, well, after a month or so I would be released, autumn would be near then and must surely mean the end of the war. Another winter was quite unthinkable.

In the afternoon I changed into what seemed to me clothes appropriate to the surroundings, white flannels. This amused a number of people exceedingly, and I was asked whether I intended to go on in that manner. I replied that I had every intention of doing so, which amused them more than ever. And yet it was a very wise move though quite an unconsidered one. I can imagine no circumstances where it is more necessary to stick strictly to the outward decencies and conventions of life. They cease to be taken for granted, they become an effort, but also they become a symbol of resistance to outward circumstances; they come to mean that one will not give in, that one remains oneself in no matter what company or place, they become a strong and most necessary moral support. One need not dress there, one need not shave every day or at all, one need not wash-in fact, there was absolutely nothing one need do except rise and retire at fixed hours and stand still to be counted. Otherwise you can let yourself go to any extent and in any way you like. That is exactly why one must create one's own duties and obligations, and one's inner conduct and outer appearance are inevitably interdependent; self-respect and shaving-brush live in mystical union.

Our luggage was distributed to us that afternoon, one of my two trunks had disappeared and it never turned up again. But there was quite enough left to embarrass me terribly, and no possibility of unpacking a thing. I had a great piece of good luck the next day, however, for I managed to get hold of two nails. Very few acquisitions in my life have given me greater satisfaction : one could hang up a few garments now, it was a beginning of a return to normality. The next day I was enriched by two small boards which a man sold to me. This was the beginning of Schiebung, of course, for no such things as nails or boards were to be bought legitimately, they could only be smuggled into camp with the help of outside agencies, and that help had obviously been paid for. These two slanting boards formed a head-rest, and sleep became more possible. Matters were improving. I rearranged the contents of my trunk, putting the more necessary things on top. But the trunk left to me did not contain many necessities; on the other hand, it was full of all the paraphernalia of evening dress.


I Do not know how it came about, but all at once the camp seemed to have become a sort of organized community. In the first days it had been a rabble, or rather two rabbles, for when our rabble arrived the camp was already half filled with a previous batch of prisoners. The two batches were very unlike. Ours consisted mostly of men who had lived for years, in some cases nearly all their lives, in England: business-men, merchants, well-to-do people, but also waiters, hairdressers, small tradesmen. A middle-class collection of many shades. Our predecessors were entirely different. They were people who had been taken off steamers and cargoes, German or others. They were mostly sailors, but there were a good many nondescript and some rather romantic individuals amongst the lot. I don't know the reason of this incongruous mixture. It was rather exceptional, for the authorities tried as a rule to keep the classes separate. There was a perfect example of that policy in one of the compounds of Knockaloe which was inhabited solely by men whom the French papers invariably allude to as ' tristes individus ' or as ' peu intëressants,' which means that they live on the earnings of women more poetically called ' filles de joie.' There had been, I learnt, a flourishing trade in that article of export from Hamburg to London, and the tristes individus had followed the daughters of joy in order to keep an eye on them. The neighbourhood of Tottenham Court Road had been their gathering-place, but at the outbreak of war the men had been interned and later on sent to Knockaloe. The women were, I suppose, sent out of the country, but the fate of the men seemed more extraordinary, for surely of all prisoners they were the least capable of carrying on in an internment camp. What could one thousand tristes individus do with not one daughter of joy between them, I wondered, and had there really been exactly one thousand of them to fill one of those neat compound-cages or, if there were more, had they overflowed into other and more virtuous cages; if there were less, had there been padding? Or was the whole tale a myth-there was no way of finding out the truth, for one did not come into contact with inmates of other compounds, except of the two adjoining one's own to whom one could shout through the wire.

Our compound, at any rate, was mixed, and perhaps that made some sort of interior administration all the more necessary, but all the same, I wonder how it created itself out of nothing. There was a ' captain ' to every hut, and a ' chief-captain ' to head them all and they must have been elected, but why one should have voted for anyone in particular out of that crowd of unknown people I cannot imagine. I suppose I didn't vote, and I was certainly surprised when I discovered our but had a captain who looked like one of the stout, middle-aged gentlemen in frock-coats who said ' Anything I can do for you, sir? ' to one in London's great emporiums. He quite felt the importance of his position though ; he really looked on himself as a superior officer, and the strange part was that there were a good many people who shared his opinion and who liked having a person of authority above them ! I don't know whether that state of things belongs to all prison life and whether hard labour men elect a chief who is majestically condescending to them, but humble and servile to the gaolers.

Things shaped themselves gradually. True, the ' latrines ' were still far from finished, but chairs had arrived, and one now sat down to meals, which seemed as odd at first as washing within walls when the washhouse was completed, and it had suddenly become immoral and a serious offence to wash out of doors. The showers were a great boon though, and I took much pride in having a showerbath without allowing the water to extinguish my cigarette. The canteen was open for longer hours now, and one could buy chocolates and apples there, but the food remained awful and insufficient, nor was being assured that we were treated exactly the same as British prisoners were being treated in Germany much of a consolation. There was watery soup with bits of grease swimming about in it, or else some stringy lumps of meat, and the fresh air made one feel very hungry, so there was plenty of grumbling.

About that time I heard from London that it was very difficult to do anything for one once one had actually been interned, but still there was a chance, and no need to despair. That did not trouble me so very much, for I was just beginning to enjoy the advantages of my new status. I had got my first letters from home and my people had got mine. One was allowed to write twice a week, on one page of glazed paper, and it was forbidden to mention either the war or conditions in camp. Of course all letters had to pass a censor. That left really nothing to write about, as one no longer knew anything outside the camp, but it served at least as a sign of life. We were now in the summer of 1915, the war was a year old, and I had only heard once from home until then. Money arrived; it had to be addressed to the Camp Bank which took care of it and allowed one to draw £1 a week. That was a great personal relief, but it instantly introduced 'social injustice' and class distinction into what would otherwise have become a communist society. This men-state now had two sharply divided classes, the £1 a week class and the moneyless class, the capitalist and the proletarian. I don't know what the proportion may have been in the other compounds, in ours the capitalists hardly amounted to 10 per cent. Nearly 50 per cent. of the inmates were sailors; of the other 50 roughly 40 had been waiters, barbers, small tradesmen, or servants. The remaining 10, the capitalist class, was composed of business-men or young clerks. There was no one over 50 (for men above military age were repatriated on both sides), there was no one under 18 years of age ; it was a society without women, without children, and without old people. Ninety per cent. of the men had no income now they were interned ; it stands to reason that they made every effort to make money, it will also be understood that there were but few possibilities of doing so. Commerce, they say, obeys the law of supply and demand; I have certainly never seen such an overwhelming amount of supply and such an infinitely restricted demand! There were at least one hundred men or youths anxious to clean your shoes, and never in my life have my shoes looked so brilliant and been cleaned so many times a day, though the circumstances really did not call for it. We had over eighty barbers, but I could do no more for them than be shaved once a day, which sufficed, however, to make me highly popular with them. Their charge-see supply and demand'-was one penny, but they did not object to the degradation of a tip of a halfpenny or more. And really both shoe-blacks and barbers were quite superfluous, for every but had half a dozen ' stewards ' to do the waiting and cleaning who were only too anxious to make a little extra money, and if you were known as one of the plutocrats-which you inevitably were-you simply had to accept the offers of one of the many who wished to become your ' private valet '-Noblesse oblige ! True, such a post was rather a desirable one, for there was no work to do : no cleaning and sweeping, no errands, no clothes to press or silver to clean. A pity really, for my own valet would have done all that and a good deal more most perfectly. He was a very grand person indeed, and his last post but one had been that of valet to the Khedive. His name was Charlie, he was about forty, and always in the best of tempers ; a very charming man really who would have made a perfect butler in the most baronial of halls. After leaving the Egyptian monarch he had been steward on a big liner, and that was how he came to be at Knockaloe. It was Charlie who cleaned my shoes for the very first time every morning, also he rolled up my paillasse and folded my cover. That is all he ever did as far as I remember, but the salary he received corresponded to the extent of his efforts. One could also by payment find a man who would replace you at your weekly turn of potato-peeling. I tried that work once, but my conception was considered too cubist. All things considered, the social problem had found a fairly satisfactory solution during these first weeks in the Isle of Man.

On the day of my arrival I had been urged by my taxi-friends to subscribe a petition to be removed to the internment camp at Wakefield. Wakefield was a paradise compared to this, they said, it was one of the two 'gentlemen's camps ' the Government had created (the other being at Douglas, Isle of Man) and much the better of the two. Its inmates had great privileges and relative liberty. I had put my name on the list and then I had forgotten about it. After all I might yet be released-that is how I had come to think of that chance -and, meanwhile, I did not dislike my life here. The camp was, in its way, a curious and interesting place once one had got used to its obvious drawbacks. I have always been interested in human beings and here there were a great many types I should never have come in contact with under normal conditions. I was beginning to make a good many friends whose conversation and outlook on life were interesting and new to me; I liked the scenery and the air, and-last not least-this place had become familiar to me and I distrusted change. I was prepared to pass quite a pleasant summer here, as far as a summer could be pleasant while the war went on.


WE were a motley crowd and there were some very surprising ' enemy aliens ' amongst us ; we were, in fact, quite cosmopolitan. One great friend of mine bore the name of Schulz-about as uncommon in Germany as that of Smith is in England. Schulz was very fond of me because I was about the only person he could talk to, for Schulz knew no language except Spanish. He was born in Mexico and looked a full-blooded Mexican Indio, but his name was Schulz, and so he had been arrested on board some ship and brought here. His mother, he told me, was Indian, he had never known his father, but his mother thought his name was Schulz and called her son after him. I am sure the good lady's memory must have been at fault. Schulz did not know his age, but he looked about twenty and had a very handsome, sullen sort of face and a feline body. He wore a khaki shirt and riding-breeches which seemed an unusual outfit for a sailor, yet he was undoubtedly one for he exercised an art known to sailors only: all day long he sat on the ground and with a huge navaja he carved minute fullrigged ships which were miraculously introduced into bottles when finished. All other work he profoundly despised, nor did he attempt to sell his works of art ; he had no needs of any sort. I tried to impress the fact on him that it would be extremely easy for him to be set free if he would take the trouble to explain his case and ask to be put in touch with his consulate, but he had no desire for freedom. Life could be far worse than this, he remarked, and that was undoubtedly true. He was a very wise child really, he had no needs, demanded nothing from life, did not bother about his fellow-creatures or his surroundings. On the other hand he found great satisfaction in spitting frequently and adroitly: that was his way of expressing his opinion on the universe and on mankind.

Then there was an extremely black negro whose presence remained a mystery until Charlie managed to solve it. He discovered that the man knew Arabic, and got him to explain. He had been arrested on board a ship, and when asked his nationality had replied that he was a faithful son of the Caliph. That was all he knew, for the notion of nationality was unknown to uneducated Mahometans. The Caliph was, of course, the Sultan of Turkey, so he was imprisoned as a Turkish enemy alien. As a matter of fact he was an Egyptian and therefore (at that time) a British subject. Charlie explained this to him and got very excited about his case, but not so the negro ! He only shook his head and said he knew what he had got but not what he might get, and Allah had ordained things for the best. White men, as is well known, are free from such fatalistic superstition, that is why' Yankee ' behaved very differently from these exotics. Yankee belonged to the rich, according to him to the fabulously wealthy. I don't know how he came to be there, I believe he had no papers or insufficient ones. He was such a very typical son of the U.S.A. that the mistake seemed ludicrous. He did not know a word of German, had never been near that country, and had no sympathy with it whatsoever. In fact he loathed it now that the sinking of the Lusitania had landed him in this predicament. Nor was his opinion of the British very high just then. Yankee had a little of the Indian in his face and make, he was about twenty-five or so, tall, with lanky black hair, and disguised as a sort of cowboy, probably in order to demonstrate his Americanism. He wore silk shirts though. Mostly he was in a hell of a temper and extremely blasphemous-which was after all comprehensible-but he had a sense of humour all the same and told endless American jokes most of which were utterly silly. He lay all day full length in the sun and tried to sleep; then someone would tickle him and he would swear gorgeously. He got his release after a month and people were sorry to lose him. He had become quite popular.

The pride of our heart, however, remained with us Billie. Billie was twenty-two, but looked eighteen and the most typical English boy one could find anywhere. Which is exactly what he was. He was just a jolly English schoolboy with an irresistible smile who quite saw the fun of the situation. He could not speak a word of any language but English, and as to Germany he hardly knew it existed. He had never seen a German before he came to Knockaloe, but he made friends with everyone and was adored by most, certainly by all the 90 per cent. who-as everywhere throughout the warwere bad ' haters.' Billie's parents had emigrated to Australia when he was quite a little boy, and they had died out there. He had studied architecture and was passing his summer holiday in Europe. When war broke out he was in Belgium and came to England at once-without a passport, for before the war hardly anyone ever troubled to take out a passport, and even less to take one with him when travelling. Billie landed in Southampton and thought some of the buildings of that port quite interesting. So he started sketching them, and was promptly arrested, for the interesting buildings happened to be part of the fortifications. He had no papers, so the authorities decided he could only be a German. I imagine that even they must have thought him and his sketching too naive for a spy, but a German he would remain until he could prove another nationality, and so there he was amongst his ' compatriots.' He hoped to get his papers from Australia very soon, he told me, he had already waited ten months for them, meanwhile he intended to remain cheerful and did not despair of organizing football in the camp. Billie was not only popular on account of his charming smile, but also as a living proof of the utter lack of sense of the British authorities-which everyone felt they had shown in his own case as well-and because his presence consoled people in a way, for what could you expect if even Billie had been locked up !-I have often wondered if his papers ever arrived or what became of him.

One did not, however, have to turn to our ' exotics ' to discover curious samples of humanity, plenty were to be found amongst those of undisputedly German nationality. The most striking figure of our crowd was a man who called himself Dr. A and was born in Berlin. He was an absolutely perfect example of the bolshevik of popular imagery, a bolshevik avant la lettre, for in 1915 their existence was unknown to the world or, at any rate, the term meant nothing. It meant a good deal to this man, however, for he knew them all and corresponded with them, I believe. Before being interned he had, or said he had, lived in a sort of communist settlement in England. He was tall and very thin, he stooped and he had masses of untidy black hair covering his head and face. He looked like an unkempt and a little starved Assyrian king. His clothes, however, were not royq, for he invariably wore a pair of old trousers over a bathing-suit, and sandals. He would, in fact, have looked smartly dressed at Juan les Pins in the summer season of 1930, but in 1915 and in Knockaloe his was considered a scandalous get-up by nearly all his fellow prisoners. The doctor was an ardent revolutionary and he began his incendiary propaganda the very first day, which soon made him the best hated man there. The capitalist class was as furious with him, as might have been expected, but the majority did not take kindly either to his sharp tongue, his hissing and cutting voice, and his excessively Jewish appearance. As a convinced pacifist he condemned war and all the belligerents, no matter on which side they fought. He refused to make concessions to sentiment or patriotism; he was much too uncompromising and severe to gain popular applause. Strange to say, his only admirers were some very fair, very teutonic sailors-at least it seemed very strange to me at the time, but when the revolution in Germany started by a sailors' revolt I began to see the connection between the two types, which in spite of all differences have one fundamental thing in common: love of in dependence. One very young, flaxen-haired sailor-boy never left the doctor's side, and listened mute and adoring to all he said; I called him the John of this strange Christ who was perhaps more of a St. Paul. One could not help admiring his logic and his courage. He preached revolution by violence in all countries and was firmly convinced of the victory of communism, all of which seemed fantastic nonsense in 1915. Nor was the world he prophesied the one his hearers wished to look forward to. After victory and peace everyone was going to be happy and prosperous-that is what they hoped for (in common with the vast majority of people in all countries) and that is what they wished to hear. Some men-one never knew who they were-complained to the Commandant about the doctor's political speeches and meetings which, they said, created unrest in the camp. The Commandant sent for him and this is how the revolutionary described the interview: ' He looked at me, my beard, my naked shoulders, etc., with great disgust and said: "Do you consider this the proper costume to appear in here? " I said : " Certainly, why not? " He got furious and shouted: " You look like a wild beast," and I said, "You have put me in a cage like a wild beast, haven't you? " After that he laughed and said, "Well, there is something in that."' He was transferred to another compound and so I lost sight of him, but I came across him again in 1918.

Another man I had noticed from the very beginning was one of the great number of Russo-Polish Jews from the East End, who were either born in the Polish provinces then forming part of Austria or Germany, or else were considered German on account of their names. In many cases they themselves were none too sure about their origin. This was a very small old man who looked more worn and weatherbeaten than anything animate or inanimate I have ever seen. He was short, crooked and hunchbacked, wore a discoloured-looking red beard, and his skin looked like wrinkled parchment. His head leant against his right shoulder which made him look like a pensive crow. He wore a cutaway coat green with age and the remnants of a huge bowler hat, the crowning glory of which had almost departed. He was a passionate card-gambler like all his lot, and they spent their days quarrelling vociferously over very greasy cards, but he was also a very pious and strictly orthodox Jew as they all were. In fact, he was a hero, for for weeks on end he would only touch bread and water, and nearly starved. He and his friends were then transferred to a Kosher camp and the ' East End ' disappeared from our community, which thereby lost much of its picturesqueness. But I had made his acquaintance long before that time. One could always find him at the pump before and after his 'meals,' muttering to himself incessantly while he performed the ablutions prescribed by the Law of Moses. Its followers must cleanse themselves before eating and after, and nothing would have made him shirk this obligation, so he held out a few fingers of first one hand and then the other, and sprinkled a few drops of water on them. To this cleansing rite he almost ran, all other cleansing he dispensed with and despised. Having exchanged a few remarks with him I asked him the usual question: ' What was your profession before you were interned?', for on that subject they all liked to discourse at length. His answer was: ' I watch corpses.' According to orthodox Jewish rite a corpse is honoured by watchers surrounding it until the time of the funeral, a pious duty performed by the nearest relatives. I did not know that professional watchers of that sort existed, but they do amongst the orthodox poor, for there may be no relatives or they may not have time to honour the dead for days. A very terrible profession it seemed to me, and one which no doubt only the poorest of the poor adopted. So I said with what I thought was tactful sympathy: ' That is not a very cheerful life for you, I am afraid.' His head quite touched his shoulder as he looked up at me angrily. ' Not cheerful, what do you mean by not cheerful ?-I like it ! ' He turned to go, but thought better of it ; he came quite near to me and said almost triumphantly as it were: ' I like to do the talking. They don't talk back.' After which this most Shakespearean character I have come across in my life left me and restarted his endless muttered monologue.

In those early days of imprisonment there was far more mutual tolerance than in later times when people's nerves were edged and frayed. Later it would have been impossible for men of such different classes and customs, for such contradictory types to live together almost peaceably, but in 1915 there was as yet no sense of duration, internment was looked on as an abnormal episode, not as a mode of existence of possibly endless length. In 1915 people were still full of hope and convinced that the war was approaching its end. If they did not really believe -as some of them professed to-that a huge fleet of Zeppelins was coming to liberate all the prisoners, they were sure that the fall of Warsaw which had just taken place was the beginning of the end. And anyone who would not share that conviction was looked on with great disfavour, if not suspicion.


AFTER about a fortnight I began to feel restless. I had got to know all the people who seemed worth while, I was getting tired of lying in the sun all day, I wanted to work. I had, in the last few years before the war, evolved a peculiar kind of miniature-painting and lost interest in all realistically representative work. These paintings were done on parchment, a Chinese ink linedrawing serving as a basis for glowing colour-schemes of pure purples, blues, reds, etc., with a good deal of silver and gold. They were Oriental in inspiration and the technique influenced by Persian miniature-painting, but what they represented was purely my own, a mass of fantasies often unintelligible even to myself. I had always surrounded this work with quite a ritual : I had to feel in the proper mood for it (which generally meant the early morning hours), all had to be quiet around me ; I used a certain table, certain pens or brushes only, and I preferred a certain room to work in. How could I take up my work here! But I felt I must try, for I could not bear empty idleness any longer, it would drive me insane. So, rather desperately, I made my first attempt. The hut had but one table and its inmates sat round it every evening, all day in wet weather (we were getting some rainy days then) and half the day in fine weather. They talked, they read, they quarrelled, they played cards. That was the worst, for they heartily banged their cards on the table, and the table shook. If I was just doing a stroke with my pen or putting on a spot of colour with my brush they would go astray if the table shook, and if a single one went astray the picture was done for, for nothing can be erased or altered on parchment. But I managed, for I felt I had to manage because it meant such a lot to me ; it meant that I could continue my inner life in spite of all outer circumstances, it meant defying the world to do its worst-and God knows what failure would have meant to me. So I managed to work, some days at least. I sat there waiting till the table was stable again after a shock and-what was more trying-stopping work when a shock was to be foreseen. Some men were interested in what I was doing, some even refrained voluntarily from banging the table, but such proofs of goodwill were rare The atmosphere of Knockaloe was changing rapidly, relations had already begun to get strained. The moneyless distrusted all the moneyed and suspected them of working their own ends by bribery and corruption, but they were by no means united amongst themselves. The sailors loathed the waiters and barbers : ' You're a lot of pimps,' one red-haired sailor assured them every evening, and enlarged at length on the subject. But to the waiters, etc., the sailors were uneducated brutes. Nor was the more opulent minority united any longer, they had first split on the question of the ' anarchist orator,' their politics divided them, the warlike fire-eaters hated the more level-headed or pacifist who in their turn despised them. The camp was breaking up into hostile factions. As soon as it rained the clay soil became impassable, everyone sheltered inside the hut and there was quarrelling going on between some people or other nearly all the time. They had nothing else to do, poor things, but grumble or quarrel! They hated the camp by now, they knew that release was out of the question, but the advantages of other camps assumed ever greater proportions in their imaginations. Wakefield in particular became a name to conjure with, and life there a prolonged week-end party at some great country mansion. But of course, one would never get there, and I gave it little thought, though I had put my name on the list of those who desired to go there on that first day in Knockaloe which already seemed infinitely removed. I still thought Knockaloe quite pleasant when the sun shone; we were now marched twice a week to a hill close by which had been surrounded by wire and was to serve as a playground. There was real grass there, a wide view, splendid air. All sorts of games were played; football of sorts, I remember, amongst others, and that hill is the birthplace of German boxing. Boxing was unknown in Germany before the war, the first boxing lessons to some of the future professionals were given there by men who had learnt it in England. Yes, in fine weather it was not a bad place, but it rained very frequently now, it poured outside, it was damp inside the lightly-built huts; the moisture came up through the badly joined boards of the floor. I caught a bad cold.

One morning I awoke with what must have been very high fever. I was too dazed to realize what was happening as I was carried out of the hut on a stretcher, but when I did realize my surroundings I discovered myself in the Camp Hospital, of which I had heard awful tales. I suppose I had grippe though that name,. which covers so many diseases and symptoms the doctors do not understand and cannot cure, did not come into use until the epidemic of 1918, which killed more people than the war had done. I was given aspirin, and on the second day I felt fully conscious again and well enough to get interested in my new surroundings. Being in hospital was truly much worse than being in one's accustomed hut.

It was a but like all the others, only it had a w.c. at one end. It contained two parallel rows of beds and nothing else. It lay on a road outside the compound though inside the camp, and its inmates were allowed no inter course with anyone outside the hospital. There was at that time (things may have changed later) one solitary doctor or medical officer to look after the health of all the thousands of prisoners. Needless to say, he was terribly overworked and had no time to attend to individual cases that were not extremely urgent. The nursing of the patients and the care of the ward were left to a number of men chosen from such prisoners as had been Heilgehilfen, that is to say, barber-surgeons, or who pretended to some experience of nursing. Their control and power over the sick was as good as unlimited, for when the doctor paid one of his rapid visits one of these men would accompany him on his round, serve as an interpreter and prevent direct communication. That, at least, was what the sick man in the bed next to mine told me when the 'nurse ' had left the room. The poor fellow, a sailor, was terribly ill with some disease of the bones which necessitated operations impossible to perform there. He had lain there for weeks waiting to be moved to an operating hospital and he had lost all hope. Maybe that his was really a hopeless case and that there would have been no object in moving him and operating on him, but that was what he had been told and what he believed, and so he lay there cursing all: the people who had made the war, the English who were letting him rot and die ; but worst of all he hated the nurses. ' What is the matter with you? ' he asked me. ' Nothing much,' I said, ' I shall go back to the camp in a day or two.' He stared at me and started a loud and prolonged laugh. ' You go back to-morrow! ' he cried, ' you will be here a good long time, believe me.' ' But why? ' I asked in surprise. ' Because you have money,' he explained as if he were talking to a child. One's life there, he said, was unbearable if one had no money, they just took no notice of you at all. Every little service had to be paid for. But the moneyed were few, theref ,re they were very precious to the nurses, and their one idea was to keep them there as long as ever possible. As to the doctor, it was no use counting on him, even if one could talk to him (many of them knew no English) there was no chance of doing so ; he just heard the report of the nurse, told him what to do and went on. ' You can believe me,' he said, ' you will live here while the war lasts and I shall die here long before it is over.' Imaginings of a diseased brain? Possibly. I tried the nurse in the evening. ' I am quite well enough to go back to my compound again,' I said, 'I would like to go to-morrow.' ' That is quite out of the question, you are much too ill,' he said curtly and went away. I thought the matter over during a restless night, and the next morning I got up and dressed-which did not worry the nurse at all. Then I went and stood outside the hospital-which one was allowed to do to get fresh air, and leant against the wall. I had decided to wait for the doctor, and after I had waited five hours or more I saw him approaching and walked up to him. ' I am quite well, again,' I said, 'and would like to return to my compound. I have had a little fever, but it has quite gone now.' ' In that case you may go back,' he said indifferently. 'Would you be kind enough to give me a written order,' I asked, ' it is apparently not easy to leave this place without one.' He gave me a quick look, but he asked no questionspoor fellow, he had enough to worry him, no doubt, without going out of his way for more trouble. He scribbled something on a piece of paper and gave it me.

I thanked him and went back to lie on my bed. When the nurse came round in the afternoon I casually remarked ' I am going back to my camp to-night.' He grinned sarcastically : ' You don't say so ! Quite a mistake, I think.' ' Hardly,' I replied, showing him the precious scrap of paper. He was furious but impotent: ' Well,' he said gruffly, ' what are you waiting for? ' ' Only for the pleasure of your company, because you have to accompany me to the gate, you know.' I said farewell to the poor sailor and promised to do my best for him. I don't know whether it was due to my agitation, but apparently he was sent off to be operated on a few days later-though I never heard what the result had been. I left my most unwilling companion at the gates of my compound. I felt-absurdly-that I was once more free and I prayed but for one thing: never to be ill again in camp! I met all my camp-acquaintances as if they were most intimate friends from whom I had been separated for years; I was overjoyed to be back amongst them; I was grateful for what seemed freedom, security, and human fellowship by comparison.

After that interlude I should probably have been qüite happy at Knockaloe for a good long time, but fate had decided otherwise. I had only been back a few days when a list was published giving the names of the prisoners whose desire to go to Wakefield had been granted, and my name was on that list. There were sixty in all, and fifty-nine of them were overjoyed at their good luck. But I felt curiously depressed. We instantly became objects of envy and hatred to all others, and I was almost inclined to share their point of view. I felt I was leaving them in the lurch, that there should not have been ' gentlemen's camps.' I felt great regret at tearing myself away from Knockaloe. All of which was no doubt illogical and sentimental, but the fact remains all the same. At Wakefield the men who had come with me from Knockaloe were furious with me for speaking almost tenderly of that place, for it is part of the psychology of internment camps to consider anyone a ' traitor ' who finds anything but martyrdom in any of its aspects.

Much envied, greeted by few, sullenly ignored by most the sixty passed out the gates of Knockaloe Camp the following morning, and the second journey into the unknown began.

 Manx Note Book  [Full Text Index]  


switch to frames viewAny comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 2005