Dr. Karl Emil Markel and the Prisoners of War Relief Agency

Dr Markel
Dr Markel


A Markel Committee was established in most, if not all, civilian internment camps. In the cover note [FO 383/191/160092] to a Foreign Office discussion on UK government policy on the treatment of British Prisoners is found that one decision was to lay before parliament a collection of reports on camps in this country [this required the consent of the Americans who acted on behalf of the German Government and from a later file it appears this approval was not given] & that an account of Dr Markel work could be added. The comments, initialled NBW include the following

Dr Markel is a gentleman who conducts an agency for assisting p/w in this country. He is not altogether favourably regarded by the H.O & W.O and I do not see the publication of an account of his activities would be likely to have the effect anticipated by the Council. The leaflet published by the International Red Cross Committee last January contained, in Annex I, a note on the work of this agency.

Lord Newton adds a comment "Perhaps it might be well to state that Dr Markel sent a report on our camps to Germany for publication in the German press, but there is no means of enforcing this". In what appears to be a response to a query by a member of the Council Lord Newton states "I don't think we have asked Markel officially to do this. I asked him privately to write to the English press but he objected to doing so." NBW notes 25.8.1916 "we have written to Dr Markel asking for a memo on his work on behalf of p/w in this country" but continues "Sir H Rumbold thinks that the para about Dr Markel should in any case be deleted."

On the cover note to the received memo Lord Newton on 29.8.1916 notes "I don't quite understand how this started, I suggested something of the kind some months ago but Dr Markel objected to publication because he was afraid the Northcliffe G[?group - publishers of Daily Mail etc] would stop his work . I certainly think that it would be a very good thing to communicate the memo to the press, and we ought to press him to agree".

By this time the possible wpublication of Markel's memo had become intertwined with a demand by the self-styled "Women's Imperial Defence Council" run by an Olive Burnham, of which one of the Government parties commented that he had never heard of it[and nothing seems to have survived in modern records] in hich letter Dr Markel's work had been raised and to which a reply was being drafted - Dr Markel had commented that "strong pressure has been put on me in a certain influential quarter (purporting to have the support of at least one member of the Government) to publish a letter to the "Times" describing the work I am doing" and continued that personally he would not be averse to this "but I know how much danger would attend such a course. I would inevitably offer myself as a target for the attack of all the ignorant and unimaginative patriots with results highly disagreeable to myself and disastrous to my work" - before any reply to Olive Burnham could be drafted a further demand was received which made it clear that behind Burnham's letter had been an intention to place the Germans in a bad light with the result that Markel's work would be stopped - the Foreign Office decided not to publicise Markel's work and sent a reply to Burnham that all her raised points came under the War Office remit and to which department her letter had been sent.


[taken from TNA FO 383/191/169404]

Prisoners of War Relief Agency 20 Queens Gate Terrace London S.W. Aug 28th 1916

Dr Markel [Ph.D] ...has pleasure in submitting a memorandum which he trusts will be found by Viscount Grey to contain the information which he desires...

In the earliest days of the war, when civilians began to be interned Dr. Markel cast about for what might relieve the monotony of their confinement. As the most obvious thing he collected German books amongst his friends and obtained permission to distribute these to the prisoners. Visits to the camps followed, permission for which was kindly accorded him. These visits disclosed much suffering, as the result of sudden concentration on a scale for which we were quite unprepared, and revealed a number of ways in which he could be of service both to prisoners and to Commandants, by supplying comforts and by providing the men with means of occupying their minds and bodies, and so as to a large extent preventing their physical, mental and moral deterioration.

To give the maximum relief it was essential to know the men's requirements, both communal and individual. For this purpose, with the sanction of the War Office, the plan was adopted of distributing simple forms of request upon which each individual might write the want or wants he most keenly felt . As Dr. Markel could not have the knowledge, either of local conditions or of the individual prisoners, to adjudicate upon these requests, the procedure followed was to submit these slips, in the first instance, to a committee, chiefly composed of the prisoners' headmen having the the confidence of the Commandant . This committee discriminated between deserving and undeserving cases and weeded out all requests that were unreasonable or frivolous, or contrary to the regulations. Thus sifted, the requests were passed in to the Commandant for his approval and countersignature and forwarded by him to Dr. Markel, who fulfilled them as far as his resources and the demands in other directions permitted.

These request slips, which have justified themselves from the point of view of everybody concerned (not least perhaps from that of the Commandants), have been the chief factor in determining the activities of Dr. Markel's organization (or the Prisoners of War Relief Agency as it came to be called), the other main factors being his correspondence with the Commandants, (whose views and wishes he from the beginning scrupulously respected and as far as possible anticipated) and his occasional visits to camps, where he has not only had the advantage of conferring with the Commandants about the work generally, and in particular about the communal needs of the camp, but has also, with their concurrence and indeed by their desire, been able to talk over the work with the representatives of the prisoners.

The services performed by the Agency may be summarized roughly as follows :-
1. Articles supplied in response to individual requests.
These are naturally of the most multifarious description, embracing clothing and accessories (but not exterior garments),underwear, suits, socks, handkerchiefs, sweaters, body belts etc. - books for private study, research, literary work, or devotion; smoking materials and other such comforts ; outfits for artists and artificers; miscellaneous things such as shaving tackle, soap, and other toilet articles, especially brushes and mirrors, sewing materials and generally tools and materials for making and mending; music and musical instruments ; personal sports-requisites; and above all remedies and palliatives called for by the many cases of physical defect or injury or those chronic diseases which naturally declare themselves in later life - artificial teeth end outfits for prisoner dentists (dentistry has been a very costly item) trusses and bandages, spectacles, artificial eyes and limbs, invalid foods and many other kinds of sickroom requisites.
2. Relief is also given in the form of money
The practice, which originated in the suggestions of Commandants, is to place a monthly sum, proportioned to the wants of the camps, at the disposal of the Commandant to provide small doles for deserving man who receive nothing from home or friends. The funds for this purpose are found from the regular contribution of the Red Cross Society. The Agency also undertakes to pass on to prisoners (always of course through the Commandant ) money from their relations or friends remitted for prisoners by tae German Red Cross Society.
3. Provisions for Communal use.
Most of those are suggested directly by the Commandants, who are in accord with the Government in recognising that internment, while necessary in the national interests, should have no penal purpose or character, and welcome everything that makes for health or contentment The principal categories are the maintenance and renewal of libraries, requisites for schools, such as text books, writing materials, blackboards etc. apparatus for outdoor and indoor games and gymnastics. (most necessary where space for exercise is limited), music and musical instruments for bands and orchestras, properties for theatrical performances and, what is recognised as most important by the Commandants, all such equipment as will enable prisoners to employ themselves usefully and productively, including outfits for tailoring, bootmaking, laundries and work in wood, metal and paper. In this matter of Arts and Crafts the Agency has worked in close cooperation with the Friends' Emergency Committee, with whom it has shared the burden of financing the workshops, built and equipped in a number of camps. Gardens have also been established by many of the Commandants and for this purpose the necessary implements, plants, and seeds have been furnished. Further to lend zest to these various pursuits the Agency has encouraged competitions of all sorts giving prizes for literary competitions, athletic tournaments, gardening competitions, and arts and crafts exhibitions .

Besides the services above-mentioned numerous occasions have arisen which it would be impossible in a brief summary to particularise, where upon the suggestion or with the approval of the Commandant the Agency has been able to help individual prisoners or their families in their difficulties. In such matters however the agency largely relies as upon the good offices of the Friends Emergency Committee which by agreement the the relief of the prisoners or dependants as its special province,

An Appreciation by J T Baily

Included in Baily's notes for an account of his work he writes:

There was one who was closely identified with the Committee [Friends' Emergency Committe] throughout - Dr R Markel - who was the head of what was known as the Markel Committee consisting of many originally German and Austrian nationality who had become naturalised British subjects. Dr Markel was a great research chemist and I believe a partner with Brunner Mond & Co. the big chemical firm, he came to the Committee to represent the Markel Committee so that both could co-operate, his house at 10 [sic ?20] Queens Gate Terrace became almost entirely given over to relief work, where he had an efficient staff dealing with it. There were Markel Committees in most of the P.o.W. Camps consisting of P.o.Ws who enquired into cases of distress among the interned and were generously helped by the London Committee, the latter contributed most generously in supplying the Camps with Gymnastic and Sports apparatus, with libraries of books etc. and much of my work in the industrial sphere was much helped by it. Dr Markel also purchased liberally of the goods made in the Camps and when in London I always had to visit his home to give him reports of the work. The Knockaloe Burial Board was also supported by his funds and when the war was over I had the clearing up of its work.

When I became resident worker in the Isle of Man, he asked me to act as his representative there also and as the authorities would not give recognition to but one of the relief agencies, the YMCA having been refused requested me to act for them when necessary.

Dr Markel was subjected to much petty persecution and ostracism because of his former nationality and his efforts to assist the internees; his English born wife a talented and graceful lady of society became an invalid under the cruel strain; he once told me how his house was being watched day and night by two ladies living on the opposite side of the road, who always had someone spying from a window and noting all going in and coming out, and reporting to the police. After the war Dr Markel fell a victim to some disease no doubt brought on by the years of anxiety, strain and hard work together with the sorrow and disappointments he suffered. I shall ever cherish our friendship and fellowship in the cause. He was the trusted almoner for most of the naturalised Germans and Austrians in Britain, many of them very wealthy and who contributed generously to Dr Markel's funds.

The 1911 census provides some biographical detail - he, aged 50 described as a Chemical and Soap Manufacturer and his only child Marie Vera Markel , aged 22, are the only guests staying at a small hotel at Little Thirlestane Hindhead Surrey. He notes his British Naturalisation in 1888. His wife Ada Jane Markel age 51, born at Trowse Norfolk and married for 23 years is at home at Lodge Lane, Bewsey, Warrington - within walking distance of his then employment at Joseph Crosfield & Sons Ltd. It was in 1911 that his old employer Brunner, Mond & Co purchased Joseph Crosfield & Sons Ltd.

There is an account by George Crosfield held in the Unilevel achives that has "when I entered the firm at the age of 19 I was put under Dr K Markel, a clever chemist who had been appointed some little time before as a manager of the works. Markel's father was German and his mother English. I think it was about 1890 when Markel left Brunner Mond to come to Crosfield's. Markel had great ability and industry but he was obsessed by the idea that no good chemist came out of England and the consequence was that we began to get an overdose of German chemists in the works". [ref Unilever Archives JCS 10/8/1 - quoted in a paper on Hydrogenation www.soci.org/~/media/ Files/Lecture-Series/pb97.ashx?la=en]


Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
Transcription © F.Coakley , 2019