“I feel one can say with some conviction that no man should willingly leave his home to fight, wound, maim or kill other men about whom he knows little and whom he certainly does not hate. When all men refuse to commit such follies the foundations of a true civilisation will have only just started to be laid.”
- Sam Sutcliffe, circa 1974 (extracted from his Memoir)

Sunday, 10 August 2014

War declared – Germans in England "disappear"

Out Now! Nobody Of Any Importance: A Foot Soldier's Memoir Of WW1

Dear all

So we had our "lights-out" night last Monday, millions switching off all over Great Britain to reflect the words of 1905-16 Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey – "The lamps are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our life-time" – and to solemnly commemorate the centenary of this country declaring war on Germany and our national commitment to… who knew what, back then?

But even with the British Army Expeditionary Force's first major battle still a couple of weeks away (Mons, August 23), my father, Sam Sutcliffe – a 16-year-old junior office boy living with his parents, two sisters and two brothers, in Edmonton, north London – saw drastic changes at home take hold at once, some of them rarely reported or recalled.

In Nobody Of Any Importance, I should explain for new readers of this blog, my father started out writing in the third person as an "objective" narrator reporting on the life of a boy called "Tommy Norcliffe" – that is, himself. He shifted to first-person "I" during Part Two (of nine). However, his 18-year-old brother, referred to in the following passage, really was nicknamed Ted:

"… the war declaration did bring about immediate and visible changes which touched the lives of many. In the City, at Ted’s paper firm, a German mill owner’s young son, who’d been working for the firm and perfecting his English, failed to appear on the morning of the 5th of August – the day after Britain’s declaration of war on Germany – and was never seen in that office again.

Similarly, many German families lived in working-class areas of London and, from that day or soon afterwards, they just vanished… English children began to miss their German pals…

Meanwhile, the newspapers talked bogeyman stories — suspicious characters, spies and so on. The propaganda had its effect; Tommy saw with regret one day that someone had completely smashed the windows of Mr Schultz’s butcher’s shop. No more luscious faggots and pease pudden, thought the lad. Mr Schultz left for Wales, Tommy heard, as did another branch of his family who lived in the neighbourhood.

A schoolmate called Charlie Schmidt whom Tommy talked with occasionally also disappeared. A round, ruddy face he had, but serious, with an incomplete smile — it never quite made it. His family left with no farewells, no fuss and no destination that anybody local knew of.

Another three or four German men often provided street music, playing merry Viennese waltzes on cornets, euphoniums and basses. But they all went, never to reappear. Spies, said folks. Didn’t you notice how they use to play beside the gates of the gasworks and listen to what the workers were saying?

A local family of house decorators, including several young men in their teens and early twenties also departed without a word — they’d offered low prices for their low-paid customers, useful members of the community and much liked. Napper their name was. Surely not Germans. Or were they?

Minor riots arose in some areas, starting with attacks on German nationals and their places of business."

While the German paper mill owner's son may well have left England of his own volition – or his father's – perhaps to become an officer in the German Forces, the shopkeeping/working-class Schultzes, Schmidts and others clearly didn't. They may have resettled successfully away from the war fervour of London.

But back in the '70s, when my father was writing his memoir, I asked him if he had any further information or guesses about their fate and he said the Government may have interned them less than five miles from Edmonton at Alexandra Palace – an entertainment centre turned Internment Camp for the duration (my father called it a "prison"). Modest research for a footnote revealed that it accommodated 3,000 "enemy aliens" in three large halls and that those in charge allowed inmates to organise football teams, gardening plots, concerts and a theatrical society.

A National Archives file notes that the Defence Of The Realm Act, passed with remarkable speed on August 8, 1914, "increased the state’s power to control and act against ‘unpatriotic’ forces, categorising Germans and Austrians as ‘enemy aliens’“. It resulted in 23,500 deportations and 32,000 internments. About 80 per cent of these internees returned to Germany after the war, although many of them had lived in Britain for years beforehand and clearly had thought of it as home.

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