16 November 2011
Following the purchase of an box of mixed covers from a local auction, Richard Tarrant discovered an intriguing 1916 Prisoners of War cover, sent from a camp on the Isle of Man. He describes the item and the fascinating story behind it here ...
The 1916 cover was sent to Amsterdam, the sender being noted as Walter Lennart, 11867, of Camp III, Compound 1, Knockaloe Camp, Peel, Isle of Man, England (sic). It has a large circular cancellation with the letters ‘P.O.’ in the centre and ‘POST FREE/PRISONERS OF WAR’ around the edge. The reverse has an Amsterdam cancellation noting the letter’s arrival on 26 January, 1916.
During the First World War the British government interned male citizens of the Central Powers, principally Germany, Austria-Hungary and Ottoman Turkey. Many were held in the internment camp at Knockaloe, which was built at Patrick, a mile south of Peel, on what had been the site of a farm. The camp consisted of wooden huts over an area of 22 acres, with a circumference of some three miles. To meet the need to transport prisoners, a short branch railway was built from the Peel - Douglas line to serve the camp.
A 1920 account of the Knockaloe camp asserted that, ‘The prisoners were of a very mixed class. There were managers of hotels, chefs of fashionable London restaurants, eminent musicians, businessmen, hairdressers, waiters, seamen, and representatives of numerous other callings.’
Knockaloe had originally been designed for 5,000 prisoners and it was not anticipated that that number would be exceeded. In May 1915, however, as a consequence of the sinking of the British ocean liner Lusitania, there was growing hostility on the part of the public towards alien enemies living at large, and the camp had to be extended. At its peak it held 23,000 prisoners and engaged 3,000 others, such as guards, doctors, priests, engineers, store-keepers, clerks and dentists.
Knockaloe was divided into four sub-camps, each with its own hospital, recreation field and theatre. Each sub-camp had five to seven compounds, which could house up to 1,000 men. Each compound had its own kitchen, recreation room, bath house and latrines. There was little movement allowed between compounds.
On the upper slopes of the hill attached to Camp III, there were hospital huts. On the other side of the camp was a piece of ground which came to be known as ‘Camp V’. This was the burial ground at Patrick church, where the 200 prisoners who died during internment were buried. Most were re-interred at Cannock Chase in 1962 but a few remain in Patrick.
When the war finished in 1918 the release of prisoners was depressingly slow, with the last internee finally leaving Knockaloe on 9 October, 1919. Around 3,000 internees were allowed to stay in Britain. Most, though, were deported, in spite of many having settled in Britain before the war and many having British wives.
In the early 1920s, the internment camp was cleared and the land used as an experimental agriculture station.
Find out more about wartime mail in the December issue of Stamp & Coin Mart.