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Prisoners of War at Lancaster 1914

Prisoners of War at Lancaster
The Class of Men Interned at the Wagon Works.

No small interest has been aroused in Lancaster, and not unnaturally, by the ever recurring detachments of prisoners of war arriving almost daily for internment at the Wagon Works. A large proportion of these appear to be seamen who have been brought in from alien ships captured by British men of war on the high seas, while others comprise alien “enemies” from different ranks of life who have either omitted to take out naturalisation papers, or have been objects of suspicion to the police in different cities and towns in England.

The Wagon Works are not ill-suited for a place of detention, and the large sheds which are contained within the lofty walls of the works make admirable dwelling and sleeping apartments for the motley crowd therein collected. Circumscribing these sheds and the open spaces near them, the curious public of Lancaster have been able to descry from the surrounding high ground lofty fences of barbed wire, constructed in inner and outer rings and of such a height and formidable nature that it would be a matter of more than ordinary ingenuity for any of those interned to effect an escape. Armed sentries are, of course, posted at various points around these fences, and brilliant lights burn all night. Outlooks are also posted on platforms, and promenade among the roofs of the offices and sheds, and every movement of the prisoners can be carefully noted. In fact, it may be confidently stated that nothing has been left undone by those in authority to insure the interment of the prisoners under the safest and most salutary conditions.

Personal observation of the prisoners and their tempers leads to the conviction that there is at present a very cheerful and resigned tone prevalent. Many of those who have been brought to Lancaster are doubtless far more comfortably situated than they would have been had they found themselves without employment or the prospect of obtaining any, and it was mentioned the other day that all that they lack is their liberty and news of happenings in the outer world. The former they bear for the most part with a cheerful resignation which appears to be but the veneer of an inward satisfaction and self-congratulation on having found such a comfortable abiding place; while the latter is a condition of necessity to which they are rapidly becoming accustomed.

While too much must not be said about the conditions under which the prisoners live, it may be stated with authority that they are fed and housed in such a manner as to call forth many expressions of satisfaction at, and gratitude for, their lot. Numbers of them have voluntarily offered their services to the commandant in any capacity in which they could be found useful, welcoming the prospect of some definite duties to relieve what must obviously become in time rather a monotonous way of spending their days. A distinctly cheerful note prevails, and this finds expression in the frequent singing and music that is heard each afternoon in the encampments. Quite a first class band has been recruited by the prisoners themselves from amongst their numbers and as it was not necessary to deprive them of their instruments some excellent concerts have taken place. At the same time their indulgences must not be taken to suggest that they are left in possession of anything which could possibly be a source of danger to their fellow prisoners or to the soldiers who guard them, and each fresh arrival is most rigorously searched before he is allotted to his “company.”

A strong proof of the trust placed by the prisoners in their English captors is found in the fact that those who have any considerable sum of money in their possession appear only too anxious to hand it over for safe keeping to the authorities, from whom they are able to from time to time to draw small sums for the purchase of “extras” at the canteen in addition to their ordinary quite adequate fare. All correspondence, incoming and out-going, is of course strictly censored, but no bar is placed upon the receiving of letters and parcels from friends under these conditions.

Were the average prisoner at Lancaster to be asked his candid opinion of the conditions under which he lives he would probably reply that he was quite comfortable, that the food was good, that he was kindly treated; but that he hoped the war would soon come to an end. That it can end otherwise than favourably for the Allies does not seem to be a question for consideration at all, and what has been heard described as the “madness” of the Kaiser is looked upon as entirely responsible for bringing about the upheaval of Europe.

It was been stated that the Wagon Works will accommodate two thousand prisoners, though whether anything like that number will ever be interned there is not known. But this much can be said definitely – the prisoners are secure, well cared for, and comfortable; they are generally contented, and well disposed towards England. Many of them wonder vaguely why they have been brought here, but with an unquestioning mind resign themselves placidly to the inevitable. And the inevitable is in this case far from unenviable. Are British prisoners abroad so comfortably “interned”? We wonder!

A story was published in a London newspaper last Saturday which stated that 960 Germans, taken prisoners by the British during the fighting at Mons, had been brought to Lancaster, and the story also went on to give the narratives of some of the prisoners, and their views on the war, as expressed by them to members of the military guard who brought them here. We are assured that the report of 960 German prisoners from the field of battle having been brought here is inaccurate.

On Saturday a party of aliens was brought to Lancaster from Manchester by a force of armed police. They were mainly destitute aliens, whose internment was considered desirable, as otherwise they might be a menace to the community. The prisoners, although chained in groups, were quite cheerful and seemed in no sense dismayed at the prospect of being provided for at the expense of this country. They were provided with cigarettes by people on the Wigan station platform, and they were on excellent terms with their guard.

The Commandant of the place of internment is Colonel H Cholmondeley CB, Rifle Brigade. Major Hatton, Seaforth Highlanders; Captain Fairclough, Royal Welsh Fusiliers; and Lieutenant Graves and Ackerley are also among the officers. Lieutenant Faulkner is the medical officer. A strong detachment of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers form the guard. The boy scouts have done a great deal of useful work in assisting the staff.

11th September 1914

Thanks to Peter Donnelly, King’s Own Royal Regiment Museum for the transcript.

The Wagon Works were situated in the stone buildings along Caton Road – later occupied by Standfast Printers.