Residents treated as aliens

Date: Friday 20th April 2018

PENRITH branch of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society’s penultimate meeting of the 2017 to 2018 season heard an excellent lecture by Dr Rob David called Waiter, Miner, Butcher, Spy.

This was a fascinating picture of what happened to the 30,000-plus Germans and Austrians who were trapped in this area in 1914 — those on holiday or other visits were returned to their homelands and not included in that number.

Many had been resident here, with their families and were in settled jobs, but were treated as aliens from the start. Probably the spouses, who were Cumbrian or British, were possibly viewed with less suspicion by the locals but, on the whole, not viewed sympathetically by the Cumbrians.

They were sent to special camps in Lancaster and Knockaloe, on the Isle of Man — this was also used in the Second World War — where the conditions were very basic and unpleasant.

The ill-treatment of the Belgians early in the war caused adverse reactions from the locals, as did the sinking of the Lusitania with a huge loss of lives in 1915.

Dr David quoted many examples of the unfortunate treatment as described in letters, newspapers and by their descendants still living in this area, while pointing out that they were treated with equal suspicion in the cities elsewhere in the country.

There were many questions and reminiscences from the audience as Penrith and the surrounding area had some such families living there.

It was a very stimulating lecture with an appreciative vote of thanks given by the chairman, Professor Michael Mullett.

The next meeting on 14th May, at the Friends Meeting House, will be the annual meeting with an address on the first Roman map of Britain by Bill Shannon.