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Feb 2008 Journal

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Second World War internee records for the Isle of Man

As is well known, the Isle of Man (IOM) was used as a centre for holding enemy aliens during both world wars. The Manx National Heritage Library, located in the Manx Museum in Douglas, receives a steady stream of enquiries on this topic. An exhibition on internment held in 1994 with an accompanying booklet entitled Living with the Wire and the libraries’ selected bibliography Internment during World Wars 1 & 2 increased the number of enquiries received and led to the decision in October 2000 to establish a project to reconstruct as complete a list as possible of men, women and children interned or detained on the IOM in 1940-45.

Assembling the lists has been a painstaking process achieved thanks to a volunteer, Cary Ellis, able to devote a few hours a week to reading through files and inputting personal details into alphabetical lists. The major primary resource has been the wartime administrative records compiled by the IOM Constabulary. The scope of the project was soon expanded to incorporate names extracted from a number of other sources already in the Library collections. The combination of official and personal records served to add to, or clarify, details, such as where two individuals of the same name could not be clearly distinguished.

Initially viewed as finite, the project has been further extended due to the growth of information available particularly in memoirs, personal papers and published research. There has been a dramatic growth in the publication of wartime experiences, which has led to a considerable expansion of the libraries’ stock. People released from the Manx camps are often mentioned, such as by Helen Fry in Jews in North Devon during the Second World War. The rise of the internet has helped source accounts and allowed the acquisition of a number of out-of-print accounts. The National Archives at Kew hold many records and its online catalogue has provided a variety of sources. The December 2006 issue of Ancestors revealed the existence of six nominal rolls at Kew of Manx camps in 1943-45. These provided many additional names, although they include a number of PoWs rather than just internees.

Official Records for the IOM camps are in two main series - those produced by the British Government and local records produced primarily by the Isle of Man Constabulary. Experience has shown that a large proportion of the UK records has been lost or destroyed or is subject to access restrictions. In contrast, much information relating to internees’ time spent on the IOM has survived in the police Alien registration records. More details of the type of records which have survived are given below, but the most significant are the personal details provided by the Alien Registration cards.

The lists produced so far are substantial, consisting of 8,058 men and 7,019 women; numbers have increased from 4,667 and 6,393 respectively since January 2004. The records for women and children are much more detailed due to the survival of many alien registration cards as illustrated below. These exist for 3,267 women (some with details of their children added). No trace of the equivalent for men has been found - these are believed to have been destroyed. Details for men are therefore often solely a name on a list with minimal information. Coverage of male internees contains a very high proportion of Italians, who were usually detained longer and therefore stand more chance of appearing in the records. This contrasts sharply with the mainly German and Austrian male refugees, who often stayed on the island for a few months and do not appear on any lists. I would speculate that the index for men probably now includes about half of the estimated numbers of internees. There are male internees from at least 17 nationalities: Austrian, Belgian, British, Chilean, Czech, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Hungarian, Irish, Italian, Japanese, Luxemburgers, Norwegian, Polish and Russian.

The gaps are one area which needs to be addressed by continuing to search for records that have survived off-island and by appeals such as that made via the AJR Journal for information from internees and their families to help complete the lists.

The following section illustrates the types of records available for female internees and children in the police records. Extraction from these has now been completed.

On analysis, it would appear that only about half of the entries for women in the list have record cards (3,267). However, most of the cards have a pencilled serial number on them - the highest number noted is 4,043 for a Finn transferred to the IOM on 8 June 1945 who left on 26 July 1945. This implies that some 776 are lost and that the actual percentage held may be around 80. It is also possible that children were given individual numbers but no record cards were completed: they are usually noted on the reverse of the mother’s card, sometimes just as ‘and child/ren’ without names - unless a ledger turns up we may never know the exact total. A search using the word ‘parent’ revealed over 200 entries, but most of these are merely Applied for USA Visa Parent xxxx. Refining this to include children with a date of birth between 1925 and 1944 has so far produced 71 names. Numbers were obviously substantial as J. W. Barwick (see below) lists two kindergarten, two elementary schools and a boys’ and a girls’ school and records 50 births to 1941.

Barwick wrote in 1941 reporting approximately 3,000 women and children in the Rushen Camp, whilst Charmian Brinson notes that by mid-1940 some 3,600 women were placed in category B and that estimates of internee numbers vary with 4,000 usually cited, although Cuthbert stated in 1947 that there were 5,000 with a maximum capacity of 5,200 for Rushen camp. This would confirm that the numbers above do contain a number of duplicate entries, which may be slightly reduced as more detail comes to light. Of course, with internees coming and going, the figure of 5,000 may have been an estimate at the time, perhaps reflecting the peak of numbers. Some statistics for Rushen Camp are in the records (a hand-written table) and these give a total for those in camp and already released or transferred of 4,150 in October 1941. The women are from a smaller pool of nationalities - predominately German and Austrian with a large proportion of refugees.

Footnotes
1 Living with the Wire: Civilian Internment in the Isle of Man during the two World Wars (Douglas: Manx National Heritage, 1994), ISBN 0-901106-35-6.

2 Internment during World Wars 1 & 2. Available on MNH website at http://www.gov.im/mnh/heritage/library/bibliographies/internment.xml
3 MNHL - MS 09310, received November 1986.
4 A good example is the series of yearbooks published by the Research Centre for German and Austrian Exile Studies. Volume 7 contains a series of articles about the IOM.
5 Helen Fry, Jews in North Devon during the Second World War (Tiverton: Halsgrove, 2005), ISBN 1-84114-437-1.
6 Internet sites include Abe Books at http://www.abebooks.co.uk/; Bookfinder at http://www.bookfinder.com/; and Amazon at http://www.amazon.co.uk/
7 Roger Kershaw, ‘Lock them up!’ in Ancestors, National Archives Magazine, December 2006, pp. 36-41.
8 The National Archives, HO 215/469, 471, 473, 475, 478, 502.
9 Due to the survival of a 1940 camp nominal roll for the Palace Internment Camp MNHL MS 10147 acquired in June 1999 and the large number of Italians in the later camp nominal rolls for 1943-45 mentioned above.
10 Letter from Rudi Leavor, AJR Journal, October 2007.
11 J. W. Barwick, Report on Alien Internment Camps in the UK (April 1941), Library Ref. B115/77.
12 Charmian Brinson, ‘In the Exile of Internment’, extract from Politics and Culture in Twentieth-Century Germany (2003), Library Ref B115/76.

The second, and concluding, part of this article will appear in next month’s issue of the Journal.




Alan Franklin

previous article:All Our Yesterdays – the 1960s
next article:Art notes