19 NOVEMBER

FIVE DETAINEES SHOT DEAD AT DOUGLAS ALIEN DETENTION CAMP

A memorial plaque commemorates the 20,000+ civilians interned on the Isle of Man.
Richard Hoare – CC BY-SA 2.0 – via Geograph.

[ 19 November 1914 ]

At just after 2 pm on 19 November 1914, five detainees, four German and one Hungarian, were shot dead by soldiers at the Douglas Alien Detention Camp on the Isle of Man. They had been interned with 3,300 other civilians, deemed ‘enemy aliens’, in abysmal conditions since Britain’s declaration of war on Germany and Austria-Hungary in August.  During a particularly cold, wet and windy autumn, the prisoners had been forced to sleep in tents, although it was the rotten meat, blighted potatoes and the sight of weevils crawling over the food which provoked some of them to protest during the lunch hour, breaking up the tables and smashing crockery.1

Extra guards were immediately summoned, but on entering the dining hall they were pelted, according to one of them, with ‘a fusilade of all kinds of missiles’ which included knives, forks, plates, cups and saucers.  At the subsequent inquest, several soldiers insisted that someone had given the order to fire, but no one could say whom. The hearing heard that some thirty seven shots had been expended, killing five and wounding 19 others. Despite the disproportionate use of force, all the guards were exonerated. After just ten minutes deliberation, the jury declared: ‘We unanimously find the deaths of the five alien prisoners in the Douglas Detention Camp were caused by justifiable measures forced upon the military authorities by a riotous section of the aliens interned there.’2

Several newspapers cited at length the testimony of the camp commandant, Colonel Medoc, who refuted allegations that the tents were inadequate for the conditions, explaining that they were fully approved by the War Office. As for the complaints about the food, he did ‘not think there was any foundation to it’ and handed over a printed list of the weekly menu which was passed round the jury and then to the coroner who remarked: ‘It looks to me like a very generous diet.’  Medoc maintained that the prisoners ‘were looking for trouble and the only thing they could do was to make the food a lever for trouble generally.’  Some newspapers also quoted the camp’s medical officer, who ‘described the food as really good’ and a US embassy official who praised the ‘kindly treatment accorded to the prisoners by the commandant and his subordinates.’ 3 The names of those killed were Richard Fohs, formerly a waiter at the Grand Hotel, Brighton, Christian Buckl, a London waiter, Ludwig Bauer and Richard Waring, London dock workers, and Richard Matthias, a sailor.4

FOOTNOTES

  1. ‘Douglas Camp Riot,’ The Liverpool Daily Post and Mercury, 28 November 1914, p. 5, Simon Webb, British Concentration Camps: A Brief History from 1900-1975, Pen and Sword History, Barnsley, 2016, pp. 51-52 and  ‘Douglas Camp’ accessed at url http://www.isle-of-man.com/manxnotebook/history/intrn_ww1/douglas/index.htm
  2. ‘Douglas Camp Riot,’ The Liverpool Daily Post and Mercury, 28 November 1914, p. 5.
  3. ‘Full Story of the Douglas Camp Riot,’ The Birmingham Mail, 28 November 1914, p. 2, ‘Manx Camp Riot – Firing Justified,’ The Aberdeen Daily Journal, 28 November 1914, p. 5, ‘Douglas Camp Riot,’ The Liverpool Daily Post and Mercury, 28 November 1914, p. 5 and ‘Prisoners Only to Blame,’ The Manchester Courier, 30 December 1914, p. 4.
  4. ‘The Douglas Camp Riot,’ The Northern Whig, 24 November 1914, p. 10 and ‘Full Story of the Douglas Camp Riot,’ The Birmingham Mail, 28 November 1914, p. 2.

Please feel welcome to post comments below.  If you have any questions please email alisdare@gmail.com

© 2020 Alisdare Hickson All rights reserved

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