The Aliens Registration Act of August 1914 required citizens of Germany and the Austro-Hungarian empire to be registered as ‘enemy aliens’. Their movements were restricted and men of fighting age were sent to internment camps.
According to the records of the National Archives, about twenty civilians in Sussex were registered as enemy aliens. They came from Brighton, Hove, Eastbourne, Hastings and the wider Sussex area. Their occupations included language teacher, music teacher, photographer, gardener and steward. Some were elderly with health conditions.
Many had lived in Britain for years and had British-born wives and children, some even had sons fighting in the British army. One such was Otto Puhlmann of Brighton who was sent to Knockaloe internment camp on the Isle of Man where he endured ill-health in tough conditions, while his British family faced prejudice at home. We don’t know if any of the registered aliens in Sussex were Jewish, but one, Ernest Waibel, was a butler for many years for the Sassoon family.
Newspaper reports made clear that aliens from countries, such as Belgium, also had to register.
On 13 April 1918, the Brighton Argus of reported a case of a registered alien, Alexander Bask, a fur dealer from Russia, who had not registered at his new address in Hove. The magistrates accepted that this was not due to ‘wilful neglect’ as the accused was registered at Brighton and hadn’t realised that his new home was in a separate registration district. He was fined a ‘nominal’ 10 shillings.
While the magistrates were reasonably understanding, the policeman’s action seems heavy-handed given that Mrs Bask had voluntarily come to the police station to make sure their registration was in order. In addition, the Basks had been in the country for more than a decade and would have been classed as ‘friendly’ rather than ‘enemy’ aliens. Is this simply evidence that the registration scheme was strictly enforced in Hove, or could it be that Russia’s withdrawal from the war after the revolution had made the authorities more suspicious?
As well as widespread anti-German feeling, newspapers reported rumours against supposed ‘aliens’.
Internment camps were established in Britain during the First World War. However, much of the military and social history of these camps has been forgotten and few individual records survive. There were two kinds of camps. The first were for prisoners of war (POWs) and the second were for civilians (interned enemy aliens – usually men of fighting age from Germany or the Austro-Hungarian Empire) who had been assessed by the Internment Tribunal Board.
Most of the camps in Sussex were for POWs, although one in Haywards Heath may have briefly housed civilians at the start of the war. German POWs in Sussex were in work camps. There were around ten camps including in Shoreham, Hove, Sompting/Lancing and elsewhere.
Shoreham Camp was situated in the workhouse on the Shoreham to Brighton Road. In 1918 prisoners cultivated 16 acres of the workhouse garden. The workhouse was opened in 1896 on 26 acres at Kingstone on Sea then it became Steyning Poor Law Institution in 1906, when additional building was added. It remained until the start of the NHS.
Ringwood Camp – information has disappeared.
Hove PoW – code Pa(Hov) address Brooker Hall Hove. It was designed in an Italian style by Thomas Lainson-Brooker for John Oliver Vallance. It stood on 4.5 acres. Vallance died in 1893 but his widow continued to live at the property until 1913. In 1915 the house was adapted to become a military hospital. POWs arrived at the hall in August 1917 (diary of Miss Austin-school teacher). POWs worked in the fields under supervision of British soldiers armed with bayonets. The prisoners were required to shift clinker and ash from the gasworks. The last POW left Hove in 1920.
Sompting/Lancing. CodePa(L c). Prisoners were housed in tents. A complaint was forwarded to the Swiss Delegate about the cold and damp in October 1917. Subsequent newspaper reports described disturbances over conditions. All three camps here would have been work camps, one camp was most probably an internment camp, and they may have been tented camps. Numbers not known, but around 50 is the usual number of prisoners. All low risk prisoners, the conditions within the internment camp would have been poor by all accounts.
The prisoners were used to undertake work on sea defences , as defined at the time by, East Lancing Sea defence Commissioners, plus work on re-surfacing local roads, working on local farms, orchards and nurseries.
There were at least two and possibly three camps in Lancing, location Upper Cokeham, area behind the Ball Tree public house, extending north to the A27 and West ward towards Lyons Farm, precise location approximately the area of the old chalk pit, now an industrial estate, the area of Rectory Farm Road, Dankton Gardens, Dankton Lane, Millfield Road.
Blairfield Chicester – situated in the private residence of Miss Bramwell (Kelly’s Directory, 1911) Ord. map 1899-1913 shows the house as Whyke Grange.
2nd Eastern General Hospital Brighton – First workhouse in Brighton dating to 1730, and former chapel of a convent. It housed 35 paupers in Alms houses. The new workhouse was built in 1853 in Elm Grove. It became a Brighton Poor Law Institution in 1914. During the war it became the Kitchener Indian Hospital for wounded Indian soldiers, but it is believed POWs were treated there too.
East Preston /Angmering. Working camp, code Pa(E P), leased from Admiral Warren and his brothers. 75 POWs were interned there. The exact date of their arrival is in a letter sent to Frank Standing at the front: 29/03/1918 people noticed prisoners who had arrived the previous day. The number increased to 160. The prisoners worked on farms and nurseries in the area. They left the camp a year after Armistice day. A prisoner, P Seifert, produced three paintings of the camp.
German prisoners were billeted in what is now Preston Hall in the Street, East Preston. At the time of WW1, it was still known as Preston Place. In those days the Angmering boundary extended over the railway line down to Worthing Road – just across the road from Preston Place. Quite probably the prisoners worked across the road at Preston Place Farm which was located in Angmering. We know that POWs there were extensively employed on local farms and nurseries, at one point there were some 160 prisoners, POW’s were returned to Germany in October 1919.
East Grinstead – working camp located on 208 London road.
Hayward Heath Camp – First camp early in the war, possibly for civilians. Second camp code (Po Hy). Located at Summer Hill.
There is a list available of all the Sussex Prisoner of War camps from 1914-1918 here: https://sussexthegreatwar.wordpress.com/list-of-ww1-p-o-w-internee-camps-sussex/
National Archives, Internment of Enemy Aliens during 1914-1918 War, Classified List, pp. 117-119 (London: National Archives), via FindMyPast
N Nic Nicol, Not Necessarily behind Barbed Wire – Places of internment in the United Kingdom, Great Britain and Ireland during WW1 1914-1920, (Prisoners of War Internment Camp project, 2010), IWM London. LBY 11 / 445 https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/1500096674.
Panikos Panayi,’ Prisoners and Internees of the Great War (Britain)’, 1914-1918 International Encyclopedia of the First World War Online, 2014
Sue Robertson Danells, ‘A Different Perspective’ Sussex Family Historian, Vol 23, No. 7, pp. 310-313, (Sussex Family History Group, September 2019).