Foreigners in Stratford

26 Jul

As you approach Stratford station on the train from London Liverpool Street, you will see the Olympic Park where the London 2012 games start tomorrow.  If you had done the same journey in 1914-15 and looked the other way, you would have seen a different group of foreigners: German nationals interned at the start of the Great War.

After war was declared in August 1914, many German men of military age who were resident in the south-east of England were interned by the authorities to stop them from go to fight for the enemy or acting as spies against Britain.  After a wave of anti-German violence in October 1914 and May 1915, more and more men were interned – and even more suffered from prejudice and restrictions on their movements where they were not interned (oddly, those in the Metropolitan police area were not necessarily interned).

One of the sites used to house these military-aged German men was a disused jute factory in Stratford. It was situated to the south of the railway lines and west of Carpenters Road.

Google map of the site of the internment camp (south of the ‘A’ marker) and the neighbouring Olympic park. In the north-east corner is Stratford Station.

In March 1915, Revd Andrew Clark (on his way from Oxford to his home in Great Leighs, Essex) spotted a factory with a ‘to let sign’ and a group of men milling about in the yard – the German internees.

The site in 1916, from an Ordnance Survey map on (The grey block in the centre is the Jute works/internment camp)

The camp was notorious among interned men. Rudolf Rocker heard of terrible conditions there, which he described in his autobiography (p204):

“The Stratford Camp and its Commandant had a dreadful reputation among the internees. News had spread of terrible things happening there. It was not always the fault of the British military administration. The German internal administration was as much to blame, particularly for a great deal of corruption that existed there. The head of the internal administration was a man named Weber, who seemed by all accounts to be a sadist, and did his best to make life in the camp impossible. We were told about a Sergeant Trinneman at Stratford, who was the Commandant’s right hand and practically ran the camp. He was said to be a brute.”

The Stratford Camp was opened in December 1914 and closed in 1917.  It was based in William Ritchie & Sons jutespinners’ factory on Carpenters Road. The factory was built in 1864 but closed down in 1904. There is a lengthy description of the site in 1876 here, stating that one thousand were employed there. (Two of William Ritchie’s sons were prominent – James became Lord Mayor of London while Charles became Home Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer.)

The story of Germans in the UK in the Great War is a largely unknown one (despite the efforts of Panikos Panayi in several books and articles). Few attending the Olympics this summer will know of the German men interned by the British authorities who lived under an oppressive prison regime just yards from the 2012 Olympics site.


Posted by on 26 July 2012 in Places


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7 responses to “Foreigners in Stratford

  1. SilverTiger

    13 August 2012 at 10:40 am

    It’s good to remind ourselves from time to time of these less salubrious parts of our history.

    It would be interesting if we could discover the subsequent histories of internees and whether some, disgusted at the treatment they received in the camp, left the country, or whether they bravely put the experience behind them and went on with their lives.

    It is sad to note that while extraordinary events sometimes bring out the best in people, all too often it is the worst people who rise to positions of authority.

  2. Stuart

    14 August 2012 at 10:45 pm

    Yes, it is important to hear these sorts of stories. As I understand it, many Germans left Britain after the Great War (and some were repatriated during the war if not of military age) and returned to Germany. Presumably the experience of attitudes and actions during the war was a major cause of this movement.

  3. Stuart Hillary

    25 January 2013 at 5:12 pm

    I have only just found this site. My grandfather was initially interned here (in terrible conditions) and was later moved to the Isle of Man before being interned at Alexanda Palace, where he was held until some ten months after Armistance was declared. I wrote, in detail, about his sad life while my mother was still alive. He greatly suffered as a result of internment.
    In the First War the British Public blamed all Germans, while in the Second War the British public blamed the Nazis

    • Simon Buck

      6 November 2013 at 11:55 am

      Thank you for an in depth introduction to the topic of Stratford’s internment. As an oral historian and project worker for Eastside Community Heritage (based in Ilford), I would be greatly interested in anyone who knew more upon the topic, or were descendants of those interned in Stratford. We are running a project over the course of 2013/2014 on the Stratford camp with the intentions of running exhibitions, school projects and conducting a series of oral histories of descendants (Stuart Hillary, your grandfather’s story may be of particular interest to us if you were interested in helping)

      • Simon Buck

        6 November 2013 at 11:57 am

        My email address is for all those interested.

      • Howard Brabrook

        2 February 2015 at 5:32 pm

        Hello Simon

        I have only just found this site – through a friend more experienced than I in Family History. It would appear that my maternal grandfather ,Gottlieb Blasek, was interned here . He had been born in Silesia in 1861 so was middle aged by the time WW! started. He had served his compulsory military service in Berlin in 1877 and came to this country probably around the turn of the century .He married in 1909 and had 4 children ,my mother being the eldest of three girls and there was one son who was the eldest child . Gottlieb had a ladies hairdressing business in Blandford St W1 at the outbreak of the war . I was told that the whole family were to have been deported at the end of the war but their MP intervened and they stayed ( and no doubt avoided death in the turmoil of post war eastern Europe ). Gottlieb was unable to restart his business and had menial jobs thereafter though living until 1955 , a good age. He became a British Citizen in 1936.His only son was killed serving RAF Bomber Command in 1943 – the irony being that he was bombing his father’s countrymen.
        My mother to her dying day recalled being stoned by other children because her Father was a German. I am trying to piece together his life both here before WW1 and in the country of his birth which may have been part of the Austro Hungarian empire before WW!.

        Howard Brabrook

  4. Shauna Wyldeck-Estrada

    18 August 2016 at 1:45 pm

    I have only just discovered that my grandfather Hans Wyldeck, Reuter correspondent at the outbreak of the war and married to my english grandmother was interned in Douglas Isle of Man and transferred in February 1917 to Stratford for repatriation. There is very little known about him as my father who was born in Jan 1914 maintained that his father deserted his mother. Even though I have found article s in German written by him in Anarchist magazine in the 20s.
    Shauna Wyldeck-estrada


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