The Kaiser’s Own

17 Jan

In previous posts we have seen how some ‘alien enemies’ were attacked by their fellow Londoners, and how others joined up to fight for Britain. Others, naturalised citizens or British-born with parents who were aliens ended up as labourers in the Middlesex Regiment’s Alien Labour units.

In 1916, Army Orders established two new battalions in the Middlesex Regiment. These would contain recruits who were British citizens but the children of immigrants from nations with whom Britain was at war; the men were promised that they would not have to bear arms against the enemy. The units were named the 30th and 31st battalions and they served only in the UK. Some additional similar Labour Companies were also formed in 1917 and served in France. The units were known (rather cruelly) by some as “The Kaiser’s Own”.

Crest of the Middlesex Regiment

Several Londoners served in the 31st Battalion – which ended the war based in Croydon.

Hugo Max Norman Hotopf was born in Northumberland in 1881, the son of Hugo and Johanna who were German immigrants naturalised as British citizens in 1895. By the start of the Great War he was married, living in Lewisham, and had a son – William Hugh Norman Hotopf, born June 1914. Norman was working as a dye expert for the rather Germanic-sounding Badische Company in Brunswick Place near Old Street.

In 1916 he appealed for exemption from military service at the Shoreditch Military Service Tribunal, explaining that he was a chemical expert whose work was helping the British war effort. The Daily Mirror (19/8/1916) picked up on the story after Hotopf recounted his time before the war (in 1905-13) working at the chemical works at Ludwighafen, which the British had bombed in 1915.  The fate of that appeal is not reported, but he was eventually conscripted into the 31st Middlesex.

Hotopf’s appeal reported in the Daily Mirror, 19/8/1916

After the war, the Hotopfs continued to live in Lewisham, adding a daughter (Ruth) to the family in 1919. They retained links with Germany, though, with Norman junior spending part of his youth there before going to Cambridge University. In March 1938, Norman senior and his wife (then living in Forest Hill) attended a farewell dinner held for German ambassador Herr von Ribbentrop in London. They also went to Germany, where Norman senior died in April – in Bühlerhöhe, Baden-Baden. Norman junior became a prestigious professor of psychology.

Oddly, a neighbour of Hotopf’s  in Queensthorpe Road, Sydenham was also in the Battalion. Walter R Kinge lived at number 20, a few doors down from Hotopf at number 14, and served in the 31st Middlesex.

Alois Frederick Pfeiffer was born in around 1889 in Bermondsey, son of Alois Pfeiffer from Bavaria and his English-born wife Emma (technically, she became German when she married Alois). Alois senior and Emma were licenced victualler’s assistants in 1901 – they worked in a pub – and at some point after her husband’s death in 1905, Emma became the landlady of the Leather Exchange Tavern in Bermondsey.

When the Great War came along, two of Emma’s sons served in the British Army. Frederick Charles Pfeiffer served in the 2nd/4th London Regiment, which went out to Egypt in August 1915 and on to Gallipoli in October. Frederick died there in November aged 24. His elder brother Alois junior ended up in B Company of the 31st Battalion, Middlesex Regiment.

In February 1919, Alois junior was still in the unit and his mother made an appeal for his release on compassionate grounds. Frustrated by slow progress, Emma Pfeiffer went to her MP – Harold Glanville – who brought up the case in parliament. Eventually, Alois F Pfeiffer returned to Bermondsey and lived in London for several more decades.

Unlike Hotopf and Pfeiffer, Edward Kehlstadt was actually born in Germany, in the town of Gebweiler, Alsace (now in France). When he became liable for service in the British armed forces in 1916, he was a stockbroker’s clerk living with his English-born wife Blanche in (aptly, or unfortunately) in Berlin Road, Catford – renamed Canadian Avenue in 1918. Edward Kehlstadt joined the 31st Middlesex in March 1917. After training, he joined the 3rd Infantry Labour Company in France in June 1917; he served with them for more than a year. Following a spell of leave back in the UK in the summer of 1918, he went back out to France, but only until September 1918.

Edward Kehlstadt’s record of service

After being admitted to hospital with boils, Edward Kehlstadt was sent back to England at the end of September and back to the 31st Battalion. A few weeks later, he died in Cavendish Bridge Voluntary Aid Detatchment (VAD) Hospital in Shardlow, Derbyshire, on 21 October 1918. A few days later, he was buried in Ladywell cemetery.

Blanche Kehlstadt wrote to the War Office requesting a badge of the Middlesex Regiment as a memento of her husband’s service with the unit. Edward’s name appears on the war memorial at St Mary’s Church, Lewisham, where he and Blanche had married in 1909.


These three men, two English with German parents, one German-born but naturalised as a British citzen, were all Londoner’s who served in ‘The Kaiser’s Own’. It is impossible to know, but interesting to ponder what their feelings were about serving in an army that was fighting their – or their family’s – homeland. Did Hotopf’s links to Germany make him reluctant to join up? Did Kehlstadt the Alsatian-Londoner feel German, English, or even French when he served in the Labour Company in France? Wars hold millions of stories about millions of men, women and children. These three men and their families had a different war from those around them, with closer ties to the enemy than most had they were not trusted to (or were sympathetically allowed not to) fight at the front, but still served their country.


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14 responses to “The Kaiser’s Own

  1. Grantshire

    17 January 2013 at 9:14 am

    Excellent, really interesting and great to see the connection to my local area, South East London

  2. SilverTiger

    17 January 2013 at 11:54 am

    I had not heard of these battalions that enabled people with ties to Germany to avoid fighting, so am grateful for the information. I too wonder at the motives behind their formation: was it compassion (if so, an unusual degree of that emotion in military circles at the time) or the thought that they could not be trusted in battle but could still be put to useful work in other fields? Either way, how much better was that than being interned!

    Such stories of individual lives certainly bring home to one the reality of war and the heartache and suffering that it causes.

  3. Vasile Michael (@VasileMichael)

    17 January 2013 at 5:07 pm

    Thank you for sharing … This was a very interesting article to me. I just recently wrote a book called The Cadet Life of Prince Harry about Prince Harry’s his time at the RMA and the British military and The British Royal Family fascinates me.

  4. Mike Guilfoyle

    4 February 2013 at 1:19 pm

    Fascinating insight into lesser known aspect of WW1 on the homefront with local cemetery links…

    Mike Guilfoyle
    Vice-Chair : Friends of Brockley & Ladywell Cemetery-Foblc

  5. Stuart

    13 February 2013 at 11:17 pm

    Glad to hear that you all enjoyed the article.
    I think it is an interesting aspect of the war experiences of Londoners. I’m not sure what the motive was: whether it was compassionate or suspicious. Perhaps a mixture.
    I find it interesting to consider the sheer variety of experiences that people had – particularly when (as in the Brockley/Ladywell area) they were walking the same streets that I do.

    • William Hotopf

      10 July 2013 at 8:32 am

      Many thanks for this information about my grandfather, HMN Hotopf, it adds new information for our family history. I can add some information to your piece. Our family was connected to the Badische Analin & Soda Fabrik (BASF) from its establishment in the mid 1860’s and our German cousins, the Brunck family, are more intimately connected to that company’s early history.

      In the late 1870’s HMN’s father moved to Newcastle and established a company, Stott and Hotopf, importing analine dyes from BASF into the UK. In 1916 HMN was working in this family business rather than as stated in the Daily Mail article. HMN had two older brothers; Albert and Ernest, both probably too old for conscription to have been an issue. Ernest decided to anglicise his surname during WWI to avoid prejudice but I am pleased to say that our second cousins restored the original name by deed-poll in the 1990’s.

      During the interwar period the family maintained close ties with our cousins in Germany and because they were at the heart of the chemical industry were well aware of the inevitability of a second war, so much so that HMN persuaded my aunt, Ruth, not to marry her German suitor in 1938.

      In WWII my father, Norman “junior”, worked for British intelligence and rose to the rank of major. His younger brother Richard saw active service in the far East. Our German cousins were embroiled in the German war effort, but as soon as WWII concluded the relationship between the two branches was re-established and we remain in touch to this day.

      My uncle Richard, HMN’s youngest child, is still alive aged 92.

      As with all Anglo-German families the twentieth century offered interesting and difficult challenges with an inevitable dividing and questioning of loyalties. The pragmatic response was to focus on getting through day by day rather than worrying about the bigger political issues.

      In many ways the family had lucky experiences in the wars with no deaths on either side caused by the conflict. But WWI was extremely hard on my grandmother, Hildegard Maria, who arrived in England in 1912, ten years younger than her husband and unable to speak English, isolated, homesick and frightened she was spat at in the street and one occasion assaulted during WWI simply for being of German origin.

      • Stuart

        21 July 2013 at 8:45 pm

        Hello, William. Thank you for taking the time to comment on my blog post and give some more of your family’s story. It always pleases me to hear from the families of the people I write about, especially those of ordinary people with extraordinary stories that are not widely known about.

        As you say, the life of Anglo-German families in the UK in the twentieth century have been interesting ones. To be suddenly thrust into the role of ‘the enemy within’ must have been frightening and difficult.

        I was interested to read the obituaries of Bert Trautmann this weekend, obviously a German immigrant under very different circumstances, but one whose experience of life in the UK was tricky at times but ultimately a great symbol of how Brits and Germans could get on soon after the Second World War.

      • Helen Thomas

        14 May 2015 at 12:51 pm

        Hi William,

        I came across this webpage and your interesting information while carrying out research on a large house, The Priory, Luccombe Road, Shanklin, Isle of Wight. The property went to auction in 1906, but we have no information on who bought it, or who lived there between 1906 and 1937, except for the 1911 Census. This gives the occupants as including Gertrud Hotopf (born Northumberland 1888) Hugo Hotopf (born Germany 1856), Johanna Hotopf (born Germany 1853). It seems likely the last two are the parents of HMN Hotopf (born 1881) and are your great grandparents.

        If you have any information on your family members time in Shanklin we would be very glad to hear from you, either here or via the contact details on our website

        Secretary, Shanklin & District History Society.

      • Oliver Parsons

        8 January 2017 at 4:15 pm

        Hello William

        You family Anglo-German problems in both wars are interesting. Like Helen Thomas, my concern is the history of your family home at The Priory at Shanklin.

        The house was built in 1866 for a Waters family of three spinsters, who lived there until the last one died in 2004. I have a copy of the Auction Sale Particulars, sold to Goud in 1906. In 1911 your great grandparents lived there with their daughter Gertrude. The next information I have is the 1924 bankruptcy of Clara Emily de Bricken Matthews who lived there with resident servants; before WW1 her income derived from the will of Baron Bricken in Germany. Could there be a family connection with the Hotopfs?

        The Priory was a hotel from 1932 until the 1950s. In 1966 it was extended and became holiday flats.
        The owner from 1976 to 2004 was Alan Thompson, who now lives at Lymington. After extensive refurbishment in 2005 it became the present 17 apartments of which I own one.

        Do you have any documents or photos of your great grandparents Hugo and Johanna time at The Priory, or their dates of death? They would have been in their fifties in 1911, which looks to be early to retire from Newcastle, unless they were seeking the healthy-giving air of the Isle of Wight.

        Oliver Parsons

  6. Janice Tatham

    28 March 2013 at 12:43 pm

    my Great uncle Albert was in the Middlesex Regiment – I believe the 30th Bt – he lived in Hawkstead Road, Catford and changed his name in 1921 – His father was born in Germany and he married an English girl – Their name was Stachelscheid.

    • Peter Farrell-Vinay

      28 February 2017 at 12:05 am

      Albert’s number was G/35687. He was a Private.

  7. keatsbabe

    2 April 2013 at 4:29 pm

    My Great Uncle Alfred Hardiman served in both these battalions in 1916/17 but to our knowledge was not of ‘alien’ parentage! Neither could he speak the language. It is a mystery to us how he ended up there, but it was certainly an unhappy time. He later suffered serious health problems and killed his girlfriend and himself in 1922. Very little is available about these regiments so this has been a really useful post, thank you.

  8. Maggie

    12 December 2015 at 1:40 am

    The reason for the creation of the 30th and 31st (alien) battalions of the Middlesex Regiment was suspicion not compassion. The 3rd ILC for example was sent to the Ypres area near to the front in 1917 and while the men were not officially allowed to bear arms or work with munitions, they were left less than a kilometre away from the advancing German troops during the March push of 1918, before receiving the order to move back towards the coast.

    • Ren

      23 September 2020 at 5:24 pm

      Hello Maggie,

      A great-uncle of mine served with the 2nd ILC Middlesex Regiment. Do you happen to know where I can find info on this labour company? I am waiting for a book (No Labour, No Battle) that will probably tell me more about this one but I try to explore all the sources of information available.


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