Over 90,000 German military personnel were held as internees or prisoners of war in Great Britain in 1914-18. One day in October 1917, one of them walked into a restaurant on Jermyn Street.
Paul Scheumann was a German army Lieutenant, held captive at Yatesbury airfield in Cherhill, Wiltshire, with over 700 other German servicemen. He was in charge of a working party of German prisoners of war (prisoners were used for manual labour near to their camps during the war) and, one day in October 1917, he crawled under the camp wire to retrieve a suit he had made out of army blankets and hidden near to the camp. He then went and bought a mackintosh Chippenham and got the train to London.
Lieutenant Scheumann arrived in London late on Tuesday 16 October. He went out and bought a kitbag, some boots and new clothes then went to the theatre, before checking into a hotel in the West End. He checked out the next day after lunch and moved to Bellomo’s private hotel at 102 Jermyn Street, Piccadilly.
Andrea Bellomo, the owner and proprietor, was an Italian citizen in his 40s who ran the hotel with his English wife, Nellie. When Scheumann checked in at 4pm, Bellomo was immediately suspicious: “I at once noticed”, he told reporters later, “that although he described himself as a British subject, his accent was distinctly that of an educated German” What’s more, when the new arrival gave his name and address he wrote it out as “Thomas Mann, Bristol, High Street 145”:
Bellomo told reporters that “The ‘145’ being placed at the end of the name of the street aroused my suspicions, as all Germans write the number thus.” He also felt that the handwriting looked German (especially the ‘1’ in ‘145’). He allowed ‘Mr Mann’ to check in but kept an eye on him. That evening ‘Mann’ again went to the theatre, apparently to see ‘Trelawny of the Wells’ at the New Theatre.
At breakfast the next day, Scheumann/Mann “appeared somewhat anxious” and Bellomo consulted a British staff officer staying at the hotel who “had also noticed the man’s clothes were apparently ready-made, and he had a distinct German accent, and that he had the appearance of an officer.” Bellomo called the police and when a Sergeant Cole arrived and had been told of the suspicions, one of the waiters “ran up, saying ‘That man is a Bosche’.”
Cole and Bellomo spoke to Scheumann/Mann, who claimed to be Swiss. The English PC and the Italian hotelier did not believe this for a minute and the man was arrested “quite cheerfully” after being challenged. According to Bellomo, “I gave him some sandwiches, and said, ‘You’re lucky to be treated in this way. I hope you’ll tell your friends how well we treat German prisoners here.’ He [Scheumann] laughed, and went off with Sergeant Cole.”
Andrea Bellomo applied successfully for British citizenship in 1919 but only lived until 1927, when he died in Cranbrook, Kent, where he and Mrs Bellomo had moved after the war. Nellie (Ellen Maria) Bellomo lived on in Cranbook until her death in 1963.
It is intriguing to think that a German officer was able to spend 36 hours at large in London, dressed in a home-made suit and speaking with a noticeable German accent. The vigilance of Bellomo and his guests and staff helped to send Scheumann back to his prisoner of war camp. He was, though, only one of many Germans at large at that time, as escapes were surprisingly common: newspaper reports of Scheumann’s capture also noted the details of two more escaped German prisoners of war.
- Dr Oliver Wilkinson, review of Prisoners of Britain: German Civilian and Combatant Internees During the First World War by Panikos Panayi
- T.S. Crawford, Wiltshire in the Great WarQuotations from contemporary newspaper reports:
- The Times, and Daily Mirror, both 18/10/1917
- The Straits Times, 5/1/1918 (reporting the account in the Daily Chronicle)