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The Kaiser’s Own

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.

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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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