Prisoners of War in Surrey

German prisoners of war marching to Frith Hill Camp SHC ref PC/68/23/1

German prisoners of war marching to Frith Hill Camp
SHC ref PC/68/23/1

During the war a number of camps were established in Surrey to hold captured enemy soldiers and civilian internees. For example, at Frith Hill, Deepcut, a camp was established in 1914 for German civilian internees and prisoners of war, which from 1915 was reserved for military prisoners of war. Other Surrey prison camps were established in Belmont Hospital, Sutton, and Woking Detention Barracks (see Graham Mark, ‘Prisoners of War in British Hands in WWI‘ (Postal History Society)). Military prisoners of war were used later in the conflict to provide labour for agriculture, forestry or industrial purposes. Felday Camp in Holmbury St Mary opened in 1917 to house such prisoners.

The internment of German and Austro-Hungarian male civilians in Britain between 1914 and 1919 was inspired by growing anti-German sentiment and popular fears of spies under the bed. The main waves of internment, in October 1914 and May 1915, coincided with outbreaks of violence across the country, during which German-owned property was destroyed or looted. The riots following the sinking of the ‘Lusitania’ in May 1915, including in Walton on Thames, caused the government to move towards wholesale internment of male enemy aliens aged 17 to 55. Although women, children and older men were not interned, some were repatriated or found their daily lives controlled under the Aliens Restriction Act of 5 August 1914 and subsequent Orders in Council. They had to register their names with the police, obey local curfews, refrain from entering prohibited areas (which by November 1914 included the east and most of the south coast), and could not own cars, motorcycles, cameras, military maps or homing pigeons. At the end of the war, the British Nationality and Status of Aliens Act of August 1918, gave the Home Secretary sweeping new powers to repeal the naturalisation certificates of former alien subjects.

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