19 November 1914 – Guest Post: She married an alien….

Of all the Wandsworth families shattered by war, there was one group which could expect little sympathy from their neighbours. These were the British wives and children of German husbands arrested and interned for the duration.

When war broke out there was a thriving German community in London. The 1911 census records 53,324 Germans in England and Wales, and about half of these were living in London[1]. Wandsworth was not by any means the largest centre of German settlement – in the East End and around Tottenham Court Road there were enough Germans to have established their own clubs, churches and even a German Hospital at Dalston – but here too there were Germans living in every part of the borough.

On 5 August 1914 the Aliens Restrictions Act was introduced in a single day. This required all German nationals to register immediately, usually at the nearest police station, and shortly thereafter the government started to round up German males of military age. German women were able to return home via a neutral country, but many German nationals had British-born wives and children, who had no wish to be sent to a hostile country. Technically the wives had become German nationals the moment they married, even when their husbands had arrived in England as infants, and themselves spoke little German.

The earliest date of internment recorded for a Wandsworth man is for Thomas Jacob Diener. By 8 August 1914 he had been picked up from his job as a waiter at the Waldorf Hotel Aldwych, leaving his 22 year old wife Lily and their baby daughter Margaret in Sheepcote Lane Battersea with no means of support.

Reciprocal arrangements between the combatant countries were reached to make provision for these families when the breadwinner was interned, and in the UK these were administered through the local Boards of Guardians who administered the Poor Law.

Wandsworth Board of Guardians received a letter dated 19 November 1914 letter from HC Monro, the Secretary of the Local Government Board (LGB) :

“The German and Austrian embassies are said to have placed funds at the disposal of the American embassy for the benefit of their distressed nationals, but they have said it cannot be used for British-born wives of interned persons and their children. The Government has decided that the Boards of Guardians should administer the Funds for these people, but from a special LGB fund.

It is only payable if

–           the husband is an interned alien

–           the wife is of British birth

–           the wife has insufficient resources

A uniform rate of 10s a week should be paid per woman, with 1s 6d for each dependent child, regardless of the husband’s former earnings. This is the London rate, a lesser amount being paid outside London.

The women are to be informed that this is not Poor Law relief.

It should be recorded separately and submitted to the LGB for the Treasury to reimburse the LGB. The register should include the name and address of the wife, names and ages of the children, maiden name of wife, place and date of internment of the husband, and his last address. The Boards should also seek reimbursement for any additional costs, eg if anyone is placed in an institution. The police should provide details, but if in doubt refer to the Prisoners of War Information Bureau, 49, Wellington St, Strand.”[2]

Wandsworth Board of Guardians then maintained a register of all those who applied for help. They received 182 applications from families who had no means of support because the husband had been interned, living all over the boroughs of Wandsworth and Battersea.

How Lily managed to keep herself and her baby until the support arrangements came into effect in November remains a mystery. While the relief fund kept her going through the war, Thomas disappears from UK records after the war. Like 84% of German internees still interned at the Armistice, he will have been repatriated at the end of the war, never to see his family again.[3] Lily remarried in 1940.[4]

Only six other families applied for funds in 1914, but as the war intensifies in 1915 we will see that the pressure to intern more aliens becomes irresistible.

[1] Quoted in “The Enemy in Our Midst : Germans in Britain during the First World War” Panikos Panayi, Oxford, 1991, p.10

[2] WABG/207/01, Wandsworth Board of Guardians Aliens Relief Register, held at the LMA.

[3] Cf Panakos Panayi, “Prisoners of Britain : German combatant and civilian internees during the First World War, p 279

[4] Births, Marriages and Deaths Index, Jul-Aug-Sep 1940, Registration district:Kensington

Volume Number:1a, Page Number:481


Ann Stephenson

17-23 November 1914: Expansion of the Projectile Engineering Company

Wandsworth Borough Council met on 18 November. Most of their business was routine, although there were some war related items on the agenda. A resolution had been received from Hammersmith Borough Council to urge the London County Council to discontinue teaching enemy aliens and their children at evening continuation classes at the expense of the ratepayers. Wandsworth concurred with the resolution and a report later in the meeting made clear that the LCC’s Education Committee had already given instructions for teaching to stop. This was just part of the general concern over aliens (ie all non-British people), see last week’s blog for more anti-German feeling.

A much smaller note in the Council minutes is in the report from the Highways Committee, which lists approved building applications. Amongst the applications for new sheds and re-doing the drainage of properties was an application for a new factory on Stewarts Road, which was in the Clapham North part of the borough, from the Projectile Engineering Company Limited.

The Projectile Engineering Company was tucked in the land behind the houses on Stewarts Lane, underneath what is now Carey Gardens. It had opened in 1890 and doubled in size during the war, this application was for a small new building, which appears from maps to have been a replacement for an existing building. In January 1915 an application was submitted for a much bigger building, which involved taking over some of the neighbouring streets and the site of which is the southern building that can be seen on this 1930s map.

There is not a huge amount of information available about the Projectile Engineering Company. It was a munitions factory which was a leading supplier of shells during the Boer War and was obviously doing a lot of business during the First World War. During the Second World War the firm hired women to work in the factory – possibly they did the same in the First World War. The firm was bought by GKN Sankey Ltd in the 1960s and the factory ceased production in 1965, some records of the company are with the Sankey records in Wolverhampton. A painting of the outside of the site in 1938 by the artist Clive Branson is at the Tate Gallery.

If anyone does have more detailed information about the company then please do let us know. We have a partial copy of the company history “Fifty Years of Achievement”, but would like to have a copy of the full version.

Drainage plans: CNW 4, no. 241 and 250

25-31 August 1914: Local Relief Funds, a “Hapsburg”, adverts and pyjamas

23 members of the Putney Ward Committee for the War Relief fund met in Putney Library on 27 August 1914, with apologies from a further 5. Like last week’s all-borough Committee meeting, this was clearly still a popular cause. The first item of business was actually a resignation – perhaps a rather unorthodox start, but Mrs Cooper-Rawson gave her involvement with organising the work of the local Red Cross as her reason for not being able to act as a committee member. Largely the meeting was concerned with membership and set-up – we’ll return to it in a few weeks when they start dealing with requests from local people.

The Wandsworth Borough News carried several stories relating to the war and opportunities throughout the borough. Adverts encouraged Wandsworth recruits to report to 6 Beamish Road, 467 York Road or 157 Tooting High Street, and the 23rd Battalion London Regiment advertised for “good, smart recruits” for the Territorials. Collections for the local relief fund by the Free Churches of Wandsworth had taken place and a man claiming to be Rudolf Francis Karl Josef Hapsburg, Crown Prince of Austria was arrested and charged for not registering himself as an enemy alien. His real name was Christian Paul Klave and he had previously claimed to be a Russian count whilst running a dogs’ hospital in Streatham. The Tooting Local Relief Committee had a dispute over their appointed Chairman (Alderman W Hunt), including one objection to having a Chairman at all – an issue not fully resolved by the end of the meeting. Perhaps in response to this, there was also an unsuccessful motion to exclude the Press from future meetings.

The Borough News also carried adverts encouraging people to take account of the war in their shopping. S Frost & Company announced “normal prices again in nearly all Departments”. Daniel Neal & Sons encourage the “many who are deterred from reasons beyond their control from answering Lord Kitchener’s Call” to still exercise, and more to the point to buy new football boots. Advertised under the guise of practicality as “For the soldier lads – a garment that will be needed both for the Front and in the home” was a pattern to allow people to make pyjamas for soldiers – “In suggesting garments for these brave men, so no one would dream of leaving out the pyjama suit. This is one of the most necessary of all the garments required”. Proposed material was flannel, flannelette or wincey, with the suggestion that silk might not be so practical. The pattern could be obtained from the News offices, and the finished result would hopefully resemble the picture below.

Advert from the Wandsworth Borough News

Advert from the Wandsworth Borough News

Minutes of the National Relief Fund – Putney Committee, ref: MBW/2/32/3

Wandsworth Borough News available on microfilm.

Tag: Putney, Wandsworth Borough News