Internees & POWs

Groningen Internment Camp   Prisoners of War
   
As the 1st Brigade, plus a few stragglers from the 2nd, fell behind the Royal Naval Division's withdrawl from Antwerp, Commodore Henderson made the decision to take the brigade into neutral 'Holland' to avoid the capture of 1,500 men by the enemy. International law decreed that these men would be interned for the duration of the war. Transported to the north of the country they would be housed in wooden barracks behind Groningen's prison. The internment camp would be known by the locals as the English Camp, to the men it was HMS Timbertown.

Royal Naval Division .info Groningen Internment Camp Royal Naval Division .info Groningen internment camp barracks interior
Buildings at Groningen internment camp for sailors in Holland, April 1917. Interior view of a hut in Groningen Camp in which the internees were billeted.
Cat No: Q 110780 Cat No: HU 71331
The men were initially housed in army barracks whilst the officers were allowed to seek accommodation in the city itself having given their word of honour that they would not attempt to escape. The Hague Peace Conference allowed the officers home leave, this did not apply to the ranks and NCOs.

In January 1915 the men were moved from the army barracks into purpose built barracks in a new camp constructed on the army base. The new camp was surrounded by a double barbed wire fence at its perimeter which was floodlit at night. The camp was self-contained with its own facilities. Besides the barracks the buildings included an administrative office, a post office / library, a sports hall, a sick bay and a large recreational hall which doubled as a church.

The food offered by the Dutch authorities was not to the liking of the men and official requests were made for the food to be improved. In response the men were allocated a budget and allowed to buy and cook their own food. The day's menu consisted of breakfast (porridge with syrup, bread and butter, coffee), lunch (meat or fish, potatoes, vegetables) and supper (bread with cheese or jam, tea). As parcels started to arrive from both home and the Red Cross any shortages became more bearable. Later in the war a food shortage gripped the whole of the country. The rations of the men in the camp were reduced in line with those of the Dutch population.

The daily routine for the men at the camp consisted of:
         06:30 Wake up, wash, shave & breakfast
         08:45 Groups allocated to the compulsory march and camp duties
         12:30 Lunch
         13:30 Groups allocated to work or recreation. Group allowed to Groningen's cinema
         16:30 Supper followed by rostered group 'shore leave' to Groningen
         22:00 All back in camp
There was no compulsory march on Sundays when the men were allowed to attend church instead.
Boredom soon became a factor and, to maintain the morale of the men, a number of clubs and study groups were formed. The latter were not initially popular although the introduction of officially recognised qualifications saw the numbers attending classes jump.

Sport in many forms was the favoured pastime within the camp. The main clubs were for athletics, tennis, rugby, cricket and boxing. The athletes amongst the men also joined the local Groningen clubs. Competitions regularly took place on the camp's sports ground with the Dutch locals attending in large numbers.

The most popular sport, of course, was football. As early as 1914 The Royal Naval Brigade Football Club Association was formed to allow the men to play in their own league as they were not allowed to play in the local leagues. A Brigade team was allowed to play friendlies against local teams, the standard of the team would prove to be high. The Brigade team was also allowed to play in cup completions and would go on to draw 1-1 with Ajax of Amsterdam.
Royal Naval Division .info Groningen Internment Camp Boxing Trophy
The camp's 1915 welterweight
boxing trophy.
Royal Naval Division .info Groningen Rugby Team
Rugby practise.
Royal Naval Division .info Groningen Internment Camp Timbertown Follies Drag Act
Although there were complaints that the men on shore leave in the city could become rather 'lively' with alcohol they were welcomed by the local population on the whole and would become very popular, especially with the girls. The Dutch regarded the men from the English Camp as very clean. On Sunday afternoons the camp was opened up and it would become quite the place to visit for a family outing. Friendships soon started to develop and a number of Dutch girls married English sailors. Married men were allowed to sleep outside the camp as long as they were accompanied by a guard.

Various performance groups were formed in the camp ranging from comedy to opera. These would be popular not only with the men but also the local population who would attend the performances in the large recreation room. The most popular would be a cabaret group known as the Timbertown Follies. The Follies would become quite renowned and performed to large audiences in the Dutch cities. All of the proceeds were donated to charity.
Royal Naval Division .info Groningen Internment Camp Timbertown Follies
The men received a daily allowance in the camp equivalent to the pay of the lowest rank in the Dutch military. To supplement this (and increase the amount of alcohol they could obtain) a number of workshops were formed in the camp covering a variety of trades. These workshops ranged from tailors to electricians to a knitting group, the men of this group producing jerseys and socks for the Navy. The most well known of these trades being the woodworkers that produced picture frames and trinket boxes for sale in Selfridges. Timbertown became highly regarded for the quality of the products produced. The proceeds from these trades purchased the sports equipment for the camp.

From April 1915 the men were allowed to volunteer for paid work outside the camp. The work could not be war related. The area around Groningen was experiencing a labour shortage due to the Dutch mobilisation and local factories, shipyards, small businesses and, of course, coal mines benefitted from this arrangement. The local farms were also a major employer come harvest time.
Royal Naval Division .info Groningen Internment Camp Workshop
In the camp workshops.
Royal Naval Division .info Groningen Internment Camp Woodwork
The wooden items produced in the camp are highly sought.

Royal Naval Division .info Groningen Internment Camp Dutch Guard
Life was quite relaxed in the camp.
Despite the relatively comfortable life in the camp, many of the interned men were always looking for a way back home. Officers living outside the camp had given their word of honour not to escape, fifteen were back over the North Sea before the end of the year. In 1915 the remaining officers, less Commodore Henderson, were moved to a secure fortification at Bodegraven.

1915 saw more than thirty successful escapes from the camp, the Dutch locals often being complicit. The escapees put the British Government in a difficult position with the neutral Dutch government. The issue was resolved, and the escape attempts brought to an abrupt end, when all of the escapees were returned to the camp by the British Government in 1916.
Royal Naval Division .info Groningen Internment Camp Internees

Compassionate leave of one month, usually extended to two, was granted to a man where a doctor's letter supported the ill health of his next of kin. It would appear that family doctors were kept busy writing letters for those interned at Groningen, at one point there was three hundred and fifty men on compassionate leave from the camp.

In 1917 group leave was introduced at the camp. After four months good behaviour a man would be granted one month of home leave. This was on the understanding that if anyone did not return to camp at the end of the month, the privilege would be stopped immediately for all of the men. The return of a group resulted in the next group being allowed on leave.

There was still the occasional 'blip' as shown by extracts from James Burt's service record
26/10/16 On leave from Holland expiring 23/11/16. (retd under escort 29.1.17)
13/12/17 Letter from Commodore 1st RN. Bde. Groningen. Disrated to A.B. to date from 11.2.17
10/07/20 Holland Conduct Sheet to A.G. 9.
11th Feb. 17. For failing to report whilst on leave in England from Groningen and for being arrested by the civil police England for being absent over his leave.
Disrated from L.S. to A.B.
21st Apr. 18. Absent over leave 15 minutes and attempting to bribe sergeant at the gate. 4 days cells.
Royal Naval Division .info Groningen Internment Camp Brigade Magazine

With the Armistice the camp's purpose ceased to be. The men started to leave from the camp four days later and would be followed by those working outside the camp. Commodore Henderson and a small selection of staff remained to conclude matters relating to the camp before it officially closed on 1st January 1919.

The Interned   

Royal Naval Division .info Owen Tom Ashton 3/3210
Owen T. Ashton
Able Seaman
3/3210 Hawke
 
Royal Naval Division .info Henry Sheridan Barron
Henry S. Barron
b. 26 May 1891
St Paul's Churchyard, E.C.
Warehouseman
RND 22 August 1914
Benbow
Acting A.B. 7/3350
Demobilised 30 January 1919
Royal Naval Division .info Donald Keith Batstone 2/2960
Donald K. Batstone
Able Seaman
2/2960 Collingwood
 
Royal Naval Division .info Wilfred Henry Woods Browne CH/A/4147
Wilfred H. W. Browne
Seaman
CH/A/4147 Benbow
 
Royal Naval Division James Baker-Burt PO/235574
James Burt
Leading Seaman
PO/235574 Collingwood
Royal Naval Division .info Stanley Cook 7/3126
Stanley Cook
Able Seaman
7/3126 Benbow
 
Royal Naval Division .info Ernest  Davie PO/135446
Ernest Davie
Chief Petty Officer CG
PO/135446 Collingwood
 
Royal Naval Division .info Fred Dove KW/882
Fred Dove
Able Seaman
KW/882 Collingwood
 
Royal Naval Division .info Thomas Gratwick SS102609
Thomas Gratwick
1st Stoker
PO/SS/102609 Benbow
 
Royal Naval Division .info Cecil Conrad Gunther 8/2679
Cecil C. Gunther
Ordinary Seaman
8/2679 Collingwood
 
Royal Naval Division .info Thomas Hale B/5884
Thomas Hale
1st Stoker
B/5884 Benbow
 
Royal Naval Division .info Arthur James Godball Hawes 3/3018
Thomas Hawes
Able Seaman
3/3018 Hawke
 
Royal Naval Division .info Wilfred Henderson
Wilfred Henderson
1st Brigade Commodore
 
Royal Naval Division .info John Henry Hobbs 1/1350
John H. Hobbs
Able Seaman
1/1350 Collingwood
 
Royal Naval Division .info Edgar Raymund Jones 10/3618
Edgar R. Jones
Ordinary Seaman
10/3618 Collingwood
 
Royal Naval Division .info Mathias Kelly KW/960
Mathias Kelly
Able Seaman
KW/960 Collingwood
 
Royal Naval Division .info James Lamb 4947/A
James Lamb
Seaman
4947/A Benbow
 
Royal Naval Division .info Henry Leeson PO/SS/106304
Henry Leeson
1st Stoker
PO/SS/106304 Benbow
 
Royal Naval Division .info Donald MacLeod PO/3409/A
Donald MacLeod
Seaman
PO/3409/A Benbow
Died 01/03/16 (Tuberculosis)
Royal Naval Division .info Reginald Godfrey Meyer
Reginald G. Meyer
b. 11 February 1894
Stoke Newington, N.

RND 22 August 1914
Collingwood
O.S. 3/2733
Demobilised 02 February 1919
Royal Naval Division .info Charles Prior PO/306606
Charles Prior
1st Stoker
PO/306606 Hawke
 
Royal Naval Division .info Ernest Spray PO/B/5189
Ernest Spray
Seaman
PO/B/5189 Collingwood
 
Royal Naval Division .info Alfred Herbert Taplin 4/905
Alfred H. Taplin
Able Seaman
4/905 Hawke
 
Royal Naval Division .info Cyril John Thorpe
Cyril J. Thorpe
b. 2 July 1896
Reigate (Surrey)
Wireless Operator
RND 22 August 1914
Hawke
A.B. 3/3571
Demobilised 03 January 1919
Royal Naval Division .info Clement Vidler
Clement Vidler
Able Seaman
5/236 Howe
 
Royal Naval Division .info Thomas Wort 4/2877
Thomas Wort
Able Seaman
4/2877 Hawke
 

©2015- RoyalNavalDivision.info