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‘Enemy Aliens’ – the British interment camps on the Isle of Man

During the course of the war, numerous concentration camps were established across German-occupied Europe in order to hold Jews and others deemed ‘undesirable’ by the Nazi regime, becoming a symbol of oppression and violence. Lesser well known is the United Kingdom’s own involvement with camps, the government having created several internment camps across England, the Isle of White and the Isle of Man in order to contain foreign ‘aliens’ that were viewed as posing a threat. Subjected to poor and isolating conditions, foreigners within Britain became criminals practically overnight, separated from their families and livelihood to be segregated in internment camps.  

As Germany marched into France in May 1940, Churchill made the decision to intern all foreign ‘aliens’, separating them into three categories: A, B and C. Category C were viewed as ‘friendly aliens’, while A and B were considered ‘enemy aliens’ and must be interned. However, due to rushed planning and an unclear structure, many foreigners within Britain were misrepresented as enemy aliens. Many of these were refugees; Jews that had escaped to England from the horrors of Nazi Germany. By mid-May, plans for internment camps on the Isle of Man had begun, and it would only be days later when hundreds of internees were shipped to the Isle of Man to begin their internment, with thousands to follow.  

Mooragh Camp, Ramsey 

On 27th May, the Mooragh Camp in Ramsey had been established, with several boarding houses along the promenade having been requisitioned and barbed wire fencing placed around the surrounding area. 150 guards belonging to the Royal Welch Fusiliers were placed at the camp, overseeing the first 823 internees that had arrived upon the Castle Rushen ship.  

The Mooragh Camp had been set up as an all-male camp, consisting of a mix of Nazi sympathisers as well as Jewish men. While different nationalities within the camp were separated with barbed wire fencing, often both Nazis and Jews had to share the same boarding houses or even the same rooms. Little preparation had been made; many of the internees were only allowed to bring with them small cases, but the boarding houses owners were ordered to leave all their belongings within the houses for the internees to use. Many of these belongings would stay the course of the entire time the camp was open, resulting in several pieces of furniture being vandalised by Nazi swastikas, or otherwise becoming dirty overtime or being stolen. As internment continued for several years, many houses were stripped and lacking basic necessities.  

Mooragh Camp, Ramsey – Credit:

The leader of all the male camps was Lieutenant-Colonel S. W. Slatter, who insisted on the safety and protection of all internees, with many of the camp officers being unable to participate in the war due to age or illness.  

The Mooragh Camp was among the last to close, with the last of the internees being sent to their home country or to England by the 2nd August 1945.  

Hutchinson Camp and Central Promenade Camp, Douglas  

By June 11, 1940, England had declared war on Italy, which prompted a new wave of internees travelling to the Isle of Man. The Central Promenade Camp had been opened in June 1940 as an all-male camp, and by the end of the June the populace had reached over 2000 internees, a large majority of them consisting of Italians. However, the Central Promenade Camp was only destined to last a mere 10 months, before it was closed to become a Royal Airforce base.  

The Hutchinson Camp differed greatly to others, with many of the residents specialising in subjects and therefore creating a camp ‘university’ which allowed others to learn their skills. The Hutchinson Camp had opened in the second week of July 1940, to a total of 415 internees. By the end of July, the population reached over 1200, with significant overcrowding and many occupying a singular room. Nonetheless, throughout the war, the Isle of Man enjoyed lax restrictions and lenient rationing compared to England, allowing many of the camps to have significant leisure time and fresh food. Many in the Hutchinson Camp were soon allowed to work outside the camp, either doing cooking, cleaning, or farming, with many also participating in artistic or musical endeavours. A camp newspaper had also been established, The Camp, which achieved 44 issues between 21 September 1940 and 1 November 1941, which informed of news inside and outside of the camp. All inmates were permitted to write two letters per week of only 24 lines in any language, with the only exception being the 114 Japanese internees who had to write in English. 

Heinz Skyte during his internment on the Isle of Man

One internee within the camp was Heinz Skyte, a Jewish refugee from Germany, who worked as an interpreter for the guards, and was sent to the Isle of Man with his brother. More information about him can be found at the Holocaust Centre North.  

Rushen Camp, Port Erin and Port St. Mary 

The Rushen Women’s Internment Camp  opened on 29 May 1940, incorporating the areas of both Port Erin and Port St. Mary, with a population of over 4000 women, 300 of whom were pregnant. These largely consisted of both Germans and Austrians, a majority of them being refugees, but around 500 identifying themselves as ‘Reichstreue’, allying themselves with the German government or identifying as German rather than British. A minority of these consisted of National Socialists, the leader of which was Wanda Wehrhan, wife of Fritz Wehrhan, pastor of two Lutheran Churches in London and minister of the German Embassy. Unlike the male internment camps, the owners of the boarding houses in the Rushen Camp stayed, but the women were responsible for keeping their own rooms clean. 

The leader of the Rushen Camp was Dame Joanna Cruickshank, former Matron of the British Red Cross, who was criticised repeatedly for being unable to manage the camp. The main problem within the camp was the intermixing between Jewish and Nazi internees, with the Jewish refugees particularly facing harassment and threats from Nazis. By July, the problem had escalated, and attempts had been made to make ‘Aryan’ houses separated from Jewish internees, with Wehrhan occupying the Golf Links Hotel. Allowances were provided by the German government through the Swiss Legation, appealing to many leading them to follow the Nazi internees. Many felt that this allowed the Nazi internees to band together to collude, with Wehrhan’s lodging being found to have maps and compasses, things that were banned within the internment camps. Cruickshank was particularly criticised for allowing National Socialists to work in the camp as staff, allowing them to access camp records, and by May 1941, Cruickshank was replaced by C. R. Cuthbert from Scotland Yard.  

Dame Joanna Margaret Cruickshank
by Bassano Ltd
half-plate glass negative, 30 September 1932
Credit: NPG x158699

Wehrhan was also eventually replaced by Anna Jochmann, who made a series of reforms by creating German Church services, a book club, and tuition for children to learn German, as well as a first aid course that attempted to boost morale in the camp in late 1943. These additions were supported by the Service Exchange, in which women exchanged skills in order to keep busy and earn money, as boredom led to an increase in mental illnesses and suicide.  

By December 1940, tribunals were already being held in order to recategorize and release internees. Port St. Mary soon became a married camp in May 1941, with couples previously having to rely on short letters and monthly visits. With declining numbers and the war progressing, the British Foreign Office agreed to a large-scale exchange of 500 German internees for around 1600 British, yet this was heavily controversial due to the release of Wehrhan, who owned a large amount of information on refugees. By 1945, there was a total population of 269 adults and 70 children, a third of which were classed as ‘Reichstreue’, who were afterwards returned to Germany.  

Peveril Camp, Peel 

The Peveril Camp had originally opened in 1940, welcoming around 800 German and Austrian internees, which was short-lived and closed by 1941. On 12 May 1941, 550 Fascist detainees arrived in Peveril Camp. These were particularly supporters of Oswald Mosley, who were inspired by Benito Mussolini’s Fascist Italy and created the British Union of Fascists, which embraced antisemitic beliefs during the war. These internees were considered high-risk, with an extra 130 troops collected from prisons in order to guard them.  

In mid-September 1941, 200 detainees celebrated in a concert hall, with the resulting chaos resulting in an escape attempt by three men. They succeeded in stealing a boat in Castletown but did not even reach the Calf of Man when two days later they were rearrested and taken back to the camp. On 22 September, a visit from Osbert Peake, the Undersecretary to the Home Office, resulted in a riot, with the internees shouting insults at him and pulling down a stone hedge. This escalated to pelting rocks at the guards, resulting in a large protest against the Fascist internees from Manx residents. The lack of punishment especially angered the residents, with calls that the internees were being treated too kindly. 

By 1945, all internment camps on the Isle of Man were closed and the internees released, but the legacy still lives on with the survivors. 

To learn more about the internment on the Isle of Man visit our exhibition to learn about the story of Heinz Skyte or watch our recent event with Simon Parkin on his book ‘The Island of Extraordinary Captives’ which focuses on the Hutchinson camp. The recording can be found here:

Written by Jodi Fargher, a history student at the University of Huddersfield who has recently completed a student placement with Holocaust Centre North and lives on the Isle of Man.

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