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WW1 Interment Camps in Lofthouse and Ruhleben
Monthly meetings February 2018 Lofthouse Park – Claudia Sternberg At our first meeting of the year on 3rd February 2018 Dr Claudia Sternberg spoke about her project exploring the lives of “enemy aliens” during World War I with specific reference to the internment camps at Lofthouse Park, near Wakefield, and Ruhleben in Spandau, near Berlin. At the outbreak of the War in 1914 there were some 10,000 citizens of Britain and the Colonies living in Germany and over 57,000 German people living in Britain. Most of the men of military age were very quickly interned as “enemy aliens”, this amounted to around 4,000 in Germany and 32,000 in Britain. Claudia used a number of case studies of internees from both camps to compare and contrast their lives. Men who had been used to travelling freely around Europe, often moving several times between Britain and Germany were summarily detained. Their businesses and their families were virtually abandoned. The rules on who was an “alien” were quite harsh. A German-born professor at Leeds University, who had taken British nationality in 1912, had married a British wife and had a son born here was nevertheless classed as German and interned. At least one former German citizen who was naturalised British placed an advertisement in the local paper to say that he was no longer German, he was committed to Britain. Another claimed to be “Swiss English”. Even those who were not interned were subjected to anti-German feelings by local residents, which sometimes became violent. Much of the research work carried out by Claudia and her colleagues makes use of the Liddle Collection of World War I papers held at Leeds University. The collection is available for consultation by members of the public.
The Topping Tooters of the Town
Our Christmas treat on Saturday 2nd December was a musical presentation by the Doncaster Waites. This was an assembly of five players dressed in early 17th century costume playing a medley of songs from the said period. The Waites were originally medieval ‘watchmen’ who patrolled towns during the night. However the musical tradition dates from the 15th century. Doncaster’s Waites provided music for dances, marriages and various civic occasions from 1557 until 1832. The players, three women and two men, described the instruments used which ranged from recorders and an early form of trombone to bagpipes and a hurdy gurdy! Their explanations were followed in turn by renaissance style music and song. For those who would like to find out if any ancestor was a member of a Waites group several suggestions were offered. Anyone with the name of Waite or any derivation of that name or the surname Piper, could provide a link. Also try searching for a will or look into various trades that an ancestor might have. The enjoyment provided was evident and also the amount of interest shown was highlighted by the many questions asked at the end. There is no meeting in January. We meet 3rd February when Claudia Sternberg’s talk is ‘WW1Internment camps in Lofthouse and Ruhleben.’
Life in a Victorian Workhouse
Life in a Victorian workhouse. On Saturday 4th November we had a welcome return of a very popular speaker, Ian Dewhirst. Ian is from Keighley and has made an in depth study of the Keighley workhouse using the excellent records held by the local library. He covered the period from when the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act was passed when a Board of Guardians was set up to provide the ‘social security’ of the day for the poor which was in place until 1930. A new Union workhouse was begun in 1858 which would accommodate people not just from Keighley but also from Bingley and surrounding areas. Ian was concerned to point out that although conditions could be hard they did at least provide work, accommodation and a reasonable diet for those on hard times. Some inmates might only spend a short time there but there were cases of those who needed care for many years. Work was made hard from crushing granite for road building to grinding corn while women were employed with washing floors, clothes and bedding. The diet ranged from gruel and dry bread to several meals that might even contain meat and vegetables. Sleeping conditions were rudimentary ranging from bare wooden boards to iron bedsteads. The Board of Guardians consisted of local business men such as small mill owners, farmers and perhaps various artisans or craftsmen. The Master had to be married and received a salary, accommodation and food. There was some light relief such as at Christmas when a touring pantomime company visited and there was for some a trip to Morecombe for a week! Life was not always as grim as perhaps Charles Dickens portrayed in Oliver Twist as there was good community spirit shown in the care and humane approach by local people. Even a local business man might go bankrupt and have to rely on the Union workhouse. Ian’s talk while often having his audience in fits of laughter also reminded us of the detail provided in workhouse records and of the conditions some of our ancestors had to endure. Next month’s meeting 2nd December when the Doncaster Waites entertain as ‘The Topping Tooters of the Town.’
John Croft: The StoryPioneer of a Mormon
John Croft: The story of a Mormon Pioneer. The speaker on Saturday 7th October was Gaynor Haliday who recounted how she had researched her 4 times great uncle, John Croft. She described the epic journey he undertook with his new wife in 1860, from Manchester, England, to Salt Lake City. Born in 1837 near Bingley in Yorkshire, John’s family moved to Manchester. As a young man John, on reading the Millennial Star Newspaper a Mormon publication, and attended meetings organised by the Manchester Conference. This led to him being baptised in the Mormon faith. In 1860 he married Amelia Mitchell and soon after made preparations to emigrate to America. Gaynor quoted from a series of diaries, letters and using family photos, described the journey undertaken by John and his wife to Salt Lake City. The starting point was Liverpool where on boarding a ship along with about five hundred other Mormon passengers, they sailed to New York a journey of almost four weeks. From New York the journey was undertaken using river transport through the Great Lakes and finally by rail and river again to Florence in Nebraska. Here the last leg to Salt Lake City meant getting organised with oxen cart to carry their worldly goods but which also entailed a great deal of walking on a journey that took almost four months. Covering over 1000 miles the wagon train arrived in September and Amelia gave birth to a child in November! There were to be another seven children. John soon became immersed in pioneer life along with other Mormon settlers which meant not only becoming self sufficient in providing a home and food but was also involved in building the tabernacle in Salt Lake City, the building of the Union Pacific Railroad and liaising with Buffalo Bill Cody to obtain fresh bison meat for the rail workers. John died in 1909 and Amelia lived on to 1926. Gaynor emphasised the usefulness of the Brigham Young University website from which she had gained so much for her research. Next meeting is November 4th when the ever popular Ian Dewhirst will talk on ‘life in a Victorian Workhouse.’
Wakefield: The War at Home 1914-18
On Saturday September 2nd there was a welcome return for Tim Lynch who gave a talk referring not only to Wakefield but other towns and cities of Yorkshire. He began by asking us to consider how the early years of the 20th century quite often has parallels with the present. For example there were industrial strikes, problems with immigration, knife and gun crimes. Tim quoted an example when a Wakefield man on holiday in Blackpool was arrested for drunken behaviour and firing a gun! Drugs are a concern today but morphine and cocaine were often used in medicines to cure all kinds of ailments in early 1900. Prior to outbreak of war in 1914 the British public was often warned about the threat of invasion from Germany and in particular from zeppelins and their bomb carrying capacity. Many of us will be reminded of the threat posed during the Cold war period or even more recently with sabre rattling between North Korea and USA. Such were these fears in 1913 that the government organised uniformed guards to attend duty at bridges and railway tunnels. Wakefield was the first town in the north to organise armed scout guards. Special badges were made which bore the caption The City of Wakefield War Service. Volunteer guard groups were set up which eventually became known as The Home Guard. Another issue dealt with by Tim concerned how to deal with conscientious objectors. Some like the Quakers opted to join the RAMC and act as stretcher bearers others would rather spend time in prison. It was reported that one local conscientious objector attempted to ‘break into Wakefield prison in order to avoid an angry mob!’ Women were encouraged to take on the work done by men. Examples were in transport, ammunition factories and farm work. Many volunteered as nurses for the Front as well as at home. Wakefield has recently commemorated a local woman, Nellie Spindler, who was a nurse and killed by shrapnel while on duty at the Front. Tim also reminded us that as the war progressed there was an increasing threat of starvation because ships transporting food were being sunk at a formidable rate. The government warned the public not to waste food and that it was made illegal to even feed bread to ducks! Punishment could be six months in prison. Then there were threats made to anyone with a German sounding name which meant in Wakefield business’s such as Hagenbachs, a local bakers, were targets for local prejudice. In conclusion Tim wanted show how people at home were under threat in a way it had never been before. Everybody was affected and everybody was involved in the war effort. The next meeting October 7th will be ‘My Mormon Pioneers: Wilsden to Salt Lake City’ a talk by Gaynor Haliday.

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