Picture Postcards from the Great War
1914-1918

The story behind a Great War postcard - Tony Allen

(14) Frith Hill PoW Camp


 The featured card was posted to Miss Aynsley of County Durham on 4th November 1914, by someone who signed himself 'J.R.' The card was published by the 'Regent Publishing Co., Ltd., London' in ''The War series, No.1856'.

A caption at the top of the sepia printed photograph tells us it shows "German prisoners in a barbed wire compound".  We are not told where the prisoners were held, but J.R. knew and tells us on the back of the card. "This camp is at Frimley, 3 miles from here, I saw a dozen German prisoners today near here and gave them a cigarette each," he said.

By the time the card appeared in the shops, many alien civilians were already behind barbed wire. Some were interned in a large warehouse in Edmonton, where Osbert Sitwell, a young Guards subaltern found himself  "glaring at inmates whose faces seemed familiar." One eventually said to him, "Which table would you like tonight, Sir?

 

'Frimley', also known as Frith Hill Detention Camp, stood in 40 acres of sandy common above Camberley. It was of a temporary nature, was one of the first outdoor camps in England for German prisoners, and was bisected by a public road. On one side were caged military PoW's, while on the other side were civilian internees. They were German nationals who had been stranded in Britain when the war broke out and were deemed a threat to national security.

The hastily erected camp was patrolled by armed territorials and the inmates were said to have provided a "week-end spectacle for Londoners, eager to see the blond beats for themselves". Gerald Bliss, the motoring correspondent of the Tatler, said that a visit to the camp was "The very last word nowadays." In fact it was a perfect opportunity for a family day out!

In September 1914, a reporter from The Times paid a visit to Frith Hill and spoke of the prisoners as, "Uhlans wearing riding breeches and spiked helmets, infantry-men in uniforms of blue-green and sailors in navy blue." The civilian internees were waiters and 'spies' and others, in the garb in which they were arrested, one with a white waistcoat which he had been wearing at a wedding-party when taken.

Although J.R. appeared not to be anti-German his postcard was. It was suggested that Frith Hill was "Where most of the Germans in this country ought to be". When he posted it in November many German civilians had already been rounded up and J.R. tells us he had seen some of them at Frith Hill. "They seem quite happy and included young lads," he wrote. Frith Hill Detention Camp was Britain's equivalent of Germany's Ruhleben, though it did not last as long as the latter.

 

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