Papers of a civilian Internee, WW1

MULLER Kurt (1914-1919)


Available to view at our Curzon Street shop.

Photographs, drawings and other documents, mostly laid down on stationery of his later business in woodworking machinery. Contained in a later folder, headed "Kurt Müller civil prisoner of war Oct. 1914 - Febr. 1919." Most notes and annotations are in German by Müller himself, but there are some additional later post-it notes in English, apparently added by Müller’s grandchild. 

Kurt Müller had the misfortune to be studying in London at the outbreak of the First World War, living with a family by the name of Holmes, in Finsbury Park. Mounted photographs document a cheerfully Pooterish life, enthusiastically moustached Mr. Holmes with his violin, the handsome son Hubert, the toothy but wholesome daughter Olive, and Jack, the dog. Outings are taken on the Thames, and rhododendrons are photographed in Finsbury Park. The idyll ends in 1914, marked by a colourful English recruiting card for the territorial regiment the “Finsbury Rifles”, and a note that in October Müller was arrested and taken to a concentration camp at Olympia, London, and thence to the troopship “Royal Edward”, at anchor off Southend-on-Sea in the Thames Estuary. There are two photo reproductions of the “Royal Edward’ with an autograph note indicating internment on that vessel was until July 1915.

The first watercolour drawing in the album is of his (well-appointed) cabin on the Royal Edward, next to a pen and ink drawing, also by Müller, of Southend Pier, and opposite these is an amusing typed Notice from the Captain that “Another letter in a bottle has been washed ashore. If a further instance of a letter being discovered occurs, the whole of the Prisoners of War on board this Ship, and the others, will be severely punished. Any complaints persons have to make are always attended to ...” The subsequent page has charming drawings of shipping - a barque, Thames barges, smacks, and bawleys with a couple of more military vessels, minesweepers or the like. These slight, precise drawings all date between 24th November 1914 and 6th March 1915.

Another page features drawings created after Müller witnessed one of the most intense events in the lower Thames Estuary during this period, when H.M.S. Princess Irene exploded; an event that resulted in the loss of some 400 lives. One of the four drawings is marked “original”, the two others are amplifications, and one is of the earlier explosion of H.M.S. Bulwark, which also went up in the Medway, six months earlier. A small group of clippings and a manuscript translation of an essay by Lowell Thomas record the later sinking of the “Royal Edward” at Gallipoli, with huge loss of life.

War is a time of baffling movements, soldiers and prisoners moving en bloc at short notice, often with no explanation, and Muller's next location is back in North London, in the huge Alexandra Palace concentration camp. 

A communication posted from North London, presumably from the Holmes family, is removed with the censor‘s printed note saying that they’ve removed the “tracts” since only personal or business correspondence may be had with prisoners of war. An evocative pen and ink drawing of Christmas at Alexandra Palace (18th December 1915) sits next to a newspaper cutting about a Captain Schmidt’s escape from Alexandra Palace and journey to neutral ground; there are colourful watercolours of imaginary birthday presents of longed-for German foods (captioned “Sehnsucht” - nostalgia -) and flowers from his mother; a panoramic view from Alexandra Palace; a drawing of a zeppelin raid at night, searchlights criss-crossing the sky.

By August 1916 they’re in the Isle of Man, at the Knockaloe camp near the village of Patrick on the west side of the island. A fine small photo, neatly labelled, shows a group of 26 “kameraden” (comrades) including Müller, who had previously been at Alexandra Palace together. There are a number of evocative pen and ink/watercolour illustrations from his period on the Isle of Man, including one of some inmates enjoying leisure time in the gardens, sitting and reading on deck chairs; and a number of illustrations of the inside of the billets, made homely with plants and picture frames of loved ones. A note, in English of the history and geography of the Isle of Man (St John’s, Manx, Peel Castle etc) and illustrations drawn from outside the bounds of the camp shows how the German prisoners of war had a degree of freedom on the island. An attractive pen and ink drawing by Müller of “Meine Lagerstelle” (my warehouse, 28 – 30th December 1916) is presented alongside two photos, one which shows Müller by fellow prisoners, Otto Bohudel and Johannigmann (16 November 1916), clearly taken in the living space depicted in Müller’s adjacent drawing. A beautiful two page drawing of the surrounding countryside (pen, ink, watercolour and pastel), shows the camp in its position next to the village of Patrick, and looking out over towards historic Tynwald Hill. Two solitary figures sit atop a hill under dramatic clouds. Seven further detailed illustrations of the countryside - including Tynwald Hill - follow; some are accompanied with descriptions, for instance, “blick and hugel neben die lager.. der berg ist im sommer .. blumen bedeckt, die wunderbar riechen” (rough trans: “The view and hill next to the camp .. the mountain in summer .. covered in flowers, which smell wonderful”).

The last page is dedicated to the final leg of Müller’s journey: in January 1919 he was transferred to Camp Ripon (a note written to the Commander of that camp describes his lost luggage, mislaid en route between Liverpool and Ripon); also affixed to this page are notes and documents detailing Müller’s release in 1919. The most striking, a certificate in German - dated 14th February 1919 – acknowledges his return from English captivity (“kehrt aus englischer gefangenschaft”) .

Other assorted items include: a detailed, intriguingly written first-hand account (typed) of Müller’s time on the “Prince Edward”, focussing on the explosions he witnessed *(“Das dort eine explosion stattgefunden hatte, war erklarlich, aber was? Auch unsere Bewachung stand wie gebannt und betaubt vor soviel Gewalt und Grosse und dem unheil, das man nur ahnen konnte. Und am ubernachsten tag konnte man aus den englischen Zeitungen ersehen, dass das grosse Schlachtschiff "Bulwark" … 15000 to mit fast 800 man besatzung beim laden von munition in die luft geflogen war” - "

"It was obvious that an explosion had taken place, but of what kind? Our sentries stood silently and in awe of its power and the size and we could only guess at the size of devastation. Two days later you could read in the English press the the destroyer 'Bulwark' displacement of 15000 long tons, with a crew of 800 had blown up while loading ammunition.")*; two photos of a fellow prisoner of war; newspaper cuttings on various topics; and 9 pages 8vo in German, notes mentioning events of the war, starting from the battle of Jutland (3 June 1916), spanning various topics, mentioning HMS Rostock, the sinking of HMS Hampshire with Kitchener on board, Verdun, the Western Front, London, the camp at Knockaloe etc.

This sensitive interesting little archive illuminates the contemporary observation on the plight of the civilian internees made by the Quaker Emergency Committee: "The bulk of the men were quiet family men, of good character. Many of them had come to England (or their fathers had) to escape military service or the military atmosphere in Germany. They had looked upon England as a land of justice and freedom, and were genuinely puzzled and oppressed by the sense of the personal injustice that was now their lot."

Stock Code: 215437

close zoom-in zoom-out close zoom