Monday, 22 February 2016

Shedding new light on Hawick's 4,500 aliens


A team of researchers who have been taking a fresh look at the role of one of the biggest First World War internment camps for German aliens, situated just outside Hawick, are expected to disclose their findings at a study weekend in the town later this year.

The project is one of four to receive funding under the Gateways to the First World War initiative which provides support from the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

Dr Stefan Manz, Head of German at Aston University, who has already produced fascinating insights into life at the Hawick site, is currently in charge of The Stobs Internment Camp and the Borders Region during WWI: Local Memories, Global Contexts. Dr Manz and colleagues from several universities are working with Scottish Borders Council's Archaeology Service in the project which will reach its conclusion with a study weekend for the general public in June.

While it was in use the Stobs facility was shrouded in secrecy, suspicion and speculation with hundreds of German civilian enemy aliens from all over Scotland incarcerated there from 1914 onwards. These inmates were later joined by thousands of soldiers and sailors, taken prisoner in Europe during conflicts with the British Army commanded by Field Marshal Douglas Haig, himself a Borderer.

The story of Stobs as told by Dr Manz is already included in the transactions of the highly respected Hawick Archaeological Society. Records show that in the space of less than 12 months the population of the internment camp increased from 300 to more than 4,500 - equivalent in population size to the Borders town of Jedburgh.

The doctor's account tells how so-called enemy aliens living in Glasgow and in other Scottish communities were rounded up by police before being taken to Edinburgh's Redford Barracks which acted as a central collection camp. The detainees were then sent on to camps all over the United Kingdom.

At Stobs there were four separate compounds each with 20 huts measuring 120 feet by 20 feet. The military personnel who became prisoners there were captured on the battle fields of France while the crews of the German battleships Blucher, Torpedo and Leipzig were among the naval officers and ratings who swelled the camp's numbers even further.

Stobs had its own hospital, staffed by four doctors and over 20 German attendants, each compound had its own kitchen manned by between 10 and 20 German cooks, and the prisoners formed orchestras, musical groups and singing societies to ward off the threat of boredom and insanity.

Following the German surrender in 1918 most of the civilian detainees were not permitted to return to their former homes in Scotland, and were deported to Germany along with the military POWs.

Those who participate in the public study weekend will have the chance to learn about the local and international significance of Stobs and Hawick during WWI. They will also listen to and talk to the experts who have conducted detailed research on Stobs and other POW camps around the world.

There will be displays of artefacts from the camp together with documents pertaining to the operation of Stobs. A site visit is also included in the itinerary while other proposals include excavation of the site together with improved public accessibility.

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