Rooting out the so-called enemy within
A willing soldier in Placentia is snubbed because of his German ancestry
When the proclamation was sent out on Aug. 22, 1914, a few weeks after the United Kingdom had declared war on Germany, the request was simple yet intense — “King and Country Need You.”
And it was men such as Franz Lüttge, then a resident of Placentia, who responded unhesitatingly. He had been a member of the Canadian militia and given this experience, he knew he must answer the call. However, Lüttge’s well-intentioned offer to potentially give his life for the Empire would bring him face-to-face with growing fear and uncertainty. It was a sign of the times.
Franz Lüttge, a Canadian of German origin, was from Manitoba. A man of “means and leisure,” he had decided to settle in Placentia near the marine cable station that was situated along what is now known as the Orcan River (see The Rooms Provincial Archive GN 1/1/7). It is entirely possible that his mother was his connection with Placentia. She was a Smith.
When Lüttge decided to volunteer, recognizing how his name might be a problem, he enlisted using the name of his mother. He no doubt also opted to exchange Franz for Francis. It was best to avoid any unnecessary and unwanted scrutiny. After all, the origins of his name were linked to the country whom he would be fighting. Regardless, his loyalty to the British Empire was unquestionable. He was Canadian and like Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, he wanted to support and fight for the “Mother Country.”
Lüttge could not have known that just one day after the declaration of war on Aug. 4, the United Kingdom had taken measures to ensure its safety and that of its colonies. The threat of spies was considered to be great. Thus, on Aug. 5, 1914, the Aliens Restriction Act 1914 was passed. This gave British governments legislative power to deal with “enemy aliens.” One of the clauses in this Act prohibited enemy aliens from changing their names. This would prove to be a problem for Lüttge.
Although he had sought to join the first contingent of the Newfoundland Regiment, fears and incriminations would ultimately block his attempts. The fact that he had changed his name was the primary concern. While Lüttge was Canadian, his name spoke otherwise and threw open the door to the fears and paranoia that had come to define the period. After discovering his true name, his fellow recruits objected to his presence.
Germanophobia was widespread in British society and it was only normal for this to have spread to colonies such as Newfoundland. Despite his attempts to join the regiment, he was asked to resign.
Meanwhile, the leaders in Placentia were strongly urging the young men of the district to fight for their King and Country and ironically, follow the lead of men such as Lüttge. Early in November, a meeting, “packed with a loyal and enthusiastic audience,” took place at the Placentia courthouse. In attendance were individuals such as the Rt. Rev. Msgr. Reardon, F.J. Morris, Secretary of the Patriotic Nominating Committee of St. John’s and a member of the recruiting committee.
As reported on Nov. 5, 1914 in The Evening Telegram, F.J. Morris made a passionately patriotic speech, exclaiming how the time had arrived for Newfoundland to stand shoulder to shoulder with Britain. He was sure that the young men of Placentia-St. Mary’s district would be more than willing to answer the “call to the Motherland.” Morris expressed his faith in the young men of the region. He spoke fervently, stating how “it could never be said of a Newfoundland fisherman that he was afraid to go to sea.”
Leading community members responded with a resolution that was unanimously passed, encouraging all “young fishermen” to enlist in the naval reserve and “rally round the old flag.”
Men such as Franz Lüttge believed wholeheartedly in this sentiment.
So much so that in December 1914, he reapplied to be a part of the second contingent. Although, on Dec. 7, 1914, the Right Honourable Lewis Harcourt informed Sir Walter Davidson, the governor of Newfoundland, of Franz Lüttge. He explained how Lüttge had “taken up his residence at Placentia.” Harcourt informed Davidson how Lüttge had been “informally watched since his arrival in Newfoundland.” However, neither the correspondence or the behaviour of Lüttge suggested anything of an “incriminatory nature.”
Nonetheless, the attempt of Lüttge to join the second contingent was not to be. The spy fever and distrust would remain an insurmountable barrier. Lüttge was kept under police observation and still on July 22, 1915, he was considered a “suspect at large.” Then, twoand-a-half weeks later, Franz Lüttge was ordered to leave the colony of Newfoundland.
Like thousands of other Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, the men of the Placentia area willingly gave years of their young lives to “King and Country.” Too often, it was life itself they freely gave. There were 34 from Argentia, Dunville, Jerseyside, Placentia, and Southeast Placentia who did so. And no doubt, if given the chance, men such as Franz Lüttge would have done likewise.
Lee Everts writes from Placentia, and can be reached by email at the following: firstname.lastname@example.org
An image of Placentia dating back to the early part of the 20th century.