Alan Crosby

Looks at a pro­ject re­veal­ing the his­tory of the largely for­got­ten ‘con­cen­tra­tion camp’ Knock­aloe Moar Farm on the Isle of Man

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - MASS OBSERVATION -

In the sum­mer of 1914 we were at war with Ger­many. The crowds were vi­ciously hos­tile to peo­ple with Ger­man-sound­ing names – even if they’d lived in Bri­tain for many years – and the govern­ment was para­noid about in­ter­nal se­cu­rity.

In their view, Bri­tish res­i­dents of Ger­man or Aus­trian birth were po­ten­tially spies and sub­ver­sives. They needed to be rounded up so they couldn’t cause trou­ble. But what to do with them? Where to put them?

A so­lu­tion was found in the middle of the choppy grey wa­ters of the north­ern Ir­ish Sea, 20 miles from the near­est point on the main­land, and there­fore a se­cure place of in­tern­ment – the Isle of Man. In Septem­ber 1914, the first in­ternees ar­rived on the is­land, to be housed in poor con­di­tions. Five died in a riot while protest­ing against in­ad­e­quate diet and gross over­crowd­ing. cir­cum­fer­ence, with its own rail­way branch. We’re talk­ing about al­most 30,000 peo­ple whose lives, for all or part of the First World War, were in­ex­tri­ca­bly tan­gled up with this beau­ti­ful, windswept and haunt­ing lo­ca­tion. Its won­der­ful sun­sets could not con­ceal the fact that thou­sands of our own cit­i­zens were in­car­cer­ated here and, to a re­mark­able ex­tent, for­got­ten.

Al­though of­ten re­ferred to of­fi­cially as a ‘con­cen­tra­tion camp’, words that were soon to gain a far more ter­ri­ble con­no­ta­tion, Knock­aloe was not a place of bru­tal­ity or se­vere hard­ship, but the in­mates were far away from fam­i­lies and friends, and had com­mit­ted no of­fence.

Now, though, it is re­mem­bered, and its story is be­ing told. A vis­i­tors’ cen­tre is un­der de­vel­op­ment, and an ar­chive has been es­tab­lished and is be­ing added to with re­search from the sur­pris­ingly few and frag­men­tary doc­u­men­tary records, oral his­tory re­sources from de­scen­dants and field ev­i­dence of the site it­self to re­con­struct the story of this ex­tra­or­di­nary but lit­tle-known place and the peo­ple who lived there.

Lo­cal peo­ple are re­spon­si­ble for bring­ing this story back to­gether at Knock­aloe. A char­ity was set up by the com­mu­nity of Pa­trick Vil­lage, to use the old school­room as the vis­i­tor cen­tre and to de­velop the on­line ar­chive, which bring this cru­cial as­pect of is­land his­tory to life. The camp af­fected the whole is­land (not least, the large pay­ments made by the Bri­tish govern­ment are said to have res­cued the govern­ment of the Isle of Man from po­ten­tial bank­ruptcy!).


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