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