With the outbreak of war in 1914 many thousands of German, Austrian and Turkish civilians living in Britain found themselves regarded with suspicion as enemy aliens.
Within weeks of the outbreak of war the Aliens Restriction Act was passed, curtailing their movements and in September 1914 the first internees arrived on the Isle of Man, to be housed in the requisitioned Cunningham’s Camp.
As their numbers grew, a purpose-built camp was established at Knockaloe near Peel, which would ultimately house some 25,000 men.
People with an interest in this area are possibly aware of the work of James T. Baily, a Quaker teacher who set up industrial workshops within Knockaloe Camp to provide the internees with something productive to occupy their time – the production of bone vases, wooden craftwork and metal work.
Less well known, however, is the work of those who came to minister to the internees and to attend to their spiritual welfare.
The importance of religion to the internees should not be underestimated; in those days strong religious belief was more widespread anyway, but in a time of great personal and emotional turmoil (as many of those who were interned undoubtedly experienced) religious faith could be an important source of inner strength.
In the early days of the First World War, the commandant of the Douglas Salvation Army, Major John T. Bourne obtained the permission of the Lieutenant Governor Lord Raglan, and subsequently also that of the camp commandant Colonel Madoc, to enter Douglas camp and preach to the interned men, accompanied by a fellow Salvationist who spoke German.
He wrote of his visit afterwards: ‘On arrival at the camp for the first meeting we were told it was necessary for us to have an escort.
‘We expressed our thanks, but gave assurance that we would rather go amongst the men without an escort.
‘We went forth with confidence in the name of God and The Army.
‘A strange silence seemed to prevail in the camp and amidst the many tents, and very few men were to be seen. We climbed a little mound, and after standing a few moments I suggested that the captain give a call in the German tongue.
‘From the right and left men came rushing from the tents. To my great surprise a number had open razors in their hands. But after a moment of suspense, the Captain whispered “All’s well!”
‘We had arrived as the men were performing their morning toilet, and a number were shaving.’
Bourne continued his ministrations for the remainder of his time on the Isle of Man.
Meanwhile, a similar service was being rendered on the other side of the Island by a Catholic priest from St Mary’s Douglas, Father Thomas Crookall, who ministered to the inhabitants of Knockaloe.
Crookall had been parish priest at St Mary’s since 1902.
When he died in 1937 his obituary recorded that: ‘So closely did he endear himself to those thousands of Catholic prisoners that right down through the ages letters of thanks kept pouring into St Mary’s Presbytery from men who benefitted by his ministrations and kindness during internment – each letter a testimony to the help and comfort he brought to those in sore affliction and in need of spiritual counsel.’
The ciborium used by Thomas Crookall to hold bread whilst performing Holy Communion in Knockaloe may be seen at the Manx Museum, as part of the exhibition ‘This Terrible Ordeal’. It also features in the book of the same name, published by Manx National Heritage.