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Researching Stratford’s First World War German internment camp

Mess hall (pic IWM) Mess hall (pic IWM)

Monday, February 24, 2014
3:04 PM

Most people think of Auschwitz when they hear about German war camps – but Stratford was home to an internment camp during the First World War, housing more than a thousand German men.

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■ Those kept at Stratford were among 24,000 German civilians who were interned throughout Britain during the course of the war.

■ The jute factory on Carpenters Road was open for 40 years before it closed.

■ The sinking of the Lusitania, which sparked rioting in Stratford, led to the loss of 1,195 lives in the Irish Channel.

Now historians are researching the experiences of East London’s German residents during their time in the camps.

Simon Buck, a project worker with Eastside Community Heritage said: “When the war broke out, there was a lot of suspicion towards anyone who was German, or suspected of being German.

“Tensions rose following the sinking of the Lusitania by Germans in 1915.

“At the time there were a lot of German migrants living in the area. Their businesses were vandalised, they were abused in the street, and they were eventually put into camps.”

The kitchen in the Stratford internment camp (pic IWM)The kitchen in the Stratford internment camp (pic IWM)

There were more than 150 of these camps set up across the UK, including 18 in London.

The one in Stratford was in an old jute factory which had closed down in 1905.

The factory, which stood in Carpenters Road and has since been knocked down, held up to 700 men at a time during its years as an internment camp.

It was intended to be a short-term holding camp, with those imprisoned intended to be moved on elsewhere.

Riots in Stratford (pic AGFHS)Riots in Stratford (pic AGFHS)

“The camp had a pretty bad reputation, even among other internment camps,” Simon explained.

“Disease was rife, with many contracting typhoid fever and TB, which isn’t really a surprise when you consider how many people were living in poor conditions in such confined quarters.”

Despite the harsh day-to-day life, prisoners were allowed to celebrate events of German national importance such as the birthday of Kaiser Wilhelm II.

The camp’s presence, said Simon, owes its origins to the number of German immigrants who had settled in the area in previous decades.

The housing estate where the factory once stoodThe housing estate where the factory once stood

“There were a lot of men of German origin living in Stratford at the time and they were separated from their families in the camp.

“Many of them were married to English women.

“Some of these men had been living here so long though they had sons fighting against the Germans, not with them.”

Simon hopes that these men will have passed down their tales of their time in the camp to their children and grandchildren, and is calling on anyone who has any stories of Germans living in the area during the First World War to contact him on 020 8553 3116 or email simon@ech.org

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