'Barbed Wire Disease’ or a ‘Prison Camp Society’: The Everyday Lives of German Internees on the Isle of Man, 1914-1919
During the First World War hundreds of thousands of civilians spent years behind barbed wire throughout the world. London formed the centre of the global internment system which meant the incarceration of enemy aliens in camps throughout the Empire. The symbol of internment consisted of the Isle of Man, which, housed two camps in Douglas and, above all, Knockaloe, through which over thirty thousand people passed, many of whom would remain for years. This paper will begin with an introduction on the adoption of a policy of internment within Britain and then move on to the decision to use the Isle of Man to hold German civilians. It will focus upon the all male internees held here and analyse their experiences. Two key paradigms emerged on incarceration during the First World War. The first constructed a psychosis called barbed wire disease, put forward particularly by the Swiss psychologist A. L. Vischer, who visited Douglas and Knockaloe on several occasions on behalf of the Swiss Embassy, which looked after German interests in Britain from 1917. The alternative view, which evolved decades later, developed the idea of a prisoners’ camp society, put forward by John Davidson Ketchum, who had spent time as a national of the British Empire, in the internment camp in Ruhleben in Berlin during the Great War. Using a wide range of sources, this paper will ask whether the prisoners became victims of depression or managed to overcome the problems thrown up by years of internment by developing social and cultural activity.
Citation : Panayi, P. (2014) 'Barbed Wire Disease’ or a ‘Prison Camp Society’: The Everyday Lives of German Internees on the Isle of Man, 1914-1919. In: Panikos Panayi (Ed.), Germans as Minorities During the First World War: A Global Comparative Perspective, Farnham: Ashgate, pp. 99-121
ISSN : 1409455645
Research Group : History Research Group
- School of Humanities