WHEN NAZI STORMTROOPERS SALUTED MANX WARDEAD |
Astonishing scenes at Douglas War Memorial
On the afternoon of Friday 17 July 1936, as part of a 700-strong German visit to the Island, a detachment of some 20 Nazi Stormtroopers, guests of the Douglas Branch of the British Legion, with swastika flags lowered as a mark of respect for the Manx fallen of the Great War, laid a wreath at the Douglas War Memorial, watched on by a large crowd of people. Neary sixty years later the occasion is perhaps looked on now in retrospect with a certain amount of astonishment, but at the time was greeted with much interest and enthusiasm by many Manx men and women from the Establishment downwards.
The one-day visit, according to newspaper reports at the time, evidently formed part of a cruise round the British Isles by a party of 920 visitors (including some 700 Germans, 140 Danes, the rest from a variety of other countries), during which they also visited Cowes in the Isle of Wight, Glengarriff in Co. Cork, Ireland, and Helensburgh on the Clyde, Scotland. In the Island the visit was covered by the Mona's Herald (21.07.36), but especially by the Isle of Man Examiner in its issues of 17 and 24 July 1936. For the other areas I have been able to obtain accounts from the Cork Examiner (16 & 18.07.36) and the Helensburgh and Gareloch Times (22.07.36); nothing appeared in local Isle of Wight newspapers about the visit.
According to the Cork Examiner (18.07.36), the tour was organized in Germany by Reisebüro Walter Bamberger of Hamburg; the passengers were carried on the 17,000 ton liner Monte Pascoal of the Hamburg-South America Line (apparently its first visit to Ireland and probably to the British Isles in general) and sailed into Glengarriff Bay early in the morning of Wednesday 15 July for a day's visit. It left that evening at 22.00 hrs and arrived in Douglas Bay at 05.30 hrs on a wet Friday morning of 17 July.
The Manx visit received prominent attention on the front page of the Examiner (17.07.) which also printed a specially prepared message of welcome in Ger-man for the visitors The Examiner takes up the story:
As we [Examiner and harbour personnel] approached the liner, the German flag - the Swastika emblem - was "broken" on the after-mast and at the same moment...the flag of the British Merchant Service was being displayed on the foremast.
...Several passengers spoke sufficient English to express their admiration for the view of Douglas... They were very interested in the Cunningham Camp which was pointed out to them and which, it will be remembered, was a detention camp for civilians during the Great War.
...At 9-15 the tourists, who were accommodated on thirty buses belonging to Isle of Man Road Services Ltd, set off for Greeba, Tynwald Hill, Peel Castle, Knockaloe, Patrick Churchyard (where many former [German] prisoners of war are buried), and they returned to Douglas via St, Mark's...
...The vessel will leave Douglas at 8 o'clock this evening bound for Helensburgh on the Clyde (Isle of Man Examiner 17.07.1936, p.1).
The main place of interest for the German visitors was evidently Knockaloe (where some had been held during the Great War) and Patrick Churchyard, and this is clearly responsible for the extensive coverage of the event. The visit also finds some coverage in the Mona's Herald (21.07.36):
...The Germans were given a wonderful reception...At Tynwald Hill the party gathered at the ancient Mound and listened to a talk by an interpreter on the Island's 1000 years old Parliament.
...From Peel Castle they set off for Knockaloe, the site of the great prisoner-of-war camp, and thence to the churchyard nearby, where many German prisoners of war who died in the camp are buried. Several women of the party knelt down in tears as they read the names of men at the heads of the graves.
...As the buses, decorated with the Nazi symbol of the swastika, passed through the town[s] and village[s], crowds gave the visitors a warm welcome... (Mona's Herald 21.07.1936, p.7).
According to Jack Irving of Peel, the party was met at Peel Castle by his grandfather the Chairman of Peel Town Commissioners Mr Jack Faragher and the Clerk Mr Alan Quilliam. Present Clerk Mr Ian Cannell informs me that nothing in the relevant minutes indicates that an official reception would have been laid on, but that it seems to have been an ad hoc decision out of common courtesy.
The Examiner, according to its own account (24.07.), that day enterprisingly printed a special pictorial of the first part of the visit for distribution to the passengers on their return to the ship that evening. The following week (24.07.) the Examiner goes into considerably more detail about the visit. It devotes a single full column on p.4, and practically the whole of p.11 to the matter. On p.4 it prints a letter of appreciation from a Dr Meffert, one of the passengers, to the people of Man in which he writes:
...Not one of the crew and passengers will ever forget to-day's welcome... (Isle of Man Examiner 24.07.1936, p.4)
After printing by request a translation of the German greeting published the week previous, there then follows an account of the wreath-laying ceremony at the Douglas War Memorial:
Late in the afternoon a detachment of Brown Shirts (Marine Storm Troopers) who were on board expressed a wish to perform an act of homage at the Douglas War Memorial, which was conspicuous from the ship... They came ashore in uniform, and as they marched smartly along the Promenade they were followed by curious crowds. Two of their number were escorted by an official of the British Legion to the headquarters on Prospect Hill, where a wreath of laurels and poppies with Remembrance Cross super-imposed was procured and taken to the Memorial. Thousands of people had gathered, and there was a solemn hush as the Germans - about twenty in number - responded to the quiet, firm orders of their commander and took up positions inside the rails surrounding the Memorial. With reverent dignity the commander placed the wreath [see photo], the Swastika standard...was gently dipped before the shrine of the fallen Manxmen, and the troopers stood erect with outstretched arms in salute. Another quiet order from the commander and twenty German voices broke the silence; they were singing the German ex-Service men's song, a song which has been exalted to the level of an anthem "I have [i.e. once had] a comrade [Ich hatt' einen Kameraden]". Then followed the German National Anthem [Deutschland über alles], a minute's silence, and the simple, but very touching, little ceremony was over.
The troopers were the guests of the Douglas Legion at club headquarters before returning to the liner, and they in turn offered hospitality to Legion officials on board the ship (Isle of Man Examiner 24.07.1936, p.4).
In a telephone conversation last March Mrs Dorothy Quirk of Peel told me that she remembered the visit and the ceremony at the Douglas Memorial and said that a number of Manx war veterans at the time were unhappy with the wreath-laying at the Memorial and felt it to be unfitting. But to judge from what happened they appear to have been in the minority.
The Examiner account on p.11 goes into some detail of the scenes at Patrick Churchyard, and prints a photograph of the wreath-laying ceremony at the Douglas Memorial. Present at Patrick Churchyard with the German visitors were Examiner reporter T A Quayle and Mr J Christian, member of the Executive of the British Legion in the Island at that time.
...I [T A Quayle] held out the hand of friendship to some of our former enemies... One was an officer during the war of the Imperial Guards of Germany; today he is a professor of science in a German university, ...and an ardent pacificst!
"My country stands for peace", he declared with convincing fervour. "We do not dream of any war of revenge. Germany knows more about the cost of brutal warfare than any other country in the world. Our people suffered more in the Great War than the people outside our frontiers will ever realise. If ever Europe is again plunged into war and ruin it will not be the fault of Germany".
"...The war was a terrible tragedy", said the Imperial Guardsman, "but the peace was a dreadful crime. It sought to discriminate for ever against a proud nation of 65 millions. So when a strong Government came to power in Germany, what else could you expect, but that the people would back its strivings to attain recognition of their rights as a nation. If England had been in Germany's place, your people would have clamoured too for freedom from humiliation of that cruel peace treaty".
...Standing in Patrick Churchyard, we talked no loger of war, but of peace and friendship...Side by side with Mr J Christian of Peel, a member of the Executive of the British Legion in this Isle, our former enemy stood - with outstretched arm and in silent contemplation of the long line of German graves. ...And all around were grouped German men and women - some had fallen on their knees on the wet kerbstones, while others stood silent and erect with outstretched arms - who were manifestly moved to the heart by the solemn beauty and the reverent care with which those graves are tended.
...Out of the churchyard I summoned up courage enough to broach the subject of present-day Germany. Jewish persecution, the race for armament supremacy, the uniforms, the flags, the marching and drilling of German youth.
"Like the war", said our ex-Guardsman to Mr Christian and myself, "most of the propaganda about Germany to-day is bitter falsehood. It was lies like these which sent us to fight against each other. Jewish domination in my country was the greatest menace of war or revolution. The Leader (Herr Hitler) saved Germany from that menace. The drilling of German youth is not intended for aggressive warfare. It is simply a demonstration of their loyalty to Germany and of their comradeship to each other".
He told me that Herr Hitler is desperately anxious to make peace... He told me too that the German people...have set themselves the task of building a new Germany. They are contented and happy working in harmony for the welfare of the Fatherland... He helped me to understand their griefs and grievances and to appreciate their fine qualities.
"The friendship of England and Germany could ensure the peace of Europe for all time", he exclaimed. I believe he is right (Isle of Man Examiner 24.07.1936, p.11).
The account ends by a call to the citizens of both sides to reject war and widely proclaim that rejection. Nevertheless, a little over three years later Europe found itself once again in the grip of war. In retrospect the Examiner account may seem over-positive in its presentation of the German viewpoint. But given the evident desire for peace on both the Manx and German sides, and the fact that the National Socialist idea was enjoying a certain amount of currency and favour in parts of western Europe, including the Celtic west - until the war, that is; but in some places even thereafter, an account of that sort at that particular time in a Manx newspaper need not be regarded as anything out of the ordinary.
The account in the Helensburgh and Gareloch Times, (22.07.1936) on the other hand, is quite succinct on the matter (there being no common cemetery in Helesnburgh, hence no ceremony and reason for discussing the affairs of the world) and to an extent cynical, but in any event not so accommodating as the Manx newspapers:
They [the German visitors] were all tanned by the sea air, and many of them were tall and handsome. Except for the cameras and binoculars carried by most of them, they were hardly distinguishable from English or American tourists. A few of the men were closely cropped and wore deep-sea caps, and quite a number had facial scars which may have been "honours" gained in duels in their student days, or more likely wounds received in establishing the German Fascist state. A number of them could speak English, but curiously enough none of them could converse in French... Although they were on holiday and hundreds of miles away from the domination of Herr Hitler, they had none of the care-free spirit of the British holidaymaker, but appeared rather subdued, not to say glum. A holiday, apparently, is a serious educational experience to them, rather than relaxation from the tensionof workaday life (Helensburgh and Gareloch Times 22.07.1936).
It was apparenly wet and rainy also in Scotland. In the adjacent column under the title "Brevities" the same paper makes mention of the Manx visit:
One of the party said they had been visiting Douglas, Isle of Man. He remarked that he had been a prisoner of war in the Isle of Man during the Great War and had been interested to revisit the scene of his internment. He must have had happy memories (Helensburgh and Gareloch Times 22.07.1936).
To return to the Manx visit, in response to an appeal for photographs regarding the visit made in the Isle of Man Examiner (02.03.1993) a former schoolgirl at Douglas High School, Mrs Muriel Plant (née Shimmin) now of Altrincham, sent in, with a covering letter, a photocopy of a number of German slogans and phrases written at the time by one of the passengers on the back of one of her school drawings. Mrs Plant takes up the story:
As a fourteen year old school girl I went to the bottom of Broadway with some friends after school to see the strange ship in the Bay, a rare sight in 1936. We were dressed in our school blazers and panama hats complete with Douglas High School bands, and were approached by this group of passengers from the ship who wished to talk to us. Unfortunately none of us spoke any German (we only learnt French and Latin in those days), so it was mainly conducted in sign language.
However, I had my portfolio of drawings with me and one of the Germans wrote the enclosed [see photo] on the back of one of them. I still have the drawings and thought you might be interested in this. The...3 legs drawing is mine... (pers. comm. 12.03.1993).
As can be seen in the photograph the script is clearly in a German hand. In the top righthand corner stands the name of the ship Monte Pascoal Hamburg; thereunder comes Hakenkreuz ('swastika') pointing to such a symbol, then a variety of simple useful phrases with translation.
That same week also saw a similar wreath-laying ceremony at Patrick Churchyard. According to the Isle of Man Examiner for 17.07.1936, a party of German schoolgirls, exchange students and guests of pupils at the Buchan School, were, along with three of their teachers, invited by the Douglas Rotary Club on a tour of the Island which took place on Wednesday, 15 July 1936. After hearing a lecture by Museum Director William Cubbon on site at Rushen Abbey the party travelled to Patrick Churchyard where a most impressive ceremony took place at the graves of the German war internees who are buried there. A floral cross had been provided embracing the German swastika in cornflowers as a centre-piece, and each girl was also provided with bunches of flowers, which latter were with great reverence placed on the graves. Dr Elsa Stenzel, leader of the party, laid the wreath on the centre grave in the plot and invited the girls to sing Luther's hymn Eine Feste ist unser Gott ("A safe stronghold our God is still"), following which Dr Stenzel gave an address in German to the girls in honour of their kinsmen lying there, and called upon them to observe a minute's silence, following which the members gave the Nazi salute [see photo] as they sang in German Ich hatt' einen Kameraden ('I once had a comrade').
At the close of this beautiful service Dr Stenzel, speaking with great emotion, expressed the thanks of the party to the Rotary Club for giving them the opportunity to honour their countrymen (Isle of Man Examiner 17.07.1936).
The students were then taken to Greeba, and to Bishop's Court where they were given a guided tour by Bishop William Stanton Jones, and following a visit to the Point of Ayre lighthouse and the Mooragh Park, Ramsey, the party was then entertained by the Lt. Governor Sir Montagu Butler:
The high spot of the tour, however, was a call at Government House, where the girls were received by His Excellency the Lieutenant-Governor... Lady Butler was off the Island, and His Excellency, who gave the girls a most cordial reception, and showed them the charmingly laid-out grounds and the house, assured the party how sorry her Ladyship would be to miss them, as a part of her education was taken in Germany. A group photograph of the party, along with His Excellency and his two little granddaughters, was taken at the entrance to Government House, and the students were then taken back to the school at the completion of nearly 100 miles of a varied trip over the Island (Isle of Man Examiner 17.07.1936).
The departure of Monte Pascaol ended what in hindsight must have been a series of remarkable events in the Isle of Man. If anyone can give any further information or supply additional photographs of those occasions I would be most grateful.
Dr GEORGE BRODERICK
MONA'S HERALD 21.07.1936, p.7c
GREAT RECEPTION FOR 700 GERMAN VISITORS
Rain spoils Island Tour
Touching scenes at Graves of Prisoners of War
Over 700 passengers of the 17,000 ton motor liner "Monte Pascaol" of the Hamburg-South Amerika Line which visited the Island on Friday [17.07.], were Germans. Of the remainder of the party, 140 were Danes, and others hailed from Czecho Slovakia, Switzerland, Danzig, Sweden, Norway, Roumania, Austria, the Argentine, Brazil and France.
The Germans were given a wonderful reception. Thirty Road Service buses took parties round the points of interest of the Island; but, unfortunately, miserable weather prevented the visitors from seeing the Island in its true beauty; nevertheless, they were loud in their praises of what they saw.
At Tynwald Hill, the party gathered at the ancient Mound and listened to a talk by an interpreter on the Island's 1,000 years old Parliament. A Manx cat obliged by walking in on the scene, much to the delight of the crowd.
From Peel Castle they set off for Knockaloe, the site of the great prisoner-of-war camp, and thence to the churchyard nearby, where many German prisoners-of-war who died in the camp, are buried. Several women of the party knelt down in tears as they read the names of men at the heads of the graves. They were, however, pleased with the condition in which the graves of their countrymen are kept, and expressed appreciation of the fact.
The party returned to Douglas via St. Mark's and the "Plains of Heaven", but heavy rain and mist obscured the beautiful views which are to be obtained from this point.
As the buses, decorated with the Nazi symbol of the swastika, passed through the town and village (sic), crowds gave the visitors a warm welcome.
At the Douglas War Memorial, the party laid a wreath, and with the swastika flag fluttering from the standard, "Deutschland Auber [sic] Alles" was sung.
During the afternoon, a party of officers and men from the liner, wearing the brown uniforms of the storm troopers, came ashore, and also laid a poppy wreath on the Memorial, in the presence of an enormous crowd.
Captain Hopfner, of the "Monte Pascaol" expressed the satisfaction of the party for the way in which the arrangements had been made for them, and we noticed that when he went back to his ship he carried with him a box of Manx kippers.
The cruise director was Herr Bono Glester, but while on the Island their requirements were attended to by Messrs.
Chapman's Travel Bureau, of Prospect Hill, Douglas.