Interned, but in tune

By Neil Sayer, Archdiocesan archivist

The men in the group accompanying the Catholic priests in this photograph do not appear dangerous. They were nevertheless among some 20,000 men of fighting age rounded up by the government during the First World War and interned on the Isle of Man. As foreign nationals they were deemed a threat to Britain’s security and, with the consent of the Manx government, spent the war in secure camps on the island that has been part of our diocese since its formation in 1850.

On the outbreak of war in August 1914, men identified as having been born in Germany or the Austro-Hungarian empire were taken away – from German pork butchers to Viennese pastry cooks to merchant seamen detained in port when war was declared. As this photo of the band indicates, there were some concessions by the authorities towards making life more bearable.

The camps were established on farmland outside Peel, with wooden huts erected to accommodate the sudden addition to the Manx population. Many hundreds of these men were Catholics, so Canon Thomas Crookall, of St Mary’s in Douglas, arranged with the authorities to have a Catholic chapel erected at Knockaloe Camp no.4 and it seems that a priest was recalled from Rome to help out: Rev Dr Walter Traynor had been studying there, but was sent to the Isle of Man in 1915 as chaplain to the internees.

The photograph, dating from about 1916 and now in the Archdiocesan Archives, shows Father Traynor in the centre of the group of priests. Rev Francis Carr is on the left, with a walking stick, and the third priest is Rev Charles McCabe. Both Rev Traynor and Rev McCabe returned to England after the war and the latter was parish priest of St Brigid’s in Liverpool when German bombers destroyed the church in the Second World War.