The First World War and the Ruhleben Internment Camp

This is a further blog post in a series to commemorate the centenary of the First World War by highlighting material among the Library’s holdings relating to the conflict. Among the records of the Bishop of Fulham (who historically had jurisdiction over English churches in Europe) survive papers relating to the Ruhleben internment camp. This camp, at a former horse-racing track a few miles west of Berlin, housed civilians of the Allied Powers living in or visiting Germany at the outbreak of World War One, who were held in detention for the duration. There were some 5,000 inhabitants, many of them British. The detainees were permitted to organise their own internal affairs and there developed a library, magazine, postal service, sports clubs, horticultural, musical and theatrical activities. There was also a chapel, housed in a hut donated by the American YMCA and opened for use on Christmas Eve 1915.

MS1859 f45

Fixtures included a harmonium. The chapel could be used by any religious denomination, although Church of England activity predominated. Papers in the Library relating to the chapel include hymn sheets and kalendars of services (ref: MS 1859 ff. 40-73). It was said to be “the one and only quiet place in the whole camp”.

For more information on Library sources for the First World War, please see our research guide, timeline and online catalogues.

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