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Douglas Promenade: Second World War Internment on the Isle of Man

Posted on 11.09.2020

This article is the second in a four part series about Civilian Internment on the Isle of Man during the Second World War. 

Following the opening of the Mooragh Camp and the arrival of the first male internees on the Island, several more camps were created around the Island in rapid succession. The greatest concentration of these were along Douglas Promenade, where whole blocks of hotels were surrounded with barbed wire fencing from June 1940 onwards.

Douglas Promenade

As a newly arrived ‘enemy alien’ coming off the boat from Liverpool, you would have been marched along Douglas Promenade under military escort to one of several internment camps. The first barbed wire enclosure you would have seen would have been the relatively small and short-lived Granville Camp on the Loch Promenade, which opened in October 1940 and held less than 750 internees. This later became the shore-based H.M.S. Valkyrie (Royal Navy Radar Training School).

The Sefton Camp was another relatively small and short-lived camp which comprised the Sefton Hotel and the adjacent hotels opposite St Thomas’s Church. The camp held about 600-700 internees, was opened in October 1940, but had already closed by March 1941 as ever increasing numbers of internees were released. The Sefton Camp was probably one of the most public and ‘exposed’ camps as the ever-popular Rendezvous Café was directly opposite and internees said the wire made it feel like being in the zoo.

Front cover of the Sefton Review (the Sefton Camp newspaper produced by the internees)

Illustration of daily life for an internee (and the importance of receiving letters and writing letters home) in the Sefton Review by Martin Bloch (1883-1953)

The Central Camp opened in June 1940 on the Central Promenade and consisted of a square block of hotels from Empress Drive to Castle Drive – the 34 properties held about 2,000 internees. It closed after a year and later became H.M.S. Valkyrie II, used to train signalmen and W/T (Wireless/ Telegraphy) ratings for landing craft for the D-Day landings and the Liberation of Europe.

View from Central Camp by Erich A.Bischof (1899-1990) IOMMM: 1996-0094/2

The Palace Camp opened in June 1940 and was the largest male camp in terms of numbers (if not in physical size) with 2,900 internees in 28 houses along Queen’s Promenade/ Palace View Terrace. The camp held various nationalities, including large numbers of Italians, until it finally closed in November 1942.

Palace Camp – Isle of Man 8th March 1942 by Imre Goth (1893-1982) a Hungarian ‘society’ artist, well-known for his portraits. A watercolour view of Douglas Promenade looking more like the French Riviera than a militarised zone of civilian internment camps and military training establishments (as long as you ignore the barbed wire fencing).

The final camp on the Douglas Promenade was the Metropole Camp (the Metropole Mansions), which opened in July 1940. It was one of the smaller camps, only holding about 750 internees, the majority of whom were Italians (including the crews of several Italian merchant ships which were still in British ports or territorial waters when Italy joined the Axis powers in June 1940). The camp only finally closed in October 1944.

Internment camp ship model (a fully rigged ship/schooner model in a small glass bottle). Made at the Metropole Camp by an Italian internee for one of the camp guards. IOMMM: 1990-0206

A pair of rings made by an internee from the Metropole Camp, Douglas, for one of the camp guards. The rings are very similar to the type made by soldiers during the First World War as ‘Trench Art’ using any available scrap materials they could find. IOMMM: 1990-0182

A fully rigged wooden ship model made by Aniello Mennella, an Italian internee in the Metropole Camp, Douglas.  IOMMM: 2009-0150

The use of black ink and the central solitary figure at the barbed wire fence makes a scene of camp life (Palace Camp) look very dark and depressing, but then you begin to notice the other internees sat chatting, reading the papers and possibly even playing cards round the tables. Then the scene does not appear to be as dark as first imagined, instead the sketch captures a scene of the best of times… the worst of times.

A pen & ink sketch of internees in Palace Camp by Imre Goth (1893-1982) a Hungarian ‘society’ artist.

There was no single internment narrative as each internee had their own personal internment experience – for some it was possibly the best of times as they made lifelong friends and were able to work creatively writing, painting or drawing etc, for others it was a terrible time and then for many there were both good times and bad times before they were finally released. But for everyone release meant the closing of one chapter and the start of a new chapter in their lives and for many this was the start of a new life in Britain.

Further Information

Want to discover more about the Isle of Man during the Second World War? Here are further resources:

 

 

 

 

 

Discover more about internment on the Isle of Man in the Manx National Heritage Library and Archives.

Find out how the Manx newspapers reported the War and what stories from the internment camps made the local news: https://www.imuseum.im/newspapers/

If you want to discover more about internment and see a variety of internee-made items – visit the Mann at War Gallery and National Art Gallery at the Manx Museum or take a look at our online resource Explore Mann at War.

 

Yvonne M. Cresswell (MNH Curator of Social History)

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