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Hutchinson, Onchan & Peveril Camps: Second World War Internment on the Isle of Man

Posted on 18.09.2020

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

Hutchinson Camp

Just off the Douglas Promenade is Hutchinson Camp now probably the most well-known of the Manx internment Camps. It opened in June 1940 and held 1,100 internees in boarding houses on one side of Broadway and the adjacent Hutchinson Square.

An annotated stencil print map of Hutchinson Camp.

Hutchinson Camp had the great advantage of the terraced gardens in the centre of the Square, which provided an open area for internees to walk and sit in and even provided a venue for open-air lectures. The camp became a centre for artistic and academic endeavour more by accident than design because of the large number of artists and academics who happened to be interned there, including the renowned Dadaist artist Kurt Schwitters and the leading archaeologist Professor Gerhard Bersu.

A stencil print view of Hutchinson Camp by Bruno Ahrends (architect)

The camp initially held German and Austrian refugees but as more internees were released to work for the Allied war effort and the smaller camps began to close, the remaining internees were moved to Hutchinson Camp. Finally in 1943 even Hutchinson Camp was closed, until it reopened as a camp for military prisoners of war and then finally closed in 1944.

Onchan Camp

What might have been considered the ‘best’ camp to be in was Onchan Camp (Royal Avenue West and Belgravia Road). Physically one of the largest camps in terms of size, the site contained space to grow vegetables, keep chickens, play football and to generally be able to move around – a luxury not enjoyed in many of the other camps. It also held a large number of academics and artists and as a result there were art exhibitions staged in the camp and a full programme of lectures and classes that internees could attend at the ‘Onchan Youth College and University’ within the camp.

Illustration from The Onchan Pioneer (Onchan Camp newspaper) c.1940-1

Illustration from The Onchan Pioneer (Onchan Camp newspaper) c.1940-1

Illustration from The Onchan Pioneer (Onchan Camp newspaper) c.1940-1

Illustration from The Onchan Pioneer (Onchan Camp newspaper) c.1940-1

Approximately 1,300 Germans and Austrian were held in Onchan Camp from June 1940 until it closed in July 1941. The camp then reopened in September 1941 to house Italian internees and finally closed in November 1944.

Peveril Camp

The Peveril Camp in Peel opened in the summer of 1940 and housed about 800-900 German and Austrian internees in the boarding houses on Marine Parade (on the promenade) and on Victoria Terrace/ Peveril Road at the top of the hill behind. The camp grew over time and extended across to Peveril Terrace and then later shrank back to its original size.

A watercolour view of Peveril Camp (back of Marine Parade boarding houses from the grassy hillside below Victoria Terrace) by Herbert Kaden, a young architectural student. Peel Castle can be seen in the background. IOMMM: 1993-0235/1

A collection of hand-carved wooden chess pieces made by Hans Schwarz. Each chess piece appears to have been modelled on a specific individual, possibly a fellow internee or an officer/ guard at Peveril Camp. IOMMM: 2011-0075

The small and relatively short-lived camp closed in spring 1941 and was then reopened in May 1941 as a Detainment Camp to hold British Fascists and others thought to pose a potential security risk such as Norwegian and Dutch refugees who had fled occupied Europe and needed to prove they were not spies. The Peveril Detainment Camp caused the authorities some of their greatest problems during the war with a large-scale riot of the British Fascists, a series of escape bids (none of which were ultimately successful) and the discovery of a tunnel dug by the detainees.

Hope for the future and being released

A hand-printed New Year card produced in Onchan or Hutchinson internment camp and given to a member of the Manx Home Guard who visited the internment camps on a regular basis. The satirical cartoon hoping that Hitler will ‘disappear’ like a snowman in the sun shows the importance of a sense of humour even in the darkest of times. IOMMM: 2008-0025/3

Each internment camp had its own ‘personality’ and was subtly different in various ways from other camps. 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 at their art etc, for others it was a terrible time, whilst for many there were both good and bad times. But the ultimate goal for most of the internees was to be able to leave the camps and to make their own contribution to the Allied war effort and to fight Nazi oppression, and to prove that they were indeed His Majesty’s most loyal enemy aliens.

Front cover of The Onchan Pioneer (Onchan Camp newspaper) March 1941

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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