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alain dubois

Not only women : British civilians in Tuchel camp.

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alain dubois


When browsing the ICRC registers, rather than the individual name cards, my interest was attracted by a short list of British civilians held in 1918, 14 women and children of the same provenance. A first glance reveals children aged 4 to 13, some of whom seem to be alone, according to their names.  There is another list of 27 names of men and boys older than 13, captured (taken prisoner) at the same place, but few names coincide with those of women and children.

The detention camp is the one in Tuchel/Tuchola, currently Polish town, located 50km north of Bydgoszcz; built in 1914 south of the city by the Germans in what was then West Prussia (Westpreußen); the site is currently occupied by a set of residencies.

Sadly known for the detention of Russians and Romanians prisoners of war in abominable conditions, allied soldiers from various nations were detained there, as for example,  one of the first American prisoners of war was held: Sergeant Edgar Halyburton.
Taken prisoner during the German raid on November 3, 1917, he spent 7 months in Tuchel camp with 17 other American prisoners before being transferred to Rastadt in Baden-Württemberg.

The camp is reused by the Poles during the war between Poland and the Soviet Union (1919-1921), it will be nearly 8000 Russians who will be detained until its dismantling in 1923, with no visible trace on the cards. Only part of the cemetery remains, consisting mainly of mass graves dug in 1914, probably with more than 4500 deaths.
Although the location of this cemetery appears on the maps of the 1930s, a cement plant was built in the 1970s over much of its location.

What were British civilians doing there?
The little information contained in the pages of the register (and identical with the individual files established on the 30/04/1918) indicates that they all come from the Åland island (noted Aaland / Uland-Insel ); at present,  it's a Swedish Autonomous Province, the islands had been ceded to the Russians with Finland in 1809, until the country regained its independence in 1917; following disturbances, the German intervention began with the occupation of the Åland Islands at the beginning of March 1918, the allied civilians were captured there by the Germans (14/03/1918).

The 14 women and children came from St. Petersburg where it is plausible that they initially fled the Bolshevik revolution, hoping to be repatriated by the Royal Navy in Baltic sea; the islands of Åland would have seemed more sure, as a way to join Sweden, neutral.
The 27 men and boys are reported to come from Danzig (Gdansk) port on the Baltic sea some 100km north of Tuchel / Tuchola, which had to be their first place of internment after capture in the islands.

These British citizens, whose older were born in UK, were probably making business in Tsarist Russia. Almost all of them refer to a close relative in Britain and the register indicates once or twice for each the mention "Petersburg". Only children some have a place of birth in Russia, Manchuria or Sweden.

Some of them ( or all ?) were transferred into Ruhleben camp, waiting for repatriation.





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