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Ian Underwood

Anti-German riots in Canning Town

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Ian Underwood

Can anyone shed any light on the anti German riots in Canning Town in London in 1915?

I'm researching a great uncle in the RFC, who's parents were both German immigrants and lived in Canning Town during thr War. One can only imagine their feelings towards the rioters, given their son was over fighting in France at the time.

Does any one else have stories concerning the son's of German immigrants enlisting? I can imagine it was common especially for East End families.

Ian.

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Guest Ian Bowbrick

Ian,

My family come from the Borough, which as you can imagine was and still is a multicultural hotbed. Just after the war was declared there was particular resentment towards the Jewish community, particularly those from Germany, which culminated in a few broken windows, grafitti of the 'Lipski' kind and that sort of mischief. Despite this a number of my family's neighbours served with the Jewish Battalions of the Royal Fusiliers (30th). I believe that a particular Company of the Machine Gun Corps was predominantly made of London Jewish persons but this was more by coincidence than design. So far trying to find documents to support this have proved difficult and the learned opinion on hand is that this was never the case.

However I don't remember ever hearing of any riots directed against the population nor I have I seen any reported in the South London News of the period.

Ian B

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HERITAGE PLUS

Ian

I may have some info at home -Ill check this evening and let you know.

You might find the info on this site of interest as there is a connection:

http://www.pro.gov.uk/pathways/firstworldw...hts/alleged.htm

Dave

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Ian Underwood

Interesting information on that PRO weblink, it has the police reports of other riots. Mainly broken windows and the like, but crowds of between 1500-3000. Would've been quite scary for the 'German alien enemies' (their words not mine).

I had always thought that my German relatives lived around the Whitechapel/Finsbury Square area, but recently found out they moved to Canning Town pre-war. A quick web search of the history of Canning Town mentioned the riots of 1915 in passing, but nothing else.

They're a hard bunch to research too, no mention of them in either the 1881 or 1901 census, neither the freeBMD website and my Grandmother's birth Cert is not at the GRO. Appears they led a very underground existance as far as officaldom is concerned.

ian.

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Terry_Reeves

Ian

This site will not answer your question directly but may help put you on the right track:Welcome to Moving Here

Terry Reeves

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HERITAGE PLUS

Ian

I've checked by info and find it is unrelated to your query - sorry.

I do have a photo of the POplar Anti-German Riots which Ill post on this thread if if it is of interest.

Dave

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Ian Underwood
I do have a photo of the POplar Anti-German Riots which Ill post on this thread if if it is of interest.

It's of interest to me, and others I'm sure.

ian.

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Clive Maier
... Does any one else have stories concerning the son's of German immigrants enlisting? I can imagine it was common especially for East End families. ...

My uncle Oscar Maier is a remarkable example, and it is only in the last 18 months that I would have been able to tell you this. Before that, I did not even know myself. Oscar was killed in Delville Wood in 1916; the anniversary was yesterday. He was serving with the 13th Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment, having been drafted from the 3/1st Battalion of the West Kent Yeomanry. Some 75 Middlesex men went down with him and many of them were Oscar’s pals from the yeomanry draft.

Until recently, all I knew of Oscar was his name on a memorial, and his memorial plaque which I now treasure. My father would never say anything about Oscar – his eldest brother – or indeed about the family but I understood that his parents were both Swiss. When and why they came to England remains to be discovered but the circumstances were such that there was never any contact during my lifetime with relatives in continental Europe. Indeed, these relatives are now completely unknown to us, and we to them.

There was one more thing I knew, or thought I knew, about Oscar. Soldiers Died in the Great War told me that he was born in Maidstone, Kent. It came as a surprise. I knew of no family connection with Maidstone but given my father’s reticence, there was perhaps no reason why I should. It was the publication of the 1901 census that changed all this. That showed that Grandfather was indeed Swiss but Grandma was German, from Wurtemburg. The really astounding news from the census was that Oscar was born in Nuremburg in 1890 or 1891.

My best guess at the moment is that he was probably about 5 years old when they moved to England, just in time for anti-German sentiment to really get going with the Kruger telegram of 1896. I have little doubt that they concealed Grandma’s origins to avoid Germanophobia. I hope this was successful but I doubt it. The name was German and I know they had at least one German friend. In the climate of the times, I think that would have been enough to attract trouble.

I need to do a lot more work on the family but it seems to me now that Oscar could have declared his origins and been spared the front line. But to do that would have revealed his mother to be German and perhaps would brought about her internment. I think he lied to the army and went to his death on the front line to protect her. Grandma must have felt responsible for his death forever after. What Oscar thought about fighting Germans we will never know now. To make that even more poignant, the man from Nuremburg in Bavaria died in Deville Wood in a major counter-attack launched amongst others by Bavarian troops. It is entirely possible, perhaps even likely, that Oscar faced men with whom he had once been wheeled out in the park.

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Bob Coulson

Clive,

A remarkable story, thanks for posting it for us all to read and ponder.

Bob.

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Myrtle

Ian

If you look at the "A place to start" section and look under heading Internment there is further information regarding your request.

Myrtle

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HERITAGE PLUS

Ian

Anti-German Riot, Crisp Street, Poplar - May 1915

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Will O'Brien

Clive

That was a very moving & thought provoking post, thanks for sharing it. I shall be raising a glass to Oscar tonight.

Will

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Clive Maier

Bob, Will,

Thank you.

From the first moment I began to recover what I could of Oscar’s life, I took the view that he was killed by people indistinguishable from himself. I had no idea how literally true this would prove to be. I have been delighted to find that view universally held here. The total absence of rancour or discrimination between the combatants of the Great War is one of the triumphs of this forum. All those who were caught up and swept to disaster are held in equal esteem. However slowly, we may be learning something that will keep our descendants safer than our forebears ever were.

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Bob Coulson

Clive,

I truly hope that the last line of your posting does prove to be prophetic.

Bob.

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BeppoSapone

Have you tried the "Anglo-German Family History Society"?

The A-GFHS has done a pamphlet on German internment in WW1, including the incident in which five or six "rioters" were shot dead on the Isle of Man.

They might have done a pamphlet on the riots in London too? Certainly members will know of it, or have family stories about it.

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Clive Maier

I don’t have specific information about anti-German riots in Canning Town but in general I believe these disturbances were far more serious than a few broken windows and a little graffiti. I am not surprised that contemporary sources like local newspapers make little mention of these matters. They don’t show the British in a good light and anyway, many editors will have shared the prejudices of the day. Indeed one editor, the fraud and criminal Horatio Bottomley, took prejudice to the most virulent extreme in his magazine John Bull and he was not the only one to do so. Some others may have been less happy with what was going on, but in the climate of war found it inadvisable to reproach Britain and the British in any way. I think this sentiment would have applied in considerable degree to official records as well.

Panikos Panayi, in his book The Enemy in our Midst: Germans in Britain during the First World War, says this:

“However, no national group has endured wholesale and nationwide attack similar to that against the Germans during the Great War. Violence broke out against them on five main occasions: August 1914, October 1914, May 1915, June 1916, and July 1917. The riots in this sequence resulted in the most widespread disturbances in twentieth-century British history as areas from Glasgow to Winchester and Liverpool to London experienced violence. During the events of May 1915 thousands of people faced arrest for public order and looting offences while innumerable properties suffered damage at a cost of hundreds of thousands of pounds. The incidents of this month resemble a Russian pogrom with the native population attempting to clear out aliens.”

This is an area that I hope to research because of my family connections but for the reasons I have mentioned, I think it will be very difficult if not impossible to get a clear picture now. One childhood memory nags at me. I remember my father walking around the block from our house to watch his old family home being demolished. He came back quite some time later, completely covered in white dust. He must have stood very close as it came down. I asked him if he was sad about it and he said, “No, too many bad memories.” I had a clear impression that they were a loving family so I never understood what he meant by this. Had they suffered prejudice and ostracisation despite having their son killed with the Middlesex Regiment, and my father serving right at the end of the war with the Royal Sussex Regiment? I hope to find out.

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Ian Underwood

Another thought provoking post Clive, please share any information you find that you feel is not of too personal a nature.

In my own case, I'm having one of the Pals help with some PRO research of my Grandmother's older brother George Keill of the RFC, but we've hit a brick wall as their appears to be utterly no reference to him at all in any medal rolls or lists. This suggests that he enlisted under an assumed name to hide his German origins...so we may never know the actual details of his service, as this assumed name is totally lost to the family.

All we have is two photographs him in uniform and patchy oral history of his service. It begs the question, how many other young men of German extraction felt compelled to Anglicize their name when enlisting? I fear we will never know.

Since starting this thread I have tried to 'think' myself into the shoes of those German immigrant shopkeepers of the East End in particular - and wondered whether those with Son's abroad would've stuck postcards of them in uniform in the shop window, or hung red, white and blue bunting in the shop to try and deflect any Anti-german feeling amongst passers by. It's all conjecture of course.

I've read nothing confirming this, but I imagine many of these shopkeepers would've struggled to make ends meet during the war. In recent times, we've seen how anti-French feeling in the US has lead to the boycotting of french products and obvious targets like restaurants, so it must have been very, very tough for the German retail community.

I will in time contact and join the Anglo-German Family History society, as every other avenue has quickly turned into dead ends.

Ian.

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Guest Pete Wood

Ian, I have come across tantalising little snippets which suggest that there were many smaller outbreaks of violence than the main ones that have been mentioned so far.

Nearly all of these acts of violence followed an air raid - or in two cases that I am aware of, an impending air raid which was, in fact, a false alarm.

In one police report I have read, they had to rescue a terrified Scottish woman who was an employee of a German (he was Austrian actually) shop owner, from a mob who had thrown stones through the shop window - Poplar, London.

People who were fined by the magistrates for showing a light (this seemed to happen from about 1917 onwards), were sometimes later accused by their neighbours of being German agents. Punishment beatings were then carried out.

I carried out a tiny experiment in which I looked at the addresses of 10 people who had been fined for contravening lighting regulations - mainly people with German/Italian/Scandinavian names. Only in one case was the person living at the same address 12 months (or so) later. I realise that this doesn't prove much though, especially in cities, where the areas of concentration of a particular nationality were constantly shifting. But it was interesting, just the same, and might suggest that people were forced out of their community.

Not all these post-bombing acts of violence were confined to the areas that had just been bombed. I am always astounded at how quickly information could be passed on, with the (mostly) primitive communications of the time.

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Clive Maier

Businesses and communities certainly were destroyed. I realise that I am far too dependent at the moment on a single source - scholarly though I believe it to be - but with that proviso, Panayi (The Enemy in our Midst: Germans in Britain during the First World War) came to this conclusion:

“The First World War destroyed the German communities which had thrived throughout Britain during the Victorian and Edwardian periods. As we have seen, this destruction resulted from a combination of popular hostility and, largely consequent upon this, government measures. The latter had controlled the movements of alien enemies, closed down German restaurants, newspapers and clubs, and interned and repatriated over 35,000 Germans. The government also confiscated and forced the closure of German businesses. Large sections of the public and press, meanwhile, had developed its hostility towards enemy aliens to such an extent as to view them as pariahs. Such attitudes had led to widespread dismissal of German employees from their jobs and the destruction of their property by rioters. This combination of factors meant the disappearance of German London, German Bradford, German Liverpool and German Manchester.”

In My East End, Gilda O’Neill mentions that Germans were one of the oldest immigrant communities in London and were some 4,000 strong as far back as the reign of James I. There was a rapid increase from 1850 onwards with many settling in what was already known as Little Germany - the area bounded by Whitechapel Road, Cannon Street Road, the Highway, and Leman Street. O’Neill records that German influence became so great that West Ham council provided information in both English and German for people wishing to set up in business in the area. It was not long before there was a backlash. Fears of a loss of British identity were largely expressed as a resentment that ‘they’ were taking our jobs and the result was the Aliens Act of 1905. German spy mania predates even this. Erskine Childers’s The Riddle of the Sands was written entirely on this theme and was published in 1903. The prolific author William Le Queux wrote popular novels of espionage, starting with anti-Jewish themes but rapidly moving on to identify Germany as the principal threat. His works include England’s Peril (1899), The Invasion of 1910 (1905) and Spies of the Kaiser (1909). There was a very considerable head of anti-German steam long before the war started.

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Guest Pete Wood

According to a book I have, there is some cine film of the rioting at the Museum of London.

I don't know if you would require an appointment to see the footage, but I thought it might be of interest to Ian, Clive and others.

Here is a link to the Museum of London website for its contact details.

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Clive Maier

Racing Teapots,

Thanks for the tip. I could not find any reference on the Museum of London website but that's not to say they don't have something in the collections.

I did check on Pathe when the thread was in full swing, but all they have is some footage (reference 2320.46) of the aftermath of a 1914 riot "somewhere in England". Initially I was disappointed then common sense broke through. Just how likely was it at that time, that a movie camera would be present precisely when and where people were psyching themselves up for a riot? Or that they would have gone through with it in the presence of a camera?

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24463988

After a considerable absence, I am back on the trail of info for my Great War negatives project - as discussed elsewhere. I am interested in this thread because I have three negatives described as "German riots" which would date from April 1915. Unfortunately the diary is lost. I am able to identify the location of one frame thanks to the street signs - the corner of Parnell Road and Roman Road in what is now London E3 - so more towards Mile End and Bow. I think this makes the most detailed frame to be most likely a long view down Roman Road - but assumptions can always be dangerous - so much of it had changed thanks to the Luftwaffe and slum clearance etc. So perhaps the disturbances were more widespread?

Mark

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David Filsell

Not sure how much of a useful addition this will be. But - My late mother in law was the daughter of a German immigrant. They changed the family name from Krauss to Cross. The family was in business in or around the Pimlico area. When looking into her family it transpired that her father was a baker and that many of his friends were also bakersof German origin. Many of ma in laws family friends were from similar baker's families since for some reason many bakers emmigrated from Germany to Britain during Victoria's reign.Only the other evening this fact was underlined by a historian on television - they apparently introduced the Battenburg cake to this country. I wonder why so many came here?

best regards

david

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NigelS

So perhaps the disturbances were more widespread?

From The Times reporting of Thursday, May 13, 1915, (probably now more widely available than when this thread started) it would certainly seem so:

The Liverpool Riots. Damage Estimated At £40,000. (FROM OUR OWN CORRESPONDENT.)

Rioting in Liverpool reported as having ceased; wrecking of premises which accompanied anti German demonstrations given as likely to cost ratepayers £40,000; 200 establishments gutted and in some cases completely cleared out; 150 German residents taken charge of by police and sent under military escort to Hawick for internment.

Military called out at Southend

after German premises wrecked in Queen's Road; crowd then driven down the High Street wrecking a further German shop and two tobacconists before reinforcements were called out; all quiet by 10pm military having gained control - two arrests made, 200 special constables on duty

Reports from the country

Manchester: 13 men & 8 women charged with disorderly conduct & wilful damage to property; cases as being from all five police divisions of the city reported

Newcastle-on-Tyne: two pork butchers' shop in city's east end attacked and windows smashed, in another shop crowd burst in and wrecked the premises; at Gateshead a youth charged with assaulting a German butcher and another ordered to pay for plate glass window he'd smashed.

(Elsewhere there are reports of German born naturalized British Citizens declaring their allegiance to the King or signing statements decrying the Germany's attacking of un-armed civilians to local mayors.)

Rioting In London. Shops Plundered And Wrecked., A Day Of Violence.

Anti-German rioting which had started on Tuesday resumed with increased violence on the Wednesday with outbreaks continuing in all parts of metropolitan area; shops of tradesmen of German or Austrian birth attacked, wrecked and plundered by angry crowds; unable to estimate the amount of damage but asserted that in Camden Town and Kentish Town 150 shops attacked; among districts in which there were serious disturbances: Canning Town, Limehouse, Poplar, Shadwell, Stepney, Wapping, Woolwich, Aldgate, Smithfield, Ilford, Leytonstone, Tottenham, Highgate, Islington, Holloway, Camden Town, Kentish Town, Wood Green and Bowes Park, N. Kensington, Fulham, Lambeth, Wandsworth, Southwark, Blackfriars Road; Particularly serious in Poplar and East-end districts with a number of people and police injured Damage done very great.

'Not content with smashing doors and windows and looting the whole of the furniture and the contents of the shops, the interiors of houses were in numerous cases greatly damaged. Staircases were hacked to pieces and walls ceilings were knocked down. shops were completely wrecked before the police had time to arrive upon the scene. At Poplar for instance, in an area of a quarter of a mile half a dozen houses were attacked simultaneously by different crowds in the early afternoon. Before the constables were able to attempt to disperse the mob, horse-drawn carts, handcarts and perambulators - besides the unaided arms of men, women and children - had taken everything away from the wrecked houses. One saw pianos, chest of drawers, dressers, and the heaviest type of household furniture being carted triumphantly through the streets, "Here is wealth for the taking," said one man who had possession of several spring mattresses and was calmly driving his overloaded donkey down Crisp Street.

The attacks on the shops were affairs of a few moments only. A sudden rush on the part of a crowd from the scene of a previous exploit, a shower of stones, and a mad rush through broken windows or a battered-down door; and the house was surging with shouting people. Ten minutes later the place would be empty and nothing of value left.
In Poplar the crowds were described as 'perhaps more violent than in other parts;
'...The scene in the streets was amazing.Every man seemed to have given up the day to the anti- German orgy; and every other person one met seemed to be in possession of looted property. No attempt was made to cover the goods. "Made in Germany" was the excuse for possession.'

German butchers attempting to buy supplies from Smithfield were chased by porters 'as far as Farringdon Street or High Holborn by an excited crowd'

Another butcher - presumably British - was, at the insistance of the crowd that they be dismissed, forced to eject three German assistants from his premises

'In Kentish Town district a score of bakers' and confectioners' shops were wrecked and looted by an exited crowd. It did nor profit a German that he had long been resident in England or that he had taken out naturalization papers. The raiders did not discriminate. Early in the Afternoon the few police on duty seemed powerless to check the excesses of the mob, and thousands of men, women and children marched from shop to shop taking their fill of destruction, and stripping each place they attacked of everything it contained. The looting was not checked until mounted constables arrived and drove back the rioters.'

Damage given as estimated at 'quite £20,000'

Interestingly this article concludes with 'In the opinion of the police, the story of the burning in an aeroplane shed of 40 British soldiers and the report of the crucifixion of Canadian officers have done more to cause the riots than the sinking of the Lusitania.'

Although 'crucifixion of Canadian officers' is given, The Time's reporting of that - still unproven story - less than a week previously, only mentions one officer; Being unable to track it down in The Times (at least, as yet) is anything known on the death of '40 British soldiers' in an 'Aeroplane Shed' or is this likely to be another WW1 fable?

From all the above it appears that pre-war there must have been a lot German butchers in the country!

NigelS

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bob lembke

Sounds like contemporaneous events!

Bob

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