Kitchener camp diary, Part I

Kitchener camp, 1939
From the series 'Kitchener camp',
by Hans Jackson, Kitchener resident

The Diary of Phineas May, Kitchener camp co-director, 1939

TRANSCRIBER’S NOTES —

Illegible words are indicated thus: [###]

2. Question marks in square parentheses indicate that the preceding word is hard to read and there is doubt as to whether it has been accurately transcribed.

3. ‘A’ is never capitalised in the original (instead the lower case ‘a’ is often writ larger). This quirk is initially reproduced in the transcription of the untyped section, but as the computer automatically corrects non-capitalisation at the beginning of sentences, de-correction considerably slowed the process of transcription, so faithfulness to the original is subsequently sacrificed in this particular. As the larger lower case ‘a’s can be regarded as Phineas May’s calligraphic equivalent of a capital ‘A’, it seems of little significance.

4. Spelling and punctuation mistakes are reproduced from the original and are less likely to be the transcriber’s!

The section of the diary (until 20/4/39) was transcribed from the typewritten transcript already made, which differs from the original in minor points of spelling, punctuation and phrasing (the idiosyncrasies of the latter variants may suggest that the transcript was produced, or its production was supervised, by Phineas May himself). While efforts have been made to emend the text to accord with the original, it is likely that some of the changes introduced in the typewritten transcript, in particular, instances of standardising the capitalisation of letters, remain.


Editor's note

Some entries from the Timeline are added below, to give a sense of what is happening in the wider world.

Also added are some photographs and other items from the project to help illustrate and contextualise the events being described in the diary.


Follow the links here for Part IIPart III, Part IV

The Diary of Phineas May, Kitchener camp co-director, 1939

Part One: 29 January to 31 March

 

Timeline

25 January 1939

Council for German Jewry, Minutes, 25 January 1939

Kitchener technicians Good progress: the first 100 people are reported to be arriving to prepare the camp in the next two weeks

These "qualified technicians" will enable the camp to start receiving 300 people a week within a fortnight. It is decided that the current buildings will not house over 3,500 people. Boys age 16 to 18 from the Children's Committee are also being considered for housing here. Difficulties are noted in gaining visas for onward migratation to the USA; the Home Office insists that guarantees for onward emigration are "watertight". 

[Editor's note: see Phineas's diary entry, below, for 30th January]. 

Phineas May's Diary

SUNDAY, 29 January 1939
  Having been my Banks my future colleague we motored to Sandwich picking up at Southschields a fair friend of Banks and dropping her at Canterbury. It was here that two “Canterbury Belles” offered to drop some letters I required posting in apparently the only letter box in this ancient and lovely old Town, having made an enquiry as to how far that outpost of the G.P.O. was from where I sought that information.

 All the way down we had encountered terrific headwinds and “far from courtesy cops”. Fortunately the heavy winds made it impossible to travel at the speed the car would have been going at the same acceleration without the wind.

 We arrived at 12.20 at the renowned Cinque Port of Sandwich the journey having taken three hours and twenty minutes.

 At the Bell Hotel they were expecting me, “Jam” having left a message to say that we were not to go to the Camp if we arrived after 12.15… we had timed it well.

 A little later Jam arrived with Mr. and Mrs. E.M. Joseph and Donald A. Woolf, and soon we were at lunch.

 A word here as to the hotel. It has recently been done up and is most tastefully furnished and roaring fires in open grates are a pleasing feature. If we were members of the Royal Family we could not have received from all the staff more kind and courteous attention. They were all out to please.

 The bedroom has running hot and cold water; is spacious and everything desirable. I imagine I shall be the only person staying here this week so “Jam & Co” have been rubbing in the “hardship” of my having to “rough it” like this for a week until the Camp is ready. I have promised to endeavour to tolerate this luxury on the condition that it is not for a longer period than one week.

 Mr. and Mrs. Joseph left for London soon after lunch and we motored over to the Camp. Subsequently I found that it does not take longer than ten minutes to reach the main gates of the Camp from the Toll Bridge which is opposite to the hotel, when walking at an average speed.

 Only having seen ground plans of the Camp I was surprised how close to my imagination it looked. The first impression is, however, of drab greyness – the perfect concentration Camp on Dartmoor on one floor.

 On entering the various buildings one was immediately struck by the amazing possibilities of the place and also considering it is 22 years since it was last occupied what an excellent condition the various huts, etc., were in.

 Of course there is a tremendous amount to be done – but then there will be (P.G.) ample number of men with time to do it.

 An amusing incident happened as we were leaving the Camp. The gates are padlocked and it was necessary (as there is at present only one key) for the gates to be locked and the key to be returned to the architects’ hut which necessitated Donald Woolf, who did this, to climb over the gates on leaving.

 There was a high wind and the gate is high. Having with great difficulty got to the top of the gate and having just struggles to get both his feet on the outside, he was about to jump down when a gust of wind blew his hat over the gate. Needless to say three of the four members of the party thoroughly enjoyed the joke.

 Returning to the hotel I was given my instructions for the week – in case 30 of the Refugees arrive which they may do any day now. 

A cook has already been engaged and will be at the Camp to get things ready tomorrow – and should it be necessary I shall have to act as Quartermaster.

 When Jam & Co., returned to London, I settled down to read a few magazines and to await my “adventures” that might be in store for me – and so to bed at 9.30.
END
Monday, 30 January 1939

Up at 7. and having enjoyed a good breakfast I walked over to the Camp at 8.30. There I found various workmen busily engaged.

I soon met the foreman who seemed a fairly decent fellow but he seemed slightly annoyed that last week having been told to concentrate on getting the recreation hut ready first, he had received instructions over the weekend to go ahead with some other huts as well. However, he would be no foreman if he did not grumble.

A few men - having heard about the Camp came over to see if there were any jobs going. A person named Mr. Person called to get the laundry contract. There was little I could do so I walked over to Sandwich to explore the town and see what shopping facilities there were.

One shop, close to the hotel, I am sure will reap a rich harvest from the Camp – it was one of Oswald Moseley’s Black Shirt shops – even in a remote village like Sandwich they have headquarters. I hope our 3,500 will keep them well ‘occupied’.

Returning to the Camp I arranged with the Manager of Dorman Long & Co. (http://www.open-sandwich.co.uk/town_history/richborough_port.htm) for the purchase of the first six tons of coal. I wonder how many tons we shall require a year. I lunched at the hotel – boiled cod and vegetables, figs and cream and toast. 

Returning to the Camp I had a gentleman over to see me in connection with an order I had given for coal – did I think 3 ozs. of coal sufficient when one would be likely to want 6 tons a week. Another gentleman wanted our order for his laundry. I promised him that if I could not get him the order for the cleaning of the 3,500 Refugees he could do my pocket handkerchief each week.

After various similar interviews I again returned to “Town”, buying the “News Chronicle” as I understood it had a paragraph about the Camp. I learnt from this that there were already 100 Refugees working day and night to get the Camp ready – the Camp must be so large that I did not notice them. I also learnt what liars newspapers are!

Jonas rang through at 7.30 and told me he was sending me a large batch of orders tomorrow and that I could expect any moment to be receiving vast quantities of stores. Also he half expects 30 of the Refugees tomorrow.

Having just listened to what Hitler said “We don’t want the Jews, if other countries are so sympathetic they can have them” I should not be at all surprised if “Jam” does not phone down tomorrow to say the 3,500 are coming at once and have a meal ready for them with within half-an-hour and all beds to be erected and well aired.

Maybe that my roughing it at the “Bell” Hotel will be short lived and I may have very soon to enjoy the “comforts” of the Camp.

And so has gone my second day down here – though slightly cold a lovely sunlit sky – ah well – once again to bed.
Richborough camp, Some Victims of the Nazi Terror, 1939 - Construction work
Kitchener camp, Some Victims of the Nazi Terror, 1939 - Construction work
Tuesday, 31 January 1939

England expects every man to do his duty, “Jam” expects 30 Refugees, but at 6.45 p.m., we are still expecting them – though not today.

Owing to “Great Expectations” this morning I arranged with the hotel to supply me with sandwiches and told them I would not be back for lunch. I was at the Camp by 8.30.

I got in touch with the Head of the building firm and arranged with him to finish one room of this hut so I should have a place ready to feed and sleep the men. As this Camp is so large and it is impossible, until an outside bell is fixed, to hear the telephone when not in this hut in which it has been temporarily fixed, I arranged with the Exchange to take messages from all subscribers wishing to speak to me, and arranged to ring her every hour to deal with the calls. This worked very well.

In case the Refugees should arrive I got in touch with the grocer, the baker and the milkman for an emergency supply of food. This is my first experience of quartermastering. I also arranged with the milk firm to send me a cardload of hay to fill the palliases for the Refugees to sleep on – but by a stroke of luck half an hour before the hay arrived, the beds and bedding arrived, so I returned the hay.

O got in a supply of coal, parrafin, hurricane lanterns and non-perishable food – so my essentials are now ready for the first arrivals. Beds all fixed up and ready with tables to eat at.

Various firms anxious to get business spent a fruitless day calling me as I referred them all to London.
Wednesday, 1 February 1939

At the Camp by 8.30 expecting cartloads of goods to be waiting for me – actually the only goods that arrived today were three huge crates of earthenware at about 3 p.m.

During the morning a Mr. Burch who is going to supply us with vegetables called and said that he would be pleased to put some land at our disposal for the Refugees to learn agriculture and that he would also put a word in for us at the local Farmers Union and he understood that they would be pleased to take a number of men and train them.

To my amusement he told me that he was an important man in connection with local A.R.P. arrangements. When he had finished impressing me with his importance in that respect, I showed my various A.R.P. certificates. We shall get on very well as we now have something in common.

Another chap called and said he was the owner of a large local motor dealer, and would be pleased to give some second-hand clothes to the Refugees and also arrange a concert party to come over and entertain us one evening.

Another “distinguished” visitor was the local police sergeant who was very friendly and anxious to help as much as possible.

Dr Marmorick, the young German architent, who is supervising the building, came down today and is a read hustler and a “hale-fellow well met type” 

[Editor's note: follow link to see a section of Marmorek's plan of KC; for further information, see here].

We had supper at the hotel and he was very tired & typed his building reports which he dictated to me on the machine. We did this spot of work in a big arm chair in front of a roaring fire in a tudor fireplace – we started at 8.15 and finished at 11 p.m. – so think I have done a fair day’s work.
Thursday, 2 February 1939

Up early and at Camp by 8.30 – checked hundreds of plates that had arrived yesterday.

At 1 p.m. an enormous lorry, a six wheeler, arrived with 2,000 blankets in bundles of 20. I had to `phone for four men to give me a hand to unload them.

I have been asking the builders’ foreman all the week to strengthen the grass by the entrance to my store house, as the lorries have been sinking into the mud. At first it looked as if this six-wheeler lorry would topple over – it did not – but until it was unloaded it looked like the leaning tower of Pisa, only more dangerous.

Even with the assistance the four toughs who had helped to unload, it took ages to get the lorry out of the mud-rut it had made.

Again I complained to the architect – nothing was done.

About 20 minutes later a heavy Southern Railway lorry came with further cases of goods and it sank so low in the mud he could not move.

My blood boiled – I fetched the foreman and blew his head off – I fetched Dr. Mormerick, the architect – and blew his head off – and told him as they had done nothing worth talking about to put my path in order, they could worry about getting the lorry out of the mud. 

With the help of two or three men digging the wheels out and another lorry tugging at it, they succeeded – after an hour’s effort – I did not stay around to hear what the lorry drivers said. I open every case of goods that comes as soon as I can and check the contents – I must confess I feel very tired this evening.

In the post this morning was a bundle of old clothes including an old pair of pants and vests and pyjamas from an anonymous donor. Some kindly intentioned old lady I expect.
Friday 3 February 1939

After a week of exceptionally fine, if cold, weather, woke to find a heavy mist or fog. This lasted all the morning but was followed by beautiful sunshine. “Jam” arrived about 11 having with great difficulty motored through the fog. Later Mr Joseph arrived.

Further goods arrived during the afternoon including a lorry load of chairs.

Having returned to the hotel and settled down with the others for what I thought would be a quiet Friday evening, at 8.30 – just as we had finished supper – the porter said there was a lorry driver waiting to see us. 

He had been held up owing to the fog and had not even a 1/- on him with which to pay the toll. All the lorry drivers cursed this ‘imposition’ to cross the bridge necessary to get on the road leading past this Camp. It is one of the last toll bridges in England and makes a fortune out of the town.

To revert to the lorry driver, in question, he had a huge load of timber. We suggested he should sleep in Sandwich or at the Camp over night and unload in the morning. At first he decided to do this.

Mr. Marmarek (the young architect) went up with him to the Camp and after they had left, it occurred to me that he might have difficulty in finding the hiding place for the key to the gates. It was a brilliant moonlit night and when I arrived at the Camp I found they had got but the lorry driver said he was very anxious to get home to his wife who would be very worried if he did not return. It was now nine o’clock.

We therefore chucked all the timber over the side of the lorry, the moon making the Camp as light almost as it was by day. In an hour and a half the last plank had been thrown overboard. He was a happy lorry driver who returned that night to some distant town and he cheerfully said he should be home by 3 a.m. I am sure the Almighty will forgive my working so hard on this occasion.
Kitchener camp, Some Victims, 1939 - repairing chairs
Saturday, 4 February 1939

I was at the Camp by 8.30, fortunately nothing arrived today.

During the morning Wilfred Halford arrived and he is spending the weekend with us. During the afternoon Mr. and Mrs. Norman Bentwich arrived. Mrs. Bentwich introducing herself as my cousin. The Royalton Kisch family also visited the Camp but I only saw Miss Kisch.

During the afternoon I surveyed with Mr. Marmarek the Haig Camp opposite, which is in a far worse condition than ours. We discussed the possibilities of a huge hut being used as a cinema. 

We returned to the hotel and had tea with Mr Joseph and Mr and Mrs Bentwich, and after Shabbos we visited the local ‘flicks’ with Halford, and saw a film called ‘Housemaster’ – very good.

Before we went we called on the local store to order “Jams” lino. We had supper at 9 and while I am writing this, Jam and Halford are playing patience.
Sunday, 5 February 1939

A beautiful spring-like day. Motored over with “Jam” and Halford at 10 a.m. and we spent the morning checking over goods that had arrived and dealt with various office matters.

After lunch at the hotel, Halford returned to London and “Jam” drove me over to Broadstairs (where we passed Roseneath) and on to Cliftonville. We paid a visit to the Morris family (the boarding house we stayed at eight years ago after “Jam” had an operation for appendicitis). 

We were welcomed by Sadie Morris, the daughter who remembered every detail of our stay all those years ago – but what is most amazing remembered my Christian name. Mr. Morris had passed away two years ago. 

After a long chat she took us across to the Synagogue when her brother was running an Habonim Group, and he recognised us immediately, but he had grown up since we last saw him. We waited until the Habonim kids – that is all they were – had finished and then returned to Sandwich. The journey from Cliftonville took half-an-hour.

“J” then taught me a game of patience and he is busy playing while I am writing this.

Timeline

6 February 1939

Minutes, Council for German Jewry, 6 February 1939

Transfer of the Berlin ORT school from Berlin to Leeds has been mooted

The matter is deferred, pending financial matters that need to be arranged among Berlin, the British government, and British funding bodies 

The following month, the decision is again deferred, pending further investigation (Council for German Jewry, Minutes, 14 March 1939)

At the end of March (Minutes, 27 march 1939), the decision is again shelved due to funding provision disagreements

On 1st May, an agreement is reached on the funding (Minutes).

At this stage, no boys or staff have been transported out of Germany

Monday, 6 February 1939

At the Camp by 8.30 and it was not long before lorry loads of goods arrived and the unloading and storage kept me busy all day.

Among the interesting callers to see “Jam” was the Divisional Sergeant of the Police and the local Sgt. and one of his men. They had tea with us and were most charming and will do everything they can to help us.

The Chairman (Mr Bishop) and the Secretary (Mr Fogg) of the Sandwich Chamber of Commerce came over to the Camp in the evening to invite “Jam” to be the Guest of Honour at a dinner they are holding on Thursday, and also extended an invitation to me, which I have accepted providing no Refugees arrive in the meantime. “Jam” is going to respond to the toast of the Visitors.

Radio Rentals fixed up the wireless at “Jams” flat and we listened to the 6 o’clock news. On returning to the Hotel we met our Chamber of Commerce friends and of course this necessitated drinks all round. We have had most wonderful weather almost like a summer day.

Naturalist Note.  A peculiar coloured bird flew in our temporary office window but in trying to escape kept bumping his beak against the glass which he thought was open space. This eventually gave it a knock out blow so I was able to get hold of it and take it out in the open where it flew away.
Tuesday, 7 February 1939

A very busy day as regards the arrival of goods and there are rumours that the first batch of Refugees will be here tomorrow or Thursday. We had two voluntary helpers today, one a Mrs Lawrence, who is going to type when she can spare the time – and apparently that is very frequent – and a Mr Morris came over in the afternoon and helped me with checking the goods. Reporters have been on “Jams” trail today. He “granted” and interview and was photographed.

“Jam” went up to London this evening and will return tomorrow evening. Tonight is our last night of civilisation as represented by the Bell Hotel; and we are going to live at the Kitchener Camp tomorrow.

I cannot speak too highly of the attention given to us by all members of staff of the hotel. Nothing is too much trouble and everything is done in a most cheerful way.

I suppose the fact that we are the only people staying here, we are curios requiring special care and attention.

I learnt this evening that the King of the Belgians stayed here for three days in 1936 and occupied room No. 20 (mine is 16) – I laid on both the beds in that room so that I can now say that I have lain on the same bed as the King of the Belgians.

Arrivals: Alfred Meyer

Wednesday, 8 February 1939

Up early and motored over to the Camp before breakfast with Mr Marmarek with baggage.

During the course of the morning some press photographers came and I believe took some pictures of the English workmen and charwomen. The charwomen by the way (there are four of them) are real characters, and if they did their job as at present performed, on the Palladium stage they would be a riot. They apparently got through scores of cigarettes but they assure me that there are 27 public houses in Sandwich, they only visited one once last year. 

The electrician foreman told me that his firm had written to him that they were sending down a Refugee electrician to help them. He duly arrived at 5 p.m. and we gave him a hearty welcome as the first Refugee. Peculiarly enough his Christian name is the same as that of the well-known fellow countryman of his (for he is an Austrian Refugee) whose arm-raising activities (in more senses than one) is the reason that this Camp has been formed.

“Jam” arrived back from London very tired and worried at 6.30 p.m. Ivy is not at all well and will be down for a few days.

I had prepared supper for the first four people who were going to spend the night – of the first of many – in the Kitchener Camp, unoccupied for 22 years. They were

JONAS A. MAY – CAMP DIRECTOR

PHINEAS L. MAY – TEMPORARY QUARTERMASTER & STORE KEEPER, ETC.

MARMAREK – RESIDENT ARCHITECT

ADOLF – REFUGEE ELECTRICIAN

As there is no Electric light in the Camp after 6.30 we spend the evening chatting round a coal fire and retired to our first rest here by the light of hurricane lanterns.
Kitchener camp, Some Victims, 1939 - Bedding
Kitchener camp, Some Victims of the Nazi Terror, 1939 - Bedding
Thursday, 9 February 1939

Heavy storms and the continual banging of a door in some part of the Camp did not help to make the first night’s sleep particularly restful. We were all up at 6.30. Sometime after, the woman who Ivy had engaged by post to look after her flat and do the cooking ‘reported herself’ with such a volubility of words that “J” could hardly restrain himself and – in so many words – I told her to shut up. The lunch she prepared just saved her from being “fired” the first day.

No more Refugees arrived at 6.30 p.m. we were fetched and taken by car to the Town Hall for the Chamber of Commerce Annual Dinner. The Town Hall is, by the way, in parts hundreds of years old but a great part of it has been rebuilt at different periods.

The hospitality we received from the commencement of the function was amazing. “Jam” spoke extremely well – it was amusing – Lady Pearson who is such a supporter of the Blackshirts and even pays for a small shop for promoting fascism in the town – was the first speaker – J. was the last.

After the supper followed a dance and of course frequent visits to the bar. Everybody in the town engaged in commerce were there, and some useful acquaintances were made. Alderman Martin, his son and charming daughter-in-law had catered for this function and were very proud of it. They are Bakers and will be supplying the Camp with Bread – a very nice order.

Anyhow they looked after us extremely well and are really good folk. A jolly small balded man – something like A. Polak who used to be in the Brigade – was introduced to us and he is the Vicar of a “living” about two miles from Sandwich. He is an ex-Naval padre and a jolly and excellent fellow. He offered an empty vicarage (it has eight bedrooms) to us to be used in any way we like – it may be very useful.

He insisted on driving us back to the Camp. A most enjoyable evening and one I shall long remember.
Friday, 10 February 1939

Early in the day news arrived that we might expect a few Refugees, and about midday two arrived – one who is going to be our Chief Cashier (Mr Sonenberg) and his assistant. He is a charming elderly man who is a relative of Sir Max Bonn. We became immediate friends and I am sure I am going to like him very much.

About 5 p.m. we had a `phone call from the station that four Refugees had arrived there and two cars went to pick them up. In due course they arrived – typical Germans with black top boots. They are all Joiners or Carpenters and will be very useful. They were delighted with the accommodation and arrangements availabe and said it was far better than anything they had anticipated.

As I am going to deal with the Quartermastering until Ivy comes, I had supper prepared for them. They looked upon the white bread almost as a delicatessen. After supper Jonas having to go to Sandwich with Mr Joseph, I was left with the Refugees. As two or three speak English, I had a long chat with them in the evening round the fire and though they were all very tired they were happy to be here. It was amazing how quickly they got to work in helping in any way we desired. We now have 7 Refugees here.
Kitchener camp, Some Victims of the Nazi Terror - magazine, 1939 - Kitchener men at work on the roof
Saturday, 11 February 1939

The cook having with difficulty prepared the breakfast for the seven Refugees, I was dismayed to be handed by “Jam” a copy of the “Kent Messenger” with a long article about the Camp bearing the heading “FAMOUS WAR CAMP FOR REFUGEES, 3,500 EXPECTED THIS WEEKEND ...”

If they come I hope they enjoy the tin of sardines I have in stock for them.

The dreadful chatterbox woman who was suppoed to act as cook and house-cleaner for “Jams” flat started off by getting on both our nerves and “Jam” thrust the responsibility on me of giving her the Boot. Having told her in no uncertain terms what I thought of her, she said she could only take notice of “Jam” who arriving at that moment conveyed in no less certain terms his desire to see the back of her and the last of her with all possible speed. She then said she was so insulted that she would resign the position and when eventually we saw the back of her it was with a deep sigh of relief.

A large number of Brigade visitors such as Col. Halstead, D.S. Woolf, Halford, are spending the weekend here. Three of us acted as cooks and made a very good lunch for 12 in “Jams” flat. Banks – my future colleague (ex R.S.M. Levy) arrived in the evening.

We already have a beautiful wireless set in the Refugees room and I think they spent their first complete day very happily here.

No more arrived today.
Sunday, 12 February 1939

Being Sunday Camp “Reveille” was at 7.30.

Having made arrangements for the breakfasts for the Refugees,  all of the “Staff” prepared real bachelor breakfasts in “Jams” flat. The cook who had been engaged on trial for the Refugees, a Mr French, although he was an excellent fellow, he had only an elementary idea as to how to boil an egg and it was very desirable that a capable cook experienced in cooking for hundreds should be engaged without delay.

Last week a Royal Marine Pensioner who had been an army cook for years applied for a job, and as I was very impresed with him I had taken full particulars. He lived in Walmer, near the Royal Marine Barracks, and Halford motored me over to his house to see if I could engage him. So at 9.30 a.m. I knocked at a small house and was shown into his reception room. There was hardly room for one person to stand as it was full of tables, etc., on which were packed doxens of souvenirs from somewhere or other, and photographs of him during various stages of his army career.

To cut a long story short, I engaged him for a week’s trial and he will take over cook duties for lunch tomorrow.

On returning to the Camp I found that the “big-guns” had arrived, that is Messrs. Sir Robert-Waley Cohen, Frank Samuel, Ernest Joseph and son and sundry small fry. It had been decided that lunch would be fried salmon cutlets and stewed fruit. When lunchtime came near I saw that our cook who was under notice had no idea how to fry the cutlets, so without further ado I did them myself and as they were all eaten up by the Refugees they were apparently not too bad.

We (that is the Staff) all made a bachelor dinner in “Jams” Flat for the big and small fry and ourselves consisting of tinned salmon and herrings, cheese and pickles, beer and other odds and ends. As I had to see the Refugees meal I was late and they were all sitting round “freessing”. As I entered Sir Robert and Frank Samuel (the Vice-Presidents of the United Synagogue) said to me “May, this is a far better meal than we get at the United Synagogue”. That will amuse them at the office when they know the meal they get then and what we gave them here.

The Refugees have four excellent carpenters among them and have already done a lot of useful work at the Camp. “Jam” and the visitors left for London, leaving Banks and myself in charge here for a few days. We gave the Refugees money to go to the pictures this evening but they have just returned rather disappointed as they are apparently not open on a Sunday evening in Sandwich.
Monday, 13 February 1939 

Went up to Sandwich with Banks to make various small purchases for the Camp. Was very amused to meet a number of people I had met in Dinner jackets at the Dinner last Thursday, in their everyday garb. They looked very different.
On return to the Camp the new cook had arrived and he cooked an excellent dinner and the Refugees were very pleased.
The ‘News Chronicle’ `phoned and wanted an interview with “Jam". Banks gave them some details they wanted and as they wanted particulars of what recreational activities we were providing he had to hand over the `phone to me to be interviewed. As “Jam” himself is dealing with all press reporters, we told them not to mention our names … no names no pack drill.
In the afternoon we had to make some more ironmongery purchases for the cook and in the hardware shop they had some excellent dart boards and like an excellent schnorrer I told them they ought to give one to the Camp which they did right away – they are worth about 12/6d.
In the evening, as no more Refugees had arrived I gave the men money to go to the local cinema. They told me, when they came back, the 6d. seats were all full but the manager of the cinema noticing they were Refugees gave instructions that they were to be shown to the best seats for their six pence. This was a very kindly act and they were much touched by this friendly gesture.
Banks who like his Double Scotch at about 9.45 suggested a “Quick One” at the Bell Hotel, which we had and returned before the Refugees. While they were there we spent 3 hours discussing Camp plans with Marmarek whom we have now rechristened Marmalade.

Timeline

14 February 1939

Germany launches the battleship Bismarck

Tuesday, 14 February 1939

The day commence with varying rumours that were confirmed, and then altered, and cancelled and afterwards confrmed by `phone from London that a further 20 Refugees were on the way. An amusing and amazing letter arrived from a man aged 68, offering to marry a Refugee for £25, and commission, providing a legal document was drawn up that whoever he married would have no calls upon him whatever. The letter is a classic and unbelievable.

“Jam” arrived back at noon with the welcome news that Ivy was much better and would be coming down on Friday. We spent the afternoon making our office arrangements as all the stationery and office supplies have now arrived. We worked until very late but nothing very eventful happened – not even a solitary Refugee arrived.
Wednesday, 15 February 1939

See first para. of yesterday and it was repeated today. At 6.30 a solitary Refugee arrived. He had flown over from Berlin spending his last 10/- on the journey to the Camp. A shabbily dressed miserable looking tramp who called to see “Jam” was the reporter of the local rag. The few Refugees here at present are excellent fellows.
Thursday, 16 February 1939

Phone call this morning to say that the odd 20 Refugees are coming tomorrow – as tomorrow never comes, may be it will be the same with them.

An american Gentleman, a Quaker, Mr Baldesten who is going to Germany to expidite the emigration of the Refugees and is eventually going to form a similar Camp to this in america spent the morning with us and had lunch. “Jam” being unable to fetch Ivy, who has been delayed in coming here owing to illness, asked me to go to Kenton and bring her and the Nurse and children down tomorrow. Ivy will spend the first week at the Hotel.

The weather has been wonderful this week, today almost like a summer day.
Friday, 17 February 1939

Bowman Brothers two vans arrived at 8 a.m., and quickly loaded the furniture from “The Maize” one van to take the furniture for “Jams” flat at the Kitchener Camp and the other to take it into store. 

A 1923 Rolls Royce arrived at 10 a.m., and into it was packed Ivy, the two babies, 2 nurses, one for Ivy and one for the nurse and the maid. I went in front with the driver. We left at 10.30 and arrived at 1.45 at the Bell Hotel where we all had lunch. Ivy was better the moment she arrived.

After lunch I went over to the Camp and was pleased to learn no Refugees had arrived during my absence. At 7 p.m. 18 more Refugees came, looking very forlorn and downcast. They had a meal at once of fried fish which was waiting for them and after having had the necessary particulars of each man, I showed them all how to make an English bed and before they retired I am sure I made some more very good friends and they were all in good humour before they went to sleep. They are mostly carpenters and bricklayers.
Richborough transit camp, Some Victims, 1939 - Writing letters home
Kitchener camp, Some Victims of the Nazi Terror, 1939 - Writing letters home
Saturday, 18 February 1939

Our new friends soon got to work but some looked very German as they wore the German peaked “Chauffeus” Cap [diagram] with their dungarees. Some of them are on the fat side and I shall have to order a stock of much “wider” sizes. I spent most of the day getting my recreational activities organised and have arranged a ping-pong and chess tournament for this evening.

Mr Joseph went carefully into, and fully approved of my plans for the Recreation Building and is ordering everything I want. This is excellent. I received several packets of magazines and books and we already have a good library. As I write games of table tennis, chess, darts and Russian billiards are going on, while others read magazines or write the long, long letters that the German folk always write home.
Kitchener camp, Some Victims, 1939 - billiards
Kitchener camp, Some Victims of the Nazi Terror, 1939 - billiards
Sunday, 19 February 1939

After some considerable “consideration” Mr Banks and my sleeping accommodation was approved by Mr Joseph. Our pet Refugee accountant, whose name is Mr Sonnenberg but whom we affectionately call Sonny Boy (he is 58) had his wife to lunch and he was very happy as we invited him to the staff table.

I spent a large part of the day going through some large parcels and cases of books which had been sent to us by two or three kind-hearted souls. Two lots of books sent in Lyons Kosher Tea-Chests contained an amazing collection of rubbish, including dozens of Guides to German cities and places of interest – have you ever heard of sending such things for the amusement of people who have been turned out of that very country.

It also contained several French novels of a very doubtful nature and D.S. Woolf and Mr Ernest Joseph’s son who both read French were very anxious to be elected Camp censor! The cream of the whole collection of books sent to this Camp of 3,500 Refugees – males – was a German version of “When a Baby Comes”. Nearly all the books so far received have been German.

Ivy and the children are going to sleep their first night in Camp tonight. I was invited to supper by Ivy and feeling very tired decided to retire at 9 p.m. and not to get up until I had slept my tiredness off.

Amongst the other things we did today was to set light to the long grass and as the wind was in the right direction we had a beautiful heath fire which will save no end of cutting.


[Editor's note: Looking at the 1939 Register, 'Sonny boy' is almost certainly a reference to Edgar Sonneberg, born 18 January 1886; in his country of origin he was married and a bank manager]

Timeline

20 February 1939

Council for German Jewry, Minutes, 20th February 1939

Dovercourt Boys

"Sir Robert Whaley Cohen reported that there was likely to be some delay in getting some of the people from Germany for the camp, and said that he would like to take up to 100 boys, over the age of 16, from the Dovercourt Camp; this was agreed".

Monday, 20 February 1939

Slept out my tiredness by not rising until 7 a.m.

Spent the morning in preparing various forms in connection with recreational activities. Motored over in afternoon with Banks to Dover to inspect Gymnasium outfit which a lady there offered us for £10. On inspection we found that the only attractive thing there was the pretty hairdresser who showed us over. We decided to write and ask the good lady how much she would pay us to take it away. It was a glorious afternoon and the drive from Dover to Sandwich is very beautiful. We passed some huntsmen returning from a Hunt.

We got the Radio working properly for the Refugees this evening and they enjoyed it very much. They had their first English lessons also and showed extraordinary interest and keenness.

I had written to the Illustrated London News and sketch for some back numbers and their representative called during the afternoon and brought a big bundle of Sketches, Tatlers, Spheres and Illustrated London News and said we had only to let him know and we could have more.
Tuesday, 21 February 1939

Another day but still no news of any large numbers arriving. It is really very annoying as we are now all ready to receive a large number. Spent the day in preparing the first number of the “Kitchener Camp Review” which I hope to publish on 1st March. I also made a careful survey of all the ground available for Football and Tennisquoits and prepared a plan of it.

Ivy drove us over to Deal to make a few purchases – it is only a twelve-minute drive from here. When we returned we found a lot more sports material, i.e., boxing gloves, punch-ball, etc. had arrived. Also a Jewish family from Dover who offered us a Sefer Torah and some Strand Magazines. The recreational activities went on exceptionally well this evening; everything going with a swing.

Timeline

21 February 1939

In Germany, all Jews must now turn in gold, silver, and other valuables to the state without compensation.

Source: USHMM - Anti-semitic legislation, 1933–1939

Wednesday, 22 February 1939

The weather made a change for the worse last night for it has been almost perfect since I have been down here. It was exceedingly cold, with a severe wind which played havoc with the fires and filled all the rooms with smoke. Evidently the stoves are only made to withstand winds from certain directions. The wind dropped later and with it came the rain. Spent a most enjoyable afternoon unpacking and checking the contents of some crates which have accumulated.

Believe it or not another Refugee arrived during the afternoon. He speaks English quite well having been in England for some time. In the course of conversation he told me he had been in the film business in Germany and is going in six months time to the Universal Studios in America. He, in Germany, made the German versions of English and American films such as Henry VIII and explained some of the difficulties they have in making the German words synchronise with the English mouth movements of the actors.
Thursday, 23 February 1939

Spent the whole morning checking boiler suits and getting bedding and equipment ready for twenty more men we are expecting this evening.

The Refugees who were here have been asked to sign a document that the committee was to be financially responsible for any injury they might receive while in the Camp. Some of them did not wish to sign so that after dinner, Banks, Jonas and two interpreters explained to them that if they did not put explicit trust in the good faith of the English people it was no good their remaining in the Camp. They all signed.

The youngest Refugee – a youth named Walter Hensch – had his 16th birthday today so Ivy, Jonas and I subscribed a sum and got the baker to make him a large birthday cake with “all good wishes to Walter” written on.

It had 16 candles and was cut so that everybody had a piece including 19 new Refugees who arrived.

It was pathetic to see how the old Refugees who are already here welcomed their friends to the Camp.

All Refugees took up their quarters in the first hut just completed.

The new Refugees are already happy and seem to be nice fellows.
Kitchener camp, Some Victims of the Nazi Terror - Boiler suits
Kitchener camp, Some Victims of the Nazi Terror - Boiler suits
Friday, 24 February 1939

A very busy day, checking various goods that had arrived. During the day the Keystone Press Photographers came to take various pictures of the Refugees.

Some of the pictures they “snapped” were very amusing in the taking and should come out very well. The most humorous was one of the tallest Refugee, a charming fellow 6’4” in height, playing darts with the smallest and youngest member. During the afternoon the Camp Refugee doctor arrived. He is the right type and an excellent fellow. Later, a further batch of Refugees arrived who had been sent down from London and who had been supported by Woburn House. We shall be sleeping 60 Refugees tonight.

As we now have some orthodox Jews in Camp and have started a special kosher table, I arranged a proper Friday evening service in my office. One of them has a really pleasant voice and rendered the service far better than most Chazanim could. We had candles which Ivy lit and blessed and after the service kiddush. I had covered my desk with a white tablecloth, with the candles burning in brass candlesticks. There were two loaves and I think it made the atmosphere very pleasant for us all. One of the Refugees handed me two beautiful silver candlesticks which he said he would like to lend to the “Synagogue”.
Saturday, 25 February 1939

Immediately after breakfast the orthodox Refugees came into my converted office, the temporary Synagogue for Sabbath morning service. Fortunately I had brought to Camp with me the little Sepher Torah that Rev. Stoloff gave me on my barmitzvah, and our Chazan was able to read from it and so we were able to read from the Law on our first Sabbath Service.

“Jam” gave a five-minute “sermon” in which, at my suggestion, he explained to the orthodox Refugees that for the first few weeks they should look on any work they may have to do on the Sabbath as a mitzvah, as by helping to hurry up to get the Camp ready it might mean the saving of human lives, which is the only cause which makes the working on Sabbath allowable. The sermon was translated by an interpreter into German so that they could all understand. After the service even the most ultra-orthodox was working in their dungarees helping to get the place ready.

 An amusing incident happened in the afternoon. Somebody had hurt themselves and the doctor had asked me to try and find some vaseline. I went to Ivy’s flat and while she was looking for it I was playing with David in the passage when Mr Ernest Joseph arrived and Sir Robert came out of a room. Mr Joseph said, “I see the Sports and Recreations Officer is being kept busy”. During the afternoon Mr Joseph said that as Mr Frank Samuel had thought one or two of the sports requirements I had ordered were extravagant, he would give anything I wanted himself – I had only to let him have the list. The funny thing is that Mr Samuel had sent the Tennis-quoit rings without a word but he thought the net, the cheapest part of the game, an extravagance.

I arranged the first Camp Sing-Song this evening. It lasted an hour. I put the chair in a large circle round one of the fires. Some of the Refugees have lovely voices and it was a far greater success than I ever anticipated. The doctor has a really magnificent voice. We still have no piano or other musical instrument – but nevertheless we captured the right atmosphere and everybody enjooyed it. At the end I explained to them the meaning of “God Save the King” and that we must stand to attention when we sing it and remove our hats. They then sang it and I have never heard it with much more feeling.
Sunday, 26 February 1939

After a very wet day yesterday we awoke to find the most glorious spring day had arrived. The weather all day was absolutely perfect. It was arranged that the Refugees should have the afternoon off and that we should divide up into parties and take them out for a “ramble”. Though the way they all “poshed” themselves up and put on their Sunday best with great coats was very far from the English Hiking dress.

Some of them were taken for car rides and there were four cars in Camp this weekend. I took a party of 16 into Sandwich and showed them around the village. One of them had brought the post with him to post in the village and he was surprised that after my having a chat with a policeman who pointed out the places of interest and suggested a nice walk, offered to post the letters for us. The Refugees just could not understand a policeman being as friendly as all that.

We walked over to the famous Sandwich Golf Course where the Duke of Windsor used to play, towards the sea, and it proved a delightful walk.

On the way back, the Refugee doctor, a charming Italian, said he was sure there must be a short cut back to the Camp as we could see it from where we were, but I knew a river divided us, but after a long exploration by the winding river bank, by which ran a railway track which was overgrown with grass and could not have been used since the war, we retraced our steps and met “Jam” in the village and it appeared that he had led a similar ramble and had actually reached the sea.

We had a gramophone concert in the evening and then a staff meeting in “Jams” flat which lasted until 11.30.

Each Refugee received 6d. this evening and they will all in future receive this amount as pocket money each week, in addition to the daily ration of chocolate or cigarettes which they receive from me each day. All were delighted with the amount with the exception of one man who has all along been discontented as he considers himself a much better craftsman than the others and thinks that he should therefore receive much better treatment.
Monday, 27 February 1939

The staff sent a joint telegram to Ivy and “Jam” on the occasion of their birthdays and the craftsmen called them over at supper time and they presented them with an extraordinarily clever sign – like an Inn sign that they had been working on all night. It was cut out in wood and metal and coloured something like this sketch

[sketch with inscription ‘MAY GOD BLESS YOU BOTH AT KITCHENER CAMP’]

and also a wooden bowl that had been cut by the master wood craftsman, a fellow who by the way has been somewhat difficult to deal with.

More Refugees arrived in the evening, some who had been maintained by Woburn House.

In the evening I took 33 to the pictures and they had the second-best seats and the Manager shook hands with all of them.
Kitchener camp, Empire cinema, Sandwich 2017
Kitchener camp, Empire cinema, Sandwich 2017
Tuesday, 28 February 1939

We experienced more heavy rains today and the field was a veritable bog heap. We made a determined effort to get out the first number of the “Kitchener Camp Review” by tomorrow, March 1st, and my assistant editor, Mrs Lanhem, was typing away late into the night to try to get it done while a Refugee was running off the sheets on the duplicator. As it was by no means ready, by lights out, we decided to finish it tomorrow morning.

The Refugee who I referred to a few days ago as being a  very charming gentleman and who did the film translation of Henry VIII, has been discovered by the national press, for he is the German ex-officer who helped the British army complete its war records after the war.

Ivy invited the staff to come over to a surprise dinner party for Jonas’ birthday. We were to come over seperately and pretend to have some point to complain to him about, and it was only after he had been worried to distraction that he discovered it was all a joke. We sat eight at the table, and had a most enjoyable dinner.
Wednesday, 1 March 1939

Spent day in completing “Kitchener Camp Review” and copies were ready for distribution at supper time. At 10 a.m. all the Refugees were assembled and J. gave them a short speech round the flag pole, the union Jack was then hoisted for the first time in this Camp.

A report of the proceedings was recorded in the “K.C. Review”.

As I write I hear a flutter of wings and look up to see a bird flying about my ceiling - quite a usual proceeding here.

In the evening organised some boxing.
Richborough camp, Some Victims, 1939
Kitchener camp magazine, Some Victims of the Nazi Terror - Flying the Union Flag
Thursday, 2 March 1939

Before I had time to finish shaving I was informed a heavy lorry load of goods had arrived and got  a heavy gang onto unloading it. I went into Sandwich and interviewed the local postmaster and discussed with him the postal arrangements for the Camp and he was most helpful and is going to give us all the facilities of a military Camp.

A further batch of Refugees arrived during the afternoon and we were all very busy. I was so pressed by many of the Refugees to arrange an English lesson that I gave one myself for an hour and a quarter, and although I say it myself, I think they enjoyed it very much and learnt quite a lot.

As anticipated, I am on the go from very early morning until 10 p.m., when I see them all to bed and switch lights out. They are, however, such a fine lot that they well worth working for.
Friday, 3 March 1939

Surveyed ground with our agricultural expert as to suitability to use it as soon as possible for football. He said that with a team of 8 boys he would have a pitch ready in a week.

During the afternoon 69 boys from the Dovercourt Camp arrived, between the ages of 16-17.

Following a very pleasant Shabbes Service, gave an hour and half lesson in English.


[Editor: Please click on the photograph below to go to the page from which this picture is extracted]
Kitchener camp, service, Leo Rosengarten
Saturday, 4 March 1939

I awoke to find a huge lorry and trailer loaded with cupboards had arrived and the drivers were waiting for help to unload. I got hold of a large batch of our new arrivals and they soon unloaded.

After a well-attended Sabbath Service, gave another English lesson. In the afternoon I arranged our first football match – I was determined to get the boys a game however rough the ground. Our first match therefore consisted of a team made up of Austrians v. Germans. The Germans won – 10 to 3. I understand that there was more kicking of other peoples shins than of the actual ball.

In the evening I made a platform of some tables and after a Purim Service we had our first “Do-as-you-please-contest” and it proved a great success. I did my usual sketching turn.
Sunday, 5 March 1939

Helped with filling in forms containing details of portable property which has been given to each man and checking of bedding. This reminded me of Camp as we found that several men had more than their fair share of blankets. After organising six English lessons and attending a Purim Service and the reading of the Megillah, I gave myself an English lesson.

In the afternoon a few English fellows played football.

During the afternoon a “Canon” from Canterbury called and left a parcel of gifts he had collected.

Amongst an interesting assortment from Golf clubs to pants, was a large number of jig-saw puzzles. In the evening I announced there would be a mystery contest. On a large number of tables I put a box of jig-saw puzzles and set teams of four men each puzzle and offered a prize of a packet of cigarettes to each man in the team which completed the puzzles first. It was really a good success and very amusing to see elderly men fiddling about with the puzzles. In the afternoon the chess tournament commenced and it was also very good and will continue until we have found a champion.
Monday, 6 March 1939

This was a day of conferences and I had no sooner discussed one problem with somebody than somenone else was waiting to see me about something else.

One of the most difficult problems at the moment is to get our new post office running smoothly and this occupied a lot of time.

There is also the question of the arrangement of a proper rota and system of English lessons.

During the morning I had a visit from the librarian of the Kent Country Library, Miss Cook, and as we went into the question of the loan of books from the library, she agreed to lend us without charge 100 books, to be exchanged at first every three months. I am to write her when I am ready to take the first books and to send her a list of the type of book I would like.
Richborough camp, Some Victims, 1939
Kitchener camp magazine, Some Victims of the Nazi Terror - The Post office
Tuesday, 7 March 1939

A very busy day as I did not even have time to have supper. “Jam” was anxious to get the canteen started and so I made all arrangements so that at least a small supply of chocolates, cigarettes, fruit, etc., should be on sale by the evening. Our sales the first evening amounted to 3/2d. (profit about 2/-) and it will be interesting to see how it goes. We also have our first outsider – a local yokel – to teach English and we have offers from other locals to teach English, including a vicar.

A cut above a chilblain festered on my right hand little finger and is very painful and the doctor has elaborately bandaged it.

In the evening I elected our first Recreation Committee and in addition to myself it includes the Camp Rabbi – not orthodox as we know it but very anxious to do everything possible to see that the orthodox have their wishes carried out, a Doctor of Law and an ex-Bank Clerk.

I have given each one a certain section to look after and I think they should do very well. I do not think I mentioned yesterday that a boy of 17 has been detailed to act as my office boy. His first name is Heinz and he is an awfully nice boy and has a fair knowledge of English although some of my requests produce amusing results.
Wednesday, 8 March 1939

One of the Refugees – a boy of 17 – asked during the morning if he could have a private word with me. He is one of the boys who have come from Dovercourt. He was almost in tears and said he came to me because I was a Gentleman (he evidently does not know me very well) and I was the only person who had shown a friendly spirit towards him (I cannot recollect it) and that he felt he could pour out his heart to me.

He had evidently had an affair with a girl at Dovercourt and was deeply in love. He had asked to come to our Camp as he knew he could never have her and thought it best to get away from her. He had been put to peeling potatos and what with his troubled spirit, he was very unhappy. What could I suggest to help him? I gave him a cigarette to calm his nerves and told “Jam” about him who arranged to see him and gave him a job in the office. He is finding out from Dovercourt more about him. He speaks to me in the evening and seems in a very much happier frame of mind. Other Refugees have also asked me if they might unburden their hearts to me (I suppose I look easy) and I of course let them do so, though it was not pleasant when one is unable to do anything very much. But a kindly word does wonders and they are very appreciative.

During the evening there was a torrent of icy cold rain. The canteen sales were nearly doubled.

A heavy blow befell us today. Mrs Lawrence who has been acting as my typist, will be unable to come for some while – it is a great pity as she was so willing and so helpful.
Thursday, 9 March 1939

A very busy day in every way. Heavy deliveries of goods, preparation of special Friday evening Service (the Rabbi is on my staff) and arrangements for proper educational arrangements. A large batch of Refugees arrived in the evening – we are more than 200 now.

I set several men writing something for the “K.C. Review” – it will apparently be just as difficult to get the right type of contribution as it was for the “Advance”.

Arrivals: Max Heinz Nathan

Friday, 10 March 1939

Suffering rather badly from my festered finger.

This Friday evening was an extremely happy one. The Service before supper was attended by nearly half the Camp, and as most of them keep nothing, it was very gratifying.

With Mr and Mrs Van de Zyl, a German Liberal “Rabbi” – equivalent to our friends at Hampstead Synagogue, I arranged a real Friday evening supper, all in the Camp attended and I arranged the table like this

[diagram]

I had ordered proper Cholars and we had benching. As we had fried fish it made the finishing touch. It really made everyone happy. Afterwards we started what we are calling our Friday Evening Circle. Songs are sung, tales are told or readings from books, and refreshments passed round. It was also very enjoyable.
Saturday, 11 March 1939

The day opened with Service followed by English lessons. 

Large numbers went out for walks during the afternoon. 

Mr Ernest Joseph invited all the staff to supper at the Bell Hotel where we spent a very pleasant evening.
Sunday, 12 March 1939

My finger still gives considerable trouble; it is in a very bad way and I have had to put my arm in a sling to prevent it being knocked. A lot of people visited the Camp; this is becoming rather a nuisance to the regulars who have our routine and other duties to perform and yet have to be polite to everybody.

We had a ping-pong tournament between the visitors and the Refugees – needless to say the visitors received a sound thrashing.

In the evening I moved into my new sleeping quarters in the staff hut, where special rooms have been built for Banks and myself.

I overlooked to say that Mr Guy, the Education Officer for Kent, called during the afternoon and said that he had got the names of 80 teachers as volunteers to teach English.

[asterisk to bottom of page and top of following page for remainder of the day’s entry]

I was just fetching a few things from my old sleeping quarters which are being got ready for the builders, when a boy arrived breathless obviously having run at great speed. It was raining, the ground was wet and muddy – he had no boots on – his socks were covered with mud – he could hardly speak for want of breath. Luckily a spare pair of gumboots were just by me and I made him put them on and spotting trouble I indicated to him to lead me to where he had come from. It was of course from a hut the other side of the Camp and it was not difficult the see he had been kicked out of it – when I arrived I found the occupants of his hut some 70 boys (the lot from Dovercourt) standing round a table and making an awful uproar. A middle-aged man from another hut was shouting and fuming at them and to put it bluntly there was a hell of a din. When they saw me they indicated by ‘here's Mr Phineas” as if the Saviour from heavan had come. They started to shout all their troubles at me. I first made them be quiet and told them I would not listen unless they told me as quietly and quickly as possible what was the matter. They did, and apparently some of them had been disrespectful to the older men. I gave them a lecture about an English not doing this and that and other fatherly twaddle which went home, however, for every word was interpreted and I told those who had any complaints to see me in the morning. All being quiet I switched the lights off and got them all to bed. It was a case of “a stitch in time.

[Editor's note: 1939 Register entry - Michael J Banks, born 30 October 1906, single, Assistant Camp Director At Refugee Camp Rich Boroughs]

Tuesday, 14 March 1939

Up to my eyes in work.

Large delivery of goods, preparation of next issue of the magazine, class arrangements for the 18 teachers and supervision and arrangement of classes when they come. Interviews with people offering to entertain; purchases and arrangements for the canteen. Now all matters of daily routine commencing at 6.30 a.m. and not stopping until lights out at 10 p.m., except a hurried meal which I have hardly time to take. Yet notwithstanding all the time very happy.

Timeline

14-15 March 1939

Under pressure from Germany, Slovaks form an independent Slovak Republic.

The German government moves to occupy the rest of Czechoslovak Republic, in violation of the Munich agreement of September 1938.

They form Protektorat Böhmen und Mähren a Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.

Wednesday, 15 March 1939

A day of depression already round owing to the news regarding Slovakia; and rumours which were not allayed with the 6 p.m. news that all German frontiers had been closed.

English lessons went full swing and in the evening some members of the local Toc H, including a somewhat soft vicar, came and chatted and played with the men in the evening, which both sides enjoyed very much.

The “Kitchener Camp Review” is a much bigger task than a similar publication elsewhere, as all articles require so much editing. I have had to devote more time than I can really spare to its preparation.

I also today posted up our new press cuttings book with all cuttings to date and there is already sufficient reading matter in it to occupy anybody an unreasonable [?] time wading through it.
Thursday, 16 March 1939

Today was notable chiefly for the number of people who called to see me in connection with one thing or another, and the entertainment in the evening.

Amongst the visitors was a Girl Guide Mistress of the very early Christian martyr type and she brought with her some German books and games.

Evidently the Good Lady can have very little knowledge of the German language for I am told that the most enlightened censor could never pass some of the books.

Amongst the English teachers there is one who is rather more than somewhat and it is rather noticeable that while her class is surrounded with eager pupils a Gooseberry who was further down the hall only had the few pupils who I had decoyed away from the other.

In the evening a Mr J. Grant Anderson who had during the week come to see me about giving a drama recital (he is a professional actor) gave his entertainment. He is after the style of Brensby Williams “making up” on the stage. He did extracts from

“Julius Caesar” after the assasination of Caesar”

“The Merchant of Venice” the bargaining scene with Bassanio and Antonio.

Chinese – Po Chene Confuscious “On Being Sixty”

Japanese. Seami Motokyo From the “Ho Drama” “Ebriza.

Wilkins Micawber - Charles Dickens.’

The first were in my opinion the best but the whole thing was so good that he got a wonderful reception.

By way of a little incident I had been successful in finding near here a home for one of the wives of the Refugees, and she arrived today. On my door handles I found four chocolates given with her regards – really a touching incident.
Friday, 17 March 1939

A not very eventfull day. Professor Bondi arrived – he is to be the Seniour Refugee and while he is a charming man to us, can imagine that the other Refugees may have cause not to love him, if he is the type I imagine him to be.

In the evening again staff dinner with the Refugees, each of us taking a separate table. They were very pleased and extended to me a permanent invitation to dine with them at all meals, a thing I would very much like to do, but I am not allowed.

After supper we just gathered round the fire and before very long we got singing various songs and a happy spirit prevailed.
Saturday, 18 March 1939

Mr Ernest Joseph was on the war path today finding fault with everything, and everybody was in an unhappy frame of mind - from the Camp director to the least important Refugee, including yours truly. I suppose he had had a difference of opinion with Mrs Joseph before he came.

Several visitors (darn – their dear hearts) visited the Camp including Sammy Ansell. Two patrols of Boy Scouts came and spent the afternoon playing games and they are going to come regularly and are inviting some of the Refugees over to their “Den”. Amongst the boy scouts was a huge man with an enormous beard – how the men here restrained from laughing I do not know.

In the evening we held our first Parliament. I arranged the room just like the House of Commons and D.S. Woolf acted, as usual, as speaker though he left the Speakers Chair before the end so as to be in time before the locals closed and I acted as Deputy Speaker.

The language spoken was of course German but they spoke English for such terms as “Mr Speaker” or the “Right Hon. Member” and when they were in favour of a motion they said “Hear … Hear” just like that – not together as we say it but after a long pause and it sounded very funny to us at first. It was arranged that the Prime Minister should arrive late, and the Speaker annouces that the P.M. had a momentous announcement to make to the House. In the middle of question time a door opened and in walked a Refugee who I had dressed to look the spit image of Mr Chamberlain (as normally he looks simething like him). He entered amid tumultous cheers with a bulky black despatch case under one arm and (most familiar to all Germans) umbrella in the other.

You will recall that last Saturday, by a coincidence, the Evening papers had across their front pages “Premier Returns to London”. Under his arm he had a copy of that paper. Amidst rapt silence he threw his umbrella on the table and (remember Chamberlain’s speech the night before), said, “I am now going to throw my umbrella down for the sword” … loud laughter. Then fumbling through his papers he brought out the document – all eyes were upon him – looking as solemn as possible – the air was almost electric with anxiety of the statement he was going to make to the House, he said “Mr Speaker after the most earnest consideration the Cabinet has come to the conclusion that the Right Honourable members require Haircuts – for this purpose a Hairdresser will be in Camp tomorrow morning and all who want their hair cut to see Mr Phineas tomorrow morning”.

Not a single word of criticism was offered by the Opposition and after much applause the House proceeded with questions and to consider the Motion before the House. It apparently was very amusing though I naturally could not understand very much. It was also amusing in a way to the English people who attended, to see a typically English institution, such as the House of Commons, carried out in German. It really was a great success.

Some visitors who were spending the weekend here came back in the evening drunk and kicked up such a noise in our sleeping hut that next morning I gave them such a scathing look that they left the Camp immediately after breakfast. They were the buyers of the firm providing all the goods for the Camp.

[Editor's note: History was to associate Chamberlain above all else with his appeasement of Chancellor Hitler; the umbrella he always carried with him became a symbol of this weakness]
Richborough camp, Some Victims, 1939
Kitchener camp magazine, Some Victims of the Nazi Terror - Camp Barber
Sunday, 19 March 1939

A meeting of the staff was summoned for this morning and discipline is going to be tightened up. The Education Officer for Kent and his Secretary (easy on the eye) called to see me and we went again thoroughly into the question of education and worked out all arrangements. This is complicated because lessons have to fit in with all the other arrangements and arrangements also have to be made for the teachers who come from all over Kent.

During the day one of the Refugees asked to speak to me privately and said Professor Bondi was upsetting everybody and shouting at them in a way that no Englishman would. During the evening the doctor also came to me with a similar complaint – I suppose in return for the complaints I have gone to him about. Of course the matter has nothing to do with me as the Professor is very charming to me.

The Refugees who are leaving the Camp tomorrow having got trainee jobs, came and expressed most touchingly their appreciation of the kindness I have shown them – they are really all very appreciative of individual kindness, even if some are inclined to look at the Camp and take it as a matter of course for which they have not to be grateful.

In Sandwich today I am informed that the Fascists have put up notices “A GERMAN IS WORTH TWO ENGLISHMEN” – a very subtly worded notice.

Prepared programmes for the week and poster and various routine duties.
Monday, 20 March 1939

Arranged a meeting to discuss all details for Seder Night and Passover arrangements and think everything should be alright. The trouble is that it is very difficult to be able to settle down and concentrate on anything for any length of time.

What with arrangements for lessons, running the canteen, issuing free supplies, preparing programmes for weekend fixtures, looking after stores and dealing with goods arriving, preparing accounts, etc., the day has gone before one has really settled down to anything.
Tuesday, 21 March 1939

A busy but uneventful day.

I had a wireless installed in my office and now can relay to our music room selected programmes and it will prevent the set being played with as the other one, which is left for anyone who likes to get any station he wishes. This set in my room might well be called “remote control”.

One of the Refugees, a middle aged, received news that his mother had died in Germany. This he heard on the telephone and it was very pathetic to see his grief and how lost and hopeless he felt … In a big place like this it is anyhow difficult to find any spot to get away from everybody, which at such a time one would wish to do.

The “K.C. Review” new issue is getting on nicely and I hope the result will justify the time and effort put into it.
Wednesday, 22 March 1939

The most interesting item today was a visit I made to Richborough Castle to find out if special items could be made for the Refugees to go over it. Ivy drove me over and David and Nurse, I suppose this must have been his first visit round a place of historic interest.

Richborough Castle is reached by a narrow road and when over there came to a level crossing the gates of which were closed. After waiting patiently for the train to pass that did not, Ivy espied a notice which read “Please Ring the Bell”. That done, 2 Railway men came out of a hut and proceeded labourly to open the gate which could have been better opened by David himself.

The road runs towards the castle which was built flat on top of a hill. From the grounds of the castle which are beautifully laid out, a wonderful view of our Camp is obtained. Richborough Castle is scheduled as an Ancient Monument and is maintained by the Office of Works, Whitehall, to whom I will have to write for special terms.

It is of course hundreds of years old and only a few walls are standing, though the foundations of the other walls indicate the complete plan of the castle.

It must have be an immense place, the construction of the walls is in itself interesting.

We explored the underground passages and I should think that it must be one of the finest unintended air-raid shelters in these parts. David was much intrigued.

The Curator said that if we would like he would give his descriptive talk about the Castle but it would take three hours. We said that we appreciated his kindness but we had to get back to the Camp early – it was a good excuse anyhow. The moats [###] rows are all preserved. It is certainly worth a visit if one is in the neighbourhood and one has a little imagination to conjure up the past.

The canteen is proving a profitable thing and when proper accommodation is available and we have large numbers here, it will be a very big proposition.

Thursday, 23 March 1939

Much in touch today with “Burgomasters” and “Deputy Burgomasters” of surrounding towns. They have a few very good footballers here and they are in great demand by the local teams – amateurs of course. But the signing on of a player is apparently a very serious business and the fact that one of our goalkeepers has signed in the Ramsgate team has reached the press and he has suddenly found himself much in demand.

I have started a sketching club and one of the teachers of English who is an art mistress is coming on Sunday at 3 o’clock and we shall have our first programme prepared. We have some good talent here. I managed to get a rather successful sketch of Professor Bondi last night so I have gone up in the estimation of the other club members.

Marvellous Jewish Organisation from London – two coach loads of Refugees arrived one a short time after the other – one coach contained five and the other six Refugees … but they are only spending public money.

Among the arrivals was a Professional pianist who we think will have to convert from the piano keys to the typewriter. As he is nearly 50 and already asked to sleep in the staff hut, we do not think he will stay very long. Another was a Riding Master so we are going to buy him a second-hand bicycle or alternatively we shall sit him astride “Mary”, our carthorse at the gates “on Guard”.

In the evening the lights keep fading every few minutes which was very tiring and a great strain on the eyes.
Friday, 24 March 1939

Kept appointment at the private residence of the “Burgomaster” of Sandwich – a retired Col., you know what I mean – what ho. Banks came with me. We discussed A.R.P. in connection with the Camp – and as the population of the Camp will be nearly as large as Sandwich, have got to discuss the whole thing again with higher authorities.

Orders had been issued during the weekend that ordinary work and working hours would be in force every Sunday morning until further notice. A deputation of hut leaders had approached “J” with a “protest”. So “J” in a very good speech reminded them all that though they were fortunate enough to be in the Kitchener Camp, thousands of German Jews were waiting to come here and it would indeed be very selfish of them to wish for a free day when so much work was waiting to be done to complete the Camp. The “rebuke” was very well received and they are all willing to work like good boys on Sunday mornings.
Saturday, 25 March 1939

A new programme came in force quite successfully today. It was as follows. 7am to 8.30. Orthodox service. 8.30 to 9. Breakfast. 9 to 9.30 Liberal service with sermon 9.30 to 10.15 Gymnastic by Banks. 10.30 to 12. English Lessons. Afternoon Free.

The Gym. proved a “rolicking” success – Banks was marvellous and even those “who came to scoff remained to play”.

In the evening an Austrian actor who had arrived during the week put on an entertaining show and I think it was quite wonderful.

Two of the footballers had been taken by Ramsgate and Sandwich. To act as goal keepers. The one who had been boasting that he had been a great international footballer let through 7 Goals to nil. The one who had been quiet and modest (and who I had difficulty in getting to play) only let through  1 Goal and his team won 1 to 7 Goals. The unfortunate thing is that the other fellow who had proved a washout had received a lot of publicity in the local and National press as “International Goalkeeper to play for Ramsgate”. I understand that the English team dealt very kindly with him, but he was ragged here unmercifully as they think he has let the name of the Camp down. In the show in the evening (in my opinion not in very good taste) one fellow did a skit of the “great Footballers comedown”.
Sunday, 26 March 1939

Four gentlemen from the Waverley Football club called to see me, and were very kind about the “International Footballer” and I think after I had a long chat with them and shown them round the Camp they went away feeling in a very good frame of mind.

In the afternoon we held our first drawing class and it was very enjoyable.

Also one of the Refugees who is an excellent chess player, played six games simultaneously and won four of them – a very good effort.

We had several visitors down, during the day.
Monday, 27 March 1939

Today the new Kitchens and Dining Rooms came into use and in a day or two all but one of my recreation rooms will be available for the purpose they are intended. 

A large party of youths (with the vicar) came in the evening to play games with our boys; they are called the St George’s Young Men’s Association.

At 10 p.m. 127 more Refugees arrived from Vienna – some of them are musicians and were able to bring over their own instruments and as they would be liable to duty if they were unable to play them, Banks said that they gave a short but excellent concert to enrapt officials of the Customs House. 

During the afternoon amongst the travellers who called to see me was one who said he had been sent by Mr Salmon (Sir Isidore’s son) specially to see me. Actually they were just after an order to mince pie for “Licky-Snacks” which is controlled by J. Lyons.
Tuesday, 28 March 1939

Went to Margate in morning with Ivy to purchase various requirements for the staff dining room.

Had conference re programme for the whole of next Tuesday (Passover) and hope to have a very good one prepared.

Completed the April “K.C. Review” and with Ivy and a few helpers worked until after 10 p.m. to get them ready for distribution.

As my three-month loan from the United Synagogue is up at the end of April “J” had apprached to the Committee as to my continuation here. As the Committee wanted me to be here for a longer period and it was only Sir Robert Waley Cohen who said three months would be long enough, they say that I am to remain in the Camp until the United Synagogue writes for me to return and only then will they take the matter up.

By a coincidence I received a letter today from a friend at the office who wrote “… for your private ear, Sir Robert was in the office one evening and said to Mr Philip Goldbert “our Mr May is doing splendidly at the Camp, you will have to do without him for a long time at the office”.

So that seems as if the U.S. are unlikely to write for my return as of course Sir Robert is the Vice-President.
Wednesday, 29 March 1939

A very tall Viennese Refugee who was a sports organiser has joined my staff and I think he will be very good. Mr Gestetner visited the Camp and has promised to train somebody specially so that we can have the “K.C. Review” much better produced and will send special instrments to reproduce the drawings.

In the evening went to see Mr Burwood who is the Conductor of the Sandwich String Orchestra and took with me six of the new Refugees who had their instruments with them. It was very nice to see them playing side by side with the English players and as they play very well we shall undoubtedly have an excellent orchestra.

Also called in to see Mr Goodman, the proprietor of the Empire Cinema, Sandwich, and he is really an excellent fellow. I told him about the orchestra and when we are ready we will invite them to play in the cinema and raise funds for the Camp in that way.
Thursday, 30 March 1939

Went with Banks to the town hall and in the court room we discussed with the various town officials A.R.P. for the Camp and afterwards went with the Chief of the Fire Brigade to the Fire Station where he showed us the town’s complete fire fighting appliances for air raids.

He was the third generation to be Chief of the Brigade and his grandfather started in 1814.

There are of course no resident firemen but if there is a fire he can press a button which rings a bell in each man’s home. If they then don’t turn up he apparently sends them a postcard.

In the afternoon went with Banks to Dover to meet a party of 12 from Berlin. The Customs Officer treated them with remarkable kindness and hardly bothered about their luggage – only just sufficient to say they had done their job.

A further batch of 108 arrived from Vienna in the evening.
Friday, 31 March 1939

The Chief Rabbi and Rabbi Schonfield visited the Camp (I did not see them). They expressed complete satisfaction with the efforts we had made to do everything possible for Koshrus.

The new road we have made in the middle of the Camp is used by our newcomers as a promenade (it was very fine today) and we are renaming it “the Brighton Front”.

Frances arrived in the evening and went with Ivy to meet her.

At lunch time did large poster for cabaret show tomorrow evening.

After Sabbath service held meeting re show to be given tomorrow evening.

I was approached twice during the evening with the brilliant suggestion to start a Camp newspaper and they were very surprised that it had already been done.

---> Part II