Knockaloe Camp: Paul Cohen-Portheim

Born in Germany to Austrian parents, Paul Cohen-Portheim was visiting friends in Devonshire when war broke out. Stranded in England, he was sent to Knockaloe in the summer of 1915 as an ‘enemy alien’ before being transferred to Wakefield until 1918.

In his book Time Stood Still: My Internment in England 1914-1918, published in 1932, he describes his impressions of Knockaloe on his arrival and first morning.

The chains of light came nearer and nearer… Barbed wire appeared, long, endlessly long stretches of baerbed wire, five or six yards high. And faces and faces behind the wire, thousands of caged animals… At last a gate opened in the barbed wire wall, we entered, one’s feet sank deep into slippery clay. In front of us lay on the left free space, on the right tightly-clustered wooden huts, the whole surrounded by tall barbed wire and arc-lamps. This was called a compound; it held one thousand human animals. Five compounds formed a camp, and this was Camp II. There were five camps altogether I believe. The gate closed behind us. This then, was ‘the second camp,’ there was nothing more to be done but wait for liberation… or else for the end of the Great War.

First impressions are by no means always right but they are frequently decisive… my first impression on seeing Knockaloe Camp in daylight was one of delighted surprise, brought about, no doubt, by the contrast with the scene that had met my eyes the previous morning. Stepping out of the hut I found radiant sunshine, marvellously pure and bracing air, and a panorama of turf clad hills. That is how, in spite of all that was to follow, Knockaloe has remained in my mind…

This is apt to annoy other people a good deal. Knockaloe was considered the most distasteful of all camps, the one where hardships were worst and conditions most unpleasant, that is why I feel apologetic to my fellow-prisoners which I state that I rather liked being there. It is only fair, however, to add that my stay there was short and that we had marvellous summer weather.


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