Wiltshire's Enemy Aliens
The Second World War has always fascinated me, especially the home front – I’ve always been curious about what life was like for those away from the front lines, particularly outside of the major cities in largely rural places such as Wiltshire. In particular the story of immigrants (called ‘aliens’ at the time) living in these areas has always been a major interest of mine. It’s an often overlooked fact that there was a substantial European population living in Britain by the 1930s – including large and long-standing German, Austrian and Italian communities. There was also a considerable influx of people into the country after 1933 as those persecuted by the Nazis sought shelter here. Some of these people came to live in Wiltshire: by mid-1942, in addition to the wider immigrant population there were more than 200 people with official refugee status living in the county, about 75% of whom were German. When Britain went to war with Germany these people automatically became “enemy aliens”, and I wanted to find out more about what happened to them after this. I was surprised to discover that there was a suspected German Nazi party official living in Salisbury!
As the possibility of a major European conflict grew towards the end of the 1930s the government became increasingly concerned about the number of people living in Britain from potentially hostile nations, particularly Germany and Austria. These people fell under suspicion as potential spies and saboteurs and the government, particularly the Home Office and MI5, reacted by putting into place plans to arrest and imprison suspect enemy aliens should war break out, a process known as internment. Initially only those who the security services felt were a threat to national security were interned. In practice this was generally limited to those who were members of German political organisations, as there was serious concern that these people might help any German invasion. For example, pictured is the MI5 file card for Rudolf Habla, a Czechoslovakian living in Chippenham, indicating that he was a member of the Deutsch Arbeitsfront (German Labour Front) and as such was wanted as a potential saboteur.
Whilst MI5 drew up the lists of potential suspects, it was left to local police forces to locate and arrest these people, and in Wiltshire the process was no different. We are lucky enough to have the records of Wiltshire Constabulary here at the History Centre and these contain many references to the arrest and internment of Wiltshire’s enemy aliens. These documents tell the story of the internment process during the war, not just for Wiltshire but for the country as a whole.
The number of enemy aliens in Wiltshire at the outbreak of war was relatively small, but there were nevertheless a few who had come to the attention of the security services. One such person was Alfred Gustav Kampf, a German who had come to Britain in late 1932 and who was living in Farley, near Salisbury. Kampf first came to the attention of the authorities towards the end of 1938 as he was believed to be an official of the Nazi party (NSDAP), and his was the only name included on an MI5 list of Germans living in Wiltshire who were to be arrested should hostilities break out between Britain and Germany. Kampf was arrested during the night of 1st/2nd September on the telegrammed instructions of the head of MI5. In common with other such raids, the police were instructed to forward to MI5 anything suspicious found amongst aliens’ belongings. The police drew MI5’s attention to Kampf’s collection of model war ships, saying “it was a hobby of Kampf’s to make models of ships which he sailed on a pond in his garden”. No other ‘evidence’ of espionage appears to have been found. It says a lot about the nervous mood in Britain at the time that playing with model boats was taken as a sign of possible treachery! After his arrest Kampf was taken to Winchester Prison, where he was interned.
After this initial phase of arrests, most aliens were sent before tribunals to determine whether they were enough of a threat to be interned. These tribunals divided German and Austrian enemy aliens into three categories: A, B and C. The vast majority of those assessed were placed in Category C – no security risk. Around 6,500 enemy aliens were placed in Category B, or “doubtful loyalty”: they were free from internment but were placed under restrictions as to where they could live and work. Less than 600 out of a total German and Austrian population of over 71,000 were given Category A status (high threat) and formally interned, and it is possible that Kampf, as a suspected NSDAP official, fell into this category. It’s not clear what happened to Kampf between his arrest and the end of the war, however the National Archives hold a naturalisation certificate for an Alfred Gustav Kampf of Salisbury, dated July 1946, and so we do at least know that Kampf was able to remain here after the war ended – perhaps he was not felt to be a threat after all.
The relatively small number of people interned in this early period shows Britain’s nervous but relatively upbeat mood this early in the war: the “phoney war” was in full swing and the threat posed by the general German population was felt to be very low, therefore only those who were a deemed a direct threat, like Kampf, were arrested. This was to change dramatically after the failure of the Norwegian Campaign and the German invasion of France and the Low Countries in April-May 1940, after which all enemy aliens in Britain, including those in Category C, were rounded up and imprisoned. In Wiltshire this so-called “May Madness” would lead to the mass laying-off and internment of all Italian men in the county.
Tom Plant, Community History Advisor