In the early weeks of the war, the Manchester Courier remarked with some excitement that “an Austrian gentleman of title is interned” in Handforth. It is not clear who exactly this “titled Austrian” was. Nonetheless during its short life as an internment camp, a number of more easily identifiable –fairly prominent – individuals passed through its gates.
One of the first of these prominent internees to enter Handforth was the young Protestant theologian, Gotthilf Vöhringer. Originally from the southern German town of Ebingen not so far from Tübingen, Vöhringer had left his home to work as a missionary in Cameroon in 1912. However, following the outbreak of the First World War, Cameroon, as a German colony, came under British attack. During the British advance, Vöhringer was captured and then transported with other prisoners by sea to Southampton. From there, the prisoners were put on a train direct to Handforth, where they eventually arrived “hungry and chilled to the bone”, as Vöhringer remembered it.
Vöhringer’s internment in Handforth was actually fairly brief. Later in 1915, he was moved to the POW camp in Olympia London. From there, he was eventually granted permission to return to Germany, was released and then repatriated. On returning to Germany, Vöhringer settled in Stuttgart, where he became a prominent theologian and national spokesperson on issues concerning social welfare. Today a vocational school for social and medical education in Wilhelmsdorf is named after Vöhringer.
Following Vöhringer to Handforth was the German-born sculptor, Carl Bernard Bartels. Together with his wife, Bartels had left his Black Forest home for England in the 1880s. Bartels’ most famous work was for the design of the bird figures that still sit atop the Royal Liver Building in Liverpool.
Despite this contribution to the culture of Liverpool, Bartels was interned with all remaining ‘enemy aliens’ in May 1915, following the sinking of the Lusitania. Bartels’ time in Handforth was brief; by the end of the year he had been transferred to the Knockaloe camp on the Isle of Man, from where he saw out the remainder of the war.