First POWs

During Handforth’s first year, when it served mainly as a camp for civilian prisoners, it also housed a smaller number of military prisoners. At first, most of these prisoners were German sailors, captured from a variety of naval vessels sunk in skirmishes with the British. In August 1914, for example, the German light cruiser, SMS Mainz, was hit during the Battle of Helgoland Bight. 89 of the ship’s crew of 437 were killed. Those rescued ended up in British POW camps, including in Handforth. One of the survivors from the Mainz was Edmund Selunka, a 22-year-old seaman who had been rescued after floating from the wreckage on a piece of wood. The British eventually transported Selunka to Handforth, where he saw out the remainder of the war, acting in the camp theatre and active in the prisoners’ sports clubs.

 

Selunka
Edmund Selunka and fellow POWs in Handforth

 

The SMS Emden, which was badly damaged in the Indian Ocean in November 1914, brought another large batch of German naval prisoners to Handforth. The Manchester Evening News reported that the arrival of all the surviving officers and men from the Emden created “great interest” locally. Another important cohort of military prisoners came from the German cruiser, the SMS Blücher, which was sunk during the Battle of Dogger Bank in January 1915. Only around 200 men survived of the Blücher’s original crew of over 1,000. The survivors arrived at Handforth dressed in civilian clothes after their military uniforms had been damaged during the sinking. Their stay in Handforth, however, proved to be a brief one as they were sent to the Isle of Man in March. Before leaving, though, they had time to pen a letter of thanks to the crew of the King Edward VII who had plucked some of them from the sea. “Now we are at Handforth Camp”, they wrote. “We have enough to eat, plenty of light and air, but very little to smoke…”

SMS_Bluecher
SMS Bluecher (public domain image)

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