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Postcards made by British PoWs during the Great War demonstrate the famous British stiff upper lip and keeping calm in a crisis....


Wish you were here? It’s a PoW camp! But we're keeping a stiff upper lip . . .
By Jack Malvern, Arts Reporter



JAUNTY postcards showing off a theatre, a barbershop, teams from a football league and a banjo-led quintet make Ruhleben seem like a holiday camp. But the collection of photographs — to be auctioned by Bonhams this month — were created by the inmates of Lager Ruhleben bei Spandau, a First World War prisoner-of-war camp.

Prisoners who were interned between 1914 and 1918 have spoken of the hardship of camp life and the shortage of food, but the album of 77 postcards shows British refusal to give up their hobbies: gardening, drama, handicrafts and a traditional barbershop shave.

The collection was assembled by George Muffin, who was interned in the camp for the duration of the war.

One card, manufactured in the camp, shows a variety act posing before a 6ft-high playbill advertising that night’s attractions at the “Ruhleben Empire”, including an acrobat, a burlesque show and The Hotel Shuffle, a one-act comedy composed by an inmate. Seats cost between 99 pfennigs for the royal box and ten pfennigs for the pit.

A second postcard shows the theatre entrance with an archway inscribed with scores of productions, often a different show every week. Actors among the 4,000 inmates put on everything from The Pirates of Penzance and The Mikado to a Shakespeare season.

The Ruhleben Follies, a 19-strong clown troupe, are pictured posing for a show entitled Kitty the Telephone Girl, named after a music hall song.

Steve Bloomer, an England footballer imprisoned at the camp, complained after his release that “there were more dinner times than dinners”, but prisoners were able to procure items as varied as a woman’s silk dress for The Merry Wives of Windsor to ten-gallon hats for a cowboys and Indians revue.

Bloomer, a football hero at the time, led one of the teams in a league populated by his England team-mates Fred Pentland and Sam Wolstenholme. John Cameron, a Scotland international and goalscorer for Tottenham Hotspur when his team won the 1901 FA Cup, was also interned.

Two league teams, including the Tea House XI, are pictured in the collection. Group photographs also include a quintet comprising a guitarist, two mandolin players, a banjoist and a ukelele player.

Another card shows a handicrafts exhibition featuring hundreds of carved picture frames alongside models of aircraft. There is also a postcard created to thank the Royal Horticultural Society for sending supplies.

The camp had its own newspapers and magazines, from Prisoners’ Pie to the Daily Daily. They were sold on the camp’s thoroughfares nicknamed Marble Arch, Piccadilly Circus and Bond Street.

The postcard collection, estimated at £400, will be sold in the Bonhams Postcards, Cigarette Cards and Trade Cards of the World sale on March 22.

BRUTAL TIMES



During the First World War the number of reported prisoners of war from the British Empire is thought to be 191,652; about 160,000 of those were believed to be British

Camps were set up in Britain and Germany to intern “enemy nationals”

Tales of brutalities meted out to British prisoners by the Germans prompted anti-German riots on British streets throughout the war

An agreement negotiated through the Red Cross enabled some seriously wounded prisoners to be exchanged