In 1914 1,500 Royal Naval sailors of the 1st Royal Naval Brigade marched into Holland and internment rather than be captured by the Germans. The Dutch set up a large internment camp at Groningen with barrack huts, recreation facilities and a parade ground in accordance with international law. These men were to spend the rest of the war on neutral territory as effective prisoners and was quickly nicknamed ‘HMS Timbertown’ by the sailors imprisoned there. To help keep off boredom various activities and schemes of work were set up for the men including language lessons, theatre shows and sports. Even with all this there was a need for more distraction and various forms of paid employment were offered, earning the men between 10 and 50 extra cents a day. One of the most popular was carpentry and eighty men were involved in making small trinkets such as photo frames and jewellery boxes. These were sold in the UK to raise funds for books, instruments and other goods for the internment camp with many being retailed through large department stores. It is one of these jewellery boxes, made by internees at Groningen that we are looking at tonight:The box is made from a honey coloured wood and despite suffering damage over the last hundred years was clearly very competently made, with neat dovetails at each corner as one would expect from something that was to be sold in a posh department store like Selfridges:The inside of the box has a green padded silk liner:What is of particular interest though is the markings on the top of the box:As well as the initials ‘AB’ in one corner, there is a large naval crest with the legend ‘1st Royal Naval Brigade’ in the centre of the lid:Originally the box would have had a paper label pasted to the bottom indicating it had been made by an internee at Groningen, sadly this has become lost over the years so my thanks go to Nathan Phillip and Taff Gillingham for identifying the origins of this fascinating piece.
The British internees were to spend the rest of the war in Holland and although it was often boring, they probably got off lightly compared to the horrors suffered by many during the conflict as the Dutch treated them extremely well and they were afforded a lot of freedom despite their internee status- even being allowed to visit the local pub and marry local Dutch girls.