Wood & Stone - Internee Woodwork
In 1914, as the German army was advancing through Belgium and the BEF was hastily despatched to the continent to support the Belgians, High Command knew that Antwerp was critical to retain the Belgian coastline and ports. Thus men of the Royal Naval Division were sent to Antwerp to aid the defence. When Antwerp fell, in the face of the massive German army, 1,500 Royal Naval Brigade men retreated northwards and, rather than be taken prisoner by the Germans, crossed the border into neutral Holland. In order to retain Holland’s neutrality, the men were then interned and could not be sent back to Britain.
A camp was set up at Groningen and the men remained there for the duration of the war. Workshops were set up and a large amount of wooden items were made, often with painted decoration, but sometimes carved as well.
As you can see, this was almost industrial in organisation – earlier pieces have hand-written labels usually naming the individual who made the item, but by later in the war this had given way to a truly commercial operation. The items were sold in Selfridges in London with the money generated from this business supplemented the cost of maintaining, feeding and entertaining the internees.