Visitors to Rushen Heritage Centre this month will be transported back to the days of the Rushen Internment Camp during World War II.
‘Friend or Foe?’ is on display at the Heritage Centre in Bridson Street, Port Erin until Saturday, July 29th.
The exhibition tells the story of the only women’s Internment Camp in Europe during World War II and draws from the book Friend or Foe?, which was published in 2018 by Rushen Heritage Trust, which runs the Heritage Centre.
The Internment Camp was opened on 29th May 1940 with the arrival of around 3,000 women, who had been arrested in Britain (300 of whom were pregnant), along with some of their children, put before a tribunal, and ultimately transported to the Island.
The camp boundary initially enclosed the whole of Port Erin and Port St Mary, meaning everyone, including the residents, were effectively interned. The hotel owners and landladies were given instructions to carry out morning roll calls, evening curfews, obtain the weekly food rations, which were dictated by the Home Office, and to report anyone missing to the police.
The internees had a certain amount of freedom – beaches, cinema, holding concerts in the church halls, to travel between Port Erin and Port St Mary under escort, which was provided by The London Met, as WPCs were required and there were no female officers in the Isle of Man police force in 1940.
RHT Director Ali Graham has curated this exhibition and was one of the authors of Friend or Foe?, which is on special offer during the exhibition. Ali’s grandmother ran a guest house on Port St Mary promenade, where internees were housed. She explained:
‘Initially they were all billeted together – Nazi supporters and Jewish refugees – but this was quickly resolved, and they were segregated properly. The lack of contact with family was the biggest cause for anguish, not knowing where sons, and husbands were. Eventually in 1942, husbands and wives billeted in the separate male and female camps in the Isle of Man were reunited in a mixed camp set up on Port St Mary Promenade.
‘After several months, many internees applied for release and if they had an address to go to in the UK, this would help to secure their release. The camp numbers reduced quite quickly, with around 900 in 1943, while 600 internees were repatriated back to Germany in 1944 and the remainder repatriated when the camp closed in 1945.
‘It is a truly fascinating story of a remarkable period in Manx history. The local landladies, hotel and homeowners had their own anguish as their menfolk were away fighting in the various forces and, at the same time as the evacuation at Dunkirk, they were forced to accommodate these internees – hard times indeed. We have staged exhibitions on various aspects of Rushen Internment Camp in the past, and they have always proved incredibly popular. We hope visitors to the Island and locals alike will visit the Heritage Centre this month to see our latest exhibition.’
Run by volunteers, Rushen Heritage Centre features a series of exhibitions each season, acts as a visitor information centre in collaboration with Visit Isle of Man, and sells Rushen Heritage Trust books, greetings cards, and merchandise. It also sells a selection of other maps and books about Rushen.
The Heritage Centre is open 10am-4pm Tuesday to Saturday. Entry is free, with donations always welcome.
For more about Rushen Heritage Centre, contact John Quirk at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 464634.