Soldiers Arrested for Having German Surnames

Soldiers Arrested for Having German Surnames

Friday, November 6, 1914

Camp Salisbury Plain, West Down South

The Battalion War Diarist wrote for this day: “Training.” The original diary also contains these remarks:  “Drill.  Pte. W. Gould posted as a deserter.”  [1]

06 Nov 14THIS DAY IN RMR HISTORY:  There was a sensation in the Canadian camp to-day when orders came from the War Office that every Canadian volunteer with a German name was to be placed under arrest and examined.  Practically every unit in the contingent was affected, and tonight scores of men with German names had been apprehended and taken to headquarters, where they now await the next move of the authorities.  It is probable that they will be taken to a concentration camp.

The unfortunate feature of the whole affair is that there are many among the prisoners who fought with the British in South Africa and in other parts of the world, who are just as loyal to the King as any man in uniform.  There are several in the company who had medals pinned on their breasts by the late Queen Victoria, and one of these wept bitterly when he was taken from the ranks.  He had given up a good position on Canada to come and fight for the mother country.  There are several such cases.

The authorities realize that many innocent men are suffering as a result of the order, but the feeling is that Britain has been taking too many chances, and that the discovery of German spies in every part of the country and in every community shows that too much caution cannot be exercised, and, while every official realizes that perfectly innocent men have been detained, the arrests of all with German names were made on the principle that “It is better to be safe than sorry.”  Some of the men arrested have good British surnames, but are the unfortunate possessors of a German Christian name.

Shortly before the War Office order was received, there was considerable excitement in the Ontario camp over the arrest of a young man from Galt, Ontario, on suspicion of being a spy.  He was taken to headquarters, where he will be questioned.

Information received subsequent to this letter shows that most of the Canadians put under arrest were speedily released.  In fact, as far as is now known, suspicions that any of them were spies were not confirmed.  A number of “Misfits” have been turned out of the ranks and returned to Canada, but their offences were infractions of regulations, drunkenness, etc.”  [3]

[1] War Diary, 14th Canadian Battalion, The Royal Montreal Regiment, Nov 6, 1914.  Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa,
[2] Wm. Marchington Staff Correspondent of The Globe, “German Names The Cause Of Arrests: Sensational Order Had a Disquieting Effect in Canadian Camp,“ The Globe (1844-1936), Toronto, Ontario, November 24,1914: pg. 4, col.3.
[3]  Ibid

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