On 10 September 2016, over 800 participants took part in a giant outdoor Pilates class on the site of the WW1 internment camp where German born Joseph Pilates was interned for 3 ½ years from September 1915 until March 1919 at Knockaloe in the Isle of Man.
Knockaloe was the largest WW1 internment camp and was critical to the British Government’s Aliens Policy during the First World War. Internees were moved around between camps but well over 31,000 internees spent part of the WW1 at Knockaloe as well as other far smaller camps.
Charity coordinator, Alison Jones, said "At its peak, Knockaloe held over 23,000 German, Austro-Hungarian and Turkish born “enemy alien” men during World War 1. For most, this experience meant sadness, separated from their wives and children and surrounded by barbed wire, however for others it provided opportunities. Joseph Pilates was one of the internees who utilised his internment as a period of learning and development and his legacy from this time is one of the most far reaching of any of Knockaloe’s internees.”
Saturday’s event sought to recreate an image of a “Turnfest” (Gymnastics festival – see old photo below of a Turnfest by Knockaloe internees held in September 1915) at Knockaloe during WW1, but instead of gymnastics exercises, participants practiced Pilates based exercises at the place where Joseph Pilates was said to have developed so much of his methodology.
Pilates was quoted as seeking inspiration from the Manx cat. In an interview published in Sports Illustrated on 12 February 1962, Robert Wernick’s interview with Joseph Pilates entitled “Learning to be an Animal”, Pilates talks about this inspiration for his methodology called “Contrology”, (now known simply as “Pilates”):
“……..The full principles of Contrology were revealed to him during World War I. His circus was caught traveling in England when the war broke out in 1914, and Joe and all the others were interned ……….. on the Isle of Man. Here, as weeks lengthened into months and years, he watched his fellow-prisoners sink into apathy and despair, with nothing to do but stare at the bare crumbling walls of their prison, nothing to break the daily monotony but the inadequate meals (for the German submarine blockade was slowly starving England) and an occasional walk around the bare courtyard with nothing to look at but an occasional starveling cat streaking after a mouse or a bird.
It was the cats which did it. For though they were nothing but skin and bones - even the most animal-loving prisoners could hardly spare them anything from their own pitiful rations when their own children were begging to be fed - they were lithe and springy and terribly efficient as they aimed for their prey. Why were the cats in such good shape, so bright-eyed, while the humans were growing every day paler, weaker, apathetic creatures ready to give up if they caught a cold or fell down and sprained an ankle? The answer came to Joe when he began carefully observing the cats and analyzing their motions for hours at a time. He saw them, when they had nothing else to do, stretching their legs out, stretching, stretching, keeping their muscles limber, alive. He began working out an orderly series of exercises to stretch the human muscles, all the human muscles……”
Like so many of the internees, after the war ended, Joseph Pilates was repatriated back to his home town in Germany. From here he later emigrated to America and ultimately set up his studio in 8th Avenue New York.
Commenting on Saturday’s event, Alison said “It was such an amazing sight to see the hundreds of people practising Pilates based exercises in in grid formation on Knockaloe’s Camp 4, 100 years after Knockaloe internees had themselves celebrated their “Turnfests” on that same Camp 4 of Knockaloe. The exercises were led by local Pilates instructor, Lizzy Main, with an excellent 45 minute programme aimed at all ages and levels of mobility and, 100 years after an internee military brass band played in Camp 4, our own local Crosby and District Silver Band entertained participants before and after the 45 minute class.”
“The event aimed to be great fun for participants of all ages and levels of mobility, but also to raise awareness of what happened at Knockaloe during WW1. The internment of enemy aliens is a little known story. After the war, families hid the fact that their father or grandfather had been German, and with many records being lost and destroyed during and after WW2, our charity is now trying to recreate that information by reaching out to descendants around the world. We are interested in all WW1 internees, regardless of whether part of their time was spent on the Isle of Man, as internees were moved around to different camps. In March 1919 most internees were forcibly repatriated back to their German, Austrian and Turkish homes. Eventually many returned to their families in Britain, but we also know that a large number of internees eventually took the same path as Pilates, emigrating to America, others remained in Germany and Austria. Sadly a large number succumbed to influenza and never saw their families again. We should love their descendants to contact us and tell us their family’s story, and in turn we may well be able to help them find out more.”
“Joseph Pilates was quoted as wanting to help his fellow internees. Today’s event commemorating his time at Knockaloe seeks to reach out to the descendants of the tens of thousands of his fellow internees. We think…..we hope…..he would have approved.”
If you would like to find out more about the Charity and its Visitors Centre and Database project, about WW1 internment, or about internees such as Joseph Pilates please go to our website www.knockaloe.im. Or contact us directly via email@example.com.
For more information about Joseph Pilates at Knockaloe go to our webpage http://www.knockaloe.im/profile_428812.html.
You can also follow the story of WW1 internment, and the people it affected, both on and off Island, on the Knockaloe charity’s Facebook page knockaloeinternmentcampiom or by using the QR code:
And finally, but most importantly, the Charity would like to thank the wonderful sponsors who helped to make this event possible. The reverse of every T shirt reflected our appreciation as displayed by Charity co-ordinator Rachael Wood who liaised with every one of the 1022 registered participants!
Our lovely sponsors: The reverse of every t shirt thanked our lovely sponsors (photo © www.knockaloe.im) T shirt displayed by Rachael Wood who liaised with every one of the 1022 registered participants!
100 year old postcard incuded in the narrative above: The postcard shows internees putting on a display at a gymnastics festival at Knockaloe, just 15 days after Pilates’ arrival (postcard courtesy of The Mannin Collection).
Photographs of Saturday’s event above and below – Isle of Man residents practicing Pilates based exercises on Knockaloe’s “Camp 4”)
(Photo Credit: Tony Lloyd-Davies http://www.tonylloyd-daviesphotography.im/galleries/pilates-1020-knockaloe-internment-camp-isle-of-man/)