The Archive & Database

The Charity is the custodian of an extensive and ever-growing collection of artefacts and ephemera owned by or donated to the Charity, or on loan from both descendants, collectors or other archives. This extensive collection forms part of the huge digital archive and database collating the experiences of all enemy aliens interned anywhere in the British Isles during WW1 that is the Charity’s main focus.

The Charity is continually working on its collation which originally sought to reinstate the lost Knockaloe Camp records, however this aim ultimately developed into the Charity’s World War I Internee Database incorporating all of the tens of thousands of enemy aliens who were interned in WWI, the vast majority of which spent some (or all) of their time at the Isle of Man Internment Camps: both at Douglas camp (Cunningham's Holiday Camp) and at the largest WWI Internment Camp, Knockaloe Camp, where over 31,000 spent some time during the course of the war.

The Database incorporates information from a wide range of sources which remain today, including our own extensive collections, the collections and information held within Archives around the world, those held in private collections, and by reaching out via the internet to the internee descendants around the globe, 100 years later.

We are actively encouraging descendants to contact us on info@knockaloe.im with any information they may have about their family. The information descendants provide is brought into the database (if preferred it can be held privately and just for our reference or available for other visitors to the Centre to view) but is often invaluable in helping other descendants to find out more. With the Charity’s ever growing own collection of letters and other items, and access to information from a huge range of sources, the Centre enables descendants to see just what information there is about their relative, by providing a central resource collating the experience of civilian internment of enemy aliens in the British Isles in WW1.

This is not just a story of the internees themselves, and our aim is to collate the human stories behind the internees, guards and islanders who were living and working in our village just over 100 years ago, as well as the stories of their families leading up to and after this incredible period in history. The Database and Archive seek to bring this information together in one place so that we can help people to understand so much more about their families at this time, as well as to help those descendants whose internee ancestor may have been repatriated and, as with so many, never seen again by the family resulting in them having very little information or knowledge of this part of their family history.

So many people have so generously shared their family information with us and it is so important that we collate these oral stories and documentary evidence now as detail and evidence of these experiences so easily get lost or cease to have such relevance as each generation passes. We would like to thank those who have shared or donated their stories, ephemera and artefacts with us. All of which are collated and curated with care to remain of relevance into the future for the many generations to come.

The detailed database information is not online nor monetised in any way.  This ensures that other archives, collectors and descendents are able to trust that their information shared with us will be held safely and for a common good. It is free for descendants to search at the Centre or we are delighted to assist with research and proivde such information about their internee by email. Reuse of information supplied by the Charity in any public format or to people outside descendants’ families requires specific permission from the Charity so we can ensure that at all times we all respect the wishes of and/or appropriately reference those so kindly sharing their information/archives/collections with us.

This is far from a story just of Knockaloe, or the Isle of Man. As time progressed and descendants shared their stories, we started to realise that internees moved around and spent time in many camps, and that one family’s story may involve one brother in Alexandra Palace Internment Camp and another at Knockaloe. We realised that, whilst Knockaloe held up to 23,000 internees at its peak, many thousands more spent time there as they moved from other camps, many of which had been temporary camps, or later used as solely military camps such as Stobs Internment Camp in Scotland and Handforth Internment Camp near Manchester, or as part of the logistical movement of internees for various reasons such as into and out of the privilege camps such as Douglas Internment Camp on the Isle of Man and Lofthouse Park (Wakefield) Internment Camp. We realised that we needed to be methodical and thorough and painstakingly incorporate all of the civilian internees interned in the British Isles to provide a central point of reference for descendants.

This collation process will always be ongoing, but with so many internees listed, our work now focusses on adding the records from archives and private collections from all over the world to piece together an individual internee’s movements and experiences. We are so grateful to the archives and collectors who have given us specific permission to collate this information. Because we are a Registered Charity without paid staff, nor do we wish to monetise our work, everyone has been phenomenally generous in sharing their information and it is by bringing it into one place that we can really start to link stories and understand the experiences of the individual internees. In turn our work will raise awareness of these fabulous records and point descendants in their direction.

This project started back in 2012 and, although the development of the Visitor’s Centre itself, and its app and walk, went on hold whilst we ensured their future, work continued apace throughout on the Internee Database and reinstating the Knockaloe Camp records. Since that time, we have been focussed on our work of bringing together what is a huge amount of fragmented information about the civilians interned in the British Isles from sources all over the world. We were thrilled to work with Panikos Panayi, Professor of European History at De Montfort University, and have the support of major UK universities via the “Centre for Hidden Histories: Community, Commemoration and the First World War” Project at the University of Nottingham, to develop our initial framework for the database, getting the tens of thousands of internees listed. Since then our work has been focussed on bringing together the more detailed Prisoner of War Information Bureau original Internment Camp records of the civilian internees, together with the fragmented information from our own, private and archive collections all over the world to allow us to collate internees’ experience of internment, as well as their movements between camps during their internment.

There are potentially well in excess of 1.1 million descendants alive today (calculated with the assistance of the Office of National Statistics) and this number is constantly increasing. As the internees were, by definition, from countries outside Britain and as many were repatriated after the war, as time progresses the website and Visitors Centre will be increasingly multilingual to ensure it can actively reach out to as many descendants as possible.

As well as the World War 1 period, the Visitor's Centre will also be seeking to provide an archive of the local village and its residents, and look to tell their story, including the many who travelled overseas, to places such as America and Canada, in the late 1800’s.