Transactions of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire

Friend or foe? Internment in Huyton 1940–1941

Transactions of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire (2015), 164, (1), 55–70.

Abstract

On 17 May 1940 the newly-built but hitherto unoccupied housing estate of Woolfall Heath in Huyton, about six miles from central Liverpool, was taken over as a temporary place of incarceration for male ‘enemy aliens’, until they could be moved to major internment centres on the Isle of Man or deported to the Dominions: it became one of a number of such centres situated in England. Because the decision to institute a policy of widespread internment was taken in hurried response to popular panic, fanned by members of the security services and elements of the popular press, preparations were inadequate. Not only was the accommodation unsuitable for the large numbers housed there, many of them elderly, but the process of arrest and internment did not distinguish between Nazi or fascist sympathisers and Jewish refugees, and even men who had lived in Britain for many years found themselves under suspicion simply because they were of German or Italian extraction. Using diary and interview evidence, this article examines the experiences of internees at Huyton, their sense of injustice and frustration, and their anger at the conditions to which they were subjected. It also considers the efforts of both local and national politicians, notably Eleanor Rathbone, MP for the Combined English Universities, and churchmen, among them the Bishop of Chichester, George Bell, and the Dean of Liverpool, Frederick Dwelly, to arrange the release of many internees, and to put pressure on the Government to reconsider its policy of large-scale internment.

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Author details

Starkey, Pat