This week, a telegram from a survivor of the sinking of the SS Arandora Star on 2 July 1940. Sent by Ludwig Baruch to his fiancée Hilda Froom on 8 July, it reads “200 ARANDORA SURVIVORS PLEASE WIRE SOME MONEY”.
Ludwig Baruch was one of over 1000 German and Italian “enemy aliens” being transported on the Arandora Star to Canada when it was torpedoed by a U-boat off the coast of Ireland. Most of those on board were drowned, the situation made worse by the cramped conditions, lack of safety drill, and inadequate life-rafts. Many survivors, Ludwig among them, were then sent to Australia on the Dunera, which itself narrowly escaped sinking.
Ludwig was born in Germany, but had lived in England since 1930. He worked for the Donegal Tweed Company in Liverpool until the outbreak of the Second World War, when he was interned as an enemy alien. Although a socialist, union activist, and committed anti-fascist, he fell foul of the controversial policy of interning all enemy aliens regardless of the risk they might pose.
The telegram is part of an Archive which provides unique first-hand insight into internment in Britain during the Second World War through the letters between Ludwig and Hilda. Alongside Ludwig’s accounts of life in the camps, Hilda’s give a vivid picture of everyday life in Liverpool: going to the cinema, the annoyances of the blackout, clothes – a navy frock, rust-coloured nail varnish, food – pea soup, stew, playing rounders, a cycle ride to Rhyl, her union and other political activities … The Archive also documents the bureaucratic difficulties and obstructions Hilda faced in trying to visit him and campaign for his release.
After the sinking of the Arandora Star, he writes to her sitting on a “straw mattress” at “some barracks” in Scotland (Woodhouselee Camp, Miltonbridge near Edinburgh) and that, though he could “write a whole novel about the disaster”, which he escaped by jumping overboard and finding a float, he does not want to be asked about it, because “the sights I witnessed were not fit for human eyes to see”. Hilda had heard of the disaster, but could not find out whether he was on board or not: “the experience is terrible and I cannot get you off my mind”.
PS Eventually the couple were married and settled in Bradford. I am indebted to Collar the Lot! an invaluable account of the internment and expulsion of the enemy aliens and to the research of one of our students, Darren Davies, who kindly let me see his dissertation which uses Ludwig Baruch’s experiences as a case study of internment and usefully draws together bibliographic and other evidence.