An Interned Barumite

As part of our series of posts covering World War One articles from the local newpapers this interesting article from the North Devon Herald contains an interview with Charles Edward Roberts Chanter (an original Trustee of the North Devon Athenaeum) and his wife describe visiting their son, John Fincher Roberts Chanter, in an internment camp in Holland…

J F R Chanter
John Fincher Roberts Chanter: image taken from the Harper Album Collection

Mr. and Mrs. C.E.R. Roberts Chanter, of Broadmead, have only recently returned from a visit to their son, Lieut. J.F.R. Chanter, who was interned in Holland along with members of the Royal Naval Division after their splendid stand against overwhelming odds in the defence of Antwerp, and who in the great retreat which robbed the enemy of the spoils of victory, found themselves over the border line, and were consequently interned by the Dutch.

On Tuesday Mr. Chanter very courteously granted an interview to a “Herald” representative, who was able to gather a few impressions from his visit to Holland. Regarding many things which come to one’s knowledge as a result of undertaking such a journey in time of war, Mr. Chanter observed a discreet silence.

On arriving at Tilbury, the port of embarkation, on the evening of August 23rd, Mr. and Mrs. Chanter had an experience which served as a vivid reminder of the inconveniences common to travelling in time of war. At the station they found there were quite 200 passengers undertaking the journey to Holland, of whom over 100 were German women, who it is said were being repatriated. There were a large number of Belgians returning to either Belgium of Holland, but there were very few English among the crowd. At Tilbury passports and permits had to be subjected to a careful examination, and this meant waiting in a queue for over a hour while—and this was the irony of it—the Germans, who had been taken into the office by a seperate entrance were being dealt with. True to the unfortunate traits which has marked out national life, the “dear foreigner” must be attended to first, and Mr. Chanter will be commended for his action and earn the gratitude of his fellow-countrymen waiting in that long queue by asking the policeman to inform the officer in charge that there were a few English sailing, and asking that they might be dealt with before the Germans, as it was extremely hard that Englishmen should have to make their own country for Germans. “We were informed we must wait our turn, and that he could do nothing,” continued Mr. Chanter, “but the officer was very polite, and was good enough to advise us to be careful of our personal belongings, as a lady had just lost her purse.” After an hour’s dreary waiting they were admitted to the office, and passports and permits having been examined were given an order to go on board.

Mrs Chanter
John F R Chanter’s mother, Trypheona Chanter: image taken from the Harper Album Collection

Sailing the next morning at daybreak, Mr. and Mrs. Chanter arrived at Flushing—happily without the experience which had befallen passengers on a similar journey when enemy submarine has made its unwelcome appearance—about 5 o’clock in the afternoon. The baggage had to be again examined, and then they left for the Hague via Rotterdam, arriving at the seat of the Government of Holland about 10 p.m. The following day was spent at Schveningen, a delightful seaside resort about five miles from the Hague, and possessing very fine sands and pier. Continuing their journey, they left the next day for Amsterdam and Enkuisen, a two hours’ excursion on a small steamer from the latter place bringing them to the Island of Urk, where Lieut. Chanter, with several brother officers, is interned. Urk is situated in the centre of the Zuider Zee, and is only three miles in circumference, most of the island being below sea level and protected by banks. It has a population of over 2,700, nearly all of whom are engaged in the fishing trade. On the island there are twenty-nine officers interned, viz., 21 Belgian, 3 French, and 4 British. The Dutch Government have just completed a wooden barracks for the accommodation of the officers, a long building with a wide central passage, and on either side of the passage opening into it are the quarters for the officers—mess room, ante-room, lavatories, and a bath—the latter being absolutely unique, in that it is said to be the only one in Urk. The building is surrounded by a double wire entanglement, and is guarded by Dutch soldiers, who have a guardroom just inside the entrance to the barracks. The officers are allowed to walk about the island, but directly any of them go outside the wire entanglement they are followed by a soldier with loaded rifle and fixed bayonet. There is one soldier for every officer, so that if there are half-a-dozen officers strolling about the island the number of soldiers on guard are increased to six. The island is perfectly flat and it takes about three-quarters of an hour of fairly fast walking to get round. The British officers take exercise in this way, and the Dutch soldiers, who are small in stature, find it very difficult to keep up with their charges, particularly as they have each to carry a rifle and ammunition. In order to keep the Britishers in view they are obliged to cut across parts of the island and do some “doubling” into the bargain. Mr. Chanter described the sight as extremely amusing to see a little fat Dutch soldier shouldering a rifle as long as himself, panting after a British officer, so as not to lose sight of him.

C E R Chanter
Charles Edward Roberts Chanter: image taken from the Harper Album Collection

The Island of Urk is just as it was 300 years ago. The inhabitants are very primitive in their habits and customs. It is said they still wear the same style of clothes. At any rate, it is quite evident they do not follow the London and Parisian models. The men wear black stockings to the knees, and black knickerbockers, very full, resembling almost a couple of stuffed bags, and wooden clogs. The dresses of the women are also very full, and it is stated that on Sundays they each wear ten petticoats. Black is the predominating colour year in and year out. The women also wear clogs. The cottages in which the inhabitants live and have their being are very small. The beds are in small cupboards, opening out of the sitting-room, so that it serves a dual purpose-“a bed by night—a chest of drawers by day.” Needless to add, our good townsman did not experience the “comfort” of such a phenomenal bed-chamber, the atmosphere of which must be extremely stuffy, but it is characteristic of the Dutch, who prefer a close atmosphere and little air. The Burgomaster of Urk had a large bedroom with a double bed, which was placed at the disposal of the visitors from Barnstaple. The Burgomaster was very proud of his room, which he informed them, was the only one in Urk with a real bed. “I can believe it,” suggestively added Mr. Chanter.

The officers run a mess of their own at the barracks, and during their stay Mr. and Mrs. Chanter had their meals with their son. Some of the Belgian officers had their wives at Urk. The Dutch Government have made a tennis court for the officers, but except to play tennis and walk around the island there is nothing whatever for the officers to do. After a stay of four days at Urk, Mr. amd Mrs. Chanter took farewell of their son, and bade au revoir to many friend whom they made during their short stay, returning safely to England without any incident of note.

transcript taken from the North Devon Herald 16th September 1915 page 5 columns e-f.This just one of many articles about  North Devon’s experiences during World War One published in the local newspapers. For more visit our North Devon War Items Album on our Facebook Page…Barum Athena

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