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Fort Napier - South African Internment camp for German nationals during World War I

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  • Bruno Schlesinger (1879 - 1945)
    Bruno Schlesinger, A Man of Tempered Steel. A Short Biography of my Father. By Helga Kaye. Edited and with Contributions by: Keith Woodhill Kaye. BSc(Hons), MB.Bch. FRCS(Edin), FCS(South Africa...
  • Egmont Karl Edmund Harms (1859 - 1916)
    Egmont HARMS was born on 15 Apr 1859 in Müden. He died on 4 Dec 1916 in Empangeni. He was a pastor and missionary who came to South Africa. He was married to Karin BRÖMS on 9 May 1889 in ...
  • Hans Merensky (1871 - 1952)
    From Wikipedia ( ): 'Hans Merensky (16 March 1871 in Botshabelo – 21 October 1952 in Westfalia near Duiwelskloof) was a German South African geologist, prospector, scientist, conservationist a...
  • Major-General Daniel Hermanus Pienaar (1893 - 1942)
    Major-General Dan Pienaar G. O. C. First South African Division Source Out of the Abyss - published by The Forum , Johannesburg, South Africa (date not listed) Link to Pietermaritzburg and Fort N...
  • Robert Karl Heinrich Ahlers, SV/PROG (1896 - 1988)
    See Robert Ahlers Chronology 1914-1919 for an interesting view of events (with sources) during Opa's first few years in South Africa!

Fort Napier in Pietermaritzburg has seen three distinct phases in its long history.

  • Phase 1 (1843-1914): Imperial Base - British Regiments garrisoned here.
  • Phase 2 (1914-1919): Internment Camp for German nationals during World War I.
  • Phase 3 (1927-today): Mental Hospital (Psycho-social rehabilitation and Forensic hospital)

The focus of this project is on phase 2, i.e. the history and inhabitants of the internment camp during World War I.

The location of Fort Napier can be explored using Google Maps. The whole area on the hill, partly enclosed by the loop of the railway line, was the historical location of Fort Napier.

Phase 1 (1843-1914)

In their online article Fort Napier: the imperial base that shaped the city at "Pietermaritzburg Local History" dated 5 Nov 2009, Graham Dominy and Hamish Paterson state:

"For seventy-one years, almost half its recorded history, Pietermaritzburg served as an important base for the British Army. Although no battle took place in or near the City, imperial troops marched out to fight in numerous campaigns ranging from minor skirmishes with cattle raiders and black peasant farmers to the major wars with the Zulu kingdom and the Boer republics.

The Imperial Garrison acted as an important link between the City and the rest of the Empire. The regiments that succeeded each other in the local barracks were liable for transfer to outposts scattered anywhere between Dublin and Delhi, China and the West Indies. This leavened the parochial attitudes of the townspeople and gave them a vicarious interest in exotic places and far-flung battlefields. The seven decades that imperial troops spent in the City also linked Pietermaritzburg with major world conflicts. The first garrison commander in 1843 was a veteran of the Battle of Waterloo and the last, in 1914, led the former garrison of the City, the 1st South Staffordshire Regiment, into the holocaust of the First World War battles in Flanders."

During the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902), the later well-known South African Major-General Dan Pienaar was treated in the hospital at Fort Napier. He was a young boy at the time, and was interned with his family at the Pietermaritzburg Concentration Camp. The young Dan’s leg was severely lacerated by an accident with an axe. In his book, Pienaar of Alamein, A M Pollock wrote of the aftermath of the accident as follows: “Blood-poisoning set in and Dan was taken to the British military hospital at Fort Napier. It was at first feared that his leg would have to be amputated. Several doctors held consultations, and finally Dan’s mother was called in to make the decision. She decided on the more slender chance of her son’s pulling through without amputation. Slowly the leg responded to treatment, but for four long months Dan had to lie in the military hospital. On either side of him and all round him were wounded British “Tommies”. He became their favourite. Far from their own families, these soldiers, in their rough but kindly way, took the small boy to their hearts and lavished upon him an affection they would normally have reserved for their own children. Dan responded, as a child would, and very soon he and these British soldiers were fast friends. That friendship persisted in spite of later misunderstandings and undoubtedly formed the foundation of the deep respect which Major-General Dan Pienaar had for the ordinary British soldier.”

Phase 2 (1914-1919)

From October 1914 to late 1919, Fort Napier was used as an internment camp for about 2,500 German nationals from the then German South West Africa and from all over the Union of South Africa. It was the sole internment camp for German men in Southern Africa during World War I.

A general reference for activities in Natal during World War I is the article The Natal home front in the Great War (1914–1918) by PS Thompson that appeared in Historia, volume 56, number 1 of May 2011.

Fort Napier specific history is contained in Pietermaritzburg's Imperial Postscript: Fort Napier from 1910 to 1925 by Graham Dominy that appeared in Natalia, Issue number 19, 1989. G Dominy and D Reusch wrote an article titled Handicrafts, philanthropy and self-help: the Fort Napier Kamp-Industrie during World War I. Some examples of handcraft during the long boring years of captivity can be seen here:

But much more will be revealed by the personal stories and archive documents that will (hopefully) be collected by this project...

Phase 3 (1927-today)

On their web site at History of Fort Napier Hospital the Department of Health of KwaZulu-Natal states:

"In 1918 it was handed over to union government for use as a Mental hospital. ... In 1927 the hospital was opened by Dr. Willis the first Superintendent. The first patients arrived in 1928.

As one of the institutions within the Midlands Complex the work intermeshes with and complements that of Townhill Hospital but Fort Napier Hospital has been identified as a Psycho-social rehabilitation and Forensic hospital. Fort Napier Hospital has an academic and service component. The doctors, psychologist and nurses on training rotate between three hospitals (Townhill, Umgeni and Fort Napier)."

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Events at Fort Napier (25 October 1914 - 11 August 1919)

  • 28 July 1914: Outbreak of World War I. German nationals are at first detained at the Milner Park Showgrounds in Johannesburg, then, briefly, at Roberts' Heights (now Voortrekkerhoogte / Thaba Tshwane) near Pretoria
  • 24-25 October 1914: About 2,000 German nationals are transported by train from Roberts' Heights to Fort Napier, Pietermaritzburg
  • 27 October 1914: Rumours in Pietermaritzburg of an attempted mass breakout at Fort Napier
  • 18 July 1916: A terminally ill JW Bellstedt is 'released on parole to Pretoria'. He never recovers and dies in the ZA Hospital, Pretoria on 28 September 1919.
  • 20 July 1917: The Prime Minister, General Louis Botha, personally visits Fort Napier, following written complaints on conditions in the camp. These complaints were lodged via the Swiss Embassy. General Botha undertakes to have the issues "speedily and favourably considered".
  • 22 July 1917: A follow-up visit by the Commissioner of Enemy Subjects takes place. He promises a 'definite answer in 10-14 days at the most'.
  • 12 August 1917: A telegram of enquiry is sent to Pretoria.
  • 15 August 1917: A response arrives: "...the Government, waiting certain instructions from England, could not answer before their arrival in another 8-10 days"
  • 16 August 1917 (Thursday evening): The start of 'the disturbance' reported at Fort Napier. From the statement by the Camp Captain, Camp III: "Shots followed by cries and the noise of breaking wood and iron was heard from the direction of Camps I and II."
  • 17 August 1917 (Friday): Fire set to the recreation room at Camp III
  • 18 August 1917 (Saturday): Fire set to building comprising barracks 5, 6, 7 and 8
  • 19 August 1917 (Sunday): Emil Gehrer dies of wounds (caused on the 18th) in the camp hospital
  • 18-25 August 1917: A total of 31 arrests are made during and following 'the disturbance'. Eleven (including Robert Ahlers) are formally charged and appear before a military court
  • 25 September 1917: The accused are found guilty and Robert Ahlers is sentenced to 'eighteen months imprisonment with hard labour'
  • 5 October 1917: Robert Ahlers and others start serving their prison sentences at the Pretoria Central Prison
  • 5-7 June 1918: Robert Ahlers and August Peters are returned to Fort Napier for re-internment
  • 11 November 1918: Formal end of World War I
  • 11 August 1919: Robert Ahlers is 'released on parole to Pretoria'

Men interned at Fort Napier (1914-1919)

Credit to Eckard von Fintel for collection of most of the information

Note: a large number of women and children were also interned at Fort Napier - they were kept in a separate camp. The main focus of the government, however, seemed to be to keep potential fighting men, subverters and informants (spies) at bay...and physically as far as possible away from a feared Rebellion of Afrikaner Boer War veterans.

  • Ahlers, Robert Karl Heinrich
  • Asmus, Georg Heinrich Gustav (1873-1939) - Hermannsburg Mission Müden
  • Barbaruzzi, Nicolo (died 3 Jun 1915, Fort Napier)
  • Behrens, Heinrich (1866-1940) - Superintendent of the Hermannsburg Mission
  • Behrmann, Adolf Friedrich August (1873-1941)
  • Bellstedt, Johann Wilhelm - being terminally ill, he is 'released on parole to Pretoria'. He never recovers and dies in the ZA Hospital, Pretoria on 28 September 1919.
  • Bentz, Michael
  • Blasnik, Johann - died 19 Feb 1918 in 'Asylum', Fort Napier
  • Bode, Hugo
  • Böttger, Friedrich Ernst Hermann - died 14 Oct 1918, Fort Napier
  • Braun, C - repatriated 31 Jan 1917
  • Brunkhorst, Karl Otto Friedrich - Hermannsburg Mission Emtombeni - released after 6 months
  • Burno, William John - died 13 Oct 1918, Fort Napier
  • Busch, Friedrich - died 30 Jun 1915, Fort Napier
  • Clemens, Oskar K R - died 19 Aug 1917, Fort Napier
  • Conde, George - died 4 Apr 1917, Fort Napier
  • Corseneck, A (1851-) - parole recommended
  • Crako, Gus (1872-) - parole recommended
  • Dehning, Georg Heinrich - Hermannsburg Mission Verden - released after a short while
  • Diebig, Max - died 21 Jan 1919, Fort Napier
  • Dietze, R
  • Dorno, J F - at Standerton agricultural farm for a period
  • Drenkhahn, W
  • Drews, L
  • Duch
  • Edmaur, Wolfgang - at Standerton agricultural farm for a period
  • Eigner, Richard Robert - died 31 Jul 1915, Fort Napier
  • Eggers, Ernst Heinrich Wilhelm (1876-1964)
  • Feige, Friedrich August (1881-1948) - Rheinische Mission Sarepta - finally released 14 Sep 1917
  • Ferencic, A - died 13 Apr 1915, Fort Napier
  • Friedlieb
  • Friedrich, Johann Rudolph - died 17 Mar 1916, Fort Napier
  • Frohbes, Carl - died 21 Jun 1919, Fort Napier
  • Gebhardt, Wilhelm T Richard - died 6 Dec 1918, Fort Napier
  • Gehrer, Emil - died on 19 Aug 1917 of his wounds in the camp hospital, having been shot during the 'disturbance' and arson in Fort Napier, 16-18 August 1917
  • Gluck, B - repatriated
  • Gossler, Ernst F C (1861-) - parole recommended
  • Greifenhain, M - repatriated
  • Greipel, Eduard Arthur
  • Grosskopf, Ernst Berthold (1888-1949) - teacher and journalist
  • Grosskopf, Johann Gottlob (1851-1925) - Berliner Mission Riversdal
  • Grosskopf, Martin Luther (1893-1927) - teacher and veterinarian
  • Grossmann, Felix (1869-1918) - died 18 Dec 1918, Fort Napier
  • Hader, Ludwig (1891-1949)
  • Hain, S - at Standerton agricultural farm for a period
  • Haiss, Adolf
  • Hamm, M
  • Hanefeld, August (1867-1956) - Rheinischen Mission Concordia
  • Harms, Egmont Karl Edmund (1859-1916) - Director of the Hermannsburg Mission in South Africa - released after a short internment
  • Heinrichs, Martin (Dr)
  • Henschel, M A H
  • Herensie (?), Augustino - died 14 Apr 1915, Pietermaritzburg Hospital
  • Hilte, Carl Emile - died 17 Jul 1915, Fort Napier
  • Hirsch, Otto Siegmund - died 21 May 1915, Fort Napier
  • Hoch, Johann Gottfried (1868-) - parole recommended
  • Hoebel
  • Höne, Carl - Church and school service on behalf of the Landeskirche Hanover
  • Horn, Julius A L J - died 16 May 1915, Fort Napier
  • Huhn, F E
  • Huiterleiteur, John Hans - parole recommended
  • Jaekel, Carl (-1916) - released due to health
  • Jäckel, Ernst Hermann Martin (1888-1957) - Berliner Mission Blauberg
  • John, B William - died 13 Oct 1918, Fort Napier
  • Jurkat, David (1879-1961)
  • Kanitz, M - released and repatriated by 1916
  • Keyser, Friedrich - Hermannsburg Mission Ehlanzeni - released after a few months
  • Kirchoff, F
  • Kirsch, Karl - died 8 Nov 1914, Fort Napier
  • Kistner, F
  • Kistner, Johann Christoph - Hermannsburg Mission Ramoutsa
  • Klingenberg, Heinrich AF
  • Knacke
  • Knostmann, Hermann Georg Rudolph - died 1918, Fort Napier
  • Knothe, Rudolph Hermanus - died 23 feb 1915, Fort Napier
  • Köhler, Ernst Heinrich Wilhelm (1869-1944) - Hermannsburg Mission Ethembeni
  • Koppel
  • Köttnitz, Clemens Johannes (Hans) - died 1 Jan 1917, Fort Napier
  • Kraft, Oscar Paul
  • Krasemann, W
  • Kraus, Leopold - died 4 Mar 1918, Fort Napier
  • Krause, Gerhard (1890-1982) - Berliner Mission Emmaus - interned for 3 months
  • Kregeloh, E (1875-) - parole recommended
  • Kregeloh, K A (1873-) - parole recommended
  • Kriscovich, J (1854-) - parole recommended
  • Kruger, Carl Friedrich Wilhelm
  • Kühn, G
  • Küsel, Heinrich Friedrich Christoph (1882-1965) - Hermannsburg Mission Georgenau - was he interned?
  • Lange, August - died 28 Apr 1916, Fort Napier
  • Lehmann, Geo - parole recommended
  • Lohmann, H
  • Lohmann, P
  • Lowes, K W A - German medical officer in Swaziland
  • Ludewig
  • Lutkemuller, Adolf
  • Mack, Johann Ernst - died 21 May 1915, Fort Napier
  • Mahnke, Joachim Heinrich - Hermannsburg Mission Eben-Ezer - was he interned?
  • Maier
  • Mandich, Simon Peter - died 20 Jun 1916, Greys Hospital, Pitermaritzburg
  • Manske, August
  • Markwart, Peter Heinrich Ernst (1869-1952) - farmer, Perdekop, Transvaal
  • Megzelany, I - died 23 Sep 1918, Fort Napier
  • Meisegeier, Karl (1883-1967) - finally released end of 1915
  • Meister, E
  • Meister, Karl Robert (1878-1958) - Hanoverian Evangelical Lutheran Mission, Natal
  • Merensky, Johannes (Hans) (1871-1952) - well-known Geologist - see Hans Merensky on Wikipedia or A tale of an extraordinary prospector by EW Machens, as reviewed by John Gurney in the SA Journal of Science, number 105, 2009
  • Merkens, Robert - died 7 Oct 1916, Fort Napier
  • Meyer, Arthur
  • Meyer, Peter Heinrich Christoph - Hermannsburg Mission Berseba - was he interned?
  • Misselhorn, Heinrich Wilhelm (1861-1930)
  • Moizelany, Ignatz - died 24 Sep 1918, Fort Napier
  • Mollier, C
  • Muller, P C (1862-) - parole recommended
  • Nelson, E
  • Neuhaus, Julius - died 19 Jul 1917, Fort Napier
  • Niebuhr, Johann Friedrich (1868-1917) - Hermannsburg Mission Polonia - released before 1917
  • Nilius, W F
  • Nussbaum, S
  • Otten, Johan - parole recommended
  • Pakendorf, Gustav - Berliner Mission Emmaus
  • Parsch
  • Paul, G M
  • Pessen, H - transferred to Standerton farm
  • Petersen, August Hermann - released before Feb 1917
  • Pieper, A
  • Podbielski, Hermann - died 13 Oct 1917, Fort Napier
  • Pohl, Georg Louis - died 18 Feb 1916, Fort Napier
  • Pohl, P
  • Pohl, R
  • Pohle, Hans Karl Emil (1886-1966) - Hermannsburg Mission Empangeni
  • Polzin, A
  • Poppe, Hermann (1862-)
  • Preuss, O
  • Prien, J F C - parole recommended
  • Quenkowsky, A A Otto - died 1 Jan 1915, Fort Napier
  • Radeke, A - teacher; released early due to health
  • Rasch, Karl Adolf Ernst Dettmer
  • Reckewell, W K L
  • Reinerd, John (1882-) - parole recommended
  • Riebesell, Friedrich - died 12 Dec 1914, Fort Napier
  • Rieseberg, Max - released after few weeks on order of Genl Louis Botha (whose life Rieseberg saved during the Anglo Boer War)
  • Rixen, M
  • Römer - released on parole (daily report)
  • Rosenberg, Heinrich
  • Ross, August - died 23 Oct 1916, Fort Napier
  • Rossine, Arthur - died 23 Jun 1916, Fort Napier
  • Rüger
  • Ruppert, Willi ?
  • Salm-Salm, Prinz
  • Sates, Frederick (1862-) - parole recommended
  • Schäfer - was he interned?
  • Scheffler, Friedrich (1874-1966) - released before interned
  • Schersing, Albert W M - died 27 May 1917, Fort Napier
  • Schlesinger, Bruno - released on parole due to ill health before May 1915. See Man of Tempered Steel by Helga Kaye
  • Schmädeke, Hermann Heinrich Friedrich Wilhelm - Hermannsburg Mission Marburg
  • Schmidt, Gustav Paul
  • Schmutz, G (1874-) - no reason to refuse parole
  • Schneidenberger, H - German medical officer in Swaziland
  • Schroenn, Friedrich (1878-1918) - was he ever interned?
  • Schwake, Bernhard (1851-) - parole recommended
  • Schwegmann, F A (1883-)
  • Schwellnus, Georg (1879-1946) - released in Oct 1916
  • Söhnge, Heinrich (1876-1951) - released due to appeal by Magistrate of Tulbagh
  • Stade, Hermann W - died 14 Jun 1916, Fort Napier
  • Stahl, August - died 25 Jan 1918, Fort Napier
  • Stanelle, E
  • Sterzel, Moritz - died 6 Jul 1915, Fort Napier
  • Streckfuss, Werner - died 22 Nov 1918
  • Stumme, Paul
  • Subat (Hungarian) - placed on parole
  • Thiele, J C
  • Tietz, Otto
  • Upmeyer, E
  • Vermehren, M
  • Vogts, Eugene Edward - died 9 Mar 1915, Fort Napier
  • Voigts, Richard
  • Von Boetticher
  • Von der Meden, Alfred
  • Von der Zeit
  • Von Levetziow, Alexander E V J C - died 16 Dec 1914, Fort Napier
  • Wagener, C F J - released on parole to Tulbagh
  • Wagner, C E - (1851-) - parole recommended
  • Walter, Georg
  • Wasner, Harry (1866-) - parole recommended
  • Weigel, Ernst Heinrich (1868-1948)
  • Weiss, Otto - died 16 Jun 1915, Fort Napier
  • Weisse, Arnold
  • Wiborg, Theo
  • Wilhelmi, L (1867-) naturalised - parole recommended
  • Winde, Hermann
  • Wrecko, Michael (1865-)
  • Wroebel, E
  • Wustow
  • Zeptritz, Emil Max Paul' - died 24 Jun 1918, Fort Napier
  • Zimmer, F K - spent time at Standerton
  • Zimmermann, Hermann (1886-1968) - repatriated in 1916 to Germany