Today the enemy
Fear propels him, tomorrow an illegal alien? His mind travels the road that leads back, tomorrow a prisoner?
Creating the Centena
When England declared war on Germany on Aug 4th 1914, the Germans living in Britain and the British living in Germany alike were confronted with a decision; stay and face the consequences of being the enemy or leave their homes (and do so quickly). Count Conrad Hochberg was among the many Germans who would have been subject to the Alien Registration Act and so decided to leave England. My ‘centena’, set on this date, represents my thoughts regarding the predicament experienced by the Count as he made the journey from the home he loved in Somerset to the port of Harwich.
Count Hochberg was of Polish decent. In 1871, when he was four years old his Duchy of Pless, previously a state country within Brandenburg-Prussia, joined the German Empire. The Hochberg family personified the divided loyalties between England and Germany during the First World War.
Whilst his older brother Hans was a diplomatic advisor to the Kaiser, there is evidence to suggest that Conrad did not support him. In 1908 he wrote to his English sister-in-law Daisy;
“I know for certain that the Kaiser disapproves of my living in England a great deal.”
And, in the same letter;
“I would like so much to give him a bit of my mind, which I could not do either.”
Daisy who was forced to stay in Germany throughout the war, talks about Conrad and his younger brother Fritz in her diary.
“Of course both left England at once, all their property was sequestrated and the usual silly stories about their being spies were circulated. Both of them as these pages have shown, adored England, disliked and distrusted the Emperor and lived in Germany as little as possible.”
I have a personal interest in this story as my Great great Uncle William Barrett was on the census of 1911 as the butler of Croydon Hall, the Count’s Somerset home. Since discovering this I have been imagining their lives and conversations.
At the time of the Armistice the Count lived in Lucerne, Switzerland. In 1922 as part of the Trading With The Enemy Act, Croydon Hall and its contents were sold. Then, after a turbulent period of Silesian Uprisings in 1921, the Count’s homeland once again became part of Poland. He died in Berlin in 1934 age 67.
Every war has migration in its shadows. Today the human tragedy continues. Today people are still risking their lives to reach safety.
I am grateful to The Somerset Archives and Local Study Service who assisted in me in my research