Earlier this year at Rotterdam City Archives photos and records surfaced of nearly 1500 British Naval Infantry of World War I. The photos were taken probably at the end of 1914. In the light of the commemoration of World War I this unique material has been digitized and is now on line available via www.navalbrigade.nl.
Almost all the British soldiers belonged to the First Royal Naval Division. This unit was deployed in the defence of Antwerp in October 1914. After the fall of the Belgian port city some battalions were cut off from the main force, after which they sought a safe haven in neutral Netherlands. According to international treaties the Dutch Government's neutrality required forces belonging to one of the beligerants to be interned. The British sailors were interned in a purpose- built barracks on the grounds of the Rabenhauptkazerne in Groningen, the so-called Englishman Camp. They would stay there until the end of the war.
The photos and associated list of names which have now surfaced, were used by the Rotterdam police to trace internees who had escaped from internment camps. Records show that foreign soldiers escaped from these camps in large numbers. Often they tried to reach England by the ports of Rotterdam or Vlissingen to rejoin the war effort. The Dutch authorities wanted to prevent these escapes at all costs because they endangered the neutrality of the country. As the war progressed, the Rotterdam police put more and more effort into apprehending the escaped internees.
The police put in place rigorous checks at railway stations and in the port. If the police suspected a traveller to be an escaped internee, he was taken to the police station for further investigation. There the photos and name lists obtained by the internment camps were checked. In the course of the war the Rotterdam police picked up several hundred soldiers of different nationalities in this way.