Kitchener camp diary, Part IV

Follow the links here for  Part I, Part IIPart III


The Diary of Phineas May, Kitchener camp co-director, 1939

Part Four: August 1939

Tuesday, 1 August 1939

The Royal Engineers from the Canterbury Depot., are practising bridge building in the lake by the Camp and I showed the Officer charge of the Company round part of the Camp and invited him to lunch. He was astonished with everything as he thought it was far beyond military standards. 

We held in the evening the Sports Contest at the Sir Roger Manwood School Sports Ground against The Dover & Folkestone Port Services Sports Association and we one by [line gap]. There were some splendid races. They had an excellent trained Tug of War team and all the Weight of our team was wasted by the careful timing of theirs. They also gave a demonstration walking race (unknown on the Continent) and one of our men acted as a pacer [?] and it was very amusing. In common with all sports meetings it rained most of the time.

Arrivals: Hugo Heilbrunn (camp no. 2733), Hans Friedrich Elias (camp no. 2827), Siegfried MichelsonHerbert Mosheim

Wednesday, 2 August 1939

Many calls upon the services of various entertainment sections by outside organisations. 

I had to go to Deal re some musical requirements so dropped in for a few minutes to the J.L.B. Camp which looked very fine and was greeted by 12 of our own Campmen who will be camping at the J.L.B. Camp. 

In the evening made arrangements (forgotten during pressure of work) for a small Concert being given in the evening by the Ash Fellowship.
Thursday, 3 August 1939

[corrected from JULY] Cleared up my work as best I could to be ready to go to J.L.B. Camp. 

In the afternoon went with Ivy to Westgate where I had an appointment to meet the Chamber of Commerce re a Concert to be given at the Westgate Pavilion by our Camp in aid of the Margate Hospital. I found a Lady and six Gentlemen (with Sec. with minute book) sitting round a table waiting for me. They first gave me tea and cake and then asked me to suggest a suitable programme. The meeting lasted threequarters of an hour and then we adjourned to the Pavilion, a nice little place, to see the stage: 

Afterwards Mr. and Mrs. Lornford, in a fine car, drove me back to the Camp.

Made Final preparations for going away and did some sketches on the wae [?] of one of the huts.

Arrivals: Josef Frank (camp no. 2959), Oskar ReiningerLieb Lazar (camp no. 3063), Karl Timan (camp no. 3083)

Sunday, 13 August 1939

After 10 days at J.L.B. Camp returned in morning to Kitchener Camp and found we had now reached nearly 2,500 men.

During my absence the Staff has celebrated the completion of the last six-months of the Camp. I found that much progress had been made with the roads.

A large post awaited my attention.

During the afternoon the Lawson family arrived and I showed them round.

We have been showing during the week at the Cinema “Henry VIII” but I could only see parts of it.

In the evening there was celebrations in one of the huts which I was invited to attend.
Monday, 14 August 1939

In the morning I was told there was a considerable excitement during the night, as one of the men with a wrongly developed sense of humour went round a number of the huts ringing a bell and saying the Concert Hall was on fire and that war had commenced. The men got up and rushed to the Concert Hall, some feinting, when they were informed that it was a Hoax.

Got through a considerable amount of post and more interviews and had several “Wedding” consultations. Went to Margate to pick up Rabbi Cohen and returned we he officiated at a Wedding under the Chuppah in the open air. 

Started new ticket system in Cinema which worked very well. 

Frances is staying in Sandwich and seats were reserved for her and Mrs. Bentwich. 

Went for a short while to the Wedding Celebration.

Arrivals: Peter Josef Weiss

Tuesday, 15 August 1939

Completed arrears of post. 

Ladies visited me in afternoon re giving Concert in Canterbury. 

There was another Wedding celebration in the evening for a man who will be married tomorrow in London. 

I took Frances and Mrs Bentwich to the Hut were the affair was in progress.
Wednesday, 16 August 1939

This is going to be a week of Weddings. 

After lunch I was reminded that I was wanted to act as a witness to a Marriage at the Ramsgate Registrars office. I have never seen such as slip-shod affair. The Bride could not speak English and when she was asked to [###] “I will take this Man to be my lawful wedded husband etc” She was told to say it in German was was helped by a [###] prompter

[no entry for 17 AUG unless page is missing]
Friday, 18 August 1939

Another Wedding at Registrars office first thing in the morning [?]. 

The Editor of the “Kentish Messenger” called to see me and he wants one of our men to write a message about the “New Year”: 

Very busy preparing not only for the Show for our English Friends on Sunday but also for the K.C. Review. 

The B.B.C., has written a letter to Professor Norman Bentwich saying that they have heard about the Concerts we give in our Camps and they would like to send down Representatives with a view to the possibilities of making a Broadcaste from our Camp. I am taking up correspondence with the B.B.C. about it.
Saturday, 19 August 1939

Really fine weather has now come. 

And Synagogue Service in the new large Marquee, had to attend to 101 things for the Performance tonight. 

A Representative called to get a story and take pictures for the “Picture Post” and I had to devote a lot of time to him. He took pictures of the Rehearsal for the Campmen of “Show for our English Friends”. The show is entirely in English written by Hochburger by chief assistant and was a great success. I did a few of my lightening sketches.
Richborough transit camp, Some Victims of the Nazi Terror, 1939 - tending the hut gardens
Kitchener camp, Some Victims of the Nazi Terror, 1939 - tending the hut gardens
Sunday, 20 August 1939

Up early and did work for “K.C. Review” and from 9.30 onwards spent all the morning with the “Picture Post” photographer and I think he got some very good pictures. 

In the afternoon was the Show for our English Friends about a 1,000 people arrived (including a number of children). We only had one Poster to advertise the Show. Over £20 was collected for the British Legion in aid of whom the Show was held. 

Immediately after the Show there was a Wedding under the Chuppah which had been erected in one of the hut gardens. J. gave the Bride away and I acted as best man as usual. 

In the evening in the mans hut was the now familiar Wedding celebration.
Monday, 21 August 1939

A very busy morning, interview after interview including the Press. Made it very difficult to get on with the K.C. Review which is behind schedule.

During the morning the B.B.C. `phoned me and discussed the type of concert they would like to hear. They are chiefly interested in classical music.

At 5.30 there was another Wedding. This time at the Margate Synagogue at which I again acted as Best Man, the Margate Ladies Guild had provided a nice little reception afterwards for the couple. 

In the evening at our Cinema we showed the “Scarlet Pimpernel” with Leslie Howard.
Tuesday, 22 August 1939

Continuous interviews making in very difficult to get on with my correspondence and the K.C. Review.

During the afternoon went round with one of the lorry’s to half the huts and inspected them to find any missing [###] chairs and tables. Each ½ hut is only allowed 15 Chairs.

More Press men can come to get Pictures and stories of the Camp.

I had hoped in the evening to hide myself away somewhere to finishing writing my part of the Review and was at Ivy’s discussing it, when the Doctor arrived and said there were several cases coming in which might require an Isolation Ward and he would resign unless one was prepared so with two other Members of the Staff and some voluteers we converted the Night Guard’s Dining Room into a ward.

Eveing had to be taken out the room cleaned and 20 Beds prepared. The room was was ready for occupation, all beds made by 10.30.
Wednesday, 23 August 1939

Confirmation from the B.B.C. of their visit on Aug 2 Sept. 2. 

Representative from the “East Kent Messenger” had a long interview with me re the Camp. 

In communication with the Barracks at Canterbury re our performance tomorrow. 

Made a desperate effort to at least finish writing the Review. 

Chief topic of course everywhere is chance of war, and all Radio and Newssheets are surrounded with men with anxious faces, and you can feel the tension thou [?] the spirit is still cheerful.
Thursday, 24 August 1939

The day was grey and overcast, and the very sky seemed to reflect the feelings of everybody. Outwardly cheerful, everyone must have felt a spirit of foreboding.

During the morning a Staff meeting was held to take what elementary precautionis we could make, only the English staff know what is going to happen here in the event of War. 

A transport of 100 due about 6.30 arrived at 11.30 bringing our Camp numbers up to more than 3,000 men – our object achieved.

At 7pm. an Army Lorry and a Motor Coach arrived to take our “English Show” to entertain 500 soldiers of the 4th Divisional Signals at the Barracks at Canterbury. The Officers were all in the red Mess dresses, and within 15 minutes we commenced just like in a Theatre Music then turn music etc, I did my usual turn. We received a wonderful reception and it was quite the best show we have given. They had refreshments for us, and we [###] entertained in that manner by the Col., and his Officers. It was a very unique and interesting experience.
Friday, 25 August 1939

A day of “Waiting for something” to happen. 

The news that Gas Masks for everybody had be received by the Mayor of Sandwich was well received.

I stayed up all night with the Night Guard and patrolled the Camp. 

Retired at 6.30 a.m. and got up at 8.30 pm.
Saturday, 26 August 1939

A general air of depression though considering the men were amazingly calm. 

The hospitals are very full.

The repeat performance of the “Show for our English Friends” was again a great success.
Sunday, 27 August 1939

In the afternoon visited the Sandwich Lawn Tennis Club where a Tournament was in progress, and in the Evening with the Classical Orchestra to the Westgate Pavilion where we gave a successful concert. The Pavilion is on the edge of the sea cliffs, and from one has a magnificent view of the coast for miles around. There was a magnificent sunset, and at such a time the thoughts of “Calm before the Storm” was uppermost in ones mind. 

On our return to the Camp at 11.30 we found J. and Banks waiting for the arrival of 13 men from Germany. and 2 Blind Boys of 11 and 12 who had not been picked up at Dover.
Monday, 28 August 1939

A very busy day. 

3 marriages to arrange, one death, and A.R.P. Took parties of men to Sandwich to assemble Gas Masks, and then arranged with Mayor Office to have them all brought to the Camp and so men worked until late into the evening and completed the assembly of them.

Arrivals: Erna Finkelstein

Tuesday, 29 August 1939

Went to Sandwich to make further [?] details for A.R.P.

 Gave a demonstration to all Hut “Wardens” how to fit on Gas-Masks. 

Fitted all the Staff. 

Issy Bonn came to see in during the afternoon and is going to arrange a Variety Show for us again on Saturday afternoon. 

Listened to Prime Ministers speech which at least gave a breathing space. 

In evening was invited to the Goods Store staff weekly meeting.


29 August 1939

An ORT transport leaves Germany

 The first and only transport of ORT boys (age 14 to 17) leaves Berlin for Kitchener camp in Britain. The boys are divided by name, alphabetically; the boys with names in first half of the alphabet leave Germany by overcrowded train amidst scenes of chaos.


They arrive in Britain as Germany invades Poland; the boys with names in the second half of the alphabet are stranded as war breaks out

It is believed that none of the ORT boys left behind in Berlin survived the Holocaust: in 1943 the remaining 100 or so students and staff are deported to Auschwitz - from the last remaining Jewish school in Germany

Wednesday, 30 August 1939

Spent most of day in making A.R.P. arrangements and had a meeting of a few responsible people to give suggestion for a plan of campaign. 

I had a visited this afternoon from two other Variety artistes who are appearing at the Margate Hippodrome. They did not know Issy Bonn had been yesterda and they are not friendly with him. But they are going to bring their whole Hippodrome Show over on Saturday afternoon. 

A letter arrived from the B.B.C., to say that they would have to postpone their visit until things are more settled.


Arrivals from 30th August onwards: Peisech MendzigurskyHerbert Nachmann, Joachim ReissnerIsidor Wilkenfeld (camp no. 3557), Gerhard Wolf, Ernst Loewenberg


1 September 1939

Germany invades Poland

The troops of the Third Reich invade Poland, triggering the start of the Second World War

The Berlin ORT arrives with half the boys and staff - they stay at Kitchener until transfer to the school in Leeds can be arranged.

The second transfer of boys never makes it out of Germany.