One hundred years ago this week, Edward Rhodes from Spalding witnessed a crowd of 700 civilian prisoners of war from German East Africa passing through Southampton.
They had been captured by the British who invaded their territory and had been brought to England and placed in security in a huge skating rink at Shirly near Southampton. The rink was used as temporary quarters until arrangements could be made for their internment in a detention camp elsewhere.
Mr Rhodes told of what he saw. He said: “It was a sight of a lifetime to witness these German prisoners march through the streets of Southampton on a quiet Sunday afternoon, guarded on either side by our soldiers with fixed bayonets and escorted by mounted police. A more cosmopolitan collection it would be difficult to find.
“They were all sorts of conditions of men, clad in almost every conceivable type of garment and many were carrying bags of all descriptions, some had suitcases, and not a few carried cases containing apparently music instruments, whilst others had bundles of clothes and, alas, many only had the clothes they stood in.
“One noticed in this long straggling line of depressed humanity that most of their faces bore the pinched expression of exposure and hunger - very few appeared well fed and prosperous.
“There was one, well dressed and carrying a travelling rug, and next to him in line was a poor fellow whose lack of this world’s goods was very apparent. But they were all in ‘the same boat’ and had to share their sorrows together and every one of them, no doubt, was glad to get to the destination within the skating rink - out of the biting east wind, which even made the spectators, who were perhaps all well fed and clothed, shrug their shoulders.
“These men must have found the climate here a strange contrast to the burning sunny clime of East Africa.
“The passage of this interesting mixed collection of our foes could not but strike a deep feeling of pity for some of them, especially the younger proportion who looked more fit for hospital than to rough it as they had done.
“They were now in good hands and, if they behave themselves, will be made comfortable under the circumstances. The prisoners are strongly guarded. A large number of military prisoners were placed in this building a few days ago, about 400, but these have been removed to other parts of the country.