James Cresswell Royal Navy
James’s Tale Interned in Groningen
James Cresswell was a regular sailor who joined the navy in 1907 for twelve years. But due to an indifferent service record never
rose above the rank of Able Seaman.
James served on several pre-dreadnought battle-ships until he was assigned to the cruiser HMS Kent in December 1909. HMS
Kent was on the China station until June 1911. During this period James jumped ship but was caught soon afterwards and served
14 days hard labour at the R.M depot at Devonport. This was followed by a period of service on HMS Victorious a Majestic class
pre-dreadnought battle-ship. When this ship was placed in reserve the crew found themselves surplus to requirements.
At the outbreak of WW 1 there was great surge of patriotism and the Navy found themselves with more men than they had ships.
At this time Winston Churchill, who was, ‘First Sea Lord’ decided to make the surplus sailors into soldiers by forming the Royal
Naval Division under his command. Thereafter affectionately know as ‘Churchill’s Little Army’. They formed into three Brigades;
the 1st Brigade consisted of three battalions Collingwood, Benbow and Hawke.
In the training camp they heard they were to be infantrymen. As Winston Churchill’s command they were, hardly prepared and
badly equipped, put to defend the fortified city of Antwerp. Together with the Belgian army they had to defend the city against the
Germans. The Germans threatened to surround the French-British army in order to march unhindered into northern France.
When it became obvious on the 8th October 1914 that Antwerp could no longer be defended, the Belgian and British troops
decided to retreat, but due to a misunderstanding the British troops arrived late for the evacuation train and so were left behind.
Faced with the advancing German army Commodore Henderson, commander of the 1st Brigade, had no other option but to
proceed to neutral Netherlands with the remnants of his command.
Here the British troops were interned according to international rules of law. In the end 1500 men were ‘for the duration of the
war’ interned in Groningen. They were accommodated in wooden huts; one battalion to each hut arranged on strictly navel
The Dutch people referred to the camp as the `Engelse Kamp`. The British more prosaically called it ‘Timbertown’ or ‘HMS
Each of the divisions was allocated to a single hut so the men lived 500 to a hut in tired bunks. Fancy having to live with 500 other
people in one hut
James Cresswell front row left.
Not all the British wanted to stay at the camp for as long as the war lasted. Several escape attempts were made. Later these
attempts ceased when the British and Dutch government came to an agreement that they would be allowed to regularly go on
leave to the centre of Groningen. Even later they were allowed, under certain conditions and word of honour to return to Holland, to
go to England for periods of four weeks (often extended to eight weeks)
Once the sailors were allowed to go into Groningen, known in navel slang as a run ashore, James reverted to his old habit of
drinking too much and fighting. For which he spent several days in the brig. This is recorded on his navel record sheet. Even POW’
s could not get away this kind of conduct. On another occasion he was charged with breaking windows in the hut they lived in and
being insubordinate to a Petty Officer.
All rights reserved copyright E Cresswell 2015