(This post was originally distributed as HV Morton Society Snippets – No.202)
Grizedale Hall in the Lake District (image courtesy of Wikipedia)
A couple of months ago I received a most surprising communication:
Greetings from America!
I am a U-Boat researcher (www.U-35.com) and years ago came into possession of a Daily Herald article by Morton: H. V. Morton Visits The “U-Boat Hotel” Guests.
I gather that Morton collected these articles into book/pamphlet form for publication, as this topic is included in one of his books. I have attached an article which I gather was written in November 1939, as it refers to “ten weeks of war” – so the officers of “my” U-Boat (U-35) were not incarcerated yet; they arrived at Grizedale in December.
I would like to make one request – please place this article on the website for all to enjoy. There is a strong worldwide interest in U-Boats, and a recognition of “U-Boat Hotel” as Grizedale Hall. My own great-uncle and fellow officers of U-35 were housed at Grizedale before being transported to Canada in 1940. When U-Boat researchers look for “U-Boat Hotel” it would be wonderful to find and reference the text and photos of Morton’s wonderful article on your website.
Thanks in advance for considering, Hans Mair
What an unexpected treasure – Hans had attached photographs of the article in question. They were yellowed with age and a little faded but still legible enough to get a transcript done, which I have included, with copies of the original pictures, below.
The original newspaper article was expanded by Morton and included in his 1942 work “I Saw Two Englands” as section 2 of Chapter 9 (p 256 in my 1943 fourth edition). Having sight of the original article is exciting enough, but to have a connection through it with a relative of one of the submarine crew who were detained there (albeit not until after Morton’s visit) is doubly so. I would urge you to visit Hans’s U-35 website for even more detail. His writing gives a true insight into the lives of submariners in the German Navy during the Second World-War, in particular the crew of the U-35, their capture and imprisonment – and their chivalry.
Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, England
[Hand written note reads: Grizedale Hall, Lake District]
H.V. Morton Visits the “U-boat Hotel” Guests
H. V. MORTON AT “U-BOAT HOTEL”
HERE is an absorbing news story. It takes you inside a prison camp “Somewhere in Britain” where German U-boat officers are detained.
H. V. Morton has written it as one of his great series which the “Daily Herald” is publishing daily.
By H.V. Morton
The “DOOR KEEPER” on duty at the entrance to the “U-boat Hotel”
I wanted to see the captured German submarine officers.
I wanted to find out how we are treating them, what kind of men they are, what they do with themselves, and if they are grateful to us, or at least to fate, for having literally fished them out of the jaws of death.
The officer commanding the district gave me an introduction to the commandant of the prison camp and I set off to motor 50 miles into a wilderness—a beautiful wilderness whose solitude deepened as I went on.
The German prisoners captured during 10 weeks of war do not include one army officer, N.C.O. or private. They are all either U-boat officers and men rescued at sea or crews of raiding aircraft shot down over our coasts or in our territorial waters. Their numbers continue to increase. Men are sent to one camp, officers to another.
As in the last war large country houses have been taken over to accommodate the officers, and the first one to be occupied — the Donington Hall of this war—was the place to which I was journeying. I cannnot tell you its name. but it is known in all the villages round about as “The U-boat Hotel.” It is in the heart of a district familiar to the more adventurous kind of hiker, cyclist and lover of untamed nature, and I went on for many a mile without meeting a soul.
I felt I must at last be getting near, and this became a certainty as turning the corner of a lane I was obliged to pull up to allow a remarkable procession to pass. It was led by a mounted policeman. He rode in this remote solitude as if he were patrolling Whitehall. Behind marched several old soldiers wearing the ribbons of the last war and armed with rifles and fixed bayonets. Marching four abreast came about 20 young men laughing and joking in German as they strode between a line of guards.
Most of them were bare-headed, all of them wore strangely assorted clothing. I was to learn that some of it belonged to British naval officers who had rescued them from the sea. Many wore the leather trousers that German submarine officers wear on duty, and these garments had been supplemented by civilian coats and waistcoats.
The procession ended with more armed guards and a British Officer [here a hand-written note reads “Captain J.C. Derlien MC”].
In the orderly room to whch I was conducted by a sentry the colonel in command of “The U-boat Hotel” was telephoning to a dentist in a distant town arranging for the teeth of six Germans to be stopped.
“If I am allowed to have heard that conversation” I said, “might I say that six seems a high proportion to require dental treatment?”
“Many of the U-boats were in position two months before the war broke out,” replied the Colonel, “and I suppose even a U-boat officer puts off going to the dentist as long as possible!
(continued on Page Four, Column Three)
[here a line is missing from the scan, but the same section in “I Saw Two Engands” reads: “Anyhow, the fact remains that their… ]
… teeth are in a bad way, I shall send them to the dentist with an armed guard in a motor-lorry”
The colonel had been through the last war and was on the Reserve List when called up to organise “The U-boat Hotel” He the ideal man for the job, a bachelor who likes living in the depths of the country, a humorous, humane disciplinarian who is resolved to make his captives as comfortable as regulations will allow.
He has under him five officers and about 150 men of the National Defence Corps, all old soldiers, and several of them, by some ironic twist of destiny, once British prisoners of war in Germany! The officers and guards live in the estate cottages and in the barns and the stables, while the Germans live in the more spectacular surroundings of the hall itself.
Before we went to the hall we had a look at the quarters in which the guards are living. A canteen is being fitted up in an old coach house. Coke stoves are being installed in barns and stables where the men sleep. These old soldiers appeared delighted to be back in khaki. I thought that perhaps their wives would not be too pleased to see how gaily they have taken to the old life! As we walked past their beds and looked at the kits neatly set out on the blankets I noticed that above every bed had been placed a picture of the King or Queen.
A German prisoner of war reading beside a log fire at the “U-boat Hotel”
* * *
We now approached the hall itself. A huge country house in the Edwardian-Tudor style that was empty when war broke out and has been empty, I think, for two or three years. It is the kind of house in which few people except orphans or committees can afford to live nowadays. It once belonged to a wealthy shipowner. It has been surrounded by a double system of barbed wire entanglements. Armed guards patrol the place day and night and high look-out platforms have been erected all round it on which sentries are posted. A circle of powerful electric lights illuminates the hall and its grounds after nightfall. The Germans sleep in dormitories, formerly the best bedrooms, and as more prisoners arrive more rooms are opened up. They sleep on comfortable iron bedsteads and box mattresses and have an adequate supply of warm blankets.
Men who are rescued from the sea rarely have any possessions, so the officers have had to be provided with razors, soap, shaving brushes and other articles, which are to be seen; neatly arranged above each bed. Their possessions will grow, no doubt, as their captivity lengthens and as parcels are received from Germany.
At the moment they have no money, but arrangements for an Anglo-German prisoners-of-war finance scheme are going through with, I believe, the help of the Dutch Government, which is acting as go-between. When this scheme is complete English money will go to Germany for our prisoners and German money will come over here for Germans. Lack of money, of course, means no cigarettes, but the British officers have supplied cigarettes at their own expense.
Picture of Hitler
The huge panelled dining-room on the ground floor, in which the shipowner once entertained his guests, is the German common-room. It is simply furnished with a few chairs and a ping-pong table. The only decoration is a photograph of Hitler shooting out his arm in salute.
“Every prisoner is a hundred per cent. Nazi.” said the Colonel.
“At first, when addressed by an officer, they would come to attention and give the Nazi salute with a ‘Heil Hitler.’ But we have stopped that, and they don’t attempt to do it now.”
“What do they do all day?”
“They play cards and ping-pong. The Bishop of —– has sent us a lot of German books, I hope, as time goes on to be able to organise other amusements for them, so that they won’t get too bored.”
A serving hatch from the dining-hall communicates with a large up-to-date kitchen. Four German naval ratings who had been submarine cooks, have been detailed to look, after the officers. They receive ordinary military rations—exactly the same food as that in the British Officers’ mess—and this the German cooks are allowed to prepare as they like, or rather as their officers like!
While we were looking at the bathrooms upstairs we heard the tramp of approaching feet and saw the Germans returning from their morning exercise. The sentries sloped arms. The gates in the barbed wire were hastily unlocked and the young men passed inside.
“See that young fellow, the third in the last file,” said the commandant, “He’s a submarine lieutenant—a mere boy—and he sobbed his heart out the first night because he is now of no further use to the Fatherland.”
We went downstairs into the dining-room, where the Germans were now gathered. They sprang stiffly to attention until the commandant told them to relax. A sentry stood at the door with a rifle and fixed bayonet. The young men gathered round the commandant and talked freely to him in excellent English, and I could see that they liked him. I think these young fellows also respected the long row of ribbons on his chest.
* * *
After lunching with the British officers in their mess I noticed with interest that they were all reading “The Escaping Club,” by AJ Evans, an admirable account of British prisoners in Germany during the last war. I was told that the commandant had suggested it was their, duty to study the psychology of war captivity.
“It is impossible for men captured in war not to dream of escape,” I was told.
“No matter how awful the horrors from which they’ve escaped and how sure the knowledge that they are safe, the boredom, the lack of news, the very fact of being held against their wills in enemy country makes any risk and even a return to danger seem worth while.”
A veteran was sitting near the stove solemnly adding to the art gallery. He had a pile of old “Sketches” and “Tatlers” and a pair of scissors. I watched him at work, gloomily passing over film stars and dancers; but whenever he came across a picture of the King or Queen he made a pause of sombre satisfaction and dug the scissors into the page. It will be a loyal and regal barn when he has finished with it!
It was surprising to realise that such average-looking young fellows—just the kind of young men one might have met at any Anglo-German party in London before the war—were the men who have launched torpedoes against our ships and have attempted to make a mess of the Forth Bridge.
But “the enemy,” when he is not actually trying to kill you, is always a surprising sight!
I have known a number of Nazis and have been impressed and irritated by them on many occasions. I have always found that on the essential doctrines of their faith it is impossible to argue; for a non-Nazi to talk politics to a Nazi provokes precisely the same kind of mental deadlock as that between an atheist and a devout Catholic.
I had no need to look twice at the German officers to see that they carry their faith into captivity. They have been fished out of the sea or picked up from the land positively bursting with love and homage for their almost divine leader; and nothing can convince them at this moment that Germany can fail to win the war.
7 responses to “Grizedale Hall – the “U-boat Hotel””
“Don’t tell him, Pike!”
I wonder if the U-boat crews captured later in the war were so devoutly pro-Nazi.
Fascinating thanks Niall! And a nice little piece of Mortoniana.
Thanks to both of you – I have to say I thought of that classic episode of ‘Dads’ Army’ too when I first read the article! It was quite a privilege to be able to read the original piece.
My childhood home in the Lake District from 1963 contained an amazing pitch pine staircase bought from Grizedale Hall pre-demolition in the late 1950’s. It is still in situ to this day
Thanks for this, Diane, that’s quite a connection, what a shame to hear it was demolished – did you know the history of Grizedale at the time you lived there with the staircase?
All the best, Niall
I was 12 and living in Grizedale before the hall was demolished in the late 50s it sad to see it go a former lovely house with tapestry in most roooms and beautiful furnishings my father managed to buy a piece a bookcase which is also still in use today
Thanks, R Simson, what a pity such a lovely building was demolished. I can’t help thinking it should have been preserved as an important piece of history. It’s good to know some parts of it survived though.