On this Day 12th August 1914

Stranger Danger: Penwith at War

Only last week, Penzance was enjoying the summer: excursion wagons plying for custom; theatre and cinema offering thrills and comedy; shopkeepers setting out their wares. True, the foreign news did not make for easy reading. But then, when does it? August: time to enjoy the sun, and look forward to the forthcoming celebrations. For soon the Borough of Penzance will be 300 years old, and plans have been made for parades and picnics, with medals, mugs and buns galore.

But now, for the past week, the nation has been at war. And even here, in the far west, there have been some unwelcome surprises for holidaymakers and householders alike. This very morning, a Mr Goodgame is up in court. He’s been caught taking photographs at Land’s End. As it turns out, everything seems to be in order. The Metropolitan and Essex Police have confirmed that the name and address he has supplied accord with their own investigations. His photographic plates have turned out to record nothing more than the usual scenic views. In court he confirms that he has been well treated in custody, but ventures the thought that perhaps some signs might have been erected, warning holidaymakers that they risked arrest.

But if Mr Goodgame has proved a disappointment, there are genuine aliens on the way. Arriving tomorrow afternoon are the crew of the Kronprinzessin Cecile, unlucky enough to find themselves in Falmouth dock when war was declared, and now – for want of any better suggestions – to be housed in Chyandour Artillery Barracks. Mrs Arthur has been put out of her house to make room for the men, and has had to find lodgings at a few hours’ notice. They will be put off the train at Ponsandane sidings to avoid the crowd that will have gathered to take a look at them. Later, there will be questions: who is going to pay for their keep, let alone the expense of round-the-clock guards - and who said they could come to Penzance in the first place?

German steamer Kronprinzessin Cecile, whose crew were interned in Penzance in August 1914. Not to be confused with the NED Lloyd 4 stacker of the same name built in 1906 (WikiCommons)

But back on August 12th, Mr Goodgame isn’t finished yet. He sets pen to paper; drafts a letter to the press. He has left court a free man, but mud sticks, and he needs to clear his name. He fears for the reputation of the “respectable woman” with whom he has lodged. He has been accused in the press of having “incriminating documents” and a “suspicious manner”. Worse, perhaps, he has been described as “apparently a foreigner”. As Mr and Mrs D H Lawrence will find when they come to stay at Zennor, it is not advisable to behave in a suspicious manner; to harbour material that might incriminate; to be a foreigner.

And so the summer comes to a premature end. The tercentenary? Best to postpone it for a while. The parades and medals will take a rather different form from the one anticipated. And the buns galore? They won’t be happening either, any time soon. The rich are stockpiling, the poor are queueing, and the prices of flour and sugar have gone through the roof. Don’t you know there’s a war on?

Evening Tidings 13th August 1914, page 3

Cornishman 15th August 1914, page 2; 22nd August 1914, page 2

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Penwith Local History Group
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Growing Up in West Cornwall. A Publication by the Penwith Local History Group

"Growing Up in West Cornwall"

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Sally Corbet

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