Enemy Aliens

German Communities in the North East

The German community in what is now the North East of England had become a substantial minority by the end of the nineteenth century. They had left their country mainly for economic reasons.

Judging from the occupations listed in the 1911 Census, the majority of German immigrants managed a decent living in their new country of residence.

Chain migration led to a dominance of pork butchers. Most of them came from the Hohenlohe region in Württemberg.

Industrialisation and population growth offered new opportunities for entrepreneurs. People needed cheap and ready-made food. Products such as the smoked sausages and bacon sandwiches we buy nowadays can be traced back to 19th century Germany.

Dicksons, one of the leading North East companies, was founded by Michael Irwin Dickson. He opened his first shop in South Shields in 1953 with his wife Helena , the daughter of Georg Friedrich Kuch, who changed his name to Cook.

From Friend to Foe

The majority of Germans had successfully integrated into British society. But attitudes towards them changed in the years before 1914.

Right-wing publications spread the idea that all Germans acted as agents and stirred up racial hatred. When Germany became a serious military threat, German residents in Britain became a cause of national concern.

The Aliens Restrictions Act

The Aliens Restrictions Act was introduced on 5 August 1914.

All foreign nationals had to register at their local police station and give details of nationality, occupation, appearance, residence and ‘service of any foreign government’. Enemy aliens were banned from owning firearms, signalling equipment, homing pigeons, cameras and naval or military maps.

Failure to register on time could result in a £100 fine (the average male annual earnings 1913- 1914 were £94) or six months in prison.

By 1915 the entire East coast and fifty miles inland had been designated a prohibited area. Enemy aliens had to obtain special permission to remain and were prevented from changing their name or the name of their business.

Travel restrictions meant more than just an inconvenience for many. Families could no longer see each other without seeking prior permission, and businesses struggled to visit clients.

Female Enemy Aliens

British women who married foreign men were legally deemed to adopt their husband’s nationality. Even if a woman was widowed or separated, she would remain an alien subject.

The Aliens Restriction Act brought many British-born women to court who had been unaware of their alien status and failed to register.