Highlands & Islands

Insights into WW1's HMS Timbertown

HMS Timbertown Image copyright BBC alba
Image caption HMS Timbertown was built by the Dutch to hold hundreds of sailors

A new documentary explores the internment of Scots sailors in a camp in neutral Holland shortly after the outbreak of World War One.

The men included 102 from Lewis, while others came from the Northern Isles, Wick, Avoch, Glasgow, Fife and Barra.

They were among 1,500 members of the Royal Naval Division held in a camp dubbed HMS Timbertown.

BBC Alba's documentary of the same name draws on Admiralty records to tell the stories of its Scots' inmates.

The Royal Naval Division was set up by Winston Churchill when he was lord of the Admiralty.

In October 1914, the division was caught up in the fall of Antwerp following a month-long siege by German troops.

Image copyright BBC Alba
Image caption The camp's wooden huts was the inspiration for its nickname

Following Germany's invasion of Belgium in August 1914, Antwerp had sheltered the Belgian's King Albert I, along with his government, civilians and thousands of soldiers, including elements of the British Expeditionary Force.

After the city and its fortifications fell, the men of the Royal Naval Division crossed into Holland to evade capture.

They reached the town of Groningen where the authorities had a camp of wooden huts built to hold them until the end of the war.

In the documentary, BBC Alba's Angela MacLean retraces the sailors' journey and recounts the experiences of the Lewis men in the camp.

Interred with them were men from all over Scotland and the rest of the UK and included fishermen, an actor, a burglar and the Duchess of Cambridge's great grandfather, Frederick Glassborow.

There were escape attempts and deaths from illnesses in the camp.

Image copyright BBC alba
Image caption BBC Alba's Angela MacLean uses Admiralty records to tell the stories of some of the inmates

Football matches and cabaret shows organised by the men were watched by local people, who were allowed, on occasions, to visit.

Some of the sailors were allowed to return to the UK on leave for family funerals and even to help with take in harvests on farms and crofts, on condition they came back to the camp.

HMS Timbertown will be shown on BBC Alba on Thursday from 21:00.

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