Tuesday, October 25, 2016

An East Wind - Part One: Sherlock Holmes and the Internees, 1916.

A Sombre Sherlock Holmes 
"There's an east wind coming, Watson" ["His Last Bow" 1917]

I have noted elsewhere how the bitter experience of three hellish years informs and enriches the 1917 chronicle of 1914 subtitled 'The War Service of Sherlock Holmes'. It is, I think, to his credit as an illustrator that Frederic Dorr Steele achieves comparable profundity in the image above, published with LION in 1926. Internally dating to 1907 and recounted by Holmes of the Sussex Downs four years into retirement, LION should stand as coda, an Indian Summer to a glittering career. It was not to be: 'all changed, changed utterly'.

From his vantage point in 1926, Dorr Steele movingly incorporates through the aging detective's brooding, ominous disquiet the sad poetry that will create Altamont within five years and a war to end all wars in the fullness of time.

Ironically, the years 1906-07 were vintage ones for European stage productions of Sherlock Holmes, coinciding, especially, with  brief, golden ages in Russian, Ukrainian, Polish and German theatre - the theatrical equivalent of 1895 in the detective's career. Of special relevance here are the Berliner Theater's premiers of Ferdinand Bonn's "Sherlock Holmes" and "Der Hund von Baskerville" in July '06 and January '07, respectively.

Bonn's "Sherlock Holmes" 1906 (Wikimedia Commons)
[ "Footprints of a Gigantic Hund" by Michael Ross is excellent on German versions of HOUN on stage and screen: pdf HERE ]

By contrast, just as Germany enthusiastically embraced the British detective that country's Deutsches Theater in London was on the wane. Since leasing Great Queen Street Theatre in 1902, Hans Andresen and the German Theatre Company had performed classics in German but audiences had lost interest by 1907 (see HERE for further details and, from p 276, a complete list of plays performed).
The Novelty (1882) renamed Great Queen Street 1900-7

 Nicholas Decker traces the rise and fall of the company: pages 35-41 HERE . After the Great Queen Street years (the theatre was renamed "The Kingsway" in 1907), some members returned to Berlin and Hanover while others stayed on, including Andreson, performing sporadically until 1912.  Paul Wind, whom I can trace in productions from 1905 to 1909 was one such. He would find himself stranded, interned on the Isle of Man when hostilities commenced. 

And i wonder if Herr Paul Wind felt that chill, Holmesian foreboding but could not believe it presaged so arctic an eastern wind.

"Man Ploughing" by Robert Brough (Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums)
In his painting, "Man Ploughing", Scottish colourist, Robert Brough seems to prefigure the future as strikingly as Dorr Steele evokes the past. He did not live to see the Great War, suffering his own premature tragedy dying from burns aged 32 after a rail crash in 1905. Yet, I know no other image that so sensitively mirrors the poem Thomas Hardy submitted to the Saturday Review in January, 1916, to help raise the nation's faltering morale.

In Time of "The Breaking of Nations" 1916

It's the simple, famous one that begins: "Only a man harrowing clods". Read it HERE . And whenever I re-read it, I have to remind myself that no one in 1916 knew when or how war would end. If you were at Verdun you could be forgiven for thinking it would last till Doomsday.

Verdun 1916 - Man & Horse in Gas Masks (anon French photographer)


Verdun. The longest battle of World War I. February to December, 1916.

Beneath that dark umbrella what else was happening that dreadful year?

April: The Easter Rebellion.
May/June: The Battle of Jutland.
May 15: "Sherlock Holmes" starring William Gillette is released on film.
June 11: "The Mystery of the Leaping Fish" with Douglas Fairbanks as Coke Ennyday is released on film.
July 1 to November 18: Battle of the Somme.
In May and June Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was visiting the Western Front.
In July, Doyle's son, Kingsley, was seriously wounded on the Somme and would succumb to pneumonia in 1918.
In October, Paul Wind was one of two German internees known to have played Sherlock Holmes that month on the Isle of Man.

Some year.

Barbed-wire Disease.

Coke Ennyday's Clock
"The Mystery of the Leaping Fish", penned by Tod Browning while recovering from a horrific car crash, is a fevered, bizarre, blithely non-pc, psychedelic comic fantasy that re-imagines Sherlock Holmes as the utterly addicted (to cocaine) 'Coke Ennyday'. It is the cinematic equivalent of reading only the opening and closing sentences of "The Sign of the Four". 

Coke's is not Sherlock's clock. For him, rather, it is 'Dope' only when he is denied his 'proper atmosphere': work. For the mind.

William Gillette in "Sherlock Holmes" 1916

"My mind", he said, "rebels at stagnation...I abhor the dull routine of existence. I crave for mental exaltation." (SIGN chapter 1).

While time on the Somme, at Verdun and elsewhere ticked to the most surreal clock of all, those confined to concentration and internee camps experienced something akin to Holmes's state in what's termed "barbed-wire disease".

For a fuller appreciation of the context in which interned aliens performed plays on the Isle of Man please take a moment to read, especially, 'Life Behind Barbed Wire' HERE and the October 1916 report by journalists who visited the Manx camps HERE .

Sherlock Holmes and the Internees.

We should not know of the performances I shall now document without the survival of camp newspapers such as Die Lager Laterne written and published by the internees themselves. Nor would these by so readily accessible without the initiative of the Manx National Heritage iMuseum archive. So, in presenting what detail is available on the October 1916 Sherlock Holmes plays, I shall let the internees speak largely for themselves. Beyond the 'barbed wire' below are links to the evidence held in the archive. In each case just click on the short title to view. I credit all such images to Manx National Heritage with grateful thanks.

Two distinct productions are recorded:

1) Lager Zeitung (newspaper of Knockaloe Camp 4) for 22 October, 1916 carries a review of "Der Hund von Baskerville" performed by Compound 1 with Paul Wind as Sherlock Holmes in what is explicitly the play by Ferdinand Bonn.

2) Lager Laterne (newspaper of Douglas Camp) for Sunday 29 October reviewed 'last Sunday's' "Sherlock Holmes" with Willy Schmieder in the title role. Given that Dr Mor is named as a character, this would seem to be Bonn's 1906 play.

                        PAUL WIND IN HUND

[Thus far Paul Wind remains faceless: just 'the figure of a man upon the tor'.]

1) Internee record
2)  Lager Zeitung HUND review in German
3)  Lager Zeitung HUND review in English
4)  Possibly Bruno Paul Wind


Willy Schmieder is elsewhere spelled 'Schmeider'. I have chosen the spelling favoured in 'Quoesque Tandem', a short-lived camp magazine he edited. His photograph (above) appears in the issue for October 1, 1915. His name & title 'Director of Camp Theatres' clipped separately - see HERE .

1)  Internee record
2)  Lager Laterne Sherlock Holmes review
3)  Quarter of an hour with Willy Schmieder
4)  Original Photo cutting
5)  Quousque Tandem editor
6)  Theatre Critique

Some fellow performers of interest:

1) Walter Wollanke - Internee record
2)  S. Syffoni - Internee record
3)  Emil Gyori as Actor

Some pages from Quoesque Tandem of interest:

1)  Cover October 1 1915
2)  Camp Photograph
3)  Camp Huts drawing
4)  The Camp as a Town

NB: There are many photographs of Internee theatre productions on the iMuseum site. Most bear no identification of production or personnel.
See HERE for a selection.

The Final Word

I doubt Conan Doyle entered the minds of the German internees. For them, I suspect, the plays of Ferdinand Bonn represented the nostalgic and familiar. Their industry and inventiveness in such conditions is humbling and testament to the resilience of the human spirit. Lord knows what written texts were used just to learn lines. The camp libraries were well stocked but i doubt they ran to multiple copies of plays. Very likely Schmieder et al drew on a single copy to prepare parts in the old Elizabethan way.

I leave the final word to internee L.J. Greiner who said it all in this poem for Quousque Tandem (original German HERE ):

How much longer 
Will it last , this war, this screaming and this shouting,
This thunder, this murderous pounding?
How much longer in the lonely night
Must the heart plead for peace?

How much longer
This burden of terror, fearing the foe
For husband or for son?
When will peace return
To the beloved home?

How much longer
Will this yearning torment the breast?
How much longer, the nerve-racking, powerless waiting
Sap the prisoner's zest for life?
When will the iron bars fall?

 Their Last Bow - the war service of the Isle of Man internees.


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