The Death of Charles Fryatt

27 Jul

From our “this day in history” file…

The following notice appeared in Dutch, French and German on July 27th, 1916, to broadcast a dark announcement:

NOTICE. The English captain of a merchant ship, Charles Fryatt, of Southampton, though he did not belong to the armed forces of the enemy, attempted on March 28th, 1915, to destroy a German submarine by running it down. For this he has been condemned to death by judgment this day of the Field Court Martial of the Naval Corps, and has been executed. A ruthless deed has thus been avenged, belatedly but just. Signed VON SCHRÖDER, Admiral Commandant of the Naval Corps, Bruges, July 27th, 1916.

Captain Fryatt’s execution by firing squad reignited international outrage at the German treatment of foreign nationals, already banked high after the similar execution of Nurse Edith Cavell in October of the previous year. British artillerymen on the Somme, incensed at Fryatt’s treatment, began a trend of chalking tributes to the executed captain on their shells before loading them into the guns.

In the weeks leading up to his court-martial, Fryatt was held at the civilian prison camp of Ruhleben near Berlin.  I note this as a sort of taste of things to come, as the subject of the conditions endured by civilians in German prison and labor camps is one that is not often discussed and which has recently come to interest me deeply.  It is one of the most appalling gaps in the war’s popular memory (in the English-speaking world, at least — the French and the Belgians have not forgotten) that currently exists, and as the rolling centenaries commence I have hope that this imbalance may finally be redressed.

All of which is to say that you can expect to hear more about this in the coming weeks.  Ruhleben and Holzminden are on my mind.


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