Once the war had started, Britain as with the other belligerent nations suffered a shortage of labour as men gradually left for the front.
During the early years of the Handforth camp, the aim was to ensure that the prisoners remained behind barbed wire.
Guarding the thousands of prisoners held in Handforth was clearly a massive operation. Yet surprisingly little is known about this aspect of the camp’s history.
Most of the officers in Handforth served in the camp throughout the war years, whereas the lower ranks tended to be more regularly circulated to other duties.
In the five years that the Handforth camp existed, there were four commandants in charge. The post tended to full to senior military personnel on the verge of retirement and thus coming to the end of long, often glorious, careers.
People from other countries, aside from the United States and Switzerland, also visited Handforth, generally for diplomatic or journalistic reasons.
Having such a large number of POWs on British soil meant that high ranking government and military officials had little option but to take an interest in the running of Handforth and the country’s other internment camps.
The Americans were the second largest group of foreigners to visit the Handforth camp on a regular basis. Like the Swiss, delegates from the American Embassy in London, made regular tours of Britain’s POW camps, inspecting facilities and ensuring the care of the internees.
None of the Prisoner of War camps across Europe existed in complete isolation. Each camp had been created by one of the belligerent powers, but they were still supposed to adhere to wider international agreements.
The prisoners in Handforth came from different countries (Germany, Austria, Hungary, Turkey and beyond), different geographical regions and from different social backgrounds.
If the prisoners in Handforth had expected to be released with the ending of hostilities, then they were to be sadly disappointed.
Unsurprisingly not all of the prisoners in Handforth relished the thought of remaining in the camp, particularly as for a long time there was no clear end to the war in sight.
In 1921, two former German prisoners from Handforth published a history of the camp, which was based largely on their own experiences of internment.
Once Handforth had changed from a civilian internment camp to a military POW camp much of its previous diversity disappeared.
During Handforth’s first year, when it served mainly as a camp for civilian prisoners, it also housed a smaller number of military prisoners.
During the first year of the camp’s existence, German prisoners lived alongside Turks, Austrians and Hungarians, as well as those from South America, Africa and neutral Europe.
In the early weeks of the war, the Manchester Courier remarked with some excitement that “an Austrian gentleman of title is interned” in Handforth.
When the conflict first started in August 1914, the people of Handforth could never have imagined that their village would take on a central role in Britain’s war effort.
The Handforth camp exported many of its prisoners to a large network of working camps and also to local farms where they offered manual labour.
Running a camp the size of Handforth required a considerable number of military guards as well as a large number of general workers and administrators.
When placed together, all of these visits highlight how during the First World War Handforth became a hive of activity, where people from across Europe and beyond came to observe life behind barbed wires.
Military prisoners had been present in the camp from its earliest days, but only started to arrive in large numbers during the middle of 1916.
Civilian internees started to arrive in Handforth at the time of the camp’s opening in November 1914.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, instances of mental illness rocketed in the internment camps.
At first the enemy aliens in Handforth were interned principally out of a fear of spying. However, as time went on, the prisoners also arrived for their own protection.