Hartlepool man’s four years in Spandau prison

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THESE astonishing photographs were captured inside a prisoner of war camp by a Hartlepool man.

Norman Anderson Lamb from Thornton Street in West Hartlepool spent four years of internment in a converted horse racing track at Spandau during the First World War.

He was the son of Henry Lamb Senior who owned the long standing jeweller’s business in Lynn Street, which later moved to York Road.

Norman’s story was a remarkable tale of courage against the odds, and of a man whose family feared they would never see him again.

It’s thanks to Mike Hall that we can share Norman’s story.

Mike, who lives in the Blyth area, is part of a family called Birks which, like the Lamb’s, were well known in Hartlepool as traders. The Birks were grocers and the two clans became intertwined when Emily Lamb and Hugh Birks married in 1911.

The families had a home at Arkengarthdale which still remains part of their property, It is where many of the photos of Norman’s internment were found.

Mike, 69, a retired teacher who formerly taught at Henry Smith’s Grammar School in Hartlepool before moving to Northumberland in later life, said: “I thought this was an appropriate time to share the photographs.”

They are a remarkable depiction of life inside a prisoner of war camp.

In August 1914, aged 29, Norman Anderson Lamb was working in Germany for Siemens on the outbreak of war. As a British citizen, he was considered as a “potential enemy” by the German state and was interned in Ruhleben prisoner of war camp at Spandau – a suburb of Berlin.

It had previously been a horse racing course and it had been adapted to make a holding camp for “aliens” such as Norman.

The four to five thousand internees were mainly British citizens who were housed in the stables in very poor conditions.

Technically he was not a prisoner of war as he was not a member of the British armed forces, but he was there all the sam. The conditions in the camp were not punitive but the inmates suffered terribly from the same shortages of food and fuel that were also being experienced by the German people during the war.

Temperatures in the winter were intolerably cold and the food was little more than potatoes and scraps of meat. Presumably he also received Red Cross parcels and family gifts from Britain.

Boredom was a major problem for the captive civilians but they quickly organised and managed their own British community with a range of activities.

There were tailors, barbers, newspapers, a postal service, cooks. For their leisure time there was theatre; music; gardening; art; sports such as football and cricket.

The inmates were encouraged to share their interests with others. Norman chose bee keeping.

When he returned to England after the war he continued to keep bees and passed his skills on to his nephew George.

Somehow he gained access to a camera, chemicals and photographic paper and there still remains in the family a set of tiny photographs showing everyday life in the camp some of which are shown here.

There is also a Christmas card that he sent to his sister Emily dated December 23, 1915.

His mother was so sure that she would never see him again that she insisted that her next grandchild should also be named Norman Anderson Lamb.

From that point, there were two people in the family in successive generations with exactly the same name.

Apart from his time in Ruhleben Norman had an adventurous life.

Before the First War he was working for Armstrong shipbuilders at Elswick on the Tyne, where the dreadnought warship Minas Geraes was built for the Brazilian government.

He accompanied the ship on its maiden voyage to Rio de Janeiro where it was handed over to the Brazilian authorities.

During the Second World War, he was involved in highly secret work on the development of Mulberry Harbour which was instrumental in the success of the allied troops during the D day landings.

Finally he moved to Scarborough where he was an electrical engineer at The Stresa Esplanade in Scarborough.

He died on April 21, 1970 in Scarborough, aged 85. He was buried in St Mary’s Church Cemetery, Arkengarthdale, Richmond, North Yorkshire with his sisters Emily and Georgina.