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England football captain, Steve Bloomer, and life in Prisoner of War camps during the First World War

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Steve Bloomer and First World War Prisoners of War

11 November 2005

A football team sheet for an 'international' match inside Ruhleben Prisoner of War camp in 1915 - featuring an England side captained by Steve Bloomer - has been discovered in newly catalogued First World War Prisoner of War files (FO 383).

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Billed as the 'Great International Match' between England and The Rest of the World, the team sheet shows the prisoners of war taking on a 2-3-2-3 formation.

 

In July 1914, three weeks before war was declared, Steve Bloomer travelled to Berlin to coach Berlin Britannia Football Club. He was captured and spent three and a half years in Ruhleben camp. The internees, among them a number of footballers, created a remarkable camp society for themselves in which organised sport figured prominently. Bloomer captained his barracks to the League Championship, aged 43.

 

The David Beckham of his time, Steve Bloomer (1874-1938) played inside-right for Derby County, Middlesbrough and England from 1892-1914. By 1905, when he broke the England scoring and appearance records he was a national institution...football's first 'superstar'.

 

Bloomer made his England debut in 1895 against Ireland, aged 21, scoring twice. He bowed out against Scotland in 1907, scoring once...from the halfway line. He scored in each of the first ten internationals. His 28 goals in 23 appearances for England were a record until 1956.

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The project to catalogue these documents has just been completed and the 547 files include an array of paintings, photos and reports. They give an intimate insight into life in First World War Prisoner of War camps and reveal how British internees refused to let capture and confinement dampen their spirits.

 

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Other documents in the series have unearthed some fascinating stories. They include interviews with soldiers and airmen on their experiences while interned in Germany. Some of these reports are annotated and signed by the author Edgar Wallace, who was working as a special interrogator for the War Office.

 

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A plan of the Ruhleben internment camp is also included in the files. A former racecourse, 10km West of Berlin, and near the now notorious Spandau, the plan shows a printing department, playing fields, grandstand, athletic stores and an array of shops selling over 20 different kinds of tobacco.

 

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Camp conditions for German Prisoners of War held in the UK are amongst the documents. Plans of Alexandra Palace detail the pleasant surroundings on offer to some internees but a pencil drawing by a German soldier, housed in a former workhouse in Islington, London shows that the sleeping arrangements weren't exactly anything to write home about.

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