German Prisoners on Somes Island, New Zealand
Photos by Harry Hart © National Library of New Zealand
Roger Hart Collection: 'Photographs of Somes Island and other subjects'

In August 1914 the New Zealand authorities set up a camp on Somes Island (also known as Matiu) in Wellington Harbour for the internment of German and Austro-Hungarian potential reservists living in New Zealand. The camp had 80 prisoners in 1914, by 1918 that number had grown to 313 including the crew of the raiding ships SMS Seeadler. Conditions at the camp were harsh, with reported beatings and considerable resentment between the prisoners and their guards. In 1918 the New Zealand government launched an official enquiry into conditions there but cleared their officials of any wrong doing.

The above photograph shows German internees on Somes Island parading on the Kaiser's birthday on 27 January 1917 with wooden dummy rifles in what looks like full pre-war German army uniforms.

Closer examination shows that these are not imperial German army uniforms but replicas improvised from other altered uniform parts. Some have the wrong number of tunic buttons, some have irregular Pickelhaube shapes and insignia while the musician on the left has breast pockets. None of these variations occurred on genuine pre-war German army uniforms.

Yet it seems quite some effort has been made to replicate the uniforms of particular units, presumably in each case that of which the wearer did his military service in. The drummer in the photograph has musicians swallows nests and the uniform of a Prussian line Jäger Battalion.

In the close up below the discrepancies in styles of uniform and Pickelhaube can be seen more clearly. The figure on the left has a uniform in the style of the Prussian Foot/Grenadier Guards with a Guards Eagle on his Pickelhaube, Swedish style cuffs and Litzen on both collar and cuffs. The others are in the style of line regiments. They each have different regimental numbers or ciphers on their shoulder straps though none can be quite read. The figure on the far right has a Bavarian coat of arms on his Pickelhaube, again no doubt in imitation of his parent regiment.



German Prisoners at Somes Camp
Most photographs taken at the camp shows the prisoners spending their time in peaceful activates such as gymnastics.

German Prisoners at Somes Camp
The prisoners also played music

German Prisoners at Somes Camp
This photograph shows another view of Somes Camp. Notice the uniformed Germans in the foreground.

Recommended External Links:

'Photographs of Somes Island and other Subjects' by Harry Hart at National Library of New Zealand

Somes Prisoners

Article on New Zealand's First World War Centenary Website

Discover Article on Motuihe Island Camp




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