While my friend Jeremy opened up his bag and brought out a bulging file, I refreshed his Appleton and Canada Dry Ginger. Putting on my reading glasses I was ready for the great reveal!
I opened the brown manila folder. Inside was a Home Office dossier, 27 pages long, recording the progress of Stefan Kamelhard through the naturalisation process. Most of the file is bureaucratic bumph – five pages of minutes recording the progress of the file through the Home Office, scraps of paper little bigger than a bus ticket on which addresses or reminders or notes to the archive have been scribbled, letters to and from Stefan’s commanding officer in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, that sort of thing. But there are treasures – a letter in Stefan’s own hand, a police report, the application for naturalisation, again in Stefan’s own hand, an attestation of character by a neighbour.
The file, HO 144/1488, Archive Number 354518 was opened on the 9th January 1918. The last minute is dated 7th December 1918. Later a seal is placed on the dossier, closing it until 2018! The application was made through Stefan’s then commanding officer Lt. Col. Charles Arthur Wilding C.M.G. (later Lt. General) of the 11th Battalion of the RDF, and Stefan does not have to pay anything because he is a serving soldier. Intriguingly there is a handwritten note at the top of the page recording “2-4 Destroyed”. What could they have been?
The minutes show that Stefan’s application is processed very quickly. By the 5th of March the Home Office have completed their investigation:
“This seems a proper case. The man has been here for about 6 and a half years & nothing is known against him. He has served well in the Army.”
The application is granted on the 16 March, and the certificate sent to his commanding officer on the 25th. Stefan took the oath of Allegiance before a Justice of the Peace in March 30th. But he never seemed to have received the certificate, for the next four pages of minutes record various enquiries from Stefan or his commanding officer trying to get hold of a copy of the certificate. The complication is that it’s wartime and Stefan’s regiment keeps moving about – from Aldershot, to France, back to Aldershot, to an unspecified training camp preparatory to service in Archangel in Russia at the end of the year. But finally, in December, a copy is sent to his wife in Kensington, and the file is closed.
Next in the dossier are the scraps of paper and letters to and from the Army. These only reveal that the Treasury is reluctant to waive fees for the naturalisation and for the copy certificate but are overruled by the Home Office (one hundred years on that would be a battle the Home Office would always lose!) and, by August, Stefan has been promoted to Lance-Corporal and is working as an Intelligence Clerk. That he is working in military intelligence is not surprising since he spoke fluent German, Russian, Polish and French.
There is a long letter from the Home Office to Lt. Col. Wilding giving instructions on how the Oath is to be administered. It contains the intriguing sentence, almost as an afterthought at the end:
I am to add that in case this man is a Jew, a Jew is sworn holding a copy of the Old Testament in his uplifted right hand.
The letter in Stefan’s hand is written from France on 13 July 1918 and is asking for a replacement for the missing certificate. The handwriting to my eye is a bit juvenile, but I’m not an expert in human writing. His language is interesting – formal in an English way, with one or two errors – “…my allegiance of oath…” for example. Despite these, he seems fluent in English, or did he have help??
Now we cometo the most intriguing, and informative, documents in the file – a police report on Stefan and the application itself. The first step in the Home Office’s process was to refer the application to the Special Branch of the Metropolitan Police, who very rapidly investigated Stefan, spoke to previous employers and people who knew the family. Sergeant Boustred, who conducted the investigation, reported back to the Home Office on the 27th January.
The referee Mr James Lyndon Burt, of 2 Addison Road, Kensington, W., a merchant in business trading as Burt & Co., 41 Eastcheap, E.C., is a respectable, responsible person, householder and natural born British Subject. I was informed by him that he has known the Memorialist and his wife for the past 4 years. Mr Burt first knew Memorialist through his wife Mrs Burt, who used to visit the young children in Soho district on behalf of the Westminster Council. Memorialist lived at that time in the Soho district and when one of his children was born he was visited by Mrs Burt. Since then she has taken a great interest in the family and for some time has casually employed Memorialist’s wife to do dressmaking.
Mr Burt, knows of nothing to the prejudice of Memorialist except that he did at one time form the opinion that Memorialist was a ne’er-do-well. It seems that Memorialist worked for a chemist at 2 Broad Street, Golden Square, and owing to a dispute over the work he left and did nothing for about a 12 month. Mr. Burt, thought that he was lazy. His wife who is a dressmaker kept the home going. Memorialist however changed after this for the better and obtained a situation with Messrs Lyons and Benoist Ltd, and was in continuous employment until he left of his own accord and joined the British army.
According to enquiries Memorialist appears to be a respectable man. His wife is a French woman having been born 22nd March 1881 at Rennes, Ile et Vilaine, Bretagne, France, (birth certificate produced) and he married her on the 26th November 1911 at St Johns Church, Great Marlborough Street, W. (marriage certificate produced)
There are three children of the marriage, under age [.....] The third child Gustav Louis Paul, was born in 1914 at Cazeres sur l’Adour, France, and Memorialist’s wife says it is their wish for this child to be included in the Memorial.
Next I turned my attention to the second document: Stafan’s application for naturalisation. Unlike the form in use today, which is 31 pages long, 100 years ago Stefan only had to fill out two pages.
At the time Poland did not exist, it had been overrun and partitioned between Russia, Austria and Prussia, later Germany. Stefan came from the Russian occupied portion and so he had to fill out a form specific to Russian citizens.
It struck me as odd that there was a form specific to one group of aliens, people from the Russian Empire. But this is easily explained. Between 1880 and 1920, massive pogroms and the May Laws in Russia, that severely curtailed the rights of Jews throughout the Russian Empire, caused 2 million Jews to flee, the majority to the USA. 140,00, mainly from Poland, Ukraine and Lithuania, went to Britain. Few non-Jewish Poles settled in Britain during this period – a handful of political exiles, and, of course, Józef Korzeniowski, Joseph Conrad as he is better known. In these years Russian Jews were the largest group of immigrants and refugees which helps explain why there was a naturalisation form specifically for Russians. Because of the instruction in item (3) Nationality Stefan must give his nationality as Russian, not Polish or Jewish, so it is not possible to tell from this whether he was a Polish Jewish refugee, or a non-Jewish Pole, refugee or otherwise.
The form shows that Stefan arrived in London in September 1912, and that up until he joined the Army in 1916, he lived at three addresses in Holland Park, then a relatively poor area, now one of the most fashionable and expensive. There is no mention of his lodgings in Soho where he was first known to Mr & Mrs Burt.
Page 2 gives a lot of detail about the Kamelhard family both in London and in Warsaw. His marriage to Marguerite Louise, their three children born before 1918, Stefan’s mother and father. And there is one interesting anomaly – although Stefan says he has lived in England since September 1912, his marriage is in London, in an Anglican church in November 1911, three and a half months before the birth of their first child and almost a full year before he says he started living in England.
There are two attachments to the application, character references, one from Mr James Lyndon Burt , the other from Lt. Col. Wilding .
Well, now I had all the facts. But how to interpret them? I turned to my friend Jerermy, who had dozed off as I read the dossier.
“Wake up”, I said, “I have some questions for you.” He rubbed his eyes, sat up and said, “OK, but not before another Appleton.
[TO BE CONCLUDED]