As the Second World War drew on numerous other nations entered the conflict, both with and against Britain: Britain formally declared war on Finland, Hungary and Romania on 7 December 1941, the same day as Japan entered the war with the attack on Pearl Harbour; more countries joined the war as time went by. These new entries into the conflict made enemy aliens out of thousands of foreign nationals living in Britain, enemy aliens whom the government believed needed to be controlled. The way these people were dealt with by the government can tell us much about how the final stages of the internment process unfolded in Britain, particularly Wiltshire, and about everyday life for foreigners during the war.
In Wiltshire after the summer of 1940 the aliens who most concerned the police were Romanians. On 8 November 1940 the Home Office issued a letter to all British police forces outlining that in the event of war with Romania, any Romanians in Britain would automatically become enemy aliens, at which point the government planned intern those who were male and between the ages of 16 and 65. We don’t know exactly how many Romanians were living in Wiltshire at this time, but it wasn’t many. According to a census undertaken by the police in March 1942, out of a total of 624 aliens living in Wiltshire there were only six Romanians, two men and four women.
On 12 November the police in Wiltshire drew up a list of names of male Romanians in the county who were to be interned under these orders. They were a 31-year old living in Swindon, and a 16-year old living in West Lavington. In a note at the end of the report the police recorded that “both are physically fit”, meaning that they were not exempt from internment due to poor health. The Home Office had asked the police to keep this list continually updated, and on 13 February 1941 the older man’s name was removed and replaced by another 18-year old living in Hullavington, also described as ‘physically fit’.
These lists present us with something of a puzzle: the Arandora Star was sunk in July 1940, resulting in a public outcry against mass internment and supposedly the government’s abandonment of the policy. Yet here we have evidence that police in Wiltshire, on the orders of the Home Office, were actively maintaining a list of people eligible for mass internment as late as February 1941. The reality is that the government’s change of internment policy was only a very gradual process, one that was set in motion by the sinking of the Arandora Star but not one that was completed quickly.
Over the past thirty years or so there have been more and more reported sightings of large cats in Wiltshire and its neighbouring counties. What has triggered my personal interest in this subject is an encounter experienced by my husband during autumn last year. As he was driving up Lyneham banks between Dauntsey Lock and Lyneham he saw an unusual animal crossing the road before him. He described it as being the size of a small Labrador dog, black in colour but with the gait of a cat. It resembled a small Black Panther which is actually a Leopard in species. He was certain that it was not a domestic cat as it was way too big and certainly not a dog, badger or fox. This animal may have been the same one that has been sighted in the area over the last two decades including one in Grittenham in 1994.
It is widely believed that when the government brought in the Exotic Pets Act in 1976, some owners of exotic species set their animals free. The main reason for this was to avoid new legislation regarding mainly health and safety issues. It is more likely that over the years a very small handful of fauna not native to Britain, have escaped and reproduced in our countryside. With some species this has certainly been the case. The American Mink and the Signal Crayfish have had a significant damaging impact to our wildlife.