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Mary Richards

(1868-1942) – Female POW

At the start of war, all vessels in enemy ports were detained. SS 'Treglisson' of St Ives was unloading grain in Bremen, Germany when Captain Edward Richards, his crew and visiting wife became prisoners of war. Mrs Richards (centre front) was released after a month of being subjected to German propaganda.

Credit: St Ives Museum

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On August 4th 1914 the SS Treglisson was captured while discharging a cargo of barley and rye from Taganrog, Russia in the port of Bremen, and remained there throughout the war.  Captain Edward Richards of St Ives was master of the SS Treglisson and his wife Mary, nee Trevaskis a former St Ives teacher, was in Bremen to visit him.  She was detained with him as a prisoner of war, but released after a month.  The following extracts are part of her account of her adventure from the Western Echo of 12th September: 

‘We had no idea that England and Germany were so near war… But one morning about seven o’clock the German police came on board and informed us that we should have to leave the ship, as England had declared war on Germany.

…The men were allowed time to pick up their belongings and then were all escorted ashore.  For the first few days we had a rather unpleasant time, but after that, I must say, we were well treated by the Germans... 

The Germans have an intense hatred against the British, and the accounts we were told of German victories by sea and land made us all very despondent.  For instance, the Governor of the German prison who signed my passport tried hard to persuade me not to leave, telling me that I should be far safer in Germany than in England.  London and Plymouth, he said, were in flames, and in less than three months England would become a German Colony…  The Germans were about to enter Calais, from whence they would be able to bombard Dover.  Their big guns, he boasted, could carry 23 miles, while the distance across the straits of Dover was only 21 miles. When I ventured to suggest that they would not be able to fire their men across, he said, “Ah, but we shall land them under cover of our heavy artillery fire.”  I reminded him however, that the British Fleet might prove an obstacle to this, but he took no notice of my remark.

I scarcely knew what to expect on reaching this country, and was very anxious about my children [six aged 5 to 20] at home but fortunately my fears were groundless’. 

The rest of the crew and the SS Treglisson were finally released on January 20th 1919. 

In British ports, German sailing ships and other vessels were similarly detained during the war.   As the artist Henry Scott Tuke observed of three large German sailing ships brought into Falmouth Harbour: ‘It seems rather mean to capture them when none of them had heard of the war till they arrived at the Scilly Islands’. 

Key words: women 

Credit: St Ives Museum