Enemy Aliens in Bexhill

Cosmopolitan Bexhill

In the years before the First World War visitors came from Europe and beyond to enjoy the fashionable resort of Bexhill. To create an air on continental elegance the hotels employed many Europeans. Upon the outbreak of war these staff members left to join the armed forces of their own countries.

The Sackville Hotel lost 20 members of staff, French, Germans and Swiss. One member of staff at the Sackville Hotel was the chef, Gilbert Chazottes, who left to enlist in the French army. He left behind his Belgian born wife, Hortense, at their home in Victoria Road with their two children. Gilbert survived the war and the family remained in the UK. The Metropole Hotel lost 12 Austrian, French and Swiss members of staff at the start of the War. The manager, Wenzl Bleba, was arrested a week later along with 5 other enemy aliens and taken to Lewes but subsequently released back to Bexhill.  This disengagement had a strange upshot three years later in 1917 when a local soldier wrote home that after a raid on a German trench he found silver plate items bearing the name Sackville Hotel Bexhill!

In the years preceding the war there was public concern about the activity of German spies in this country, fuelled in part by the commentator William Le Queux. When war came, spy mania erupted in Bexhill with the police investigating, but finding no evidence of, signalling from a top window of the Metropole Hotel and spies at the Colonnade and Cooden Beach.

On Thursday 22nd October 1914 there was a police round up of enemy aliens of military age who remained in Bexhill, Battle and Rye. The task was routine as the men had registered under the Aliens Registration Act 1914 when the war started. For many this was a relief as it guaranteed their safety, as well as providing food and a roof over their head, as many had struggled to find work and accommodation following the outbreak of war, and increasing anti-German feelings.

High profile internees were Wenzl Bleba, the Austrian manager of the Metropole Hotel who had an English wife. Dr Blassneck, the headmaster of the Deutsches Paedagogium School, a German school founded in 1910 by Mrs Du Mont and in 1914 could boast the Kaiser Wilhelm II nephew amongst its students, and Herr Rinsch, coachman to Mrs du Mont at the Manor House. The men were housed overnight at the Police Station in Cantelupe Road. Relatives were allowed to visit on the Friday before the men were taken at 2:30 pm under police escort by train to a camp at Frimley in Surrey.

However, those who had not registered following the introduction of the Registration Act, fell foul of the law. An Austrian, John Haura, a waiter, was sentenced at the County Bench to six months hard labour for failing to register.

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