In the 1870s there was a significant increase in Germans from across the empire migrating to countries like the United States and Britain for the promise of a better life.
In part this was a result of the recent reunification of Germany. Up until the 1860s the state of Hannover had been part of a zone occupied by Britain, which was viewed as a country with a similar culture and mentality. It was an industrialised nation that attracted skilled workers, businessmen and academics looking to improve their prospects.
Britain was relatively easy to settle in and although they were keen to retain elements of their culture, Germans migrants integrated into society quickly, marrying British partners and starting successful businesses.
At one time, the community grew to be the largest minority group in Britain and at the outbreak of the First World War it was estimated that there was a total of 250,000 Germans living in the country.
In the North East, the town of South Shields boasted at least seven popular German Pork Butcher shops, with more across Newcastle, Gateshead and Sunderland.
Pastors arrived from Berlin to help set up Lutheran churches and Sunday schools and in 1880, a German Sailors Mission was established, with a home opening in Mill Dam in 1909 to welcome and accommodate immigrants and sailors visiting the area.
Georg Friedrich Kuch was born in 1883 to a family of pork butchers on a farm in Alkertshausen, Blaufelden in the Hohenlohe district of Baden Württemburg, Germany.
Following in the footsteps of Johann Leonard Kuch, his elder half-brother, he travelled to Britain and settled in Newcastle upon Tyne, where he began working in a pork butcher’s shop owned by a fellow German, Herr Kauffman. It was there that he met Rosa Kress, from Schwabisch Hall, Baden Württemburg, who was employed as a maid in the Kauffman household, alongside her older half-sister Carrie, a cook.
Georg Friedrich and Rosa married in Gateshead in 1907 and quickly set up their own pork butcher’s shop in Raby Street, Byker. In 1908, living above the shop, Rosa gave birth to their first child, Helena who was soon to be followed by two more children, Rose and Frederick.
Immediately after the outbreak of the First World War, the introduction of the Aliens Restriction Act required foreign nationals over the age of 16 to report weekly to the police and provide their names and information about their nationality, occupation, age, place of residence, place of business, distinctive marks and in some cases, their fingerprints.
In Newcastle, German residents were warned that if they did not obtain permits to continue living in the city by 10 August 1914, they would need to leave.
Letters from the Home Office were sent to German nationals who were eventually rounded up and sent to internment camps. Conditions in some of the poorer camps were harsh and the lack of privacy and separation from their families left prisoners mentally scarred. In contrast, higher class business and tradesmen were able to pay for better conditions, obtaining hotel rooms with superior food, more lenient treatment and even regular newspapers.
On October 23 1914 Newcastle pork butcher Georg Friedrich Kuch was arrested as an enemy of the state – a terrifying experience for him and his family. He met the criteria, like most of his countrymen happily settled in Britain, of being young and fit for military service.
A crowd estimated at 4,000 gathered at Newcastle Central Station to witness the first group of 70 or so German nationals en route to prison camps on the Isle of Man. Kuch was interned in Knockaloe camp along with 25,000 others on the island.
Men over the age of 55, women and children were repatriated to Germany, despite the fact that many had immigrated to Britain many years before and no longer had a connection to the country or, were born in Britain and had never been to Germany.
Convention was that when a woman married she assumed her husband’s nationality, as did their children. It wasn’t unusual to find whole families born and raised in Britain who spoke no German forced from their homes to Germany, a country they didn’t know.
Soon after his internment, Kuch’s wife Rosa and their three young children were deported.
Shipped through a war zone, the family eventually arrived at the family farm in Alkertshausen to live with their German Grandmother.
Two years later, Rosa sadly died on the farm at the age of 34.
The children, who were born in Byker were regarded as German in Britain and British in Germany. They were stoned regularly on their way to school and taunted by children shouting ‘Kuch’s Englander’ at them when they passed.
Nine months after the declaration of war on May 7 1915, a German U-boat off the west of Ireland torpedoed the Lusitania passenger ship. 1,200 passengers perished, including many children and American citizens.
Riots flared up around the country as attitudes to war hardened with ever-increasing British casualties. German pork butchers’ shops became prime targets of attack and looters would take advantage while police on duty paid little interest.
Shops were badly damaged by crowds in South Shields, Newcastle, Gateshead, North Shields and Tynemouth. There were around 6,000 protesters at Frederick Seitz’s shop in South Shields and every window in the premises was smashed as women screamed ‘remember the Lusitania’ and hurled lumps of coal.
Other butchers’ shops attacked included the Ocean Road premises of John R Cook, a Kuch family member, born in South Shields who had anglicised his name. Compensation claims were lodged with the local authorities who tried to refuse the claims through supposed late applications and lack of evidence.
Over time, local pillars of the community came under suspicion.
Friederich Wilhelm Singer, a pastor at the German Sailors’ Home in South Shields, was arrested under the Official Secrets Act for ‘unlawfully attempting to gain information’.
Pastor Paul Herzog from Sunderland and Herman Adolphus Ahlers, a former German consul, were also charged. Both of them, through regular business dealings and humanitarian acts, simply had regular contact with other Germans.
Pork butcher John R Cook (Kuch), whose Ocean Road shop had been destroyed in the rioting, was also arrested on suspicion of being a spy.
All German meeting places were closed down, including the Evangelical Church and Seamen’s Mission in South Shields, which was transformed into the 2nd Durham VA Hospital.
But there was also some sympathy for the immigrants. Some employers would vouch for the integrity of their German workers who had to plead against repatriation, including munitions worker August George Lebrecht, an archetypal German migrant.
Lebrecht was 73 years old; he had arrived on Tyneside in 1872 and married Dorinda Fraser, a local woman, together they had two children, and he had been employed as a labourer in charge of patterns at R. & W. Hawthorn Leslie for more than 40 years. His employer’s personal guarantee was accepted with some reluctance by the chief constable of Newcastle. Lebrecht died in Byker, Newcastle, in 1921.
The general acceptance was that Germans who were friends and neighbours weren’t actually adversaries – they were ‘OK Germans’ – yet the conundrum remained that Germans were still the enemy.
The German internees were released over the months after the war ended, but were immediately sent back to Germany. Most of them had nothing there, having emigrated decades before, and they had lost their homes in Britain along with their businesses.
Like thousands of his countrymen Georg Friedrich Kuch was deported to Germany on his release from internment in 1919. He was reunited with his children Helen, Rose and Fred in Alkertshausen who following the death of Rosa in 1916 had been without their parents for three years.
Kuch married Carrie his late wife’s half-sister and she gave birth to a daughter, Elise in Langenburg.
The Kuch family returned to Tyneside on April 21 1923 to rebuild their lives and business, eventually opening a new butcher’s shop on Coulson Street in Low Spennymoor, County Durham. In the meantime, they had anglicised their name to Cook, though not formally. This was under Foreign Office regulations to protect them from residual anti-German sentiment.
Georg Friedrich Kuch was finally naturalised in 1929, although he was unable to hide his strong German accent. Customers in his butcher’s shop on Walworth Street in Sunderland would affectionately call him Fritz and the family experienced very little trouble or agitation. During the Battle of Britain, he kept a blackboard in the shop, updating it regularly with ‘scores’ between the RAF and the Luftwaffe.
Young Fred Kuch enlisted in the Army at the outbreak of the Second World War. He lied about his parents’ heritage, describing them as British rather than German on his enlistment papers. He served in the 23rd Hussars and formally changed his name to Cook in 1946.
Story and images — The Kuch family story and photographs were kindly made available to Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums by the granddaughter of Georg Friedrich Kuch, Dorothy Ramser
Newspaper images — The newspaper images were reproduced with the kind permission of Newcastle Libraries
Curator — Sarah Younas, Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums
Consultant — André Keil, Durham University
Research — Lauren Haikney, Durham University
Writer — Alastair Gilmour
Supported by — Heritage Lottery Fund