Historical Background

Following the Franco-Prussian War, the German Empire was established in 1871. Under the leadership of Kaiser Wilhelm II it aspired to find its own “place in the sun”. Following an incident in which two German missionaries were murdered, it took advantage of the weakness of the Chinese state to establish a treaty port at Tsingtau on the Chinese mainland in 1898. The town was intended to act as a platform for trade, and a naval base. While the other treaty ports, such as Hong Kong and Shanghai had been established in the 1840s, Tsingtau required significant investment – and this was forthcoming. The result was a modern settlement with imposing buildings, some of which have survived to this day. Some contemporary newspaper articles describe it as the "Brighton of the East.”1

The German Asiatic Bank in Tsingtau
The German Asiatic Bank in Tsingtau

Once war broke out in 1914, Germans in the Far East liable for military service were ordered to make their way to Tsingtau, while others chose to go there to volunteer. People came from places such as Shanghai, Tiensin, Hong Kong and even Japan and were integrated into the existing forces, which consisted of the Third Marine Battalion (III Seebattalion), naval artillery units and a few warships. By the time that some people from more distant places arrived to volunteer, they discovered that they had been called up in the meantime2. Japan declared war on Germany on the 23rd of August, and called for the surrender of Tsingtau. This was rejected by Alfred Meyer-Waldeck, Governor of the Colony. Despite objections from China, substantial Japanese forces together with a small British contingent landed on the mainland. Tsingtau had been fortified after the Boxer Rebellion, but the Germans faced overwhelming odds, and despite putting up a stubborn resistance, they eventually surrendered on the 7th of November. One hundred and ninety-nine Germans, two hundred and thirty-six Japanese and twelve British lost their lives 3, 4. There is only one attempt to recall the experience of the siege in the Baracke – a poem “At Sentry Post Eight” 5. The prisoners were taken to Japan. As the Japanese initially anticipated that the War would end quickly, they were initially accommodated on an ad-hoc basis – often in cramped environments. As the war dragged on, this policy changed. In the case of the Island of Shikoku, it was decided to build a new camp in Bando to accommodate the prisoners from the existing camps in Tokushima, Marugame and Matsuyama. The prisoners from Tokushima arrived on the 6th of April 1917, the day on which the United States declared war on Germany6. In August 1918, ninety further prisoners from Kurume on the Island of Kyushu were transferred to Bando, bringing the population to more than a thousand. Imprisonment in Bando did not cease with the Armistice, and it was only in early 1920 that the first ship repatriating the prisoners reached Wilhelmshafen.

Footnotes