Albert Funke was born in 1873 in the region of Hanover, in Alfeld. He attends the village school and learns to become a brick-layer. At 17 years he starts to travel through the Ruhr and the Hesse to learn his trade.
After his military service ( 1893-1895 ) in Mainz, he will return in the region of Hanover and will work as a brick-layer according to the season, but also as a conveyor for the transport of animals. From 1896 he will make numerous journeys between Germany and New York, it is there that he is in July, 1914.
He gets married in 1897 to Johanna Wulfes who will die in 1903; of the three children, only his daughter Anna survives. He remarries with Berta Sturm and will have 2 children, Albert and Berta, the mother of the author.
- Johann August Albert Funke, vers l’an 1900
(Johann August Albert Funke, around 1900)
Declaration of war
In the middle of July A.F. embarks on the “President Grant” in New York, his last trip before returning permanently to his family. The money that he earned was sufficient to settled down in Alfeld, as land and house were already bought, the only thing missing was the signature of the purchase. The events in Serbia were going to ruin his plan. A.F. must have really been in a hurry when he embarked on July 23rd, 1914 in New York, because by the end of July he was already in Europe, not at home, but in Rotterdam aboard the “Nieuw-Amsterdam”. He wrote to his family that: “if you have no news from me in the days to come, it is because I am in England and will stay until the end of the war”.
On August 3rd, 1914, having a bad premonition, four days before the declaration of war of Germany against France he ended his letter with the following words: “there are more Germans here. You should not suffer, neither be hungry … It can last for a long time”.
- Carte d’Albert Funke à son épouse, écrite pendant son trajet sur le “Nieuw Amsterdam”, le 30 juillet 1914
’Albert Funke’s postcard to his wife, written during his passage on the “Nieuw Amsterdam”, on July 30th, 1914.)
- Carte d’Albert Funke à son épouse, écrite pendant son trajet sur le “Nieuw Amsterdam”, le 30 juillet 1914, avec photo du “Nieuw Amsterdam”
(Albert Funke’s postcard to his wife, written during his passage on the “Nieuw Amsterdam”, on July 30th, 1914. Photo of the “Nieuw Amsterdam”.)
August 17th, the ”Nieuw-Amsterdam" lands in New York and Albert Funke, on August 20th, says in a letter that he arrived well but that the sea traffic is partially blocked and that he cannot find a way to return.
Albert Funke had to return immediately, because, according to the paragraph 28 of the law of February 11th, 1888, every reservist of category 2 (from 39 to 45 years) being abroad had orders to return immediately to Germany to be mobilized. Order given and confirmed by the Consul general in New York.
Albert Funke embarks on the “Nieuw-Amsterdam” on August 24th, 1914, port of arrival Rotterdam.
Internment and letters to the family
After the capture of the ship by “The Savoie”, he will be interned at first in the Fort of Crozon and then on the disarmed warship“Charles Martel” in Brest.
The first news of his internment (address: “Brest Verpore Charles Martel, La France”) will reach his family toward the end of October. The exchanged mail is the beginning of a long testimony on the living conditions of the internees.
Food and clothes
In November, A.F. asks his wife to send him “his boots as well as some polish, underwear, a shirt, linen strips to wrap his feet, a brown scarf, a darning needle, with thread to repair his socks and his black singlet”. The maximum weight of the parcel must not exceed 5 kg, but we can also send 2 parcels with the same shipping card. Letters and parcels are sent free of charge. The address must be written with the following information: “parcel for war prisoner”.
A short time later, on November 21st, A.F. receives his first letter from his wife while he is still on the “Charles Martel”, and answers by asking to send urgently 2 grey blankets “because it is cold, where he is”.
On November 6th A.F. writes that “he and the prisoners are interned since two weeks on a small island near Brest”. He did not know its name, or at least he could not name it. On envelopes, postcards and writing paper we find simply Brest. And: “I have just changed clothes today. I would have liked you to see them!”
From the middle of December A .F. confirms to his wife that the strips are very useful because, “where he is, the rain and the wind dominate”. He asks where is his suitcase. He also wrote to Rotterdam . He worries regarding the payment of the rent, “She should take only what she needs - hoping that the company continues to pay his salary”.
The request for food takes a large place in the mail, “especially some delicatessen and some ham for the country boy” with the instructions necessary for the preparation of cans of food for the delicatessen and also the preparation of the lard. This subject will be repeated in the following 30 letters until November, 1915.
At the end of December, A.F. tells that he received a parcel from his company for Christmas, in which were: linen, sausages, chocolate, honey, soap, cigarettes, candles and handkerchiefs as well as some paper... And that we build barracks … Thus,the construction of the camp was not finished.
In the beginning of January, 1915 he confides to his brother-in-law Hermann S. at Grünenplan that he was interned in 3 places and that he still does not name them. “We cook for ourselves, the food accommodated to war times.”
In January, 1915, he tells that he received a package from the Red Cross: “kidney belt, mittens, biscuits, sugar and cigarettes …” A.F. was not yet a smoker at that time.
At the beginning of February A.F. notices that:
“Our rations were also reduced because prisoners in Germany are treated worse than us”
Then in May: “Have you not made some”Zwetschenbutter“(very thick jam of plums or something similar), that I would like to put on the bread. A pound of sausages per week is enough for me, thus, do not send any more …”
From summer, A.F. often asks the prices in Alfeld of the foodstuffs that he received to compare them with the on-the-spot prices.
Food supplied by the prisoners themselves
at the End of February 1915, we ploughed and planted some potatoes, and later also some peas.
Was it the internees who had planted or was it the farmers of the neighbouring fields, as he had observed?
At the beginning of July A.F. tells that “the bees have disappeared, hopefully for ever, because of the insecticide … The weather is very beautiful here, peas are blooming, potatoes will be put in rows, we will miss the green salad this year …”
In autumn, he reminds his wife, as he had already asked previously, “to label the contents of the cans. He would like to put the cans in a big pot, but does not know the contents”
In the margin of a letter: the flowers of our garden … These dried “friendships from Ile Longue” still exist.
Beginning of October A.F. tells in a letter: “mister Odmann is well, he is our butcher here”
A new facet on the life of the camp and this brings new questions. Where did the animals come from? Were there some on the island?
A.F. worries about his family, in particular about his children, as we read constantly in the mail:
“I hope that Berta still has her red inglets? Does Albert go to school? what becomes of Anna, I have no news? Are Albert or Berta sick? Last night I dreamed .”
“What becomes of the children? What is Berta doing, does she ask for me, or has she already forgotten me?” (Mother of the author who was just 5 years old, A/N).
“if you cannot send any mail to me, do not worry, that should be OK. Take care of the family so that the children do not have to suffer.“”Albert could also write to me. Why does he not write a few lines, it would give me a great pleasure ".
In February, 1915, In a letter to his wife, for the first time he gives the name of the camp, Ile Longue, and that he has already learnt some rudiments of the language. She could do the same - if she ever had to come here …
At the beginning of March, the second invitation:
"You could soon come here and wash my clothes?
At the beginning of May: “then, you do not want to come and wash my clothes?”
In mid-November, “a last wish” before his birthday, he would hope that she would come, he would be tired of his single life, what would she think about that? "
He did not yet realize the seriousness of the situation in Europe.
In January, 1915, A.F. receives from his wife a postcard on which is printed the photo of “Vaterland”. Apparently, this comes from his friend X, the printer of “Vaterland”, quoted by Walter Meyer in his letter to Berta of December, 1917.
As there was not yet any radio, people were not informed as well as now. Nevertheless it did not prevent them from being interested in the political events, as did A.F. who asked his wife to keep the newspapers for him. He was happy to learn that his suitcase (coming from Rotterdam, A/N) had arrived home, and informed his wife that the bag containing the blanket was in New York...
In February, he asks if he can also obtain a help. He is still military of second category and should be able to get a help.
At the beginning of August, A.F. is delighted when he learns in a letter from his wife that his salary continues to be paid, which is not the case for a colleague of the camp.
“last week I did a big laundry, everything dried well, except the curtains”.
A barrack in a prison camp , with curtains, which his thoughtful wife had probably sent to him?
The weather seemed to improve: “larks sing!”
He would also like to get some insecticide because the small bees sting.
In April, A.F. confirms the arrival of a package containing a pipe and some tobacco – so, because of the Red Cross - meanwhile, he had become a smoker. "We become light here!”.
In May: “the insecticide (against the bees) works, I did not find any more lice in the clothes.”
Then, the request to see if ever his swimsuit from the time when he was a single man, would not be by chance in his suitcase … They could go for a swim at the beach!
( Comparing the life in the darkness, 600 km farther East, with the life in the camp of these internees, we can notice that they lived on “the Island of the Happy people”, in the literal sense of the term)
In July, his wife had sent him a woolly hat which he could not use. He complains about it and lets her know what he would need. It was still summer.
There is a tragicomic remark concerning “the games of balloon or equivalent that we have to practise in the old days (42 years A.N.), if we want to keep clear ideas.”
In August a wave of resignation submerges him when he announces to his family that he could not help them this year, maybe next year, that he is anyway too old to work because here we lose the taste to work. The best would be to retire.
A few days later: “the harvest of potatoes in Eiberg (near Alfeld) is not good?” buy them, do the best so that you do not suffer. I cannot help you."
He repeats the request for paper, so he could write more often.
A.F. got money transferred from New York twice, each time 103 francs. How was it possible? Was there a bank in the camp or were the transactions made in Brest or by the administration of the camp?
Middle of September, he is delighted to have a bouquet of heather and is satisfied with the good news received from Eiberg - “and if Albert (his son) does not like turnips, he has to eat them anyway, it would be good for his health …”
Further on: “you ask me about clothes; here, according to the season, we use them very little, and if we wash them, we spread them as long as it is necessary until they are dry and we put them back on. As a construction worker would do …”
And: “Anna asks me about the language; I manage very well already to be understood. I would also like if Anna (16 years A/N.) would learn it, we can never learn too much”
“... now, we have good weather, we just swam, this is the best thing we have here …“In October:” not long ago, a morning, I was lucky enough to catch two small carnivores. Unfortunately one escaped. In case I would return home, I would may be bring some with me. We became well used of these small animals …"
Question of the author: what does he means? What animals were they?
In November, he writes that he had news from a friend in Hamburg and that it is necessary to adapt himself to the current situation. In the future he could only receive sugar and coffee every 6 weeks.
He would also like that we send him 2 meters of sailcloth that he had brought back from his journeys at sea to make a hammock.
At the beginning of December, he lets his wife know "that she should send him coffee and sugar every 6 weeks because having had news of the market of Hamburg, it was necessary to adapt himself to the situation so, she and the children, should not be deprived. Hoping that she and the children remain healthy for Christmas; joyful, we could not say. Let us hope that it is the last one that I shall spend in captivity …
Beginning of February, 1915, I was sick for the first time, “since a few days I have the flu”.
He recovers and in every letter and postcard he says that he is healthy. Was it true?
In December, 1915, he is sick again, according to Dr Brill’s report. At the end of December he writes his last postcard.
"Christmas has passed, the weather was mild, we do not have neither snow nor ice here. The new year will soon have passed, and another new year! Is here. As it is cold at home, cover well the children so that they can go sledging without catching a cold.
In “his notes of 1935”, the son of Abert Funke, tells that it is the General Commander (of the French people?) through Geneva who would have informed in the beginning of January, 1916, the L. Ruhe Company in Alfeld, of Albert Funke’s death. It is not said when it happened. It is at the request of the brother of Hermann S. de Grünenplan, who had been himself on the front in Verdun, that we can deduct that Berta Funke had confirmation at the end of the year 1916, that she had lost her husband, and father of her children.
At this moment, the company stopped the payment of the salary. The four members of the family had to live on their savings. They received later a miserable orphans’ compensation, nothing for Anna (17 years), the girl from the first marriage and a very modest sum for Berta Funke. They lost the rest of their 1914’s savings because of the inflation reigning in 1923.
In December, 1917, the widow received a letter from the liberated companion W. Meyer from Hamburg:
In the evening of new year, your dear husband was still with me and Aloïs Diete in the barrack N° 8, then he joined his barrack where he still wanted to pursue the party. During the night, he felt strong pains in his sides and had diarrhoea, probably a dysentery attack, this disease which arose more and more often with us. In the morning of the new year he washed his underpants and told his printer friend of “Vaterland” to bring it in when it would be dry because he wanted to go to the hospital now. Your husband went at 10 am to the visit, but he was not allowed to return in the camp because he had a high fever. After noon, your husband went to the toilet and did not return. We looked for him but we did not find a trace of him
As I learnt from Mister Dieckmann, that someone said or wrote to you that your husband had committed suicide, but this is not true. We, who knew him, can swear on the honour that your husband always thought of his family, that he was joyful and happy to live, and that there was no reason for him to take his own life. We cannot accuse somebody directly of the death of your husband, but the nurses should have watched with a greater attention the patients affected by fever. I hope that these few lines were able to bring you some comfort. We owe him that “He gave his life for the homeland”.
During 8 years the widow will fight against numerous authorities to obtain a pension.
The judgement rendered on June 2nd, 1926 by Dr Wick, assessor of the civil court of Alfeld, will recognize that:
“The missing person, animals conveyor Albert Funke, born on December 11th, 1873, in Alfeld, is recognized as being deceased. The time of death is fixed on January 2nd, 1916.”
Translated from french by Barbara and Roger