Lali Diaz-McDonald has asked the following two questions about Joe’s work in the internment camp Knockaloe on the Isle of Man:
a.)Would it have been possible for JP to “rig” beds with springs so that people could work on them? (Lali was wondering, if the camps had beds with springs considering they were interment camps and metal was destined to war effort.)
b.) Was he permitted to work as a nurse or rehabilitator in the interment camp?
I want to thank you very much for these questions, Lali, because this is a very interesting topic! In my opinion the time in the internment camp was a very important period in Joseph Pilates’ life and yet there is not much evidence left about his work in the camp! It was Joseph Pilates himself who mentioned in interviews that he had developed his first exercising machines when he was interned on the Isle of Man:
“There [on the Isle of Man] he encountered people who were disabled as a result of wartime diseases and incarceration. He began devising machines to help in their rehabilitation.”
(Doris Hering, “They All Go To Joe’s” Dance Magazine, February 1956, p.76)
But just like Lali Diaz-McDonald people have been doubtful about this lately.
So let’s tackle the first question! Lali is absolutely right supposing that in the internment camp Knockaloe internees usually did not sleep on metal beds. Instead the internees were sleeping on wooden platforms covered with straw mattresses. But in the camp’s hospitals it was different. Each of the four subcamps of Knockaloe had it’s own hospital barrack. In these hospitals sick internees were sleeping on very simple metal beds. You can see the beds on this picture:
Unfortunately one cannot see the bottom of the beds to be sure, if the mattresses were held by springs. But given the type of bed I think they probably were. And there is one more possibility: In a report about a visit of the camp in December 1915 by representatives of the American Embassy (they visited the camp regularly before the US joined the war) it is also mentioned that some prisoners had their own “stretcher beds”. So it is possible, that Joseph Pilates “rigged” either the hospital beds or private stretcher beds and turned some of them into exercising apparatus for sick internees. It is possible – but what we don’t have yet is sound proof that he really did it, like a picture of a modified bed for example.
Let’s turn to the second question: Were internees like Joseph Pilates allowed to work as a nurse or rehabilitator? The answer is: yes, they were allowed to. While the doctors in the camp were British, the help consisted of prisoners only. So again it was possible for Joseph Pilates to work there. But his name is not on any of the lists of nurses and medical help in the archive of Manx Museum where a part of the documentation from the camp has survived. Only this year though, Jonathan Grubb, an inhabitant of the Isle of Man whose great-grandfather was also interned in Knockaloe during the First World War, has found a very interesting picture on www.imuseum.im, the online archive of Manx Museum:
Jonathan recognized that the man wearing the suit is showing some striking similarities to Joseph Pilates! But is it really him? This is very difficult to decide, I think.
Summing it up it comes down to this: It is possible that Joseph Pilates rehabilitated sick internees in the hospitals of Knockaloe camp and built exercising equipment for them! There’s no definite proof yet: but I’m excited who’s going to come up with new evidence next!
More about Knockaloe internment camp in the online archive of Manx Museum. You will find all the pictures from the internment camp: maybe you will discover something…
Also check out the website of the charity “Knockaloe Internment Camp & Patrick Visitor Centre”. Lots of interesting information about the camp!
For getting deeper into the subject I recommend: Yvonne Cresswell (ed.), Living With the Wire. Civilian Internment in the Isle of Man during the two World Wars, Manx National Heritage, Douglas, newly revised edition 2015.