Height of attacks on German-owned businesses in Hull

Charles Hohenrein standing in the doorway of his pork butcher's shop at 7 Waterworks Street, Hull. © Hull History Centre.

Many people of German origin lived in Britain at the start of the First World War. What happened to them when war broke out?

 

G. W. Hohenrein & Sons' delivery van. (c) Hull History Centre.

G. W. Hohenrein & Sons' delivery van. © Hull History Centre.

One German butcher, Georg Friedrich Hohenrein, moved to Hull from Germany in 1848 and established a business as a pork butcher two years later. He became a naturalised Englishman and had two sons, Charles and George, who were born British citizens. His shop, G. F. Hohenrein & Son, developed into a successful business with two shops in Hull. Their delivery van was a familiar sight on the streets of Hull.

Charles Hohenrein took on his father’s shop at 7 Waterworks Street while George moved to Germany with his German-born wife. Before the war Charles Hohenrein was a proud member of the East Riding Yeomanry. Soon after war broke out Charles lent his vehicles to the Government to support the war effort and received a letter thanking him for his patriotism. He was declared exempt from military service but served as a Sergeant in the East Riding of Yorkshire Motor Volunteer Corps.

The Hohenreins under attack

As the war progressed, however, public opinion began to turn against people who were perceived as having links with Germany, particularly those with German-sounding names. After the sinking of the ocean liner Lusitania by a German U-boat in May 1915, and the start of Zeppelin attacks on the East Coast,  feelings ran high.

Charles Hohenrein received abusive postcards and then, on 12 May 1915, an anonymous letter warning him of a planned attack on his shop. The writer blamed the sinking of the Lusitania as the reason for the attack, and said he was writing to warn Charles because ‘when I was a boy your parents or those who kept your shop were good to me many a time when I was hungry and needed bread’.

A second anonymous letter warned the Hohenreins not to be on the premises on 13 or 20 May. The shop was attacked at the beginning of June.

The Hohenreins respond

After the attack, Charles Hohenrein closed the shop temporarily and took out an advert in the local paper offering £500 to anyone who could prove he was not English. In August 1915 he hoped to avoid further trouble by changing his family’s surname to Ross.

The German branch of the Hohenrein family had also suffered when war broke out. In 1914 Charles’s brother George was living in Germany with his family. As George and his son had both been born in Britain they were interned in Ruhleben, a camp established for British civilian prisoners of war. Writing to his brother in November 1914, George said ‘We are well and as comfortable as circumstances will permit’.

It seems the family couldn’t win: Charles’s business in Hull was attacked because of his German name, while over in Germany his brother George and nephew William were interned as prisoners of war because they were born in Britain.

Learning resources

For downloadable images and documents, teachers’ notes and activity ideas relating to the attacks on German businesses, go to www.mylearning.org.

War Stories: the First World War in Hull.

The second half of this video looks the impact the war had on one family business in Hull.