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Dropped from Hell to Heaven: Internment in Switzerland during the First World War.

14th April 2022 @ 6:15 pm 7:15 pm

helmet sitting on a stone slab

About the April Forum

Presented by Dr Susan Barton

Most histories of the First World War rightly focus on the tragedy, horrific conditions and appalling loss of life. Stories of internment usually discuss the hostility that turned neighbours into enemy aliens to be locked away. This paper will focus on a more positive aspect of the wartime experience for prisoners of war who had already been through the hell of battle, wounding and incarceration – humanitarian internment in neutral Switzerland. Thousands of sick and wounded POWs from Britain, France, Belgium and Germany were sent to Switzerland from 1916, where they were warmly welcomed by the Swiss. There they could lead relatively free lives, with medical care, education, training or employment. Internees were able to enjoy leisure and sporting activities, form new relationships or have visits from wives, girlfriends and family. For the Swiss, internment helped preserve its neutrality, kept borders open for essential supplies, strengthened national identities and contributed to the economy by alleviating labour shortages and helping the hotel trade stay afloat as owners struggled to repay loans used to expand the tourism industry in the boom years of the early twentieth century.

About the presenter

Dr Susan Barton is an honorary fellow at De Montfort University, Leicester. She is the author of several books and articles, including The working class and the development of popular tourism (Manchester University Press, 2005), Healthy Living in the Alps: sanatoria and the origins of winter sports tourism in Switzerland, 1860-1914 ( Manchester University Press, 2008) and most recently Park to Parks: the story of New Parks, Western Park, Braunstone Frith and Kirby Frith (2021). She is also a Leicester City councillor.

About Vaughan Open Research Forum

Vaughan Open Research Forum is series of talks, workshops and interactive sessions which are open to anyone who is curious and wants to find out more.

Themes for sessions relate to our core teaching topics, arts, humanities, social sciences and counselling, and also discuss adult education and co-operative issues. The Vaughan Open Research Forums take place on the second Thursday of the month.


Dropped from Hell to Heaven: Internment in Switzerland during the First World War.

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