At the outbreak of war King Ohmy ( John Smith) and his adult children, were working with a circus in Germany. Here are articles about the families war experience and Claude Ohmy’s story with a narrative extracted from them, have been set into a rough chronology.

References include: Various Newspapers found in the British Libraries, British Newspaper Archives website and Tyne and Wear Archives and The World’s Fair newspaper at the National Fairground and Circus Archive, University of Sheffield. (NFCA). They are placed in a chronology of action rather than when reported. The NFCA has the Ohmy family archive. At the time of our research it was not yet available.

For more information on Ruhleben Camp Castang article.


Ada Smith (Ohmy), Pimpo, Burt Sanger, Lilly Smith (Ohmy)

c. OCT 1914


   King Ohmy is the name that the arena profession has given to the veteran equestrian (John Smith), who has been a devotee of the circus track ever since he could toddle. Under the same title he is well known among the biggest ring combinations on the Continent Busch, Parish and Carré. With the last-named he reached Spadan, close to Berlin, on July 30, and the whole crowd of artistes – from every clime and country – was held up by the authorities. The military took 100 of the horses out of the show, but Ohmy’s intelligent Black Bess went very lame as part of her performance and was returned. She had hoodwinked the experts.

   Interviews with the police resulted in Young Ohmy, King Ohmy’s son (Claude), a fine bareback rider, being interned as a prisoner, but “Daddy” after some difficulty, convinced the authorities that he was not a spy. But his troubles did not end here. He was one of the hated English, and thought it just as well to surreptitiously display a small American flag. Whenever he went he was unable to get sleeping accommodation. A bright idea struck him – he would make himself as comfortable as possible near the menagerie cages, and made up a shake-down near the lions. Here he was safe during the night from impertinent inquiries.

   Carré’s three-masted tent- perhaps the finest in the circus business- was at first ordered to be struck, and then ordered to be fixed up again to accommodate horses for the troops. M. Carré, who lost his fine stud and much other property, did not forget the troubles of his company, and offered them all the accommodation of the various tents and caravans where many of them were glad to live and sleep. He was very good also to those who had the misfortune to be imprisoned, visiting them at every opportunity, and bringing cigarettes and food and dainties.

   Ohmy, when he walked into “The Era” office on Monday, said he was one of the happiest men in the kingdom. He had got back to good old England, and had brought with him his two daughters, and had relieved the intense anxiety of a beloved mother.

   A curios thing happened when he was selling his Black Bess mare to a dealer before his departure. She again went lame. This lapse into professional habits was alright the first time, but the second brought with it a reduction in her price. Mr. Ohmy’s son (Claude), we are glad to hear, is being well treated during his internment.

28/10/1914 Hull Daily Mail





   Two old and famous circus families were united by an interesting marriage which took place quietly by special licence at Kirkham, on Monday afternoon.

The bride was Miss Lilly Ohmy, daughter of “King Ohmy” (Mr. Joseph Smith), the well-known circus proprietor, whose home is at 40 Leicester Road, on the Raikes Hall Estate, Blackpool. The bride is also sister of Mrs. Griffiths, the widow of the late Mr. Griffiths, whom the public will remember as the popular Tower Circus clown, “September.”

The bridegroom was Mr. John Sanger, son of “Lord” John Sanger, and grand son of the famous “Lord” John Sanger, whose gigantic travelling circus is so well known in every part of the country.

   Miss Aida Ohmy, sister of the bride, was the bridesmaid.

A reception was afterwards held at 40, Leicester Road, and later in the day Mr. and Mrs. Sanger left for Liverpool and London, on their honeymoon. Mr Claude Ohmy, a brother of the bride, and clever bare-back rider in the ring, was in Germany when war broke out and is still interned there.

11/3/1916 The World’s Fair


c. 1916



   We are still enduring this prison, but conditions are much better and we are self-organised. There are many activities here, including sports and concerts in order to vary the monotony and keep spirits up. The Germans think they are winning and the guards are very arrogant and boastful. Discipline is very strict and prisoners are locked up for the slightest offence. Since 1915 we each receive a payment of 4 marks per week, which we will have to return to the British Government when the war is over.

Narrative Extracted from 7/12/1918 World’s Fair & centenarynews.com


c. DEC 1917



   Things have changed here in Ruhleben since 1917 and the tide of war changed. Now the German guards are often seen searching for scraps of food in the swill tubs, it seems as if they are short of food now. If a carter comes to camp he seldom leaves without also having a look in the swill tubs. So outside in Berlin there is also hunger.

Narrative Extracted 7/12/1918 The World’s Fair


c. DEC 1918



   Since October the camp has been very tense. The camp guards were nervous of the people outside, they burned their uniforms and joined with a few of the prisoners – who were formerly British soldiers – in case the camp should face an emergency.

As soon as the Armistice was signed the Camp Captain, Joseph Powell, began organising our repatriation. Finally, on the 15 November, after more than four years as a civilian prisoner of war I and all my fellow prisoners were released from Ruhleben. We were all given a piece of paper which read ‘Peace and Reconciliation, Forgive and Forget’ on it! I will never forget. We were taken out of the camp and travelled by train to Sasantz. It was a cold journey without lights in the carriages, and with the windows broken. We then sailed from there to Copenhagen. While we all travelled in great discomfort through Germany, we were hospitably treated in Denmark, to us it was like heaven. From there we were transferred onto the pride of the Danish fleet, SS Frederick VIII, and so we sailed to Hull. The journey was across mine-infested waters and took us three days. On their arrival, they were greeted with loud hoots from the steamers in dock. At Hull we were treated right royally, The Lord Mayor of Hull, in full regalia, was standing on the quay and he delivered a message from King George V to welcome us all home. But at Rippon we were ‘mentally decontaminated!” and were only allowed to leave 3 days later after lengthy questioning.

   Then onward I travelled, weary and free until I reached Blackpool on Thursday. It is very good to be home, in Leicester Road, but bitter sweet also, for I have returned to see, for the first time, my new nephew, Lord John Sanger, but never will I see again my sister Ada. Ada was so terrorised by her ordeal in 1914, when we were all interned in Berlin, that despite her being free for over three years, she was never the same again.

Narrative Extracted from 7/12/1918 The World’s Fair & centenarynews.com



The circus people talk of the past, Including King Ohmy.

Claude Ohmy returned from internment the other month back (March or Feb 1919). Ohmy sat down when asked about the profession nowadays he agreed it is easier work and at a better pay than in his younger days, but where he asked, are the big shows of those days? Sanger, Bailey, Pinder, Barnham, and all those lords of the profession – where are the modern equals of a circus built at Blackpool some years ago which is no more. Bostock’s show is touring Australia and the other big shows are touring any country but the land which is the home of the circus – England. “Ohmy” thinks the men in the Showman’s profession have the money necessary to finance a big circus or directors of either musicals or theatres, but the result of war is that all the English “cracks” (and the English are the finest riders, the most daring trapezemen, the neatest tumblers and the funniest clowns the world) are touring the Continent under foreign names. They are being better paid for the people abroad delight in the circus. “ Not that the English have lost this delight,” “Ohmy” said “but they are forgetting what the circus is.”

25/4/1919 Yorkshire Evening Post











Quasi nell’istante in cui la Britannia ha dichiarato guerra alla Germania, siamo stati catturati come nemici stranieri: io, mio padre King Ohmy e le mie sorelle siamo in un posto terribile. Ci stavamo esibendo in Spandau, Germania. Abbiamo perso in nostri 6 cavalli da performance e tutto ciò che possedevamo. Siamo stati imprigionati a Doeberitz e il primo giorno l’unica cibaria che ci hanno dato è stata una brodaglia verde che non siamo nemmeno riusciti a toccare.


Narrativa estratta da “World’s Fair” 7/12/1918







Mio padre, King Ohmy, è riucito ad usare la sua influenza massonica sull’ American Counsul e sul consiglio Britannico, per negoziare il suo rilascio e quello delle mie sorelle. Loro, grazie a Dio, sono tornati in Inghilterra ma io devo resistere in questa prigione. Siamo stati accomodati in dei blocchi, box per cavalli, 4 per ogni box, paglia per letto, una coperta da dividere. C’erano solo 3 inglesi tra noi: un sarto, Dick Martin (clown) ed io. C’erano all’incirca 2000 russi e solo qualche francese e qualche belga.

È stato agli inizi di novembre. Sono stato uno delle migliaia di prigionieri trasferiti a Ruhleben. Non è certo meglio, è sovraffollato. Non c’è riscaldamento e poca elettricità. Ci sono 4000 uomini, chaos ovunque, non adatto agli umani. Qualcuno ha nulla, qualcuno un piccolo bagaglio.


Narrativa estratta da “World’s Fair” 7/12/1918







Stiamo ancora resistendo in questa prigione, ma le condizioni sono un po’ migliorate e ci stiamo auto-organizzando. Ci sono un sacco di attività compresi sport e concerti, per variare la monotonia e tenere alto lo spirito. I tedeschi pensano di stare vincendo e le guardie sono arroganti e vanagloriose. La disciplina è rigorosa e i prigionieri sono rinchiusi per la minima offesa. Fin dal 1915 ognuno di noi riceve un pagamento di 4 marchi alla settimana, che dovremo restituire al governo inglese quando la guerra sarà finita.


Narrativa estratta da “World’s Fair” 7/12/1918 & centenarynews.com






Le cose sono cambiate qui a Rhubelen dal 1917, anche la corrente della guerra è cambiata. Ora le guardie tedesche sono spesso viste in cerca di avanzi di cibo nelle vasche da broda, sembra siano a corto di cibo. Se un carrettiere viene al campo, raramente se ne va senza dare un’occhiata nelle vasche. Cosí anche fuori, a Berlino, c’è fame.


Narrativa estratta da “World’s Fair” 7/12/1918







Da ottobre nel campo si è sentita molta tensione. Le guardie erano nervose per colpa delle persone al di fuori, hanno bruciato le loro uniformi e si sono unite ad alcuni prigionieri 9formalmente soldati inglesi) in caso il campo dovesse affrontare un’emergenza.

Come l’armistizio è stato firmato il capitano del campo, Joseph Powell, ha iniziato a organizzare il nostro rimpatrio. Finalmente, il 15 novembre, dopo più di 4 anni come prigioniero civile, io e i miei compagni prigionieri siamo stati rilasciati. Hanno consegnato a tutti un pezzo di carta con scritto “Pace e riconciliazione, perdona e dimentica”! io non dimenticherò mai! Siamo stati presi e portati fuori dal campo e messi su un treno per Sassintz. È stato un viaggio freddo senza luci, in vagoni con finestrini rotti. Siamo poi salpati da lì per Copenaghen. Mentre noi tutti viaggiavamo in grande scomodità attraverso la Germania, siamo stati ben ospitati invece in Danimarca, ci sembrava il paradiso. Da qui siamo stati trasferiti sui ponti della flotta Danese, SS Frederick VIII, quindi navigato fino a Hull. Il viaggio è durato 3 giorni attraverso le mie acque infestate. Al loro arrivo, sono state accolte da urla di vapore al molo. A Hull siamo stati trattati come dei re. Il sindaco di Hull, in completo da cerimonia, aspettava sulla banchina, pronto a consegnare il messaggio di Re Giorgio V “bentornati tutti a casa”. Ma a Rippon siamo stati “mentalmente decontaminati”! Ci hanno permesso di andarcene solo dopo 3 giorni di lunghi interrogatori.

Ho continuato ad avanzare nel mio viaggio, stanco e libero, fino a che ho raggiunto Blackpool, giovedì. È davvero bello essere a casa, a Leicester Road, un sapore dolce amaro. Ho visto per la prima volta mio nipote, Lord John Sanger, ma non ho più visto mia sorella Ada. Era cosí terrorizzata da quel calvario del 1914, quando siamo stati internati, che nonostante sia stata liberata da piú di 3 anni, non è stata più la stessa.


Narrativa estratta da “World’s Fair” 7/12/1918 & centenarynews.com