8 Dec 1918: Graudenz

Sunday. Dec 8.     Little did I think to make entries in my diary so late as this, when it’s nearly a fortnight since our first party left.

This is our state, no parcels are coming into the camp.  We are reduced to our last few tins of meat.  The German authorities have requested that we do not go into the town to lunch or dine.  We have no food rations from the Germans now, for when we were getting our parcels, we had arrangements made that it should be sold to the civilian population. This is a garrison town, and many thousands of German soldiers are expected back on Wednesday or Thursday.  They are supposed to be going to take over these barracks, and yet there is no word of our going.  We are all fed to the teeth.

Our General (God save the mark!!) who at this rather critical time should be here in our camp, actually on the spot, has in fact taken rooms in a hotel in town, where he spends his days and nights (chiefly in a cabaret called the Germania) with wine and women.  Yesterday he had a notice placed on the notice board to say that we should be leaving either Monday or Tuesday probably, and a rumour went round, emanating direct from him, that we were leaving in two parties, one on Sunday night, the other on Monday morning. It proves to be entirely fictitious.  He has interviewed the officer for the Repatriation of Prisoners in Eastern Germany, and also the Representative of the Danish Commission for the same, yet he has no news, or if he has, he will not publish it.

Officers were stopped by a German Patrol late on Thursday and requested to give up their walking-sticks.  On their refusal a disturbance was made and several civilians became very hostile.  Seeing the menacing look of the crowd some officers gave up their sticks, and others broke them and threw them at them. All the action the General has taken in the matter is to publish a notice that officers to not carry sticks in the town and to state that ‹the German authorities regret the disturbances between English officers and German soldiers and civilians and request that, in view of the existing circumstances, no notice be taken of the incident›.

An officer, a Captain Greg was noticed to be missing about three days by his room companions, who became rather anxious about him.  One night a woman came out of a house and shoved a note into the hands of a passing officer.  It was to the effect that Greg had been enticed into, or had somehow entered into a house, and set upon by several ruffians, who placed him hors de combat, with several broken bones.  Six of our fellows went down, got him out and took him to hospital.

The Danish Committee have advised us to hand them our surplus stocks of foods when we go.  Comic idea of how much food we’ve got they seem to have. Today Whittaker, the Camp Adjutant, a Guards Captain and a boy of about 21, nearly as big a twinnick as the General, wired to Danzig to say ‹470 British Officers & men at Graudenz without food›.  Might have some effect. Our fleet is supposed to be cruising about in the Baltic.

An alphabetical roll call was called this morning.  Seven people were missing.  No one knows whether they are in the town, or have tried to get off to Danzig on their own.  Several Frenchmen have left the French Camp, chiefly those who speak German fluently, who have plenty of ready money, and are dressed as civilians.  In view of the fact that the British Government has asked that we do not do so, it seems unwise but the reason given was that ‹it would only lead to suffering and privation, and delay your repatriation› – but it seems likely that, if we stay here, we shall endure the same suffering and privation, and then not have sufficient grub to carry us to Danzig or elsewhere in a belated attempt to get out of the country.

Nous avons le cafard – as the French say.

We’re damned well fed up.  Looks as if we shall miss getting Xmas at home.

12 Nov 1918: Graudenz

Tuesday. Nov 12.     General Bellingham posted this morning a notice stating definitely that the armistice terms have been signed and that the authorities have promised that we shall be repatriated immediately transport is available.  Subsequently, at the R.F.C. dinner this evening he informed us that he had met the local representatives of the ‘soldiers and workers’ unions, who gave him greeting from the new government.  They said that, while the government was still trying to confirm its stability, our guards would not be removed, but would remain, more as a protection to ourselves than for their original purpose.  There was always the possibility of some madcap stirring up the mob to raid us, 600 defenceless officers, the cause of their misery.  The General replied that he quite appreciated their point of view.  They asked that no one should escape as they were responsible that the correct number of British officers were handed over.  The General concluded by assuring them that we had fought against Prussian Militarism, and that, this being dead we were ready and eager to hold out the hand of friendship to the free German People.

The RAF dinner was quite a success.  Various complimentary toasts &c.  Divers people besotted.  Got my menu-card signed by practically everyone there.  It will make a very decent pair to the Flight one of last Xmas.

Hurrah for this Xmas!!

7 Nov 1918: POW Graudenz

Thursday. Nov 7th     Another poor fellow died today.  Camp largely recovering.  Over 450 have been in bed. Feeling much better myself.  Dashed hard luck for these chaps to die now, after a rotten captivity, now, just when there does seem a decent chance of getting out within a few weeks.  The three escapees are recaptured, and in jug.

28 Oct 1918: POW Graudenz

Monday Oct 28th.     Over 250 down with grippe, and, of the rest practically no one out on the square taking exercise.  Spent the morning kicking a Rugger ball about.  Felt pretty rotten but I think it did me good.

evening, Strange, who failed to escape with Clinton; Baer, the American in our room, and Lomax, managed to get a plank across from the back of the theatre and resting it from the sentry shelter to the outer wire crossed it in civilian clothes.  After a moment we heard a shot from outside, but no one was hit.  At the subsequent roll-call, six were found to be missing and were reported as ‹escaped›.  Three Australians had hidden in a cupboard.  The German officer was cheerfully astounded to see them next day.  They told him that they found the weather too cold and so came back; which act of generosity did not prevent them getting three days cells each.

17 Oct 1918: POW Graudenz

Thursday Oct 17th.     Yesterday, we had a bit of bad luck.  One of the sentries walking round the building sank up to his knees in a hole.  So was discovered our new tunnel which has been in construction for some time.  Had the discovery not been made until the next day, the birds would have flown.

4 Oct 1918: POW Graudenz

Friday Oct 4th.     Tonight, about 7.15, the electric lights flickered but failed to go out.  A minute or two afterwards there was a hubbub outside.  It turned out that Capt. Clinton, just released from cells for his attempt at escape viâ the tunnel, had made his sixth successful attempt.  He climbed from an upper window along the insulated electric cables (the scheme for turning off the electric lights to aid him failed) swarmed down a rope once he had crossed the barbed wire, and jumped over the outer wall.  Jolly stout fellow!  He was seen and they gave chase but he soon got lost in the moonless night.  Hope he gets away!

28 Sept 1918: POW Graudenz

Saturday Sept 28th     Got a photo of the Kidlet and an old Bournemouth snap.  Topping to see home photos here.

Nearly forgot to mention; Gerson has been for a long time very keen on escaping.  Last Tuesday [24th Sept] he donned his British Warm, whose pockets were stuffed with biscuits chocolates, Horlicks malted milk, Bovril tablets &c, enough food for ten days.  We shoved him into one of the washing bags together with piles of dirty washing (Pretty filthy for him) – carried him downstairs (Hell of a sweat) and chucked him over the stone balustrade on to the washing cart, I being below to break his fall, and to arrange other sacks around him.  Unfortunately, due to the non-sympathy and wind-up of one of our officers, who was in charge of the washing, we got no help in the matter, and no orderlies to assist us.  He was half buried in the washing bags, and the driver, trampling the bags down, managed, despite our efforts, to tread on his head.  Between pain and suffocation, he fairly yelled, but was unobserved except by us, who loosened the mouth of the bag.  He was carted out, but unfortunately, his cart being heavily loaded, they decided to move some bags to the other cart, when his bag was discovered.  Some fellow stuck a bayonet through it, but fortunately missed him, merely doing their washing a bit of good.  Gerson has been in clink ever since but we take up for him his meals, books &c. regularly.

8 Sept 1918: POW Graudenz

RAB diary Sunday September 8, 1918, Graudenz: “a tunnel has been in process of being built”
Sunday, September 8, 1918: “a tunnel has been in process of being built”

Sunday. Sept 7th [8th].     Great excitement.  For a long time (although I have naturally made no mention of it here)  a tunnel has been in process of being built from a cellar under this block, under the double row of barbed wire, under the outside wall and all ready to open up in the shadow of the wall on a suitable night.  I never had the chance of seeing it, but I believe it was made 2′6″ × 2′6″ and supported by hundreds of bed boards.  It must have been a jolly well organised piece of work, for they had to dig through the foundations, some 3 feet of solid concrete, and then through sandy soil, which required propping every inch of it.  Last night was the night chosen for the escape.  I can’t give details even yet because they would be useful to the enemy.  It was dark soon after nine.  By 11 o’clock all of the parties, sixteen people in all, had gone through the tunnel and got clear in spite of the many guards and patrols actually outside here.  Eight Flying Corps went, five Australians and three others.  Three of them, the first party, all R.F.C. were recaptured almost at once.  They said however that they were Tommies escaped from some other camp in Germany and so, all the other sentries being interested and attracted, the rest got clear away.  Proper wind up here.  The tunnel was discovered about 1am.  Parties came round counting us in bed.  They didn’t discover the correct number of those who had gone for there were dummies in the beds, some only of which were discovered.  We had a parade about 8.30 and we were counted several times.  Huge colossal gust up!  General visited during parade.  Commandant chronically perturbed.  Saluted General literally 30 times during course of a short telling off.  We are ordered to our rooms and not to come out except to draw grub and to attend parade.  Except at those times we may not walk outside even for exercise, and we are not allowed our tins or parcels.

Tonight we held an indignation meeting against the unjust punishment.  We refused to leave the parade ground after ‘appel’ but walked about, until scores of guards were turned out to chase us off.  We roared with laughter and declined to move.  Finally the guards fixed bayonets, and several of our fellows got nasty clouts from the butt-ends of their rifles.  ‘Little Willy’ drew his sword, and is said to have ordered the guards to fire, which, fortunately, both for them and for us, they didn’t do.  You should have heard the shout of laughter that went up when the guards fixed bayonets.

Later.  A notice has been placed up saying that this punishment is on account, not of the escape, but of the continued noise after lights out.  Obviously camouflage however!  The noise, as the authorities well know, was made in collusion with the escapees, to draw the sentries away to the other block.