13 Dec 1918: Heading home

Friday December 13th.     Finally left Graudenz by train at midnight on this day.  Here’s the Naval Officer’s account (see my diary entries for December 10th and December 12th):

At midnight on December 13 the camp was evacuated, and after a most trying and miserable train journey of 13 hours we arrived at Neufahrwasser, embarked in the Danish transport Mitau, and left for Leith. I rejoined my ship at Copenhagen.

Colonel and his “boys.”: Refusal to leave them in prison camp

12 Dec 1918: Graudenz

Thursday. Dec 12th.     Went into town all day with Miller.  Fearful getting up this morning.  Thousands of degrees of frost.  Had lunch in town, went to a comfortable Weinstuber, read and drank liqueurs all the afternoon.  Dined in town.  Was visited in the evening by the Naval Officer, a doctor who gave us ripping and recent news of England.  Felt no end cheered.  Stayed up till two o’clock stewing in front of the fire and reading.

11 Dec 1918: Graudenz

Wednesday. Dec 11th.     I feel that a few words of prayer might be reasonably set down in this, my book of words, to counterbalance our forcible, but excusable language of this evening.  After waiting about, and expecting to go all day we get a wire at 8 p.m. to say that the boat has been delayed by fog, and that we shall not be leaving before Friday.  Since then our long suffering patience has been broken before a wave of the blackest pessimism.  Some there are who speak vaguely of the likelihood of the Poles, who are in revolt, marching on Graudenz and putting the inhabitants (and us) to the sword; others opine that the large bodies of troops expected back from the front any day will fall in hungry masses upon the camp and mob the barracks (and us).  The most optimistic speak darkly of the rigors of the Graudenz winter in February.  We are a happy camp!!

10 Dec 1918: Graudenz

Tuesday. Dec 10.     This morning Col. Corfe went to Danzig, leaving by train at 6.30 AM to explain in person our state as regards grub.  He has just returned, with (to show that we’re not forgotten) an officer of H.M.S. Gloucester, at present stationed in Danzig.  It does seems ripping really to have an Englishman here, in the enemy’s stronghold – not here as a prisoner, but a victor in the conquered territory.  Several items of news he brings.  The best is that another boat is expected Thursday.  If this be so we may get away tomorrow, or Thursday at latest.

9 Dec 1918: Graudenz

Monday. Dec. 9.     Great excitement today ending in hopeless bathos.  This morning, as we were eating our frugal breakfast of biscuits and sardines, an interpreter, a very decent fellow named Fleming, rushed in to say that a telegram has been received to announce our departure tonight.  Rousing cheers, gradually spreading all down the block as the rumour passed along.  Everyone packed up.  Great meetings in town to have a last drink ‹Bon voyage et pas de retour›  Myself I drank half a large bottle of champagne and umpteen liqueurs at fabulous prices before I staggered gaily back to barracks.  Since then we have been waiting, waiting, till at last came the news that a train cannot be supplied at present.  Doubtless the boat waiting at Danzig will be filled from other camps.  We are unlucky sods.  Oh hell!

Balby suggests, in all seriousness, that we were sent this wire to stand by solely to cheer us up – and then he wonders why I laughed.  ’Elp!!!  Short rations seem to deprive some people of a sense of humour.

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.

4 Dec 1918: Graudenz

Wednesday. Dec. 4.     Getting through gradually.  The days pass by on leaden feet.  The rumour is very persistent that we are going away on Sunday, sailing from Danzig on the Monday.

The French officers have plastered the walls of their room with such placards as ‹On les a› (We’ve got them beat) and large maps marking in Alsace & Lorraine as French territory.

Saw in a shop today various of the German substitutes for bicycle tyres (for they have very little rubber).  The chief one was a system of springs enclosed between two circular bands soAnother was simply thin rope plaited into a kind of thick tyre.

Cox, a man I know here, whose weight is normally around 11 stone 4, told me yesterday that, at the height of our starvation here he just weighed 8 stone.

3 Dec 1918: Graudenz

Tuesday. Dec 3.     Went for a walk with Miller into the town.  Thought it would be interesting to look at the price of some feminine articles of apparel.   The average felt, velours or plush hat, plain and untrimmed cost between 60 and 80 marks.  A jolly decent looking silk (or satin) blouse with lace insertion cost 148 marks.  A jolly rotten imitation black fur coat cost 425 marks.

Everyone unbelievably fed up.  It appears probable that we get away next Monday, but nothing is definite.  Unofficially I hear that we should have gone tomorrow, but something happened to the ruddy boat and it had to put back for repairs.

We are getting quite short of food again and the matter is looking a bit serious, especially if we don’t get away as expected.

The General, who seems to have taken exceptional leave of his senses, has sold practically all our reserve of bread and biscuits to the Germans. (the money to go to the Red Cross.)  Later, no, he has given it away.

Our hero will now go to bed.

By the bye, I frequently announce to my mess some such remark as ‹our hero will now shave›
to which Gerson ‹no, not yet, my hands are dirty›
and Miller ‹no, I shaved immediately after breakfast›
So silly!!!

2 Dec 1918: Graudenz

Monday Dec. 2.     Getting fearfully fed with this place.  On Saturday I found an excellent Weinstuber, where we sat in warmth, Miller & I, and read our books, sipping the whiles some excellent Cherry Brandy & Carthauser, stuff like Benedictine.  Bought a bottle of Carthauser 24 marks.

1 Dec 1918: Graudenz

Sunday. Dec 1.     Heard from the Commissioner for the Repatriation of British Prisoners from Eastern Germany that we’re not likely to leave here before Dec. 8.  Oh hell!  Our patience is getting to its end, and our tempers wearing very thin.

Have recently taken a spare enamel pot (like unto the ones in which we cook porridge) to use as a jerry, to obviate my very painful necessity of traipsing down freezing corridors twice or three times a night.  This I did, telling only Miller.  This morning Gerson cooked a delightful and inimitable macaroni milk pudding in my jerry.  Fortunately I wash it out pretty well. The pudding was very good.