On Sunday. April 21st. My birthday. We arrived at Karlsruhe, a kind of central distribution camp for sending officers all over Germany. It was full up, and we were sent an hour’s railway journey to Rastatt, an overflow camp, and the very worst place I’ve been in at present in Germany. The country was very hilly and beautiful round here, while there were large vineyards on the southern side of the hills. One could see the Black Forest which stretched away for miles. Going along in the train, we would suddenly come upon most beautiful panoramas, and upon unsuspected villages nestling in the sides of hills, or tucked away in some sheltered valley. And here I must say that I was delighted at the picturesqueness and neatness of their villages, and very much surprised at the clean-ness. No paper or rubbish littered their streets and the whole place looked very well kept. Practically every acre is under cultivation, while around the villages and towns, market gardening, and intensive culture was being carried out.
On Saturday. April 20th. Fourteen of us were sent to Karlsrühe. We started about 10. a.m. and had a German officer in charge, who was very decent. We had rations, cheese, meatpaste, sandwiches, and a boiled egg, from the Hospital and in addition he got us a hot supper that night, a rissole, macaroni and beaucoup potatoes in their skins at the restaurant of a station at which we stopped, and a hot lunch next day – goat’s meat and potatoes – the last decent meal we were to have for three weeks. The money for these meals he subtracted from the amounts to our credit on his list (for I had cashed at Hannover a cheque for £4).
Thursday, April 11th to Saturday, April 20th Hannover
First morning saw specialist who examined our wounds and spouted out a diagnosis to a writing clerk. I felt rather an outsider at being the only unwounded officer there, but he had so much to dictate to the sweating clerk about my sprains that I took heart of grace again. There was a barber’s shop in the building: went and had a 14 days growth of beard removed. Felt more like a Christian. Could get a bath any time by paying a mark. Had four during the ten days. Small and very limited English library there. Read ‘Stingaree Stories’ – jolly good!! & ‘Henry Esmond’ – essentially a prisoner-of-war book. Hospital full of all nationalities, and to stroll in the garden was like entering the Tower of Babel – or a monkey house. British, German, French, Belgian, Roumanian, Russian – all were there. The garden had a fair sized stream flowing past the end, and one could see Hannover Town Hall with its gilded dome which used to catch the sunlight. It is a very fine city. We bought most of our immediate requirements through the interpreter, such things as soap, razor, brush, comb, knives, suit case, tooth-brush, tooth paste. The soap (about the size of a sample piece in England) was very poor and fabulously dear. It was comical to have to pay more for it than for the razor. Most thing are much dearer than in England.
Our daily fare was the best I had had since being in Germany:
8. Two small slices bread and jam. Coffee, milk.
10. Two small slices bread and vurst (sort of potted meat containing onion). Coffee.
12. Square meal. Meat and as much potato as one could eat; followed by a sweet, a cross between marzipan and coloured blancmange. (On meatless days, a very large thick and very satisfying pancake with boiled apple). Soup.
3. Two small slices bread and butter. Coffee. Sugar.
6. Two small sandwiches (4 slices) with either cheese, meatpaste or a boiled egg. Coffee or tea (the latter a substitute of course).
In addition to this we had divided between us by the senior officer, an English Major, something from the parcels of officers who had gone to Holland, so that with the first meal every day we had porridge which we ate with the sugar saved from the 3 o’clock meal of the day before; while every evening we had a small piece of bully beef or chicken or salmon, or biscuits, or some other equally acceptable dainty. After about five days I was put by myself into a room with Polish, Russian and French officers. Had my meals next door with three old British prisoners of war, who were receiving parcels so that I did very well, and ate white bread from Copenhagen. I played a good deal of chess with a French Major and Captain, but beat them fairly easily. The Pole however was a much better player, and we had some fine games. I confess I chiefly won through his impatience. He gave me a tin opener.
On Sunday April 14. I got off my first letter home giving an address, with all about myself and much talk of parcels. Also one card to Berne, Switzerland, asking for two loaves of bread a week*. And one to the Red Cross, Geneva, asking that a wire should be sent home, saying that I was safe and a prisoner of war. That wire should have been home by my birthday.
About Monday April 15th. The Dutch Ambassador or a representative from Berlin visited to inspect conditions etc. He took our addresses, and promised to send wires for us from Berlin to say we were safe. Nothing like making sure. I wish I knew how things are going at home.
* (Which I haven’t seen yet – May 27th)
(nor yet – June 15th)
Thursday, April 11th 8.pm. Arrived at Hannover. We eight officers were put into the hall of the Station Hotel, which apparently was run by the local Red Cross. An hour or so later we were taken by a special Red Cross tram to a Hospital. We were a great object of curiosity in the streets. It rather amused me, who all my life have felt a comparatively slow to anger inoffensive Britisher, to be regarded as a kind of supervillain, or first class murderer. The hospital had before the war been a War School (Kreig’s Schüle). We were put into a small ward, and slept soundly on good beds with blankets. Next morning we had breakfast. Coffee and two small slices of bread and jam (a lighter coloured bread than at Le Cateau). Had a shower bath, and handed in our clothes for disinfection – the last alas! that I saw of my beautiful leather waistcoat. I got the other things back, but not that. Served me right for being such a fool as to hand it in. Went about in hospital clothes. White cotton pants, trousers, shirt, a jacket like a painters overall, and a white necktie. We looked like a party of modern Arcadians. Had coverlet, two blankets, sheet and mattress on the bed. Felt, and were, in clover.
10.pm. Wednesday night. Arrived at Cöln (Cologne) after passing through some very beautiful country. Was disappointed in not seeing the Rhine and the famous Cologne bridge. No hospital accommodation at Cologne, so changed trains to go on to Hannover. On this train we officers, by this time eight in number, got two compartments to ourselves, the first preferential treatment we had obtained. Had changed my money (about 100 francs) for 80 marks at Le Coteau. Bought cigarettes (very expensive and not so good as English ones) en route. Managed to buy a piece of good soda-cake for 2 marks. Very picturesque country. Our train contained very many wounded German officers and men. It was very quaint to see all the children by the sides of the railway waving. They all did it, yet no smiles or cheering. It seemed to me that it was become mechanical, they did it so often. They had obviously been taught to do it, and yet it seemed a very pleasant custom. Too often do our own wounded excite no attention beyond curiosity. For the rest our own medical services are infinitely superior to the enemy’s. At many of the very frequent stops (I remember once we travelled five miles in five hours) women came hurrying down with hot soup or coffee for their wounded. It gave one the other side of the picture, and the sight of the women and girls, many of them in black, and especially of the kiddies, made me think again what a bloody business this war is.
Tuesday April 9th. Awakened at 4 AM, with the two other officers and a whole party of men, and marched slowly to station. Took seats in a so-called Red Cross train. Very crowded and uncomfortable. Wooden seats. In train for 60 hours. Hot and good soup served on board. Pitied a certain Sergeant Major – an old boy, a Regular, who was mostly wounded by a bomb in the backside, and who was sitting.
(One thing I forgot to mention. All bandages are made from paper, whether for small wounds or for broken legs. Splints are not wooden, but of stiff iron wire framework. One of them we used very effectively at Hannover as a toasting rack).
Tuesday night I managed to sleep a couple of hours or so stretched out on the floor, but my morning freshness was spoilt by the number of people who walked on my face. One particular kick in the ear I shall never quite forget.
Tuesday evening April 2nd to Monday April 8th} Le Cateau
In hospital at Le Cateau. All I needed was rest. Stayed in bed all day. Foot, ankle and knee got rather better. Could hobble about a bit. Rheumatism at nights. Food not so bad judging by after standards.
8am: Thick slice of black bread, with traces of butter. Coffee (a quaint substitution for coffee, which is of course unobtainable. Made, some say, from burnt barley. Others, from acorns). No sugar or milk.
10am: Thick slice of bread with traces of butter or jam.
12pm: Basin full of soup. Very good. Macaroni, Barley, Semolina, or something similar. Sometimes as second basinfull.
3pm: Bread with butter or jam, and coffee.
6pm: Two slices of bread with meat paste or Limburger cheese, and coffee.
Nothing much happened during my stay. Several men died. One of ours, a DCM fellow too, cut his throat at midnight one night and died instanter. Poor fellow was probably mad with pain. Thursday April 4th. Sent off a letter. Friday April 5th. Warned to be ready to proceed as a sitting case to hospital at Cologne.
Tuesday, April 2nd: There interviewed by a German ex-Flying Corps Officer, a lawyer of Leipzig, who carried out a cross examination, but got no very vital information out of me. Gave me a cigar, and promised to have a message dropped the other side of the line for me; whether out of kindliness or to inspire confidence and so get more information I know not. He was very thoughtful and courteous. Gave me the choice of going to the camp or to the Hospital; chose the later, and he sent me there in a cart (Heard from Hanna afterwards that he arrived at the Camp at 6pm. the same evening). Hospital had been a factory – very crude. Put on a large room containing about 100 wounded, in all stages, our own and German about equally mixed. Two other English officers there, one a fellow named Ahern, of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, of Youghal, Co. Cork, who knew Abby Perry slightly.
Getting wind up somewhat about people at home. Wondering how soon I should be reported missing, and how soon afterwards definite news about my being a prisoner of war would go through. Am afraid they must have had a least a fortnight of suspense at home. Am longing to get a letter off.
Treated awfully well by the French inhabitants of this part of the country, who frequently offered me bread, and called out expressions of sympathy from their doorsteps as I hobbled past. Forgot to say that after taking off my boot at Le Cateau (the big black field boots) I couldn’t get it on again next morning, so I had to wear a sort of sandal, cut from an old boot and tied on with string; and I carried the boot in my hand.
Met an ex-clerk of John Knights at the hospital whose name I forget. He had lost his right arm and had hopes of getting back to England. Gave him appropriate messages for JKs.
Monday April 1st, very appropriately. All Fool’s Day, discovered 2 Frenchmen, 3 Tommies, & a Sergeant Major in same hut. About 12 got first food since we were captured. Some stew (uneatable) and a piece of black bread and meat each: My thoughts at this time were uncontrollable and went back irresistibly
(i). To the tea which had waited in vain since 6pm
(ii) To the only half eaten box of chocolates I had left on my table
(ii) To the full whisky flask I usually carried – and had left behind
About 2pm set out to walk to Bernes. After 200 yards I gave it up and sat down at side of road. Got a lift into Mons, and so was separated from Hanna whom I did not see for weeks, and then only for an hour. Had my foot inspected at a Field Dressing Station in Mons (got a field p.c. off from here), and, as it was about twice the natural size, I got a lift with a lorry of wounded to a casualty clearing station behind Bellenglise. After two hours wait there, a slice of bread and jam, and an inspection, it was decided that I was not wounded, and must walk to a British Officers Clearing Camp at Le Cateau, in charge of two NCO.s. The N.C.Os. however, proved more merciful, and caught a lorry for me into Ramiecourt, a village where we stopped the night. Coffee, bread, jam then. Next morning, thence by three different train journeys one standing on the engine, and two in a carriage, to LeCateau.