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Title: My German Prisons
 - Being the Experiences of an Officer During Two and a Half
 - Years as a Prisoner of War
Author: Gilliland, H. G.
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "My German Prisons
 - Being the Experiences of an Officer During Two and a Half
 - Years as a Prisoner of War" ***

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produced from images available at The Internet Archive)



                           MY GERMAN PRISONS

                [Illustration: CAPTAIN H. G. GILLILAND

                    Loyal North Lancashire Regiment

            _From the portrait by C. Percival Small, Esq._]



                           MY GERMAN PRISONS

                  BEING THE EXPERIENCES OF AN OFFICER
                   DURING TWO AND A HALF YEARS AS A
                            PRISONER OF WAR

                                  BY
                        CAPTAIN H. G. GILLILAND
                    LOYAL NORTH LANCASHIRE REGIMENT

                         HODDER AND STOUGHTON
                        LONDON NEW YORK TORONTO

                               MCMXVIII

       _Printed in Great Britain by Hazell, Watson & Finey, Ld.,
                        London and Aylesbury._



                               DEDICATED

                                  TO

                          MR. JAMES W. GERARD
       _Late U.S.A. Ambassador to the Imperial Court at Berlin_

                    TO WHOM EVERY BRITISH PRISONER
                    OWES A DEBT OF GRATITUDE WHICH
                          CAN NEVER BE REPAID

                                                       H. G. G.



PREFACE


The writer has been so constantly and earnestly appealed to to write his
experiences, and so weary recounting them, that he has at last decided
to put into print a short account of things as they really happened
within his own personal knowledge during his two and a half years’
imprisonment in Germany. He is also encouraged to do so for other and
more important reasons. There are so many people throughout our Empire
who are unfortunate enough to have intimate friends and relations in
captivity in Germany. In the opinion of the writer these people ought to
know, from one who has had a bitter experience, to which these pages
will testify, the true conditions under which those nearest and dearest
to them exist.

To those who are more fortunate, and who may be inclined to be sceptical
towards the newspaper reports of German brutality, it is hoped this
narrative will come as a revelation.

Further, there must be many who are already feeling war-weary and
despondent, and who consequently may be ready to embrace any opportunity
of making peace, even on the basis of the _status quo_. If the
revelations disclosed herein bring home to these a knowledge of the
infamous, relentless, and savage character of the Hun, deliberately
dehumanised by the State for the purposes of the State, the writer will
feel that his labour has not been in vain.



CONTENTS


CHAPTER I

                                                                    PAGE

CAPTURED BY THE BOCHES                                                15


CHAPTER II

BY CATTLE-TRUCK TO MUNDEN                                             32


CHAPTER III

THE DREARINESS OF CAMP LIFE                                           47


CHAPTER IV

OUR REMOVAL TO BISCHOFSWERDA                                          63


CHAPTER V

MY JOURNEY TO CLAUSTHAL                                               78


CHAPTER VI

COURT-MARTIALLED AND INSULTED                                        108


CHAPTER VII

IN HOSPITAL AT DRESDEN                                               122


CHAPTER VIII

THE HELL-HOLE OF INGOLSTADT                                          142


CHAPTER IX

A “BLOND BEAST” COMMANDANT                                           161


CHAPTER X

BOUND FOR CREFELD                                                    171


CHAPTER XI

WE JUMP FROM THE TRAIN                                               190


CHAPTER XII

ESCAPES BY NIGHT AND DAY                                             213


CHAPTER XIII

WE HIDE IN A DRAIN                                                   234


CHAPTER XIV

MAKING FOR THE FRONTIER                                              251


CHAPTER XV

ELUDING THE SENTRIES                                                 272


CHAPTER XVI

LIBERTY AND BLIGHTY!                                                 302



CHAPTER I

CAPTURED BY THE BOCHES


A rough sketch of the circumstances which led up to my being taken a
prisoner of war are more or less indispensable. We were called up at a
moment’s notice from another part of the line, where our division was in
reserve, to a position in front of a line of our trenches lost to the
enemy a few hours previously in their attempted advance on Calais. These
trenches had been held by Indian regiments, and small blame to them for
losing them. Judging from what we saw, they must have had a pretty rough
time.

It was in retaking these three lines of trenches that I became a
prisoner. I think the position was known as La Bassée Canal position.
Our brigade formed up in the dusk about 4.30 p.m. opposite the trenches
we were about to attack. Here we were under desultory shell fire, but
casualties from this were very few. As far as we could make out and from
information received, we were within about eighty yards of the Boches.
Whilst we were waiting the order to advance, the rain, which had begun
to fall, developed into a downpour, accompanied by terrific bursts of
thunder. Before the storm abated the expected order arrived. Immediately
I rushed up to inform my company commander, but what with the darkness,
the crashing thunder, and the roar of both our own artillery and that of
the Boche, accompanied by the villainous tat-tat of the enemy machine
guns, I failed to find him.

Recognising the immediate necessity for action, and the danger of
leaving the flank of the unit on our left exposed, I was compelled to
act on my own initiative, being the only other officer in the company.
The difficulties of commanding a full company in action, without any
other officers in the company, are great; but when that action takes
place in the dark, over unknown ground, it becomes mere luck if things
go well.

When we had taken the first line of trenches with the bayonet and
consolidated the position, not hearing from the scouts sent out to
reconnoitre, I went over to have a look at the Boches’ second line. On
my way back I was hit with a bullet in the ankle joint, which felt
exactly like a blow from a hammer. Strange to say, I felt no pain, and
found I could manage to get along by using the foot as a sort of stump.
The sensation was very similar to what is experienced when one’s foot
goes to sleep. Shortly after this my orderly informed me that the
company on my right was preparing to advance, and immediately a cheer
informed me that they had done so, and we swept onward again.

How I was able to lead the men I do not know, but somehow my ankle
seemed to do the work all right. It was about a hundred yards to the
Boche line, and rather too far to attack in one rush. Consequently we
got down to establish superiority of fire, when to my alarm I found we
were being fired at in flank. A reconnaissance discovered this to be a
half-company of men without an officer, belonging to another regiment on
my left. Immediately I organised them as my supports, and shortly
afterwards took the second Boche line by assault. I use the term
“assault” for want of a better, since the Boches had vacated their
trenches, leaving only the wounded. We hardly had a minute’s
breathing-space in this trench when information again came from the
right that our men there were advancing, and so on again. Here, however,
the Boche really fought it out; but our men, having been properly worked
up, would stop at nothing. We gave a good account of ourselves in this
last trench, but the men were over and on again; fortunately a deep
ditch checked their further advance, and we stopped again to
consolidate.

About eight o’clock in the evening the officer in charge of our
headquarters company came up to the front line and did most excellent
work, helping to send back a good many of the men, since we were too
crowded. Here it was that, after the excitement was over, I knew all
about my wound, which was paining me exceedingly. However, there was too
much to be done for me to lie up with it. All night long we waited for a
counter-attack, but nothing happened except desultory shelling and
sniping. Towards four o’clock the next morning the enemy’s artillery
began to get busy, and when the dawn broke we discovered that the enemy
had snapped up to us during the night to within easy grenade-throwing
distance. Their artillery grew more and more intense. I noted a few
15-inch shells, one of which scored a direct hit, but did not explode.
We made two or three raids on the sap-heads, but our success was only of
a temporary nature.

Towards 8 a.m. the officer commanding the front line paid me a visit,
and informed me that he found it impossible to deal with the bombs,
having nothing to reply with, and also that the ammunition was running
short. He thought the position would very shortly become untenable, in
which case he would retire, and if he thought fit would send me orders
to do likewise. I never got those orders; and although I had taken every
possible precaution to keep in touch with the units on my right and
left, the company of my own battalion on my right managed to carry out
their retirement before I was aware of it. Owing to the formation of the
ground, it was impossible for us to see anything that was going on on
our flanks; we were therefore entirely dependent on our scouts for all
information.

About 9.30 a.m. the unit on my left unexpectedly retired, without
sending me any explanation as to their reasons.

Then suddenly there was the devil’s own artillery fire, and a big shell
landed close to me, and I felt a concussion in my right side, as if hit
with a battering-ram. I felt myself lifted, and the next moment was
gasping for breath under a heap of debris. My lungs were almost bursting
when I was pulled out by some of my men. For a few minutes everything
was blank, and then the first thing I knew was that the Boches were in
our trench, both right and left. Immediately I tried to get the men out
and retire, only to discover that the Boches had retaken the second line
of trenches behind us, which had hitherto acted as our support trenches.
We had no communication trenches between the first and second lines,
owing to the fact that we had no tools with which to construct them.
Thus we had the enemy on four sides of us. The only thing to do was to
make them pay heavily for it. Every moment I expected to hear a British
cheer, telling us that our reserves were again attacking, but, alas!
none came.

I am not certain what time the Boches surrounded us--I think about 10.30
a.m. Our strength was then roughly about two hundred men; but we held
the trench for five and a half hours, after which there were not thirty
of us left. Then suddenly the Boches showered us with bombs. The result
was final. Personally, I lay at the bottom of the trench, quite
incapable of doing or understanding anything.

It never dawned on me that I might actually be taken prisoner alive, for
I had accepted it as a certainty that I should be finished where I lay.
Unconsciously I wondered what it would be like to have one’s brains
bashed out with the butt end of a rifle. Would it be very painful?
Anyhow, it would be quicker. And then I remember some one jerking me to
my feet, where I remained propped up against the side of the trench,
whilst the hands of some Hun with the most stinking breath searched my
pockets and ripped off my buttons. I don’t remember what he looked like,
only the revolting odour of his breath. Gradually I began to recover my
normal senses, enough to look about me, and found that three of my men
had been gathered up, all of whom looked pretty well done for, and then
came a brutal order to move off (_Auf stehen_), of which none of us took
the slightest notice, until the order was enforced with the aid of the
bayonet; and then we were driven with bayonets into the enemy’s
communication trenches, which were at that time up to the waist in mud.

In crossing over No Man’s Land, as it were, I was horrified to see
Germans finishing off our wounded with their bayonets. As we were
hurried on through the muddy German trenches, regardless of our wounds,
we could hear squeals and cries, showing that the Boches were still
carrying on with the shameful murdering of our helpless wounded. About
three hundred yards back we were handed over to a German officer, who
inspected our personal effects, in order to gather any possible
information as to our positions. This officer was insulting, but not
brutal. In the course of a few minutes we were handed over by him to the
charge of a Bavarian non-commissioned officer, to be transported to the
divisional base, which was at that time at La Bassée. This N.C.O. first
herded us to the dug-out of some friends of his, where all our personal
effects were wrested from us. Regimental buttons and badges were torn
off. Only the fact that I had been wounded in the ankle through my boot,
so that the top of the boot was destroyed, saved me from going into
Germany barefoot. As it was, they had wrenched my left boot off before
they discovered the condition of the right one. My cigarette-case,
field-glasses, prismatic compass, money, signet-ring, in fact all my
personal effects, were filched.

Of the three men with me, one was hit through the jaw, losing strength
rapidly from loss of blood, another was shot through the eyes and
totally blind, and the last through the abdomen. It would be quite
impossible to imagine their agonies in being forced to walk in their
badly wounded condition through the trenches, sometimes up to the waist
in mud. Such callousness is very difficult to understand, but it is
evidently part and parcel of the Boche composition.

One piece of trench through which we had to make our way showed the
effects of our magnificent artillery work, as it was literally choked
with German dead, over whose bodies we were forced to walk. One of our
guards, who was leading, deliberately tramped his way on the bodies of
his comrades, numbers of whom were not dead, pushing them into the slimy
mud, and when I showed my disgust I was merrily laughed at. A little
farther on we came to a trench on which our artillery was ranging. This
seemed a good opportunity for our guards to take a little rest, and in
order that things might not be too dull we were ordered out of the
trench, to stand on the parapet. I cannot explain why none of us were
hit, but fate evidently denied the Boches the amusement they craved.

Moving on again, we encountered small parties of reinforcements going up
to the front line. In each case we were shoved out of the trench,
although there was plenty of room for these men to pass. As far as I can
remember, when we had covered about a mile, one of my men, mentioned
before as having been shot through the jaw, collapsed from loss of
blood. The guard allowed him two or three minutes’ grace, then pricked
him up again with the point of his bayonet. This happened three times.
The last time one of the guards, exasperated by our slow progress,
passed his bayonet through the man’s chest. Soon after this we left the
trenches and found ourselves on the main road leading to La Bassée.
After this the two men and myself continued that awful journey arm in
arm along the road to La Bassée, the blind man supporting my right side,
but taking directions from me, my left arm supporting the man hit in the
abdomen, who was by this time practically delirious.

At last, after what appeared to be an interminable journey, we stumbled
into La Bassée, where our guard handed us over to another N.C.O. at the
outskirts of the town, who conducted us to brigade headquarters. This
man seemed more or less kindly, even offering me a cigarette. Almost
immediately I was ushered before an interrogating officer, with whom I
refused to speak before my two men were taken to hospital; to this he
immediately agreed, apparently surprised at our not having received
attention at the front line. When I had personally seen my men enter
the Red Cross dressing station, I was again conducted to brigade
headquarters. I reported to the interrogating officer the deliberate
murder of one of my men and the entire absence of Red Cross aid. This
officer smiled incredulously, and remarked that he thought I must be
exaggerating, but would make inquiries. Whether he ever did so or not,
of course I cannot say. Up to the time of writing I have not been able
to trace what happened to the two men I left at La Bassée.

With regard to the interrogation, needless to say very little
information was gathered from me. On asking for medical attention for
myself, I was informed that I should receive everything I required at
the station, where I was escorted by another guard. This man turned out
to be quite kindly, as on arrival at the station, not finding any
evidence of the Red Cross, he helped me to take off my puttees and
breeches, whilst I cleansed my ankle and abdominal wounds under a pump.
The guard washed from my puttees and trousers the thick slimy mud with
which they were caked, and helped me to dress again in the clean though
wet clothes. Shortly after this I was taken to a waiting-room in the
station, where I found three other officers, one of whom was from my own
regiment, who had been taken prisoner early on the same day.

By this time it was practically dark, probably about five o’clock in the
morning. An hour afterwards two or three German officers came in and
made themselves as unpleasant and insulting as possible, producing
several Dum-Dum bullets, which they accused us of using, discussing
amongst themselves the advisability of taking us out and shooting us
immediately for breaking the rules of civilised warfare, a decidedly
humorous remark from the lips of a Hun. One of the British officers who
spoke German argued the foolishness of such an accusation, but to no
effect.

About eight o’clock the same evening we were removed with a few men in
fourth-class carriages under a strong guard to a station on the way to
Lille, where we spent the night in an outhouse which had a small stove
in it and a little straw. Here we endeavoured to dry some of our
clothes, one of our own officers dressing my ankle with his field
dressing. Here also some hot soup was brought to us by a German N.C.O.,
with black bread. During the night, when the stove had gone out, one of
our guards noticing some of the sleepers shivering with cold, tried to
cover them with some straw. This was a small act of kindness which I
shall always remember. We noticed that any little act of kindness such
as this was never done by a German soldier when one of his officers or
N.C.O.s was present or near at hand.

Towards early morning we were ordered to dress again in our half-dry
clothes, and about six or seven o’clock we entrained in fourth-class
carriages and were taken to Lille station. From here we were marched to
the old fortress of Lille. On the way we received many signs of deep
sympathy from the Belgian populace; most of the women seemed to be
crying, and I noticed that the men bared their heads in token of
respect. On two or three occasions some women tried to press chocolate
into the men’s hands. In one case, where one of the German guards saw a
woman doing this, he beat her down with the butt end of his rifle. Many
Germans yelled insults at us, but the guard next to me remarked that we
must take no notice of such people, as they were only soldiers employed
on lines of communication, and had therefore never been in the front
line, so did not know what fighting was. I mention this because it is so
rare to find a spirit of chivalry amongst the Boches, and in an account
of this kind it is only fair to write of both the good and the bad sides
of their characters.



CHAPTER II

BY CATTLE-TRUCK TO MUNDEN


On arrival at the fortress we were separated from the men, the officers
undergoing another interrogation. On asking for immediate medical
attention, we were assured that it would be forthcoming directly. When
we entered the room allotted to us, we found three other British
officers, who had been taken prisoners some days previously, and who at
once set about preparing a meal for us out of their own scanty
provisions. There was only one proper bed in the place, which was given
up to me at once; the rest were dirty palliasses thrown on the ground. A
Belgian orderly was provided to look after us and bring us the daily
ration. He also had the privilege of going into the town of Lille and
buying little extras, though at a very costly price, as we soon found
out.

Later we learnt that the ground-floor quarters of the fortress were
occupied by a number of native troops, and on the following day one of
my brother officers paid them a visit, and found them living in very
unhealthy conditions, suffering greatly from the cold, owing to the fact
that the Germans had relieved them of their great-coats. These poor
fellows were clad, therefore, as for their own climate, and were
suffering acutely. However, they had been treated fairly well in other
respects, and had plenty to eat. In the afternoon of the same day there
was a great hubbub amongst them, owing to the fact that a Baboo (a
professional agitator) was haranguing them in the fortress close. One of
their subahdar majors expressed to us his extreme disgust at the German
attempt to tamper with their loyalty. The gist of the agitation was to
induce the native troops to throw off their allegiance to the British
Crown and fight against the Russians on the Eastern Front.

Throughout the day I continually asked for medical attention, but was
always put off by the reply that the doctor was expected every minute.
This farce of medical attention continued during the whole period of our
stay in Lille, but no doctor ever arrived. A Red Cross dresser did visit
me, but on examination declared that he was not competent to deal with
the case and must leave it to the doctor.

On the night of the 25th of December we were removed with a lot of men,
consisting of British, French, Belgian, and a few native troops, from
the fortress to the main station at Lille. When we arrived there, the
whole place was found to be brilliantly illuminated with decorated
Christmas trees, exactly as one sees at a children’s party, the whole
German populace being in holiday attire. On this occasion we were
fortunately kept well away both from the civilians and others, so that
the chances of being insulted were greatly reduced.

Almost immediately we were marshalled down a long platform and halted
opposite a line of filthy-looking cattle-trucks, with the usual
sliding-doors in the centre and two small trap-doors high up on the
side. I mention the latter, because it was through these that we were
stoned later on in the journey by some of the chivalrous enemy.

Into these trucks we were bundled. In our truck there were fifty-one of
us, including officers, British Tommies, some French, and a few Zouaves.
The interior of the truck was disgustingly dirty, and not even provided
with straw.

Of course it was not possible for all to lie or sit. The wounded did,
but the others mostly stood. Personally I do not remember very much of
that terrible journey. My wounds were giving me so much pain that, with
the jolting of the truck, the extreme cold, and the want of food, I
became mostly and mercifully oblivious to my general surroundings. A few
of the incidents remain in my memory, however. For instance, on several
occasions, when the train was pulled up at small stations, the big
sliding-doors of the truck were opened, and German soldiers entered and
robbed both officers and men of any sort of warm outer clothing that
they might have saved from the clutches of the Hun on the field itself,
Burberrys being their particular aim. It can well be imagined how
exasperating it was not to be able to do anything to defend oneself
against such inroads. Also we suffered very much from hunger and the
cold. Personally I did not suffer so much from the former, probably
owing to the condition of my wounds; but I know that my companions were
ravenous, as we had had very little whilst in Lille, nothing in the
trucks all the first night, and nothing all the next day. Also during
this period no sanitary arrangements of any kind were made for us.

Early in the morning of the second day two German guards were put in
with us, also a small bench for them to sit upon. These two fellows
turned out to be extremely kind, insisting on standing, and letting some
of the wounded sit on the bench provided for themselves, also dividing
some of their rations with a few of us.

Unfortunately these men were only with us for a few hours. Soon after
they left us we were provided with a lot of jam or fish tins, containing
yellowish warm water to drink. It was eagerly scrambled for, but on
sampling the same it was evident that it had been polluted. At the same
time, through one of the small trap-doors before mentioned, a ration of
sour black bread was thrown in on top of us, just as one might throw
scraps to a caged jackal.

That same evening, I think it was, we arrived at Cologne, where we spent
the night in a siding. On the main platform of Cologne we saw some
members of the German Red Cross, from whom we demanded food, and who
immediately went away to fetch it. On their return the German sentries
placed at the truck door would not allow any of it to be passed to the
Schweinhund Englanders. A little was, however, distributed to the
French, who very liberally shared it with us. My particular portion
consisted of about two inches of a small raw sausage.

I forgot to mention that on this last day on two occasions, when the men
were bustled out to a latrine, such was the diabolical cruelty of our
guards that they allowed no time for the men to complete these
necessities, and in one case exposed a man in view of a crowd of jeering
civilians whilst in an undressed condition; also that several times on
the way we were stoned by the populace through the small trap-doors of
the truck, one or two of the men being severely hurt.

Towards the afternoon of the third day we reached Munden, Hanover, where
we were detrained, taken to a waiting-room, and supplied by the Red
Cross with a much-needed ration of hot soup and bread. After this we
were paraded, divided from the men, and marched to the camp of Munden,
which is situated on the banks of the river Weser, at a distance of
about a mile and a half from the station. Here I again pointed out my
condition to the officer in charge of our party, but gained nothing, not
even a conveyance to the camp. The officer said that a conveyance was
coming for the wounded. I replied, “So is Christmas,” but evidently he
did not see it. Anyhow, the outcome of it was we had to walk. We arrived
at the camp some time during the evening, and were immediately
segregated in a room by ourselves, where we found some palliasses thrown
on the ground, filled with straw. Some coarse sheets and blankets were
also provided, also a washing-stand and a bootjack. I mention the
latter because the German orderly told off to look after us kept on
picking up this beastly bootjack, gesticulating that everything was
provided, even a bootjack. The following day we were again interrogated,
and personal effects, such as letters, notebooks, and money, some of
which my brother officers still had in their possession, were
temporarily confiscated. The equivalent of the money, however, was
returned in German coinage. After this we were allotted rooms, and
found, to our disgust, that we were to be separated. The Germans, having
found out that the British were very much happier when by themselves,
arranged that one British officer always occupied a room filled with
officers of any other nationality but his own. It was in little ways
such as this that the Boche showed a marked hostility to British
officers in comparison with that shown to the Russian or French. In the
room to which I was personally sent there were already fifteen
Russians.

Shortly after being allotted rooms I was conducted to hospital, where on
the ground floor of the building the wound in my ankle was
satisfactorily dressed; but they did not seem to know what to do with
the body wound. Finding that three of the ribs were broken on the right
side, they made some sort of an attempt to set and bind them. The doctor
in attendance was a bumptious little beast of about nineteen or twenty
years of age, and did not seem to know very much about his job. After
this I returned to my room full of Russians and took to my bed.

The camp at Munden was an old oil factory, and had been hastily turned
into a camp for prisoners of war. There were about eight hundred
prisoners there at the time of our arrival, but more came after we had
been there a month or two. The sleeping-room had practically no
furniture of any kind. A shelf, on which tin basins were placed, served
as a wash-stand, and there were a couple of pails for water. Two small
tables and about a dozen chairs, with a small shelf about five inches
wide passing over the head of each bed, completed the furnishing of the
rooms. Besides the sleeping-rooms, part of the ground floor of the
factory was utilised as an eating-hall. The accommodation here consisted
of a few dirty tables and chairs. To add to the discomfort the oily
ceilings and walls had been whitewashed, to create the appearance of
cleanliness. Naturally it cracked off in drying, with the result that
one’s hair, eyes, and clothes became covered with fine powdered lime,
mixed with the dust which filtered through the boards of the floor of
the sleeping-rooms above. Canteen, hospital, and bath-room were also
portioned off the ground floor. The canteen cooked and supplied the
daily rations. Here we could buy bread, cheese, jam, and coffee, and
occasionally tinned fruit, also sundry toilet articles.

The daily ration was not appetising nor particularly varied. Black bread
and coffee every day for breakfast. The midday meal consisted, almost
without exception, of either fish and potatoes or pork and potatoes. The
fish was very seldom eatable, but the pork often quite fresh. Even on
the day when it was not, so long as one had not too keen an eye for
colour, it tasted quite good. I refer to the rainbow hues that could
often be seen reflected from its surface.

Certainly this method of serving the rations did not help to make them
appetising. The orderlies had to wait in long queues in front of the
canteen for four or five hours before the mid-day meal till their turn
came to be served. They would then order and pay for the ration allowed
to the number of officers they happened to be appointed to. Their
rations were then thrown into ordinary slop-pails, and in these served
to the officers. Potatoes were the principal mainstay, though the cheese
and butter were quite good. The black bread was horrible, and caused
violent indigestion, owing to its damp and doughy condition.

The best part of the camp were the baths, which were quite good, hot and
cold water being obtainable up to midday, Sunday excepted. The space set
apart for an exercise-ground was a muddy stretch of about ninety yards
square, surrounded by two lines of wire. Into this yard, protruding from
the ground floor of the factory, ran a long wooden latrine, which was
the most dreadful place imaginable, merely a series of holes cut in the
ground, with no form of drainage. The only attempt at draining them was
made by our own orderlies, who pumped them out, and disposed of the
contents in another large hole just outside the wire. On a warmish day,
with the wind blowing towards the camp, it became impossible to take
exercise outside at all; and towards February 1915, in order to visit
these same latrines, it became absolutely necessary to cover over one’s
mouth and nose. In this same yard the general rubbish-heap of the camp
was piled with every kind of rotting refuse, on which flies swarmed.
Indoors the camp was infested with lice, especially the hospital-room.
The Russian officers had been suffering from this pestilence for a long
time before the arrival of the British, and no attempt had been made on
the part of the Germans to rid the camp of this vermin, either by
fumigating or in any other manner.

Towards the end of March, when I had been removed from my room to a bed
in the hospital situated on the ground floor, I asked one of our
officers, who, owing to a great family name, seemed to have more
influence with the Boches, to complain to the commandant of the
appalling state of filth reigning in the hospital, some of the beds
being literally alive with many thousands of lice. The outcome of this
complaint resulted in the importation of incinerators to the camp, after
which things became distinctly better.



CHAPTER III

THE DREARINESS OF CAMP LIFE


During the period of our captivity at Munden the time passed more
heavily, I think, than at any later period, owing to the fact that we
had practically no reading matter. Parcels and letters from home were
very scarce. No daily papers nor periodicals of any sort were allowed,
not even German, only a rag called _The Continental Times: A Journal for
Americans in Germany_--probably the most scandalous paper ever produced,
copies of which should certainly be printed after the declaration of
peace, and would be worth a guinea a copy, I can assure you. There were
only about a dozen English novels in the camp, and no means of obtaining
more; consequently, to keep one’s mind occupied, one had to read them
over and over again; also, to make things worse, smoking was prohibited
as a general strafe, because some Russian officers sang their national
hymn in the yard one Sunday--confinement to cells, along with the common
felons in the civilian jail, situated in the town, being the penalty if
caught smoking. Personally I bribed certain guards to procure cigarettes
for me. It can well be imagined that one had to pay heavily for them,
about fourpence apiece, for a very low-class cigarette made of German
tobacco, being an average price. Even then one could only manage to buy
a limited number. Often enough a cigarette would be divided in half and
shared with one’s pal, so that one seldom got more than a few whiffs.
Cigarettes arriving in parcels from home were, of course, not delivered
to us.

My parcels from home began to come fairly regularly towards the end of
February 1915, having been a very long time on the way. Occasionally
books were included, which the Huns would take months to censor; and one
was not always certain of receiving these, even though written years
before the outbreak of war, lest they should contain information on any
subject which might prove useful to prisoners.

On one occasion all officers of Irish nationality were ordered to attend
on the commandant. At that time there were only two of us, but we
managed to extract a little amusement from the interview. For instance,
he could not be brought to understand how it was possible that Irishmen,
either from the north or south, could serve in English regiments, since
the greatest animosity existed between the Irish and their English
oppressors. We were informed that, since we were Irish, arrangements
were being made to transfer us to another camp, where conditions would
be very much better. We thanked the commandant, but in the end we never
heard any more about it. Obviously this was an attempt to tamper with
our loyalty.

Soon after our interview with the commandant the whole camp received
orders for inoculation for typhus, which was immediately carried out by
the visiting doctor--the same little upstart before described, who took
great joy in jabbing the needle as roughly and deeply as possible, so
that most of us were quite sore for some time afterwards.

The majority of the officers tried to pass the time acquiring languages,
several studying Russian, and nearly all learning French or perfecting
themselves in that language. A few took up German, taking lessons in the
latter from French officers, some of whom spoke German perfectly. People
at home might think that those officers who did not avail themselves of
apparently so good an opportunity of learning foreign languages, and in
so doing passing many of the weary hours, were extremely foolish; but,
believe me, it is quite a different matter to study at home or at
college, where one can be more or less quiet, to studying as a prisoner
in Germany, where it is extremely difficult, if not almost impossible,
to get a moment’s peace. Let the reader imagine, if he can, trying to
learn a foreign tongue with the whole of the rest of the people in his
room babbling aloud other languages. Officers and their instructors were
usually to be seen seated on their beds, for lack of other places, in a
close and stuffy atmosphere, with a continuous babble going on on all
sides. Say, for instance, you were learning German, when on the next
bed, not three feet away, somebody else would be repeating French aloud.
On the bed on your other side a Russian lesson would be in progress, and
perhaps over in the far corner of the room a lot of Frenchmen of the
Foreign Legion would be endeavouring to keep up their Arabic, whilst
grouped around the hot-water pipes a heated discussion, either in
French or English, as to the probable duration of the war, peace terms,
etc., would be going on.

Talk about the Tower of Babel; it could not have been in it. To add to
the general distraction, it must be explained that the doors of the
sleeping-rooms were all pierced by a small glass window-lattice, through
which the sentries placed inside the building were continually watching
us. You would look up suddenly from whatever you might be doing, either
studying, reading, or performing your toilet, to find a grimy face
pressed against the lattice, furtively watching your every movement.
Naturally the very sight of their ugly faces in such close proximity
made one’s internals seethe in a hopeless longing to get at them.

I have already stated that the camp at Munden was situated directly on
the banks of the river Weser, on the other side of which ran a railway
line, along which troops both going and coming could often be seen. On
one occasion some of these troops, thinking they would indulge in a
little sport, began firing at the camp from the train, which ran at that
spot up a very steep gradient, and a bullet actually passed through a
window of one of the rooms and lodged itself in the plaster of the wall
opposite. Fortunately for the prisoners, no one was hit; but that was
not the fault of the Boches. Firing at prison camps containing helpless
prisoners would certainly appeal to the humour of the German mind. Of
course complaints were made to the commandant, but, as usual, nothing
came of them.

Continual small drafts of prisoners were always arriving at the camp,
accompanied by a German officer and guard. One of these officers, seeing
a group of British seated in the eating-hall, came up very politely and
expressed his sorrow at seeing them there, but told them to cheer up, as
the war would soon be over. As a matter of fact he said, “We shall be
in London by six weeks from now.” Note that this remark was made in
February 1915! He also went on to say that London was already partially
destroyed. He was not bragging, and seemed quite a decent sort of chap;
but he really thought that what he said was true. It is the most
extraordinary thing how the German Government, in conjunction with their
press, have been able to make their people believe any lie, even to the
extent that London was in flames and the populace living on rats, and
that seaports such as Southampton and Portsmouth were destroyed by
gunfire from their fleet. This latter was told to me in all faith at the
fortress of Ingolstadt in 1916.

Great excitement was one day caused amongst us at Munden owing to the
fact that a Russian orderly had been seen carrying from the canteen a
plate on which two fried eggs sat in state. He had not proceeded fifty
yards before he was surrounded by officers, quite off their heads at
the sight of two eggs, inquiring as to where he got them, if there were
any more, and how much he would take for them, officers bidding twenty
or thirty marks for the eggs. But, unfortunately, the orderly was true
to his trust. It appeared that they had been procured as a special mark
of favour from the commandant to a Russian general who was suffering
from stomach trouble, and who had not been able to eat anything solid
for a very long time. Of course every one rushed to the canteen to order
eggs, but there was nothing doing, the sight of the eggs lingering in
our memories as a beautiful dream.

It is a very difficult task to write any sort of interesting account of
life in general at this camp, since every day was more or less the same
as the preceding one. Few things came to vary the dreary monotony, so
the reader must excuse if I recount certain events that are to me of
extreme interest, but may be boring to the casual reader. For instance,
I propose to tell you in a sketchy manner of how a certain British
officer escaped from Munden, since it was the only escape during my
imprisonment there. It has been recorded before of how I had been
removed from my room to the hospital on the ground floor. Another
occupant of the hospital in the next bed to myself was a British
subaltern who has lately made a successful escape from Germany, so I
have no hesitation in recording his plucky effort, having obtained his
permission to do so.

At the time of which I write this officer was suffering from an awful
skin disease, probably caused by eating the bad pork already described.
His lower limbs were practically a running sore, yet he made a
successful escape from the camp swathed in bandages. Unluckily he and
some three or four Russian officers who escaped with him were caught,
after being out some five or six days, and within seventy miles or so
of the Dutch frontier, having failed principally from exhaustion. The
means of escape was engineered through an old disused air-vent, which
led from the factory to some outbuildings, passing over the heads of the
sentries and the two fences of wire which surrounded the camp.

The Russians planned to pierce the wall of the factory opposite this
air-vent, and if possible use it as a means of passing the sentries
unseen. It appears that one of the Russian senior officers had obtained
leave to hire a piano and use one of the rooms as a general music-room.
The piano was placed against the wall of the factory directly opposite
the spot calculated to strike the disused air-vent, and left in that
position for some time, in order to divert attention. Then, when a
number of musicians were playing all kinds of instruments and tunes, the
wall behind the piano was gradually picked away, and although the Boches
were continually in and out of the room they never suspected anything.
The picking of the wall was carried out with the only instrument
available, _i.e._ an ordinary small pocket-knife.

When they had pierced into the air-vent, which must have taken a great
deal of labour, a nice dark night was chosen for the attempt. Having
been previously warned as to when this was to take place, I helped
Lieutenant ---- in every way I could. This consisted of getting up from
my bed and putting on a great-coat over my pyjamas. Hidden under the
great-coat was a complete mufti outfit, procured mostly from the
Russians, which I conveyed past the sentries to the above-mentioned
music-room, depositing the bundle in hiding. On my return the lieutenant
left the hospital and proceeded to the music-room, after which I did not
see him till some three weeks later--on the day, in fact, when all the
British officers were removed to another camp in Saxony.

Immediately Lieutenant ---- left the hospital I busied myself in stuffing
all the available pillows into the semblance of a man’s form, placing it
in his bed, and covering the whole with sheets and blankets well pulled
up around the head, so that when the Boche hospital orderly came on his
round with the medicines the last thing at night he might with a bit of
luck be deceived, and imagine the lieutenant to be in bed asleep in his
usual attitude, which was with his head almost completely enveloped by
the bed-clothes. This ruse was a complete success. I explained to the
orderly, when he arrived, that Lieutenant ---- had a very bad headache
and had just dropped off to sleep, and that, as it would be a great pity
to disturb him, if he liked, I would give him the medicine immediately
he awoke. The orderly, being only too keen to get his job finished,
agreed with alacrity. The places of the other Russians who had also
escaped were taken by their pals, who had remained behind, in the
following manner. As each sleeping-room was divided by a wooden
partition, it was quite easy to cut a passage which a man might creep
through. When the call-over came at night, the Russians first answered
their names in their own room, then quietly slipped through the prepared
passage and then answered the names of their pals in the next room.

On the following morning the Boche N.C.O. came to the hospital,
demanding Lieutenant ----’s signature to a draft of money just arrived
from home. Again I put him off, and told the orderly he would take a
serious responsibility if he roused the lieutenant in his present
condition, pointing to his apparently sleeping form in the bed as I did
so. The ruse again succeeded, but I must say I thought it was all up
that time.

That evening there were about thirty Russians assembled in the
music-room, also trying their luck, but they went about the whole thing
in such a foolish manner that they attracted the attention of the guards
inside the building, and before a dozen of them had been able to pass
through the hole the suspicions of the Boches were aroused. A raid was
made on the room, and of course everything was discovered. However, as I
have said, a few of them had already got away. A hasty and flurried
search was made by the Boches in the immediate vicinity of the camp. My
fellow-prisoners described what they were able to see of it from the top
storey of the factory--of how the sentries dashed from one bush to
another, carrying large oil lanterns in a ridiculous attempt to find
prisoners concealed under bushes about two feet high, when thick cover
in the shape of woods stretching for miles encircled the whole camp. The
Boches also had a whole brigade of dogs tethered on leading-chains to
help them, but they seemed as useless as their masters.

However, all those who did get away were eventually captured. As a
matter of fact it is very doubtful if the first lot, of which
Lieutenant ---- was one, would have been recaptured at all if the other
lot had waited, say a week, before trying the same thing; but as they
took the same route as the others, they only led the Boches straight on
the track of the first lot, which was hardly playing the game. Each
officer as he was recaptured was brought back to the camp, but was not
allowed to be present at any of his brother officers’ court-martials.
Sentences of various periods were passed on them, and they were all
confined to cells in the civilian prison in the town of Munden.



CHAPTER IV

OUR REMOVAL TO BISCHOFSWERDA


About three weeks after the happenings just described all the British
officers were removed from Munden. How this befell and the manner of its
bringing about might interest the reader. We were enabled to bring our
condition under the notice of the American Ambassador, Mr. Gerard, to
whom all British prisoners will always owe a debt of gratitude. I wrote
home, representing the true state of the camp, and asking the
authorities to procure a visit of inspection from the American
Ambassador. It took about three months to accomplish this, owing to the
time our letters were hung up in the German Censor Office. We were
visited by Mr. Gerard in person about the middle of April 1915, when he
was conducted over the camp by the senior British officer and saw for
himself all the disgusting details. The outcome of his representation to
the German authorities in Berlin was our removal from that pestilential
place on the 28th of April. Before we left the weather, seeing that we
were well into spring, was becoming warmer every day, and in consequence
the sanitation was rapidly getting into a shocking state. For some weeks
past Russians had been suddenly taken ill, and were always removed very
quietly on covered stretchers. As they did not lie in the hospital-room
of the camp, we inquired of the hospital orderly what was the matter; he
said, “I don’t know, but they have gone to the typhus hospital.”

I shall always remember the journey to our new camp at Bischofswerda,
and with what bright hopes we received the order to pack up our goods
and clothes on the night of the 27th of April, in order to be ready to
start at 4.30 the next morning. Packing did not take very long, as our
sole possessions were our clothes, some precious tins of food, and a few
equally precious books. When we assembled in the yard the following
morning, we found there were to be about two hundred of us--fourteen
British, and the rest made up of French and Russians and a few Belgians.

The journey to Bischofswerda was more or less uneventful, except that
instead of cattle-trucks we were in fourth-class compartments, which was
extreme luxury after our last experience--also that on two occasions on
the way we left the train and received a ration of food, which was not
too bad. We were decently treated by the officer in charge, the second
in command of the camp at Munden, who had always behaved towards the
prisoners with courtesy. Unfortunately he was only second in command.
Had he been commandant, life there would have been very much easier.

We arrived at the station of Bischofswerda about eleven at night, and
marched to the camp, situated a mile and a half away on the outskirts of
the town. On our arrival there we were very roughly greeted by our new
commandant, but the place was so beautifully clean and airy that we took
no notice of him. Our change was certainly very much for the better.
Bischofswerda, with its long stone corridors, looked like paradise to
us. The German officer who had conveyed us there took his leave
immediately on handing over his charge to the new commandant, and very
kindly wished us good luck in our new abode.

About two o’clock in the morning we were all allotted our rooms, and on
seeing these we again congratulated ourselves on our deliverance from
Munden. The camp was a brand-new cavalry barracks. The quarters were
well planned and beautifully clean. How we did appreciate the
cleanliness after Munden! The sanitary arrangements were
excellent--flush drains, etc., also a good large stone tiled
shower-bath, with both hot and cold water. Naturally the hot was limited
to so many minutes. A good canteen, dining-hall, and a large room turned
into a chapel for the different religious services, which was also used
as a music-room; also a small room set apart as a hospital and
consulting-room,--all these were situated on the ground floor, the
sleeping accommodation being on the second, third, and fourth floors.
The sleeping-rooms were each allotted orderlies. This sounds rather
nice, but when you have only one orderly for each room containing from
eight to ten officers, and that orderly is on general fatigue for the
Boches at the same time, it’s not so good as it sounds. Our orderlies
were made to scrub the corridors, passages, and stairs, peel potatoes,
attend the eating-hall, and every other kind of work the Boches might
want done.

On inspection--or _Appell_, as the roll-call was called--we found we
had been preceded the previous day by about thirty Canadians recently
captured, from whom we greedily lapped up the latest news from the front
and the old country, and were greatly overjoyed to find that things in
general were not a thousandth part as bad as had been represented to us.
Not that the reader must believe that we swallowed everything we were
told; but when one hears no news from home month after month as to the
true conditions, it is impossible to remain for ever optimistic--though,
indeed, in the years that followed, as weeks followed weeks without any
perceptible advance on the part of the Entente, we still remained
optimistic, with occasional lapses of depression; but the key-note with
us was always _on les aura_.

After hearing all the news we proceeded to the canteen, and found, to
our huge delight, that we could buy, amongst other things, a small roll
of white bread, and also eggs; in fact, almost everything could be got
at that time by ordering the day before--eggs, meat, butter, bread,
lettuce, and many other small things. Of course one paid preposterous
prices; but we could buy food, which was all we wanted--also the food
was served from the kitchen on clean plates and in clean cooking
utensils. Indeed, we had fallen into the lap of the gods. Quite a large
proportion of the actual ration was edible, though extremely monotonous,
the bread being of a light brown colour and, although rather sticky and
spongy, a very great improvement on the awful bread at Munden. At the
dry canteen one could buy almost anything, so long as one chose to pay
for it--quite good cigarettes, notebooks and writing materials, toilet
articles, deck-chairs, in fact most things that a prisoner could
require. Some little time after we arrived the canteen even produced
wines and brandy. The wine at first was quite drinkable, but soon grew
worse and worse, until it became nothing more nor less than sweetened
spirit, which had a very bad effect on the stomach. The brandy soon gave
out, after which orders were given to sell no more. Towards August 1915
we could buy occasionally some venison and partridge, and for special
occasions, such as Christmas 1915, a goose, the price of which ran to
about ten shillings a pound, but still it was worth it.

Outside the building the parade-ground and cavalry school
training-ground, wired in by two rows of wire fences about eight feet
high, served as an exercise-ground for the prisoners. In between the two
rows of wire sentries were placed about thirty-five yards apart. Every
fifty yards a powerful arc lamp, raised on high standards, showed up the
designs of a would-be escaper. The parade-ground was roughly about
ninety yards by sixty yards and the riding-school ninety yards by
forty-five yards. This latter was laid with deep sand, and served as a
football-ground for the prisoners--very hard going for a fast game like
footer, but nevertheless much appreciated. At first the parade-ground
was used only for walking, but after a great deal of persuasion and
expense the British built two hard tennis-courts. I forget how much the
cost was, though I acted as secretary to the club, but it was somewhere
in the neighbourhood of about 3,000 marks apiece, or £300 for the two,
although almost all the work was put in by the officers themselves, only
two very old men and a small boy being the Boche contribution of labour,
and these mostly spent their time eating, or so it seemed to us.
However, we did get the courts, which was the main point.

The general routine for the day at Bischofswerda was as
follows:--_Appell_ (or roll-call) 6.45 a.m., outside on the
parade-ground; then breakfast at eight o’clock, consisting of a cup of
hot coffee, say third-rate, and a small roll of white bread, which was
quite good; followed by dinner, served between 11.30 and 12.30 in three
different parties, only twenty minutes being allowed for each sitting,
including clearing away and preparing for the next sitting. This was due
to the limited size of the dining-hall, which was only about 40 by 30
feet, too small to accommodate 350 officers. Dinner, as a rule,
consisted of some mincemeat wrapped up in boiled cabbage, served with
very nasty sauerkraut. The meat was good, but as it was prepared in this
manner nearly every day it became rather monotonous. Sometimes as
dessert we got some stewed fruit (it sounds quite nice, but it wasn’t),
or a little cheese, which was always good, also two slices of German K
bread, or black bread, quite wholesome, though personally I always
disliked it. Supper was at 7.30 or 8.30, consisting of some kind of cold
sausages, two more thin slices of the black bread, and a small pat of
margarine. _Appell_ again at 9.30 completed the day’s round.

The reader may not think the rations given either very good or very bad,
according to his ideas on the subject of what he thinks officer
prisoners should get. He should bear in mind, however, that the officer
pays for this ration at the rate of £5 for a captain and £3 for a
subaltern monthly. Nevertheless, it was, I think, possible to live on
the rations as they consisted in 1915 at Bischofswerda. Anyhow, whatever
the food might be, the fact that it was served up in a cleanly manner
was half the battle. At the same time it must be understood that the
German rations did not remain like this after October 1915, as the
allowance for prisoners in meat, potatoes, and bread gradually declined,
until the weekly meat ration dropped to 75 grammes or about 2⅔ oz.,
potatoes dropping in proportion. The bread remained the same weight, but
was of an inferior quality.

The commandant both annoyed and amused us by turns, though on the whole
he might have been very much worse, and he was usually fairly reasonable
when sober, which I don’t believe he ever was during the week-end. When
he attended the early-morning parade, he would shout and scream himself
hoarse, calling us, “Schweinhunde, alle der Englander sind Schweinhunde,
meine Herren” (All the English officers are dogs of swine). Latterly he
dropped this, since after a visit from the American Commission we
complained of being insulted on parade. He was rather heavily strafed
from Headquarters.

Taking it all round, as I said before, we might have had a very much
worse commandant, his bark always being worse than his bite. The man who
acted as interpreter for the British officers did not help to make our
dealings with the commandant any easier, since he was both a swine and
an idiot, could hardly speak English, and directly insulted us on every
possible occasion, though he was only a private. Although hundreds of
complaints were sent to the commandant, no notice was ever taken.

One day I received the magazine called _The Captain_ from home.
According to the rules it had to be censored by the interpreter before
it could be received by the officer to whom it was sent. After a week
had elapsed I naturally asked the interpreter for it. His reply was that
I could not be allowed to have it, since it contained a story about war:
which was quite true--it dealt with the Napoleonic campaign! My answer
to this futile objection was “Damnation!” The next day I was had up in
front of the commandant and given twenty-four hours in cells for saying
“God damn the German nation,” which was the interpretation of my
“Damnation” given to the commandant by the interpreter. Although one of
the senior field officers, who spoke German perfectly, went to the
commandant on my behalf and explained that “Damnation” did not mean any
such thing, he refused to doubt the word of his interpreter, and I did
my twenty-four hours! The twenty-four hours was rather a quiet rest, as
a matter of fact, and I rather enjoyed it; but the gross injustice of
the thing was a typical case of what an officer had to put up with.

However, we eventually got this interpreter removed, principally through
the above case being brought under the notice of the American Commission
on their next visit. But we only jumped out of the frying-pan into the
fire, since we got another interpreter, this time in the shape of an
officer, who turned out to be very much worse. Sometimes I have it in my
heart to pity the latter, since there are two or three French officers
and half a dozen British who are waiting for him after the War, and then
I think he will have a short shrift. About this time all the officers
were again warned for inoculation, both for typhus and cholera, but the
operation was carried out in a very much gentler manner than on the
previous occasion.



CHAPTER V

MY JOURNEY TO CLAUSTHAL


In order to show up the general attitude of treatment of British
prisoners, I must, however reluctantly, become more personal and relate
the manner in which my wounds were treated. After all, one judges people
by one’s personal experience of them, and no one can be responsible for
the opinions of others. On my arrival from Munden my ankle was
practically well, but the pain in my chest was growing worse daily. To
add to this, I began to break out in abscesses, having eight at one
time, when I was at my worst. These abscesses, since I had never had
such a thing before, were probably due to the bad food at Munden and the
very low condition I was reduced to, owing to much pain and very little
sleep for some months. Yet, when we arrived at Bischofswerda, in so many
ways such an excellent camp in comparison to others in Germany, there
was no doctor there. A doctor did appear once in about fourteen days,
and then he seldom had time to visit me, although I was quite bedridden
at the time. After I had been there about six weeks I did get some
attention from a French doctor who had been taken prisoner; but as the
medicines he could get hold of were very limited, he was not able to do
much.

I was still in bed at the end of June before the German doctor paid me a
visit. I was then almost free from the abscesses, owing to having lived
almost entirely on lettuce and green food, which I had been able to buy
from the canteen; but his diagnosis as to the pain in my right side,
back, and chest was rheumatism, since the ribs which had been so badly
smashed were bound to be in a very delicate condition. He could not
account for the amount of blood I brought up daily in my sputum, but
said it was nothing, and that all I wanted was to get up and walk about.
Well, I’m not a doctor, so I suppose he knew his job, and although very
weak I made the effort, and gradually went about the camp like any one
else. In July I started to play tennis, but soon found that any sort of
violent exercise caused me to bring up far greater quantities of blood,
besides giving great pain. All this time I could neither lie nor sleep
on the right side, or at times even bear to have my tunic buttoned. Soon
after the doctor advised me to get up and walk about, he gave me some
stuff for rheumatism--aspirin, I think.

At the end of July 1915 this doctor left, and then a permanent doctor
was appointed, who visited the camp daily between 10.30 and 12.30,
Sundays excepted. To him I carried my aches and pains. Without examining
me he looked up the report of the last doctor, and said, “Oh
yes--rheumatism and gout”; he said the blood-spitting was nothing, and
that I was not to take too violent exercise; and although I visited him
on and off every few days I never got any change out of him.

About this time a traveller from a big firm of camera-makers arrived at
the camp, and with the commandant’s permission several orders were
given, so many of the officers being not only rather keen on
photography, but wishing to be able to take and send home some snaps of
everyday scenes in our prison camp. Three other fellows and myself
bought a really good reflex camera, and a lot of very decent photos were
taken with it. Unfortunately, as far as I was concerned, the camera only
arrived the day before I was ordered away.

On September 3rd, 1915, I was ordered to pack up my trucks, as I was
being removed to Clausthal in Hartz for medical treatment, and on the
following morning off I went with my bag and baggage to Clausthal,
under the guard of an officer and a man. I had a very pleasant journey
up through Dresden, Leipzig, Munden, and Halle to Clausthal, situated in
the Hartz Mountains, surrounded by very pretty country. We spent the
first night at Munden, and reached Clausthal the following day. At some
station between Leipzig and Munden we changed on to another line. The
German officer took me to one of the men’s waiting-rooms, ordered some
food, placed a guard over me, and left us--probably to go and get a good
fat dinner himself somewhere. Shortly after he went a troop of about
twelve French Tommies came in under guard, looking very bedraggled and
miserable. They were made to sit down on the floor in a corner, and
looked so pinched and thin that I determined, if possible, to help them
if I could, should they happen to be short of food for the want of a
little money; so I went over and spoke to them, but was immediately
stopped by the guard, who explained that any sort of communication
between prisoners was _verboten_.

Resuming my seat at the table, I began to puzzle out the problem, and
after some time I solved the difficulty. Just before I left
Bischofswerda a Russian officer who was with me in the sick-room had
given me a box of Russian cigarettes, and by good luck I had them in my
pocket. Everybody knows that Russian cigarettes have a hollow mouthpiece
about an inch and a quarter long. Tearing a fifty-mark bill in half, and
carefully rolling the two halves into the shape and size of the
mouthpiece, I inserted the pieces into the mouthpiece of two cigarettes.
It took some time to do this, since my hands had to work underneath the
table, whilst I was apparently reading my book, which was lying open on
the table. When the cigarettes were complete, I filled my case with
Russian cigarettes, and offered one to each of the guards, keeping my
thumb carefully on the two prepared cigarettes. They were accepted with
gusto by the guard. When they had lit up, I asked permission to give
some to the French prisoners, and having accepted them themselves they
could hardly refuse. I distributed two or three; then offered the
remaining two in the case to the most intelligent-looking, at the same
time saying, “Cherchez.” To my disgust he looked absolutely blank. But
when the German officer returned to take me away, he rose, saluted, and
said, “Au revoir, mon lieutenant, et merci beaucoup.” The officer
fortunately could not speak French and asked me what he said. I replied,
“Only a respectful greeting from a private to an officer.”

I must pause a minute to describe our arrival at Munden, as it was a
phenomenal sight to me. On approaching our old prison it appeared much
the same as when we left it in April, but on entering a revelation was
in store for me. To start with, the eating-hall was considerably cleaned
up, many new tables and chairs provided, the tables covered with white
oil-cloth, and pictures executed by different artistic, Russian
officers, hung round the walls. Afterwards I visited the British
officers and found there were four new ones, lately captured. But the
room! Wonder of wonders! There were chests of drawers, a wardrobe, extra
tables and chairs, only five or six beds in rooms that had held nine in
our time, and only nine in those that had held seventeen! But it was in
going out into the yard that I nearly fainted with surprise. To start
with, there was a long wooden shed built out from the eating-hall,
erected by the American Y.M.C.A., and very comfortably furnished with
tables and chairs. This room acted as a sort of recreation-room on wet
days. But the yard! What had been a sloppy sliding mess of mud and a few
trees was transformed into a ripping garden; grand paths ran here and
there, and I’ve seen many flower-beds at Hampton Court inferior to those
at Munden, which were well kept and artistically laid out. To cap it
all, the yard had been enlarged by wiring in the ground for two
tennis-courts laid at the Boche expense, level cinder courts, with a
good roller and all the rest of the paraphernalia necessary to a hard
court. Also a dry canteen and store had been erected, both under the
management of the officers, and things were running very smoothly and
satisfactorily. I even saw some eggs.

My readers must forgive my divergence from my story, but it was such an
astounding revelation to me to see what could be done with a really bad
camp like Munden, and I desire particularly to draw attention to it,
since it was entirely brought about by the American Ambassador, and so
clearly pointed out the endeavours in certain German quarters to produce
a good impression on the Americans. It was all eyewash from the
beginning to end--eyewash for the Americans. In so far as the latrines
were concerned, they were no better. No one could alter them, though
even there the difference was very marked, since Munden at that time
only held between five and six hundred instead of over a thousand
prisoners.

To continue the account of my travels to Clausthal, the officer and man
were exceedingly polite and very considerate, and heavily strafed some
civilians who jeered at me, calling the usual “Schweinhund!” There was
one humorous episode on the way up at Leipzig, where we had lunch. On
the table was a Worcester Sauce bottle, on the printed red label of
which had been pasted the words “Gott strafe England.” I nearly cried
with laughter--real Worcester Sauce from England and “Gott strafe
England!” It’s one of the richest jokes I’ve heard of. On pointing it
out to the officer, he could not see the joke.

I wonder if the reader remembers that I started on my journey in
Germany, wounded, in a cattle-truck. From cattle-trucks we were promoted
to fourth-class carriages, and now to second class. Later I shall tell
of how we occasionally travelled first class. This was in keeping with
everything else. Prisoners taken in the spring of 1915 grumbled at their
treatment. Had they been taken in 1914 they would have had more to
complain of. Throughout my imprisonment one thing was absolutely
clear--the longer the war went on, and the farther the hopes of ultimate
victory receded from the German mind, the better treatment their
prisoners received. I don’t refer to food, as, though they allowed us to
buy food in 1915, they can’t do that now, since they have not got the
food to sell. They cannot give what they have not got; but when the
Boches thought they were going to break through at Verdun in February
and March 1916, things were very hard and uncomfortable for the
prisoners. On the other hand, our victory on the Somme brought us all
sorts of little concessions.

The Boche is before all things a bully. If he’s winning, he bullies; if
he’s losing, he is polite and oily. A good idea of their pettiness is
shown by the fact that, having allowed us to buy maps at Bischofswerda
in 1915, showing the actual fighting fronts both in Europe and the East,
they were confiscated when the offensive on the Somme looked like being
successful. This was done in order that the prisoners might not have the
satisfaction of recording the British and French gains on the maps, on
which we had kept a record of the struggle in the usual manner with wool
and little flags pinned through. Some months after the advance on the
Somme, when the news was no longer an exhilarating tonic to the
prisoners, these maps were returned, curiously enough at a time when the
Boches had made a small but successful counter-attack. This confiscation
of maps happened on more than one occasion, but, much to the disgust of
the Boches, it always bucked us up quite a lot, since we felt sure that
the cause must be that the Allies had made some sort of a gain
somewhere, although the German papers might give no news of it.

On arrival at the station at Clausthal there was actually a cab to drive
us to the camp! This princely treatment almost dumbfounded me. Of course
I was being sent to Clausthal as an invalid for treatment, so perhaps I
should have taken it for granted; but our previous experience did not
allow us to look forward to being treated in any sort of human manner. I
had to pay very heavily for the cab. The camp at Clausthal turned out to
be an old hotel, one of the examples of German architecture so often to
be seen in that part of Germany, pretentious and jerry-built. A garden,
surrounded by the usual wire fences and sentry patrols, enclosed a more
or less square exercising-ground of about one hundred yards in length.
More than half the hotel was taken up by a large court-room, with a
small stage. This was the biergarten of the hotel, and was utilised as
the general eating-hall and canteen, where all the meals were served,
and where the prisoners passed their time when indoors. The remaining
portion of the hotel was divided into bedrooms of varying size and
comfort.

On the whole Clausthal was perhaps one of the best camps in Germany,
though certainly not equal to Bischofswerda. At the same time the
commandant and staff in general were always very polite and correct, and
not generally insulting and bullying, as at Bischofswerda. Along one
side of the eating-hall described above ran a series of wooden screens,
forming a number of tea-rooms, evidently built for greater privacy.
Curtains hung on ropes divided these boxes from the vulgar gaze of the
people in the centre of the hall. These boxes served as sleeping-rooms
for a number of officers, four in each box. To one of these I was
allotted, and a very cold and horribly draughty spot it was. I found
there over twenty British officers, who immediately on my arrival
pounced on me for the latest news; but when they found out that I was a
1914, like themselves, a groan of despair went up. The next morning I
saw the commandant, who did not seem to know where I had come from, so
it was necessary to explain that I had been sent to undergo a course of
treatment for rheumatism and gout, affecting me in the region of my
wound. “What!” he said, “you’ve come here for treatment for rheumatism!”
and laughed sarcastically. “You could not come to a worse place for it.
We’ve no treatment here of any sort--never had. There is not even a
hospital here, only a sick-room, which a doctor from the town visits for
half an hour daily; but you had better see the doctor when he comes
to-day.”

When I saw the doctor and told him that the doctor at Bischofswerda had
diagnosed my case as rheumatism settled in the regions of the wound, he
did not seem to agree, but of course would not say so. The only comment
he made was that he thought I was in need of an operation to extract
whatever it was that might be causing the trouble. I have not mentioned
that at the bottom of the exercise-ground, outside the wire, extended
both to the right and left two small lakes, extremely picturesque, but
of course the mist which rose off them night and morning was not exactly
the best thing for any sort of lung trouble. The consequence was that
within a week of my arrival I was confined to the sick-room with a sort
of congestion, which grew worse instead of better, until one day the
doctor applied to the authorities in Berlin to have me removed again to
Bischofswerda, from where I had originally come. The transfer took
three months to get through, but eventually, at the end of November, I
again returned to Bischofswerda and my old friends.

The principal complaint at Clausthal was the lack of baths. Fancy an
hotel without bath-rooms! What dirty beasts the Boches must be. The
officers had to make their ablutions as best they could in large tin
pails, a most unsatisfactory way of washing. Also the lavatory
accommodation was not nearly adequate for the two hundred odd officers
there. The consequence was it was continually out of order. Last, but
certainly not least, the restricted area for exercise. After my escape
to England a gentleman once said to me, “Oh yes, Clausthal; I once read
about it. A fine camp with extensive grounds. You had a golf-course
there, had you not?” “Well, there was a golf-course,” I replied. “But
have you ever tried to play over a nine-hole course contained within a
boundary of one hundred yards square, and kid yourself you are playing
golf?” Only prisoners are capable of such philosophy. “Make the best of
it,” is their motto; and so they did. There was as much excitement over
a morning’s round of golf there as if they were playing at Sunningdale;
but, believe me, a far better and more exciting course could be made at
Piccadilly Circus. There you have the first tee, say, at the corner
outside Swan & Edgar’s, and a really pretty mashie shot over the line of
motor-buses usually to be seen there. Probably you land in the fountain
and lose a stroke, but eventually, with varying fortune, you make the
first hole in the entrance to the Pavilion! Possibly you hit the big
commissionaire or the policeman. They’d be very wroth, but not so angry
as a Russian or French general strolling round the dilapidated
flower-beds at Clausthal. They loathed golf and the very name of it; but
the Britishers played on. Oh yes, we had “some” golf-course at
Clausthal!

The reader must not think I’m trying to be funny. I’m not, but I am
endeavouring to bring home the fact that in ninety-nine cases out of a
hundred, when the people at home hear of such luxuries as golf-courses,
etc., in prison camps in Germany, they are apt to remark that the
prisoners are not so badly treated after all. “Why, they are even
allowed to play golf!” which immediately brings up a picture of fellows
ranging over the country, more or less having a good time. Take, for
example, the fact that I was removed from Bischofswerda for special
treatment for rheumatism and gout. In October 1915 it was officially
published in England that I had been removed to the Hartz Mountains for
treatment. Eyewash, nothing more! What else could it be, since we have
seen that on arrival at Clausthal it was a very bad place for people
suffering from rheumatism, and that they had no method of treatment or
ever had? Yet a list of officers was reported officially through
Switzerland to England as having been sent there for treatment. As I
appeared on that list, I know what I’m talking about. People at home
thought and said, “The kindly Germans are even sending their prisoners
to the Hartz Mountains, the most beautiful part of Germany, in order to
cure them of their rheumatism, poor things!”

The feeding at Clausthal was in one way much better than at
Bischofswerda; that is to say; the actual rations were more plentiful,
of better quality, and better cooked; but, on the other hand, in so far
as being able to order and buy food one could get infinitely more at the
latter place. Drinks, however, were cheaper and better at Clausthal. Of
course I’m speaking of 1915, when we could get something to drink if the
commandant allowed. Personally I did very well in the way of food at
Clausthal, more especially when I was in the sick-room, since two
British majors prepared and brought me all my food. I got very uppish
over that, for it is not often a junior sub. has two regular majors to
wait on him hand and foot. Some day I hope to be able to repay their
great kindness.

Two or three days before leaving Clausthal I bought from the canteen a
large pannier basket to hold all my belongings, as on the way from
Bischofswerda my box had been rather badly smashed up. I mention the
basket here because it had a rather interesting future. When the day
arrived for me to return to Bischofswerda, my baggage having been packed
by one of our officers, I took leave of some of the cheeriest and best
fellows that it has ever been my lot to meet, and was again driven to
the station. The cabman charged me seven marks for a three-quarter-mile
drive; but still I did not have to walk, so I suppose I should not
grumble. Before leaving, my luggage was, as usual, very carefully
searched, though what awful weapon they thought I could possibly have
got hold of and secreted goodness knows.

The journey back was more or less uneventful, except that this time I
had as a guard one N.C.O. and one man, both of whom were respectful
enough, but neither of whom gave me much chance of escape. Had I been
strong enough at that time, I certainly could have killed them both at
one period of the journey and made my escape through the guard’s van, in
which was the guard. On this occasion we were travelling fourth class,
probably because it was not an officer who was conducting me, in which
case it goes to prove that prisoners are not sent first or second class
because they are officers, but for the comfort of the conducting German
officer. This fourth-class carriage was built on the same coach as the
guard’s van, and I did not feel that I was strong enough to cope with
two of them silently enough without disturbing the guard. It was night
and pitch-dark, the train only running about fifteen miles an hour, and
I’d never had such a chance before. However, after my long period in
bed, I felt I could not tackle the job satisfactorily, since failure
would have meant the end of me.

At Leipzig I was conducted to one of the German private mess-rooms. It
was evidently a sort of general mess for any N.C.O. or private, as it
was filled with all kinds of different regiments, Saxons, Prussians, and
Bavarians, each lounging at different tables. I spent nearly two hours
there, and had a very interesting time--interesting from the point of
view of German interior dissensions. The Bavarians scowled at the
Prussians and Saxons, and would not answer even if spoken to by either
of these. It chanced that there were three long tables in the rooms,
only two of them occupied by the Saxons, and the other by the Bavarians.
I was conducted to their table by my guard and some food ordered for me.
A little later on several Prussians entered, looked at the table of the
Saxons and Bavarians, saw plenty of vacant places, but discussed openly
that they were not going to feed at the same table with those fellows.
Seeing me sitting at the third table, they came over and saluted and
asked permission to be seated, which was of course cordially given; one
of them even addressed me, asking when I had been taken prisoner. One
would have thought that, if they objected to the sight of Bavarians and
Saxons, they would have fumed at seeing one of the hated Englanders in
their own mess; but no.

We arrived at Bischofswerda just after midnight. The next day I found
things much the same as before, except that the ration given by the
Boches had greatly diminished during my absence, also the amount and
variety of the food we had previously been able to buy. Eggs had
completely disappeared, and the bread had deteriorated very much. “Ha,
ha!” I thought, “the Boches are feeling the pinch of the Mistress of the
Seas,” so we cheerfully did without the things we had had. However, the
parcels from home had been coming in well, in preparation for Christmas,
so we did ourselves pretty well on the whole.

Within a few days of my return to Bischofswerda the cameras which we had
purchased with the permission of the commandant were confiscated again.
This was quite in keeping with everything else the Boches did. We would
be allowed to buy things, and soon afterwards they would be taken away.
In other words, as soon as they had got the money out of you, an order
to confiscate would come from the commandant. He was very sorry, but his
orders came from higher up! Such things as drawing-pens, fretwork, and
small chip-carving tools, maps, spirit-stoves, and last, but not least,
the camera. Of course the order never came from higher up, as I have
certain information that cameras were allowed in other camps up till
1917.

The confiscation of articles legitimately bought in the canteen was only
part of a system of petty measures practised against the prisoners. They
soon discovered that, as far as the Britisher was concerned, nothing
upset him so much or made him more disheartened than cutting off his
baths. So for every little excuse possible, such as Russian, French, or
British officers failing to give a smart enough salute to a German
second lieutenant, the baths would be cut off for a day or two; or,
failing that, football would be prohibited, or any sort of game the
officers might be trying to amuse themselves with. Shorts would be
confiscated. To do the latter a general search of the rooms was
necessary. Of course, this always caused a certain amount of excitement,
since everybody had something to hide--an electric torch, pieces of
rope, money, and whatever the Boches might happen to be after at the
time.

These searches took place periodically, about every six weeks, I should
say. Sometimes everybody would be suddenly herded out of the buildings,
and search made while all the prisoners were in the courtyard, in the
hope of finding things forbidden carelessly left about. More often, when
early morning parades came, the Boches would keep us outside and search
the rooms whilst we were on parade; and very successful they were, but
not generally with the British. Very few British officers were
discovered with forbidden articles. A suit of mufti clothes or two was
about all, and a few newspaper cuttings; but the Russians and sometimes
the French would have whole escaping outfits caught in a single haul.
Probably this was due to the fact that the camp was surrounded with
spies, and as the Russians were all together, and not mixed up with the
British as at Munden, the chances of betrayal from outside the British
community were _nil_. We very often had French officers mixed in with
us, but seldom any Russians. There is absolutely no harm in my stating
here that the Russians were infested with spies, and they knew it and
talked about it quite openly. One or two of them were marked out for
destruction after the war.

There were numerous attempts to escape from the end of 1915 to the
middle of 1916; but, curiously enough, when all the arrangements were
complete, and the attempt ready to be made, the Boche guard would
suddenly be doubled, or a Boche raid made on that particular room at the
last moment, and probably all the paraphernalia caught. It happened too
many times for coincidence.

One of the few bright spots of my time at Bischofswerda were the
periodical visits of the Rev. Mr. Williams, who came once every three
or four months to the camp, and held Divine service for us. I don’t
think any of us were particularly religious, but Mr. Williams was always
so bright and hopeful. One could not help catching a little of his
cheerfulness, and I think I can speak for all of us in saying that we
looked forward to his visits very much and felt the better for his
coming. Also we sincerely hope that on the conclusion of peace the
authorities at home will recognise and befittingly reward his services,
since no man ever carried forward work under more difficult and
disagreeable circumstances--slighted and distrusted by the German
civilians, leading a life of complete isolation in the enemy’s country,
exceedingly short of food. Indeed, on his latter visits to us, he
usually had had no food for twenty-four hours. One day, when we got
permission for him to take a meal with us, pending the arrival of the
train to take him to another camp, he ate with much gusto some eggs from
home, the first he had seen for many months. Notwithstanding all the
obstacles put in his way, he still passes from camp to camp on this
kindly pilgrimage.



CHAPTER VI

COURT-MARTIALLED AND INSULTED


I have now reached a point in my narrative which dates us back to a few
days before Christmas 1915, when we learned that the German canteen was
to be done away with, from which hitherto we had been able to get so
much food, in order to augment both our parcels from home and the
greatly diminished Boche rations, and that hereafter we should be more
or less dependent on our parcels. Some of my readers may find this quite
an interesting point, as it indicates the period when the Boches really
began to feel the shortage of foodstuffs. So many people continually ask
me, “Are the Germans really as short of food as the papers say?” My
reply to this is, “Yes, only a jolly sight harder up than the papers
say.”

The old canteen was finally abolished with the advent of New Year’s Day
1916; and since the woman and her husband who had hitherto run the
canteen also ran the whole show, they had a terrific amount of stuff to
remove--all the kitchen utensils necessary to run a mess for three
hundred and fifty officers. We had a little hand in the removal, as I
will explain. Early in the morning of Christmas Day a Canadian officer
came to me and asked me for the loan of my big basket before mentioned,
also for some money, as he knew me to be in possession of a certain
amount. His idea was to get into the basket, let himself be carried down
by a couple of the British orderlies, and deposited outside the kitchen
door with some dozens of other packages, amongst them a couple of
baskets of similar type full of linen and plates. Accordingly we got him
into the basket, called up the orderlies, and gave them orders where to
deposit the baskets. All went well; the orderlies carrying the basket
passed the sentries without trouble, since most of the orderlies had
been detailed to help the canteen people remove their stuff. A couple of
large pantechnicons were standing at the guard-room gate, being rapidly
filled with the packages, when my basket’s turn came. It was evidently
too heavy, and unfortunately a Boche orderly came out of the kitchen
that moment and offered to give a hand. Just as he was about to lift it
the Canadian officer wriggled or made some movement. Anyway, the Boche
suggested looking inside in case of a cat or something being there,
though he had absolutely no suspicion of a prisoner whatever. Proceeding
to the kitchen to fetch the key, as it was padlocked, they discovered
that the basket did not belong to the canteen people at all. Immediately
they started to cut it open, and inside of course they discovered the
“Jack-in-the-box,” who rose up with a wild yell. The Boches nearly died
from heart failure.

However, they collared him and all his paraphernalia, also the money,
which he was not quick enough to get rid of. He was taken to the
commandant in the usual fashion, and stripped naked, whilst they even
ripped up the seams of his tunic in their frantic efforts to discover
some forbidden article or evidence against another person, as accessary
before the fact.

As his trial, and incidentally mine, proceeded, it was clearly evident
that the Boches suspected that we had been helped by the guard or some
German in the camp. There was absolutely no evidence to prove this, and
no reason for their suspicions whatever, but the Boche authorities were
most positive about it, so much so that the wretched canteen people were
arrested the day after their departure, and shoved in a little jail in
Dresden, pending the examination of the court-martial. We chuckled over
this, since the canteen people were absolutely innocent, and had grown
rich at our expense in the past. Shortly after the first inquiry the
basket was traced to me, and then the fun started. The commandant
insisted that I had given the Canadian the basket for the purpose of
escape. I said I hadn’t, that I had been merely asked for the loan of
the basket, and that as I was not in need of it at the time I had
naturally complied, and that British officers were not in the habit of
asking their friends what they wanted to do with articles which were
lent to them.

After this, for a day or two, the affair, in so far as I was concerned,
blew over. Of course the Canadian officer was confined to cells. One day
I was again called up, and informed that I had not only given the basket
but also five hundred marks to the Canadian. Of course I asked them to
prove it; then they produced a written statement from the Canadian,
acknowledging that I had given him the five hundred marks, after which
it was no longer any use denying the fact. They extracted this
information by telling the Canadian that the officer who had given him
the basket had also owned up to giving him five hundred marks. Their
object was to convict the Canadian of the serious charge of bribing the
guards, which was being brought against him. Like an idiot, he fell into
the trap, and so we both got caught.

In a few days the members of the court-martial arrived--a full colonel,
equal to a brigadier with us, a major, and a captain--and a court of
inquiry was held forthwith, when I was accused of having bought the
basket a few weeks before in the canteen. This being so, it was alleged
I purchased it for the purpose of escaping or aiding others to do so,
but I was told that, if I would make a clean breast of the affair, they
would try to make my punishment as light as possible. Very oily they
tried to be; but I was not going to be taken in by soft words. Then I
was accused of providing the money. Both the money and the basket I
explained satisfactorily; but the verdict was that, seeing I was
incapable of behaving myself in a good camp, I should be sent away for
punishment. “Now,” I said, “I will just show you to what extent you
Germans are capable of miscarrying justice. I did not buy that basket
three weeks ago, nor did I buy it in the canteen,” at which a general
smile passed round the court, and the canteen record-book was brought
forth, showing the date, etc., when I bought the basket. The accusation
of falsehood was then added to the list of my other crimes. I then
started to prove that I purchased the basket over three months ago at
the camp at Clausthal. So convincing was my evidence that the court
closed, pending inquiry from Clausthal. The report which came back
endorced my statement. In the end they could bring nothing tangible
against me except the money, which I explained by showing them a cheque
written on the 1st of January 1916 from the Canadian officer in exchange
for five hundred marks in money, which, as I explained, I had no use for
myself. Finding some one who had, I naturally exchanged it for a cheque
which I could send home. Thus in so far as I was concerned the affair
blew over. The Canadian was, however, removed from Bischofswerda, and is
now in Switzerland, having been sent there owing to ill health, probably
brought about by bad conditions in the camp he was sent to. I may
mention that there was another Canadian officer involved in this little
episode, but since he is still a prisoner it would be wise to say
nothing of his share in the matter.

Perhaps it is worth while mentioning that we tried our best to make New
Year’s Day a cheery one, and almost succeeded in making ourselves
believe we were having a good time. Since the canteen had been broken up
each room cooked and prepared its own dinner, so between Christmas
puddings from home and all sorts of luxuries we certainly had a good
feed. We had also been able to get permission to buy a little
wine--awful stuff, but heady. The result was that a little pent-up
energy was let loose in breaking each other’s beds. The beds at
Bischofswerda were roughly constructed wooden ones, with wooden
bed-slats, on which rested a straw palliasse. By taking a run and jump
and landing immediately on top of the mattress, the whole thing broke
with a beautiful rending crash, sweet music to the ears of a prisoner
whose energies and spirits have always to be under constant restraint.
Of course there was the devil to pay with the Boches, and the bill
rendered by them on the following morning was terrific. All sorts of new
rules and regulations came out with regard to the beds, such as “It is
forbidden to sit or take exercise on the beds.” This was quite amusing,
since there were not enough chairs to go round, so I presume we were
supposed to recline on the floor. Also football was prohibited for a few
days, and there were sundry other _strafes_. Personally I was not able
to join in the bed-breaking competition, but to see others venting their
feelings was the next best thing.

The New Year, 1916, was welcomed by us all as a joyous advent, since we
felt quite sure in our own minds that victory must crown our arms before
the year was out, and that we should once more be able to call our souls
our own. What optimistic feelings we had when, as week after week went
by, the German food rations became shorter and less wholesome. Seeing
that we could no longer buy food from the canteen, we thought the end
must be in sight.

We were now almost entirely dependent on our parcels from home. Should
they have been lost or delayed in the post things would have gone very
badly with us. Fortunately our parcels arrived both frequently and
regularly. The same surprised us very much, seeing that we had had many
opportunities of discovering that the Boches themselves were getting
perilously hard up for food of every kind. We had expected that a great
number would have been either stolen or rifled. In a few cases there
were a few things extracted, but not as a general rule, which speaks
well for the German postal officials.

I have already referred to the Boche lieutenant who acted as official
interpreter to the French and British, and of how he tried to make our
conditions harder to bear than they were already. It is difficult to lay
a direct and plausible charge against this swine, but every one can
easily understand that in a life such as ours it was the little things
which preyed upon the mind, the petty insults and ill-treatment. The
very way this man Harbe said “Good morning” was an insult. Some of us
used to receive the periodical called _The Play_, which everybody is
acquainted with. Harbe would confiscate this from all parcels, on the
ground that the morals of the British and French officers were so bad
that the German authorities felt it their duty to supervise the
literature in the cause of _Kultur_. Harbe would carefully explain this
to our faces, and instead of giving him one in the eye for his insolence
we had to stand and grind our teeth. Such a speech from a German second
lieutenant to a British or French senior officer was of course
disgraceful. On several occasions when French officers were writing both
to their wives and lady friends he interchanged the envelopes. I don’t
suppose he caused any trouble, but it describes the type of man who more
or less ruled our lives at Bischofswerda, a camp which was in most
respects quite a good one.

With regard to parcels from home containing books, Harbe would, as I
said before, take months to censor them, and then would frequently
withhold even such works as Dickens or other harmless books. When
official searches took place, this beast made offensive comments on the
photographs of one’s relations; and when large parcels came from home of
foodstuffs, he would make objection to the amount and the quality of
food sent.

“Why, chicken and tongue, that is a luxury, and prisoners are not
allowed luxuries. You may have it this time, but you must not send for
any more luxuries, or they will be confiscated. You spend too much money
on food. Look at me; I live on the ration I receive: why can’t you?”

“Well, you see, we have not been brought up that way,” was my reply to
this question.

Of course I was had up before the commandant for impertinent replies,
but on explaining that I had only been defending myself against an
attack by Harbe on the amount and quality of foodstuffs sent from home
the commandant dismissed me, and I rather think it was Harbe who got
told off. He once said that a prisoner of war was a man in disgrace, who
had no rights, and who should not be allowed to amuse himself in any
way. He said he ought to be made to feel the shame of his position!



CHAPTER VII

IN HOSPITAL AT DRESDEN


In March a Canadian doctor recently taken prisoner joined us at
Bischofswerda, and although the Hague Convention does not allow doctors
to be detained prisoners for any length of time, this Canadian was still
there when I left in October, some seven months later. However, as far
as we were concerned he was a great comfort, since we got some
first-hand news as to recent events, and also some valuable medical
attention and advice. His diagnosis of my case turned out to be
absolutely correct, _viz_. that my trouble was caused by splinters of
the ribs lodged in the right lung; also, owing to the long period it had
been left unattended to, then a matter of a year and a half, a chronic
pleurotic state had set in. The Canadian doctor had an interview with
the German doctor over my case, but the German refused to find anything
wrong, though he said that, should the Swiss Commission come, he would
put me up for examination before them.

During the last week of May 1916 we were notified that a visit from the
Swiss Commission was shortly expected, in order to collect certain
officers for transfer to Switzerland. A list of those whose wounds were
bad enough to allow of inspection by the commission was taken, although
all officers suffering from other complaints were actually inspected by
the Swiss Commission on its arrival. Great excitement reigned on the day
appointed for the visit, which was fated in the end to bring very little
consolation. With the exception of one officer, who had been hit in the
hand, which he had more or less lost the use of, no other officer was
placed on the possible list except myself.

At first the Swiss seemed desirous of taking me, but the German doctors
would not hear of it. The outcome of the discussion between them was a
compromise, the Swiss insisting that I should undergo a proper
examination with Röntgen rays, in order to decide if it was a splinter
or something else that caused the trouble. The German doctors said it
was quite unnecessary, that I was quite sound, but that, if after
examination any sort of operation were necessary, it would have to take
place in Germany. The Canadian doctor already mentioned gleaned from a
private chat with the Swiss that the reason the Germans refused to let
me go was that they were afraid of the questions which would be
inevitably asked in Switzerland as to why they had left my lung
unattended for the period of a year and a half, without even troubling
to have a proper diagnosis made.

So ended the first visit of the Swiss Commission. Very nearly three
weeks elapsed before my orders came for the medical examination, which
took place at a town called Bautzen, about twenty-eight miles from
Bischofswerda. It is a very large military depot, and contains a number
of hospitals. To one of them myself and a Canadian officer who came with
me were conducted. For some time we sat in the exercise-ground of the
hospital, where a number of German wounded soldiers were sitting or
walking about. We apparently caused a great deal of interest, but no
insult or objectionable looks were given us--in fact, rather the
opposite. It is a curious psychological fact that, with regard to those
Boches who have actually fought in the front line, they seem to look
upon their enemies with far greater respect, which I suppose, after all,
is natural, since they have actually seen and felt the magnificent
fighting qualities of our troops, and are therefore sceptically inclined
towards the articles in their newspapers which continually belittle the
strength of our arms. On the other hand, those who are on lines of
communication, etc., believe the newspapers, having had no practical
experience of their own to balance their reasoning; and, as typical of
the Boche character all round, when they feel themselves to be winning
or up against a weaker force than their own, they are bullies of the
worst possible character.

With regard to the events which took place at the hospital at Bautzen,
after seeing the specialists, immediate arrangements were made for an
X-ray examination. The result of this showed our Canadian doctor to be
correct. The German specialist then asked me why this had not been
attended to before, and why no operation had been made. He said, “In my
opinion it must be done at once; at the same time I must warn you that,
owing to the length of time which has been allowed to elapse, a
considerable growth has naturally taken place over the affected area.”
He further said that the operation now would be a very dangerous one,
and that even were it successful he could not guarantee that I would be
any better, and that he would have to ask me to decide there and then if
I would undergo it or not. On inquiring as to the probable result if I
should not feel inclined to take the risk, he replied, “You may not get
any worse, but I shall be surprised if you don’t, and I consider that
tuberculosis will probably set in, if it hasn’t done so already.”

This opinion decided things for me, so I made a statement in writing
that the operation was done by my own wish and at my own risk, since
otherwise they would do nothing.

After a further examination my friend and I returned by train to
Bischofswerda. About a week later the doctor called me down and
explained that the operation was a very dangerous one, and that there
would be still time for me to cry off; the commandant did the same a
few days later; but the specialist’s threat of tuberculosis decided me
absolutely, as there was no possible alternative. If I had the disease,
I was done for; if it came through lack of an operation, I was done for;
so the only thing to do was to trust to luck. Nearly another month
passed before my final orders to go to hospital at Königstein came
through, and on the day they arrived I was told to be prepared to go off
in three days’ time, according to instructions from Berlin.

On the night before I was to have proceeded to the hospital orders came
to the commandant that I was to go to the reserve hospital at Dresden
instead of Königstein, where I eventually went. But before leaving I
wrote two letters, which I gave to one of my brother officers. These two
letters contained an exact account of the treatment, or rather the lack
of treatment, of my wound, which was to be delivered only in case of
the operation proving fatal. One was addressed to the American
Ambassador and the other to my mother.

The journey to Dresden from Bischofswerda was more or less uneventful,
with the exception that a cab was actually arranged for in order to
convey me and the guard to the station, which of course I had to pay
for, and for my luggage to Dresden, as, having no guarantee that I would
not be starved at the hospital, I had taken my stock of tinned food with
me, being too old a prisoner to be caught napping in that respect. The
cab and transport cost me about thirty shillings, although Dresden is
not much over twenty miles away.

On this journey to Dresden, and in passing through it on the way to the
hospital, I had some excellent opportunities of gauging the aspect of
the populace. Sour looks met me everywhere, but no insults. On the whole
the people looked overworked and underfed, going about their duties in
a morose sort of doggedness. Two of the main squares in Dresden were
packed with recruits under training--boys of not more than sixteen or
seventeen years, and men who looked over fifty, most of them being
undersized and weedy.

The hospital was crammed with wounded German soldiers and a few
convalescent officers. It turned out to be an enormous place, with most
excellent grounds, bordering the Königsvald, where a regimental band
played three times a week. A clean room was allotted to me in one of the
wards, and it was a great relief to find that I was to have a private
one to myself.

On the morning after my arrival a well-known German specialist visited
me in my room, and made a thorough examination of my chest. That
afternoon a young German convalescent officer was detailed to take me
out for a short walk, which we took in the Königsvald, a very beautiful
woodland glen, full of delightful bubbling springs and nice green
glades, most refreshing to a prisoner’s eyes. The officer was very
courteous and sympathetic. That evening, on my return from the walk, I
was again visited by the specialist, who said he was glad to be able to
inform me that I was not tubercular, as he had thought I was after his
examination that morning; also he explained that, if I would place
myself in his hands, he would guarantee that the operation would be
performed without any great danger. By this he meant that in my present
state an anæsthetic was not advisable, and that if I would consent to
undergo it without he would guarantee everything would be all right. On
the following morning the operation took place, and it was most
beautifully and satisfactorily done. I will not dwell upon my own
feelings during the ordeal, since it does not take a vivid imagination
to picture them, when one takes into consideration a big operation like
this being performed without an anæsthetic.

My treatment generally in hospital in Dresden was of the very best. I
could not have been treated better had I been at home, either in the
matter of attention or in food. My own nurse was especially attentive,
and I shall be eternally grateful to her. This happy state of affairs,
however, underwent an extraordinary change on the day Rumania entered
the war, when, whilst my nurse remained staunch, the matron of the ward,
who had hitherto been quite friendly, came to my room, shook her fist in
my face, called me a Schweinhund Englander, cursed the English and
everything appertaining to them, and gave orders that I should be cut
off all my invalid food and be given the soldiers’ rations instead. This
was done.

One incident I forgot to mention before, which shows up the
extraordinary workings of the Boche mind. In order to have this special
operation performed it had been necessary to give my parole in writing,
stating that I would not attempt to escape from the time I left the
prison for the hospital to the time I returned from the hospital to the
prisoners’ camp. Permission to give this parole under the existing
circumstances was obtained by me from the senior British officer at
Bischofswerda. However, on going to the hospital, I discovered a sentry
posted at the door of my room and another outside the window. Of course
I immediately complained to the commandant of the hospital that I had
given my parole and naturally felt exceedingly insulted at finding two
sentries guarding me. He smiled and said the order came from higher up
and that he could do nothing.

These two sentries remained on guard until I left the hospital, which is
most humorous. Imagine placing two sentries to guard a man lying between
life and death with an enormous incision in his chest, in order to
prevent him escaping should he break his parole! I should _only_ have
had to walk four hundred and fifty miles in order to escape--this for
one who had not even the strength to feed himself. What must the word of
a German officer be worth, if he accepts another man’s parole and then
takes steps to guard against its being broken?

Very gradually I began to get strong, and as soon as I could sit up in a
chair I was removed from the hospital and sent back to Bischofswerda,
very glad to see all my old friends again. But my removal took place too
soon, and the jolting of the carriage so upset me that I was again taken
ill and suffered a very considerable relapse, being confined to bed in
the hospital-room at Bischofswerda. Here I stayed for over a month,
during which time many little incidents of interest befell me. For
instance, it appears that, contrary to all Boche rules and regulations,
my parcels had been stopped and opened without any British officer being
present, and, needless to say, two parcels containing a thousand marks
each had been caught. Lieutenant Harbe paid me a visit in the
hospital-room, sent everybody out, shut the windows, and started to
bully me, although he knew I was very weak at the time. He also insulted
me in every possible way. After he went I had a high temperature, and
the next day reported him to the commandant.

Some days after this Mr. Jackson, the assistant of the American
Ambassador, came. He paid me a visit in the hospital, and heard my tale
of woe against Harbe, which he carried to the commandant, asking him to
get rid of Harbe, since, during the whole period that he had been at
Bischofswerda, he had deliberately tried and insulted officers to such
an extent that it was difficult for them to hold themselves in check. He
was therefore a very dangerous person to have in the camp, since, had
any of them struck him, as he deserved, it would have been a most
serious offence. However, nothing came of this, except that Harbe was
forbidden to hold conversation with me unless in the presence of another
officer.

After being a month in the hospital-room, I was removed to a small room
by myself on the first floor, where I rapidly began to regain strength,
being able to walk across the room in the first few days of October. The
day before I was removed from the hospital two British officers made a
very fine attempt to escape, one obtaining civilian clothes through me,
the other having made a German private’s uniform. The two of them passed
out of the camp disguised as the tailor who used to visit us from the
town and his guard in the German uniform. They got quite clear of the
camp, when an officer passing them on the road a few yards outside the
camp reported the soldier to the guard-room as going down town without
side arms, meaning the bayonet; and thus the two of them were caught.
They were immediately court-martialled and put into cells.

On the 8th of October Harbe and three sentries stalked into my room,
where I was still in bed, and informed me that I was going to be sent to
a punishment camp, that all my things would now be packed in his
presence, and that at four o’clock on the following morning I should
leave for the new camp. I explained that I could hardly walk, and I
certainly could not pack, so he started throwing my things into my two
boxes. On this I sent for my great pal, who kindly came and packed
everything for me, and also insisted on me taking all my food, which
Harbe objected to. However, my friend persisted; and well indeed was it
that he did so, since both myself and others would probably have starved
had I not taken some food with me.

On the following day I got up from bed with a certain amount of effort.
Proceeding to the ground floor, where an officer and guard were waiting
to escort us, I found that the officer who had attempted to escape
disguised as the tailor was accompanying me to the new camp. We set off
in a cab to the station, and after a very trying and tiring journey
reached Ingolstadt, in Bavaria, at 9.30 the same night, so that we were
travelling for seventeen hours. To me, who had not been out of bed for
ten weeks, excepting for my journey from Dresden to Bischofswerda, and
after my very serious operation, the fatigue of the journey can well be
imagined. On the top of this the officer in charge, who had been quite
civil and courteous on the way, left us at the station, and we were
forced to walk from the station to one of the German soldiers’
rest-camps, not being able to reach the prison at Ingolstadt that night.
It was about six kilometres to this rest-camp, and the walk very nearly
finished me. At the same time I had a heavy bag with me, which I should
have had to carry also, had not my comrade who came with me done so.
Since he was a major, it was not a very pleasant position for me; and
had he not been such a splendid chap, I should have insisted on carrying
it myself, an effort which would most certainly have been disastrous.

On arriving at the rest-camp, after having been forced to tramp in the
centre of a muddy road, since prisoners were considered too despicable
to be allowed to walk on the footpath, we found a filthy, dirty wooden
building, filled with the dirtiest and most bedraggled-looking Boche
soldiers I ever saw. At the end of this building was a small room,
partitioned off, into which we were thrust and locked in for the night.
I have seen some filthy places, but this certainly took the cake. Four
beds and a table was all the furniture it could boast--the beds so close
together as to be touching each other, the blankets and sheets black
with dirt and grease. Fortunately our previous experience had taught us
the value of Keating’s Powder, some of which we had with us, and we
liberally sprinkled the whole room, bedclothes and all. To our surprise,
although it was so late, a large bowl of quite good bean soup was sent
to us, for which we were extremely thankful.

After we had settled for the night, three Russian officers joined us, so
that we now closely resembled the old comparison of sardines in a box.
But although our surroundings were so uncomfortable, I was too done up
to take much notice of anything, and was thankful to crawl into bed. The
following morning at 9 a.m. quite a decent breakfast was brought to us,
for which, as usual, we had to pay; but still we got it, which was the
main thing, and shortly afterwards were marched to a small station about
half a mile away, from where we took train to Ingolstadt Fort station.
On arrival there a further walk of about half a mile brought us to the
fortress of Ingolstadt. As we passed over the moat into the fortress, a
nasty cold feeling crept down my spine, and the words flashed across my
mind, “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.”



CHAPTER VIII

THE HELL-HOLE OF INGOLSTADT


I will now refer, if I may, to one or two little notes which I made on
the journey down from Saxony. In the first place, I never saw a single
male porter at any station. The guards on trains were all women; and
when the train ran slowly through any sort of farmed land, we saw groups
of old men and little children doing some sort of work in the fields,
although it was November, and one would think there was not very much to
be done. I never saw a single male between the ages of fourteen and
fifty-five either in the streets or towns, on the farms or elsewhere. It
was as if Germany had been absolutely depopulated of males between
those ages. What they have done with their unfits goodness knows.

In order to pass into the fortress of Ingolstadt it was first necessary
to enter by the guard-house gate that bordered the road, and which was
composed of sheet iron. From there forty yards brought you to a large
iron grid, protecting the approach to the bridge passing over the moat.
This grid, as well as the guard-house gate, was kept locked and guarded
night and day. On being passed through the grid and over the moat, the
main entrance to the fortress was approached over a paved causeway. The
gate consisted of a pair of massive steel doors, folding in the middle,
and built into the stonework of the lower works. These stoneworks were
protected from artillery fire by large earthworks, surmounting to a
great height above them, set out in battlements and caponiers, with
artillery platforms. On entering the fortress we found ourselves in one
of the darkest, dampest, and most forbidding-looking places I was ever
in, the damp and darkness being caused by the earthworks overhead, which
rose to a height of thirty-five feet from the roof of the stoneworks.
The whole interior was afterwards discovered to be filthy in the
extreme. Opposite is a plan of the fortress looking down through the
earthworks.

On entering these gloomy portals, we were immediately conducted to the
commandant’s quarters, which were situated next to the entrance. Here we
were searched, but nothing of consequence was discovered. My first
impression of the commandant was a good one. It was not long before I
discovered it to be erroneous, as will be seen hereafter.

After our examination we were led to our cell, which was to be my home
for seven months. It did not look inviting. A general description of the
fortress is necessary, in order that the reader may understand
subsequent events. With the

[Illustration: FORTRESS OF INGOLSTADT

BAVARIA

“FORT Nº. 9”]

help of the plan this should not be very difficult.

The living-rooms assigned to the prisoners were a series of
tunnel-shaped cells, running along the north and south fronts of the
fortress. These were connected by a long stone corridor, and divided
into two wings by the main entrance, as shown on the plan. Each cell was
connected to its neighbour by a small archway, which had been
partitioned off in order to make separate compartments. These partitions
were in some cases made of wood, in others they had been bricked up. The
cells were twenty-six feet long by fifteen feet broad, and contained six
officers each. Thus, with six beds, a dining-table, a cooking-stove
(supplied by ourselves), and a space set apart to act as a kitchen and
scullery, there was not very much room. The roof being arched like a
tunnel, it was not possible to get the full benefit of the floor-space,
since one could not stand upright if near the walls. These walls were
made of granite, badly whitewashed over and exuding moisture. During any
kind of damp weather the festoons of cobwebs which helped to adorn the
ceiling glistened like a long grotto. On one side of the cells a small
drain, excavated out of the wall, acted as a passage for the waters
above. This drain opened out into the cell by a small trap-door, through
which one could both hear and see the continual drip, drip of water,
which in rainy weather formed itself into a small stream, occasionally
flooding over into the cell. At all times a large ring of damp covered
the floor in its proximity.

As before explained, the cells were approached by a long stone corridor
running parallel with them, lighted by skylights at every forty or fifty
yards, which pierced upwards through the earthworks above them. These,
however, admitted very little light, except when the sun was shining.
One was always in danger of bumping up against somebody walking in the
opposite direction; in fact, a good many hard knocks were received in
this way. The latrines were situated at the bottom of each of these
corridors. This is not a subject which one cares to enlarge upon, but in
this history it is necessary, in order to form a correct idea of the
conditions under which we lived. These latrines consisted of a mere hole
in the stone floor, with no form of drainage. Consequently the
atmosphere in the corridor became at times almost unbearable, since the
corridor acted as a sort of flue to the latrines, with which it was
directly connected, the final result of this being that, when officers
passed in and out of these rooms, a certain amount of the disgusting
odour penetrated into the cells. Thus we had to sleep, feed, and live in
one of these cells, attacked from inside by insanitary conditions,
living in a dirty, damp, badly lighted stone cell, menaced from the
outside by mosquitoes and miasma rising off the waters of the moat, on
to which the cells looked through very heavily barred windows. The
floors were made of asphalt, which struck cold into one’s very marrow,
so that the majority of us were always stiff with rheumatism.

At first we were allowed to take exercise in the hollows marked X and Y
in the plan, also to walk round the ramparts of the protecting
earthworks. But this was very soon put a stop to, owing to an attempt to
escape over the moat; and, finally, the only exercise-ground allowed us
was that marked Z on the plan, immediately beneath the drawbridge and
main entrance, a space a little larger than a tennis-court for some
three hundred of us to exercise in. To the reader it must seem almost
incredible that even a Hun would incarcerate a prisoner of war in a
hell-hole such as this, immediately after having undergone a very
serious operation; but so it was.

Having given a rough sketch of the prisoners’ accommodation in the
fortress, I now propose to record the events of an ordinary average
day. _Appell_, or roll-call, was at 7.30 in the morning, and held in the
cells. The intimation of the _Appell_ was heralded by an enormous
alarm-bell fitted in each wing. After this bell had sounded no officer
was allowed to leave his cell under any circumstances. The Boche N.C.O.
and one sentry visited the cells in turn, counting six officers in each
cell. The N.C.O. entered the cells from the corridor in order to make
this count, the sentry remaining outside in order to prevent an officer
who had been already counted from proceeding down the corridor to a cell
which had not been counted, and thus being counted again. The necessity
for this was, in the event of an officer escaping another being counted
in twice would allow the escaper time to get away from the camp, should
he have been fortunate enough to get clear.

After the _Appell_ breakfast was served to us by the French orderly
allotted to our cell. The reader must not imagine we had the use of the
orderly all day; he had numerous other duties to perform for the Boche.
He usually made our beds and emptied the slops (not always), and
occasionally did the washing up after meals. He also fetched our fresh
water in a bucket. The breakfast consisted of a large cupful of hot
coffee, already mixed with milk. As a matter of fact it was made of
ground acorns and a small percentage of chicory, and was quite
undrinkable. This, with three ounces of black bread, which chiefly
consisted of potato peelings, bran, and sawdust, was all we had for
breakfast. At the midday meal we received five potatoes for six
officers, or a swede weighing about 1½ lb., or seventeen sticks of
tinned asparagus. Each cell had its ration _en bloc_, so that whatever
food came was divided up amongst the six people in each cell. For supper
a breakfast-cupful of soup, made of ground white beans (sometimes
edible, but not often), was provided.

The above constituted the regular rations. Besides these we received
other rations: 45 grammes of meat each per week, including bone, and
occasionally some stinking fish, so bad that it could not be kept in the
cell for more than a minute or two. The other rations were fifteen lumps
of sugar each per month; 1 lb. of tea (cut from the stem) per six
officers, usually twice during the month; and, lastly, a sherry-glassful
of rum every six weeks for the six of us, and a soup-plateful of tinned
fruit. All the food which was not provided as a daily ration was only
given by the Boches in order that they might be able to bring out a list
showing how well they fed their prisoners. This last was principally for
the edification of the American Ambassador. The following really looks
quite well: Rum, Sugar, Tea, Meat, Bread, Soup, Vegetables, Potatoes,
Fruit, Fish.

But all that glitters, etc.--as will be seen by my description of how
this food was made and distributed. Soon after the morning _Appell_ we
would hurry to the bath, or so-called bath. Only a drawing by Heath
Robinson could possibly do justice to it. No words could describe the
extraordinarily primitive arrangements. A cement cauldron, on the top of
which rested a number of large basins, containing the water to be
heated. One-third of a sack of coal was allowed three days a week, in
order to heat the water in these basins, which must suffice for the
ablutions of three hundred officers. The water, when hot, was ladled out
with a magnified soup-tureen by hand, and thrown into a bath. From there
the water was pumped up by hand to a series of beer-casks, resting on a
wooden frame and partitioned off so as to have one cask over each
compartment. The bather then proceeded to let loose the water in the
barrels by operating a rough valve, when the water, which was
practically cold, owing to the many vicissitudes to which it had been
subjected, poured out in a slow trickle upon the bather. Nevertheless,
there was a terrific scramble for the bath daily. One could have
overlooked the fact of this Stone Age arrangement had the place been
kept clean, but the filth of it was indescribable. Streams of soapy
water running over the mud floor had rendered it something akin to axle
grease. Great care had to be taken in order not to slip; for to slip,
which one often did, meant being covered in filth, which no amount of
washing in cold water would remove.

After having completed the morning’s ablution under these delightful
conditions, one or other of the officers in each cell would be told off
to cook the breakfast and lay the table. This was usually taken in turn,
and a very good breakfast we had too--that is, when our parcels were
arriving from home regularly. No knives, forks, spoons, or plates were
supplied to us, also no utensils for cooking. We were forced to buy our
own stove. The coal which was supplied to us every second day would be
equal to two small scuttlefuls. This had to do for warming the cell and
for cooking all the necessary food. There were times when this coal
allowance diminished considerably below the amount, especially during
the coldest period. At one time we could only afford to have the fire
lit after 12 noon. This was in January, when the thermometer stood at
thirty-two degrees Centigrade below freezing-point. Let the reader
imagine what that means in a stone cell, situated thirty-five feet
beneath the earth. Certainly we did not suffer from damp, since
everything was ice. Our drainage-vent was solid ice about a foot thick.

It has been explained that in November we were allowed to exercise on
the ramparts, which formed a very pleasant walk round. From this height
a good view could be obtained of the surrounding country. There were no
notices up explaining exactly which part of the ramparts we were allowed
to frequent. We therefore went all over them without hindrance. There
were six sentries posted on the caponiers overlooking the moat;
therefore there was no earthly reason why we should be debarred from
walking or sitting anywhere on the ramparts, since every part was
overlooked by sentries. Apart from this, in order to descend from the
ramparts to the level of the moat, one would be compelled to go down a
very steep bank of some fifty feet. The escaper would then find himself
shooting into the arms of the outer ring of sentries stationed inside
and on a level with the moat, with sentries on both sides of it.

Nevertheless, after we had been allowed to roam at will over the
ramparts, one day the sentry on the main caponier suddenly and without
warning opened fire on two Russian officers lying near the breastworks
beneath him, who were taking advantage of a short spell of sunshine.
The sentry fired at them for no apparent reason. Fortunately for the
Russians they were not hit, though it was only a matter of inches, as
the sentry was not more than sixty paces from them. This caused, of
course, a fearful commotion in the camp. The sentry very nearly got
mobbed by the prisoners. In fact, I thought it was coming, and did my
best to calm them, since the prisoners must be the losers in the end,
fists being of very little use against rifles, especially inside a
fortress. Within a minute or two the interior of the fortress was
flooded with guards from the guard-room, and the prisoners were herded
to their cells and locked in.

The commandant was in a great state of agitation, knowing very well that
it would not take much to make the smouldering embers of the prisoners’
overcharged feelings burst into flames. The worm will turn, even if it
has no means of defence, and our treatment was rapidly nearing the
limit of petty persecution. After this the use of the ramparts and
interior exercise-grounds was debarred to us, so that we only had the
small paved area at the entrance to the fortress to exercise in.

Towards the end of November the weather began to get extremely cold, and
in consequence our conditions became unbearable, owing to the lack of
sufficient coal for heating purposes. This led to another little
attention from the Boches similar to that described above. A batch of
prisoners were transferred from the fort to some other camp, and this
left vacant one of the cells. This was too good an opportunity to miss,
since possibly a portion of coal might be left by the officers just
gone. One of the British officers therefore paid a visit to the empty
cell. There was nothing to hinder him from doing so, for he merely had
to proceed down the corridor from his own cell till he reached the other
one. Immediately, however, he put his head in at the door the sentry
outside shot at him through the grated window. Fortunately he missed
him, but that was not the fault of the sentry. Of course we complained
at such disgraceful treatment, and the commandant said he would severely
rate the sentry, but nothing ever came of it in the way of redress.



CHAPTER IX

A “BLOND BEAST” COMMANDANT


To further illustrate the general scheme of treatment, I will recount
the form of medical attention meted out to us. A doctor from the town of
Ingolstadt visited us on Mondays and Fridays. He was quite a good
fellow, though I never saw him sober, and I went to him dozens of times.
Consequently, from a medical point of view, he was quite useless. As a
permanent assistant he had a French Alsatian Tommy, whose duty it was to
administer the doses and attend cases generally, such as massage for
rheumatism, from which we all suffered, and bandaging troublesome old
wounds. This orderly had had no training, and as a matter of fact was
taught to rub and bandage by us. He was not able to procure medicines,
and had no authority to do so.

On one occasion a Russian officer tried to commit suicide towards
midnight. This took place in the right wing of the cells, which after 9
p.m. was shut off from the administrative officer in the centre by doors
marked W and T in sketch; and although the officer’s comrades nearly
battered down the door in order to get some sort of medical help from
the commandant, it was refused; consequently the poor wretch had to lie
and bleed till morning, when he was removed to hospital in the town, too
late to help him, I fear; but of course we never were allowed to know
the result. At another time an officer in my wing (the left) was taken
with violent fever and fearful pain in breathing, which turned out to be
double pneumonia. We tried in vain to get some medical help, but we were
only laughed at from the other side of the iron-studded door, and told
that the swine officer must take his chance.

There was no sick-room of any sort. This could have been excused had we
been in or near a town, but since we were situated five miles from the
outskirts of the town it became inexcusable, especially as, owing to the
unhealthy state of the camp, everybody was more or less unwell at some
period or other. A sort of ague fever attacked nearly every one, and we
found it very difficult to keep clear of bad colds and throats. Towards
the end of December the cold became so intense that it was impossible to
keep warm. The only method of keeping the circulation up was by
skipping. Our coal allowance, which had been entirely inadequate before,
got shorter. It was now only possible to utilise it for cooking
purposes. Some means had to be found in order to add to our fuel, and
this we discovered. I refer to the wood partitions connecting those
cells which were not occupied, also some wooden partitions separating
the holes used as latrines, and the commandant’s private lavatory.
These I and another man since escaped from Germany tore down and burnt
in our cooking-stoves to create what warmth we could. Of course it was
not long before the Boches found it out, and, since they could not
discover the actual offenders, the whole of the officers in the fortress
were charged so much for repairs, which repairs never took place
unfortunately, as we should then have had a fresh supply of wood,
although we burnt everything we could possibly lay our hands on. Wood
burns at such a fearful rate that this only kept us going for a few
weeks.

It was in January that the Swiss Commission paid another visit; but
although numerous cases were up in front of them, only one French
officer was accepted, and he was eventually sent back from Constance.
The commission put me on the list, but refused to make mine a special
case, since they had no record of the history of my wound, so the hope
of going a train journey at the expense of the Boches towards the Swiss
frontier came to an end.

The British officers in general passed a good many weary hours away in
playing bridge, and owing to the limitations of light during the long
dark winter evenings we constantly played in the afternoons. At one of
these afternoon sessions we were surprised in our usual game in a cell
shared by four British officers and two Frenchmen. One of the French
officers was leaving for another camp, thus vacating one of the wooden
beds. The Boches having learned by bitter experience that a vacant bed
would be turned into firewood, within half an hour of its being vacated
paid a visit to this cell in order to remove the bed to a safer place.
This occurred during our game of bridge. Now, in order to remove the bed
from the cell, it was necessary to take it to pieces, owing to the door
of the cell not being wide enough to admit of its being taken out
whole.

While dismembering the bed the Boche carpenter in charge of the work
missed some of his stock-in-trade, which led to an immediate examination
of our cell by the commandant in person. During this examination the
door of the cell opened, and a French officer of the name of Borgeau
entered. On seeing the commandant he commenced to apologise, at which
the former flew at him, calling him a pig of a Frenchman and various
other insulting names. Borgeau very wisely withdrew to his own cell,
situated farther down the passage; but he kept the door of his cell
open, in order to intercept the commandant on his way back to his bureau
and demand an explanation for this unnecessary insult. This he did, but
before Borgeau had time to say anything the commandant went for him, and
struck him on the face and chest with his clenched fist. At the same
time his two sentries with their lowered bayonets pressed into the cell
along with the _Feldwebel_ (sergeant-major). The commandant was like a
wild beast, and in one of his furious attacks on the defenceless Borgeau
he over-swung and knocked his own _Feldwebel_ off his feet. This caused
a roar of laughter from the other occupants of the cell and increased
the general pandemonium. Fortunately Borgeau kept his head in this very
difficult situation, and resisted the inclination to strike back. Had he
done so, he would have been shot for a certainty.

Later on in the day three British officers were called to the
commandant’s bureau to sign certain necessary papers, but when they
found that they had to deal with the commandant in person they refused
to speak to him, and told him in French that they would transact their
business with the _Feldwebel_, since they did not consider him (the
commandant) either a gentleman or an officer responsible for his actions
after the affair of that morning in striking a defenceless prisoner
without the slightest provocation whatever. As a result of this they
were immediately confined to solitary cells, kept for the purpose, in
the interior of the fortress. Two officers escaped from these cells in
about two hours, and returned to their own cells. On this being
discovered they were removed to the town civilian jail.

As will be seen, in return for the vile treatment dealt out to us by the
Boches, _we did not give them very much peace whenever the opportunity
arose to do otherwise; consequently our guard was doubled at the
fortress, which pleased us very much, since we felt that we were keeping
a number of men away from the front, and thus still helping to do our
little share towards the war_. Of course it increased the difficulties
of escape a little, but not to any appreciable extent. It was almost
impossible to get away with or without a whole skin. This being the
case, a few more guards more or less did not make very much difference.

During the month of December I became very friendly with a French
officer, and the two of us decided to carry out a plan of escape which
we had hit upon. Unfortunately I am unable to give any details of the
episode, as the French officer who was my companion in the plot is still
a prisoner in Germany, and the circumstances are such that any
explanation might bring retribution on him, as we did a good deal of
damage in the process of making an outlet.

I have stated before how some British officers and a Belgian escaped
over the frozen moat. This was one of the finest efforts I have seen, as
the chance of reaching the other side of the moat alive was almost
_nil_. At the outset they had to rush over the caponiers from the
interior exercise-grounds, in full view of the sentries standing on the
top of the caponiers, down the other side, a descent at an angle of 60°,
to a depth of from fifty to sixty feet, on to the frozen moat, which was
about sixty yards broad, and then race over open country under fire for
about two hundred yards, and cross another canal which was not frozen.
The sentries started firing before the escapers reached the moat, and
kept on firing long after they had crossed. On this occasion the
proverbial bad luck of the escaper cropped up. A military waggon came
tearing down the usually deserted road to the fortress, and was brought
to a standstill on the bridge which crossed the outer canal; a troupe of
about eight or ten Boches poured from it, and in this way our
unfortunate brother officers were caught.



CHAPTER X

BOUND FOR CREFELD


At the end of February we were surprised by a visit from two
representatives of the American Embassy, to whom we poured forth our
woes, and who declared their views pretty strongly as to the conditions
in which they found us. The assault by the commandant on a defenceless
French officer was fully narrated to them, also the fact that officers
had been fired on inside the fortress whilst lying out in the
earthworks. The American representatives made every effort with the
commandant to procure more coal for heating our cells, also greater
space for exercise, asking permission for us to again use the interior
exercise-grounds X and Y, periodically closed to us as a general
_strafe_, and permanently closed to us after the attempted escape of the
British officers over the frozen moat.

Strangely enough, we were allowed to see the commission alone, but after
our interview they proceeded to the commandant, who took them across to
the so-called theatre or music-room, where doubtless the commandant went
into raptures over the beauties and utilities of the theatre, forgetting
to explain that we were not allowed into it and that the door was kept
locked, so that possibly the commission went away with the feeling that
after all the Boches were trying to make up for the awful conditions
existent in the fortress by giving us the use of an improvised theatre.

The amount of eyewash prepared in camps for a visit of any sort, either
neutral or Boche, was extremely humorous to me. A camp would get busy
like a hive for a couple of days before the visit, sweeping and cleaning
in every corner, so that general conditions would improve for a day or
two, and immediately after the visits they would lapse back into the old
conditions of filth.

During the last few months an escaping scheme on a large scale had been
under way from a cell quite close to my own. After many months of
terrific manual labour a tunnel running from beneath the floor of the
cell to the edge of the moat had been brought to successful completion.
On the day of the night chosen for the attempt the never-ending bad luck
of the escapers again ruined all these carefully laid plans. A large
sewage-cart containing an enormous iron cylinder visited the camp for
the purpose of pumping out the latrines. In order to reach these
latrines the sewage-cart had to pass over the strip of ground dividing
the cells of the fortress from the moat, and in so doing passed over the
underground tunnel, which at this place was not more than three feet
beneath the surface of the earth; and although the tunnel had been
strengthened with every possible kind of wood torn from every hole and
corner inside the fortress, the weight of the cart was too much for it,
and a deep rut showed in the ground after the cart had passed. This
might have escaped the eye of the sentry on beat at this place, had not
the cart passed over exactly the same spot on its return journey, thus
causing a depression, which rapidly sank to about a foot deep. The
sentry did not fail to see it, and the fact was reported to the quarter
guard, whose investigation with picks and shovels soon revealed the
truth, so that another accidental discovery was added to the list. When
we found that no attempt had been made to drain the latrines for over
two years, the extraordinary bad luck became a hundred times more
exasperating to bear.

At the end of March I was suddenly called up to interview General Peter,
the commandant of the military district of Ingolstadt. He addressed me
very civilly, which was not his wont, and told me that I, along with two
other British officers, was going to be removed to the best camp in
Germany, owing to our exemplary behaviour and gentlemanly conduct. I
saluted and departed to inform my comrades in my cell, where laughter
overcame me. My exemplary behaviour! when everybody in the fortress knew
that I had been described by the commandant as one of the most
“dangerous characters” in the camp. Of course my mind instantly sought
for the reason which had caused the Boches to decide on sending me away,
and it was not long before I discovered it. I immediately consulted my
French pal, and the two of us put our heads together and paid a visit to
the commandant, but found no clue there. We then proceeded to the
so-called _Krankenstube_ (or sick-room). Seeing a lot of new medicines,
I asked the orderly who they were for. He replied that the Swiss
Commission was paying us a visit in a few days. The reasons of my
removal to another and better camp were immediately explained. A great
many inquiries had been made from home to the Swiss Commission regarding
my case and the reason why I had not been sent to Switzerland on the
last visit of the commission. The Boches, knowing this, had no intention
that the commission should find me still an inmate of such a hell-hole
as Fort 9, Ingolstadt.

On the morning of the 3rd of April, or two days after old General Peter
had told me I was to be sent to a nice camp because I had been a “good
boy,” orders to pack up my goods and chattels came from the commandant.
My baggage had by this time grown to a very considerable bulk--my own
spring-bed, folding camp-chair, box of food-stuffs, cooking utensils,
blankets, clothing, etc. The luggage had to be in the packet-room by
three o’clock, in order that it might undergo the usual searching
process. Immediately it was generally known in the camp that we were
leaving Ingolstadt on the morrow, and that our luggage was to be sent to
the packet-room by three o’clock, I received dozens of applications from
the ever-watchful prisoners for permission to try to sneak out in my
baggage. Permission was given to the first two applicants, French and
English majors, one of whom occupied cell 42 with me. Two large hamper
washing-baskets were borrowed from some Russian and French officers.
Into these the two escapers were pushed, with blankets and clothing on
top of them, and a cunning arrangement by which the padlock could be
slipped from the inside.

The two hampers, together with my boxes and those of the other two
officers accompanying me, were carried by ourselves at the appointed
time to the packet-room, where each officer opened his own boxes in
front of the examining Boche N.C.O., who made a quick search of each
box. In this case the two other officers had their luggage examined
first; then came my turn. By this time he had grown a bit slack, and
when he had gone through my three boxes he was still more so. The two
baskets were left till the last. These were opened in their turn, and I
began hauling out the top blankets. With a wave of the hand the N.C.O.
said “Good,” and the hampers were passed, as had been calculated upon.
After this the N.C.O. called in some French orderlies, and gave
directions for our luggage to be heaped up in a corner by itself.
Unfortunately they placed one of the basket-hampers on the top of the
other, which proved in the end to be the undoing of the whole affair.

The luggage having been passed, the packet-room was closed for the
night, and there seemed to be a very fair chance that the escapers might
be successful in at least getting out of the fortress. At 5 p.m. the
usual guard was mounted outside the packet-room door, and all went well
till about 7 p.m., when the escapers in the baskets essayed to get out
of these in order to relieve the agonies of cramp which had naturally
overtaken them in their confined position. There was no reason at all
why they should spend the night in the baskets, as the packet-room would
not be opened till seven o’clock the following morning. Even if a chance
visit should happen to be paid to the room, there was plenty of material
to hide behind amongst the general debris of packets and bales which
covered the floor. With this in view the officer in the upper basket
tried to get out with the least possible noise. To raise the lid from
the inside was easy, as before explained, but to get out noiselessly was
quite another matter, since any movement in the basket above was
registered by a loud creaking from the basket below, and before the two
officers had succeeded in extricating themselves the suspicions of the
sentry outside had been aroused, a search was instituted, and the plot
discovered.

Returning to my own position, I now expected to receive a notification
from the commandant that my removal to another camp was cancelled, owing
to the fact that I had helped these two officers to escape in my
luggage; but no such order was issued, which proved to me more strongly
than ever that the authorities at Ingolstadt were most anxious to get
rid of me for some very good reason, which I surmised was the expected
visit of the Swiss Commission. Information now came through to us from
one of the French orderlies that a party of officers, collected from all
the other prison camps in and around Ingolstadt, was being sent to the
camp at Crefeld on the following day. This information had been come by
during a parley between the orderly and another French orderly, who had
arrived at the fortress the preceding day from one of the camps which
was being broken up. We felt pretty certain, therefore, that our
destination would also be Crefeld, since we were all going on the same
day; also, if old General Peter had spoken the truth, it must be
Crefeld, as he had said it was the best camp in Germany.

That night we received orders to be ready to start at five o’clock the
next morning, and I had much to do and certain arrangements to make with
the friends I was about to leave behind me, in case I should succeed in
making good my escape. For many months past I had wearied of Ingolstadt
and its appalling conditions, but now that I had actually to move off on
the morrow a certain sense of loss to come and a feeling of extreme
depression overcame me at leaving these good fellows. The camp was
bad--nothing could be worse; but, still, the idea was borne in upon me,
“Better to bear the ills we have,” etc.; and God only knew what the
future might have in store for me. One becomes extraordinarily attached
to those of one’s fellow-beings with whom one has passed through great
ordeals.

However, enough of the sentimental. Some of my pals were laying bets
between themselves as to whether I should succeed in making my escape or
not, and I’m sure those who lost did so with the greatest pleasure. At
4.30 the next morning the three of us were sent for by the commandant,
and went through the usual search, which we all passed quite
satisfactorily. All the same, a small corrugated iron spring, knife, bit
of a screwdriver, compass, and electric torch escaped the watchful eyes
of the Boches: I don’t propose to say how, as it only gives valuable
information to the enemy.

At 5.30 a.m. we shook the dust of the fortress from our feet. As before
explained, there were three of us, and we had to walk over eight
kilometres to the station. We had been ordered to take everything
necessary for three days in the shape of food, clothing, etc., so the
kindly Boches gave us a couple of orderlies to carry our hand luggage. I
suppose I should have been both surprised and grateful at having any
help at all, but really it was only a case of half a loaf being better
than no bread, since two orderlies could not possibly carry the amount
of our hand luggage; consequently we had a very hot and tiring walk,
carrying the baggage on our shoulders, our guards making no effort to
help. However, we did eventually arrive at the station, perspiring
freely, although it was freezing at the time. At the station we were
surprised to see a large dray loaded with luggage that looked very
English, which turned out to belong to a party of officers we discovered
at the station. There were about twenty-five of them, as well as I can
remember, consisting of a collection from all the camps in and around
Ingolstadt.

Many inquiries were made when they found that we had just come from the
notorious Fort No. 9. We learnt from these officers that we were bound
for a camp called Crefeld, quite close to the Dutch frontier, and
supposed to be the best camp in Germany. Satisfaction on going so near
the frontier showed on many faces. About 7 a.m. our train arrived, and a
second-class carriage was allotted to us by the German officer in charge
of the party. Our guard consisted of this officer, who was a coarse
bullet-headed Bavarian lieutenant, and about nine men, if I remember
aright, all of them being fully armed and evidently warned to keep their
eyes skinned. The Boche officer numbered us off and allotted so many
officers to each compartment, together with one guard to each batch.
When he came to us he said, “Oh yes, Fort 9; you will be in a
compartment by yourselves,” and he told off three guards to watch us.
This was not at all satisfactory, and looked very bad for our venture.
However, there was no circumventing it, and the only thing was to
accept the situation with the best grace possible and trust to our
brains to outwit the three guards.

Towards 7.30 the train pulled out, at which I drew a breath of relief,
feeling that Fort 9 at least was behind me, and in front enormous
possibilities of escape. For the first time during two and a half years
I was more or less fit; I was in a train travelling towards the northern
frontier of Germany; every mile drew it and home nearer, and I had the
delightful sensation that the German Government was about to be made to
pay for at least a good part of my road towards home, travelling
comfortably in a second-class railway compartment. That I was going to
make good my escape from the train I was firmly convinced, although the
circumstances of our disposition among the guards did not for the moment
look very hopeful; but there was a sort of something in the air, excited
quiverings running up and down my spine.

To carry out our project of ingratiating ourselves with our guards was a
matter of immediate importance, since we could never tell how soon our
chance might come. Accordingly we started by falling into amicable
conversation with them, which was carried on with the aid of signs and a
few words in broken French and German, only a very few German words
being used, in order not to excite any suspicions that we could
understand their conversation. In this manner we learnt one or two small
points of interest: firstly, that we were not expected to arrive at our
destination till the evening of the next day, also that the camp we were
bound for was indeed Crefeld.

By about eight o’clock the ball started rolling in good earnest, when
one of the guards suddenly said, “Der Kriegs nicht gut.” We agreed that
war was hell and that we wanted to be back with our families in peace
and with plenty to eat again, for there was “viel essen” in England; to
which they replied, “Kein essen in Deutschland,” and we answered that
the prisoner of war felt the want of food in Germany more than the
German soldiers did, but that we received plenty from home, so we did
very well, at which I opened my suit-case and displayed to the greedy
eyes of the Huns a whole lot of tinned meats of various kinds. This was
a fine opportunity to cement our friendship, so we started to prepare a
good sound breakfast of tongue and chicken, in which we succeeded in
getting them to join us; they offered us a share of hot coffee from
their water-bottles, and we all fairly settled down to it. Alas! with
what pain I saw my limited food slipping down the Hun throats; but it
was our best policy, and I must say that succeeding events justified us
in giving them a decent meal. Two of the guards were now sufficiently at
their ease to surrender to comfort, unfastening their belts and putting
their rifles on the racks; the third, however, kept his rifle handy,
but I do not think with any idea that it might be necessary. After
breakfast we all had a little snooze--at least we pretended to. Two of
the Boches certainly dropped off for a little while.

About midday we arrived at a station, where the carriages were shunted,
during which time we were allowed to stretch our legs on the platform
and get some hot coffee from a stall which was not too awfully bad.
Whilst we were bartering for the coffee a train pulled up at another
platform, bringing in a quantity of newspapers for the day, over which
there seemed to be a general hubbub of excitement; a few were brought to
our platform, and we tried to bag one surreptitiously without success,
but not before the headlines of the paper had been read by one or two of
us. The news caused just as much excitement amongst ourselves as it had
amongst the Boches, being no less than the official declaration of war
by the United States. In ordinary times this would have given us a
topic of conversation for months, but for the present we had other fish
to fry, and we soon forgot all about it; at the same time we all felt
excessively elated by the downcast, morose aspect of the Boche civilians
at the railway station.



CHAPTER XI

WE JUMP FROM THE TRAIN


To return to our own affairs. When the train started off again, we made
up our minds that we must find out everything there was to know about
the carriages we were now in. To do this it would be necessary to visit
the other compartments, without of course arousing the suspicions of any
of the guards. Accordingly I again entered into conversation with one of
them, and asked him how many prisoners there were in the train, if they
were all going to the same camp, had they just been taken prisoners or
were they old ones, from what camps did they come, etc. I then hinted
that I thought I’d stroll along and have a talk to them; perhaps some
belonged to my own regiment. This did not seem to perturb him at all,
as indeed there was no reason why it should, seeing that the carriage
was made up of six compartments, which had been partitioned off with a
gangway running down one side. Sometimes one comes across them in this
country, and by standing up and looking over the seat one can see into
the next compartment. Accordingly I strolled along to the next
compartment, and sat down with the fellows there and soon got into
animated conversation. I noticed, however, that one of the guards had
followed me and was standing in the gangway. After about half an hour he
got tired of this and went back to his seat, and a few minutes after I
also returned to my own seat. This seemed to put him quite at his ease,
and by the time the evening arrived I had visited all the compartments,
and found, to my great joy, that the rear one held four officers without
a guard at all.

It was now necessary to find out the disposition of the Boche officers
and the remaining guard, which we did not discover till about 10.30 that
evening, when we arrived at some town to put up for the night. The name
of the place I don’t know, as I could see no name written up anywhere,
for there were very few lights showing on the station, and it was a
pitch-dark night. On detraining, we were marshalled into a sort of Red
Cross shelter on the platform, where we waited about three-quarters of
an hour, after which we were formed into fours and marched a distance of
about a mile and a half through the town to a big building, evidently
some kind of education institution temporarily turned into a receiving
hospital. Here we were ushered into a large hall, no doubt used before
the war as a gymnasium, and now full of collapsible camp-beds. On these
we were informed we must sleep till four o’clock the next morning, when
we should again march off. These beds looked very enticing to a great
many of us, and personally I took the full benefit out of the one
allotted to me, as I felt sure that it would be many a long weary day
before I got the chance of another good rest--if indeed I ever would
need one again in this life. The night passed without incident, and we
were well guarded.

The next morning at 4.30 we marched off again and reached the station
about 5 a.m. Here we were once more marshalled into the Red Cross rest
station where we had been the previous night. Hot coffee, bread, and a
piece of blood sausage were dealt out to us, at a price; but I for one
was very thankful, for it was the last meal I was to have for five days,
although of course I did not know it at the time.

At six o’clock we again entrained, and I noted with satisfaction that we
were to have the same carriage as that of the previous day.
Unfortunately it was now the leading one of the train, because anyone
attempting to leave our carriage must inevitably be seen by any person
looking out of those in the rear. I made especial note of the
whereabouts of our conducting officer, and found that he and the guard I
had missed the night before were located in the next carriage to ours.
As in English “Pullmans,” one could pass from one carriage to another
the whole length of the train, and I suppose he felt that he had us
sufficiently under his eyes from the next carriage.

On taking our allotted places in our carriage, we were delighted to find
that the front compartment, which had been the rear one the previous
day, was again without a guard. Nothing of any note happened till after
dawn broke, when we crossed the Rhine at Frankfort, and towards 10 a.m.
we drew up at a wayside station, and were again allowed to descend and
stretch our legs. This time there was nothing to be got in the way of
food or drink, and it was freezing very hard; so I and my two
companions, finding a small waiting-room, went in and shut the door-in
order to keep warm, of course! After about ten minutes the whistle went
for the train to start, but our conducting officer had discovered he had
not got his full complement of prisoners, and by the noise he made in
shouting at his men he seemed to be pretty much excited over it. During
a wild and flurried search we were discovered innocently doing nothing;
and although we got pretty roundly cursed, there is no doubt that it
helped to allay any suspicion on their part that we might be possible
escapers, so much so that when the train actually went off one of the
three guards was removed from our compartment after a whispered
consultation with the Boche officer, and went to join his comrade in the
officers’ compartment. This left us with two in our compartment, and
things began to look better for us. From this on nothing of any
particular note happened till midday, except that I felt exactly as if
I were going to step into a dentist’s chair, and the clock seemed as if
it were at a standstill, although the train was now moving a good deal
faster than it had done hitherto.

About one o’clock we stopped at a station, where we got rid of another
of our guards, who, suddenly discovering that his pal who had joined the
other guard had taken his grub with him, went off in search of it--and,
to our joy, he did not return. We were now left with only one guard in
our compartment and four others in the compartment in front of us. After
we moved off the train gathered speed, and our hopes began to descend
again. If the train continued like that to the end of the journey, to
jump would be out of the question. This was immediately after the sentry
had been moved, and we found ourselves with only one sentry in our
compartment.

We looked at each other, and unanimously said, “Well, what about it?”
Supposing we successfully made good our escape, we must be able to
travel with the greatest possible speed towards that part of the Dutch
frontier which we believed to be the best place for an attempt, and,
owing to its situation amongst the swamps, would probably be less
carefully guarded. Our progress across Germany was going to be very
seriously hampered by the fact that we were without a map of the actual
frontier, and only in possession of a small piece of map about three
inches square, showing the railway system on which we were actually
running, and this was not even correct according to a large tin map
showing the German north-west railway system which was nailed to the
wall of the compartment.

We therefore set to work to learn by heart this map, in so far as it was
likely to affect our possible route, and in order to get a definite idea
of our exact position on the railways, when the time came to make the
attempt. This was done, of course, by carefully noting the stations one
by one as we passed them in the train and referring to the map.

Personally that map seemed to have burnt its equivalent into my brain,
particularly the branches which led westward and passed over numerous
small rivers and eventually over a chain of lakes, which spot would
ultimately be our objective. We then sketched a rough plan of how the
attempt was to be brought to a successful issue. My plan being accepted
by the other two, it was decided that I was to have the right of trying
first--the other two tossing up with a coin for right of second place.
This being decided, another important factor had to be discussed, the
issue at point being that, firstly, there were some twenty-five or so
other British officers in the compartments in rear of us. The last of
these compartments was without a guard, and was therefore the best one
to escape from. Secondly, there might be some of these officers in
other compartments who intended to take an opportunity, should it occur.
If they did so without our knowledge, it would ruin our chance; and, on
the other hand, if we attempted to escape without their knowledge, we
should equally spoil their chance. Since we were all British officers
together, we decided to make it known to those who looked or acted as if
they were looking for a chance to leave the train.

Accordingly I left our compartment, and entered into conversation with
the officers in all the other compartments in turn, but saw no signs of
any preparations until I reached the last two compartments, where I
found evidences of suppressed excitement. The sentry in my own
compartment did not seem to mind my visiting the others where, as he
knew, I came under the eye of the sentry in charge of each compartment.
The fact that there was no sentry in the last one had evidently escaped
him. I discovered six other officers who talked of making an attempt,
and discussed my plans with the senior and two others of these, after
which I returned to my own compartment and companions.

I then proceeded to the lavatory, to which I was followed by the sentry,
who posted himself outside, letting down the window on the lavatory side
of the train and leaning out. This was in order that I might not get out
of the lavatory window without his knowledge. In the lavatory I first
cut the communication-cord; then, taking a galvanised spring which I had
concealed in the heel of my boot, I tied the broken rear end of this
cord to one of the communication-cord pull-throughs, in order that it
might be pulled in the corridor behind me, and spring back into its
place without transmitting the signal farther up the train. This done, I
removed my ruck-sack, made of sacking, from between the lining of my
trench-coat, and put into it the remains of my food brought on the
journey. I then put the ruck-sack on my back, and, coming out of the
lavatory, I manœuvred so that the sentry walked in front of me on our
way back to the compartment, in order that he might not see that I had
grown a hump-back. On being seated, I again studied the railway map in
our compartment, until I felt that I had off by heart the general
directions of the railways that would be likely to help us en route.

The next thing was to get the door of the carriage in the rear
compartment open. Before leaving our end of the train, we decided that,
as a signal to go, I should drop my handkerchief out of the window on
the left-hand side of the train, since an attempt must, if possible,
take place from the right side--firstly, because the right side
contained the corridor passage, and, secondly, the sentry could not
possibly fire on us from a moving train on the right side, unless they
were left-hand shots, which risk we had to take, though the chances were
very much in our favour. Again I paid a visit to our friends in the rear
compartments, and informed them that, as soon as dusk set in, we would
make the attempt--sooner, if the train slackened speed sufficient to
give us the least feasible opportunity.

We were just then passing the thickly wooded country near Bonn, and the
views were quite delightful. The light began to fail fast, and my nerves
were strained to the highest tension. Getting into communication with
the sentry in the next carriage, I began enlarging on the beauties of
the view, asking this or that question, at which he was highly
delighted. In fact, we got on so well that before many minutes were up I
had the window down, and was leaning half out on my right side. Whilst
we were unanimously praising a special little bit, my right hand crept
down almost to the full length of my arm outside the window, and lifted
the outside latch, after which I lost interest in the view, and the
sentry returned to his compartment, whilst I went to the rear one. The
train up to this time had been running at a speed of about fifty miles
an hour, which gave us no chance, considering we had to jump on to metal
rails and sleepers filled in with broken granite.

At about seven o’clock we ran into a small station, and thought our
chance would come as we drew out before the train could gather speed;
but just as we drew out, on reaching a level crossing, we found a
company of Boche soldiers drawn up on both sides of the line, and the
chance was left behind. At this moment we discovered a strange Boche had
entered the compartment. He turned out to be a railway official come to
turn on the light. He remained with us for a few minutes only. To us it
seemed an eternity. Would he never go! At last he went further up the
train, and we began to draw into another small town; but the train
stopped in front of another level crossing, with a crowd of Boche
civilians on both sides.

After about a minute the train moved off again and gathered speed with
great rapidity. We could see the lights of a big town about a mile in
front of us. This might be our destination, but we did not know. I
informed my confederates that in my opinion it was now or never. The
impossibility of jumping at that moment seemed to be deeply impressed on
everybody but myself. However, I dropped the handkerchief, and, crossing
to the other side, turned the handle and jumped out. Picking myself up,
I sprinted in the opposite direction to that in which the train was
moving, keeping to the centre of the track. It was impossible to leave
the line here, since both sides were lined with houses; so I rushed on,
hoping for a gap in the houses towards the open country. Passing the
level crossing, I noticed the barriers beginning to rise and the crowd
of civilians preparing to pass over. I heard a cry behind me and the
patter of running feet, and thought a crowd was following, at which I
redoubled my efforts, but soon realised that my long imprisonment had
told upon me, and that I could not go much farther.

Then it dawned on me that I could run better without my trench-coat.
Visions arose of the long wet trek in front of me, and the possibilities
of rheumatic fever without it; but my breath was going fast, so there
was no alternative. Accordingly, as I ran I threw the precious coat from
me. By this time I was very nearly done, and the weight of the ruck-sack
containing my food for the journey made my shoulders ache, so that I
threw that off also. Another fifty yards and the end of the town was in
sight, but before this I espied a gap in the houses, for which I made.
This only led to a cul-de-sac. The only alternative was to cross a
fence into a garden, and then another and another, through a wire fence
and into a kitchen garden. In a few minutes I was joined by three
others, whom, to my joy, I discovered to be three of my companions of
the rear compartment. Here we rested, and I got out my concealed
compass, in order to take down bearings. This done, in about a quarter
of an hour we prepared to make a start.

We first ran into a large house and garden surrounded by barbed wire,
into which we pushed our way, only to find ourselves temporarily
trapped, as we could find no way of exit on to the road at the other
side, so that we had to retreat by the way we had come and make a detour
round the house, to find ourselves confronted by a main road, with
occasional pedestrians passing along it. By now the moon had begun to
rise, which enabled us to see a good distance ahead, but at the same
time increased the danger of our being observed. Fortunately, she
providentially went behind thick fleecy clouds. Thinking the road in
front of us too dangerous an obstacle to cross at this point, we made a
detour of about half a mile, and again took compass bearings, which
bearings we took periodically, when it suddenly struck me we were
travelling directly towards the moon, and therefore almost south, at
least south-west, which was not our object at all. Again we took a
bearing with the compass, which seemed to prove me wrong; but I
obstinately refused to believe myself wrong, and this led to trouble
between myself and the senior officers of our expedition.

To take a bearing properly and correctly was quite a difficult feat. It
consisted of lying on the ground covered by somebody else’s coat, in
order to light a match in safety without attracting attention, otherwise
we found it impossible to set the compass sufficiently accurately. On
removing the glass from the compass, it was discovered that the agate
bearing was cracked, which caused the compass to swing and stick. This
must have happened in my jump from the train. I did not at first convey
this information to my comrades, thinking that it might cause too great
consternation; for it must be remembered that they had all been
strangers to me a few hours before, and I was not therefore sure of the
type and calibre of the men I had to deal with.

For a few hundred yards we carried on, when, to the disgust of the
others, I again decided to take a bearing, over which I spent a great
deal of time, carefully placing the compass-point towards the edge of
the agate bearing, and allowing it to swing gently to a stop. Although
the needle was not balanced in the centre, it was sufficiently so to
enable it to swing freely; then, taking a careful line of the exact
direction of west, in conjunction with the rising moon, the Pole Star
and Cassiopeia, I set a direct course, from which, with the exception of
slight deflections for the purpose of avoiding dangerous obstacles
encountered on our route, we never swerved until after we crossed the
Dutch frontier. It was hard work to make time by forced marching, since
we had to watch the ground for pitfalls for the feet and the heavens for
direction.

Shortly after taking the last bearing we crossed another electric
railway line and a station brilliantly lit up, and here it seemed to our
excited imagination that the people inside the brilliantly lit
train-cars drawn up at one of the stations were interested or excited
about something. All the occupants had their noses glued to the glass,
looking at something or other, whilst the powerful head-lamps were
sweeping the country around, often lighting up our prostrate forms as if
it were day. Innumerable cars seemed to come and go, and we dared not
move under such conditions. Soon, however, to our intense relief, the
trains slacked off, and we were able to make a good steady advance. It
began to freeze very hard, the clouds vanished, and the moon became
intensely brilliant, which of course helped us immeasurably; but we
could not see it then, as our nerves were too much on edge. Personally I
felt as if I were naked and the whole world was watching with bated
breath. The heavy frost also helped us, since we were sticking entirely
to the open country, mostly over ploughed fields, and instead of the
usual slow advance one makes over plough we walked on it as on pavement,
so that we made excellent progress. At the same time caution guided our
every movement. We never crossed a road without scouting it beforehand,
or came upon a farm or even a shed without making a wide detour round
it. What we feared more than anything else was that a dog might start
barking, and cause its owner to come out to see the reason.

When I look back at that first trek, I come to the conclusion that
fortune favoured us for once. I don’t think we ever made a false step,
which was luck indeed. We walked hard till about 3 a.m., and then found
ourselves approaching a main road, with what appeared to be two big
villages situated not more than half a mile apart. A scout went forward
to investigate, but came back scared and excited. Moving lights appeared
first here and there; sometimes red flashes came and went. We
immediately decided that we had been surrounded, only to find on closer
investigation that the lights belonged to a single-track railway, which
ran in a semicircle around us. On crossing the railroad and railtrack
beyond, we began to realise for the first time that dawn was rapidly
approaching. Lights began to spring up in the large village to our left,
so that we were immediately forced to look for a place where we could
safely hide during the coming daytime. This proved to be no easy job,
and before we were finally settled it was very nearly broad daylight.



CHAPTER XII

ESCAPES BY NIGHT AND DAY


Unfortunately, not being of a literary turn of mind, I am unable to
write a thrilling account of our adventurous journey across Germany. At
the same time, where in my description I make such a statement as “We
now made our way across country without interruption for four hours,”
the reader must not imagine that we just rushed along without
encountering difficulties, for the way was always beset with some sort
of obstacle or other. Needless to say, we gave ourselves a great many
unnecessary scares; but in our highly strung condition, with all our
senses working at fever-heat, this was not to be wondered at.

The uncertain moonlight played tricks with our imaginations, everything
assuming gigantic proportions. All the forces of nature seemed to be
arrayed against us and to walk hand in hand with the enemy. If a slight
wind rustled the leaves of a solitary tree to our rear, we felt we were
discovered and followed, and must press on, only to fall on our stomachs
again after a few hundred yards, as there was something standing in
front and waiting for us, inevitable, grim, and silent. “Look! he has
moved; it’s a sentry! Did you notice the light shining on his bayonet?”
and so we would creep away to right and left, only to find that our grim
sentry was a large post marking some boundary, and the apparent flash of
the bayonet had probably been caused by the rays of the moon suddenly
appearing from behind a cloud and striking one of its white painted
sides.

To return to facts. The spot in which we were forced to hide, for want
of a better place, was on the edge of a small wood, consisting of a
number of old and rotten trees, with a very thick carpet of decayed
leaves, which, being frozen, made the most infernal crackling noise
under our feet, as we searched to and fro for the best place of
concealment. Being winter, there was not sufficient foliage to enable us
to hide in the trees themselves with any safety. After exploring the
wood in vain, we eventually had to take up our position in a natural
drain running along the edge of the wood. This afforded us very little
covering; a few blackberry brambles and small branches were hastily
snapped off, and pulled in on top of us. By raising our heads a little
above the drain a view of the surrounding country could be obtained, and
the railway line and main road connecting the two small towns which we
had crossed early in the morning were in plain view.

After careful examination of our position, I came to the conclusion that
we had managed to find almost the identical spot that I had planned out
as the most desirable one for the termination of our first trek, as
shown on the map of our railway carriage, both because of its position
in relation to a network of small railways to which we must depend for
direction, and to the fact that it lay almost in a direct line, if
taking the shortest route to the frontier; so that, with the exception
that we had not enough cover for safety, we had not done so badly, and
had in reality made very good progress from our starting-off place the
night before, and, what was more important than anything else, I felt
pretty certain of our exact situation.

At the approach of dusk on the following evening it would be necessary,
according to my prearranged plan, to strike due north for about ten
miles, in order to find two light railroads running west, which bridged
two small rivers and the Dutch-German Grand Canal, and also passed over
the dangerous swampy ground through which our course lay. Could we find
either of these railroads we should again know our position, and by
keeping to the tracks as far as possible make better progress, with the
chance of being able to use the bridges, should they be unguarded.

The reader will no doubt ask why I proposed to take so difficult and
dangerous a route, leading as it did right through the centre of the
swamps. My reasons were threefold. First, because I was firmly convinced
that the Boches would place so much confidence in the natural obstacle
presented by the swamps that any sort of guard would appear superfluous.
Secondly, the country through which we were trying to pass is the most
thickly populated part of Germany. By making for the swamps, therefore,
we should almost entirely obviate the chances of being seen by
pedestrians. Thirdly, because it was the shortest way, which, situated
as we were without food or the necessary warm clothing, would become a
factor of primary importance before many hours had passed.

To return to the early hours of the morning after our first night’s
trek, as we lay half concealed in the drain bordering the little wood
before described. My first feeling was one of intense relief at the
thought of a day’s rest in front of me, for my whole body ached after
the unwonted exercise. I tried to compose myself to sleep, but the
natural excitement of mind caused by the happenings of the last
twenty-four hours proved this to be very difficult, and it was some time
before I eventually dropped off into a troubled slumber, only to wake up
within the hour suffering from cramp and stiff with cold. To make
matters worse, the ground underneath me had thawed with the warmth of my
body, and I was now wet through all down one side. If only we could have
got a good hot meal to take the shivers out of us, things would have
assumed a different aspect. The sound of occasional voices wafted to us
on the wind from the high road before mentioned kept us continually
alert to our danger; but the first real anxiety was brought about by an
old woodcutter who paid a visit to our little wood, evidently looking
for a piece of old timber, and before very long he settled down to work
not more than sixty yards from us. The regular chomp, chomp of an axe
told us that he at any rate had discovered nothing suspicious; but of
course all prospects of further sleep vanished until his departure at
midday with a barrowful of wood.

About this time I for one began to get ravenously hungry, and forthwith
made a meal of a precious piece of chocolate. A sixpenny bar of
Cadbury’s chocolate does not go very far after a long march, but as I
had nothing else whatever it had to do. Don’t let the reader imagine I
greedily ate the lot. Oh no! I took about three-quarters of it,
sufficient for the day, but at the same time I thought with longing of
my improvised ruck-sack and the good things it contained, either lying
on the Bonn-Düsseldorf railway line or elating the greedy spirit of some
beastly Boche.

After the departure of the old woodcutter the day passed fairly
peaceably until about 3 p.m., when the barking of a dog in our near
vicinity “put our wind up,” as the expression goes. Suddenly the
stillness of the wood was rudely broken by the sound of a shot, and we
could distinctly hear the fall of a bird as it crashed through the trees
with a thud to earth, followed by the yapping of the dog as it ran its
quarry down. The hunter then tramped all over the wood, tapping the
trees, evidently in search of more sport, and in so doing he passed
within ten yards of us. All this time we lay with our bodies pressed to
earth in a perfect agony of doubt. As for myself, it seemed impossible
that the hunter could fail to hear the wild pounding of my heart; but
the danger passed, and again silence reigned in the little wood.

Not for long were we to be left in peace. The old woodcutter returned,
and this time he took up his position a good bit nearer than before, and
chopped away hard till nearly dusk, when at last he again went off with
his old barrow. If one carefully analyses one’s feelings and sensations
in moments of excitement such as these, through what extraordinary
vicissitudes does imagination lead one. For instance, in the almost
infinitesimal space of time between the report of the hunter’s gun and
the sound of his quarry dropping to earth I lived a lifetime. We had
been seen; we were surrounded; armed men had been sent to take us; we
would be led back in triumph to the hell that awaits prisoners; and then
the sound of the quarry falling through the trees, the swift realisation
that the enemy is only hunting game and not you, the wild relief and the
bodily demand for a drop of brandy or something to pull oneself
together, which follows after all great mental strain.

About dusk we crept out of our old drain into the shelter of the wood,
stiff with cramp and cold, but with the glorious feeling that so far we
were safe, that we were already twenty-five miles nearer home, and that
another night of swift action lay before us, at the end of which we
would, please God, be still nearer. At 7 o’clock we again started
trekking. Little of moment happened to us during the early part of the
evening, and by 9.30 we had made a good ten miles, and were casting
round for the railway for which we were in search. Our progress now
became very slow; thick white clouds obscured the face of the moon; a
rapid thaw had set in, and our way was barred by a series of deep
rivulets running through an old and decayed wood stretching for many
miles on each side of us. Here we very soon lost all idea of direction,
and decided to retrace our steps as best we could and strike still
farther north.

By good luck we came within a hundred yards or so of the spot from where
we had started before entering this wooded country. Having got our
direction again, we struck north, to find ourselves getting into more
marshy country as we advanced. After having walked for some distance
over wet fields of a spongy nature, sometimes up to our knees in water,
we came upon a small river, which we followed northwards until we struck
the much-hoped-for railway-track that we were in search of, running due
west and cutting the river at right angles, in accordance with my
previous calculation. Making sure there was no sort of guard on the
bridge, we drew ourselves out of the marsh, to stand with relief for a
moment on the firm dry track, before passing over the bridge and
proceeding on our adventures.

Pushing on again, we kept to the track as long as it ran due west, and
within a few miles struck the second river which we had hoped to find,
and thus placed a formidable obstacle behind us. Our exact position was
now known with relation to the network of railways on which our minds
were concentrated. The line which we were now on would run due west for
a mile or two, and then bend southward in a big curve before running
west again, when it would bridge the Grand Canal. Our object was now to
make use of this bridge if possible, but we did not feel justified in
remaining on the line until the bridge was reached, owing to the fact
that, as far as we could remember the map, there appeared to be a
station or siding through which the line ran soon after it began to turn
southward. Accordingly we stuck to the rails as long as they ran
westward, after which we left the track with the very greatest
reluctance, to again plunge into the marsh, maintaining our fixed
purpose of travelling due west whenever possible.

Very soon the sight of our friendly track was lost to view, and we had
not advanced more than a mile or two before we began to consider that
perhaps we should have done better to stick to it, whatever the
consequences, as the difficulties of advancing through the marsh were
becoming more serious as we proceeded. We were now well over our knees
and often up to the waist in water and slime. The moon had unveiled
herself, much to our discomfort, and before very long she was shining in
a cloudless sky, which caused us to call a halt for the purpose of
consultation as to the best procedure under the circumstances. Was it
best to go on as we were? We were doing fairly well, but making a
terrific noise in advancing through the marsh, which was absolutely
unavoidable. Four people cannot push their way through mud and slush
nearly up to their waists without making a disturbance. This was well
enough so long as it was dark. If any of the enemy did happen to be in
the neighbourhood, they would probably conclude that the noise in the
marsh was caused by cattle; but now that we could see almost as well as
if it were day, we could therefore just as easily be seen in turn. The
sight of four men wading through dangerously swampy country in the
middle of the night in close proximity to the frontier in war-time would
raise the suspicions of the most simple-minded.

However, our consultation did not lead to any better results, and we
were losing valuable time. The general opinion turned out to be contrary
to retracing our steps, for many reasons: first, the fear of losing our
direction; secondly, if we did strike the railway line again, we might
be forced to leave it, and find ourselves in the same position that we
were now in. Should we happen to run up against somebody, the
impossibility of finding to what extent these marshes extended to our
right and left, without running grave risk and again losing time, and
many other minor reasons, decided us to proceed as rapidly as the
difficulties of our route would permit.

Within a couple of miles we found ourselves, to our great joy, on the
banks of the expected Grand Canal. When I say banks, we were standing up
to our waists in water and long lush grass, a heavy damp white mist hung
over everything, and we could just see over the other side of the canal,
which was evidently a great deal more swampy than our side. Large
patches of water, unbroken by reeds, gleamed here and there. To swim the
canal would be easy, but to advance on the other side looked impossible.
Accordingly we decided to follow the canal southward as best we could,
in the hope of striking the railway line again, which must bridge the
canal in some place or other in our near vicinity. Hardly had we
proceeded a couple of hundred yards or so, when the expected bridge
suddenly loomed out of the mist.

The natural elation caused by the sight of this bridge was quickly
damped as we approached, for there on the far side of the bridge was a
small black shed. It appeared as if this would be one of those occasions
where we should be forced to take a risk. Accordingly we advanced to the
track with the least possible noise, taking the very greatest care to
prevent any rustling of the reeds in our path, climbed to the track, and
lay on our stomachs whilst we took a cautious survey. After a few
minutes’ reflection I rose to my hands and knees, and crawled up to and
over the bridge, and lay within ten feet of it on the other side, where
I could distinctly hear a gentle snore, that told of some sort of human
inmate; also I now noticed for the first time a very thin wisp of smoke
curling up from the cabin chimney--this we had not been able to see
before, owing to the thickness of the mist. The fellow in the cabin,
soldier or civilian, whoever he was, continued to give out comforting
little snores. Accordingly I signalled to the rest of my companions to
crawl over as I had done, and one by one they succeeded in doing so
without making any appreciable sound, but for me waiting on the other
side it seemed as if each one took a lifetime. But the bridge guard
slept on, and we all crossed with perfect safety, to immediately push
off again down the track with the utmost possible speed, in order to
leave this unwelcome neighbourhood behind.

Now that we had put the two rivers and the Grand Canal behind us, we
felt that we had done a very good night’s work, even if we made no more
progress that night; but it was only 1.30 a.m., and we had at least
three if not nearly four hours before daybreak, in which another ten
miles might be made. As we advanced the land to our right and left grew
gradually more swampy; sometimes large expanses of shining water came
into view on either side of us, and we thanked our stars we had risked
the bridge, as, had we essayed to pass through country like this, our
progress would have become _nil_, even if we survived drowning.

Within a couple of miles the land gradually began to take on a drier
aspect, until eventually dry ground showed on both sides of us. Here we
took a general survey of our direction by the aid of the stars, and
found we were travelling south by west. This had to be corrected, so we
now left the track on which we had made such excellent progress, and
struck off west over dry land, which led us to a series of gently
sloping hills, looking something like the downs at home. Every bit of
available ground was under cultivation, and on several occasions dogs
barked out their warning from small farms which we passed.

The difficulties of keeping direction were now fully brought home to us.
For instance, we would approach a block of farm buildings, and, in order
to prevent attracting the attention of any dogs, we would make a
half-circle round the buildings and strike off west by the stars on the
other side. In this manner we must have dropped a tremendous distance
southward, as was afterwards proved, although we were always travelling
west. It is practically impossible to tell when you have made a circle
round a village or building without sufficient landmarks to guide you,
and at night it becomes an impossibility. We would walk round a village
or other obstacle which we wished to avoid, till it seemed to us that we
had more than half-circled it; but in reality we probably only went
about a quarter the distance round. At one place a dog followed us up
almost to the top of one of these rolling fields, and barked until we
thought he must alarm the whole of Germany. Meanwhile we lay with our
noses pressed to earth; the moon was at her brightest; and we were on
the highest ground, and could certainly be seen from a great distance.
Consequently we did not appreciate the attentions of the dogs in
advertising our presence in the neighbourhood.

In order to avoid the chance of our figures being seen against the
skyline, we crawled over the hilltop until we were well over and down
the other side, which brought us to more plough, ending in a densely
wooded region of thickets, through which we at first essayed to pass,
but found it no easy matter without making a lot of noise, caused by the
snapping of the dried undergrowth through which we tried to force a
passage. Withdrawing from what seemed a dangerous area, we held a
hurried consultation, which ended in our deciding to split up into pairs
and make our way through this region of undergrowth at two different
points, some distance from each other, and meet on the other side if
possible. Should we fail to meet directly, it was no good wasting time
looking for each other.

Anyhow, we were rapidly approaching the spot where we might find it
necessary for the safety of our project to split up into pairs, as four
people are much more likely to be seen than two. And we had no intention
of essaying the actual frontier or its immediate environment at our
present strength, though we might probably attempt it singly or in
pairs.



CHAPTER XIII

WE HIDE IN A DRAIN


It must have been a good hour before we eventually got clear of the
thickets, and our passage through them had been a pretty noisy one. No
sign of the other pair could be seen, so that after scouting round for
about twenty minutes we moved off again.

My companion was Captain Stewart of the R.F.A., and a more staunch
fellow in a hazard of this kind could not possibly be desired. From this
time on we made excellent progress through the night, and nothing of
note happened until just before the break of dawn, when we had great
difficulty in finding a suitable place to hide in during the day.
Eventually we discovered a ditch between two fields, in which we passed
the day without incident. The extreme cold, coupled with the want of
food, was beginning to tell on us, as we lay too weary to care very much
what happened, so long as only the night would come, that we might push
on again and get some circulation in our limbs. At about 7 p.m. we
started to rub our feet and legs, which appeared quite dead, and at 7.30
pushed off at a good pace. Before long we felt quite warm and
comfortable, with the exception of a gnawing sensation in the vitals,
owing of course to lack of food.

From here on till about one in the morning no incident worthy of record
happened--only the same careful skirting of villages and farms, keeping
always to the open country, and avoiding all paths and roads like the
plague. About one o’clock, to our surprise, we struck a railway line
running south-west. This we followed, not on the line, but parallel
with it, at a distance of about a hundred yards. Once or twice we heard
voices on level crossings. The reason of our following the railway was
that we had not expected to meet one so soon--in fact; not until the
following night, and then we calculated we should have to turn south for
quite ten miles in order to find it. This railway would be of enormous
importance to us, as it ran over an artificial embankment, constructed
through the centre of a lake, and thus dividing it in two, both of which
portions were connected on either side by a series of small lakes,
stretching north and south respectively, and were, I presumed, the means
by which the surrounding low-lying country was inundated.

These small lakes, which should run parallel with the frontier,
according to the maps we had seen, formed a very serious obstacle to our
advance. It was therefore of the greatest importance to find some means
to help us over the difficulty, and this railway seemed to be the only
one. If the railway we were now following passed between two small towns
situated nearly opposite to one another, and then passed through a third
within a mile or so of the last two, then this was the line running
through the lakes which we had hoped eventually to strike, in which case
we had inadvertently come across it, and were a great deal nearer the
frontier than we had thought possible. However, we did not credit such
good luck for a moment; for, in reasoning the matter out, we must have
dropped a good ten or twelve miles south from where we had started the
previous night in order to be anywhere near this railway line. To our
great satisfaction, in carrying out our intention of following this
chance line, at about 3.30 a.m. we passed between two small towns, this
time walking on the track itself, and leaving it again when we were well
clear of the outskirts.

Pushing forward at our very best speed till about four o’clock, we
found ourselves approaching another town, through which the railway ran.
A careful survey showed a station and several sidings. During this
investigation we found the inhabitants were preparing for the coming
day, and, looking at our watches, discovered, to our consternation, that
it was nearly five o’clock. Where could we find a suitable hiding-place?
We hadn’t passed anything on the way that would give shelter to a rat,
so there was nothing to be gained by retracing our steps. To try to walk
round the town might end in our being caught by the daylight, having
found no place of concealment. The only possible procedure in these
circumstances was to pass through the town on the track as best we
could. Accordingly we moved off, sometimes crawling on hands and knees
wherever we saw anything that we were not quite sure of. We tried to get
under big heaps of timber and steel rails lying beside the track, but no
consolation in the shape of a hiding-place of any sort offered itself.

We had proceeded through the town in safety, but were brought up sharp
by a party of workmen coming along the line from an opposite direction.
Fortunately we were practically on the outskirts, so that we were able
to dodge into a small garden till they passed. By this time the whole
town seemed to be awake, the usual warning lights springing up in the
cottages all round us, and day was just about to break. Passing through
the garden in our frantic endeavours to discover some place, we found
ourselves in a small fir wood, through which we rushed, heedless of the
noise we were making. Anything to get away from this dangerous spot! Why
had we come near the beastly town at all? What fools we were to be
caught by the oncoming daylight in such a dangerous place! These and
other thoughts crowded through our minds as we rushed ahead.

Leaving the wood behind us--for we could find no place either in the
trees or underneath them that a squirrel could hide in--we found
ourselves in more or less open country. Only the lights of a few
scattered cottages gleaming here and there showed that we were not out
of the danger zone yet. A little way to our left we spotted another
small wood or clearing that looked as if it might offer shelter of some
kind. To this we advanced with as much caution as possible, only to find
no undergrowth of any kind.

Things began to look desperate, voices were heard on all sides of us,
and a man came tramping through the clearing in which we were. Throwing
ourselves down, we waited with bated breath for him to pass. As soon as
he had disappeared I’m afraid we lost our heads for a short space.
Beneath our feet was a thick carpet of dead leaves. The ridiculous idea
that we could hide ourselves beneath these struck us both
simultaneously, and with one accord we fell on our knees and began
frantically scratching up the leaves in wild despair, until we got down
to the rotten mossy bed beneath, and after a few minutes succeeded, with
broken and bleeding nails, in scratching a hole large enough to hold our
bodies; but to pull the leaves over us from the inside, so that they
would look undisturbed, we found to be an impossible task.

For a moment or so I lay back in the little grave I had dug and gave
myself up to despair, and then suddenly it dawned upon me that this was
not the way to make a successful escape. We were in a very bad position,
but we were not acting with the coolness necessary to bring about a
successful issue to our project. Forthwith I jumped up, and the two of
us moved out of the clearing and scouted through the open country,
travelling in what we thought must be a westerly direction. Very soon we
espied another small clearing, this time to our right. Immediately we
made our way to it with the utmost caution, only to find that here also
there was no place of concealment. But on leaving this clearing on the
farther side we came across a deep drain about two feet broad and four
feet deep, with four inches of water in the bottom. Following this drain
down its length to right and left, we found it was just the place in
which to lie concealed, if only we could find some sort of covering for
the top that would look anything like natural.

Unfortunately it was now practically light, and there was great danger
that we might be seen whilst trying to construct a roof. Without some
sort of covering we would almost certainly be discovered by the first
passer-by. With this in view the two of us hastily snapped off a few
small branches from the neighbouring clearing, and stuck them into the
sides of the top of the drain, so as to form a rough frame-work; then
tearing up some ferns of old-man’s-hair which we found growing along
the edge of the wood, we arranged them as quickly as we could on the top
of the frame of branches, and removing our boots we wriggled in one by
one, drawing them after us. This was all right for the first one, but
extremely difficult for the second, owing to the want of space in our
retreat, since there was no room for each of us to lie on our backs. We
had therefore to wedge ourselves in, lying like a pair of spoons on our
side, pressed so close together that the slightest movement became
impossible.

Our first sensations were of intense satisfaction at having at last
found a place where we stood a reasonable chance of not being
discovered, and great bodily relief after our long trek of the night
before. Before long we felt the strain of supporting our heads above the
water, in which we were partly immersed, but were able at length to
alleviate this with the aid of our boots, which we contemplated using as
pillows, though this was more easily thought of than done, as, owing to
our wedged position, neither of us could put a hand out to reach the
boots and draw them under our heads, although they were not more than
six inches away, so that this had to be brought about by one of us
rolling over on top of the other before he could get a hand free. This
being accomplished, he rolled back into his old position, with the added
comfort of the boots as a pillow.

For a time we composed ourselves to rest with a sigh of content, only
too glad to feel that we were at least out of the danger of immediate
discovery; but before very long we began to realise that we had a very
bad time in front of us. Fortunately it was not given to us to know how
bad that day’s experience would be--one that we should ever afterwards
remember as the most terrible of our lives. No description of the awful
time we spent in that drain, however vivid, could possibly depict the
agonies of body through which we went. Owing to the cold and damp, we
were first assailed in turn by an ague which nothing could suppress, our
teeth rattling like castanets. This changed to the most severe cramp of
the stomach and legs, which, owing to our position and not being able to
move, it was impossible to alleviate. The cramp lasted till nearly
midday, when quite suddenly it passed away, to be succeeded by a
complete deadening of the limbs from the feet upwards--in fact, from the
waist downwards we were as if made of stone, without any sign of feeling
or life whatsoever. This was really a great mercy, as it relieved our
previous suffering--anything was better than that awful cramp.

But now the likely possibility flashed across our minds that, when
nightfall came, we might not be able to continue our journey, if indeed
we should be able to walk at all; and even if we got the circulation
back into our legs and stuck it out during the following night, but did
not succeed in crossing the frontier, should we be able to last another
day and night without food, and could we possibly stand another day like
this? Of course we should go on till we collapsed, but for that matter
we might have done that already. We could only wait for nightfall to put
it to the test.

Soon after the cramp had left us a party of children passed, so close
indeed that it seemed as if they must be walking almost on top of us. We
feared they might be poking along the drain in search of minnows or
something. The danger passed, but for some little time we could hear
children’s voices, which kept us in a perpetual fear that some game or
other might lead them accidentally to stumble upon us. From this time on
pedestrians passed close by, either singly or in pairs at varying
intervals, which brought us to the conclusion that we had chosen a spot
near to some footpath or other across the fields, as we afterwards
discovered to be the case. Just about this period it began to rain
pretty hard, for which we were very thankful, although it made us more
uncomfortable than ever, as we calculated it would reduce the number of
pedestrians who would be likely to take a footpath across the fields.

Until the time when the first lot of children had passed, playing by the
way as they went, we had felt pretty secure in our retreat, which was
our chief consolation for being in such an awfully cramped place; but
now that the danger of detection was becoming more frequent, owing to
our close proximity to a path of some sort, we began to suffer mentally
as well as physically. It was not long before we discovered that, if the
rain reduced the number of people likely to be abroad in the fields, it
was also very considerably diminishing our head-covering, which, if the
rain did not soon cease, would be reduced to a minimum, on account of
its being chiefly composed of old-man’s-hair fern, which, as most people
know, is a kind of grey fibre, very much like horsehair. These hairs,
when dry, had formed a beautiful thick and fluffy covering, but now that
they were soaked with rain they had become shrivelled and hung down in
lank tresses. We could now see out perfectly clearly; but owing to the
depth of the drain, and not being able to move, we could not observe
anybody who passed, though we felt their eyes could not fail to spot us,
which is, I know, very bad reasoning, since one can always see a
passer-by from the window of a room without being seen in return.

But philosophic reasoning such as this requires a better mental and
physical condition than was ours at that time. Consequently we suffered
tortures every time any one passed by. In one case in particular our
nerves were strained to breaking-point. A man came along the path,
carelessly humming a tune to himself. Just as he was passing us he
suddenly stopped, and so apparently did our hearts. For a moment or two
he stood motionless. How long he actually remained, or why he did so, I
cannot tell, but to us it seemed a thousand years. Finally he moved off
and started humming again, though he took our peace of mind with him. We
felt sure that he must have seen us, but had feared to take us on
single-handed, and had now gone to summon help. For that every German
kept his eyes and ears open in the hopes of detecting escaped prisoners
we were well aware, as the reward offered by the German Government for
such information as might lead to the capture of prisoners was very
considerable, especially for the hated English. Rumour had it that any
person lodging reliable information received the sum of two thousand
marks.

What should we do? If we crawled out, it would probably be hours before
we got our legs to work, in the meantime being exposed to the view of
everybody. No! we must stay, and pray that we were mistaken and had not
been seen. From this time on, however, we were a prey to the most
harassing fears, as we listened with bated breath for the slightest
sound which might foretell the coming of our captors. One or two more
pedestrians passed, and at the coming of each we thought the game was
up, but all went by without incident. Towards 6 p.m. the rain ceased,
but the sky was overcast with heavy grey clouds, which, with the coming
of dusk, decided us to try to extricate ourselves.



CHAPTER XIV

MAKING FOR THE FRONTIER


It was with the very greatest difficulty that we got out of that ghastly
drain, owing to having lost the use of our lower limbs. Eventually my
companion was the first to get clear, but it took a good quarter of an
hour’s work to accomplish this, and it was brought about by my placing
my right arm (my left was pinned underneath me) round his neck and
endeavouring to draw him over on the top of me, he at the same time
pressing with both his hands against the opposite wall of the drain, and
the two of us pulling and pressing in jerks, until finally he succeeded
in rolling over on top. I was now able to edge my body into a flatter
position at the bottom of the drain, owing to the removal of my friend’s
body making more room, at the same time supporting his weight on the top
of mine. We were now no longer wedged, so that he was able to pull
himself out by pressing on the two sides of the drain with his hands,
and thus gradually edging himself along, dragging his useless legs
behind him.

As soon as he was clear and I had had time to recover from my previous
exertion, I succeeded in dragging myself out in the same way, the two of
us edging along until we found a broader part of the drain, when,
pulling ourselves to a sitting position, we tried to induce the
circulation to return to our legs, which we did by putting our hands
under the knee-joints and raising them up and down. After about twenty
minutes of this, both of us began to experience excruciating pain as the
blood came back. However, we worked away with joy, the return of pain
also indicating the return of circulation, and therefore the use of our
limbs. It must have been nearly seven o’clock before we were able to
scramble out of the drain and crawl to the shelter of the clearing close
by. As it was not yet quite dark we felt that we should be safer in the
clearing than in an open drain so close to the footpath; also we must
get rid of some of the water in our clothes.

Crawling to the wood had still further aided our circulation, so that
before long we were practising walking, which at first was not at all
reassuring, but improved as we began to warm up. The two of us could not
help laughing at ourselves during the time we were trying to walk about,
when a leg would suddenly give way, precipitating the owner to earth.
Very gradually we began to get the full use of our legs. This difficulty
having been overcome, we proceeded to take off our clothes, in order
that we might wring the water from them. I then cautiously returned to
the drain for my boots, which I had the very greatest difficulty in
putting on. However, we were equipped and ready for the final venture at
a little past eight o’clock, when we moved off westward as jolly as a
couple of sand-boys. All the horrors of the past twelve hours were
forgotten; the farther we walked the warmer we got, and in consequence
more optimistic. Good heavens! what feeble rats we had been! We were
good for another week of this, and we felt that all was well with us.

Our object now was to strike the railway on which we had passed through
the town the night before, when we had left it in order to avoid the
party of workmen coming towards us. We had then rushed to our left;
consequently the line must be somewhere to our right, so that we now
travelled in the direction we judged to be north-west, according to our
calculations during the day. As the stars were not yet visible we had
nothing definite to guide us. Every moment we expected to strike the
line, but it must have been quite nine o’clock before we eventually did
so, although we had thought it could not have been more than half a mile
away from our last hiding-place. On reaching it we carried out the same
tactics as on the night before--that is, following the direction of the
line at a distance of about one hundred yards. Several times our nerves
were harassed by hearing voices; but we stuck to it for over an hour,
when we found ourselves walking into a thin mist of white vapour, which
got thicker as we advanced. We hoped greatly that this mist might be
rising off the expected area of lakes, so that we advanced with added
caution, and crossed two main roads, on which the level crossings were
lit up. Distinct sounds of people in conversation could be heard at each
crossing. Very soon we began to get into wet and boggy ground, which
decided us to make for the track, walking along it as quietly as we
could. The heavens were now beginning to clear up gradually, and one by
one the stars appeared.

We had not proceeded along the track more than half a mile when we
passed a small cottage at the side of the line. Hurrying past this as
noiselessly as possible, we were brought up sharp by a railing and large
five-barred gate across the line. At the moment when we were about to
climb the gate, the door of the cottage opened and a man stalked out.
Possibly he did not see us, but he could not fail to hear us. We were
over the gate in the twinkling of an eye, and were preparing to run for
it; but fortunately our presence of mind returned as quickly as it had
fled, and we walked on at a comfortable and leisurely pace. The man
followed us, and was gaining. If he was a guard, why did he not call on
us to halt? He could not have been more than forty yards away. We
quickened our pace a bit, just enough to keep the distance between us
equal. The blood was beating in our temples and throats; we wanted to
run, but we dared not even look behind us.

On we walked, our imagination running riot. We must have proceeded in
this manner for a good half-mile, when suddenly I perceived that we were
in the middle of a lake. We were indeed walking on the very embankment
running over the lakes that we had calculated on. That we had actually
arrived at the lake and walked over it for some distance without
noticing it showed the state of nervous tension we were in. Nothing had
taken our minds off the man, who was still following us, inexorable as
fate itself. Very soon the reason why he had not challenged us was borne
in upon us. Of course on the other side of the lake there would be
another gate and guard, into whose arms we should walk and be taken like
rats in a trap. Should I stop and hold him in conversation whilst my
companion struck him down from behind? For it must be done silently.
Yes, we must do this. But the idea of killing in cold blood is awful,
and we walked on yet another one hundred yards. In doing so we passed a
big iron wheel and sluice-gate, connecting the two sides of the lake
through the embankment.

A little farther on we noticed a clump of small bushes growing on the
sloping sides of the embankment. This would be a good place in which to
make an end of him. Silently we waited. The man reached the sluice-gate
and stopped. He had missed us and was listening for our footsteps, we
thought. But no! after a minute or two we heard the sluice-gate
screeching out its note through the night air, to be followed by a rush
of water. He must be the attendant of the sluice-gate. Thank God!
Perhaps we had not raised his suspicions, so we hoped to hear him
walking away, or that he would walk past us, and thus perhaps give us
warning of what lay in front of us. But the rush of the water seemed to
drown all sound. Cautiously I crawled back to the sluice, nearer and
nearer, until I stood upon it. There was no man; he must have gone back.
His suspicions had not been aroused.

I returned to my companion, and we moved off again, but soon decided
that, walking as carefully as we could, we were making too much noise.
To alleviate this, we stopped whilst I took off my boots. I had been
wearing three pairs of socks till now, so I drew off the two thickest
pairs, replaced my boots, and handed one pair of socks to my companion,
when we both put them over our boots. This muffled the sound of our
footsteps considerably.

As we advanced, we noticed the embankment getting perceptibly wider;
also that, whereas as heretofore there had been no mist hanging over the
water of the lake itself, we were now running into a thin white vapour,
which increased as we proceeded. From this we concluded that we were
approaching the opposite bank, and must therefore increase our
precaution. The sides of the embankment were now studded plentifully
with small bushes, of which fact we took full benefit, moving from bush
to bush as we went along. During our progress we noticed that we were no
longer surrounded by water on either side, but by a slimy-looking bog,
sprinkled here and there with tall reeds. We tried this bog, but
immediately sank up to our knees in filthy mud, so that we were forced
to return to the track. A little farther on we again tried the bog; it
was dry this time, but still too bad to venture over.

The moon now thought it was about time she showed her presence on the
scene. Fortunately she was baulked of her full design by a veil of thin
clouds, to which we sent up prayers of thankfulness, with a courteous
request not to move off. Suddenly a brilliant speck of light shone out
in the centre of the track, which immediately made us take to our
knees, on which we crawled until we were within fifty yards of the
light. As we had suspected, we could now detect a big gate across the
track, upon which the light we had seen seemed to be suspended. As we
were making plans how we should pass over this barrier, a man came out
from a hut which we had not noticed before, owing to its being in the
shadows. He advanced to the light and unhooked it, carrying it with him
back to his cabin and placing it on the ground outside his door.

Without waiting for any further developments, we crawled into the bog on
our left. Fortunately it was fairly dry here, so we did not sink very
much, but found it difficult to advance without making a certain amount
of sucking noise as we crawled, caused by pulling our hands and knees
out of the mud. We must have made more noise than we thought, for we
undoubtedly raised his suspicions, as he came out of his hut and stood
listening. Of course we stopped at once on seeing him, and cowered down
into the mud; and although he could not possibly see, he went back to
the cabin, and in a short space of time returned with his gun, to which
we could hear him fixing his bayonet. During the time he was away, which
was perhaps two minutes, we had taken advantage of his absence to crawl
a good twenty yards farther away from him.

The reader may be surprised that we were able to distinguish his
movements so well, but it must be remembered that he was standing on the
railway embankment, whilst we were about thirty feet below him in the
bog; consequently to us his figure stood out quite clearly against the
skyline. For a while he remained motionless (needless to say we did the
same); then he walked to the far side of the track, and descended out of
view for a few seconds, a fact of which we took instant advantage to
creep away another ten yards. This time he must have heard us again,
for he passed off the track and started to descend towards us. We were
just about to rise and make a bolt for it, when he stopped half-way down
the slope, listening intently; then he quickly climbed to the track,
seized his lantern, and placed it inside his hat. It had evidently
struck him that his light was advertising his movements. Again we put
yet another twenty yards between us, and in so doing crawled up a slight
incline, the ground beneath us becoming drier at every step, until we
found ourselves on a road, where we lay flat on our stomachs, watching
for the next move of the sentry.

It was perfectly evident that his suspicions were fully aroused, for he
was walking about like a cat on hot bricks. His actual movements we were
now too far away to discern with any accuracy. The road we were lying on
cut the railway line at right angles; hence the gate--it was a level
crossing. The line, as we knew, was running west; therefore this road
was due north and south. We decided to get on and join the railway line
again, when we had made a big enough detour round the sentry. To do this
we had to crawl one by one across the road on our stomachs, fearing that
the whiteness of the road would show up our figures in too strong relief
if we crawled in the ordinary manner. On the other side was a hedge of
prickly brambles. Over it we scrambled, to be pierced by a hundred
thorns. On the far side of the hedge was a steep bank, and then--great
heavens!--another lake!

The road as well as the railway line was built on an embankment. I
essayed to wade the water. It was past my depth. Silently we returned to
the hedge, and began to help each other over, when suddenly I felt my
companion grip my arm. The two of us remained motionless; the grip on my
arm gradually tightened, which I took to mean silence, so I stood
without moving, asking no questions, and all the time half supporting
my companion’s weight, who was perched on the hedge, with one leg the
other side. Gradually he allowed his whole weight to rest on me, giving
me a little nudge at the same time. Straining every muscle, I placed him
on his own feet without making a sound; then, as we waited, hardly
daring to breathe, suddenly a man cleared his throat with a little
cough.

Great heavens! he could not be six feet away, and I realised that, had
my friend got over the hedge, he must have fallen almost into his arms.
For a moment I felt petrified by the impending danger which had come
upon us. Suddenly out of the dark, but before my brain had seized upon a
plan of action, we heard a bell clang out its warning from the direction
of the level crossing. Simultaneously we heard the sentry shuffle round
on the road and walk off. As the sound of his retreating footsteps grew
fainter, we took the advantage of scrambling over the hedge as quickly
as possible, cowering down under the shadow of the other side, where we
waited a few seconds, in order to make sure that the sentry was not
returning. Then we started to crawl away down the road, always keeping
as close to the friendly shelter of the hedge as possible. Before we had
proceeded very far we were startled by the shrill whistle of an engine.
A moment or two and we could hear a heavy train panting towards us, and
as she passed over the crossing we rose to our feet, and did a good
couple of hundred yards’ sprint down the road leading directly
southward, feeling quite sure that the noise of the heavy train
lumbering by would completely drown the sound of our hurrying feet.

Here we essayed the swamp again, but found it impossible, so at last we
decided to follow the road south till we found dry ground to our right.
About half an hour’s walking brought us to a very small village on the
edge of the marsh, really only a few scattered cottages; through this
we went with the very greatest precaution, as there were still lights to
be seen in one or two of the cottages. Immediately we passed through we
found a great expanse of ploughed fields to our right. Over this we made
our way, going slightly north again, in order to strike the south end of
the swamp, and thus keep in touch with it and our beloved railway line,
which still apparently ran through the middle of it. Gradually the
ploughed fields began to descend towards the bog, and in our anxiety to
make sure of the bog we passed quite close to a big barn that had
escaped our notice. As we did so a dog inside began to bark furiously.
Instantly we rushed away southward again, the dog continuing to bark as
long as we were in hearing.

Again we endeavoured to make the margin of the bog. After having made a
wide detour round the barn we struck it in safety, but this time it
appeared to be drier, much to our satisfaction. We tried to walk on it,
but it was not possible as yet. Following the bank, which ran almost due
west, we tried it again. After about another mile it was still too wet,
but here and there a solitary tree could be seen growing. These
increased in number as we advanced, until at last we were brought up by
a decayed wood, through which numerous rivulets were running. Here we
plunged into the wood, over our ankles in peaty bog, and advanced
northward in another attempt to hit the railway. Our progress was very
slow, as we constantly had to jump ditches, some of which were too broad
for us to make a successful landing on the other side, when we would
slide back into the slimy water, only to pull ourselves out with
difficulty.

In one place was a rivulet about forty feet wide, which of course it was
impossible to jump. Noticing a heavy log on our side, we pushed it into
the water, and reached the opposite bank one by one astride the log.
This was not so easy as it seems, as the log rolled first this way and
then that; but we finally managed to cross in safety without wetting the
upper part of our bodies. Some people might say we ought to have jumped
in and swum over, but they must remember the condition we were in. Both
of us feared that, if we once got into the water, cramp might again
overtake us.

Whilst still advancing northward we passed to higher ground, which grew
drier as we proceeded, and before we had gone very far we suddenly
stumbled on to the railway. Joy of joys! we had got our direction once
more, when, following the railway for about a mile, which was still
running due west, quite suddenly it branched southward. This rather put
us off, but we decided to follow it for a little while longer; and a
very good thing we did, as before long we were brought up sharp by
numerous lines of lights, showing like pin-pricks in the darkness, some
being red, others green. This must be a big junction of some kind. We
crept cautiously nearer, more lights showing as we advanced. By the side
of the track was a big hedge; to this we made our way, and lay down in
the shelter of its shadow.

For the first time we realised that we were both very tired, but,
strange to say, not in the least hungry--in fact, neither of us could
have eaten anything, even if we had had it. As we lay resting ourselves
the bells of a neighbouring church chimed out the hour of twelve. Good
heavens! only five hours to daylight; we must get on. Each said to the
other we must start at once, but neither of us moved, our limbs refusing
to obey us. I had a violent pain in the chest, my head ached, and my
teeth would not cease from chattering. In the end the spirit gained over
the flesh, and the two of us moved nearer to the lights, when, suddenly
looking to our right, we discovered a bright light in the sky to the
north. Great Scott! that must be the town of V----; there cannot be any
other place big enough within fifty miles of here which could shed such
a light as that, and V---- was three miles over the Dutch frontier. My
companion refused to believe we could be so near, but I insisted. “Then,
what is this town in front of us?” “It must be K----,” I replied--which
is, as you know, just on this side of the frontier and south-west of
V----.

For the moment our pains were forgotten, as we made towards the welcome
lights of V----. But our troubles had only just begun; the climax of the
venture was to come.



CHAPTER XV

ELUDING THE SENTRIES


As we walked towards V---- over heavily ploughed fields, we found that
we were very gradually ascending. On the way we passed a line of posts
running in a straight line north and south. Was this the boundary? They
were certainly boundary-posts of some kind. But then this could not be
the frontier, as we had seen no sentries at all, and we knew there were
at least two lines of them. Still pressing forward, only with added
precaution, dropping on our faces every time we heard a sound or saw
anything suspicious, we approached a sunken road, with what appeared to
be a line of blockhouses situated on it, at about a hundred yards
apart. These were occupied by soldiers, as once or twice a door opened,
letting out a flood of light, and exposing to view a man in German
uniform, who left his house and walked over to another one, carrying a
lantern. This he put out and went inside. All this time we were lying in
suspense not more than sixty yards from one of these blockhouses.

Immediately the soldier had disappeared we crawled over the road, and
advanced towards the glow in the sky already mentioned. Within a mile
the plough came to an end, and we found ourselves approaching what
appeared to be a long hedge, but when we came up to it we found it to be
the outskirts of a dense forest of broom. Into this we penetrated for a
few yards, when we came across a little path cut through the broom. Here
we held a whispered consultation, and decided that we did not like the
look of it at all. We lay down in the broom beside the path, in order to
hear any sound that might betray the fact that others were there
besides ourselves.

Hardly had we sunk into the broom when the intense silence of the place
was broken by the sound of footsteps, which came nearer and nearer,
until a sentry with his gun at the slope passed us on the path; he was
so close I could have touched him. It is not necessary to describe to
what a pitch of excitement we were brought by our discovery that we were
actually in the frontier lines. The moment of swift and fearless action
had arrived! Drawing out my penknife, I hastily cut the laces of my
boots, pulled them off, and padded silently in my stockinged feet down
the path after the sentry. Fortunately this path had not been cut in a
straight line, but wound about here and there, so that I was able to
slip after him from corner to corner. Once or twice I imagined that I
could distinguish his form in front of me, but I could hear the sound of
his heavy tramp distinctly enough to know if he stopped, otherwise I
might have come upon him suddenly round a corner.

We must have proceeded about seventy yards in this manner when the
soldier in front of me was challenged, but I could not catch the answer.
Then I distinctly heard two, if not three voices in conversation,
although I must have been quite thirty yards away, which led me to
believe that, for the moment at least, our presence had not been
suspected, or they would have been more careful to hush their voices.
Again a slight noise led me to believe that our sentry was on the move.
Instantly I slunk into the bushes to await events, thinking that perhaps
he might be going to return, but nothing happened until I heard another
challenge in front of me, this time very indistinct. I now came to the
conclusion that we were in a line of outposts, and that our sentry was
the visiting patrol, which turned out to be correct. If this was the
case, then there must be another sentry very close to the spot where I
had left my companion--too close, in fact, for peace of mind--and I
immediately started to retrace my steps.

On my way back I noticed for the first time that I had passed a number
of small paths, cut through the broom, in the same way as the one on
which I was, but running at right angles to it--in fact, going towards
what we supposed to be the frontier. Could we afford to risk taking one
of these? If there were any more sentries in front, certainly not.
Whilst absorbed in these meditations I suddenly heard something coming
towards me. Hurrying on, I arrived at the place where I supposed my
friend was, and plumped down into the bushes. In a few moments the same
sentry passed again, so close I could have touched him. Within from ten
to fifteen yards he was again challenged, to which he answered “Friend,”
after which I thought I heard a few mumbled words passed between them
about rain coming, and one of them moved off again. My difficulty now
was to find my companion without making any noise that the sentry near
us could hear. Creeping down the path, I tried to locate the place where
I had taken off my boots, but I was absolutely at sea, when to my
satisfaction I saw another figure creeping towards me.

Fortunately my friend had seen me come back, and had marked down my
position. We then discussed in whispers the result of my scouting
movement, deciding to take to the broom, and try to follow the direction
of one of the paths running at right angles. This we put into immediate
execution, but very soon found that the disturbance we were making would
be fatal to us, since it is almost impossible to walk or crawl through
thick whippy stuff like broom without making a noise; so, after having
gone a few yards, we decided to trust ourselves to one of the paths,
which we did, advancing along its edge and dodging from bush to bush.

The moon was now playing the most exasperating tricks; sometimes she
would be quite hidden, only suddenly to flash out again between the
light clouds which obscured the heavens. We must have made a bit over a
hundred yards or so, when we again heard somebody talking, this time
almost directly in front of us; so off we went into the broom again,
travelling south-west, and within a few minutes struck another path
running parallel with the one we had just left. This bucked us up, as we
thought we had escaped a sentry in front of us on the other path; but
our hopes were quickly dashed to the ground by the sight of the glowing
end of a cigarette right beside the path which we were now on, and not
more than thirty yards in front. For a few moments we felt rather
hopeless, but soon decided that we must risk crawling through the broom
between the two of them. Accordingly we again entered the broom, working
our way to a spot which we judged would be about equidistant between
the two sentries, and started to crawl forward, taking the most infinite
precautions.

We made our way through the broom, crawling one behind the other, the
foremost carefully parting the bushes and holding them back for the
passage of the one behind, in order that they might not whip back and
cause a suspicious sound. Every ten yards or so one of us would crane
his head cautiously above the broom to see if we were keeping direction
relative to the drives. It was during one of these surveys that we
discovered that we were on a level with the sentries on our right and
left respectively; for there to our right was the other man, who was
also smoking. “Blessed cigar, or whatever you are! What a splendid
beacon light you show!”

Crawling on, we left the line of sentries behind us, and had proceeded a
little distance when we found that the broom was gradually becoming
thinner and thickly interspersed with heather, until finally only thick
heather about a foot deep prevailed. Here we were able to notice that a
slight wind had sprung up, which was encouraging, as it lessened the
chances of our being heard. On the other hand, the moon had come out
from behind a big mass of clouds, so that we could be seen from a very
great distance. Fortunately she was sinking and would not trouble us
much longer. In front of us lay a long stretch of flat heather, over
which we must continue to crawl, both because our figures could easily
be seen by the sentries behind us and because we did not know what might
be in front of us.

We had passed through two lines, possibly we were actually over the
frontier; but we dare not risk this. The dispositions of sentries that
we had discovered and of those we had eliminated were as shown opposite.
Still crawling, we pushed forward slowly and cautiously--at first, in
order to

[Illustration]

make sure that the sentries behind could see nothing; then, when we had
put a good distance between us, we began to quicken the pace, until we
were almost running on our hands and knees. But the effort of crawling
for such a long period was quickly robbing us of what strength we had
left. Every ten or twenty yards we were forced to sink down into the
heather for a few moments’ rest, in order to gather a little more energy
to go on with, and also to stretch our legs out straight; for we were
now suffering agonies with cramp, brought about by the unwonted exercise
of the muscles utilised in crawling--even our tongues, were curling back
into our mouths; but we set our teeth and crawled on, in spite of the
cramp.

“We must succeed, we must beat the Boches! Gad! how sick they’ll be if
we get over! But shall we? Thank God, the people at home don’t know we
are hunted beasts, and they can’t see the danger we are in; but you see
it all, you old moon up there--you can see the dangers in front--you who
see all the doings of the night, what does fate hold in store?--you with
the tantalising smile, so cold and aloof! I’d swear at you, if I wasn’t
afraid of you. Please don’t stare so.”

Presently the moon sank behind a big cloud, and my friend and I were
able to rise to our feet and walk slowly forward. The relief of being
able once more to stretch our legs was intense. This did not last very
long, however, as we suddenly caught the sound of a man’s footsteps
pacing evenly upon some hard and ringing substance. Instantly we were on
our knees in the heather. Where on earth could the man be? There was no
road of any sort, as far as we had been able to see before the moon had
sunk behind the clouds. On every side of us was an unbroken expanse of
heather, yet the sound of somebody walking was unmistakable, and grew
more distinct as we crawled nearer. We were absolutely puzzled, when,
looking to our right, I saw another beacon light, perhaps one hundred
yards away. Somebody was smoking, and the smoker was moving. At first he
seemed to be coming towards us; but as our position could not be
bettered by advancing or retreating, we decided to stay where we were,
cowering down amongst the heather.

After a little while we decided that the light was moving away from us,
to suddenly disappear altogether. Cautiously we crawled forward again,
the sound of pacing growing so distinct that it seemed as if it could
not be more than a few feet away. Suddenly, without any warning, the two
of us found ourselves looking down into a sunken road, about forty feet
deep and perhaps one hundred and twenty feet across, into which we must
descend, down a steep sandy bank, to the hard surface of the road
beneath. The sound of some one pacing puzzled us no longer; for there,
not ten yards away, was a small hut, right in the middle of the sunken
road, on the other side of which somebody was pacing up and down. We
could not see the man, but we could distinguish when he was walking
towards us, when he stopped, and when he was walking in the opposite
direction.

Again we were disturbed by the sound of something moving roughly through
the heather behind us. We were now threatened on both sides, so that
immediate action was necessary. To slide down into the road, we waited
till the sentry was apparently walking away from us, and then let
ourselves head-first down the sandy slope. I dug my nails and toes into
the sand, but the descent was too steep. Swish! and I found myself lying
by the side of the road, waiting for my partner to follow suit. Swish!
and he too lay beside me. For a moment we listened to hear if the sentry
was on his return beat--we could not be sure. In that moment of waiting
the moon came out again clear and bright, and the steps of the sentry
were coming nearer and nearer. He could not fail to see us; our dark
bodies against the glistening white of the road must stand out in
relief. We lay still, hardly breathing. In a moment he would see
us--perhaps he had done so already; he was taking aim, and we waited for
the bullet. Oh the suspense of the moment! Slowly--it seemed ages--he
advanced, and then we heard him swing round, and he was walking away
again. Immediately we wormed our way on our stomachs across the road,
and attempted to climb the other side in silence; but it was steep and
sandy, similar to the side we had just come down, and for every two feet
we went up we came down one.

Once more the sentry was on his return journey, which forced us to be
silent again; but this time it was not so easy, as we were on the slope.
In vain we dug our hands and feet into the sand; we slipped down slowly
but surely, inch by inch. He could not fail to hear the slipping sand,
or so we thought; but he didn’t, and on his again walking away from us
we scrambled up, regardless of the noise we made. Still he seemed to
hear nothing, but we gained the top in safety.

As soon as we got our breath, and had time to survey our new position,
we found, to our surprise, that we were lying beside a new railway track
under construction. Directly up against us was a large heap of
flint-stones, evidently for use on the track. To pass over this, without
dislodging a single flint, would be impossible. However, get over it we
must, and we finally managed to cross without making very much
disturbance; but it was no joke for me, without any boots on. Once over
the other side, we hurried across the track. In front of us was a large
shed, evidently used for stores and tools, as there were several
wheelbarrows about. Fearing there might be a night watchman

[Illustration]

of some sort, we started to skirt round it to the right, and had not
cleared the track more than a few feet when we practically ran into the
arms of a sentry. Whether he saw us first or we him I do not know. He
wasn’t more than forty yards away, only a small hedge separating us from
him.

We were fairly caught. Immediately I grabbed my friend’s arm, and walked
him straight up to the tool-shed, knocking at the door. The sentry was
walking rapidly towards us. At the moment I knocked he called “Halt!” at
which the two of us doubled round the shed on the other side, putting it
between him and us. Twice we heard him frantically yell “Halt!” but we
had seen a tall hedge to our left, running in the direction we were
making for. To this we sprinted, and kept on running under its shadow,
till we dropped for want of breath. Every moment we expected to hear the
whiz of a bullet, but evidently we had shaken him off.

It was now pitch-dark, the moon having disappeared for good, for which
we were very thankful. But before we had recovered our breath
sufficiently to press on again, the silence of the night was rudely
broken by the sound of six shots, fired in quick succession. This firing
must have been half a mile to our right, but in the stillness of the
early morning it sounded very much nearer. Alas! in our own extremity of
the moment, we had forgotten the other pair of escapers. Fortunately we
never connected these shots with our late comrades, or the knowledge
would certainly have caused us great anxiety for their safety.

Very soon we felt sufficiently recovered to go on, also we were anxious
to get farther away from the sentry who had so nearly taken us, fearing
that he might be putting dogs on our track, although we calculated that
we must now be out of danger, even if we were not actually over the
frontier, since we had passed two lines of guards in the broom, and now
this last line which we had just got through. The Germans could not
possibly have more than three lines, as they were too badly in need of
men at the front, or so we thought, to be able to waste them guarding
the frontier.

Slowly and painfully--for we were very nearly at the end of our
tether--we made our way eastward through a thinly planted wood, on the
other side of which we traversed a large area of plough. We felt so
certain that we were over and safe that we actually began to discuss the
fact, without troubling to lower our voices very much. Suddenly a man
called “Halt!” Looking to our left, we saw a figure bearing down on us.
He could not have been more than twelve yards away, or we should not
have seen him in the darkness. “Come on!” and we were running over
plough for dear life. “Halt!” On we raced. Then his first shot rang out.
What a wicked crack it made, as the bullet struck the ground somewhere
by my feet! I was doing better time than I had ever done on the wing in
my footer days, and then the second bullet came just under my nose. I
could feel the rush of air on my mouth. His third shot passed a foot or
two above my head.

Where was my companion? A fourth shot and a heavy fall some distance
behind me. “My God! they’ve got him!” Should I stop? No! it is each for
himself now--that was understood. Then another shot rang through the
night, somewhere a long way behind. The sentry was finishing my friend.
Horrible! Still on I flew, to suddenly fall head over heels into a
ditch. I was too done up to go any farther, and lay gasping for breath;
but the spirit of self-preservation is a hard one to break, and before
long I was calculating what I must do next. The light of dawn would soon
be upon me. I must get to a better hiding-place for the coming day.

What’s that moving towards me? Is it my fancy? No. By gad! it’s a man,
and he’s moving so slowly it must be the sentry; he is looking for me.
He will walk almost on top of me. All right, my friend; if you miss me
by a foot, I’ll strangle you from behind. The figure came on, was beside
me; in a flash I was on his back and had laid him out. A familiar groan.
Good heavens! it was my companion. I almost cried over him, but his
temper had gone with the blow I had given him, and it was some time
before he would have anything to do with me.

“I followed you as best I could,” he gasped, “and I thought I had lost
you, and I haven’t the faintest idea where I am. That brute turned on to
me after he had given you the first three. The first one hit me just
under the heel and laid me flat, but I got up and rushed in the
direction I thought you had taken. Then he fired again, but it was miles
behind me.”

When my friend had sufficiently recovered his breath we started off
again, and after a few hundred yards entered a region of decayed woods.
Here we experienced great difficulty in advancing, owing to our
exhausted condition, caused by the lack of food and the extreme cold.
Continually we tripped over the stumps of trees in our path, to go
sprawling full length over the other side, only to pick ourselves up in
a dazed determination to press forward as long as any strength remained
in us. Time after time we crashed to the ground in our blind progress,
until finally the two of us fell over at the same spot, where we
eventually decided to rest till the coming of dawn, which was just about
to break.

Whilst we were resting it was gradually borne in upon us that we were
not alone in the wood, as we could hear something rustling up to us
through the undergrowth. As yet it was some distance away. Instinctively
we got to our feet and stumbled on again, a little refreshed by our
short rest. Once or twice we stopped in order to find out if we were
being pursued, and discovered that every time we halted the person
behind did the same. Evidently he must be trying to get our position by
the noise we were making as we passed through the undergrowth, the fact
of which he seemed to have taken full advantage, for it appeared to us
that he was very much nearer than when we had first heard him.

Somehow we managed to move forward at a faster pace than we had done
hitherto, and in doing so we passed through a small clearing, in which
we noticed some bundles of cut faggots, and the idea struck me that they
might possibly help us to evade our pursuer. Hurriedly seizing one or
two of these faggots, we plunged into the undergrowth on the far side of
the clearing; then stopped to get the direction of the man behind, who
in his turn stood still, as soon as he discovered we were not moving. I
then swung one of the heaviest faggots to our left, right over the top
of the bushes. Immediately it landed the man started off in the
direction of the noise it had made as it fell through. In the meantime
we remained silently crouching in the bushes. Eventually we heard the
man, or whatever it was, pass us to the left in the direction where I
had thrown the faggot, and we heard no more of him.

It was broad daylight before we moved on again, and found that we had
been resting within a few yards of the edge of the wood. In front of us
there was an expanse of plough, but quite different to what we had
previously seen. Here the fields were neatly trimmed; hedges divided one
field from another; also the furrows were more regular, and not so far
apart. My companion and I discussed the fact, and decided that it did
not look at all like the work of the Boche, which led us to believe that
we were really over at last. So we were, and had been for a couple of
miles past, though of course we had no means of knowing it. We heard
afterwards that the man in the wood to whom we had given the slip was a
Dutch sentry. Oh! if we had only known it, we should most certainly have
hugged him round the neck, and probably asked him for something to eat:
not that we were in the least hungry; we had long ago passed that.

At the end of one of these ploughed fields we were brought to a halt by
a broad ditch about thirty feet across, on the other side of which was a
railway line. How on earth were we to get over this? Personally I sat
down in despair, wondering in a dazed sort of way who put the beastly
ditch there. My friend scouted to right and left for a bridge, but found
nothing. On returning to me, he noticed that I was sitting on a long
pole.

“Buck up, old man! that’s the very thing we want,” he said. “We can
pole-jump it.” And so we did.

On the far side of the railway track we reached a small village,
situated on a big main road. Crossing the road, we saw a line of trees
running north and south as far as eye could see--beyond the trees a long
white line, of what appeared to be mist. As we approached we discovered
it to be a river. When we reached its margin, it was found to be about
three hundred yards across.

“It’s the Meuse!” I shrieked, “and we’re over, man. We have been over
three miles, and didn’t know it. Do you understand, you blockhead? We’re
over! we’re free! we’ve escaped!”

Then I for one sat down and cried like a child. Very soon my companion
decided that we must swim to the other side.

“Swim over that, in our condition! You must be mad! I tell you the Meuse
does not run into Germany anywhere within a hundred miles of where we
are.”

“Well,” he replied, “it will be safer the other side,” and he started to
take his coat off.

“Don’t be a blithering idiot; you couldn’t swim that even if you were
fit and strong. However, go ahead, old thing! I’ll watch you drown. I’m
perfectly content to lie here for ever and ever.”



CHAPTER XVI

LIBERTY AND BLIGHTY!


And so the two of us lay and wondered at it all, until we heard the
bells of some church far up the river strike the hour of seven.

“Look here, old man, we’re getting stiff again; we must push on to some
place or other.”

Accordingly we walked northwards, hugging the river-bank, and after
about an hour’s tramp we came to the outskirts of V----. Passing through
that part of the town which lies on the east bank, we arrived at the
great bridge. Over this we started to make our way, feeling that we
should like to put the river between ourselves and the enemy. In the
middle of the bridge we were halted and questioned by the Dutch guard.
When we declared that we were two British officers just escaped from
Germany, the Dutch N.C.O. looked rather doubtful. As he did not speak
either German or French we had some difficulty in convincing him.
Certainly our appearance was not very reassuring. My companion did not
look so bad, though his clothes were badly torn, and he was covered with
slime from head to heels; but his field-boots were field-boots, and
should have commanded attention. As for myself, I was a horrible-looking
sight; and, to make things worse, my socks were worn through, disclosing
cut and bleeding feet.

After about ten minutes’ wait on the bridge one of the sentries was told
off to take us to the Casern, or barrack-room; so we were conducted back
to the east side of the bridge. Here we were told that the officer in
charge was not up, but he would be immediately informed of our arrival.
Within a minute or two the officer himself came to welcome us, and
ushered us into his bedroom, where he was completing his toilet.

What a splendid welcome that Dutch officer gave us! With his own hands
he took off my socks and washed my feet, smearing the sore cuts with
some stuff which he seemed to have great faith in. Finding that my
friend’s boots were too much for him, he called in a couple of his
orderlies, who managed, after a great deal of pulling, to remove them
from his swollen feet. Then the Dutch officer bustled about, ordering
breakfast for us. What would we like? Eggs and bacon, of course! All the
English liked that.

“Yes, my cook does them beautifully; you shall see.”

Then he made us take off our clothes and wash; clean shirts and vests
were supplied from the officer’s wardrobe; and, finally, he rang up the
military doctor, and informed him that he had a couple of bad cases. All
the time he bustled about helping us here and there, and never seemed
tired of informing us what fine fellows we were, to which of course we
both agreed. When the breakfast arrived, he hovered around us like a hen
with her chicks, but we were hardly able to eat anything. With great
difficulty we managed to swallow an egg, more to please the good fellow
than anything else.

Soon after breakfast the doctor arrived, and we were hustled off to the
hospital in a cab. Here we were treated like princes. Nothing was too
good for us. It was nice to be fussed over and taken care of, after
being neglected so long, and we thoroughly appreciated their kindness.
First we had a very hot bath. Oh the luxury of having a real bath once
more! After the bath we went off to bed and slept the clock round.
Another bath, heaps to eat, and more sleep! The doctor said we must stay
until we felt strong enough to make the journey to Rotterdam. When was
the next train, we asked. Oh, in a few hours. Well, we felt strong
enough now for Rotterdam, and as soon as may be England, and then home.

And so that morning we left V---- and all the kind friends we had made,
and journeyed to Rotterdam, accompanied by another Dutch officer,
travelling in first-class Pullman carriages. On our arrival we were
handed over to the British Consulate. Everybody there was kindness
itself; arrangements were made for us to buy civilian clothes, and
before very long we were completely fitted out.

From Rotterdam we were removed to The Hague (pending a British boat to
take us to England), where the British Ambassador and his wife made us
welcome at the Embassy. Here again nothing was too good for us, and we
shall always remember the great kindness they showed us, which affected
me deeply after our terrible experience.

And then the great day arrived when we actually set our feet in England
once more!

But what would England be like? How had she stood the strain of nearly
three years’ war, with an expenditure of nearly eight millions a day?
That such a stupendous sum had been gathered from the resources of our
Empire, without the fear of immediate bankruptcy, only filled us with a
joyous pride for the race to which we belonged. But what of the toll of
blood and bone? Was that as frightful as it had been represented to us?
Not that we had been really influenced by _The Continental Times_, or
any other paper which the German Government propagated amongst the
allied prisoners of war, as part and parcel of their general system of
persecution; for the German is a master of mental as well as physical
agony. But these papers, which were our only source of regular news, had
laid the foundation of a doubt, deep down within our hearts, that
perhaps all was not quite so well with those at home; for when day
followed day, and weeks grew into months, and months into years, and no
appreciable advance had been made by the Entente, it would take a very
hero of optimism, if not a fool, to remain absolutely free from the
canker of doubt. In existing circumstances it was impossible to
calculate how long we must continue to live as exiles, under these
apalling conditions. We dare not look for the speedy return of peace,
for an early peace would mean the cause of the Entente was lost, the
triumph of wrong over right, which must surely be impossible; and so the
prisoners made it their duty to laugh, and say “Oh! three or four years
longer,” when asked surreptitiously by some German soldier or other as
to how long the war would go on.

I wonder if the people at home ever realise that the prisoners in
Germany number amongst their ranks some of the greatest heroes of this
war. On the battlefield the heroes, or at least some of them, are
recognised, and rewarded accordingly; but the exile is never known,
though he fights against far more hopeless odds; for him there is no
chance--all is at an end. Fine deeds are done in the heat of action,
when the excitement of the moment gives the spur to many a noble act;
but it takes a braver and more steadfast spirit to pass smiling and
cheerful through the endless stunted and hopeless days of a prisoner’s
life, to cheer up those of our comrades who have for the moment fallen
into the slough of despondency, and to harass the German guards at every
turn in the matter of attempted escape, since if the prisoners were
peaceably quiescent the number of their guards would be reduced, thus
freeing so many more men to go and fight against their brothers on the
front. The more escapes, the more guards necessary to prevent them, the
more electric lights or oil lamps to show up the designs of the escapers
by night, the continual supply of coal and oil necessary to feed these
lights, slowly but very surely help to drain the resources of the
Boches. This can be more easily seen when it is realised that the
combined allied prisoners in Germany run into millions.

There are those who might say that the amount of coal and other things
used for the exterior lighting of camps could not be a serious item.
Very true. But, however small, it all counts, and it is the only way
that a prisoner can help to do his bit. If he tries to escape he is
punished, sometimes very severely; but he accepts it as part of his lot,
because he feels that the more men placed to guard him, the less men
there will be to fill active positions. I have met many people in this
country since my return who don’t believe--or more probably don’t want
to believe--that the life of a prisoner is as bad as some of us make
out. All I can say is, I wish they could try it for themselves. Let them
put up with the pestilential insanitary filth and the nauseating stench
of camps without any sort of drainage; the bitter cold of the long
winter without adequate warmth; the daily slaving of cooking tinned food
and washing up greasy plates in freezing water afterwards; the
difficulty of cleansing underlinen without the necessary utensils to
wash it in; the mental torment of being without any authentic
information of the fortunes of war or of the fate of those dear to us,
whilst the flag-posts with which every camp is fitted are periodically
gaily beflagged with enormous military banners flaunting some great
German victory which the Boche sentries seldom lose the opportunity of
sarcastically pointing out! Lucky indeed is the town or village which
boasts of a _Kriegsgefangenen_--prisoners’ camp! To be inspected on
Sundays as curious and despicable animals behind a wire cage by the
German populace, decked out in holiday attire for the occasion, who mock
and gaze through field-glasses at one’s face or the legs of those
wearing kilts, shouting lewd remarks as the animals march up and down
their confined exercise-ground; to have one’s precious letters from home
the subject of offensive remarks from German officers attached to the
camp,--these are only a few of the more outstanding troubles that a
prisoner must bear with a smiling face.

Had the Boche in the beginning started by treating his prisoners with
the respect and honour which is their due according to The Hague
Convention, it would still be the duty of every prisoner to make his
escape, if possible; but then the offensive spirit would have ended, for
a holder of the King’s Commission must carry out the spirit in which
that commission is given--the path of duty, even unto death, in whatever
circumstances that path may lie. But taking into consideration the
unscrupulous character of the enemy, as shown by the treatment of his
prisoners, it is the duty of each able-bodied officer and man to carry
out the offensive spirit in every way possible. Some of the men have
been magnificent, and have carried this spirit to the highest possible
heroism.

       *       *       *       *       *

But to return to our impressions as the train gradually bore us to
London from the port at which we had disembarked from Holland.
Everything seemed to be as of yore. The long rolling fields bounded by
broad hedges, the picturesque farms nestling in hollows, with fat cattle
grazing over every hill-top, the wonderful soothing green of the general
landscapes, brought a heavy sigh of content to be back in it all again.
Everything seemed as if we had just left it. On the platform we saw
numbers of men of military age. Surely things must be going pretty well,
or all these men would be in uniform, they would have been called up
long ago; or were they still playing at conscription in the matter of
exemptions? Perhaps all these were shirkers, who did not know of or did
not care for the great need of the Motherland in her dire distress, who
had pitted herself in her unreadiness, in the cause of honour and
right, against the greatest military nation on earth, organised to the
last man, and beyond that again.

Soon we arrived in London, to report ourselves immediately to the War
Office. But London amazed and appalled us. She was so vast. Taxi-cabs,
motor-buses, and pedestrians thronged the streets as never before, or so
it seemed to us. We hesitated to cross the street, the traffic seemed so
dangerous and formidable. We were hustled off the pavement by constant
streams of people going this way and that, none of whose faces seemed to
spell war. One saw practically no people in mourning, whilst in Germany
one sees them everywhere. Men in uniform passed by in thousands. Tommies
looking at the sights and standing in groups at the street corners--why,
there must be enough men in uniform here to form an army! Surely, if we
were in need, these fellows would all be out at the front. Things must
be going very well, and we had heard nothing but a piece of colossal
impertinence. And so we more or less found it to be.

Every hotel seemed crammed; it was impossible to get in anywhere. The
theatres, too, were running at high pressure; one must book seats weeks
beforehand. In fact, everything looked as if there was no war going on
at all, and yet organisation relative to war was evident at every turn;
and we began to feel a great relief. The Old Country was big enough to
give her utmost to the war and yet carry on her life of business and
gaiety at the same time. This was our proud but foolish idea when we
first returned to London.

In conclusion, I would like to add that there is not a word in the whole
of these experiences which can harm in any way whatsoever the prisoners
still remaining in Germany. In the few descriptions of escapes,
attempted escapes, or other instances contrary to enemy regulations
which I have recorded, and in which others have participated, there is
not a single one of them left in Germany. They are mostly in Holland or
Switzerland, and a good many of them are actually at home here in
England. I could have made my tale vastly more interesting and exciting
if the war were at an end.

If I have given the reader an interesting half-hour, and have satisfied
his or her curiosity as to the real conditions under which a prisoner of
war labours in Germany, I shall feel that I have been justified in
writing these experiences.


_Printed in Great Britain by Hazell, Watson & Viney, Ld., London and
Aylesbury._





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