The Front Line and Beyond It – The Final Chapter

29th October. This morning Robertson was made to dress – although he was too weak to stand – and wheeled off to Witten hospital in a handcart in the cold morning air, suffering from double pneumonia, and having a temperature of 103 degrees

30th October. Nothing exciting.

31st October. Received news to-day that poor Jock had died in hospital early this morning.

1st and 2nd November. Nothing special.

3rd November, Sunday. Beautiful day. Horror of horrors! Had to go to work today emptying sand out of some of the trucks from 7 a.m. to 12 – urgent work or something. Left my cap on the buffers of the train whilst at work. Forgot it. Train left. Cap “n’a pu.  Cost me 7 marks.

Good war news. Rumour that Turkey and Austria have signed an armistice. Things are beginning to look up, certainly. Perhaps – one can never tell – we may get home before the winter is out. By Jove! I  hope so. But I’m afraid it’s too good to be true. I can hardly picture it.

4th November. Beautiful sunny day. Worked until 12 o’clock and the quarry closed up. Then at 2 p.m. 28 of us, English, French, Russian … Read the rest

The Front Line and Beyond It – Part 13

20th September and 21st September. Nothing unusual.

22nd September, Sunday. After breakfast, Raison and myself went down to Witten, accompanied by an armed guard, to be photographed. Witten is about half hour s walk from here and, as this was my first time out of the cage since May, I enjoyed the outing very much, although the guard would not let us walk on the pavement. Anyway it was a change of scenery. The “Amalgamated Society” only touched for one grocery and two biscuit packets this week, but we are still living and have a fair stock in hand.

23rd September. Nothing exciting. Sack up! touched for biscuits.

24th September. Wet morning and afternoon, so we did not start work till 4.30 p.m. Absolutely absurd! Two and a half hours work! Three lists up. Down for a grocery. Cheerio!

25th September and 26th September. Nothing unusual.

27th September. Large case arrived with packets for French. Three more British touched for clothing.

28th September. Nothing unusual.

29th September, Sunday. Nice and warm all day long. Spent the time between meals sitting in the garden. We of the Amalgamated Society now have a young Russian, Wissoski by name, who does all our … Read the rest

The Front Line and Beyond It – Part 12

11th August, Sunday. Good food all day – thanks to packets. Beautifully sunny and warm, so spent most of the day in the “garden” consequently rewarding the civilian population who walked from the town to see us in our cage. News of a big Allied victory on the Western front yesterday. Very cheering.

12th August. Another three lists arrived and another fresh name down for a packet – Sam Smith. All of us now receiving parcels except one. Sam Smith, Raison, Wroe and myself formed a partnership, and from today we share all our parcels together. Built a table to seat four and also a couple of small forms. Got the “Unteroffizier” to buy us a frying-pan, enamel cups and plates, two boiling pots and a knife and fork, and “coffeetier” or German tea-pot. So we are settling down now and feeling more ourselves.

13th August. Two sacks of stuff arrived this evening. The four of us, the “Amalgamated Society” between us received six grocery and two biscuit packets. A good start for the “Society”.

14th August to 17th August. Nothing unusual.

18th August, Sunday. Rather chilly and damp today, so stayed indoors. Sam Smith, who cooks for the Amalgamated … Read the rest

The Front Line and Beyond It – Part 11

25th July. Saved my bread ration over from last night and ate it this morning with butter on it and with a tin of sardines.  On my return to barracks, in addition to the German soup I made myself a huge basin of porridge. Oh the joy of it, after all this time. All except two of us have now received parcels of some sort, either bread or groceries. So we are all smiles just now.

26th July. Sack of packets arrived for the French containing four packets of stuff for the English. Nothing for me.  Anyway it was only mouldy bread (green and yellow), So I did not miss much. I have now a fair stock of groceries, such as jam, butter, dripping and tinned meat, but I have got no bread or biscuits to eat with them, except the bit of German stuff.

27th July. Nothing exciting.

28th July. Rained most of the day. Spent the time cooking and eating! What a change Did some typewriting in the “Buro”  this afternoon – quite a nice change from quarrying. Wait till I go back to England, won’t I rush off to the old London & Lancashire Insurance Company.

29th … Read the rest

The Front Line and Beyond It – Part 10

26th June. Nothing unusual.

27th June. My mate, Arthur Smith (Norfolk Regiment), received a parcel of bread this evening, but it was all mouldy. However, he shared it with me, and we ate some of it for supper.

28th June. Very bad night – horribly sick on account of eating the green and yellow bread. But felt better this morning, so had some more for breakfast. Horrible taste but still. Bought two pounds of salt today to eat with my German bread.

29th June. Nothing unusual. Used the salt on my bread, instead of having it dry. Not so bad, only made me terribly thirsty. A list of names to whom parcels of bread or biscuits have been sent from Friedrichsfeld arrived today. Joy! My name down for one. Can hardly think for excitement. The parcels were sent from Friedrichsfeld on the 27th instant so they ought to be here soon. That shows I am registered in England at any rate.

30th June, Sunday. Beautifully warm and sunny all day long. Got up at 11 a.m. Rotten sauerkraut soup at 12. Could not touch it. Spent most of the day in the garden making my horse-hair chain. Feeling horribly hungry, … Read the rest

The Front Line and Beyond It – Part 9

1st June. Got up at 5.30 a.m. and had usual drink of coffee-substitute. We were counted by the sentry and handed over to the German foreman of the quarries, who took us to a little hut to get our picks and shovels. We were then placed under various foremen who put us to our jobs. My job was rolling great boulders and rocks on to a little trolley, and wheeling them to a deep sunken road in the quarry, whence they were rolled down to the stone-masons below. At 8 a.m. we got half an hour off for breakfast in a little shed in the quarry. Breakfast consisted of a drink of coffee-substitute and nothing else. At 8.30 we started off again, and worked until 12. Soup was brought down to us in the shed by Bonny, the little Frenchman who stays at the “Barracks” the hut where we sleep and acts as orderly man. Swede soup for dinner, dinner-time lasting from 12 to 1. At 1 p.m. we began work again until 4. Tea-time from 4 to 4.30 – tea consisting of another drink of coffee-substitute (no milk, no sugar) and nothing else. At 4.30 we set to once … Read the rest

The Front Line and Beyond It – Part 8

14th May. Nothing unusual. Managed to click for an extra bowl of soup from the barber, who gets his food parcels regularly, so does not eat the German rations. This is the first time I have been lucky enough to get an extra soup. Generally, after we have eaten our own portions, we go round the various huts looking for a bit extra. The most likely places were the following : Hut 4, where there were a lot of English convalescents. Some of these had been prisoners since 1915, and were receiving their parcels, so did not touch the soup. We could beg a bit off them sometimes. Then there is the infirmary, Hut 20, where there are a number of sick and badly wounded. They very rarely touch the German soups, as they get a fair supply of emergency parcels from the British Help Committee. We can get perhaps a quarter of basinful from there, if we are in time – before the crowd. We might also manage to click for a wee bit from Hut 10 – but not more than two basinsful are ever given away from there so the chances are small.

15th May. Blazing hot … Read the rest

The Front Line and Beyond It – Part 7

25th April. Colder this morning. Had a sleep until 10.30 a.m. Started burning up old wooden beds that no one used, also cupboards, etc., to keep the fire going. Spent the afternoon sleeping and walking about the hut.

26th April. Cold and wet this morning. Had wound dressed, and stayed indoors until 6 p.m. Sauerkraut and swede soup. At 6 p.m. rain cleared off and sun came out. Beautiful, warm, moonlight night, so stayed outside in the block till 11 p.m. sitting on a seat. Noticed a lot of chaps bartering their watches, rings and all sorts of personal belongings with the German sentries, who would give them bits of black bread in exchange! One fellow sold his gold signet ring for one small ration of black bread and a few cigarettes. I had nothing to barter except an old match-box case which the Germans did not want.

27th April. Nice and fine this morning. Had a bath, and went to bed again. Watery swede soup at 12 followed by barley soup at 6 – simply barley water with a little barley at the bottom. At 3 p.m. our lives were saved again, for we were issued with another one-pound … Read the rest

The Front Line and Beyond It – Part 6

6th April. Fairly good night. Had wound dressed again this morning. Sold an ounce of tobacco I brought with me, for a mark (10d.). Went into “canteen” and bought a small bottle of “pop” –  5d. per bottle – the only stuff you could buy except little trinkets, for which we have no use whatever, and pocket-knives. I would have bought a knife but hadn’t enough money – only 5d. left, and bought letter paper and postcards with that. Sour dried vegetable soup at 12 and bean soup at 6. The whole time here is spent in anxiously awaiting soup time –  and what do we get? Half a basin of unsatisfying vegetable soup. We generally line up in a queue each hut separately – about a quarter to half an hour before the time, because sometimes the issue runs to more than one ladleful per man, and those in the front after having their one ladleful can tail on to the end of the queue and come round again and get perhaps a quarter ladle extra. Imagine our disappointment after waiting about a quarter of an hour this morning to find the soup was “sauerkraut” or sour dried veg!… Read the rest

The Front Line and Beyond It – Part 5

27th March. Doctors still busy with wounded. After soup, at 12 p.m., had orders to move all British wounded from the hospital to prepare for a fresh batch. By 3 p.m. all patients had been taken to Denain station and dumped in the huge waiting-rooms. Were each given two rations of bread and put into a long goods train – 40 men in each wagon. A little straw was put on the wagon floors and the doors locked up. Could notsee out, of course, and everything was dark as night inside. Ate my two bread rations right away. Moved off 4-30. Train moved very slowly and kept stopping all the while with a terrific jerking and jolting, shaking us poor wounded up frightfully. I could hear the stretcher-cases screaming and crying every time. The driver seemed to be doing it on purpose. At last I fell asleep about 7 p.m.

28th March. Woke up about 3 a.m. and found the train had stopped at some big station (Valenciennes probably): The guards opened our trucks and we were given a small portion of barley soup. At 5 p.m. arrived at Aachen where we got a little more soup and two thin … Read the rest