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 slices of dry bread. Travelled on again and went to sleep about 7 p.m.

29th March (Good Friday). Awakened at 5 a.m. and found we had arrived at Munster. All stretcher cases and those unable to walk were taken to a hospital reception room at the station, where we rested until 7 a.m. Hot “coffee”  was served out to us by German Red Cross Sisters. Still nothing to eat. Afterwards we were taken to the Prisoners of War internment camp in motor lorries and carts – the German women and children shaking their fists at us all along the streets. In the camp we were put into large huts, all together, and after taking away our pocket books, photos, etc., for censorship, we were issued with a small enamel basin for our soup and coffee, and a wee bit of rag they called a towel. Got a little miserably thin meal soup at 12, and then went for a bath and had our clothing fumigated. About time, too, as I was a moving mass all over. After some more of the same sort of soup at 7 p.m., we were issued with a tin of dripping, quarter tin of cheese, one tin of bully and a packet of biscuits ; also a couple of blankets. Went to bed about 9 p.m.

30th March. A very bad night. The bed full of feas which never gave me a moment’s rest. The daily routine, commencing today, was as follows 6 a.m., drink of coffee substitute. Back to bed again. Roll call at 8 a.m. Nothing to do all morning except lounge about the camp and sit round the stoves in the huts, talking. Boiled swede soup at 12. Awful “tack” – practically all water with a few bits of chopped-up swede at the bottom of the basin. Roll call at 3. Nothing at all to do and nothing to see. Sent a special p.c. home, giving my correct address. Small black bread ration at 4 p.m. followed by a little more swede soup at 6 p.m. Roll call, 7·30 p.m. Bed, 9 p.m.

31st March, Sunday. Coffee at 6 a.m. Fleas seem to be everywhere and very troublesome. Allowed to write one special letter home, so I did so and crammed everything I could into the small space. Lot of wounded were taken to the camp infirmary. My case not considered serious enough, so I was left behind, and simply had my wound dressed after lining up in a queue and waiting two hours. Awful dried vegetable soup for dinner – some of last year’s swedes and turnips chopped up, preserved with some horrible material, boiled in water, and served with the water as a soup. Each got half-a-basinful. But could not eat it –  just like poison. Usual roll calls at 3 and 7.30 p.m. Dry bread ration at 4. Same “soup at 7 p.m., as we had at 12. Life here so far seems terribly dull and miserable. We have absolutely nothing to do and no way of occupying our minds.

We are continually hungry – look at today’s meals for instance – and if we are not lounging about the block, we are sitting round the stove in the hut, talking about our homes, old times, and the good things we used to eat in the past. There is no meat at all in the soup, except on a Sunday, when we find perhaps one or two wee pieces of horseflesh floating in the soup. It is all water for the most part, with a little of the vegetable, either swede, black peas, beans, or barley, settled at the bottom. The black bread ration weighs about 8 ozs. and is composed of 50 per cent. of rye, 40 per cent. of potatoes, and 10 per cent. of sawdust! À piece of English white bread the same size as the German ration would weigh about 4 ozs. The camp consists of four blocks for different nationalities. We are in Block 2 and no view of the scenery or outside goings-on can be had. The block consists of an open square patch about an acre in area, the four sides being formed by rows of tall wooden huts. It is therefore impossible to see outside the block. We have no books or any reading matter at all, and we are only allowed to write two short letters on special paper, and four short postcards in a month, i.e. every Sunday. 

1st  April. Quite nice and sunny this morning, but very cold. Usual routine. Sat about the huts waiting for soup time to come. Toasted half my bread ration and ate the other half as it was. Went to bed 9 p.m.

2nd  April. Hardly had a wink of sleep all night on account of the activity of hundreds of fleas, etc. in the beds. Nothing to do all day, So sat round the fire all the time. We were allowed a liberal supply of coal and coke, so could keep a good fire going. If it wasn’t for being able to have a fire I think we would all have gone off our heads. I was the only one who had a watch, So had to be continually looking at it to see if the time was passing well. Finished of the last of my dripping, cheese, biscuits, so will have to subsist on Jerry’s rations alone now!

Dumped my old mattress and changed it for a new one. Hope there won ‘t be so many fleas in it. Cannot walk about the block much on account of my leg, which is very stiff and sore now. Have to move about with two sticks, and then only very slowly and painfully.

3rd April. Rather better night, but still troubled with fleas. This morning my ration of bread was stolen, and the soup being terribly watery and saturated with sour preservative I felt famished absolutely. In the evening I scoffed my bread ration right away. No more keeping it till morning. Must make sure of it. Another chap’s bread stolen this evening. Men so hungry they steal without really knowing they’re doing it. Other men are feeling the loss of cigarettes and tobacco. Many of them, never having smoked a single whiff since their capture, are almost mad for want of a smoke. They are smoking tea leaves (some had a quarter of tea instead of cheese the first day), paper, and any sort of old rags they can find to stuff in their pipes. Awful to see them.

4th April. Very bad night. Bitten by fleas from head to foot, and my wound aching like mad all night long. Changed to a fresh bed and gave blankets good beating. Lined up in a queue again this morning for an hour, and had my wound dressed. Had it washed and dressed by an R.A.M.C. man the usol washing being provided by the British Help Committee. The paper bandages are awful things and slip off your leg five minutes after they have been put on. Bean and meal soup to-day. Tasty, but miserably thin and watery and only made you feel hungrier than ever. Sat round fire till 9 p.m. and then went to bed – and fleas.

5th April. Rather better night, so felt a little more myself again this morning only very hungry and ready for dinner. Swede soup as usual, and no meat. Tasty, but what nourishment is there in half a basin of chopped up mangolds and water? Sat round the fire till 6, when we got another half basin of watery barley soup. Usual roll calls, 3 and 7.30. watery barley soup. Sat round fire till 9 p.m., and then turned in. Another day gone, thank goodness; and one more day nearer the end.

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