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 loaf of Swiss bread – an absolute Godsend. Ate half of mine, and went, satisfied, to bed at 9 p.m.

28th April. Sunday. Weather still fine. At 12 salty swede soup which I could not tackle, so finished up the rest of my white bread. In the afternoon wrote a letter home and a p.c. to Mr. Mills, my “Chief” at the office. Meal and jam soup at 6 p.m. Very nice tasting stuff, only no nourishment in it and not the least bit satisfying. Exchanged half my bread ration for another basinful. Felt blown out, but was just as hungry as ever after a quarter of an hour.

29th April. Went to have my wound dressed this morning. Had some new soup today – boiled fungi – awful stuff. Simply black fungi off the trees, cured and dried in some way, and served up boiled as a soup. Just like eating leather or indiarubber. Feeling awfully weak and miserable just now, and it is quite an effort to walk about for any length of time. Saw some men looking in the ash-pit this afternoon, So went to see what they were after. They were picking up pieces of mangelwurzel, and bruised potatoes thrown out of the cookhouse. Picked up some pieces of swede myself and boiled them in the hut. Something to eat, anyway. Eight hundred new men arrived in the block this evening. They had been working behind the German lines since their capture in March last, and were sent here on their way to work in the coal pits in Westphalia.

30th April. Everybody paraded at 7 a.m., and all our boots taken from us. Îssued with great wooden sabots, instead. Awful things – can hardly walk about in them. Quite a few at the ash-pits this afternoon. Found some fairly decent potatoes there, also some bits of mangolds – better than nothing. Usual soups – no change. One chap just given his cardigan jacket for a bit of bread and some kind of macaroni soup that the German guards were having.

1st May. Very dull and cold this morning, so stayed in hut all the time. Nothing important to write about.

2nd May. Just as cold as ever, so stayed in bed till 10 a.m. Fungus soup at 12. Awful stuff – no taste at all. Swede soup at 6. Wandering about huts all day long.

3rd May. Warm and sunny this morning – quite a change. Had wound dressed. Swede and potato soup at 12 – good stuff, but not satisfying at all. Mussel issue (five mussels per man) at 3 p.m. Big party left here to-day on farm work – so they were told. Farm work will probably turn out to be the coal-pits. My turn to work not come So far, as wound is not yet fit. Of course I have still to hobble about with a stick.

4th May. Nice and sunny this morning. Usual sour swedes at 12 – couldn’t eat them. Thin barley soup at 6 only relieved hunger for a few minutes. All of us are feeling terribly weak and hungry, and have absolutely no energy to do anything. This afternoon I was reduced to eating potato peelings thrown out of the guard-room. The sentries used to roast potatoes and throw the peelings out of the window. Quite decent and eatable, and anything to eat seems good stuff to me just now.

5th May. Sunny morning. Stayed in bed so that soup time would come sooner. Famished with hunger all morning. Unable to write home as there was no writing paper in the canteen. Dried fungus soup at 12, and meal and jam at 6. Starving all afternoon and evening, and went hungry to bed. This week has been really awful, the food getting worse instead of better. Unless we very soon get another emergency parcel of bread from the Help Committee, I can see the whole lot of us taking to our beds from sheer weakness.

6th May. Sunny and warm this morning. Just had energy enough to walk about block for a bit, then sat in the open till 12. Salty dried veg. soup which was almost impossible to eat, however famished we were.

At 2 p.m. a big cart-load of emergency bread was brought in from the British Help Committee. Issued out at 5 p.m. Nearly two pounds of bread per man My word we did enjoy it. Cutting off little pieces and eating them all night long. Went to bed happy again.

7th May. Still nice and fine. Had some white bread for breakfast, which helped to stem the hunger a lot. Fungus again at 12 and barley soup at 6. Had wound dressed. Seems to be getting on nicely now, only very slowly, and I still have to walk with a stick.

8th May. Beautiful and warm, sat out in the sun till dinner-time. At 12 bean soup which was tasty but not at all satisfying. Sat in square till 6 p.m. Meal soup for supper. At 3 p.m. this afternoon 60 parcels of white bread arrived from the British Red Cross Society at Copenhagen. The first parcels to arrive individually addressed to those captured on 21st March last. My name not called out! Unlucky me! Never mind, perhaps I will be in the next batch.

9th May. Very hot and close today, so stayed out in the square most of the time, the intense heat making us feel weaker than ever. There is absolutely nshelter from the sun here in the block except inside the huts, and there the heat is worse than ever. If only we were able to see a bit of outside life! Nothing but the miserable bare block without a single green shrub.

10th May. Still very warm this morning. A few more bread parcels, individually addressed, were distributed at 9 a.m. this morning. None for me again. My two friends Barrow and Nott – also were unlucky. At 12 sauerkraut, which I could not eat, and thin barley soup at 6. Felt damn hungry all day long. Something must happen soon. We can’t go on like this much longer. There I was at the ashpit again, and under the guard-room window this afternoon – I wasn’t the only one, either, by a long way.

11th May. Very hot and close, So stayed in the open, sitting about in my shirt sleeves. Fungus soup at 12 – like lumps of indiarubber! Thin bean soup at 6. Bed 9 p.m – fed up.

12th May Sunday. Poured with rain all day long, So we spent all the time hanging about the hut and sleeping. At 12, salty swede soup, which I could not eat. Usual little dry bread ration at 4 p.m. I really don’t know what we should have done without this small piece of dry black bread. It is small enough, goodness knows, and not the least bit nourishing or satisfying. Composed of sawdust, rye and potatoes, it is nothing like the poorest of our English bread. This bread ration is supposed to be for the following day, but we always eat it right away, being really too hungry to keep it. We were issued with another pound of white bread today from the British Help Society here. So that is just able to keep our heads above water for a time. It is awful to see us crowding round the van as it comes into the block with the bread. The guards have to drive us away.

13th May. Nothing unusual to-day.

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