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 sunny morning, so stayed outside till 12 when we got fungus soup. Big working party of 400 men left this morning at 4 a.m. so block is not quite so crowded today. Little parties of 12 or so are leaving daily, so they are gradually getting rid of us.

16th May. Loud cheers. A few more bread parcels arrived this morning and there was one for me!!! Nearly fell over myself rushing to the van to get it. It shows I am registered at any rate. Three hundred more English arrived in the block this afternoon. All “old hands”, most of them being prisoners since 1914. They settled down in Huts 16 and 17.

17th May. Hotter than ever today, so spent most of the time lying on the bed reading a pocket testament – the first bit of reading matter I’ve had since 20/3/18 and an absolute treat- and tackling the remains of my white bread. Gave one loaf away to Barrow and Nott. Mushroom (fungi) soup at 12 and bean soup at 6. While walking round the block this evening, at II p.m., I met an old friend amongst the “old hands” –  a chap who used to work in the insurance office with me at Liverpool. Very nearly fell through the ground. Invited me to breakfast with him tomorrow morning. Think of it! A real solid breakfast.

18th May. Never slept a wink all night thinking of the breakfast in the morning. Had a proper breakfast with “old hands” all sitting on chairs, with real plates and cups on the table. Sausages, porridge, bread and dripping and tea. Never enjoyed a breakfast so much in my life. My friend told me he could not give me any more stuff to eat in future, as he was not getting his parcels very regularly, and was really dependent on the three other chaps with whom he was “mucking in”. After washing up the dishes, I had my wound dressed and, as the weather was still blazing hot, sat in the open till evening. A terrific thunderstorm passed over us from 6 until 10 p.m.

19th May. Sunday. Beautiful morning. Usual soups. Got an extra issue from Bert Jones (the old hand), who told me in future I could draw his share of the soup, as he had other stuff to go at.

20th. This evening the British string band, consisting of English prisoners (old hands) who could play the violin, etc., gave us an entertainment in the open air. Enjoyed it immensely. Livened us up a lot. Many of the tunes played brought back memories of the days on New Brighton Pier, long, long ago. I  wonder if those good old days will ever come back again! I wonder, too, if father is quite well, and also Harry and Percy and Reg. Have had no word from them since I was in France.

21st May. Nothing important.

22nd May. Usual soups. More bread up, but none for me. Wound appears to be healing now. Can walk about without a stick. Am feeling very weak though, and am miserably thin – nothing like my old self. I have a photo of myself taken when was home on leave last October – chaps won’t believe it is of me.

23rd May. Still very warm. Wound feeling very bad, indeed, this morning. Can hardly walk, and my thigh is fearfully swollen. No dressing done to-day, so had to leave it as it was.

24th May. No dressing to-day, either, and my wound is nearly driving me mad. Never felt worse than it does today – a great lump has formed right over the place. Salty swedes for dinner and bean soup for tea.

25th May. Had wound dressed to-day, so feel much better. A great boil or gathering had formed over the wound. It had to be cut open with a pair of scissors. My hat! but it gave me some “stick” too. Hope it does not occur again.

26th May. Sunday. Wound feeling very much easier this morning. Can walk without a stick again. Still no more white bread for me from Copenhagen Red Cross. Something must have gone wrong as the others are getting theirs all right. Barrow and Nott are still unlucky, not having touched for any at all. Now that my wound is getting better I am expecting to go to kommando (working party) any day.

27th May. Went to peel potatoes in the cookhouse from 9.30 a.m. till 12. Reward for doing so is half a basin of soup besides our usual ration. Hemp-seed soup at 6 p.m. Something quite new, but did not think very much of it.

28th May. Had wound dressed. Ever so much better. Do not even walk with a limp now. Expected some white bread to-day but received none. My name not called out again. Very disappointed, indeed. Thought I would come in for regular bread parcels once they had begun.

29th May. My name called out this morning to go on kommando with 14 other Englishmen. I wonder what kind of work it is going to be, and where we will be sent to! I hope I am lucky this time. Fancy going to leave Munster tomorrow morning and see some fresh scenery. Can’t imagine it after all this time.

30th May. Not going today – tomorrow instead. The German officer here told us we were going on “light farm work” but whether this is true or not is a matter of having to wait and see until you actually get to your destination. Help Committee gave us each 20 biscuits and a tin of bully beef to see us on our way. Said good-bye to all my friends, and went to bed at 9.30 p.m.

31st May. Reveillé 4 a.m. Moved off under escort at 5 a.m. Enjoyed walk down to Munster station very much, as the weather was beautiful, and the country round looking very green and fresh. First time I’ve been outside of the “wires” for nine weeks. Left Munster station at 8 a.m. after waiting about an hour and a half for the train. Everybody in the town seemed very busy – men and girls going to business, and German officers striding about in their grey cloaks and spiked helmets with their swords dangling at their sides. We looked a fearfully dejected lot amongst all these people, with our white, thin and unshaven faces, torn, dirty, khaki uniforms, and great wooden sabots on our feet.

I never felt so utterly small and miserable as I did during our journey from Munster. We seemed to be looked upon as unclean by the people around us. If only someone had given us a kind look, or said something to us. And how I longed to be like the others, going to their businesses in respectable clothing. AIl along the line the stations were full of people travelling about with their children. Soldiers and sailors everywhere. About 3 p.m. we arrived at our destination – a small country village in Rhineland called Bommern. Marched up to our cage from the station in about three-quarters of an hour. Didn’t we curse our clogs on the way clattering along the streets we could be heard for miles (nearly!). The horrible things kept dropping off our feet every few yards. Most of the men kept stooping down and picking up tiny cigarette-ends that had been thrown away. If they weren ‘t sharp enough they would be in time to get a prod with the guard’s bayonet in the rear.

Arrived at our future “home” – quite comfortable under the circumstances. A small wooden hut surrounded by barbed wire railings. Here we were met by a little Frenchman, who showed us the way inside. ! was the only one who could speak French so had to act as interpreter. He told us that all the other men were at work and would not return till 7 p.m. We also found that our “light farm work” as we had been led to believe, turned out in reality to be work in the stone quarries belonging to the firm of Augustus Garre Holzwickede. We were given straw mattresses to sleep on, and then at 7 p.m. the other prisoners returned from work. There were about 30 Frenchmen and 12 Russians. They welcomed us cordially, and bought us cigars and cigarettes from the “canteen”.  Soup was served at 7. Just the same as at Munster, only a little thicker. Went to bed at 9 p.m.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *