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 again until 7 p.m. We then trooped back to “barracks” and had another issue of swede soup and usual bread ration. Felt very tired tonight after the work, so turned in soon after 9.

2nd June. Sunday. Very sleepy this morning, so after a drink of coffee at 8 a.m. went back to bed again and slept until 11 a.m. Beautiful sunny morning, so went outside the hut to see around. We are entirely surrounded by barbed wire, and there is a little patch where the French are growing potatoes. It is much better and healthier than at Munster, as we are right on top of a hill, and the country round about is splendid, everything looking beautifully green and fresh. Very different from being shut in at Munster. People come up here on Sundays to see the prisoners. We are like a lot of animals on view in a cage. Black pea soup at 12 and 6. Fairly good stuff, but not substantial enough to work upon. We are now attached to Friedrichsfeld Camp and have now nothing more to do with Munster.

3rd June. Up, 5:30 a.m. Worked all day long on the big stones. Felt very tired by 7 p.m. Rotten sauerkraut soup at 12 and 7 so I had to go hungry.

4th June. Started work under a fresh foreman this morning. An Italian civilian and quite a decent fellow. Our job was fixing up a small light railway along the side of the ordinary railroad. A number of French prisoners also working on this job, so managed to improve my French conversation a bit, “gassing” to them. Sauerkraut soup in afternoon and evening, so I did not feel in a very good humour.

5th June. Usual day’s routine, with nothing startling, i.e. Reveillé at 5:30, and coffee. Work, 6 a.m. till 8 a.m. Coffee, 8 till 8.30. Work, 8.30 till 12. Soup, 12 till 1. Work, 1 till 4. Coffee, 4 till 4-30. Work, 4-.30 till 7. Soup in barracks, 7 ; also black bread ration. Bed, 9.30 p.m. We seem to be absolutely cut off from the world here ; with no one to speak to apart from our own little party, and having received no news of any kind from England. Surely, by this time, there should be some letters for us. I wonder if my letters home have arrived at their destination, and whether father has received word that I am a prisoner here. It is a perfect night. I have just been out of the hut, having a stroll in the enclosure. The sun has just set, and the country all round was looking beautifully calm and peaceful. I wonder if the band is playing on New Brighton Pier. This is just the kind of evening when everything over there is looking at its best. Wednesday evening in June, think of it! And here I am lying on a dusty mattress in an old wooden hut in Germany, with nothing to look forward to except the time when my food parcels will begin to arrive. Feeling utterly miserable – wish I was….well, no, not quite that.

6th June. The head of the firm – Augustus Garre – visited the quarries this morning, and made a few alterations. I was sent to work under another foreman – a Pole this time – who is in charge of a gang of men working on what is known as the “tip”. From today I am to become one of that gang. It consists of four Frenchmen, two Russians and five Englishmen, and we are all in charge of this Russian-Pole,. Martin Alexandrovitch by name. Our work consists of loading trucks with the rocks, after blasting. The trucks are then drawn along the edge of a steep slope or precipice by an engine. On arriving at a given spot, we overturn the trucks and empty the rocks down the slope, shovelling down those that may remain. I have an additional job, carrying about a long pole which we use for levering the trucks up and down.

7th June. Nothing unusual. Received a note this evening that the British Help Committee at Friedrichsfeld had sent us some white bread and soap. Cheers! Hope it arrives safely.

8th June. Nothing to report. This evening the Frenchmen made a collection of biscuits for us amongst themselves, which ran out to about four to a man. Very good of them indeed.

9th June. Sunday. Did not get up till 10 a.m. Coffee – and nothing else for breakfast as usual. Spent the afternoon in making a wooden cupboard to keep my provisions in when they do arrive. I wonder when they will begin. Once they do start coming though things won ‘t be half so bad. Beautiful, warm summer evening. Sat out in the enclosure till 9.30 p.m. having a little sing-song, the French doing most of the singing, as none of us Englishmen were feeling very much up to the mark.

10th June. One of our men left for Friedrichsfeld, having a bad arm. Wound had affected his muscles, causing him to lose complete control of his left arm. It started to rain at 8 a.m. so we returned to the barracks until 1 p.m. Rain then cleared off so returned to work till 7 p.m. Got paid this evening. My earnings came to eight marks (mark – 10d.) for eight days’ work! Bought a pen-knife for hacking up my German bread – cost five marks.

11th June. Reveillé, 5 a.m. No breakfast. All of us Englishmen sent to Friedrichsfeld camp under an armed guard, in order to get bathed and have our clothing fumigated. We wanted this very badly, indeed, as ever since our capture we have been literally alive with vermin and lice all the time. Nothing to eat at dinner-time. Felt horribly weak and hungry. Left Friedrichsfeld at 4 p.m. and arrived at Bommern at 7 p.m., just in time to get our usual portion of swede soup and bread ration – the first taste of food since 7 p.m. yesterday evening.

12 th June to 15th June. Nothing to report.

16th June, Sunday. Cheers, a holiday from work (arbeit) once again. Usual stuff for breakfast – coffee. Spent most of the morning sitting outside in the sun, making a horse-hair chain. Quite a crowd of people came up to look at us through the wire this afternoon. I got the “glad eye” from quite a s’nice young “Fraulein”. In the afternoon I was asked by the Under Officer if I could use a typewriter. Had my name and number taken. Good omen. Might click for some good job yet!

17th June. Nothing to report.

18th June. The bread and the soap arrived this evening, after being fourteen days on the way – a distance of 30 miles! All of us mad with excitement when we were told it had arrived, but a great disappointment was waiting for us. The bread was green and mouldy. All the crust was covered with a thick coating of green, and the loaves were all yellow inside. Anyway this bread can’t be wasted, so it will have to be eaten.

19th June. Had some of the mouldy bread for breakfast better than nothing at all, but awful stuff all the same.

20th June. Was paid 9 marks this evening for nine days’ work. A remarkable thing here is that they pay us according to our height – a little thick-set Yorkshireman, although a much stronger worker, draws less pay than I do.

21st June. Poured with rain this morning, So we did not start work until it had cleared up, at 11 a.m. Rest of the day fairly fine. Wish it would rain more often.

22nd June. Nothing to report.

23rd June, Sunday. Stayed in bed till 11 a.m. Cold, windy and wet all day long; so had to stay indoors. Rest appreciated very much after the week’s work. Am absolutely fed-up, and tired of the work. If only we had some good solid food it would not be so bad, but with soup, soup, soup, week after week, we have really no energy to do anything. Beautiful evening, so stayed outside till 9.30 p.m. having our usual sing-song: Wish I was home, on the Pier.

24th June. Showery and cold, off and on, all day till 3 p.m. when it began to rain in earnest so stopped work and returned to barracks for the rest of the day.

25th June. Showery, off and on, all day long. Rotten! I wonder when our parcels are going to come! I thought mine had really started when received that personally addressed bread-parcel from Copenhagen while I was in Munster camp, but evidently something must have gone wrong, as I received none since, neither have I received any letters, etc., from home. Seem to be cut off from everyone and absolutely helpless. Can’t even speak the language.

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