From Boatsheds to Battlefields 77 There’s a Long Long Trail Awaiting

End of 76th Entry: Those of us able to walk, about two hundred, began the long, long trail to the German prison camps.

Due to lost pages, the story continues mid-sentence:

…an hour off was allowed during which a good meal of cabbage – pure cabbage – cabbage all alone but plenty of it was issued. From one to four we worked in a great silo digging out all the refuse beet of the past year. The beet was buried for a year and when dug up, under the most filthy conditions, is dried and given to animals and prisoners-of-war. At 4 p.m. came coffee, bread and half an hour’s rest after which another truckload of beet was loaded.

The first evening somehow I just broke down. To think of perhaps spending years in pure undiluted slavery with no word of Mollie or anyone I loved and no news of the outer world seemed unbearable.

From the manners of the Germans, it seemed that our people had been held up. Rumania we knew was being smashed, and the Russian Offensive had been halted. All seemed black and hopeless.

The factory lay next to the line to the Eastern and Rumanian fronts. Day after day we could see train after train filled with guns going through to the East. The German troops appeared magnificent material in the highest spirits, their troop trains embowered in green stuff and a sickening host of doubts and fears began to fill my mind.

Image result for german troop trains going east ww1

After a few days, I began to feel better. The hard work, nourishing food and the keen fresh winds from the Carpathians pulled me up a lot and our treatment was fairly decent until one morning a hundred more British prisoners marched in.

Image result for map germany 1916

That same afternoon trouble started. For some reason, the afternoon bread ration was withheld and we refused to go to work without it. Our leader, a great hefty South African we called ‘Dusty’ argued with the Unter Officier in charge.

The latter drew his bayonet, the guards threatened us with their rifles and I thought that in another minute the world would see a shambles. ‘Dusty’ struck it grandly though and as the  German roared at him Dusty bellowed back. It was a contest of willpower and noise but Dusty whose life had been spent with his back against the wall won and we got our bread. 

With the new arrivals work started in earnest. Some of the guards were brutes, one half-witted – the old happy week seemed to be far away in the past. We got cabbage soup three times a day, the sentries got freer with their rifle butts and the weather became worse and worse.

A few packets and letters began to arrive amongst them the first I’d had from Mollie since my capture. We managed to exist but it was wicked work waiting for news. Still with the arrival of letters and parcels contact had been regained with the outside world. Some thoughtful people slipped newspapers into packets in all sorts of ways so we, therefore, had a little news through and knew that all was well in “Blighty“.

Conditions got worse and worse in the factory and I got an attack of my old Rhodesian friend, Malaria. Having to remain at work I soon fell to pieces and all but bade adieu to my miseries. When I collapsed I was returned to the lager as useless. On my return, I found only seven Lance Corporals there besides a couple of sick men. The remainder of three hundred men were working in factories or stone quarries.

The feldwebel/sergeant who had been so fond of sword exercise was still in charge but a changed man and the few Englishmen in camp he treated like brothers. Parcels were arriving plentifully and all were in the best of health and spirits.

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The day after my return from the Sugar Factory I saw the camp doctor and was recommended by him for ‘light duty’. A few really happy weeks now passed for the dozen Englishmen in the lager were all, more or less, men who were of the right stamp and determined to make themselves comfortable.

 

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