Jump to content
Great War Forum

Remembered Today:

Sgt. Thomas William Chisholm

Sign in to follow this  
  • entries
    33
  • comments
    0
  • views
    672

About this blog

My Diary leading up to my capture 27th May 1918 during the Battle of Aisne and subsequently as a POW at Giessen, Darmstadt, and Lamsdorf camps, until my release 1st January 1919.

Entries in this blog

 

Wednesday 1st January 1919 - A march off, the wonderful HMS Concord and a friendly Marine.

Wednesday 1st January 1919   So finally we were marched off, and at Lamsdorf station boarded the train. A different kind of train it was this time, none of the cattle trucks in which we came here in, but instead real carriages with properly upholstered seats. So with eight men in a carriage we rolled away in the direction of a seaport on the Baltic Sea called Stettin. At the end of our train were two vans with two days supply of food which was issued at intervals along the route, so taking no harm until our arrival at Stetting where we left the train lined up in fours, and marched along the docks until rounding the corner of a warf the greeting we received from British sailors of H.M.S Royal Navy on board H.M.S Concord. They were evidently expecting our arrival judging by the rousing cheers that filled the air, and also our hearts with unbounded joy. It really seemed like a strange dream, almost unbelievable and we felt afraid to even rub our eyes in case it was so. The ships bad had turned out on the forward deck, and I think they played their instruments as they had never been played before, and this mob of ours seemed too full to cheer for it was a very weak attempt that was made for there were tears of joy in everyone’s eyes. We were immediately allowed to file on board, the Sergeants being ordered to fall out to one side until all the men were on board, and finally when it came to our turn we were placed in quarters with the Royal Marines. We had not been on board a quarter of an hour when it was announced that a meal was ready for us and would we please be seated. Well it all seemed too good to be true, for on sitting down to a beautiful table with snow white cloth, and on that cloth a bottle of Bass beer, also a plate with roast beef, green peas, potatoes and Yorkshire puddings. It is impossible to define our feelings, but we did not need any second invitation to eat, but were told to go steady because after the utter starvation we had experienced in the last few months, it would perhaps not agree with us it we gorged ourselves, which we felt very much like doing. The marines waited on us as if we were lords and were very kind to us indeed, in fact one would imagine that we were the actual people who had ended the war for them. After a good meal, one of the Corporals of the marines seemed to take to me, and asked if I would care to have a look over the ship from top to bottom, I say that because we started at the fighting top, or crows nest as it is sometimes called, working by stages and all the while the Corporal showing me how this worked and that was for so and so, and altogether it was a very interesting tour. On our return to quarters we were just in time to partake in an issue of rum, so having taken my ration I wandered up on to the after deck, because after this time we had moved off and were speeding down the river Oder, and I wished to see all that was to be seen while the chance lasted. By this time it was getting dusk, so I took up my post up against one of the gun turrets, because by this time that small bottle of beer, and the rum ration together were beginning to have their effect on me, and I was feeling a little unsteady, however I interested myself in one of the officers standing beside this particular turret, who with a large sketch book was rapidly sketching everything along the banks of that river. He just seemed to take a glance well ahead and start work with his pencil and almost before we were level with his object he had everything down in detail. He was a very clever man indeed. Night came upon us, and it was time to turn in, so my friend the Corporal gave up his hammock for my use, and others followed his example, so undressing I made an attempt to climb into it, but try as I may I failed each time, amid roars of laughter from the crew. It really was funny to see about twenty or so men endeavouring to get into those hammocks. At last the Corporal assisted me in and pulling the beautiful white blankets over me, bid me a good nights sleep. I think it was the most comfortable bed I ever had slept in, for I hardly seemed to have been asleep two hours when it was time to get up again. Sgt. Thomas William Chisholm (POW),
The Northumberland Fusiliers 5th Battalion, B Company Aisne, Giessen, Darmstadt, Lager 3A, Barrack 126, Lager 5
Lamsdorf O/Sch., Germany.
 

Wednesday 18th December 1918 - More men and goodbye Fred.

Wednesday 18th December 1918.   I am on duty today as Orderly Sergeant to the camp and receive order that at 7:15pm tonight there are to be four guides per company at the main gate in readiness to meet a batch of men coming in from another camp. So it came about, that Fred and I parted company on this night, and I was to sort of welcome into the camp 950 new arrivals, who in all probability would also go before I did, so I had to cover up my misery and carry on.   Thursday 19th December 1918   My birthday, I am 22 today and I am very miserable indeed for I had thought to spend it in dear old England, but not so, but I had a talk with the cooks and it ended up in a nice little spread in our hut where we celebrated very well indeed under the circumstances. There are rumours again of another transport on Sunday to include in it all cripples and every two days after that.   Sgt. Thomas William Chisholm (POW),
The Northumberland Fusiliers 5th Battalion, B Company Aisne, Giessen, Darmstadt, Lager 3A, Barrack 126, Lager 5
Lamsdorf O/Sch., Germany.

Sgt Thomas William Chisholm

Sgt Thomas William Chisholm

 

Wednesday 11th December 1918 Lamsdorf POW a new battalion and new huts.

Wednesday 11th December 1918 Early this morning the Major from the RhD comes on first parade and proceeded to organize our troops into some sort of composite battalion, and is very successful.   He arranged that, to save the removal of any of our belongings, that each two huts should form one Company, irrespective as to what Regiment a man belonged to.   So here we are another step forward to better times, also with a much better supply of good food, things where looking more rosy.   Another surprise came to us in the afternoon, for soon after dinner, we were ordered to fall in by Companies with all our belongings, in readiness to move. Sure enough by 3.30pm we were vacating the old huts for proper barracks in Lager 5. On arrival there, we were put into good huts, with the men in the large part, and Sgt’s in the cubicles at the further end. They were furnished with about 8 bunks, a large stove, chairs and a table which made these places more like a palace, compared with what we had just left. With this move, we felt like we were actually out of German hands and management, and that we were absolutely under British rule and more, and we had a great sing song that night before going to bed.

Sgt Thomas William Chisholm

Sgt Thomas William Chisholm

 

Tuesday 3rd December 1918 Lamsdorf POW Romanians escape but are brought back again.

Tuesday 3rd December 1918 During the night shots were heard at intervals, telling us that it is either more attempted escapes, or prowling wolves.  In going out next morning for soup, we are just in time to see three guards marching two Romanians back into camp. They had escaped during the night, and had made for the village about 2 miles south west of the camp, in an endeavour to steal bread from the local bakery. They’d have succeeded very well, had they not been caught. They each carried a sack containing six loaves in each, but these were confiscated on arrival at the camp.  

Sgt Thomas William Chisholm

Sgt Thomas William Chisholm

 

Tuesday 31st December 1918 - New Order but someone has to stay behind.

Tuesday 31st December 1918   The day begins as usual, and still we wait. In the evening orders are issued that all officers, NCO’s and men will parade outside the orderly room at 2pm tomorrow dressed ready for marching off, greatcoat and one blanket over the arm I might say that all men were ready before the appointed time, and when we did parade and were just about to march off it was found that there was one man to be left in the camp. That one man was our Serbian friend who had been so useful to us since his arrival. We pleaded with our officers to allow him to come back with us, but we were informed that if we did take him, he would not be allowed to land in England, and would only have to come back again and then as things were just mow, he was nearer his own country and no doubt the Germans would see to his comfort alright..   Sgt. Thomas William Chisholm (POW),
The Northumberland Fusiliers 5th Battalion, B Company Aisne, Giessen, Darmstadt, Lager 3A, Barrack 126, Lager 5
Lamsdorf O/Sch., Germany.

Sgt Thomas William Chisholm

Sgt Thomas William Chisholm

 

Tuesday 24th December 1918 - A Christmas card of Sorts.

Tuesday 24th December 1918   As a special treat today we have been given a large amount of sausage, from the Germans but I may say that very little of it was eaten as we have any amount of our own food now. I suppose that this was sent as a peace offering owing to it being Xmas eve. Also included in the gift were two packets of tobacco and a Xmas card. The tobacco proved only to be dried oak leaves, and the card we discovered had been intended for one in England, for on the side used for correspondence, were the words “Printed in Germany”, but on the picture side the greeting was in German.   Sgt. Thomas William Chisholm (POW),
The Northumberland Fusiliers 5th Battalion, B Company Aisne, Giessen, Darmstadt, Lager 3A, Barrack 126, Lager 5
Lamsdorf O/Sch., Germany.

Sgt Thomas William Chisholm

Sgt Thomas William Chisholm

 

Thusrday 19th December 1918 - A birthday

Thursday 19th December 1918     My birthday, I am 22 today and I am very miserable indeed for I had thought to spend it in dear old England, but not so, but I had a talk with the cooks and it ended up in a nice little spread in our hut where we celebrated very well indeed under the circumstances. There are rumours again of another transport on Sunday to include in it all cripples and every two days after that.   Sgt. Thomas William Chisholm (POW),
The Northumberland Fusiliers 5th Battalion, B Company Aisne, Giessen, Darmstadt, Lager 3A, Barrack 126, Lager 5
Lamsdorf O/Sch., Germany.  

Sgt Thomas William Chisholm

Sgt Thomas William Chisholm

 

Thursday 2nd January 1919 - Awake with a bump, breakfast and bad news.

Thursday 2nd January 1919   I was just semi conscious when I was rudely awakened by a bump from under my hammock, and I found myself in the arms of three marines, who could hardly keep hold of me for laughing, they said that was the way they treated all sleepy heads in the navy but they allowed the culprit tom fall onto the deck, so they put me down. I proceeded to dress and get ready for breakfast which consisted of real bacon, real eggs and we had not seen an egg for nearly nine months, so it was quite a new thing to us, but first came a whacking big plate of porridge with plenty of milk and it made one really feel that after all it was good to be alive. We travelled all day until about 10pm when we arrived in the dock at Copenhagen, where we left the ship, much against our wish, but the Commander said that his orders had to be obeyed and they were that we had to be left in Denmark for a short while. So we were put on board a train and moved off in the darkness to our new billets a few miles away. The trains were of the double decker type, and whenever we came to a tunnel it seemed that the train must knock off it’s top before it would be able to get through, but we got to the camp without such a mishap, somewhere about 12:30am, and were just put into bunks by Danish soldiers, anyhow, until the following morning, when we were sorted out and put into proper squads necessary for administration. This ended our Prisoner of War life and after a month in Denmark we were returned to England to eventually be demobbed and what?   Sgt. Thomas William Chisholm (POW),
The Northumberland Fusiliers 5th Battalion, B Company Aisne, Giessen, Darmstadt, Lager 3A, Barrack 126, Lager 5
Lamsdorf O/Sch., Germany.
 

Thursday 12th December 1918 - Red Cross Parcels, cinema, and best get out of here.

Thursday 12th December 1918 Today has been spent in getting into the camp as much British Red Cross Parcels as possible and it has been arranged that before distribution all goods such as tea, cocoa, bully beef, sugar and any other things that could be used in the cook house, (for we had to have cooks on duty) so that the cooks could make them up into a decent meal. So after these articles had been extracted, we were at liberty to have as much bread, margarine, dripping, cheese, biscuits, cigarettes and tobacco as we liked and really what we do get is far in excess of our present requirements, because each man now is issued every day with:   Two loaves of milk bread, One tin of Cheese, One tin of dripping, One pound of Huntley & Palmers Biscuits Four Packets of Woodbines, One tin Margarine, One tin Jam.   These of course were only the dry goods, after that came the tea and stores which was the cooks part in the programme, so we are not taking any harm. Strict orders have been issued from Battalion Headquarters that under no circumstances is any food to be sold or given to the German troops, but it was needless to make such a decree after the treatment they had given us. Never the less we had plenty of beggars round at all times of the day and I felt that I should like to do something desperate. In the evening we go down to Lager 1 to a cinema show, it is to be in aid of the memorial which we are going to erect to our pals before we leave Germany. It proved to be a fairly good show, excepting that all the titles and the reading on the screen were in German so we failed to follow the pictures, also we were not allowed to smoke as notices were painted in two places either side of the stage “Rauchend ist Verbotten”. After the show, a party of six, of which I was one, adjourned to a small pub and had a sample of Beck Beer. This was forced through the pumps by the use of gas from a cylinder alongside the small counter. In the far corner of the room, sat a party of Jerry troops drinking and singing to the music supplied by a melodeon played by one of the party altogether everything seemed to be in a happy state, but sometimes we were the recipients of some vicious glances from them, but we took not the slightest notice of them for we were free men now, and didn’t care for all the German notions, till one of our party voiced that view, and then we thought it was time to get a move on in case it came to something worse, so we went back to camp, had a good supper of stew, and highly satisfied with our days work, went to bed to dream of the day when we should be aboard the train for merry England. Sgt. Thomas William Chisholm (POW),
The Northumberland Fusiliers 5th Battalion, B Company Aisne, Giessen, Darmstadt, Lager 3A, Barrack 126, Lager 5
Lamsdorf O/Sch., Germany.

Sgt Thomas William Chisholm

Sgt Thomas William Chisholm

 

The Battle of Aisne, my capture, 27th May and march off.

27th May 1918   There were very few casualties considering the shell fire, but the main part had been dumped on the front and support lines, the wind blowing gently from the direction of the enemy lines reeked of powder and the sickly tang of gas.   By this time about 3am our gas masks were in a bad state, the glasses were dimmed with perspiration and the waterproof bag covering was sticking to our faces and very wet, but we dare not move them owing to the  risk of getting a dose of the poison. This confinement was the worst part of it because anyone who has had to wear one will know how difficult it is to breath.   Somewhere near 8am 27th May 1918 our Company Commander decided to move forward, so we headed for the cross country track so well known to us, towards the road. But this was out of the question, because it was absolutely being plastered with all sorts of iron work, and a fly could not live on it, so we were content with moving across the piece of dead ground between Concevreux and the French cemetery, it being fairly well left alone. We succeeded in reaching the rear side of the cemetery and skirted round the left side nearest the road, when suddenly the enemy barrage lifted, and seemed to drop right amongst us. Then it was for who could get forward the quickest, earth, smoke, and the moans and yells all mingled with the deepening crashes of bursting shells tended to make everyone get behind even a blade of grass.   Finally we scrambled through the cemetery and moved about thirty to forty yards in front, and proceeded to dig in with as much speed as we could, because by this time we were under distant machine gun fire as well. Things were getting rather warm and unpleasant, and owing to the smoke and the morning haze visibility was very bad, and gas masks made it much worse. Being a platoon commander I tried to marshal my men into some kind of formation, and issued instructions with regard to entrenchments and they worked like Trojans   Inside half an hour they were fairly well off under the circumstances, in regard to cover, my orderly stuck to me very well and was remarkably cool, owing to the fact that this was the first big fight he had taken part in. He had just been transferred from R.F.C and was really too young to be where he was, so I decided to take him under my wing to save him more or less from the arduous duties of the trench.   By this time the sun was fairly well up and the heat was beginning to itself felt, the time being somewhere about 9am we were just feeling a little bit hungry, and the men were asking when it would be possible to get something to eat, when suddenly to my surprise we were hailed from the road which lay on our left and lo and behold there were the cooks with their field kitchen with smoke pouring out of the chimneys. To say the least it was shock to see them, as it seemed an almost impossible thing for anything to move up that road. Never the less they were there and the greeting they gave us was “Howay get all this stuff off do ye want us to all get blown to hell standin’ here all day?” So I called for volunteers which soon came in the form of eight man and with a mad rush we snatched up all the dishes and made back for the trenches. I managed to get hold of the bacon and forthwith proceeded to dish it out with my hand. The grease had become cold, and it was almost hard, but we could pick out the bacon from the fat. I offered some to the O.C Coy but the sight of the cold fat turned him against it. I think he decided that a little libation from his flask would be more beneficial.   At this point in the defense suddenly we observed two dispatch riders on motorcycles literally tearing up the road towards the front line, (which had already been pierced) and were in grave danger of running into the enemy line, but we hailed them to stop and when told of the position they soon turned about and made back towards Head Quarters. They only got about quarter of a mile back when their machines were blown from under them and they were killed.   We got something to fire at but after killing one or two owing to the haze it was discovered that they were French troops.   A CSM of the Durham dashed over and reported that the Germans were getting round the wood on our left but the OC Coy denied this and told him to go to hell (personally I thought we were there already).   By 9:45am they were well advanced, and on looking behind through the information of my pal Fred, it was to see two scouts come but from behind the wood, followed by his machine gun teams, then there was a scramble to get back, but it was pretty hopeless from the first. I called my platoon to follow me as there was still a chance to get clear, so taking a course straight through the cemetery directly behind, we dodged amongst the graves and head stones as quickly as it was possible, because the bullets from both rifles and machine guns were coming like hail amongst us, but we were rather lucky with regard to casualties as there were very few hit, some being killed outright, and so far as I could gather about three of the boys wounded, including my batman and runner through the left shoulder. On reaching lower ground these were dressed and we made straight for the River Vesle, where there were bridges at intervals. We scurried forward but when we were about a hundred yards from the first bridge a deafening report rent the air and our hopes were dashed as the bridge went skywards in a million pieces. Nothing daunted we made along the river bank towards the next one but our Royal Engineers were doing their work thoroughly and up went another three. There was nothing left to do but stand fast and await events.   The heat was almost overpowering, when an officer, one of the platoon commanders came forward to me to enquire as to what I thought we had better do next. Well on going through the trees which lined the river bank, we saw a rare sight and soon drew back under cover again to hold a short consultation. In the end he wanted to reorganize and make a bayonet charge, but that solution was out of the question, owing to the fact that on the other side of the trees were something like three hundred disarmed British troops being covered with three machine guns and three flame throwers or liquid fire machines, s that any attempt at attack would have meant wholesale slaughter of all those men, so I gave him my opinion, and acted upon it without his permission. In fact I ordered him to dump his revolver and equipment in the River Vesle and keep only what was required for personal use. The Lewis guns I had brought forward and placed on the ground, put a couple of rounds through the machine and pitched into the air.   This part of the program completed we rather gingerly moved once more through the trees into the open, where all the captives we being horded together like a lot of terrified sheep, not knowing what was going to happen next. Also the very piece of ground I have already mentioned, was the natural basin, but the position of the troops being reversed, the enemy having a strong advantage over us, by having his formidable weapons mounted on the long wood tressle bridge, which being at a height just suitable for a massacre should his gunners and fire operators desire, and I may say it was expected every second,. Owing to our numbers it was thought that they would not trouble to take us prisoners.     Meanwhile his troops were trying to get something like five to six hundred British on to this bridge, and when it began to creak and crack there was a panic, so he decided it would be better to form up on terra firma and march us onto the main road.   The time being about noon judging by the position of the sun, we were unceremoniously formed into fours on the main road moving in the direction of Guignicourt.   We had proceeded for about quarter of a mile, passing through the enemy lines of advancing troops. First came his infantry, followed by light mortars, heavy mortars, machine guns, pioneers filling up all shell holes as they came forward to enable the transport to come in comfort along the roads. Next came medical services, followed by fairly solid lines of artillery in order of merit, light field guns, howitzers, then all his heavy guns, and coming pretty close again were the observation sections mounted on motor lorries. The wheels of these lorries were not tyred in the usual way with rubber, but round the rim was a series of coil springs kept in place by an outer tyre of flat steel band, thus when moving over rough surfaces these springs could take the shock and jolt similar but not so good as the rubber tyre. Above us were the huge sausage shaped balloons hundreds of feet in the air watching with all eyes, the advance in the forward areas.

Sgt Thomas William Chisholm

Sgt Thomas William Chisholm

 

The battle behind us, the road ahead and so ends my first day of captivity.

One incident which happened goes to prove some of the almost unbelievable atrocities which the enemy committed during the war and a few of our boys being almost in the rear of the column witnessed it without being able to give a helping hand so just had to bear it and keep moving.   It was when their Red Cross men were coming over the ground passing our killed and wounded and not offering to give a hand to relieve their sufferings in the least. (I might mention before going any further that these supposed Red Cross people unlike our R.Q.M.C., were armed with an automatic revolver, cartridge pouch and bayonet.) This particular German walked over to a man lying with his guts hanging out having been hit with a piece of flying shell, the man was doomed in the first place as it was really no good trying to patch him up, but the German walked up to him, and trying to raise himself on one arm asked for water. The swine just shook his head saying ‘Nein, nein,nein nix wasser.’. The tommy, who was a Durham man opened his breast pocket, took out his wallet and offered him a fifty franc note, again gasping out ‘Water,water.’. At this the Gerry took everything from him and drawing his bayonet, slashed him across the mouth. The man then lost consciousness and with a howl, we started forward to attack but being without arms we could do nothing and our guards, for there were plenty of them and big ones at that, with a yell of “Rouse!” or words meaning to ‘get back’, we could do nothing but grit our teeth and with a few curses the German moved on his way, and we were marched in the opposite direction. We never saw our comrade no more, for he was sure to die a brutal and inhuman death.   We continued our journey along the river road and three hundred yards further on came across some of his General Staff mounted on horse-back. One gentleman in particular, having under his arm an English loaf of bread and a jar of jam. It seems hard to believe, but never the less quite true. There he sat watching prisoners move past, and he, every now and then tearing a handful of bread would dip it into the jam, and eat as if his very life depended upon it.   Another quarter of a mile or so and we were passing in the shadow of the great California Plateau, and on looking up to the top most point we could see a crowd of German officers and a few yards ahead of them there was standing a solitary man standing with his cape gently blowing  in the breeze. This man proved later to be the great War Lord of Germany, the Kaiser himself watching his troops doing their work of destruction as they moved forward.   The heat of the day was at it’s worst now and we were beginning to feel the effects and wondering when we were going to get a halt and something to eat because the last good meal we had was about 4:30pm on Sunday afternoon and it was now 2:30pm on Monday. We had no water either to fall back on as a reserve having dumped all before being taken, so we just trudged along, Fred No 1 on the right, myself on the left and being supported by us was Fred No 2 my batman, as we had to carry our own wounded, and with no idea where we were bound for, what with our sore feet, parched throats, the heat together with the groans from Fred 2 it was a very unpleasant position to be in. Fred 1 cursed the square head fluently all the way.   This continued until 6:30pm without a spell, when we arrived at a fairly large barbed wire compound and being counted when passing through the gate, all this done the gate was securely locked and surrounded by guards. On looking round there was no chance of escape.   Next we were fed our first meal in captivity. Well, now came a problem. Having no small kit what were we going to get this meal in, and what to eat it with? Fred 1 came to the rescue, taking off his steel helmet, he tore out the lining and low and behold there was as good a soup bowl as one could wish to have. Many followed likewise and forming up in the line, arrived at the boiler from which a German with a litre measure, dished out a white liquid, which turned out to be nothing else but flour and water boiled, so putting our helmets to our lips we drank deeply. Hardly had this been done when we were moved into a more remote corner of the compound for the night, and it was a cold one.   Everyone huddled together in the open, without any sort of covering, in an endeavour to keep warm. The outside men, one of them being me, had to keep turning over from back to front as required.    So ended the 27th May as my first day as a prisoner of war.

Sgt Thomas William Chisholm

Sgt Thomas William Chisholm

 

Sunday 29th + 30th December 1918 - New order, then wait!

Sunday 29th December 1918.   Orders are issued that the camp must be closed by the 1st January 1919. The excitement is great and we all start packing our little wooden boxes in readiness for the journey. Then we wait.   Monday 30th December 1918.   Still we wait.   Sgt. Thomas William Chisholm (POW),
The Northumberland Fusiliers 5th Battalion, B Company Aisne, Giessen, Darmstadt, Lager 3A, Barrack 126, Lager 5
Lamsdorf O/Sch., Germany.

Sgt Thomas William Chisholm

Sgt Thomas William Chisholm

 

October 1918 Life at Lamsdorf POW Camp

Tuesday 1st October 1918   Today started just as many others have started with the usual breakfast and working parties.   News reaches us that the civil population is to be allowed another rise in their bread ration of 10%.   When the boys return after work it is with rumours of terms of peace by President Wilson, also that the railway workers in Austria had gone on strike owing to some misunderstanding, and that they were refusing to convey German troops across their country.     Wednesday 2nd October 1918   Today Fred and I agree to adopt a young lad belonging to Durham, who was serving in the West Yorkshire regiment at the time he was taken, so Billy is taken under our wing.   The first biscuit parcel is delivered to us, so to celebrate both events Fred makes us some potato cakes, and with a pot of tea and the biscuits the feed goes down very well.   The task of ridding ourselves of superfluous hair, of which there was ample growth, was no easy one. No one was in possession of the necessary razor, brush or soap, so it had been impossible to shave up to the present, and now after a whole month we felt the need of one badly. Fred spotted one of the boys with a small pair of nail scissors, so asking for the loan of them he placed himself in front of a piece of polished tin and proceeded to clip off his beard. After about an hour and a half he gave up, so I volunteered to complete the job. We adjourned outside into the open compound and I started to snip, snip, snip. Judging by the length of time it took, I must have only snipped one hair at a time, for I kept going for another two hours, but at the end of that time, Fred looked a great deal cleaner than before, and he in turn clipped mine, which took just as long. Eventually it became the daily spare time pastime of all in the camp as it proved better than nothing at all, although we could not get the hair completely removed, for a rough stubble remained, but it was good enough for the time being.     Thursday 3rd October 1918   We have reported to us that the treatment of British POW’s in the mines is most brutal, being forced to go down the coal mine without any food, with order that they would have to produce a certain amount of coal before they would be allowed to come to the surface again. Of course through lack of nourishment and ill treatment the men were in no fit condition to work, so they were obliged to remain below for many days at a time never seeing daylight. If they were unfortunate enough to happen any accident, they had to carry on just the same, without any dressing on their wounds, through which many of them had died. Cases arrived in our camp one day and two or three of them were Romanians. They had been returned from the salt mines in some unknown district, but they had been kept down the mines so long that they were totally blind, whether they would ever regain their sight at all was never bothered about.     Friday 4th October 1918    Good things happen today when the boys come back from work, they also bring news of emergency parcels. Not being sufficient to give one to every man, they are opened out and the goods pooled and then issued out.   Our share consists of 11/2 kilos of bread biscuits and 4 Jerry soup powders per man, so with the three lots of rations together, the next few days looked a bit better.     Saturday 5th October 1918    We were so hungry last night that all our biscuits have been consumed, three or four times during the night Fred and I would wake up and speaking in low tones would make up our minds that the these two biscuits would be the last. Of course Billy was in it as well, but after lying for about another two hours our resolution would be broken, and we would have another couple, thus when morning came round we had none left at all, and we were waiting for our ration of black bread.   Billy got his first clothing parcel from the Red Cross, so he straight away strips off all his old clothing and having a bath in cold water, dresses up in his new oputfit and it looks very well indeed.   Some rumour comes again into the camp, this time it is reported that the King of Bulgaria has disappeared, but this is all we ever hear of it.     Sunday 6th October 1918   This morning we are punished for some reason by the camp commandant by  depriving us of our breakfast soup and we only get our bread ration, so we have to be content with that. We cut ours in halves and spread it over with a layer of very course salt, and gathering a few dandelion leaves, we eat this and have to be satisfied. Unfortunately, owing to there being so few British officers in the camp, our complaints never get a hearing.   The usual Sunday church parade and then lounging about for the rest of the day, our pastor issues postcards to us so we pass away a little of the time writing home. (This one reaches England 26th November 1918.)   In the afternoon, Fred, Billy and myself wander away through the camp amongst the other nationalities in the hope of getting something. But everything we do seems so hopeless.   At one part of the camp where the Serbians are, we come across some of these people struggling with huge packing cases absolutely filled with bacon, the sight of which nearly sent us mad. To cap it all, it has been sent from British Red Cross people in Switzerland. We wished we had not come so far now, It was suggested that we should make a raid on their compound and steal what we could at night, but if that had been attempted there would certainly be some shooting on the part of our sentries, and very stern punishments next morning so it was called off. So we did without again.     Monday 7th October 1918   News comes through that the peace terms submitted by President Wilson have been almost accepted by the Germans, with certain modifications.   This afternoon our pasterns (guards) approach the compound in mass formation with rifles and bayonets fixed, and on their arrival the Dalmatian (our translator) is called, to inform us that we are to proceed again for another visit to the baths. On hearing this of course it is greeted with very strong dissent, and we refuse to go. Jerry not to be daunted, endeavours to rouse us out, but as soon as the men left the huts they scattered in all directions, thus making it impossible to get us all together. Fred Billy and I disappeared into the French settlement, and from the top of the huts watched the proceedings from there. We could see both British and German all over the place, the Germans shouting and waving their arms about in an endeavour to call us all in, but it could not be done. In the end the senior corporal must have reported the matter to his commandant, and finally they were withdrawn, and we gradually arrived back to the huts in small numbers.   It was on our arrival that we found out all that had happened. It appeared that one pastern (guard) had entered number 124 barrack and attempted to rouse out all who remained inside, but he came to grief because, losing his temper at being ignored by so many men, he had unfixed his bayonet, and stamping along towards a corporal of the 6th Batt. Northumberland Fusiliers, was just in the act of crashing the flat of the bayonet across his shoulder, when there was a yell of rage and pain from Jerry. He had obtained the full contents of a pot containing steaming hot cocoa in his face. Being in such a rage he had failed to observe a mirror just in front of the corporal, and placed at such an angle, that whilst standing with his back to Jerry, he could still see all that was going on behind him, so when Jerry was about to strike him, the corporal got in first, with a quick movement of his arm across his shoulder, just managed to hit his mark, and Jerry got the contents full in the face.   The corporal was put straight under arrest, and put into cells until next morning when he was brought up before the Camp Kommandant. In the meantime we had all been very busy gathering together all the evidence of the assault we could and sent five men as witnesses for the defense. After a trial lasting half an hour, it ended that instead of our good corporal being punished, the boot was on the other foot, and Jerry was put in cells for six days and then sent back to his regiment at the front.   That also ended any more attempts on Jerry’s part to get us to go for a bath, because we did not want a repetition of our last bath, and fumigation.     Tuesday 8th October 1918   The report of yesterday is confirmed by our committee men from Lager 1 when we all met today to receive an Emergency Parcel between two, and then we have another blow out.   It is customary everyday to see our Russian neighbours moving in and out of the various compounds, selling or exchanging cigarettes for bread. The ,method used was for one portion of bread you can obtain five cigarettes which after all are equal to two and a half Woodbines, because they were half cardboard holder and the other half tobacco, so we called then half and half’s. Otherwise you could purchase them at five for one mark, but not being in possession of any money at all, we are forced to give our daily bread ration away if we want a smoke. This has been going on for a while now and we’re just about tired of doing without the only piece of solid food that we could get, in fact I think that a few of the boys were on the border of madness.   However this morning it was a strange Russian who came around with his box of smokes and he shuffled his six foot six of solid manhood across to where a group of Tommies were standing muttering, “Cigarettes, homemade ugaritten! for marks?”. So an NCO who formerly was a dock labourer at Liverpool and a proper ruffian, moved forward to meet him saying “Rusky here come”, and started to bargain with him, but the Russian seemed a little doubtful whether to accept the bread or not, but at last he was persuaded and the sergeant started to select his own cigarettes from the box with the remainder of the guys looking on. Suddenly, without any warning, the whole box went flying into the air, and the cigarettes scattering in all directions. Naturally when the Russian fully realized what had happened he tried to collect as many as he could, but some of the men beat him to it and disappeared into the huts with what they could. I fully expected to see him fly into a rage and charge into the crowd like a mad bull, (because he seemed big enough to eat all our men, and look for more), but instead he just said “Ah, homemade mine cigaretten, dat is nix goot” and the tears streamed down his dirty face. Fancy, he a big hulking brute of a man actually crying at the loss of a few cigarettes, however he had to go away without any of them, for the gang had stolen nearly the whole lot.    The excitement died down and they were all being smoked, when about half an hour later up came another Russian who happened to be in charge of his own countrymen, and a sergeant major. He greeted the few who were standing about with a pleasant “Good morning Englishmen” and we returned to the compound. Coming up close to the wire he asked who it was who had stolen his comrade’s cigarettes. Being what we were I suppose, no one answered, because the real culprit was hiding in his hut and even though I and the few who were present had taken no part whatever in the proceedings, we did not wish to be implicated by trying to defend one who could lower his dignity as an English NCO. “Well” he said “I am very surprised at your actions this morning, fancy an Englishman coming so low, as to steal such a trifle from my people, because they knew you preferred a smoke to your bread. You know my people are not educated as you are, and are not to be expected to know so much as you, and I know very well that you would never dream of doing such a cowardly act in your own country, because I was educated in Oxford University, and I know your ways.   At this we fairly gasped in astonishment, at the very idea of the man in front of us standing stiffly to attention in his smart Russian uniform, his peaked cap, and blouse, smartly cut riding britches and last but not least a very smart pair of boots, high legged, such as worn by all Russians and polished as I have never seen any boots before.   However he apologized very properly for the intrusion and said that he hoped that we would think twice before doing anything like that again, and went away leaving us feeling very small and humiliated indeed.   Three days later the same gentleman, under the pretext of going to a church service in the neighbouring village, escaped in the horse and trap that were being used to convey him there, and he was never seen again.     Wednesday 9th October 1918   Today opened very unsatisfactorily owing to a North East wind blowing and rain coming down in sheets. All working parties are cancelled, and the sentries seek shelter wherever they can.           The barracks or huts became flooded, with the absence of any scheme of drainage. The water poured through the roofs of the huts onto nearly all the beds and we are all sitting shivering in groups where ever there is a dry spot to be found.   Our pastern has great difficulty in getting any one to venture across to the cook house to bring the soup, but after a great deal of noise he gets his way at last.   There is no sleep tonight on account of the storm and the rain coming in on our beds.     Thursday 10th October 1918   Cheerful news greet us this  morning about 10.30 am when a messenger from Lager One gave the information that a truck load of biscuits were lying at the station and out working party was busy unloading them in readiness to be brought across to us.     This is the first biscuit parcel that I have received since I came into Germany, so it is with great joy that I took possession of my wooden box containing about 3 kilos. It was sent from Bern in Switzerland on the 9th of September, so it has taken just one month to reach me. There was a printed card enclosed, to be used for the purposes of a receipt, which I immediately filled in and returned to Bern.     It is rumoured about the camp today that a new Turkish Government is about to be formed with a Prime minister at its head who had been in England for many years and was more inclined to the side of the allies than he was to the German side. Of course we fully expected at this rate, that Turkey would eventually turn against Germany and come over to our side, but this rumour also died a natural death as we heard no more of it.   I don’t feel all together too well today, what with that empty feeling in the pit of the stomach and the rotten raw cabbage soup I get it into my head that it is the end and begin to pray that it might be so. It is not only the sickly feeling, but together, the stink of the huts we are living in, and we are all absolutely walking with lice, one could not get a minutes peace for scratching one part of the body or another. Not being able to get a wash or shave we all just feel as if there was nothing more to live for, however night comes again and with it sleep, with the hope that the war would be finished soon.                                                                 Friday 11th October 1918   When daylight broke I was too ill to turn out so Fred took it upon himself to nurse me, it was a bad attach of flu and he gave me all my food at my bunk and would not allow me out of the bed at all, although I managed to crawl out in the evening for a little while but was glad to get back again.     Saturday 12th October 1918   Both Fred and Billy get biscuit packets today this is the first one for Fred and he is overjoyed to think that at last someone has realized that he is still alive and in need of food.   At 10.30pm the atmosphere became so still, that it seemed impossible to breath. What was coming we had no idea, but we had not long to wait, for as we were lounging ideally about outside the huts, as it seemed a little too early to turn in, because the mere fact of having no work or exercise of any description, we naturally suffered from sleeplessness. It came upon us quite suddenly. In the distance a terrific roar could be heard and within five minutes the storm burst. Such a storm I have never experienced before and don’t wish to again. The wind simply tore down upon us, so of course the best thing to do was to get under cover. With the wind came the deafening crash of thunder. The heavens were literally one mass of liquid fire, just like a million gas jets burning here, there, and all over. The most peculiar thing about the whole affair, was that there was not one drop of rain. It just seemed as if all hell had opened. We were so, I would not say afraid, but surprised, that no one seemed as if they could speak. We just all stood round the inside of the doorway and watched, absolutely amazed that the elements could play such tricks.   Needless to say the sentries had also disappeared, into the guard hut. Once again, we could if inclined, go free, but what use in such a storm, and having to keep under cover of the forest, which we would have been forced to do, would have been courting death. The sky seemed to have fallen so low, that it seemed as if one could touch it with an outstretched hand and the lightening, small jagged forks, thousands of them. It was never dark for one minute, a truly nerve racking experience for one who had never been through an electric storm before.   The storm kept raging until somewhere about four or five am. Finally the gale or hurricane seemed to blow itself out, with it the thunder and lightning died away and quiet reign once more.   It was then that we felt the need of a little rest, for not one of the troops had made any attempt at sleep, which had been out of the question. I don’t think that anyone failed that night, to offer up a small prayer of some sort, for our safety.     Sunday 13th October 1918   A miserable wet day dawned and when it was time to parade and for the usual count it was then that we saw what havoc had been done by last nights storm. One of the machine gun towers had been smashed to pieces and burnt by lightening. Great huge pine trees had been torn out of the earth by the roots, carried 50 yards away, and lay like fallen giants, some were split from top to bottom. It was only the sight of these things that made us realize the full force of the storm and its affect on nature and we had no desire to go through the same again.    We went as usual on our tramp to the stable for church service. On our return, along came the German Sergeant Major and had us all turned out on parade again for a message from the Lager Commandant. He thought it very silly of us British people wanting to buy a piano for our concert party. When, he thought, in all probability we would not be there very long. We informed the Sgt. Maj. that our committee would take a vote on the matter and let the Commandant know within the hour, to which he agreed.   Finally it was decided that instead of getting the piano we might obtain permission to erect a small monument in the cemetery to our comrades who had died in captivity. This was agreed to and conveyed to the Commandant who demurred a good deal, however in the end he informed us that he would write to Head Quarters and see what could be done.   Dinnertime arrived and it was just pigs meal, consisting of a very small percentage of Barley, potato skins, jam, died fungus from trees and their substitute for margarine. None of the ingredients having been washed, the result was about a quarter of an inch of sand and soil in the bottom of our work bowls. Needless to say, no matter how hungry we felt we could not settle to consume this, but it was soon devoured by our Russian visitors, who were continually coming round begging for what they could get.   The weather dried up somewhat towards 2pm so Fred Billy and myself sauntered off in search of adventure.   We arrived in a part of the camp where there was a piece of open ground and here we found all sorts of nationalities selling anything from a pin, to a gold watch. It was very amusing to walk round this market (for that’s what it was) and view the various articles. Here you could bargain for a pair of trousers, stitched and darned where they had been worn, in exchange for a tin of bully beef and 2 biscuits. In another, a pocket knife for so many cigarettes. One particular fellow had a beautiful silver watch, wonderfully chased on the outside and mounted with 17 rubies, and it was no thicker than a 5 shilling piece. He wanted 200 marks for it, but not being in possession of any money at all, we passed on to the next stand. Here we found an Italian with about 2 dozen pieces of black bread. He was trying to sell these for 3 marks a piece, another chap half naked was exchanging Jerry soup powders for 10 cigarettes.   We spent a good 2 hours wandering round this market, and finally not being able to pinch anything, we returned to our compound in disgust.     Monday 14th October 1918   Up as usual at 4:45am after breakfast we are split up into working parties, so after I borrow one of the boys jackets, and I set off with the rest of our party to work in the forest.   This time we took a different road, and after going about 2 miles our sentries called a halt, and sent us about our business. Myself and one of our party branched out in a north easterly direction and after one or two journeys back and forward to the wagon with armfuls of wood, we decided that the time was ripe to carry out our plans as arranged on our journey out. Moving away until we were absolutely hidden by the trees and the undergrowth, we moved quicker until after travelling about half a mile we came to a clearing which from all appearances looked as if it had been meant for a road but was not finished. After a good look round to see that we had not been observed, we made up towards the edge of the forest which was at the end of this road and up a slight incline, but keeping under cover all the time, because we had no fancy to be shot at for escaping. When we arrived at the top of the hill we saw that it led into a large potato field, where all the potato’s had been pulled out of the earth and were just lying in small heaps as if ready to be collected.   “Whatever can we carry them in?” my pal said, “I know” said I “Just pull your shirt up like this.” So pulling up our shirts blouse fashion we crawled forward until we were close enough to one of the heaps and started to fill our improvised sacks. When we were finished I might say we looked anything but in proportion, nevertheless we thought it was time to get back in case our party had decided to go back to camp, or we had been missed, but we were very lucky, just as we were within sight of the wagon again the sentries were calling the party in to go back. So gathering a large bundle of branches, almost more than we could carry, we spread them over our backs, and almost bent double with the weight we were able to hide the tell tale bulk in our fronts. It was a nightmare of a journey what with the potatoes pressing and rubbing against our prominent ribs and the soil and weight, it was absolutely hell, not counting the fear of being caught by Jerry. I for one was jolly glad to be back in camp again and get myself unburdened. We had a good feed that night.   Billy our adopted one is sent out on a party in the afternoon employed in the burial of Russians. He told us on his return that they had buried forty, the majority had died from dysentery and the smell was almost unbearable. The bodies had all been put into one grave fully clothed just as they had died.                           The Unwilling Fox Terrier   During the course of the afternoon when all seemed to be quiet in the huts, Fred and I were walking alongside the outer wall of wire, close up to the sentries beat Fred utter a sound of amazement, and on looking round I saw a small rough haired fox terrier coming in our direction. I think he must have belonged to some of the German troops stationed just across the moor, in the direction of Lager 1.   It so happened that we had never seemed to notice the fact that since being in Germany we had never seen a dog at all and this being the first, brought home to both at once, the same thought, that as horrible and cruel as it may seem, but hunger drives a man to any extremities. We both looked at each other and murmured “here is a feed”. We intended if possible to get hold of the dog, take him into the hut and at night, kill him, dispose of the skin and insides, and cook the rest of his little carcass. I think that the doggie must have had some presentiment of his doom for try as we would he could not be enticed through to our side of the wire. We whistled and coaxed, but all the to no end, he kept a respectful distance away and at last with a delighted yap he bounded off back again in the direction he had come. We looked after him with a feeling of woe at his unleashed liberty. If only we could roam like that.      Wednesday 16th October 1918 the Sgt wrote:   Against the decision of 1st our sub-committee obtain permission to go to Breslau, so they departed in high spirits to a few hours freedom in town, accompanied by two trusted guards.   They took with them all the proceeds of the sale of sacrificed cigarettes, namely 260 marks, thinking that in this country where piano’s were manufactured that they ought to be rather cheap. But on arriving in the town they discovered that the cheapest they could obtain would cost 1600 marks. Of course that cancelled the idea altogether, so they returned empty handed. It was then definitely decided to erect the proposed memorial in the form of a broken fluted column for which a plan had been submitted by a local architect (whether this was ever done I could not say).       Thursday 17th October 1918   After all the usual proceedings of the day had been gone through and after our dinner of cabbage water we were all resting in the hut when in came a French Sergeant and speaking very good English, enquired if it was possible for any of our boys to bargain with him for chocolate, or any kind of foodstuffs in exchange for really good cigarettes, for, he explained to us, that he and a few more of his comrades had been planning and were practically ready for their escape, and it only required a few odds and ends to complete their equipment. He was successful in a small degree in getting a few biscuits, bully beef, etc, so he departed quite happy after having told us all there was to tell about how they intended to get away. In all somewhere about 100 French had succeeded in getting away across the border into Austria, no doubt they would still be in enemy hands, but it was supposed that treatment was much better than that in Germany.   (Although I am still not 100% sure whether my grandfather is in Giessen or Lamsdorf POW camp at this stage, he is obviously disorientated by all his travel here, as Austria is some considerable distance from both camps.)     Monday 21st October 1918   There has been nothing very important happened within the last four days so I propose to skip over them which brings us to 21st October 1918 when a consignment of Emergency Parcels arrive in camp. After all had been opened each two men were given,    1 tin Milk, 1 tin Machonachin Rations, 2 pieces of sugar, 1 tin Veal loaf, 3 small biscuits, 2 spoons full of cocoa and tea and 4 cigarettes. So, happy with this present we went back to our hut for another good meal, as we no sooner got anything like this than it was eaten straight away.     Thursday 24th October 1918   Today our Serbian friend from the Eastern Front tries to get us some decent clothing by approaching the camp commandant but is refused, and very nearly put into cells for his pains, but he says that he does not care as the British people were always good to him.   How this Serbian got here was a miracle, for he was taken prisoner right away down on the Eastern Front fighting against the Bulgars, and after being taken he took three British Tommies into his confidence and it appears that in pre-war days he was in the Isle of Man, but on the outbreak of war he tried to join the British Army, but was refused and was sent to an internment camp for a short time, after which he was sent back to his own country, where he still found it very hard  to even get into his own army, owing to the fact no doubt that he had been away so long. However finally he was taken in and sent up to the front only to be taken prisoner along with a few British troops clad only in there khaki drill. Eventually with the help of this Serb, they made their escape at night and going across country the Serb was successful in blowing up an ammunition train on its way to the front. After this traveling by night and hiding during the day, he gets food for the party by purporting to be one of the German soldiers. After about eight days they finally arrived in our camp, almost dead from starvation and exposure to cold. He was without doubt a hero and looked upon as such by all in our camp. He could speak three or four different languages as good as any native, which eventually got him a job as an interpreter. Later he was doomed to be left in the camp all by himself after all the British had returned home.   This morning it had been arranged that three members of the committee belonging to Lager 3A should visit the cook house to see and inspect the place where our soup was boiled. This visit had been very difficult to arrange owing to the unwillingness of the camp commandant, for he seemed to think that we were incapable of looking after ourselves. However we succeeded at last, and at 10am off went our three members, taking with them the empty soup tubs that had contained our breakfast soup. Of course we were all under the impression that if we could only get on the good side of our guards we would be able to do a great deal more for our own personal comforts, but they always seemed unapproachable, as if we were dangerous and people to be watched with every move we made, so our attempts were very unsatisfactory indeed. In this direction our deputation to the cook house didn’t improve the situation, for when they returned to the compound it was in a hurry.   It appeared that all went well, the building itself was a first class place containing all that would be desired by a squad of good cooks, but when they entered one compartment and noticed one of the cooks, who was of Russian nationality, stoking up the fires with coal, and when he had done that, lifting up the lid of the huge boiler commenced to stir up the contents with the same shovel. That ended all our chances of getting British cooks or better grub because he made one smack at the Russian and floored him straight away. That ended the inspection, for he was promptly seized and marched back to be put in front of the commandant and given a good strapping for his pains, and told that under no circumstances would any suggestion from the British be entertained again.   We were very much surprised indeed that he had not been put into cells, but we heard afterwards that the commandant had a little feeling of respect for our troops and this was a little comforting, and gave us a little more confidence in our position     Friday 25th October 1918   Today I am issued with a biscuit ration, numbering 10 in all, so after boring a few holes in the tops and pouring in a good deal of water, put them in the sun to mature as it were. We three pals soon made short work of them.   The soup toady was rotten, in fact it was not fit for human consumption, but it had to go down all the same and when the time came to turn in for the night, Fred pulled out a turnip and dividing it between the three, we munched it like a cow chewing the cud.       Saturday 26th October 1918   This is the first anniversary of our attack on Houthulst Forest last year when I was slightly wounded in the right knee and upper lip.     Sunday 27th October 1918   The usual visit to the Stable Church, and then back.   I received a letter from home dated 22nd September.   (As you may be able to work out from the postcard displayed, he may have been scolded in the letter he talks of here, because he did not visit his mother during his only leave early in 1918.)     Monday 28th October 1918   Same old routine as usual but I arrange to go out to work in the forest again and when everyone is at work and the guards have settled down by the wagon, four of our party including myself sneak away to our treasure trove for another supply of potatoes and we succeed in getting about two stones each.   Rumours that an Armistice is about to take place and gives us all something to speculate about as to what will happen here but when we get back to camp it dies a natural death as usual.     Wednesday 30th October 1918   I got 4 postcards from home dated 26th, 27th, 30th, 31st July. It has taken them sometime to reach me, however they are most welcome.   At last we have discovered a method of dealing with our troublesome lodgers, for it has been part of our daily routine, what is commonly called a “chatting parade” which generally lasted for about two and a half hours, of course it was absolutely impossible to keep ourselves clean, owing to the treatment meted out to us on our last visit to the baths, and we rather preferred to retain our growth than go for another dose.   The weather by now being pretty cold, it was found that by divesting ourselves of our clothes at night and leaving such articles of clothing out in the very cold night air, that it had the effect of dispersing the creeper for a short while anyway, which gave us a little period of rest from scratching holes in our bodies. During the summer months when the weather was very hot, we used to sit for hours watching the comings and goings of the ants, many of which were nested close to the wooden walls of the hut. Their work was so regular that they had a real beaten track from one little hole in the ground to the other, so we discovered that by placing our clothes over the ant heaps, they would swarm over a shirt and attack the vermin in such a manner, that our freedom from torment was assured for about 24 hours. Of course there not being sufficient and heaps for everybody’s requirements, we all had to take turns of using one particular heap.

Sgt Thomas William Chisholm

Sgt Thomas William Chisholm

 

Monday 16th December 1918 - Clothing, and list of names.

Monday 16th December 1918     A large consignment of clothing arrived from Lager 1, to equip the men of the first transport. We had a very busy day but I was doomed to disappointment, for when the list of names was read over my name failed to appear, so Fred and I were very gloomy at having to be separated after all our times of strife together, for he was down to go with this first batch. However we had to make the best of things, so I helped him to pack his few goods and get him ready. After that we turned out for a smoke and a wander round the huts, before turning in for the night.     Sgt. Thomas William Chisholm (POW),
The Northumberland Fusiliers 5th Battalion, B Company Aisne, Giessen, Darmstadt, Lager 3A, Barrack 126, Lager 5
Lamsdorf O/Sch., Germany.

Sgt Thomas William Chisholm

Sgt Thomas William Chisholm

 

Monday 15th December 1918 - A canteen and poorly fed kids.

Sunday 15th December 1918           Today after a short parade and inspection by our C.O. we were dismissed and just wandered about the camp as we pleased. Our path took us into a German canteen which by appearances was used by all and sundry, as included in its customers were a few children, poorly fed, and poorly clad. They were really in a very poor state altogether, which only went to show once more the ravages of war on the younger generations. It must take a long time to make things up to pre-war standards again.
Sgt. Thomas William Chisholm (POW),
The Northumberland Fusiliers
5th Battalion, B Company Aisne, Giessen, Darmstadt, Lager 3A, Barrack 126,
Lager 5
Lamsdorf O/Sch., Germany.    

Sgt Thomas William Chisholm

Sgt Thomas William Chisholm

 

Leading up to the battle of Aisne 5th May - 26th May 1918

Sgt. Thomas William Chisholm (POW),
Giessen, Darmstadt, Lager 3A, Barrack 126,
Lamsdorf O/Sch., Germany. The Sgt wrote:   Somewhere in the vicinity of the 5th May 1918, I with many others was chosen to go in advance as assistants to our G.Q.M.S. (Company Quarter Master Sergeant). We were supplied with service bicycles which are the most unwieldy article in the service, together with F.M.O and rifles, and extra rations to last us about two days, with orders to meet and entrain at a certain point namely Aire.   We completed this movement under great difficulty owing to being hampered with so much kit, but the formidable Northumbrian spirit kept us on the alert for what was going to happen next.   When we did meet up with the train we discovered that there was no carriages to travel in so just had to make the best of it on the open trucks underneath our own transport wagon which had been put aboard at Whitby camp prior to our leaving.   We scrambled aboard, about eight men to a truck and eventually rumbled away to god knows where. We travelled for about two days and nights in this fashion, our food consisted of cold pork and beans, bread, bully beef, and whenever the train happened to come to a standstill, we all made a wild dash for the engine for a supply of hot water with which to make some tea, but having used our supply on the second day we broke into the iron rations, which eventually caused some trouble when our destination was reached.   Towards the evening of the second day we came to a standstill just outside Paris, but had to be content with a view of the railway sidings and the suburbs of the city, because we were never sure when this old train with square wheels would start again. We rode throughout the night with the bitterly cold winds blowing between the spokes of the wheels of the wagons, huddled together with great coats and ground sheets wrapped round to try and keep as much warmth as possible, but it was no good we shivered like aspen leaves.   Arriving at our destination Fere-en-Tardenois we heaved a sigh of relief and commenced the tramp to take over the part of the line we were to occupy from the French troops. Arriving at the village of Pontavert during the heat of the day, we handed in our bicycles, and formally took over a series of hutments, and occupied the same until the next morning (approx 9th May?) when we were early astir and having partaken of a good breakfast, moved off towards the general reserve line situated in the village of Concevreux. We did not linger very long here as it was only necessary to have the various billets pointed out, so moving further afield we came to more or less rather open country, and being the height of summer everything seemed to be at its very best. The trees were beautiful, and fresh with their coats of green and the grass reminded one of the beautiful downs in the south of England.   This road appeared to the main artery between Fismes and Reims running parallel with the River Aisne for a considerable distance, but between Concevreux and what was to be our next camp as it was called was a beaten track across country between the river and the main road. Whilst crossing this track we could see good distance to the right towards the line, about two hundred yards in front was low lying ground (untouched by the ravaging gunfire and smothered with green grass and poppies) also forming a natural basin, where in wet weather must by appearances, be subject to flooding, as a tressle bridge ran from river to road which in such weather would enable anyone to move across country by a very short route.   Looking further ahead we could see a wrecked village just beyond a small wood, behind this wood was a small cemetery containing something like three hundred graves. At the entrance of this was a large crucifix which was discernible from practically any point within a three mile radius.   Continuing along the main road towards the Bois de Butte which turned out to be a real nest of French 75’s, and anti tank guns, on our extreme left was the California Plateau towering high above everything with its flat top. However we were not destined to touch that piece of land until a later date, so we continued towards the Bois de Butte. Upon our arrival we were received by two very smart French Officers, who looked as if they had just stepped out of a band box, they were so very clean and spruce. Not being able to speak or understand any of their language I had to be content with just following them around this natural fort, glancing occasionally at the map in the officer’s possession and picking out the lay of the land that lay in front.   All in all I think there were about eighteen to twenty 75lb guns on and around this small hill with its innocent wooded slopes, the guns being cleverly camouflaged and the living quarters for the man were the essence of comfort. However having duly looked over this piece of ground we looked to our front and support lines. This part of the country being of a chalky nature the trenches were easily picked out. Straight in front was a village very much knocked about, but one could see working parties moving in and out amongst its ruins in daylight which very much amused our party, because on any other part of the front one dare not show so much as a finger.   Of course the more we were seeing of this the more we were liking it, as it looked what it was meant to be for us, a proper rest camp, but little did we know our pleasure was to be so short lived..   So after reviewing all of this and taking in all the main landmarks including two wrecked French tanks half left of this position it was time to get back to our billets for the night because we had about six miles to go back to them. It was beginning to get dark and through all this time we had not heard a shot fired, so with pleasant thought of a good supper and a bottle of good champagne (at two francs a bottle by the way) we turned in for the night in readiness for next morning, when our last day of the advanced party ended and the Battalion would arrive. Reveille was at five am next morning so we hurriedly dressed, breakfasted and putting on just a bandolier containing fifty rounds of ammunition, rifle, steel helmet and box respirator, marched off about 06:45 for the support and front lines. We traversed the same ground as the previous day, but continued on past the Bois de Butte and on into the village and then branched off to the left and entered a communications trench dug out of chalk.   Continuing through this veritable maze we eventually arrived at a small wood in a hollow, splendid to gaze upon. There were various sandbag erections with elephant iron roofs very carefully camouflaged, (and just outside of these were roughly made tables and forms made from branches of trees and all of this nicely placed so as to be away from aircraft observations) under the welcome shade of overhanging branches of huge trees which sheltered the tables from the glare of the hot sun.   Then commenced the proper job of taking over, whilst the officers commanding the British went about with the French men we juniors with the company of the French sergeants dived down into the funk holes, or deep dugouts. About thirty feet down earthen stairs well built up at the sides to stop the earth from falling in, arrived at the bottom to come into the dugout proper with its long passage and cubby holes running into the sides containing properly made wooden bunks light by electric light. When this failed the French had not been idle, as hanging from the sides of their bunks were small lamps made from their own egg bombs resting in wire sockets. There was also a good supply of rubber boots to be used in wet weather. Altogether things seemed to look very bright for us in the future.   On coming to ground level again by our officer and he pointed out just where the dynamo house and Company Head Quarters were. That completed, we were preparing to go back again when a sergeant of the French troops, who could speak fairly good English, asked if we would care to stay for dinner. Naturally it was accepted on the spot, so we wiled away the time looking over the ground in the vicinity. On getting away from the huts into the wood we found lilies of the valley growing in great numbers and the scent was just splendid, however, in the distance we heard a call and returned to fin dinner richly spread on the tables already mentioned under the trees.   We started off with soup, then, fish caught in the river, followed by very small potatoes boiled nicely in fat, cabbage, and a dish containing what looked like shrimps beautifully cooked and brown, to which we tool a liberal helping and thoroughly enjoyed the same.   Nothing was said until it was all over, we were partaking of wine and champagne, when our host turned to us with a broad grin on his face, and asked us if we had realized what we had just eaten. Of course I said shrimps, our C.Q.M.S said winkles, and that made them all laugh out loud. “No” he said “you have just eaten a plate of snails.” Well to say the least we were all petrified, however we were obliged to admit that it was one of the most palatable dishes we had had for some time, so we sat talking and drinking until the sun began to cool, so we decided it was time to get back to our billets in Concevreux. However that was easier said than done, for it was quite evident that we had dined too well. I will not describe the journey back as it can better be imagined. Let it suffice that I and my pal Fred arrived very tired and foot sore somewhere about 6am, and all being quiet we sneaked into bed and no one was any the wiser as to what time we got in.   The Battalion duly arrived, and there were greetings of ‘What’s it like here?’’Is the line very far?’ ‘Does he shell very much?’ and when everything had been fully explained, the boys were more or less contented. Then started the work of issuing blankets etc, and the hundred and one things that are required. One of the chief things being a supply of ammunition because there was hardly any in this district excepting French stuff and that was no good to use in our rifles.   With everything done, guards posted, pickets detailed, alarm post chosen, the boys as usual went out on the scrounge for feeds such as egg and chips, steak and chips, the usual beers shops, but I’m afraid the beer shops did very little trade when it was discovered that champagne could be bought for two francs a bottle. However there was so much consumed that the locals soon jumped the price and within a few days it was fifteen francs a bottle.   The boys still thought it was home from home, and all went pretty well during our tour in the support and front lines until we were relieved by the 6th Battalion on or about the 18th May 1018. We took our four days rest back in Concevreux, but on the afternoon of the Sunday 26th an all present parade was called, extra ammunition supplies were issued and we were told that an attack was expected to take place at 1am Monday 27th.. We were told where they settled the alarm post was to be and that no one was allowed out of the billets. This done the company was dismissed and they settled down to talk of what and how it was going to happen.   Things were exceedingly quiet, like the lull before the storm, until somewhere about 09:00 – 09:30pm our batteries opened fire on their points of concentration and approaches, but no one replied to this fire, and our guns kept up the harassing fire until midnight when they quietened down a little bit. By this time the whole Battalion were on alarm post waiting for what was going to happen next. Officers rushed about giving final instructions to senior N.C.O’s as to what formation to adopt and the route to be taken, and positions to be taken up. Transport wagons had taken some of the surplus equipment away, but a good deal was still left behind including my chest, containing about four pairs of good home made socks, towel, great coat and some rather valuable papers which I used on a course of instruction at the 8th Corps. School. Well we had all stood changing from one foot to the other and talking with hushed voices and waiting patiently for the next move, and it came suddenly, for almost dead on the minute we heard the whiz and plop of two gas shells just in front of the form we had vacated, and almost immediately it seemed that the whole German artillery opened fire and the air was filled with shrieking, and groaning, shells and the crash and crump of the explosions were terrifying. However we still stood our ground awaiting orders, which eventually came and it was to don gas masks, and move into the open, as the main street in any village was always a mark for a gunner. This bombardment went on all night as we waited for further orders.

Sgt Thomas William Chisholm

Sgt Thomas William Chisholm

 

July 1918 from Darmstadt to Lamsdorf, our new "home" but far from home.

Monday 1st July 1918                                                    Orders came today that we were going to move and while handing in blankets, I was accosted by my old red nosed friend, who with a smile approached and asked how I had enjoyed my stay at Darmstadt. Not to be outdone I replied that it had all been very nice, only I saw that he had noticed my plight, being without boots etc, and drawing me to one side he asked if at any time during my tour of the front I had met any regiment of the Canadian Scottish. The truth was that I had not and said so rather indignantly and I could see that the swine did not believe me, however after that I saw no more of him and by 2pm we were aboard the train made up of about twenty cattle trucks and rolled away.   The journey lasted 3 days and was not without it’s outstanding events. There were 35 men in one truck. The first day we travelled from 2pm until somewhere about 3:30am 2nd July before we got a meal at all, as after various stops for such as coal, water and perhaps a new engine driver. All we could do was look through the little opening in the top of the truck between iron bars. The place began to smell owing to so many men being in the confined space and no sanitary arrangements. There were neither blankets, or straw to lie upon and I fully expected someone to go mad before the journey was over.   It was a great relief to get outside that truck, although it was so early in the morning and bitterly cold, we gladly lined up in the canteen on the station for a meal consisting of something like macaroni. The amount seemed very small indeed to our starved insides, but the main thing about it was it was hot. As soon as we had eaten this we were driven back by our guards to the trucks and away again.   Daylight at last and on looking through the lattice, found that we were traveling along the Rhine valley, and a beautiful sight it was with the pine clad hills coming right down to the waters edge. Nearly all the hill tops were crowned with what appeared to be baronial castles standing out against the skyline and in the hollows nestled the beautiful hamlets or villages. However we still rolled on with the sweet smelling pine trees in our nostrils mingling with the stench of the truck.   About midday we came to a halt beside a small village, the children were just coming out of school. Seeing the train with prisoners aboard and being curious as all children will be, made a line straight for the train and getting as close as they could began to throw stones and making the motion of cutting out throats. Of course we were helpless and naturally annoyed that children so young should be taught to do such things, but there it was proving their utter hatred of the British. After about half an hour we puffed away once more and continued until 9pm before another halt was called, this time at a station, fairly large with a canteen on the platform, another meal similar to the last, then once more aboard and away again, still keeping along the Rhine Valley.     Wednesday 3rd July 1918   At about 10am this morning we arrived at a small station called Lamsdorf where we were finally doomed to settle for the duration of the war. After the usual formalities had been gone through, we moved off in the direction of the camp, which proved to be a very big one indeed.   Except for a few scattered houses here and there, the place seemed to be devoid of any civilization, the inhabitants being mainly German troops and a good lot of Uhlans (Light Cavalry men) were passed, who grinned with satisfaction at the sight of us and no wonder, the plight of us, unwashed and unshaven for days, we had a most unkempt appearance. However we trudged on, grumbling all the way not knowing what was to become of us, and when we were going to get something to eat. On through the encampment into open country and about half a mile away was what was called Lager 3A, to this we made for with two British guides in attendance from Lager 1.   We arrived at the large barbed wire gates, and from the inside came the Camp Commandant with his usual followers, and we were duly handed over to his care. After being counted and the roll called we were split into parties of fifty and marched through two high walls of wire about 12 feet high and 6 feet apart.   All round the camp, just outside the outside the outer belt of barbed wire, was a shallow trench, the earth having been banked up behind to form the beat for our main guards, who patrolled night and day, two sentries meeting at a certain point, and immediately behind this miniature embankment, and also at the corner of the camp, was the big hut which housed the whole guard when off duty. About 20 yards to the right of this hut was a high wooden erection with a square covered in platform, this at times was being manned by a section of machine gunners.   It happened that the place allotted to us was at the very end of the camp, right up close to the North Eastern edge of the Black Forest. The camp or part was divided into three compounds, each containing six huts, 1 lager hut was to be used as a wash house, also furnished with a large pump with two handles to it. The huts faced the dense forest in two lines of three. The one Fred and I were put into was in the rear and centre. They were about 80 feet long, 10 feet wide by 8 feet high, lighted by two windows, with a double door in the centre above which was fitted one electric light just inside the door. About 2 feet of the building was above ground, the rest having been sunk into the ground, so we had to descend earthen steps to enter. The beds were built of pitch pine in groups of four, with a board placed on edge to separate each mans bed from the other. Having staked our claim near the door and also the one and only large combustion store, we sallied forth to draw blankets, and wash bowls. Each man was given two blankets, which must have seen service in the wars of 1870, judging by their condition. However they were better than nothing at all.   After this we were roused out again by huts or barracks and counted by our guards and a little Sergeant Major. When this was done, a meal was supplied made up of barley, ground maize, prunes, salt fish and water, the latter being very much in evidence.   That done the senior in each barrack was given orders through an interpreter to make out a list of men under him, with duties for each day, such as working parties, men to go to the cook house to bring in the soup for each meal, then our first days work was done and about 9pm everyone was in or on his boards and asleep.   Thus ended Thursday 3rd July and our first day at our new home.      Friday 4th July 1918   Now it was just, settle down and make yourselves as comfortable as you can, because dear knows how long you are likely to be here.   This morning our guards started straight away with working parties, ever one was made to fall in on parade after a meal at 5.30 am and following the usual count, the sergeants were allowed to stay in the camp and the remainder some 200 men being split up into equal parties and placed under special guard, were marched off to their various duties. Some were taken down to Lamsdorf station, to unload trucks, others to the cook house, some to the hospital to bury the dead, others were taken into the forest to cut wood.   These duties went on with monotonous regularity for about 8 or 10 weeks, the same thing day after day. Three meals of soup and working parties, until, while talking one night amongst ourselves, someone suggest that we should form a committee with the view to organizing some kind of sports or concert parties. It was decided to do this, the committee were elected, and started work right away, but everything seemed to be against us, because whether from fear of any attempted escapes, or sheer cussedness our Lager Commandant refused to recognize the committee.     Not to be out done, next day whilst on working party at the rail head with number one Lager, the members of the our committee, had a conversation with our commander in that area, and it was decided that they would serve on this same committee along with us, because it was thought that they might have a little more chance of a hearing with the Commandant, but still this failed.   Still this did not make us lose heart, and at night in the huts after all work had finished, we used to hold impromptu concerts, the artists being made up of men from all over England, Scotland and Wales. We have five men from Wales with beautiful voices so their help was enlisted, along with a comedian from Liverpool, and one from Scotland, and one man from Durham used to sing and recite all our Tyneside stuff so we were not lacking in talent. This went on for a good while, and the practice gave all, the necessary confidence when we did get the chance of a decent show.  

Sgt Thomas William Chisholm

Sgt Thomas William Chisholm

 

7th December 1918 Lamsdorf POW camp, an inspection and promises.

Saturday 7th December 1918 Another two Romanians are brought back into camp this morning. The Medical Officer, who had come to the camp, has been busy trying to get better living quarters for us and the first stage takes place today at 10.00am. He arrives at the compound in the company of a number of high officials to inspect the camp in general, and they went through every hut. On coming to the last one, the Chief was overheard to remark “It’s amazing, I don’t know how the poor fellows have lived so long in these huts. I will see what can be done to have them removed to a better place as soon as I get back to Berlin, in fact, I will send a wire”. In one part of this last hut, the side is bulging in and moisture is running through. It is from the latrine just outside, about 6 feet away from the window. As no proper places had been built, what was done, was to dig a large hole 12 feet long by 8 feet across, and 10 to 15 feet deep. Across the top of this hole length ways, were placed four planks of wood to act as seating, where we were obliged to go to do any business needed. Eventually these sumps becoming so full, that the earth between not being strong enough to withhold the strain, it took the least line of resistance, and found its way into the huts, and the smelling being so foul, it was almost impossible to live there. This afternoon it was reported that the Italian prisoners were catching the rats, and eating them as they were so hungry.      

Sgt Thomas William Chisholm

Sgt Thomas William Chisholm

 

6th - 30th June 1918 Darmstadt POW, it's glories and a Field Post Card to send.

Thursday 6th June 1918 to App 20th June 1917   Huts were built close together and were fitted out with wooden bunks of two tiers to accommodate four to six men, however the hut that I happened to be put into was already overcrowded, and men were crammed between the bunks on the floor, even some were underneath to get out of the way. In the centre was a large cooking range similar to those used in large houses, but it was of little use, as to a lack of fuel it could not be used except when it was possible to get some old packing cases, but even they were almost impossible to get.   By this time it was nearly noon and the rest of the prisoners were preparing for the midday meal which was already on its way to our compound. We were quickly issued with small wash bowls, with which we had to do everything in, wash & shave ourselves, cook in, and eat out of, so we were not hampered with a lot of kit.   We eventually lined up with the rest to draw soup which was made up of Barley, very small portion, ground maze, Prunes, small quantity of salt fish, and the remainder water. The absence of any fats was very noticeable. All this was sent up in a large churn like tub and issued out by one of the pastors, being almost famished it was soon put out of sight and we looked hungrily for more, but it was not available so Fred and I retired to our hut to see if anything could be obtained there.   This went on for a good few days with monotonous regularity.   We being full ranks were not allowed on any working parties or outside the camp area, so life soon became miserable, with nothing to do but wonder about the camp from one hut to another asking for food of any kind from the more fortunate British, who were in receipt of British Red Cross parcels, but even they could ill afford to give anything away.   About this time, something like six or seven days after arriving at this camp in Darmstadt, the day the day being Tuesday, there seemed to be an unusual stir right through the camp. After breakfast all the British were paraded and marched away through the French and Serbian quarters and arrived at a large hut, round about which were crowded all nationalities. We were ordered to strip to the waist and fall in with the rest.   Fred and I divested ourselves of our shirts and lined up in the slowly moving single line, behind a couple of Russians, and also behind us came a few French and Italians. After waiting like this for about two hours we slowly got inside one door of the hut, which was divided into compartments, the one we were already in, and the next one in which we could see a German doctor and his four orderlies working very hard indeed. We were going to be inoculated. Having some of this before, the idea did not appeal to us at all but there was no escape, it had to be gone through. Another few steps and then came a French orderly with a jar in one hand and a brush in the other, down the line as quickly as he could, daubing everyone on the left breast with iodine.   Next, we went into the adjoining room where the white coated doctor and orderlies were each doing their special job. First one was heating the needles over a spirit stove, the next two were inserting the needles into and filling the syringe and passing it onto the M.O. who in turn injected the stuff, finally passing onto the last orderly, he cleaned away the spot of blood caused by the puncture and we passed out by another door into the open to dress again and go back our hut in our own time.   This treatment lasted every alternate day for a fortnight and the effects of this on our system was very slight, in fact it was a consolation to us, for we fully expected to be laid out for a few hours, similar to what we were when first it was done to us in England.     App. 21st June 1918   Today it poured with rain and Fred and I were confined to the hut, myself having peeled off my shirt was passing away the time examining the seams for what could be found and killed, when suddenly Fred leaned towards me and said that he was going up to the French section and told me to stay where I was until he returned. About fifteen minutes or twenty later he arrived back in his shirt sleeves carrying a small parcel. “What’s happened Fred.” I said. “I’ve flogged my jacket for this tea and sugar and small bit of bread. Get some water Bill, and let us have a feed.”   I sat still with tears streaming down my face, what a pal to have I thought, to barter his very jacket for food and then come in and offer to share it with me, here was true British spirit.   Fred noticed my discomfort and rounded on me at once “Come on for God’s sake, don’t just sit there blubbering like a kid, get some water and let’s make some tea, I’m dying for the taste of it again.” So I got some water and with dried grass and some scrap paper it boiled and Fred shared out the bread and we ate and seemed satisfied for the while.   I thought to myself, this cannot go on for long so I suggested to him with regard to my gold signet ring which had been a present to me before I left England. Next morning we both sauntered forth to bargain once more with the French, and succeeded in getting a little more this time, in addition to the above we got about a pound of rice and a small piece of fat bacon. Delighted with this we returned to the hut and had another good feed, having enough left for the next day, which had to be stored underneath our pillows in case it was stolen.   This continued until we hardly had any personal belongings left at all. Fred had managed to get hold of a paper jacket made by the Germans from twisted paper and woven into something resembling canvas but it served its purpose very well. Finally I was without my ring, fountain pen, boots, socks cap, jacket, and various other small objects which were treasured, but had to go for food.     23rd June 1918   Today we were given our first Field Post Cards thus enabling us to write home and inform pour people what had happened to us and where we were. The card itself was not for use by British prisoners but the French, who were superior in numbers by about twenty to one, however it served its purpose. We could not say very much owing to it having to be censored, and the chances of giving any information away, so all that could be written was to the effect of, in good health, safe and hoping all was well at home. This card was handed in for dispatch on the same as it was issued.   (An after note said it reached England 30th July 1918.)   (I have recently been made aware that the Northumberland Fusilier Museum, have in their possession five postcards written by my grandfather from a POW camp, and I am hoping to arrange to go and see them. If possible I will get copies, and they may appear here in due course.)   There has been a special order issued by the camp commandant that in future British troops in captivity would salute German N.C.O’s from the rank of corporal upwards. This came as a very unpleasant shock to us and was the cause for a great buzz of excitement and indignation amongst us. It was decided to ignore the order as we were all of the same frame of mind and if we all carried out our intentions it would not be possible for them to put us all in cells at once. It was carried out very well indeed, for if we noticed an N.C.O. (non commissioned officer) coming at all we were always looking the other way, or would dodge round the corner of one of the huts which happened to be nearest, thus we always robbed Jerry of his looked for salute.

Sgt Thomas William Chisholm

Sgt Thomas William Chisholm

 

5th & 6th June 1918 Darnstadt POW and A Red Nosed Sergeant.

Wednesday 5th June 1918   The morning came as any fine morning could be expected to do, beautifully warm and sunny and breakfast over we settled into groups to talk over past events and what was likely to happen in the near future.   About 10am in came a sergeant and called out six names and took the men away along a corridor. Why, we had no idea, as they never came back that way, so we just had to sit and await our turn.   It didn’t come that day and the suspense was beginning to tell its tale, because we imagined all kinds of gruesome things happening to our pals.   Eventually night came upon us once more, and another good, but worrying night in our place.     Thursday 6th June 1918   Today came round in just the same manner as before and after breakfast the same routine commenced again. Fred’s name came with the first list of names, so with a solemn so long, he went away with feelings of regret.   I myself was in the next batch and after being ushered along the corridor found myself in a room like a bandstand but not open at the sides, it was surrounded by numerous doors and there I was left alone looking like a lost sheep, wondering in which direction to go.   Suddenly one of these doors opened and out came a head with a face like nothing on earth, the eyes bulging out of their sockets and a nose that looked as if it had been pickled in Schnapps for six months. I was requested to come in, so I slipped into a small cubicle like room containing a desk, two chairs and a cabinet used for filing documents, the walls were covered with vicious pictures depicting vile suggestions.   My red nosed interrogator greeted me with a very pleasant “Good morning sergeant” and looking out of the window remarked “What a pity to be shut up on a beautiful day like this.” “Yes” I said “but it could not be avoided.” “Oh yes” he said “but with a little discretion, you may have a great deal more freedom than you anticipate.” “And how am I to attain this” I asked rather doubtful of his statement. He answered with a question “What are those red tabs on your shoulder for?” “Some silly decorations.” I answered. “Do you smoke? Most English soldiers do I know.” Handing me a small box of gold tipped cigarettes. I accepted one and thanking him very much, at which he struck a match, handing me a light first.   Then started the investigation in real good style and all the while my eyes were roving about this small room taking in every detail, and as to what was lying on his desk.   “How long have you been in German hands? he asked. “Eleven days” I answered at once. “You have had it pretty rough since you were taken, long marches, very little to eat, less to drink also no smokes” “Quite right” I said. “Where were you taken and on what date?” “I was taken on the Chemis des Dames on 27th May.” “Very god” he said. “Have you been out in France very long, and what were things like in England before you came out to join your regiment?” “Well I was home on leave in February” “Oh! Then you must have been out a good while because your authorities only give you leave when you have been out about twelve months I am told.” I did not answer because I knew I was letting my tongue run riot a little too far. His next question staggered me a little and I hardly knew what to say. “By the way what was the name of your Brigade commander?” “I don’t know.” I managed to gasp out. It was not until this that I realized what I was up against. “You don’t know?” he exclaimed with some surprise. “Well you see, he was a new one.” I remarked, although the fact was that we had had our for a while. “Who was your divisional commander?” “I don’t know.” “Do you know the name of your Corp Commander?” “No I don’t.” “What was your Colonels name?” “I could not say.” I said looking very sheepish I should imagine. “You don’t seem to be very intelligent to hold the rank of Sergeant.” He remarked with a certain amount of scorn. “We don’t need brains ion the British Army to be a sergeant, all that they want is guts, and I passed. “Well do you know what this man on our part has cost your side?” “What.” I asked. Something like twenty thousand men, fifteen hundred machine guns, field guns, heavy artillery and huge dumps containing stores of food and munitions which will be very useful to our troops. Of course I am not saying we are hard pressed for food or anything like that, for instance I could go out to a restaurant in Darmstadt and order steak and chips, with two rounds of bread and a cup of coffee and it would only cost me something like Two shilling and sixpence in your English money.” “Yes” I remarked quite casually “horse flesh.” And with that he nearly went mad.   However when he cooled down a little I asked if I might have another cigarette, which was readily given, and we settled down once more to work. “How did you find things in England when you were on leave? In February did you say?” “Things were just normal” I said “There seemed to be plenty of everything that was necessary.” “Did you get plenty of food in the front line?” “Yes, in fact the very morning I was unfortunate enough to be taken by your men, we had porridge with sugar and cows milk, followed by a good supply of bacon and tea with white bread, and no man needs more than that to fight on.” I said. “But before we go on any further, I will strike a bargain with you.” I said. “And what is that?” he said surprised. “If you read me what is written on those two sheets of paper under your hand, I will tell you whether you are right or wrong.” “Do you understand German?” he asked. “No” I said, “but I see some drawings on them that make me suspicious.” So he proceeded to read off one line after another, and he already had all the information he required, but I suppose he wanted it confirmed, or to add some more to it, but it was all correct and I told him so. At the same time enquiring, as to who gave him the information. He remarked that they took care of people who gave them what they required.   After this my red nosed friend seemed to be fed up with his task, so pressing a bell push at his side, he said “I don’t think that I need you any more today. We may meet again later.” At this there entered an escort to guide me to new quarters, which were not half as comfortable my previous ones. However, there was Fred to meet me at the door, and greeting me with a smile, and I was informed that he had claimed a bunk for me beside his.

Sgt Thomas William Chisholm

Sgt Thomas William Chisholm

 

4th June 1918 and onwards to Darmstadt POW.

Tuesday 4th June 1918                           Another Move   Up and about by 5am after a meal of what was called breakfast composed of soup of a dark brown colour in which was floating a few grains of burnt barley. We didn’t want much of this as it tasted so bitter and our guards called it coffee, never the less it had to go down with a portion of black bread.   After this we fell in and were counted, the roll called and finally marched off to the railway station to be crammed into 3rd class carriages and puffed out of the station, on another stage of our eventful journey.   By this time it seemed evident that we were doomed to keep moving about like this for the remainder of the war. We had a stop at Frankfurt for two hours to wait for another train to complete the journey. We were taken into a small restaurant in which were a few old Germans who we were told were being called up by their class. There did not seem to be very much food in this place, as all we could see these uniforms were being supplied with was roast potatoes. One old man seemingly must have took pity on us seeing our ragged clothes and bare feet, smuggled a few potatoes in his pocket and when he was leaving, edged close to the table where we were seated, so as not to be seen, quietly dropped them onto my lap and walked out as if nothing had occurred. I quickly transferred them to my pocket for a foreseeable opportunity, but that did not come until we boarded our next train.   A surprise awaited us on arrival at the next stop (which proved to be for a period of a month). The place went by the name of Darmstadt seemed a town of fairly big dimensions and as in the best part very clean.   We formed up on the station platform and were once again counted, formed fours to the right and stood waiting the signal from our guard commander to move ahead..   These guards we a little different class of men than had previously been in charge of us, not the usual square headed, robust German we had been used to seeing, but a class of men who seemed only fit for home service duties and who seemed rather old to be in uniforms at all. I think I heard someone call them Landstrums, however they were remarkably kind and talkative to us which was rather notable. The previous ones were sullen and inclined to bully and beat us on the slightest provocation. Finally the column moved off and after half an hour or so arrived at the camp gates surrounded by a high barrier of barbed wire and as we passed through the sentries and an officer counted once again. It was getting a bit of a joke now because as soon as the boys saw that the counting was about to commence someone would strike up with that well known hymn “Count Your Morning Blessings”, not that we were any blessing to Gerry. Only in one way, as we were the cause of giving a good number of them nice cushy jobs.   “Well, well, ye Gods and little fishes, where are we Fred? Is this going to be our permanent billet?”   I think Fred was too overcome to answer me, he just stood and stared round the room we had been put into. It was a stoutly built building similar in appearance to a large cricket pavilion with heavy rafters across and supporting the sloping roof, fairly high, walls being made of wood, one piece overlapping the other, plenty of windows with ventilation and above all it was beautifully stained and varnished. Round the walls were bunks in tiers of three of two with room for six men to one set. About fifty were put into this room, Fred and I claiming one of these bunks in the centre of the floor.   After ten minutes of being in here a German Sergeant Major came in and kindly asked if we were hungry and said a good meal would be forthcoming very soon. He also made enquiries as to whether we had been able to write home and tell our people where we were. On being told that had been impossible up to present, he volunteered to supply us with paper and envelopes, and promised to see that our letters were posted by the next mail (our people never got those letters).   However in came the promised meal consisting of a good portion of bread, tinned meat of some sort, and some real good coffee. If we wanted any more we just had to ask for it, so after a good tuck in we started to think then of a wash, the Sergeant Major having detailed a corporal and a sergeant to look after our most pressing needs, of course not being in possession of a razor, a shave was out of the question, so after a good bath it was then just about time to retire, which all seemed rather anxious to do, and after getting snuggled down amongst our three blankets, in came some more coffee as a nightcap.   Well this all seemed to good to be true, but all the time it was true so after running about half naked in the business of getting more coffee we finally got down to it for the night and slept the sleep of the just.

Sgt Thomas William Chisholm

Sgt Thomas William Chisholm

 

4th - 10th November 1918 Lamsdorf POW, rumour of peace and then what we all wanted to hear.

Sunday 4th November 1918
"Again Fred and I go out to the forest to work, whilst Billy has to go to Lamsdorf railhead to work. When the day is over we pool all our goods, Billy has got about 3lbs of ground maize, Fred 3 turnips, and I a few potatoes so we make up a thick stew with the lot. One of the boys in the foraging party managed to stand on a baby rabbit whist returning to camp but it got away.  
I never felt more like doing murder than on this occasion, because the thought of what a nice tasty meal it would have made, and we were so very hungry.

It is rumoured that peace is going to be declared, and that we will all be home before Xmas. Oh, let it be soon."     Wednesday 6th November 1918

" A large consignment of Red Cross parcels arrive today, and I even see one with my name on, but I am unable to get it."     Thursday 7th November 1918   We have a very bad day today owing to one or two escapes during the night the camp commandant had had all the guards paraded and gave them a  good strapping for allowing such a thing to happen and threatened all manner of punishments to them it ever happened again, of course they were in a very bad mood for the rest of the day and we suffered terribly for it. It appears that somewhere about 3-4am three Romanians had managed to cut the barbed wire in the vacinity of the British quarters and had succeeded in crawling through the hole under cover of darkness and made off in the direction of the mountain range to the east of the camp. They did not get far, because at 9am a posse of Germans came back with two of their number, the third had been shot whilst only a short way from the camp. We all felt very sorry for them indeed. Not only that but five Italians had also got away and could not be traced at all so we wished them all good luck. I think our French friends would be biting their fingers because they had planned to make their attempt sometime this week, but now it would be out of the question owing to the extra vigilance of the guards, who were doubled at night to prevent any recurrence.   I myself suffered individually, at about 11am Fred and I were lying in the grass by the main road leading up to our compound when up came a dapper little guard shouting "Englander here come for Arbitz Lause." and a good bit of language which we took to be swearing at us. We refused to move on this occasion because we all hated this particular man for more reasons than one, for he had made everyone's life an absolute hell whenever he got the chance. When we did not get up immediately, he just about boiled over, his face went all colours with rage, he lifted his heavy boot and let me have the full force of it, catching me on the very bottom of my spine. "Vass Englander hix lause, lause." he shouted. Although I suffered acute pain from his kick, I merely grinned at him which put the cap on things altogether, for he whipped out his bayonet, it was one of the saw edged type and slashed me across the back. Having just a paper this jacket and shirt on the teeth easily penetrated so we thought it was then time to move before things got worse. Rising amid a storm of vile abuse from the guard, we made off to our compound as quickly as we possibly could, but not before telling him we would report him to the commandant for his conduct to a British NCO. However we did not do whatever work he wanted doing. After bathing my wounds which proved to be three small punctures of the skin, we kept to the hut out of the way for the rest of the day.    Saturday 9th November 1918   There are very strong rumours of an armistice going round today, and everyone in camp are very excited about it, nothing is definitely gained so far as information is concerned. Our guards seem to be very vague on the matter, they tell us that they believe that Von Hindenberg and Count Ludinforf are to meet General Gough at Headquarters on the Western front, but that is all we are able to gather, so we just console ourselves with visions of an early release, and departure for our beloved England. Mainly the talk is about when they will get a decent meal because hunger is playing havoc amongst us. Owing to our reduced healthy conditions, our ribs are showing through the skin, jaws are sunken till the cheek bones seem to be coming through altogether and the sides of the stomach feel as if they are flapping together like sails in the wind. What an empty dreary feeling it is, the result being that life seems to become void of interest and nothing is left for us but to wish for death to take us out of it all.   Sunday 10th November 1918 A very memorable day this will ever be. It dawns very cold, wets and dreary, as winter already has set its grip upon the land. Black frosts occur at night and it is almost impossible to sleep, as we have as stated earlier, only two small badly worn blankets, alive with vermin. Orders arrive that there is to be no church service, no reason is given, and the air seems to be full of mystery. We are paraded as usual for the daily count, and after that told to dismiss, but not to go very far away. It never was our intention to wander very far in case there happened to be any chance of any food whilst we were away, because something to feed our famished bellies was always uppermost in our minds. So far as a smoke, well we had long since resorted to the manufacture of our own mixture, which we invariably changed from time to time. Sometimes we gathered from round about the outside of the compound some nice blades of grass, also loads of clover, and after drying them thoroughly, mix up the two and smoke them as best we could. Sometimes mixing a few dried tea leaves if they were obtainable, of course when we did have tea, the leaves were never thrown away. They were always kept smuggled away in a tin box for when we wanted a smoke. Today however, to while away a little bit of time, Fred and I decided to walk as far as the main entrance to the camp, so with our paper jacket collars turned up about the neck, shoulders haunched forward and hands behind our backs, we trudged or slouched  along the road very slowly. Nothing was done very quickly in case it passed too soon and we were left with nothing to do. Reaching the main gate everything seemed very normal outwardly, but in the Scheibstube or office, which was a substantially built hut placed inside the gates, things seemed to be humming. Being more or less used to the excitable nature of the German soldier we took no notice of this, and turning about started to make our way back to the compound. When only half of the journey had been made we discovered that something very unusual was going on, for walking round on the raised bank of earth which served as the sentries beat, was a soldier with an armful of newspapers. This had never been done before so naturally we though it very peculiar. When he arrived at the sentry nearest to our compound and also the hut occupied by the guard, he stopped, presented a paper to the sentry on duty and had a good talk with him in a very hard voice, and waving his arms all over the place like a human windmill, and then continued his journey. Fred and I watched for a what was going to happen next, and it did suddenly, for with a scowl on his face fit to make it crack, he unslung his rifle and flung it on the ground at his feet, the taking off his helmet, and placing his fingers under the eagle which was his badge, he viciously tore it away and flung it across the field. To say the least we began to get a little nervous, but couldn’t move, we seemed to be rooted to the spot, next he tore out the collar patches from his jacket, then stamping along to the next sentry, they both had consultation, and returning to the guard hut were joined by all the other guards. So, there we were, with absolutely no one on guard over us at all, when things reached this stage we thought it time to get back into our hut as quickly as possible in case anything detrimental happened to us. Just at that critical moment there come up the road three British Officers, and entering our compound called all the British soldiers together. There were not many of us left now as a good many had died, so it was not a big gathering that he addressed.                                     THE NEWS IS BROKEN As I have already explained the huts were built so that only about two feet above ground level, so the smaller man of the three, who turned out to be a medical officer, mounted onto the top of the centre hut and commenced to address the assembled men. “Well men I can see that you are all in a very poor condition, but nevertheless, it will not be for very long now, as I have some very good news for you. First of all you will have noticed the very unusual behavior of your guards today. I might warn you that this may develop into a very ugly situation, so pay particular attention to what I am about to say. An armistice has been declared. From today you are free men, free to go where and when you please. In a few moments more the prison camp gates will be thrown open to you, but I do not want you to go. Please stay where you are for the present anyhow. Whatever you do, don’t mix with the other nationalities, for in all probability they will take advantage of the chance to go free, and go mad. They might prove to be dangerous, so stay where you are. A revolution has broken out in the country, the Kaiser has abdicated, and the Crown Prince has renounced his right to the position held by his father, so you see what may happen if you go wandering about the country. You are too far inland to be able to get to any seaport within a reasonable time, and furthermore you would be unable to get any food en-route. So you see how advisable it is to stay where you are. These two brother officers and I are going to take command of you and do whatever we can for your welfare, so far as better food and accommodation is concerned. Don’t be alarmed at what is going on behind you, I don’t think they will fire.” When we looked round there were eight or nine guards with their rifles leveled at us. However we stood our ground, and one of the officers went across and spoke to them, and they dispersed, being satisfied that we were not going to cause any disturbance. The M.O. then said that he would get us moved as soon as he could get in touch with the camp Kommandant, then raising his hand as if to give a blessing he quoted:                                     God alone be with us now,                                     Lest we forget                                     Lest we forget. Then he came down and talked to us for a good while. The other two officersa belonged to the R.N.D and the Buffs, and before he went away, he asked us to sing the national anthem, which was readily done, although everyone had a lump in their throat and tears of joy in their eyes. Thus ended one day that will always be remembered by anyone that was in that camp.

Sgt Thomas William Chisholm

Sgt Thomas William Chisholm

Sign in to follow this  
×