Saturday 1st June 1918
Up at 4am and partaking of coffee and black bread we marched off again, this time under the charge of a guard of stalwart but rather old Prussian Guards mounted on very pristine horses who continued to trot backwards and forwards along the column keeping a very sharp eye on all that happened.
Getting on for about noon this day, the column were passing through a series of small villages, and by this time, we were again in no fit state to march so far without a break, but our guards kept us on the move all the time. Owing to the bad state of the roads and intense heat, we were all covered with a good coating of white dust, with streaks down our faces where the perspiration had been running down. Our mouths parched with thirst, sore feet, stiff limbs and sick of heart through this heartless treatment, we were passing through the village of Liart. The peasants noticed our plight and seemed to take pity on us, as they put outside the houses, small wooden tubs of clean fresh water for drinking. Without attempting at any halt to enable us to refresh ourselves, our guards rode forward and willfully turned over the tubs and forced us back into the ranks again. We just trudged forward very little being said, owing I think, to the fact that we wanted to save our breath as much as possible for our exertions.
We continued moving past fields looking more cultivated than the ones we had left behind, and great woods of giant fir trees. The time was somewhere about 6:30 or 7pm, when we suddenly left the road and entered one of these dense woods. Moving across a beaten track, we continued for something like half an hour before coming into the open again. Then across country for about half a mile and then came to a halt.
We had arrived at Hirson, a fairly large French town dominated by a fortress on the Borden. It was into this, that we were to rest for the next 24 hours. The Fort de Hirson, being surrounded by walls built of huge pieces of rock, this retaining wall afforded very little chance of escape. Also last but not least a large moat about 35 to 40 feet deep and 30 feet across the top.
The time being somewhere about 7.30pm, the light had not begun to fail yet so we to set off to explore our prison, in an effort to find a decent resting place, before dark came upon us. Wherever we looked, it was all the same, great towering walls faced us, so we just had to be content with a place against the wall, wherever a space could be found. Just imagine what it would be like when something like 8 or 9 hundred people tried to line a wall and find a comfortable place to lie.
Fred and I squatted down in a place as near as possible to the entrance thinking of an early exit next morning. Hunger was growing at our stomachs as we had had nothing to eat all day and it looked as if nothing was forthcoming. Even if we could have got a smoke it would have been better than nothing, but not being in the possession of the necessary articles, we had to do without. Fred however, was not to be outdone. Having a supply of cig papers, as he always did make his own cigs (like all men in the service of the merchant marine) finding a large heap of the refuse in one corner of the moat, being a dump used by the Germans, for all scrap such as potato skins, tea leaves etc., Fred managed to manufacture a cigarette by using the tea leaves and powdered dry grass. As for myself I usually smoked a pipe, so I properly filled up and smoked, but the taste and smell was nothing on earth however I stuck at it until satisfied.
All this time the people up above (French and German sight seers), who had turned out in full force to see such a large batch of British prisoners, were talking among themselves and occasionally jibing at us, intending I suppose, in making us feel our position a little more acute. So when we did understand anything that was said, it did not take long for us to give them a suitable answer, which was not always in the best of English language (some people call it ”choice”).
Our visitors keep tormenting our hunger, by displaying large pieces of sausage, bananas, and black bread, but by only dropping the skins into the moat, they seemed to enjoy seeing the boys make a rush for them. Personally I have never been nearer to being an animal than at this particular period. All that we wished for, was that we had been shot dead in the first place.
Eventually with the darkness, the crowd up above drifted away, and quietude rained.