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.