Friday 27th September 1918
All the time as prisoners there had never been any sign of a parcel from England, and we had been told that after about twelve weeks we would be in receipt of parcels of food and clothing from the British Red Cross Society.
However today we all got a pleasant surprise. While the men were at their various tasks, Fred and I were searching round from one compound to another trying to get something to eat, when we spied one of the members of the committee from Lager One coming across towards our camp and trying to catch our attention. When near enough he called out that he wanted to speak to us, so we made for the main gate to wait for him.
He told us that a whole consignment of emergency packets had arrived from the International Headquarters of the YMCA in Berlin to be distributed amongst us and it would be one packet per man. So, delighted with the news we speedily told the remainder of the men in our camp and I might say it caused some excitement.
When the boys returned from work they told us that they had actually handled the packets and some of the men had been kept back to bring them across to us from Lager One. They arrived about 2pm and were quickly issued. Eager to see what they contained, instead of going into the hut we sat down in the open and fairly tore off the wrappers. Lo and behold, what a sight for sore eyes, it was as if a miracle had been performed. I think there was a lump in everybody’s throat and tears of joy in their eyes, the contents was:
2 x 1lb packets of Huntley & Palmers Biscuits
3 Tins of Bully Beef
2 Tins of Cheese
1 Tin of Dripping
2 Tins of Milk
1 Tin of Cocoa
1 x 1/4lb of Tea
5 Packets of Woodbines
1 x 1lb Bar of Pale Soap
1 x 1/4lb Tobacco
1 x 1/4lb of Oats
1 x 1/2lb of Sugar
We were so anxious and hungry that it was impossible to decide what to eat first, however Fred came to the rescue. He was going to have a dish of Porridge first, then some real Tea with biscuits spread with dripping. So it was decided that Fred being the cook should make the meal. Meanwhile we were all smoking furiously, not having had a real smoke for such a long time.
What a feast it was, sitting on the floor of that dirty whitewashed hut with our homemade tin cups and wash bowls, it just was the finest meal that we had ever had in our lives.
That done I filled my pipe, and washed up all the dishes, ready for the next feed which came at 9pm.
The cabbage soup that was sent by the cookhouse for our tea was sent back as it came, we firmly refused to touch it. Jerry was rather annoyed about it, but I am certain that we got the same soup three days later, after our parcels had been devoured.
Saturday 28th September 1918
By this time, our guards were becoming very friendly towards us, owing to the fact that they had less trouble with our boys, and also they were much better workers than the other nationalities. At night after works was over, some of them would come into our huts and talk to us about the war and its effects on different countries.
We soon learned in this way that Germany itself was about the worst off, as quite confidentially they told us that real tea was almost unobtainable, and if they could get it they had to pay 40 marks per pound, bread also 40 marks and soup 42 marks.
The tea that we used to get was made from Bay leaves dried, then scalded in the usual way. We are allowed 2 ozs of meat per week, but this was horseflesh, black and evil smelling, so it was usually thrown away or given to the Russians, who come round our compound after every meal to see if there is anything leftover.
So instead of drinking their tea, Fred and I would dig up some dandelion roots, wash them very clean, cut them up into very small pieces, roast them on a piece of tin until they were black, then boiled them until the water was coloured. This was found to be a good medicine, so it was adopted throughout the camp.
When the guards discovered we were in possession of such a large quantity of soap, they became even more friendly, in the hope of getting small pieces for their own personal use. We eventually bartered with them one day and it was arranged that at between 10 and 12 midnight Fred would crawl across to the outer belt of barbed wire, pass through the soap, and in return he would get a sandbag full of potatoes. Of course the ordinary sandbag would hold nearly two and a half stones of potatoes and was considered a very good prize indeed. This exchange went on for a couple of nights when we found that if we did not economize, our supply of soap would soon be exhausted. Fred and I put our heads together and arranged a little joke on Jerry. Getting a small portion of clay, and shaping it to appear as if it was a piece of soap that had been used, we then proceeded to give it a thin coating of soap, and after having washed our hands it appeared to be a perfectly nice large portion. This was made our last exchange and we bargained for a double amount of potatoes. After this we had to make ourselves scarce and blend into the background.
Meanwhile the concert party are making great strides.
Sunday 29th September 1918
Out on parade at 8.15 am, we were marched out of the camp to our first church service. We arrived at some cavalry barracks, where, in a large stable an alter had been temporarily fixed up. The priest in charge being German, could speak English pretty well, he was assisted by two volunteers from the British section and what a motley crowd it was. For crammed into that stable were British, French, Italian, Russians, Bulgarians, Romanians, Serbs and Germans, the service seemed to be drawn out at length and we men were not sorry when it was all over and we managed to get a breath of fresh air and move.
After church, we were back into the compound again with nothing to do but lounge about it was torture, we all seemed so cramped. About 11.30am Fred and I are walking round, hands behind our backs, when were approached by a very tall man wearing a long cloak and a parsons flat hat, he came straight towards us with the greeting “Good morning Englishman it is very cold today yes no” “Good morning sir” we answered “It is cold”. Then followed the usual talk about the state of affairs and putting our trust in God to put things right when he thought fit.
Having passed on, we continued up the roadway until reaching the compound gates. Fred suddenly suggested making some pies with the remainder of our biscuits and bully beef, so we set off back again to set about it straight away. I lit a fire out in the open and built a small oven with a piece of tin and some clay. This done I left it to dry, while selecting 6 or 8 good potatoes and proceeded to clean and boil them.
Meanwhile Fred was busy in the hut grating down the last of our biscuits to a fine power, I might mention here that not being in possession of the usual nutmeg grater we manufactured one from a piece of tin about 6 inches square and perforated all over with very small nail holes, this was a very useful article indeed. So with the cooked potatoes, mashed into a pulp, they were mixed with the powered biscuits and a little milk to a paste. Our pie tins were made from some old cheese tins, being about four and a half inches in diameter and half an inch deep with the rough edges hammered down. These were lined with the paste, next was added the bully beef with a slice of two of potatoes on top, then sprinkled with salt, and finally the crust put on top, and up into the improvised oven and cooked by Fred himself.
Just as he was ready to go out, it commenced to snow, but not to be daunted Fred sat throughout that awful blizzard until his pies were nice and brown.
He had the very devil’s luck, with the wet snow running down at the back of the hole, he had to keep blowing the fire with his mouth nearly all of the time. I felt really sorry for him but he wouldn’t allow me to relieve him.
Having eaten these pies, followed by a drink of good strong tea, it was announced that the sub-committee were to have a meeting with the Lager One Committee, with a view to getting a show put on, but this application was unsuccessful.
Monday 30th September 1918
After the snowstorm of yesterday the air was crisp and clear and as usual following the breakfast at 4:45am the various working parties were sent about their tasks. One of the boys next to where I lay was rather ill so I suggested that we exchange jackets, which would enable him to have a days rest, and I could go out to work for him for a change and see if it was possible to get food of any kind. I was doomed to disappointment, as I was put into the last party to leave camp and we arrived at the forest to collect wood for use in the camp.
We left the camp pulling a large wagon with very high sloping sides, and penetrated the for about two and a half miles into the dense Black Forest. The work was slow and laborious, owing to the absence of any definite roadway, we just had to thread our way through the high pine trees wherever it was possible to get the wagon through. At last our guards called a halt, and set us about our work gathering loose pieces of wood and loading the wagon. Meanwhile the guards filled their long pipes with loose leaves, and smoked them, watching us all the time.
After working like this for half an hour along came a jerry gamekeeper, dressed in a green trilby hat tilted up at one side, with a coloured feather stuck in, green jacket and riding breeches, leggings, and carrying a gun across his arm. He spotted one of our men breaking a large branch off a tree, and by heaven he did go off the deep end. He cursed everyone who came near him and when he did cool down and went on his way our guards said something about him, which I think was not very complimentary. In fact one became so annoyed that he lifted up hi9s rifle by the muzzle and his actions suggested that he was about to smash it over the wagon wheel, had not one of his comrades not called him to order in time.
Another half hour work and we were bound back for camp with a good heavy load of timber, which took longer to haul back than it took to come out, but we got back in time for our soup dinner.
All seemed well with no work in the afternoon, which I was thankful for, for I was dog tired, and in need of rest, because it was the first days work I had done since I had been taken, and a good sleep was had that night.