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LETTERS FROM THE GREAT WAR
Diary kept by my grandfather as a prisoner. This is written on a Christmas card too. On the back page he wrote out a calendar, crossing out every day until October 12th, 1918.
March 21 Taken prisoner at Villerette.
March 21&endash;25 Working in field hospital at Estrees.
March 25 Marched to Le Cateau. Saw Kaiser.
March 27&endash;29 Marched to Cages at Le Quesnoy. Arrived 2 PM (27th). Left 12 PM (29th). Rainy and cold, got wet through in open all night.
Good Friday 28
March 30&endash;31 Entrained en route for Germany, crossed border night of Easter Sunday.
April 1 Travelling eastward into Germany, through Namur, Verviers, Naspraue, Dolhain, Wanne. Arrived at Haltern, marched to Camp.
April 2 Slept the night in huts. Baths, fumigation, settled in barracks compound.
April 3 Breakfast 6 AM. Parade, heavy rain. No cigs and ravenous, medical inspection, vaccination and inoculation. First emergency parcel, great rejoicing, one parcel for two men.
April 4 Routine as usual. Meal from parcel with partner (Alf McNulty).
April 5 Put on Medical Staff, went round dressing wounds etc., felt done up, getting weak. Dodged second dose of Inoculation.
April 6 Went round dressing as before, brighter day, but find time goes quicker dozing inside.
April 7 First writing day Sunday, great trouble in getting a post card, bought one for two cigs at last. Nice little church service in hut, going again tonight.
April 8 Same job. Parcel nearly done despite desperate economy. Very thin day for food, continually hungry. Shared a Woodbine between three. Dodged third inoculation.
April 9 Dressing all morning, very tiring. Things going worse. Men not quite up to the mark, fainting from weakness. Got an issue of one pair of socks (English).
April 10 Wooden Dutch clogs issued, managed to stick to my boots on account of work. Parcel finished. Had tablespoonful of mussels with soup last three or four days.
April 11 Getting more used to diet, but am very weak and have to reserve strength. Dodged fourth inoculation through being out dressing etc. Had bread ration stolen.
April 12 Dressed wounds etc. in the Hospital (Lazarott). Was given a piece of white bread by one of old RAMC men.
April 13 As usual. Said to have finished quarantine, but not removed. Second parcel, one between four men this time, and one small tin of bully between seven. Given some broken biscuits Army type at Hospital. Red letter day indeed.
April 14 Shifted quarters, all separated to different Barracks and Groups. RAMC and RSB's put together in one hut. Food 100% better since Belgians were moved (viz. Belge books). Church 2.
April 15 Food deteriorated again, two basins of soup like water and couple of 1Ú2" slices of bread.
April 16 Went to Hospital again, very little to do. No nourishment in soup at all, had two tablespoonfuls of mussels. Feeling starved and downhearted tonight.
April 17 Busy at Hospital for a change. Brought clogs and shirts and pants and were issued with them. Had to give in overcoat after 31Ú2 years. Rumoured leaving place tomorrow.
April 18 Breakfast at 4 AM, coffee and usual bread. Left Dulmen by truck at 10.30 AM. Crossed Rhein at Bonntor at 6.30 PM. Next meal at Bonntor at 10.30 PM (eighteen hours). Very cold in truck during night and packed like herrings. Glad to get to Limburg at 5.30 AM.
April 19 Arrived fine town of Limburg at 5.30 and marched through to Camp and had huge bowl of mangel and barley. Had enough to eat for first time since capture. Mangel stew again for dinner, and maize meal sweetened for tea. Issue of stale British rations, biscuits, mouldy bread and tin of tripe and onions between eight. Relished them all.
April 20 Breakfast 6 AM coffee and bread. Walked about outside till dinner to keep warm. Curious cow mixture for dinner, all chopped greens etc., solid but not filling. Issue of soap, barley and mangel for tea. Better food than last camp, but filthy lousy billets and one blanket.
A continuation of the diary, written on a German Prisoner of War's letter form.
May 8 Very hot day. Gendarme reported me to farmer for going to sleep on job in field, which was a lie. Had a bit of a row and told farmer straight gendarme a liar. Finished just after 10.
May 9 Thursday, Ascension Day, like Sunday (nix arbeit), good job, absolutely dead beat this morning. Walked over in afternoon to see pals at Hilderach, lovely little spot.
May 10 Work lighter through row with farmer, not on speaking terms. Also discovered my little thefts are detected, through boy who is a little spy and jackal, duly noted. Feel rather ashamed and decided to stop. Miserable day for me.
May 11 Talking to farmer again, though can't understand much. Worked in garden very hard till 9.30, and then cows.
May 12&endash;17 Nothing special occurred, all as usual, had some stiff days, days fearfully long, but a week soon goes.
May 18&endash;26 Everything going as ever. Friday the easiest day up to now. Weather gone very cold and stormy all at once, no work in the fields. Expected some post to-day, Sunday, but disappointed again. Getting paid every Sunday 3 marks 60 pfennig to-day, bought cigs, soap and pencil. One of pals taken off farm for tailoring work, only Alf and I left in district. In terrible state for underclothes, one shirt torn and ripped, and one cardigan too lousy to wear. Got huge appetite, never can get sufficient, yet eat as much as others, they're tight.
May 27&endash;29 Helped to plough field for Cappus plants, dug up one end, terrific work. Noon and night planted the Cappus, three thousand plants in one field and another smaller one for six of us, finished in seven hours continuous work. Had grand supper to finish at 9.30: mashed potatoes, soup and lettuce.
May 30 Thursday. Holiday, flags and decorations, religious procession for Catholics in all villages, fine shoe, lanes lined with flags and sprigs and strewn with sweet-scented flowers and leaves along the ground. Called to see Alf in afternoon, after a visit from him in morning, going in wood to boil some eggs.
May 31 Loaded manure from cow dump and horse dump, cleared both in day, nine huge cart loads, from 8 to 8, then spread in field till 9 then [ paper creased] hardest day yet here and of course in my life.
June 1 Finished spreading manure and then planted cappus for rest of day, a much easier job.
June 2 Sunday again, Alf called this morning, told couldn't go walk but went to spite them and nothing said, rotten lot. Went for razor to barber but had none to sell, so let us shave ourselves in fine shop. Went for walk with two fraulein at night and spent most of night with them (visitors from Rheydl). Expected some post to-day, but getting sick with always being disappointed.
June 3 Overslept a trifle and had to be called three times. Felt bad in stomach and sick, but stuck work. Ate little dinner and had row with lad and clouted him, thought it would be serious. very ill and had to lie down in afternoon. Caused quite eruptions. Old cat said I was dodging work. Did cows and went to bed without tea or supper. A wretched day in which the people proved their character, shouldn't like to be ill too often here.
June 4 Quite right again, worked in fields all day, working from 6 to 10 practically every day now.
June 5 In fields again to do with sheep [?]
June 6 Did some early hay making, beautiful day, finished a little earlier.
June 7 Worked in Bonen (bean) field the whole day, very monotonous all alone. Grand day again. No spuds to-night, seemed short.
June 8 In the forest the whole day gathering up dry mould from under the roots of dead trees for the cow stall and afterwards fine manure. Then double cartload of grass, nearly 11 when finished.
June 9 Started miserably for Sunday, homesick fit. Three visitors at night speaking English, had fine time. Piece of rhubarb cake for tea. One of friends is going to send me English-German Dictionary, gave me lesson in German. Treated better to-day than for a long time, and I've been telling boy [ ] Limburg etc., etc. Still nothing from England.
June 10&endash;16 Had bad time at farm, unpleasantness etc. Shifted suddenly on Friday 14th to Grouenlnich near Coln Briquette works. In hut with ten English, Aussies, Canadians etc. and pal, fine to be with lads again, very kind, had several gifts, but food at camp as usual bad. Worked in pit Saturday.
June 16&endash;23 Worked in pit every day but Sunday off again. Not too hard at all, very dirty, looking after length of railroad for big mining machine. Many gifts of food from pals, and two shirts each and razor.
June 23&endash;30 Another week's work down the pit Saturday six of us carried three hundred sleepers, also some line sections, dead beat. Had some salmon to-day, Sunday. Stew awful, but have to have it to keep hunger off. Still no packets.
July 1&endash;7 Worked on Bagger Machine all week, hard, gruelling work, choked and blinded with coal dust, Saturday night very welcome. Got some hard, stale and mouldy bread from chaps, soaked and baked in oven, and enjoyed immensely with some sardines, and also dry. Still no post, now 31Ú2 months.
July 7&endash;11 Some very hot weather. Soup wretched stuff this week and not had anything from other chaps for some time, practical starvation and getting very weak again. Soup made from turnip tops, some common beans like stewed grass.
June 12&endash;13 Two very hot days. Getting fearfully weak still. If no parcels soon will go under, nearly go to sleep standing up. Had two accidents 13th, got trapped in stomach between trucks in morning and had arm injured in afternoon. Mac also had foot run over and had to leave work and is lucky in getting Hospital job in future.
July 13&endash;15 Nothing fresh.
July 15&endash;22 Sickness broke out in camp. Three hundred men down. Helped to take temperatures. Ill myself, in Hospital Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Diet some thick macaroni and bread for all day. Lost appetite and eaten nothing but dry bread and water all week. Fearfully thin and weak, can't work, have to dodge.
July 22&endash;23 Still at work, but can't eat, miserable condition, weigh about eight stone now, soup and jam impossible to eat, vile stuff. Oh, if packets would come. Managed to do hard day's work on Bagger to-day, goodness knows how, got drenched this afternoon.
July 29 Worked again to-day, everything as usual. Raining every day.
August 4 Sunday again, off this time. Got some stuff from Limburg pending parcels arriving last Sunday night.
The diary is written in pencil in the tiniest possible handwriting. The work was hard on the farm, and he was isolated completely from companions, except on Sundays, but he did manage to spend much of one Sunday night trysting with Alf McNulty and two Rhinemaidens. He much preferred his time at the briquette works, though.
Meals on well-to-do German farm where they work hard from 6 in the morning to 10 and 11 at night
Breakfast Coffee made from burnt oats without milk or sugar, two or three rounds of black bread smeared thinly with a kind of black treacle made from turnips.
Dinner Thin vegetable soup and potatoes boiled, with a little lettuce and vinegar or potatoes and cabbage mashed together. About twice a week 2 oz of meat, smoked pork or boiled mutton with this.
Tea Three half rounds of black bread and three of best bread if which the flour is made from potatoes, the smallest suspicion of a smear of butter is put on and the usual treacle and coffee.
Supper (10.30 PM) The best meal of the day. Meal soup made from grain with a little milk like very
Instructions to Prisoners of War.
alteration in the ill treatment will cease until the English government has consented to the Germans' request. It is therefore in the interest of all English prisoners of spite to do their best to enable the German government to remove all English prisoners of spit to camps in Germany, where they will be properly treated with food, good clothes and you will succeed by writing as mentioned above and then surely the British government shall consent to Germany's request for the sake of their countrymen. You will be supplied with postcards, paper and envelopes, all the correspondence in which you explain your hardship will be sent as express mail to England. Your address Name Rank Battalion POW
Gefangenlager Wahn, Germany
I presume these were the instructions from the Camp Commandant to the newly arrived prisoners of war. Express mail never seems to have materialised&emdash;it always took around two months.
On back of Christmas card from his father; the two previous items are written on inside.
Read this while a prisoner 26th May 1918 and wonder what the future will bring, how soon will I see England again.