We are normally supposed to have one orderly per six officers. They are usually drawn from those who have worked in the mines and have broken down there. The result is that some are permanently ill, while others throw a fit if work is mentioned. The sound ones are taken off to work for the Germans and as soon as an unfortunate orderly gets sufficiently well to be of any use at all, he gets sent back to a men’s camp from which he is drafted to work.
Officers are paid monthly in camp money – the amount depending on rank. For a considerable period last winter the only lights outside the Dining Hall were in the passages – those in the huts being on for about fifteen minutes to allow us to go to bed. Candles were “Streng verboten”. The official reason given for lack of lighting was there was “no benzine”. However acting on information received, a threat was conveyed to Baumgarten the electrician to give him away for taking bribes, and so he conveniently discovered a number of drums which had been mislaid. It was simply part of the official efforts to make us as uncomfortable as possible. The lights never go on in the building until it is too late to play cards.
The cells are a perfect boon to the weary and sixteen have been added to the original two for the convenience of officers since the camp was turned over to the English. Lights and fires and a room to oneself, however small – who can want more? No trouble in preparing food – it is sent over by an unselfish mess-mate and in the winter can be warmed up on the stove. Of course no exercise is allowed unless the sentence is over a month. This can be a little tiresome but for three days is as good as a rest cure and is quite the fashion both from inclination and otherwise.
Police dogs are used to guard the camp at night but usually they are harmless as the sentries do not know how to handle them. One sentry merely kicked his dog who barked at some officers lying in the grass cutting the wire at night so that they got away, though eventually recaptured. There are two dogs belonging to two detectives recently imported who are not so well behaved. Attempts to fraternise with the dogs are punished with cells. “Whistling Rufus” is the nickname of the Berlin detective who is always whistling for his dog. He is more obnoxious than the other “tecs” and visits our room continually at night with his dog and does not mind waking everybody to see if they are still there. He visits rooms at any time with his hat on and examines books and letters in his capacity as “Criminelle” as he described himself.
If a prisoner wished to mope he can do so though he is a nuisance to his companions. If he wished to sulk he can do so if he is silly enough. If he has a sense of humour he gets on all right. There is much amusement to be got out of our situation if only it is looked at in the right light and of course the officers are much better off than the men. Clausthal is by no means a good camp, but the surroundings are pleasant in summer and there are many worse. No Hun can go on being malevolent for ever if he is treated as a joke and he gets tired of trying to carry out oppressive regulations. The highest authorities are the ones to blame. When the German armies are doing badly regulations are relaxed, only to be re-imposed when they can score up
some successes. Various improvements have recently been made such as a cinema on Sundays and life is bearable with the prospects of exchange to look forward to.
At Christmas time the A.D.S. put on a pantomime – Cinderella and in January, “Charlie’s Aunt”. The actor who played the real “Aunt” was made up so funnily that when “she” arrived on the stage the audience howled with laughter for quite five minutes. Luckily he did not lose his self control and so the play went on successfully. Parcels continued to arrive and someone had a letter from Colonel Bond in Holland which he had reached about a fortnight ago. He seemed to be enjoying himself. Captain Boger, with whom I continue my Russian studies, is next on the list. He is a very nice fellow and I shall miss him. Married on August 4th, 1914, he was captured in October of that year.
Christmas 1917 was celebrated with a number of parties and in January the papers reported a heavy snowfall – up to 70cm. deep. After the successful German offensive against the British 5th Army on the Somme in March 1918 when the Germans pushed our troops back nearly as far as Amiens and took many prisoners, the Kaiser issued an order of the day requiring celebrations to be held. The German population short of food and dispirited badly needed cheering up. We were paraded in front of the Kurhaus and addressed by Niemeyer surrounded by his troops and standing on a raised platform. He made a lengthy oration saying, “Vell Yentlemen, for you ze var vill soon be over. Unser Kaiser has given an order that the flags shall be hoisted and that we should cheer the German victories.” Whereupon he gave the command, “Fahnen Herauf”, and the German ensign was hoisted to the top of the flag pole. The Commandant ended by telling us that “thousands of Yermans are going vest every day”, not realising what this conveyed in British slang. There was a long burst of cheering from the British officers who were delighted to know that their enemies were being slaughtered! The parade ended and we returned to our rooms highly amused. But what were Niemeyer’s thoughts were never revealed.
On the 1st April, 1918, the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Navy Air Service were combined to form the Royal Air Force. Having been seconded from my Worcestershire T.A. battalion to join the R.F.C., I was now seconded to the R.A.F. with the rank of Flying Officer, and changed my double-breasted R.F.C. uniform (known as a “Maternity Jacket”) for the khaki uniform originally issued to the R.A.F.
April 1918. The days are lengthening and spring is on its way. We hear from the Swiss papers that peace with Russia has been declared, so must expect German troops to be transferred to the West. Their March offensive on the Somme seems to have petered out, after recapturing much of the ground we took in 1916. In a letter to my sister dated May 15th, “This will be full of the one important topic – to Holland or not to Holland. Facts first – the last party left on May 12th and brought the list up to July 1916 – so I am just two months off it. Provided the exchange continues (as will be learned later, it came to a halt) I should be there before the end of July. This waiting and wondering has been the worst time for anyone since we were captured. It is almost impossible to settle down to anything for more than a few moments. So the only thing to do is either to doze in the sun or to wander round looking like a poor specimen of the tramp class, wearing a large pair of down-at-heel old boots, dirty, very aged grey bags, a much torn and mended cardigan, a cap which can hardly be recognized as such, complete the outfit”.
Tennis and golf are both going strong, though only one tennis court is in use at present – the other being re-surfaced! Parcels continue to arrive so life, though boring, was reasonably satisfied. A party of Merchant Seamen officers arrived in the camp – all taken prisoner by the German raider “Wolf”. Six Jap officers appeared one day but left shortly afterwards for another camp so we had little chance of talking to them.
At last, in August orders came for those of us captured in the autumn of 1916 to move to Holland. We gave away various treasures accumulated over the past months, packed our bags and marched to the station and took a train for Aachen, where we were housed in a Technical High School building. Sanders, Molloy, Helder, Wingfield and Money came with me. The guards said, “Tomorrow you will be in Holland”, but time passed and nothing happened. The Dutch frontier was only a few kilometres distant and we were allowed several walks “on parole” in charge of a German Lieutenant. Many of us were struck down by an attack of influenza which was raging at the time. We lay in bed suffering from high temperatures with only some weak gruel to sustain us. When we recovered we were so run down that we could hardly climb the stairs – in fact we crawled up on hands and knees, having searched the rubbish bins for crusts.