Nov.16th. Breakfasted on Percy as porridge has run out and we substituted fried bread. Played tennis with Wingers against Helder and Molloy. Very cold, especially wearing shorts, but good fun. As we were playing, a Schutte-Lanz dirigible flew over at about 1,000 feet. It was a small copy of a Zeppelin and we could see its details quite distinctly – propellors and all. It seemed to be having a rough time as the clouds were low.
Nov.18th. An attaché from the American Embassy turned up at mid-day and we all jawed with him in the anteroom, particularly about having to have our windows closed at night and about the latrines which are bad. The Russians’ habits involved squatting on the seats with inaccurate aim. On an icy morning I saw two senior Russian officers enter the “pissoir”, the floor of which was icy. Their legs slid from under them and they ended up in the gutter. We had a “Russky” tea with Agapov, Uschatski, Rouhine and Gempel as guests. We had a terrific spread with Molloy’s birthday cake draped in red paper as a centrepiece and every sort of delicacy. None of the Russians eat much but we talked hard all the time.
Agapov surprised us by leaping up and bolting out of the room saying, “I am unwell”. Poor chap, he has a bad arm and always feels seedy in the evening. After Appel we had an impromptu sing-song in the anteroom. There were some quite good turns, among them one by Lowson, a sandy-haired Royal Scot, who imitated Harry Lauder and Tom Foy. Room 68 sang two songs of rather doubtful character – mainly home-composed. One was “Star of the Evening”, and the other – to the tune of the Volga Boat Song – “She was poor but she was honest.” This went down well with the Russians. Very cold last night and snow on the ground.
Nov.20th. Watts – a Canadian – was put into our room. He had flown a B.E.12. Also B.A. Ordish (22 Squadron R.F.C.) who had served in the Artists Rifles and was an acquisition to the choir. We sang for about half an hour after lights-out.
We had a walk and were accompanied by some German children who followed us most of the way back to the Lager. One or two knew quite a lot of English and liked to show it off. They would not believe we were officers as we had no swords! The O’Mount came to tea and told us about the Dublin rebellion. An amusing chap.
Here some pages of my diary are missing but the last one refers to an incident that occurred early in December. The Germans sent a party to search one of the Russian’s rooms and departed with bottles of beer and other drink. This made the Russians mad and one of them ran down the stairs smashing windows with a stick. I was looking out of our window and saw a Russian leaning out above me with a carafe in his hand. As the German patrol left the building and passed under his window, the carafe was released and fell with a crash at the feet of the German officer. His men started shooting and there was a big row. My diary which now ends, comments:-
“The Russian who did the deed owned up so the threatened reprisals are off. Whist drive this evening and about 25 couples playing. Molloy won and Organ won the booby prize. The latter was flying a new type of machine to France and had the bad luck to lose his way and land on a German aerodrome. His active service career was a short one!”
The winter of 1916-1917 was a hard one and the parade ground was covered with snow and ice. Our chief concern was food, but parcels arrived fairly regularly – without them we should have starved. My Russian studies progressed and I gradually became fluent in speech and writing. P.O.W.’s spent their time reading, playing cards and studying. I got hold of a text book on Bookkeeping and for the first time (after a mainly classical education) was able to read a history of the 19th century and its politics. At Eton we never studied English literature or history, and it had been a relief to become a “Science specialist” which was an unpopular subject. In fact I was the only senior science specialist during my last “halves”.
The Russians were great gamblers and spent hours playing “Lotto” or “Bingo” as it is now known. Two English officers caused great excitement by going up to the Russian anteroom and arming themselves with a chess board, a draughts board, a halma set and a snakes-and-ladders board. They borrowed plenty of Camp money and proceeded to start a bogus game. First a chess move, followed by halma, draughts and snakes-and-ladders. After a long pause, one of the players nodded his head and handed over a stack of notes to his opponent. As the game proceeded, the table was surrounded by Russian officers, who though puzzled, became keenly interested in this new form of gambling. I do not think they ever understood that their legs were being pulled! I do not remember how Christmas was celebrated, but no doubt we had stored up an adequate supply of delicacies from our parcels. The “escaping bug” had as yet not infected the camp and in fact there was no score for tunnelling or wire cutting.
After the turn of the year, the Germans, who complained that their officer prisoners were being maltreated in Russia, decided to retaliate against some of their Russian captives. All the Russians were moved down to the rooms on the ground floor, packed together in rooms ventilated only by small grilles in the doors. They had to sleep on the floor on straw palliasses with all privileges such as books and parcels forbidden, and exercise limited to twenty minutes on the parade ground. It was sad to lose our friends and to watch them suffer with no possibility of giving any relief. We never heard from them again and if even some of them were eventually repatriated to Russia, few can have survived.
Another category of starved prisoners, a few of whom came to the Camp, were some Rumanian officers. They were captured when Rumania entered the War and her armies were smashed by General Mackensen. They seemed inordinately thin, but someone remarked that they wore stays.