After six months in Osnabruck, the Germans decided to segregate the Allied nationalities. In March we were told to pack up and depart. Possibly this was due to the imminent collapse of Russia under the hammer blows of Hindenburg and Ludendorf.
Laden with impedimenta we had collected and looking like Christmas trees, we struggled down through the snow to the station. Our destination was to be a camp at Clausthal in the Harz mountains. We duly arrived in the evening and spent the night in the waiting rooms. Next morning we trudged about a mile up hill and arrived at the “Kurhaus zu Pfauenteichen”, (The Peacock Lake Hotel), a wooden building converted into a Lager and surrounded by a high wire fence and with wooden barrack huts built at the rear of the hotel. Already there were other P.O.W.’s in residence, mainly those captured in the early months of the War. The senior British officer was Lt. Colonel Bond of the K.O.Y.L.I. and Captain Freddy Bell of the Gordon Highlanders was Camp Adjutant. Others were Captain Skaife of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, after the War to become Brigadier and Colonel of his regiment. Then there were two brothers by name Boger – one an Infantry Lt. Colonel and the other a Royal Engineer and a pilot R.F.C. There was a very tall and smart Captain Sanderson from my brother’s Regiment, the 4th Dragoon Guards.
The Camp was commanded by a Captain Niemeyer – usually referred to as “Mad Harry”. He had been a commercial traveller in America and spoke so-called English with a strong mid-western accent. Purple in the face, usually dressed in a long field-grey overcoat with field boots, sword and spurs, he and his twin brother “Milwaukee Bill” – the Commandant of the Holzminden Lager – had been appointed by General von Hänisch who was not enamoured of the British – having been given the Hanover Command after his Corps had had a rough time early on in the War. A committee under the chairmanship of Mr Justice Younger set up to report on the treatment of British P.O.W.’s, reported in 1918 that General von Hänisch was “an unreasonable and cruel man with a violent temper. He took every opportunity of curtailing anything which could make the prisoner’s life less irksome. He will march surrounded by his staff and shriek with rage at the British officers, calling them dogs and pig-dogs, as did his Inspector-General Pavlovski.” On visiting the Clausthal Camp before we arrived, he had exclaimed very slowly and clearly, “I am hoping every day to receive the order to send some of these people to be put up behind our lines to be shot by British shells.”
Of the brothers Niemeyer, the report comments, “Neither of these men could or would speak the truth”. There were generally two junior German officers – usually recovering from wounds or on sick leave, an Interpreter N.C.O. and the Reserve soldiers of the Landwehr, who guarded the Camp and provided sentries.
The Kurhaus stood above a lake – the Pfauenteich or Peacock Lake – surrounded by plantations of fir trees, and in the distance one could see the Brockenberg – the mountain famous in German myths and allegories. Some of our officers were housed in the hotel, but I was in a small attic with Money and Ordish and the rest of our party in three hutments adjoining the Hotel. Our British orderlies were housed in huts outside our compound and there were cells for those committed to “Stuben arrest”. The huts had rooms each holding six officers and were so small that beds were arranged in pairs – one above the other according to German barrack practise. There was only room for a few chairs and two small tables, and no space for our belongings. Each room had a stove and during the winter months we could generally buy logs. But the un-insulated huts were icy, so overcoats and sweaters were essential. When we arrived and until a room in the Hotel was converted into an anteroom, the only communal accommodation was the hotel dining room, adjoined by its kitchen and canteen. In the summer we
were allowed to construct a tennis court and to have a squash court built by a local contractor at our expense. We were able to take exercise in the area in which the courts were located. In the winter of 1917-1918, the tennis court was flooded and used for skating. There was also a small golf putting course which we laid out. A favourite sport, particularly among the senior officers, was “bee ferreting” as there were lots of field mice on the golf course. A captured bumble-bee was introduced into a hole and persuaded to act as a ferret by a stream of smoke blown from a pipe. It was amusing to see ancient Colonels competing with each other on bended knees and puffing away into the holes, having laid bets on who would first cause a mouse to bolt!
The Camp was surrounded by a high wire fence, inside of which was a barbed-wire fence – crossed at the peril of one’s life from the trigger-happy guards who patrolled round the perimeter. Outside the Camp was the Guard Room, Kommandantur and the block of cells which had to be enlarged owing to the number of officers who fell foul of the commandant. “‘Drei Tage Stubenarrest” was the penalty for incurring his displeasure. The Germans had little sense of humour and were unmercifully ragged. “Mad Harry’s” flow of invectives was met with laughter, making his complexion even more purple than usual. “You go right avay – forty meters ago. I send you to little ‘arrest ‘ouse”. A sentry was summoned and the offender marched off to the cells. In April I wrote to my sister to say that there was plenty of snow – “We get a fall nearly every night”. Keeping warm had been a problem and with a diet lacking in vitamins, small cuts turned septic. Most of us went about with bandaged fingers. There was a stage in the Dining Room and officers interested in acting ran a very successful Dramatic Society, putting on several plays. Parcels followed us from Osnabruck, but because it was discovered that some tins contained compasses and other escaping kit, all tins were opened in the Tin Room and their contents tipped out.
A party of officers arrived from Friedburg, among them my cousin Jocelyn Lucas who had been captured early in the war acting as a galloper to his General. When he returned to England, he was awarded a Military Cross. Succeeding to his family baronetcy owing to the death of his older brother, killed in a fall from an observation balloon, he became Member of Parliament for Portsmouth and served for many years in the House of Commons. He also became famous as a breeder of Sealyham terriers. He died in 1979.