On the Fourth of June, 1917, the Old Etonian officers
celebrated the occasion with a dinner to which nine of us sat down and drank the toast “Floreat Etona”. Those present were Colonel R.G. Bolton (Scots Guards), Major Morrison Bell (Scots Guards), C.K. Hutchison (Coldstream Guards), Captain O.B. Sanderson (4th Dragoon Guards), Jocelyn Lucas (Warwicks Regiment), M. Brocas Burrows (5th Dragoon Guards), C.E. Scarisbrick (The Royal Scots), J.H. McEwen (Cameron Highlanders) and myself. The menu consisted of turtle soup, salmon mayonnaise, curry and rice, cold tongue, fruit salad and coffee.
In June I wrote, “The squash racquets came very opportunely and I hope you will be able to send out balls. We have been allowed to build a second squash court and were able to make another tennis court using our own labour. We had an excellent show by the A.D.S. last night, who put on “The Little Damozel”. Critchley (Lieutenant G.E.V. Critchley, a Guards officer) as heroine, was marvellous and reduced several elderly Colonels and Majors to tears. The Dutch Ambassador arrived last week and made a thorough inspection. Boxing has been the great excitement lately and the finals took place tonight. There have been some amazing fights –
a knockout in the first fifteen seconds and two heavyweights who in their eagerness to slay each other, entirely forgot all they had learned and went at each other hammer and tongs. By the third round all they could do was to lean on each other for support and wait for time to be called. Our hopes for peace in the autumn seem rather shaky as far as can be gathered from the papers. Can’t say I look forward to another winter in this country. The days pass slowly – Appel in the morning, waiting in queues for parcels and showers, preparing meals and pursuing my studies in Russian which I have continued with Captain Boger who had served as Military Attaché in Moscow.”
There were various Camp activities – gambling, drinking, studying and escaping. Two Naval officers made themselves imitation German uniforms – dyed greatcoats, blackened flying boots to resemble German field boots, with spurs made of wire and silver paper, and wooden swords. They made up to represent the Commandant and his Leutnant, with escaping kit hidden under the former’s greatcoat to simulate the Commandant’s large tummy. One evening they walked out of a side door, passed in front of the kurhaus up to the gate, where the sentry on duty saluted and let them out! Not long afterwards the real Commandant and his Leutnant left their office and walked to the gate to the consternation of the sentry. Unfortunately the escapers did not get far and were captured and brought back to serve a term in the cells. We were allowed to make small vegetable gardens on a plot close to the wire fence and one evening two officers hid among the cabbages at night, cut the wire and escaped. What happened to them, I cannot remember.
The real big escape plot was the making of a tunnel. The floors of the huts were some feet off the ground and the space below them was boarded off. A hole was made in the floor and using bed boards to revet its sides, a shaft was dug which went down several feet. Digging took place during daylight hours and at the end of the day’s work, a cover was placed over the shaft and covered with earth. From the bottom of the shaft, a tunnel was dug in the direction of the perimeter fence. This was lined with bed boards and air for the diggers was provided by a bellows with attached tubing. The earth removed had to be disposed of and this was done by filling small sacks hung inside trousers which could be opened up and the contents spread on the ground under the other huts. Work on the tunnel had progressed to the point where it was under the wire fence. One of the orderlies – an Irish Corporal – gave the game away and the tunnel was discovered. “Mad Harry” went wild with excitement – the compound was full of armed Landwehr and we were confined to barracks for some days. Potential escapers had been busy preparing escaping kits, contriving civilian clothes, making maps and with the help of a German Under Officer who was bribed with gifts of food and soap, producing railway passes and other forged documents. A tunnel at our sister camp at Holzminden proved much more successful and many officers escaped, some of them getting over the frontier into neutral Holland, including Jock Tullis who had been with us at Osnabruck.
The same Under Officer used to give us advance notice of prospective searches so it was possible to hide away items of escaping kit, hidden largely behind the boards with which the huts were lined and using secret panels whose positions were cleverly disguised.
One day we heard of a forthcoming search and were prepared for it when we were kept on parade longer than usual. Coming up the road to the camp gate, we spied an ancient “fiacre” drawn by a decrepit horse. In it were seated the Commandant and a large staff officer. Behind them came a squad of military police in full uniform with helmets and tall black field boots. They were followed by about a dozen men in civilian clothes who turned out to be detectives. Last of all came a company of young Jaeger troops. The Commandant and the staff officer dismounted – the latter wore an armlet on which “Gibralter” was woven – the gate was opened and they proceeded slowly to walk past the officers on parade, followed by the Military police and the detectives, several of whom sported beards. Some wit called “Maa” – a sheep’s moan of complaint, and this was taken up with some gusto to the disgust of the Commandant and the amusement of the staff officer who at any rate had a sense of humour. The occupants of each room were then taken off in turn, accompanied by a policeman and detective, to have their rooms searched. This all took a long time before all the rooms had been dealt with. In the event, very little escape material was discovered, but the detectives lost several of the umbrellas with which they were armed. The guards “mislaid” a number of rifles which were only discovered as the result of a further search. The sequel to the search which went on all morning, took place a few days later when a crowd of officers invaded the Commandant’s office and during the confusion, a number of escaping items discovered during the search, were recovered.
During the summer we were allowed a number of walks on parole, but as the result of a “strafe” ordered by General von Hänisch, they were discontinued, a pity as the surrounding countryside was attractive. At the end of August, I wrote, “We had a racquets tournament but I did not get very far, being knocked out in the second round. Directly the weather gets better, they are going to have a foursome golf tournament but for the last few days it has poured with rain and the greens have been flooded. It is miserable being confined to our huts all day after being able to enjoy the open air for so long”.
An exchange of prisoners had been arranged between the Dutch, German and British authorities and several parties of the longest serving prisoners were shipped off to Holland where they were interned, though with plenty of freedom to move around, at Schevengen. I wrote in September, “The exchange to Holland seems to be going very slowly and we have not had the doctors here yet. Except for the sick, there does not seem much chance of getting to Holland before Christmas. We had a dance last night and although everyone said they were too lazy to participate before it started, when it actually got going, the floor was full of prancing and cavorting Colonels and Majors – in fact there was hardly room for the rest of us. We have a new Lager officer here now, a rather aged Captain who speaks broken English”.
When Jocelyn Lucas got to Holland, he sent a letter to the wives and parents of some of his friends left behind, describing our life at Clausthal. It was headed “Typical Day” and I quote from its contents:
“8.30. Roll out of bed – anyone in bed after 8.30 is liable to prison, so if a Hun officer happens to be in a bad temper he can get a full bag. Most people stay in bed as long as possible so as to make the day shorter … a most desirable thing in prison life. The next thing after Appel, which takes place at 9.15 when we all parade whatever the weather in front of the Kurhaus and are counted, is a douche if it happens to be a bath day. There are four douches, two of which never work, one of the others condescending to dribble and the fourth being all right, if a little slow. As some 250 officers have to have their whack, it will be seen that they are liable to some inconvenience and if they are lucky they get a little water to wash off the soap. The douches are nominally open from 7.30 to 9.00, but as a rule only work properly for a short while. If there is hot water, it is boiling and no cold available. If it is cold, the chances are the hot will only come on for a few minutes. A favourite trick played by the German N.C.O. in charge, is to let a number of officers wet themselves, and then as there is a long queue of soapy bodies waiting, off goes the water. Of course if you wait for ten minutes it may come on again, but the chances are it won’t. On the other hand, if you don’t wait, it is sure to come on as soon as you go away! If you give up the idea of a douche and don’t come at all, the solitary visitors will declare that they had the bath of their lives.
“Next the most important event is BREAKFAST. I put this in capitals for we love our food in prison if only for the reason that there is nothing else to love and it fills up so much of an otherwise long and monotonous day. However as we got up late, we have to eat it quicker than Mr Gladstone eats his, if only for the reason that if we don’t bolt it, we shan’t have time to finish it for we must be out on Appel by 9.15 and it means three days in “clink” if late, besides keeping others waiting in the cold. Still, a certain number play the game of “last across the road”. This is much helped by the fact that the exit door is very small and there is always a queue to get out so that the late comers have time to bolt a cup of tea and swallow some bread and marmalade before being chased out by a sentry. A favourite trick of the Hun is to lock the door from the outside before everyone can get out. Of course if this is spotted, the position is rushed and the sentry pushed back until all are clear. Occasionally it succeeds and those enterprising people who get out by the window, drop into the waiting arms of a sentry who marches them straight down to jug…”