Chapter 9

Chapter 9

On Appel, a notice is read out to the effect that certain officers are required immediately after Appel is finished. These usually belong to the same room and have for some reason or other incurred the spite or enmity of “Whistling Rufus” the Berlin detective. They return to find a posse of soldiers outside their doors and accompanied by a German officer who has to be present on these occasions, and by several satellites. They are allowed to look on while their beds, boxes and general belongings are searched for forbidden articles. These include everything from maps and compasses, down to candles, flasks and the envelopes of letters from home. Dictionaries bought in Germany come into this category if not expensive ones, as the cheaper ones can apparently be used for a code. After everything has been put into the passage and the wall paper pulled down in places, the floor is examined and everything where things could be hidden is ransacked. Failure to find any contraband means nothing, as if Rufus feels annoyed, he will drop in a day or two later. After all this is over, the officers concerned are graciously allowed to put their things back.


A word about the parcel system may be of interest. It is certain that while a certain number of parcels do not arrive, notably if they contain boots, the majority do turn up. These are given out at the rate of about 200 a day, so that if a lot come in, the delivery is spread over several days. Bread however, gets issued fairly well. The tins are taken away to the Tin Room, of which more anon. Things such as sugar and tea are handed out, but a receptacle must be brought for them as nothing is given out in its original wrapper or container. Toothpaste is confiscated but can be squeezed out if wished. Under the direct orders of General von Hänsch, soap is cut into little pieces and bread from neutral Red Cross Societies is cut into pieces. This no doubt for fear of concealing maps or compasses. This is now done by a machine instead of by a bayonet as before. The General’s soul-inspiring words to his staff were, “Cut up their bread into slices, cut up their soap into small pieces, and remember you are German”. Two people can normally draw parcels at a time but the rate of progress is slow as everything is examined with great care. Books, after having the owner’s name inscribed in them, are taken away and sent to the censors where they remain from three weeks to three months unless, as sometimes happens, they get lost. It is somewhat unfortunate that there is no means of telling whether a book has been confiscated or lost – the result is the same. A book which has passed the censor is stamped with an official stamp, which varied from camp to camp. Some of these have been successfully duplicated, so that if by a sleight of hand an officer has been able to steal his own books, he takes them to a brother officer in charge of the counterfeiting department and has them stamped forthwith. This is particularly useful in the case of books which would not pass the censor on account of their contents. It is sometimes possible by gumming the cover of a frivolous novel over the outside of a book on the war without the censor doing more than glance at the cover.


Tins are given out every day and 40 messes are allowed into the Tin Room at a time, varying in number from one to four officers per mess. As there are about 120 messes, it means that every officer can get in every three days. Before this system came into vogue, eight days was the average and people spent hours waiting in a queue. No officer can take out more than six tins at a time. The method of procedure is as follows – the first on the list hands a list of tins required by himself and his mess, stating in which lockers they are to be found. A Hun then gets them out and another Hun opens them and puts the contents in dishes which you have brought to receive the contents. Some of the Huns work fairly well but others give you vegetables for milk and say “No jam” although twelve tins of jam repose in the locker under his nose.

The Canteen is chiefly remarkable for the high prices charged for everything. It is run by the wife of the proprietor of the Kurhaus – a large fat woman by the name of Frau Wedekind. Each officer is given a wine card which enables him to purchase a limited number of bottles each month. The non-drinkers trade in their cards to the boozers! The ration is two bottles per week or six per month. But the prices are astronomic. Formerly, three bottles of white wine and three glasses of so-called port or sherry could be acquired weekly, but the allowance was cut down as it was found that some officers drowned their sorrows by drinking too deeply. From two to four officers usually mess together and all meals have to be taken in the Dining Hall. The washing up is done in rather primitive form as the supply of hot water is limited. Cooking is done in the kitchen and is free of charge. This saves a lot of trouble. English orderlies are now employed in place of the French who were dismissed in disgrace at the same time as the German women cooks. The work mainly consists of cooking porridge in the mornings and such things as eggs and bacon. For the rest it is merely a case of putting already cooked food to warm up. As the space is limited, all who can make use of their own “campite” or use a “Tommy” cooker. The supply of boiling water for tea making is very poor and is seldom if ever hot. The Germans supply nothing for breakfast except ersatz coffee made from roasted acorns. Lunch consists of vegetable soup. Sometimes the vegetables are inside the soup and sometimes outside. Meat of a sort in minute portions is supplied once or twice a week. It is often in the soup and then often in someone else’s tureen. In the summer fruit and vegetables can sometimes be bought from the canteen at fancy prices. Supper consists of two tiny rolls of bread or potatoes, but usually “Gemuse suppe”. i.e. vegetable soup. But these rations are supplemented by our supplies. The bread ration – one small loaf of Kriegsbrot made largely from bran and potato flour is not issued to us but can be bought at the canteen. As most officers get Copenhagen or Swiss bread there is never any difficulty in getting the full ration and more if necessary. Danish bread is incomparably the best of any sent us and arrives in good condition, whereas the Swiss bread always arrives hard and the English bread is hopeless in warm weather unless sweetened, such as currant bread.


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