Chapter 9

Chapter 9


The Cambrai Citadel was used as a military headquarters and as a barracks. The room in which we were incarcerated was dirty and bug-ridden – we suspected later that it was also “bugged”! We slept in double-tier wooden beds on straw palliasses; and after the good food we had enjoyed in our Squadron Messes, watery vegetable soup, black bread, and ersatz coffee were not exactly inviting. On the day I arrived I was joined by several other officers who had been shot down – Captain Gray and his observer Sanders; Tom Lloyd-Molloy and his observer Helder; and Raymond Money who later wrote of his experiences in a book called Flying and Soldiering. We stayed at Cambrai for about a fortnight and were joined by other prisoners. While we were there we were taken out individually for interrogation and were visited by Fliegerkorps officers looking very smart in their field-grey uniforms.

On one occasion when we were let out for exercise, we witnessed a parade of a German infantry battalion which had been withdrawn from the battlefield to re-equip and to be made up to strength with young recruits. The battalion formed square and a senior officer rode in and gave a pep-talk to the troops. When he had reached his peroration an orderly with a bag produced a number of Iron Crosses which were duly pinned on to the breasts of those who had survived the ordeal of the Somme battle – no doubt to encourage their new comrades who were shortly to come under fire.

At last we left Cambrai in hard-seated and uncomfortable third-class carriages. Slowly we passed through Douai, Mons and Brussels and into Germany at Aachen. In the station in Cologne we were packed into an underground waiting-room – well known to many newly captured prisoners – and were scowled upon by German civilians. The end of our long journey was reached at Gütersloh in Hanover where we spent a few days in quarantine. But we only saw the outside of the P.O.W. Camp and after a few days we were moved on to Osnabruck, where a new camp was being organised in a disused cavalry barracks on the outskirts of the town. At first we were shut up in rooms with boarded windows and could not make out why some two dozen Flying Corps officers were kept incommunicado. After a visit from a representative of the American Embassy it came to light that we had been selected as potential victims to be shot if the British authorities decided that the crew of a Zeppelin, which had been driven down near London, had transgressed the Hague Convention by having tracer ammunition which it was claimed was “explosive”. Fortunately the decision went in our favour and we were transferred to the main barracks which were partly occupied by Russian and a few French officer prisoners.

We were at Osnabruck for six months and most of us were then transferred to Clausthal in the Harz Mountains. After eighteen months in the Hotel zu Pfauenterchen (Peacock Lake) and its adjoining hutments, we were due to be sent to Holland and were shipped off to Aachen, where most of us fell sick with a devastating flu epidemic. As the days passed our expectation of getting out of Germany became fainter and fainter until we learned that the hospital ship which was to take a corresponding party of German prisoners to Holland had been sunk. So after six weeks of uncertainty we packed up and spent a very uncomfortable and lengthy journey across Germany to Stralsund on the Baltic where we remained until after the Armistice, when we were shipped back home via Denmark and across a rough North Sea to Leith.

But “Kriegsgefangenschaft” is another story which several authors have described – so for the moment “my tale is told” and I leave it at that.