FIVE MONTHS ON A GERMAN RAIDER
Being the Adventures of an Englishman Captured by the "Wolf"
F. G. TRAYES
Formerly Principal of the Royal Normal College Bangkok, Siam
London Headley Bros. Publishers, Ltd. 72 Oxford Street W. 1
IN DEEP GRATITUDE TO THE DANISH NAVAL AUTHORITIES, LIGHTHOUSE KEEPERS, LIFEBOATMEN AND THEIR FAMILIES, AND THE KINDLY INHABITANTS OF SKAGEN, DENMARK, WHO SECURED FOR US, AND WELCOMED US BACK TO FREEDOM, AND WHO BY THEIR OVERWHELMING KINDNESS AND HEARTY HELP AND HOSPITALITY LEFT WITH US SUCH KIND AND HAPPY MEMORIES OF THEIR COUNTRY AND COUNTRYMEN AS WILL NEVER BE FORGOTTEN.
I. THE CAPTURE OF THE "HITACHI MARU" 11
II. PRISONERS ON THE "WOLF" 23
III. BACK TO THE "HITACHI MARU" 37
IV. THE GERMANS SINK THEIR PRIZE 51
V. LIFE ON THE "WOLF" 66
VI. ANOTHER PRIZE—OUR FUTURE HOME 82
VII. CHRISTMAS ON THE "IGOTZ MENDI" 97
VIII. RUMOURS AND PLANS 116
IX. EN ROUTE FOR RUHLEBEN—VIA ICELAND 133
X. SAVED BY SHIPWRECK 149
XI. FREE AT LAST 166
THE AUTHOR BEFORE AND AFTER HIS FIVE MONTHS' CAPTIVITY (Frontispiece) FACING PAGE
"HITACHI" PASSENGERS AND CREW IN LIFEBOATS AFTER THEIR SHIP HAD BEEN SHELLED 22
JAPANESE STEAMSHIP "HITACHI MARU" 64
THE "IGOTZ MENDI" ASHORE AT SKAGEN 150
THE SKAGEN LIFEBOAT GOING OUT TO THE "IGOTZ MENDI" TO BRING OFF THE PRISONERS 166
THE SKAGEN LIFEBOAT BRINGING TO SHORE THE PRISONERS FROM THE "IGOTZ MENDI" 166
AT SKAGEN: GERMAN PRIZE CREW OF THE "IGOTZ MENDI" UNDER GUARD, AWAITING INTERNMENT 180
THE COURSE OF THE "WOLF" End paper
FIVE MONTHS ON A GERMAN RAIDER
THE CAPTURE OF THE "HITACHI MARU"
The S.S. Hitachi Maru, 6,716 tons, of the Nippon Yushen Kaisha (Japan Mail Steamship Co.), left Colombo on September 24, 1917, her entire ship's company being Japanese. Once outside the breakwater, the rough weather made itself felt; the ship rolled a good deal and the storms of wind and heavy rain continued more or less all day. The next day the weather had moderated, and on the succeeding day, Wednesday, the 26th, fine and bright weather prevailed, but the storm had left behind a long rolling swell.
My wife and I were bound for Cape Town, and had joined the ship at Singapore on the 15th, having left Bangkok, the capital of Siam, a week earlier. Passengers who had embarked at Colombo were beginning to recover from their sea-sickness and had begun to indulge in deck games, and there seemed every prospect of a pleasant and undisturbed voyage to Delagoa Bay, where we were due on October 7th.
The chart at noon on the 26th marked 508 miles from Colombo, 2,912 to Delagoa Bay, and 190 to the Equator; only position, not the course, being marked after the ship left Colombo. Most of the passengers had, as usual, either dozed on deck or in their cabins after tiffin, my wife and I being in deck chairs on the port side. When I woke up at 1.45 I saw far off on the horizon, on the port bow, smoke from a steamer. I was the only person awake on the deck at the time, and I believe no other passenger had seen the smoke, which was so far away that it was impossible to tell whether we were meeting or overtaking the ship.
Immediately thoughts of a raider sprang to my mind, though I did not know one was out. But from what one could gather at Colombo, no ship was due at that port on that track in about two days. The streets of Colombo were certainly darkened at night, and the lighthouse was not in use when we were there, but there was no mention of the presence of any suspicious craft in the adjacent waters.
It is generally understood that instructions to Captains in these times are to suspect every vessel seen at sea, and to run away from all signs of smoke (and some of us knew that on a previous occasion, some months before, a vessel of the same line had seen smoke in this neighbourhood, and had at once turned tail and made tracks for Colombo, resuming her voyage when the smoke disappeared). The officer on the bridge with his glass must have seen the smoke long before I did, so my suspicions of a raider were gradually disarmed as we did not alter our course a single point, but proceeded to meet the stranger, whose course towards us formed a diagonal one with ours. If nothing had happened she would have crossed our track slightly astern of us.
But something did happen. More passengers were now awake, discussing the nationality of the ship bearing down on us. Still no alteration was made in our course, and we and she had made no sign of recognition.
Surely everything was all right and there was nothing to fear. Even the Japanese commander of the gun crew betrayed no anxiety on the matter, but stood with the passengers on the deck watching the oncoming stranger. Five bells had just gone when the vessel, then about seven hundred yards away from us, took a sudden turn to port and ran up signals and the German Imperial Navy flag. There was no longer any doubt—the worst had happened. We had walked blindly into the open arms of the enemy. The signals were to tell us to stop. We did not stop. The raider fired two shots across our bows, and they fell into the sea quite close to where most of the passengers were standing. Still we did not stop. It was wicked to ignore these orders and warnings, as there was no possible chance of escape from an armed vessel of any kind. The attempt to escape had been left too late; it should have been made immediately the smoke of the raider was seen. Most of the passengers went to their cabins for life-belts and life-saving waistcoats, and at once returned to the deck to watch the raider. As we were still steaming and had not even yet obeyed the order to stop, the raider opened fire on us in dead earnest, firing a broadside.
While the firing was going on, a seaplane appeared above the raider; some assert that she dropped bombs in front of us, but personally I did not see this.
The greatest alarm now prevailed on our ship, and passengers did not know where to go to avoid the shells which we could hear and feel striking the ship. My wife and I returned to our cabin to fetch an extra pair of spectacles, our passports, and my pocketbook, and at the same time picked up her jewel-case. The alley-way between the companion-way and our cabin was by this time strewn with splinters of wood and glass and wreckage; pieces of shell had been embedded in the panelling and a large hole made in the funnel. This damage had been done by a single shot aimed at the wireless room near the bridge.
We returned once more to the port deck, where most of the first-class passengers had assembled waiting for orders—which never came. No instructions came from the Captain or officers or crew; in fact, we never saw any of the ship's officers until long after all the lifeboats were afloat on the sea.
The ship had now stopped, and the firing had apparently ceased, but we did not know whether it would recommence, and of course imagined the Germans were firing to sink the ship. It was useless trying to escape the shots, as we did not then know at what part of the ship the Germans were firing, so there was only one thing for the passengers to do—to leave the ship as rapidly as possible, as we all thought she was sinking. Some of the passengers attempted to go on the bridge to get to the boat deck and help lower the boats, as it seemed nothing was being done, but we were ordered back by the Second Steward, who, apparently alone among the ship's officers, kept his head throughout.
No. 1 boat was now being lowered on the port side; it was full of Japanese and Asiatics. When it was flush with the deck the falls broke, the boat capsized, and with all its occupants it was thrown into the sea. One or two, we afterwards heard, were drowned. The passengers now went over to the starboard side, as apparently no more boats were being lowered from the port side, and we did not know whether the raider would start firing again. The No. 1 starboard boat was being lowered; still there was no one to give orders. The passengers themselves saw to it that the women got into this boat first, and helped them in, only the Second Steward standing by to help. The women had to climb the rail and gangway which was lashed thereto, and the boat was so full of gear and tackle that at first it was quite impossible for any one to find a seat in the boat. It was a difficult task for any woman to get into this boat, and everybody was in a great hurry, expecting the firing to recommence, or the ship to sink beneath us, or both; my wife fell in, and in so doing dropped her jewel-case out of her handbag into the bottom of the boat, and it was seen no more that day. The husbands followed their wives into the boat, and several other men among the first-class passengers also clambered in.
Directly after the order to lower away was given, and before any one could settle in the boat, the stern falls broke, and for a second the boat hung from the bow falls vertically, the occupants hanging on to anything they could—a dreadful moment, especially in view of what we had seen happen to the No. 1 port boat a few moments before. Then, immediately afterwards, the bow falls broke, or were cut, the boat dropped into the water with a loud thud and a great splash, and righted itself. We were still alongside the ship when another boat was being swung out and lowered immediately on to our heads. We managed to push off just in time before the other boat, the falls of which also broke, reached the water.
Thus, there was no preparation made for accidents—we might have been living in the times of profoundest peace for all the trouble that had been taken to see that everything was ready in case of accident. Instead of which, nothing was ready—not a very creditable state of affairs for a great steamship company in times such as these, when, thanks to the Huns' ideas of sea chivalry, any ship may have to be abandoned at a moment's notice. Some passengers had asked for boat drill when the ship left Singapore, but were told there was no need for it, or for any similar preparations till after Cape Town, which, alas, never was reached. Accordingly passengers had no places given to them in the boats; the boats were not ready, and confusion, instead of order, prevailed. It was nothing short of a miracle that more people were not drowned.
If the ship had only stopped when ordered by signals to do so, there would have been no firing at all. Even if she had stopped after the warning shots had been fired, no more firing would have taken place and nobody need have left the ship at all. What a vast amount of trouble, fear, anxiety, and damage to life and property might have been saved if only the raider's orders had been obeyed! It seemed too, at the time, that if only the Hitachi had turned tail and bolted directly the raider's smoke was seen on the horizon by the officer on watch on the bridge—at the latest this must have been about 1.30—she might have escaped altogether, as she was a much quicker boat than the German. At any rate, she might have tried. Her fate would have been no worse if she had failed to escape, for surely even the Germans could not deny any ship the right to escape if she could effect it. Certainly the seaplane might have taken up the chase, and ordered the Hitachi to stop. We heard afterwards that one ship—the Wairuna, from New Zealand to San Francisco—had been caught in this way. The seaplane had hovered over her, dropped messages on her deck ordering her to follow the plane to a concealed harbour near, failing which bombs would be dropped to explode the ship. Needless to say, the ship followed these instructions.
"There was no panic, and the women were splendid." How often one has read that in these days of atrocity at sea! We were to realize it now; the women were indeed splendid. There was no crying or screaming or hysteria, or wild inquiries. They were perfectly calm and collected: none of them showed the least fear, even under fire. The women took the matter as coolly as if being shelled and leaving a ship in lifeboats were nothing much out of the ordinary. Their sang-froid was marvellous.
As we thought the ship was slowly sinking, we pushed off from her side as quickly as possible. There were now four lifeboats in the water at some distance from each other. The one in which we were contained about twenty-four persons. There was no officer or member of the crew with us, while another boat contained officers and sailors only. No one in our boat knew where we were to go or what we were to do. One passenger wildly suggested that we should hoist a sail and set sail for Colombo, two days' steaming away! Search was made for provisions and water in our boat, but she was so full of people and impedimenta that nothing could be found. It was found, however, that water was rapidly coming into the boat, and before long it reached to our knees. The hole which should have been plugged could not be discovered, so for more than an hour some of the men took turns at pulling, and baling the water out with their sun-helmets. This was very hot work, as it must be remembered we were not far from the Equator. Ultimately, however, the hole was found and more or less satisfactorily plugged. Water, however, continued to come in, so baling had still to be proceeded with. An Irish Tommy, going home from Singapore to join up, was in our boat. He was most cheerful and in every way helpful, working hard and pulling all the time. It was he who plugged the hole, and as he was almost the only one among us who seemed to have any useful knowledge about the management of lifeboats, we were very glad to reckon him among our company.
The four boats were now drifting aimlessly about over the sea, when an order was shouted to us, apparently from a Japanese officer in one of the other boats, to tie up with the other three boats. After some time this was accomplished, and the four boats in line drifted on the water. The two steamers had stopped; we did not know what was happening on board either of them, but saw the raider's motor launch going between the raider and her prize, picking up some of the men who had fallen into the sea when the boat capsized. Luckily, the sharks with which these waters are infested had been scared off by the gunfire. We realized, when we were in the lifeboats, what a heavy swell there was on the sea, as both steamers were occasionally hidden from us when we were in the trough of the waves. We were, however, not inconvenienced in any way by the swell, and the lifeboats shipped no water. There was no one in command of any of the boats, and we simply waited to see what was going to happen.
What a sudden, what a dramatic change in our fortunes! One that easily might have been, might even yet be, tragic. At half-past one, less than two hours before, we were comfortably on board a fine ship, absolutely unsuspicious of the least danger. If any of us had thought of the matter at all, we probably imagined we were in the safest part of the ocean. But, at three o'clock, here we were, having undergone the trying ordeal of shell-fire in the interval, drifting helplessly in lifeboats in mid-ocean, all our personal belongings left behind in what we imagined to be a sinking ship, not knowing what fate was in store for us, but naturally, remembering what we had heard of German sea outrages, dreading the very worst.
PRISONERS ON THE "WOLF"
Escape in any way was obviously out of the question. At last the raider got under way and began to bear down on us. Things began to look more ugly than ever, and most of us thought that the end had come, and that we were up against an apostle of the "sink the ships and leave no trace" theory—which we had read about in Colombo only a couple of days before—the latest development of "frightfulness." Our minds were not made easier by the seaplane circling above us, ready, as we thought, to administer the final blow to any who might survive being fired on by the raider's guns. It was a most anxious moment for us all, and opinions were very divided as to what was going to happen. One of the ladies remarked that she had no fear, and reminded us that we were all in God's hands, which cheered up some of the drooping hearts and anxious minds. Certainly most of us thought we were soon to look our last upon the world; what other thoughts were in our minds, as we imagined our last moments were so near, will remain unrecorded.
However, to our intense relief, nothing of what we had feared happened, and as the raider came slowly nearer to us—up till now we had not even seen one of the enemy—an officer on the bridge megaphoned us to come alongside. This we did; three boats went astern, and the one in which we were remained near the raider's bows. An officer appeared at the bulwarks and told us to come aboard; women first, then their husbands, then the single men. There was no choice but to obey, but we all felt uneasy in our minds as to what kind of treatment our women were to receive at the hands of the Germans on board.
The ship was rolling considerably, and it is never a pleasant or easy task for a landsman, much less a landswoman, to clamber by a rope-ladder some twenty feet up the side of a rolling ship. However, all the ladies acquitted themselves nobly, some even going up without a rope round their waists. The little Japanese stewardess, terrified, but showing a brave front to the enemy, was the last woman to go up before the men's ascent began. Two German sailors stood at the bulwarks to help us off the rope-ladder into the well deck forward, and by 5.20 we were all aboard, after having spent a very anxious two hours, possibly the most anxious in the lives of most of us. We were all wet, dirty, and dishevelled, and looked sorry objects. One of the passengers, a tall, stout man, was somewhat handicapped by his nether garments slipping down and finally getting in a ruck round his ankles when he was climbing up the ladder on to the raider. A German sailor, to ease his passage, went down the ladder and relieved him of them altogether. He landed on the raider's deck minus this important part of his wardrobe, amid shrieks of laughter from captives and captors.
It was at once evident, directly we got on board, that we were in for kindly treatment. The ship's doctor at once came forward, saluted, and asked who was wounded and required his attention. Most of the passengers—there were only twenty first and about a dozen second class—were in our boat, and among the second-class passengers with us were a few Portuguese soldiers going from Macao to Delagoa Bay.
Some of us were slightly bruised, and all were shaken, but luckily none required medical treatment. Chairs were quickly found for the ladies, the men seated themselves on the hatch, and the German sailors busied themselves bringing tea and cigarettes to their latest captives. We were then left to ourselves for a short time on deck, and just before dark a spruce young Lieutenant came up to me, saluted, and asked me to tell all the passengers that we were to follow him and go aft. We followed him along the ship, which seemed to be very crowded, to the well deck aft, where we met the remaining few passengers and some of the crew of the Hitachi. We had evidently come across a new type of Hun. The young Lieutenant was most polite, and courteous and attentive. He apologized profusely for the discomfort which the ladies and ourselves would have to put up with—"But it is war, you know, and your Government is to blame for allowing you to travel when they know a raider is out"—assured us he would do what he could to make us as comfortable as possible, and that we should not be detained more than two or three days. This was the first of a countless number of lies told us by the Germans as to their intentions concerning us.
We had had nothing to eat since tiffin, so we were ordered below to the 'tween decks to have supper. We clambered down a ladder to partake of our first meal as prisoners. What a contrast to the last meal we enjoyed on the Hitachi, taken in comfort and apparent security! (But, had we known it, we were doomed even then, for the raider's seaplane had been up and seen us at 11 a.m., had reported our position to the raider, and announced 3 p.m. as the time for our capture. Our captors were not far out! It was between 2.30 and 3 when we were taken.) The meal consisted of black bread and raw ham, with hot tea in a tin can, into which we dipped our cups. We sat around on wooden benches, in a small partitioned-off space, and noticed that the crockery on which the food was served had been taken from other ships captured—one of the Burns Philp Line, and one of the Union Steamship Company of New Zealand. Some of the Japanese officers and crew were also in the 'tween decks—later on the Japanese Captain appeared (we had not seen him since he left the Hitachi saloon after tiffin), and he was naturally very down and distressed—and some of the German sailors came and spoke to us. Shortly after, the young Lieutenant came down and explained why the raider, which the German sailors told us was the Wolf, had fired on us. We then learnt for the first time that many persons had been killed outright by the firing—another direct result of the Hitachi's failure to obey the raider's orders to stop. It was impossible to discover how many. There must have been about a dozen, as the total deaths numbered sixteen, all Japanese or Indians; the latest death from wounds occurred on October 28th, while one or two died while we were on the Wolf. The Lieutenant, who we afterwards learnt was in charge of the prisoners, told us that the Wolf had signalled us to stop, and not to use our wireless or our gun, for the Hitachi mounted a gun on her poop for the submarine zone. He asserted that the Hitachi hoisted a signal that she understood the order, but that she tried to use her wireless, that she brought herself into position to fire on the Wolf, and that preparations were being made to use her gun. If the Hitachi had manoeuvred at all, it was simply so that she should not present her broadside as a target for a torpedo from the raider.
The Germans professed deep regret at the Hitachi's action and at the loss of life caused, the first occasion, they said—and, we believe, with truth—on which lives had been lost since the Wolf's cruise began. The Wolf, however, they said, had no choice but to fire and put the Hitachi gun out of action. This she failed to do, as the shooting was distinctly poor, with the exception of the shot aimed at the wireless room, which went straight through the room, without exploding there or touching the operator, and exploded near the funnel, killing most of the crew who met their deaths while running to help lower the boats. The other shots had all struck the ship in the second-class quarters astern. One had gone right through the cabin of the Second Steward, passing just over his bunk—where he had been asleep a minute before—and through the side of the ship. Others had done great damage to the ship's structure aft, but none had gone anywhere near the gun or ammunition house on the poop. I saw afterwards some photos the Germans had taken of the gun as they said they found it when they went on board. These photos showed the gun with the breech open, thus proving, so the Germans said, that the Japanese had been preparing to use the gun. In reality, of course, it proved nothing of the sort; it is more than likely that the Germans opened the breech themselves before they took this photograph, as they had to produce some evidence to justify their firing on the Hitachi. But whether the Japanese opened the gun breech and prepared to use the gun or not, it is quite certain that the Hitachi never fired a shot at the Wolf, though the Germans have since asserted that she did so. It was indeed very lucky for us that she did not fire—had she done so and even missed the Wolf, it is quite certain the Wolf would have torpedoed the Hitachi and sent us to the bottom.
It was very hot in the 'tween decks, although a ventilating fan was at work there, and after our meal we were all allowed to go on deck for some fresh air. About eight o'clock, however, the single men of military age were again sent below for the night, while the married couples and a few sick and elderly men were allowed to remain on deck, which armed guards patrolled all night. It was a cool moonlight night. We had nothing but what we stood up in, so we lay down in chairs as we were, and that night slept—or rather did not sleep—under one of the Wolf's guns. Throughout the night we were steaming gently, and from time to time we saw the Hitachi still afloat, and steaming along at a considerable distance from us. During the night, one of the passengers gifted with a highly cultivated imagination—who had previously related harrowing details of his escape from a shell which he said had smashed his and my cabin immediately after we left them, but which were afterwards found to be quite intact—told me he had seen the Hitachi go down at 2.30 in the morning. So she evidently must have come up again, for she was still in sight just before daybreak! Soon after daybreak next morning, the men were allowed to go aft under the poop for a wash, with a very limited supply of water, and the ladies had a portion of the 'tween decks to themselves for a short time. Breakfast, consisting of black bread, canned meat, and tea, was then brought to us on deck by the German sailors, and we were left to ourselves on the well deck for some time. The Commander sent down a message conveying his compliments to the ladies, saying he hoped they had had a good night and were none the worse for their experiences. He assured us all that we should be in no danger on his ship and that he would do what he could to make us as comfortable as possible under the circumstances. But, we were reminded again, this is war. Indeed it was, and we had good reason to know it now, even if the war had not touched us closely before.
How vividly every detail of this scene stands out in our memories! The brilliant tropical sunshine, the calm blue sea, the ship crowded in every part, the activity everywhere evident, and—we were prisoners! The old familiar petition of the Litany, "to shew Thy pity upon all prisoners and captives," had suddenly acquired for us a fuller meaning and a new significance. What would the friends we had left behind, our people at home, be thinking—if they only knew! But they were in blissful ignorance of our fate—communication of any kind with the world outside the little one of the Wolf was quite impossible.
There seemed to be literally hundreds of prisoners on and under the poop, and the whole ship, as far as we could see, presented a scene of the greatest activity. Smiths were at work on the well deck, with deafening din hammering and cutting steel plates with which to repair the Hitachi; mechanics were working at the seaplane, called the Woelfchen, which was kept on the well deck between her flights; prisoners were exercising on the poop, and the armed guards were patrolling constantly among them and near us on the well deck. The guards wore revolvers and side-arms, but did not appear at all particular in the matter of uniform. Names of various ships appeared on their caps, while some had on their caps only the words "Kaiserliche Marine." Some were barefoot, some wore singlets and shorts, while some even dispensed with the former. Most of the crew at work wore only shorts, and, as one of the lady prisoners remarked, the ship presented a rather unusual exhibition of the European male torso! There seemed to have been a lavish distribution of the Iron Cross among the ship's company. Every officer we saw and many of the crew as well wore the ribbon of the coveted decoration.
Some German officers came aft to interrogate us; they were all courteous and sympathetic, and I took the opportunity of mentioning to the young Lieutenant the loss of my wife's jewels in the lifeboat, and he assured me he would have the boat searched, and if the jewels were found they should be restored.
The Japanese dhobi had died from wounds during the night, and he was buried in the morning; nearly all the German officers, from the Commander downwards, attending in full uniform. The Japanese Captain and officers also attended, and some kind of funeral service in Japanese was held.
Officers and men were very busy on the upper deck—we were much impressed by the great number of men on board—and we noticed a lady prisoner, a little girl—evidently a great pet with the German sailors and officers—some civilian prisoners, and some military prisoners in khaki on the upper deck, but we were not allowed to communicate with them. There were also a few Tommies in khaki among the prisoners aft. It was very hot on the well deck, and for some hours we had no shelter from the blazing sun. Later on, a small awning was rigged up and we got a little protection, and one or two parasols were forthcoming for the use of the ladies. A small wild pig, presumably taken from some Pacific island when the Wolf had sent a boat ashore, was wandering around the well deck, a few dachshunds were wriggling along the upper deck, and a dozen or so pigeons had their home on the boat deck. During the morning the sailors were allowed to bring us cooling drinks from time to time in one or two glass jugs (which the Asiatics and Portuguese always made a grab at first), and both officers and men did all they could to render our position as bearable as possible. The men amongst us were also allowed to go to the ship's canteen and buy smokes. We were steaming gently in a westerly direction all day, occasionally passing quite close to some small islands and banks of sand, a quite picturesque scene. The sea was beautifully calm and blue, and on the shores of these banks, to which we sailed quite close, the water took on colours of exquisite hues of the palest and tenderest blue and green, as it rippled gently over coral and golden sands.
Tiffin, consisting of rice, and bacon and beans, was dealt out to us on deck at midday, and the afternoon passed in the same way as the morning. The Wolf's chief officer, a hearty, elderly man, came aft to speak to us. He chaffed us about our oarsmanship in the lifeboats, saying the appearance of our oars wildly waving reminded him of the sails of a windmill. "Never use your wireless or your gun," he said, "and you'll come to no harm from a German raider."
The long hot day seemed endless, but by about five o'clock the two ships arrived in an atoll, consisting of about fifteen small islands, and the Hitachi there dropped anchor. The Wolf moved up alongside, and the two ships were lashed together. Supper, consisting of tinned fruit and rice, was served out at 5.30, and we were then told that the married couples and one or two elderly men were to return to the Hitachi that night. So with some difficulty we clambered from the upper deck of the Wolf to the boat deck of the Hitachi and returned to find our cabins just as we had left them in a great hurry the day before. We had not expected to go on board the Hitachi again, and never thought we should renew acquaintance with our personal belongings. We ourselves were particularly sad about this, as we had brought away from Siam, after twenty years' residence there, many things which would be quite irreplaceable. We were therefore very glad to know they were not all lost to us. But we congratulated ourselves that the greater part of our treasures gathered there had been left behind safely stored in the Bank and in a go-down in Bangkok.
BACK TO THE "HITACHI MARU"
The Hitachi was now a German ship, the Prize Captain was in command, and German sailors replaced the Japanese, who had all been transferred to the Wolf. The German Captain spoke excellent English, and expressed a wish to do all he could to make us as comfortable on board as we had been before. He also told us to report at once to him if anything were missing from our cabins. (He informed us later that he had lived some years in Richmond—he evidently knew the neighbourhood quite well—and that he had been a member of the Richmond Tennis Club!) There was of course considerable confusion on board; the deck was in a state of dirt and chaos, littered with books and chairs, and some parts of it were an inch or two deep in water, and we found next morning that the bathrooms and lavatories were not in working order, as the pipes supplying these places had been shot away when the ship was shelled. This state of affairs prevailed for the next few days, and the men passengers themselves had to do what was necessary in these quarters and haul sea-water aboard. The next morning the transference of coal, cargo, and ship's stores from the Hitachi to the Wolf began, and went on without cessation day and night for the next five days. One of the German officers came over and took photos of the passengers in groups, and others frequently took snapshots of various incidents and of each other on different parts of the ship.
We know now that we were then anchored in a British possession, one of the southernmost groups of the Maldive Islands! Some of the islands were inhabited, and small sailing boats came out to the Wolf, presumably with provisions of some kind. We were, of course, not allowed to speak to any of the islanders, who came alongside the Wolf, and were not allowed alongside the Hitachi. On one occasion even, the doctor of the Wolf went in the ship's motor launch to one of the islands to attend the wife of one of the native chiefs! On the next day—the 28th—all the Hitachi passengers returned on board her, and at the same time some of the Japanese stewards returned, but they showed no inclination to work as formerly. Indeed, the German officers had no little difficulty in dealing with them. They naturally felt very sore at the deaths of so many of their countrymen at the hands of the Germans, and they did as little work as possible. The stewards were said to be now paid by the Germans, but as they were no longer under the command of their own countrymen, they certainly did not put themselves out to please their new masters.
With their usual thoroughness, the Germans one day examined all our passports and took notes of our names, ages, professions, maiden names of married ladies, addresses, and various other details. My passport described me as "Principal of Training College for Teachers." So I was forthwith dubbed "Professor" by the Germans, and from this time henceforth my wife and I were called Frau Professor and Herr Professor, and this certainly led the sailors to treat us with more respect than they might otherwise have done. One young man, who had on his passport his photo taken in military uniform, was, however, detained on the Wolf as a military prisoner. He was asked by a German officer if he were going home to fight. He replied that he certainly was, and pluckily added, "I wish I were fighting now."
On October 1st the married prisoners from the Wolf, together with three Australian civilian prisoners over military age, a Colonel of the Australian A.M.C., a Major of the same corps, and his wife, with an Australian stewardess, some young boys, and a few old sea captains and mates, were sent on board the Hitachi. They had all been taken off earlier prizes captured and sunk by the Wolf. The Australians had been captured on August 6th from the s.s. Matunga from Sydney to what was formerly German New Guinea, from which latter place they had been only a few hours distant. An American captain, with his wife and little girl, had been captured on the barque Beluga, from San Francisco to Newcastle, N.S.W., on July 9th. All the passengers transferred were given cabins on board the Hitachi. We learnt from these passengers that the Wolf was primarily a mine-layer, and that she had laid mines at Cape Town, Bombay, Colombo, and off the Australian and New Zealand coasts. She had sown her last crop of mines, 110 in number, off the approaches to Singapore before she proceeded to the Indian Ocean to lie in wait for the Hitachi. Altogether she had sown five hundred mines.
During her stay in the Maldives the Wolf sent up her seaplane—or, as the Germans said, "the bird"—every morning about six, and she returned about eight. To all appearances the coast was clear, and the Wolf consequently anticipated no interference or unwelcome attention from any of our cruisers. Two of them, the Venus and the Doris, we had seen at anchor in Colombo harbour during our stay there, but it was apparently thought not worth while to send any escort with the Hitachi, though the value of her cargo was said to run into millions sterling; and evidently the convoy system had not yet been adopted in Eastern waters. A Japanese cruiser was also in Colombo harbour when we arrived there, preceded by mine-sweepers, on September 24th. The Hitachi Captain and senior officers visited her before she sailed away on the 25th. The Germans on the Wolf told us that they heard her wireless call when later on she struck one of their mines off Singapore, but the Japanese authorities have since denied that one of their cruisers struck a mine there.
The Wolf remained alongside us till the morning of October 3rd, when she sailed away at daybreak, leaving us anchored in the centre of the atoll. It was a great relief to us when she departed; she kept all the breeze off our side of the ship, so that the heat in our cabin was stifling, and it was in addition very dark; the noise of coaling and shifting cargo was incessant, and the roaring of the water between the two ships most disturbing. Before she sailed away the Prize Captain handed to my wife most of her jewels which had been recovered from the bottom of our lifeboat. As many of these were Siamese jewellery and unobtainable now, we were very rejoiced to obtain possession of them again, but many rings were missing and were never recovered.
The falls of the lifeboats were all renewed, and on October 5th we had places assigned to us in the lifeboats, and rules and regulations were drawn up for the "detained enemy subjects" on board the Hitachi. They were as follows:—
RULES AND REGULATIONS FOR ON BOARD THE GERMAN AUXILIARY SHIP "HITACHI MARU" DETAINED ENEMY SUBJECTS (d.e.s.).
1. Everybody on board is under martial law, and any offence is liable to be punished by same.
2. All orders given by the Commander, First Officer, or any of the German crew on duty are to be strictly obeyed.
3. After the order "Schiff abblenden" every evening at sunset no lights may be shown on deck or through portholes, etc., that are visible from outside.
4. The order "Alle Mann in die Boote" will be made known by continuous ringing of the ship's bell and sounding of gongs. Everybody hurries to his boat with the lifebelt and leaves the ship. Everybody is allowed to take one small bag previously packed.
5. Nobody is allowed to go on the boat deck beyond the smoke-room. All persons living in first-class cabins are to stay amidships, and are not allowed to go aft without special permission; all persons living aft are to stay aft.
6. The Japanese crew is kept only for the comfort of the one-time passengers, and is to be treated considerately, as they are also d.e.s.
7. The d.e.s. are not allowed to talk with the crew.
At sea, October 6, 1917. Kommando S.M.H. Hitachi Maru, C. ROSE, Lt. z. See & Kommandant.
Lieutenant Rose very kindly told me that as I was leaving the East for good and therefore somewhat differently situated from the other passengers, he would allow me to take in the lifeboat, in addition to a handbag, a cabin trunk packed with the articles from Siam I most wanted to save.
It was evident from this that the Germans intended sinking the ship if we came across a British or Allied war vessel. We were of course unarmed, as the Germans had removed the Hitachi gun to the Wolf, but the German Captain anticipated no difficulty on this score, and assured me that it was the intention of the Commander of the Wolf that we should be landed in a short time with all our baggage at a neutral port with a stone pier. We took this to mean a port in either Sumatra or Java, and we were buoyed up with this hope for quite a considerable time. But, alas, like many more of the assurances given to us, it was quite untrue.
There were now on board 131 souls, of whom twenty-nine were passengers. On Saturday, October 6th, the seaplane returned in the afternoon and remained about half an hour, when she again flew away. She brought a message of evidently great importance, for whereas it had been the intention of our Captain to sail away on the following afternoon, he weighed anchor the next morning and left the atoll. He had considerable trouble with the anchor before starting, and did not get away till nearly eight o'clock, instead of at daybreak. Evidently something was coming to visit the atoll; though it was certain nothing could be looking for us, as our capture could not then have been known, and there could have been no communication between the Maldives and Ceylon, or the mainland. Before and for some days after we sailed, the ship was cleaned and put in order, the cargo properly stowed, and the bunkers trimmed by the German crew, aided by some neutrals who had been taken prisoner from other ships. Some of the sailors among the prize crew were good enough to give us some pieces of the Wolf's shrapnel found on the Hitachi, relics which were eagerly sought after by the passengers.
The passengers were now under armed guards, but were at perfect liberty to do as they pleased, and the relations between them and the German officers and crew were quite friendly. Deck games were indulged in as before our capture, and the German Captain took part in them. Time, nevertheless, hung very heavily on our hands, but many a pleasant hour was spent in the saloon with music and singing. One of the Australian prisoners was a very good singer and pianist, and provided very enjoyable entertainment for us. The Captain, knowing that I had some songs with me, one afternoon asked me to sing. I was not feeling like singing, so I declined. "Shot at dawn!" he said. "Ready now," I replied. "No!" said he. "I can't oblige you now. Either at dawn, for disobedience to Captain's orders, or not at all." So it was made the latter! On Sunday evenings, after the six o'clock "supper," a small party met in the saloon to sing a few favourite hymns, each one choosing the ones he or she liked best. This little gathering was looked forward to by those who took part in it, as it formed a welcome break in the ordinary monotonous life on board.
The only Japanese left on board were some stewards, cooks, and the stewardess. A German chief mate and chief engineer replaced the Japanese, and other posts previously held by the Japanese were filled by Germans and neutrals. The times of meals were changed, and we no longer enjoyed the good meals we had had before our capture, as most of the good food had been transferred to the Wolf. Chota-hazri was done away with, except for the ladies; the meals became much simpler, menus were no longer necessary, and the Japanese cooks took no more trouble with the preparation of the food.
However, on the whole we were not so badly off, though on a few occasions there was really not enough to eat, and some of the meat was tainted, as the freezing apparatus had got out of order soon after the ship was captured.
There was no longer any laundry on board, as the dhobi had been killed. Amateur efforts by some Japanese stewards were not successful, so the passengers had to do their own washing as best they could. They were helped in this by some of the young boys sent on board. The walls of the alley-ways were plastered with handkerchiefs, etc., drying in Chinese fashion, the alley-ways became drying-rooms for other garments hung on the rails, and ironing with electric irons was done on the saloon tables. Some of the men passengers soon became expert ironers.
We steamed gently on a south-westerly course for about five days, and on the succeeding day, October 12th, changed our course many times, going north-east at 6.30 a.m., south-east at 12.30 p.m., north-east again at 4 p.m., and north at 6.30 p.m., evidently waiting for something and killing time, as we were going dead slow all day. The next morning we had stopped entirely; we sighted smoke at 10.20 a.m.—it was, of course, the Wolf, met by appointment at that particular time and place. She came abreast of us about 11.20 a.m., and we sailed on parallel courses for the rest of the day. She was unaccompanied by a new prize, and we were glad to think she had been unsuccessful in her hunt for further prey. She remained in company with us all next day, Sunday, and about 5 p.m. moved closer up, and after an exchange of signals we both changed courses and the Wolf sheered off, and to our great relief we saw her no more for several days. There was always the hope that when away from us she would be seen and captured by an Allied cruiser, and always the fear that, failing such happy consummation, when she came back to us we might again be put on board her. The Germans seemed to have a perfect mania for taking photographs—we were, of course, not allowed to take any, and cameras were even taken away from us—and one day Lieutenant Rose showed me photos of various incidents of the Wolf's cruise, including those of the sinkings of various ships. I asked him how he, a sailor, felt when he saw good ships being sent to the bottom. Did he feel no remorse, no regret? He admitted he did, but the Germans, he said, had no choice in the matter. They had no port to which they could take their prizes—this, of course, was the fault of the British! (I saw, too, on this day a photo of the Hitachi flying the German flag, and one showing the damage sustained by her from the Wolf's firing. There were ugly holes in the stern quarters, but all above the water-line.) The German officers would take with them to Germany hundreds of pictures giving a complete photographic record of the Wolf's expedition.
We cruised about again after the Wolf had left us for a couple of days, and on the 17th were stationary all day. Several sharks were seen around the ship, and the German sailors caught two or three fairly large ones during the day and got them on board. One particularly ravenous shark made off with the bait three times, and was dragged halfway up the ship's side on each occasion. So greedy was he that he returned to the charge for the fourth time, seized the bait, and was this time successfully hauled on board. On the 18th the sea was rough, and we were gently steaming to keep the ship's head to the seas, and on the following day we again changed our course many times. Saturday morning, October 20th, again saw the Wolf in sight at 6.30. She was still alone, and we proceeded on parallel courses, passing about midday a few white reefs with breakers sweeping over them. Shortly after, we came in sight of many other reefs, most of which were quite bare, but there were a few trees and a little vegetation on the largest of them, and at 2 p.m. we anchored, and the Wolf tied up alongside us at a snug and sheltered spot. We were almost surrounded by large and small coral reefs, against which we could see and hear the breakers dashing. It was a beautiful anchorage, and the waters were evidently well known to the Germans. Some of the seafaring men amongst us told us we were in the Cargados Carajos Reef, south-east of the Seychelles, and that we were anchored near the Nazareth Bank.
THE GERMANS SINK THEIR PRIZE
So confident did the Germans feel of their security that they stayed in this neighbourhood from October 20th to November 7th, only once—on October 28th—moving a few hundred yards away from their original anchorage, and although a most vigilant lookout was kept from the crow's nest on the Wolf, the seaplane was not sent up once to scout during the whole of that time. Coal, cargo, and stores were transferred from the Hitachi to the Wolf, and the work went on day and night with just as much prospect of interference as there would have been if the Wolf had been loading cargo from a wharf in Hamburg in peace-time. The coolness and impudence of the whole thing amazed us.
But one day, October 22nd, was observed as a holiday. It was Lieutenant Rose's birthday, and, incidentally, the Kaiserin's also. So no loading or coaling was done, but the band on the Wolf—most of the members with the minimum of clothing and nearly all with faces and bodies black with coal-dust—lined up and gave a musical performance of German patriotic airs.
Every day we looked, but in vain, for signs of help in the shape of a friendly cruiser, but the Germans proceeded with their high-seas robbery undisturbed and unalarmed. The Hitachi had a valuable cargo of rubber, silk, tea, tin, copper, antimony, hides, cocoa-nut, and general stores, and it was indeed maddening to see all these cases marked for Liverpool and London being transferred to the capacious maw of the Wolf for the use of our enemies. The silk came in very handy—the Germans used a great deal of it to make new wings for their "bird." The seaplane did not, of course, take off from the Wolf's deck, which was far too crowded. She was lowered over the side by means of the winch, and towed a little distance by the motor launch before rising. On her return she was taken in tow again by the launch and then lifted aboard to her quarters. She made some beautiful flights. The Germans told us that when the Wolf was mine-laying in Australian waters the seaplane made a flight over Sydney. What a commotion there would have been in the southern hemisphere if she had launched some of her bolts from the blue on the beautiful Australian city!
On October 28th a Japanese sailor, wounded at the time of the Hitachi's capture, died on the Wolf. This was the last death from wounds inflicted on that day. His body was brought over to the Hitachi—once again all the German officers, from the Commander downwards, including the two doctors, appeared in full uniform to attend the funeral service. The Japanese Captain and officers also came over from the Wolf, and the body was committed to the sea from the poop of the Hitachi.
We had now been prisoners more than a month, and various rumours came into circulation about this time as to what was to happen to us. The most likely thing was, if the Wolf did not secure another prize, that the Hitachi would be sunk and all of us transferred to the Wolf once more. It was certain, however, that the Germans did not want us on the Wolf again, and still more certain that we did not want to go. They regarded us, especially the women, as a nuisance on board their ship, which was already more than comfortably full. In addition, some of the German officers who had before given up their cabins to some of the married couple prisoners naturally did not want to do so again, as it meant that all the officers' quarters became very cramped. The German doctor, too, protested against further crowding of the Wolf, but all these protests were overruled.
There was talk of leaving the Hitachi where she was, with some weeks' stores on board, with her coal exhausted and her wireless dismantled, the Wolf to send out a wireless in a few weeks' time as to our condition and whereabouts. If this had happened, there was further talk among us of a boat expedition to the Seychelles to effect an earlier rescue. The expedition would have been in charge of the American Captain, some of whose crew—neutrals—were helping to work the Hitachi. There was also mentioned another scheme of taking the Hitachi near Mauritius, sending all her prisoners and German officers and crew off in boats at nightfall to the island, and then blowing up the ship. Lieutenant Rose admitted that if he and his crew were interned in a British possession he knew they would all be well treated. But all these plans came to nothing, and as day by day went by and the Wolf, for reasons best known to herself, did not go out after another prize, though the Germans knew and told us what steamers were about—and in more than one case we knew they were correct—it became evident that the Hitachi would have to be destroyed, as she had not enough coal to carry on with, and we should all have to be sent on to the Wolf.
But the married men protested vigorously against having their wives put in danger of shell-fire from a British or Allied cruiser, and on October 30th sent the following petition to the Commander of the Wolf:—
"We, the undersigned detained enemy subjects travelling with our wives, some of whom have already been exposed to shell-fire, and the remainder to the risk thereof, and have suffered many weeks' detention on board, respectfully beg that no women be transferred to the auxiliary cruiser, thereby exposing them to a repetition of the grave dangers they have already run. We earnestly trust that some means may be found by which consideration may be shown to all the women on board by landing them safely without their incurring further peril. We take this opportunity of expressing our gratitude for the treatment we have received since our capture, and our sincere appreciation of the courtesy and consideration shown us by every officer and man from your ship with whom we have been brought in contact."
He sent back a verbal message that there was no alternative but to put us all, women included, on the Wolf, as the Hitachi had no coal, but that they should be landed at a neutral port from the next boat caught, if she had any coal.
We were still not satisfied with this, and I again protested to our Captain against what was equivalent to putting our women in a German first-line trench to be shot by our own people. He replied that we need have no anxiety on that score. "We know exactly where all your cruisers are, we pick up all their wireless messages, and we shall never see or go anywhere near one of them." Whether the Germans did know this, or hear our ships' wireless I cannot tell, but it is certainly true that we never, between September and February, saw a British or Allied war vessel of any sort or kind, or even the smoke of one (with the single exception to be mentioned later), although during that time we travelled from Ceylon to the Cape, and the whole length of the Atlantic Ocean from below 40 deg. S. to the shores of Iceland, and thence across to the shores of Norway and Denmark. But notwithstanding the Captain's assurance, we still felt it possible that on the Wolf we might be fired on by an Allied cruiser, and some of us set about settling up our affairs, and kept such documents always on our persons, so that if we were killed and our bodies found by a friendly vessel our last wishes concerning our affairs might be made known. I wrote my final directions on the blank sheet of my Letter of Credit on the Hong-Kong and Shanghai Bank, which, after being cancelled, I now keep as a relic of a most anxious time when I was a very unwilling guest of the Kaiser's Navy.
The food on the Hitachi was now getting poorer and poorer. There was no longer any fruit, cheese, vegetables, coffee, or jam. All the eggs were bad, and when opened protested with a lively squeak; only a very little butter remained, the beer was reserved for the ship's officers, iced water and drinks were no longer obtainable, and the meat became more and more unpleasant. One morning at breakfast, the porridge served had evidently made more than a nodding acquaintance with some kerosene, and was consequently quite uneatable. So most of the passengers sent it away in disgust. But one of them, ever anxious to please his captors, "wolfed" his allowance notwithstanding. He constantly assured the Germans that the food was always ample and excellent, no matter how little or bad it was. When Lieutenant Rose came down to breakfast that morning, we were all waiting to see what he would do with his kerosene porridge. He took one spoonful and, amid roars of laughter from us all, called for the steward to take it away at once. Our hero looked as if he were sorry he had not done the same! On the Wolf the food was still poorer, and beri-beri broke out on the raider. A case of typhoid also appeared on the Wolf, and the German doctors thereupon inoculated every man, woman, and child on both ships against typhoid. We had heard before of German "inoculations," and some of us had nasty forebodings as to the results. But protests were of no avail—every one had to submit. The first inoculation took place on November 1st and the next on November 11th, and some of the people were inoculated a third time. The Senior Doctor of the Wolf, on hearing that I had come from Siam, told me that a Siamese Prince had once attended his classes at a German University. He remembered his name, and, strangely enough, this Prince was the Head of the University of Siam with which I had so recently been connected!
One night, while the ships were lashed alongside, a great uproar arose on both ships. The alarm was given, orders were shouted, revolvers and side-arms were hastily assumed, and sailors commenced rushing and shouting from all parts of both ships. Most of us were scared, not knowing what had happened. It appeared that a German sailor had fallen down between the two ships; his cries, of course, added to the tumult, but luckily he was dragged up without being much injured. We could not help wondering, if such a commotion were made at such a small accident, what would happen if a cruiser came along and the real alarm were given. The ship would bid fair to become a veritable madhouse—evidently the nerves of all the Germans were very much on edge. The only thing for the prisoners to do was to get out of the way as much as possible, and retire to their cabins.
In addition to the transference of coal and cargo which went on without cessation, day and night, our ship was gradually being stripped. Bunks and cabin fittings, heating apparatus, pianos, bookcases, brass and rubber stair-treads, bed and table linen, ceiling and table electric fans, clocks, and all movable fittings were transferred to the Wolf, and our ship presented a scene of greater destruction every day. The Germans were excellent shipbreakers. Much of the cargo could not be taken on board the Wolf; it was not wanted, and there was no room for it, and some of this, especially some fancy Japanese goods, clothes, gloves, and toys, was broached by the sailors, and some was left untouched in the holds. The Prize Captain secured for himself as a trophy a large picture placed at the head of the saloon stairs of the Hitachi. This represented a beautiful Japanese woodland scene, embossed and painted on velvet. The Germans said the Hitachi was due to arrive at her destination between November 4th and November 8th. They told us she would still do so, but that the destination would be slightly different—not Liverpool, but Davy Jones's locker! Some of the prisoners aft had seen several ships sunk by the Wolf. They told us that on more than one such occasion a German officer had gone down among them whistling "Britannia Rules the Waves." They will perhaps admit by this time that she does so still, the Wolf notwithstanding!
Longing eyes had been cast on the notice published by the Germans concerning rules and regulations on board, and most of us determined to get possession of it. When first fixed on the notice-board it had been blown down, and recovered by a German sailor. It was then framed and again exhibited. Later on, it was again taken out of its frame and pinned up. It remained on the notice-board till the day before the Hitachi was sunk. After supper that evening I was lucky enough to find it still there, so removed it, and have kept it as a memento of the time when I was a "detained enemy subject."
The boats were all lashed down, the hatches the same, and every precaution taken to prevent wreckage floating away when the vessel was sunk. On the afternoon of November 5th the Germans shifted all the passengers' heavy luggage on to the Wolf, and we were told we should have to leave the Hitachi and go on board the Wolf at 1 p.m. the next day. We were told that our baggage would all be opened and passed through a fumigating chamber, and that we ourselves would have to be thoroughly fumigated before being "allowed" to mix with the company on the Wolf. But this part of the programme was omitted.
The Hitachi was now in a sad condition; her glory was indeed departed and her end very near. We had our last meal in her stripped saloon that day at noon, and at one o'clock moved over on to the Wolf, the German sailors, aided by some neutrals, carrying our light cabin luggage for us. The Commander of the Wolf himself superintended our crossing from one ship to the other, and he had had a gangway specially made for us. We felt more like prisoners than ever! The crew and their belongings, the Japanese stewards and theirs, moved over to the Wolf in the afternoon, and at 5 p.m. on November 6th the Wolf sheered off, leaving the Hitachi deserted, but for the German Captain and officers, and the bombing party who were to send her to the bottom next day.
Both ships remained where they were for the night, abreast of and about four hundred yards distant from each other. At 9 a.m. on November 7th they moved off and manoeuvred. The Germans did not intend to sink the Hitachi where she was, but in deep water. To do this they had to sail some distance from the Nazareth Bank. The Hitachi hoisted the German Imperial Navy flag, and performed a kind of naval goose-step for the delectation of the Wolf. At 1 p.m. the flag was hauled down, both ships stopped, and the Hitachi blew off steam for the last time.
There were still a few people on her, and the Wolf's motor launch made three trips between the two ships before the German Captain and bombing officer left the Hitachi. Three bombs had been placed for her destruction, one forward outside the ship on the starboard side, one amidships inside, and one aft on the port side outside the ship. At 1.33 p.m. the Captain arrived alongside the Wolf, at 1.34 the first bomb exploded with a dull subdued roar, sending up a high column of water; the explosion of the other bombs followed at intervals of a minute, so that by 1.36 the last bomb had exploded. All on the Wolf now stood watching the Hitachi's last struggle with the waves, a struggle which, thanks to her murderers, could have but one end; and the German officers stood on the Wolf's deck taking photos at different stages of the tragedy. There the two ships now rested, the murderer and the victim, alone on the ocean, with no help for the one and no avenging justice for the other. The Wolf was secure from all interference—nothing could avert the final tragedy. The many witnesses who would have helped the victim were powerless; we could but stand and watch with impotent fury and great sorrow and pity the inevitable fate to which the Hitachi was doomed, and of which the captors and captives on the Wolf were the only witnesses. But one man among us refused to look on—the Japanese Captain refused to be a spectator of the wilful destruction of his ship, which had so long been his home. Her sinking meant for him the utter destruction of his hopes and an absolute end to his career. The struggle was a long one—it was pathetic beyond words to watch it, and there was a choky feeling in many a throat on the Wolf—for some time it even seemed as if the Hitachi were going to snatch one more victory from the sea; she seemed to be defying the efforts of the waves to devour her, as, gently rolling, she shook herself free from the gradually encroaching water; but she was slowly getting lower in the water, and just before two o'clock there were signs that she was settling fast. Her well deck forward was awash; we could see the waves breaking on it; exactly at two o'clock her bows went under, and soon her funnel was surrounded with swirling water; it disappeared, and with her propellers high in the air she dived slowly and slantingly down to her great grave, and at one minute past two the sea closed over her. Twenty-five minutes had elapsed since the explosion of the last bomb. The Germans said she and her cargo were worth a million sterling when she went down.
There was great turmoil on the sea for some time after the ship disappeared; the ammunition house on the poop floated away, a fair amount of wreckage also came away, an oar shot up high into the air from one of the hatches, the sodium lights attached to one of the lifebuoys ignited and ran along the water, and then the Wolf, exactly like a murderer making sure that the struggles of his victim had finally ceased, moved away from the scene of her latest crime. Never shall we forget the tragedy of that last half-hour in the life of the Hitachi Maru.
Thus came to an end the second of the Nippon Yushen Kaisha fleet bearing the name of Hitachi Maru. The original ship of that name had been sunk by the Russians in the Russo-Japanese War. Our ill-fated vessel had taken her place. It will savour of tempting Providence if another ship ever bears her unfortunate name, and no sailor could be blamed for refusing to sail in her.
LIFE ON THE "WOLF"
Life on the Wolf was very different from life on the Hitachi. To begin with, all the single men of military age from the Hitachi were accommodated on the 'tween decks, and slept in hammocks which they had to sling themselves. The elder men among them slept in bunks taken from the Hitachi, but the quarters of all in the 'tween decks were very restricted; there was no privacy, no convenience, and only a screen divided the European and Japanese quarters. The condition of our fellow-countrymen from the Hitachi was now the reverse of enviable, though it was a great deal better than that of the crews of the captured ships, who were "accommodated" under the poop—where the Captains and officers captured had quarters to themselves—and exercised on the poop and well deck, the port side of which was reserved for the Japanese. The Germans did not forbid us to enter the quarters where our fellow-passengers were confined, but it was obvious that they did not like our doing so, after the lies they had told us concerning the wonderful alterations made in these quarters for their prisoners' "comfort." One day I managed to sneak unobserved into the prisoners' quarters under the poop in the 'tween decks, where hundreds of men were confined, but I had the misfortune to run up against the Lieutenant in charge and was promptly ordered out before I could have a good look round. But I had seen enough! Both the men under the poop and our fellow-passengers had armed guards over them—those guarding the latter were good fellows and quite friendly and helpful to their charges.
There were now more than four hundred prisoners on board, mostly British, some of whom had been captured in the February previous, as the Wolf had left Germany in November 1916, the Hitachi being the tenth prize taken. The condition in which these prisoners lived cannot be too strongly condemned. The heat in the tropics was insufferable, the overcrowding abominable, and on the poop there was hardly room to move. While anchored near Sunday Island in the Pacific some months earlier, two of the British prisoners taken from the first prize captured managed to escape. Their absence was not noticed by the Germans till a fortnight later, as up to then there had been no daily roll-call, an omission which was at once rectified directly these two men were noted missing. As a punishment, the prisoners aft were no longer allowed to exercise on the poop, but were kept below. The heat and stifling atmosphere were inconceivable and cruel. The iron deck below presented the appearance of having been hosed—in reality it was merely the perspiration streaming off these poor persecuted captives that drenched the deck. The attention of the ship's doctor was one day called to this, and he at once forbade this inhuman confinement in future. From then onwards, batches of the prisoners were allowed on the poop at a time, so that every man could obtain at least a little fresh air a day—surely the smallest concession that could possibly be made to men living under such wretched conditions.
But notwithstanding these hardships the men seemed to be merry and bright, and showed smiling faces to their captors. They had all evidently made up their minds to keep their end up to the last, and were not to be downed by any bad news or bad treatment the Germans might give them.
The Wolf, of course, picked up wireless news every day, printed it, and circulated it throughout the ship in German and English. We did not, however, hear all the news that was picked up, but felt that what we did hear kept us at least a little in touch with the outside world, and we have since been able to verify that, and also to discover that we missed a great deal too. The weekly returns of submarine sinkings were regularly published, and these were followed with great interest both by the Germans and ourselves. We heard, too, some of the speeches of Mr. Lloyd George and the German Chancellors, debates in the Reichstag, and general war news, especially what was favourable to the Germans.
The accommodation provided for the married couples on the Wolf was situated on the port side upper deck, which corresponded in position to the promenade deck of a liner. Some "cabins" had been improvised when the first women and civilian prisoners had been captured, some had been vacated by the officers, and others had been carved out as the number of these prisoners increased. The cabins were, of course, very small—there was very little room to spare on the Wolf—and, at the best, makeshift contrivances, but it must be admitted that our German captors did all they could to make us as comfortable as possible under the conditions prevailing. The cabin occupied by my wife and myself was built on one of the hatches. The bunks were at different levels, and were at right angles to each other, half of one being in a dark corner. There was not much room in it even for light baggage, and not standing room for two people. The walls and ceiling were made of white painted canvas, and an electric light and fan were installed over the door. The married couples, the Australian military officers, and a few elderly civilians messed together in the officers' ward-room (presided over by a war photograph of the All Highest), quite a tiny saloon, which was placed at our disposal after the officers had finished their meals. We had breakfast at 9.15, dinner at 1.15, and supper at 7.15. The Commander of the Wolf was a very lonely man—he messed alone in his quarters near the bridge, and we saw very little of him, as he very rarely left his quarters and came below among his men and the prisoners.
The food on the Wolf was better cooked than it had been on the Hitachi, but there was of course no fresh food of any kind. Two or three horses had been taken from the S.S. Matunga—these had been shot and eaten long before. Even the potatoes we had were dried, and had to be soaked many hours before they were cooked, and even then they did not much resemble the original article; the same remark applies to the other vegetables we had. Occasionally our meals satisfied us as far as quantity went, but in the main we left the table feeling we could with ease dispose of a great deal more. This was especially the case after breakfast, which consisted of bread and jam only; and once at tiffin all we had to eat was boiled rice with cinnamon and sugar. Each cabin had a German orderly to look after and wait on its occupants, two German stewards waited on us at meals, and a Japanese steward had two or three cabins to look after and clean. The water allowance, both for drinking and washing, was very small. We had only one bottle of the former and one can of the latter between two of us; so it was impossible to wash any of our clothes.
The deck—we were only allowed the port side—was only about six feet wide, and part of this was occupied by spare spars. There were no awnings, and the sun and rain streamed right across the narrow space. Sailors and officers, and prisoners to fetch their food, were passing along this deck incessantly all day, so it can be easily imagined there was not much room for sitting about on deck chairs. On this deck, too, was the prisoners' cell, usually called the "calaboose," very rarely without an occupant, with an armed sentry on guard outside. It was not a cheerful abode, being very small and dark; and the prisoner, if his sentence were a long one, served it in instalments of a few days at a time.
We were allowed to go down to the well deck to see our friends and sit on the hatch with them during the daytime. They had their meals in the 'tween decks at different times from us, but the food provided was usually just the same. The evenings were the deadliest times of all on the Wolf. At dusk the order "Schiff Abblenden" resounded all through the ship, sailors came round to put tin plates over all the portholes, and from thence onward throughout the night complete darkness prevailed on deck, not a glint of light showing anywhere on the ship. It was very nasty and uncanny.
When the Wolf considered herself in dangerous waters, and when laying mines, even smoking was forbidden on deck. All the cabins had a device by which directly the door was open the light went out, only to be relit directly the door closed. So it was impossible for any one to leave his cabin with the door open and the light on. There was nothing to do in the evenings after the last meal, which was over before eight o'clock. We groped our way in darkness along the deck when we left the little wardroom, and there was then nowhere to sit except on the dark deck or in the dark cabins; it was so hot that the cabin doors had to be kept open, and the evenings spent on the Wolf were certainly very dreary. Most of us agreed with Dr. Johnson that "the man in gaol has more room, better food, and commonly better company than the man in the ship, and is in safety," and felt we would rather be in gaol on shore, for then we should be in no risk of being killed at any moment by our own people, our cells would have been larger than our cabins, and our food possibly not much worse, and our gaol would at least have been stationary and not rolling about, though it must be confessed the Wolf was a good sea boat.
She had been one of the Hansa line before the war, called the Wachfels, was about 6,000 tons, single screw, with a speed of about ten knots at the outside. She had been thoroughly adapted for her work as a raider, had four torpedo tubes and six guns (said to be 4.7), with concrete emplacements, not to mention machine and smaller guns—to be used against the prisoners if they should attempt escape, etc.—none of which could be seen by a passing ship, to which the Wolf looked, as she was intended to look, exactly like an innocent neutral tramp painted black. This was in itself a camouflage—she needed no other. When in action her bulwarks dropped, giving free play to her guns and torpedoes. There was telephonic communication between her bridge and every gun and every part of the ship; she carried a huge searchlight, her masts and funnel were telescopic, and she could rig an extra funnel. She carried large supplies of bombs, hand grenades, rifles and small arms; had hospitals with two doctors on board; the officers had the best and most powerful binoculars; among her crew of more than three hundred were representatives of every trade; she was thoroughly well equipped in every way, and absolutely nothing seemed to have been forgotten. There were, it was said, only three of the officers who were Imperial Navy men; the Commander, the Artillery Officer, and the Lieutenant in charge of the prisoners. All the other officers and a great many of the crew were from the German mercantile marine, who had travelled with, mixed with, and lived with Englishmen in many parts of the world. To this we undoubtedly owed the kindly treatment we received on board, treatment which was infinitely better than we expected to receive. The majority of the officers and men were certainly kindly disposed towards us. There is no doubt, however, that the fear we might be taken by a British cruiser also had something to do with this treatment, for if we had been treated badly the Germans knew they would have had cause to regret it had they been captured.
In a conversation with the Lieutenant in charge of the prisoners—who, by the way, had a Scottish mother—I remarked that it was very hard on our relations and friends not knowing what had become of us. He agreed that it was, but added it was no worse for my relations than it was for his! They did not know where he was either! "No," I replied, "but you are out doing your duty and serving your country, and when you left home your people knew they would have no news of you for many months. It is quite different with us. We are not out to be ingloriously taken prisoner, we were simply travelling on business, being compelled to do so. We are not serving our country by being caught and kept in this way, and our relatives did not expect us to disappear and send them no news of ourselves for a long time." However, he affected not to see the difference between our case and his; just as the sailors often told the prisoners aft that in case of the Wolf going into action it would be no worse for the prisoners than it was for the fighting crew!
We were forbidden to talk to the crew, but under cover of the darkness some of them, a great number of whom spoke English, were only too glad to speak to us. We learnt from them that the Wolf had been out a year; they were all very "fed up" with it all, tired of the life, tired of the sea, tired of the food, longing to get home, and longing for the war to end. They had, too, no doubts as to how it would end, and were certain that the Wolf would get back to Germany whenever she wished to do so. Of course we assured them that they were utterly mistaken, and that it would be absolutely impossible for the Wolf ever to get through the British blockade or see Germany again.
They were certain three things would bring them victory: their submarines, the defection of Russia, who would soon be made to conclude peace with Germany, and the fact that in their opinion America had entered the war too late. The submarines, too, would not allow a single transport to reach European waters!
While on the Wolf we heard of the great reverse to the Italian arms. We were told that half a million prisoners and thousands of guns were taken, and that there was no longer an Italian army! Germany had strafed one more country and knocked her out of the war. This made their early victory still more certain! Their spirits may be imagined when this news of Italy's disaster was received.
The interests of the Wolf were now, to a certain extent, identical with our own—that we should not meet an Allied cruiser. A notice was posted in some of our cabins saying that in that event the women with their husbands, and some other prisoners, would be put into boats with a white flag, "if weather and other conditions permitted." We often wondered whether they would permit! The other prisoners, however, viz. those under the poop and on the 'tween decks, would have had no chance of being saved. They would all have been battened down under hatches (this, indeed, was done whenever the Wolf sighted or captured a ship, when mines were being sown, and when gun and other drill was carried on) and armed guards with hand grenades sent among them. It made us furious to see, as we did many times, our friends being driven below by armed guards. Their fate, if the Wolf had gone into action, would have been too terrible to contemplate. For the lifeboats on the Wolf could not possibly have accommodated more than 350 souls, and it is certain no prisoners would have been among this number.
The Captain and officers of the Wolf must have had some very anxious moments on many occasions. When passing close to other ships, as she had done in the comparatively narrow waters of the Java Sea, all the prisoners were sent below, and we were told that the few officers and crew visible to a passing ship discarded their naval uniform and appeared in kit suitable for the officers and crew of a tramp. We also heard that on one occasion in narrow waters in the Far East the Wolf passed quite close to a Japanese cruiser at night. Both ships were in darkness, every man on the Wolf was at his station, and at the slightest sign from the cruiser the Wolf's guns and torpedoes would have immediately come into action. But the Wolf's good luck did not desert her, and the Japanese cruiser passed away into the night without having given any sign that she had seen the raider.
The Wolf, with a company of over seven hundred on board, sailed away on a south-westerly course for the next two days, and the usual routine of the ship went on, but no further gun or other drills took place. Soon after daybreak on November 10th a sailor came along and locked us all in our cabins, armed guards patrolled the deck, and a short time after an officer came to each cabin and informed us there was a steamer on the starboard side which the Wolf intended to capture. He told us the Wolf would fire on her to stop, and provided all of us with cotton-wool to insert in our ears while the guns were being fired! The Germans had had no scruples about firing on the Hitachi, though they could have seen there were women on board, but on this occasion they were so considerate as to give us cotton-wool for our ears, that our nerves might not be shaken—a truly German touch! We waited for the sound of the guns, but nothing happened, and in about half an hour the same officer came along and said to us, "Don't be fearful; the other ship has stopped, and there will be no firing!" Our cabin doors were unlocked, the men on the upper deck were allowed out, the ladies were requested not to show themselves on deck, and another officer ran along the deck saying "We've catched her, we've catched her; a neutral this time!"
The "catched" vessel had stopped and was lying very near the Wolf. The name on her stern proclaimed her to be the Igotz Mendi, of Bilbao, and she was flying the Spanish flag. In a short time a prize crew, with Lieutenant Rose in command, left the Wolf in her motor launch, and proceeded to the other ship. After they had been aboard her a few minutes, a message came back that the Spanish ship was from Delagoa Bay to Colombo with a cargo of 5,800 tons of coal for the British Admiralty authorities in Ceylon. So the Germans would not after all have to intern the Wolf and her prize in a neutral country—if she could reach one—at any rate from lack of coal, as we fondly imagined might have been the case. Here was just the cargo our captors wanted to annex, but the chagrin of the Germans may be imagined when they realized that they had captured this ship just three days too late to save the Hitachi. Here was a ship with ample coal which, had it been captured a few days before, would have enabled the Germans to save the Hitachi and take her as a prize to Germany, with all of us on board as prisoners, as they had always desired to do. Other German raiders had occasionally been able to do so with one or two of their prizes. Had the Hitachi arrived in Germany, she would have been rechristened the Luchs, the name of a former German war vessel with which the Prize Captain had had associations.
The Igotz Mendi had left Lourenco Marques on November 5th, and was due at Colombo on the 22nd. Before 9 a.m. on the morning of the capture both ships had turned about, the prize now being in command of the Germans, and were going back on the course the Wolf had followed since the destruction of the Hitachi. Discussion was rife among the prisoners as to what would be done with the new capture, and whether the Commander of the Wolf would redeem his promise to transfer the married couples to the "next ship caught."
ANOTHER PRIZE—OUR FUTURE HOME
The two ships steamed along in company for the next three days, usually stopping towards sunset for communications and sending orders. On Sunday, the 11th, we were invited to a band performance on the well deck forward. It was quite a good one. The first mate came along and jokingly said to us, "What more can you want? We give you a free passage, free food, and even free music." I replied, "We only want one more thing free." "What is that?" he asked. "Freedom," I answered. "Ah!" he said, smiling, "I am afraid you must wait for that a little time."
I had asked him earlier in the day if he would allow us the use of a room and a piano for a short time in the afternoon, so that we could keep up our custom of singing a few hymns on Sunday. Later on, he told me we might, with the permission of the officers, have their wardroom for half an hour. The officers and he had kindly agreed to this, a concession we much appreciated, and the little wardroom was crowded indeed on that occasion.
At daybreak on the 13th both ships arrived at the Nazareth Bank, and before 9 a.m. were lashed together. On such occasions the Wolf never dropped anchor, for she might have to be up and away at the slightest warning; the prize ship was always the one to drop anchor. On the previous Tuesday the Wolf had been lashed alongside the Hitachi; here, on this Tuesday, was the Wolf lashed alongside another captured ship in the very same place! Again the daring and coolness of our captors amazed us. Coaling the Wolf from the Igotz Mendi at once began, and a wireless installation was immediately rigged up by the Germans on the Spanish ship. Coaling proceeded all that day, and the German officers and crews on both ships were very busy. The prisoners aft were also very busy, catching fish over the side. No sooner had the ships stopped than lines were dropped overboard and many fine fish were caught. The prisoners aft wore very little clothing and often no head-gear at all, though we were in the tropics, where we had always thought a sun-helmet was a sine qua non. But the prisoners got on quite well without one.
On the morning of the 14th, just six weeks after our capture, orders were given to the married couples on the Wolf to get their light baggage ready at once for transference to the Spanish ship, as she and the Wolf might have to separate at any moment.
Our heavy baggage would be transferred if time allowed. We did not understand at the time why the Germans were so considerate to us in the matter of baggage, but later on, a great deal later on, light dawned on us! It is doubtful, to say the least of it, if we should have been allowed to keep our baggage if we should be taken to Germany, a possibility that was always present in our minds. We know now that it always was the intention of the Germans to take us to Germany, and that being the case, it would be just as simple to relieve us of our luggage when we got there as to deprive us of it while we were en route.
Evidently something was in the air; some wireless message had been picked up, as the seaplane was being brought up from the 'tween decks and assembled at great haste on the well deck. The Woelfchen went up about 4.20 and returned about 5.30, and in the interval our heavy baggage had been brought up from the Wolf's hold ready to be transferred to the Igotz Mendi.
At dusk that evening the married people were transferred to the Spanish ship. We felt very sad at leaving our Hitachi and other friends on the Wolf, and feared that whatever might happen to us, they would never be free. For ourselves, too, the prospect was not a very pleasing one. The whole ship was smothered in coal-dust, the saloon was almost pitch-dark, as awnings had been hung over all the ports, the atmosphere was stifling, the cabins we were to occupy were still littered with the belongings of their former occupants, and the outlook was certainly very dreary. To make things worse a thick drizzle came on, converting the coal-dust on deck into an evil, black, muddy ooze.
The next morning we were still alongside the Wolf, and remained there till the morning of the 17th, our heavy baggage being transhipped in the interval. There had also been transferred the Colonel of the A.A.M.C. already mentioned, and three other men—including the second mate of one ship previously captured—who were in ill-health. One of the Hitachi prisoners, a man over military age, who had come on board at Colombo straight from hospital, and was going for a health voyage to South Africa, had been told in the morning that he was to be transferred to the Spanish ship. But later on, much to the regret of every one, it was found that the Germans would not release him. A German officer came up to him and said in my hearing, "Were you not told this morning that you were to go on the Igotz Mendi?" "Yes," he replied. "Well," said the officer, "you're not to." Comment on the brutal manner of this remark is unnecessary.
The message the seaplane had brought back had evidently been a reassuring one, and we heard a long time afterwards that the Wolf had picked up a wireless from a Japanese cruiser, presumably looking for the Hitachi, only thirty miles away. Hence the alarm! Unfortunately for us, if this report were true, the cruiser did not turn aside to look in the most obvious place where a ship like the Wolf would hide, so once more the Wolf was safe.
If only there had been a couple of cruisers disguised, like the Wolf, as tramps, each one carrying a seaplane or two, in each ocean free from submarine attentions, the Wolf could have been seen and her career brought to an end long before. The same end would probably have been attained on this occasion if a wireless message had been sent from Delagoa Bay to Colombo saying that the Igotz Mendi had left the former port for the latter with 5,000 tons of coal on board. The strong wireless installation on the Wolf, which picked up every message within a large radius, but of course never sent any, would have picked up this message, and the Wolf would probably have risen to the bait, with the result that she could have been caught by an armed vessel sent in search of her on that track. For it must have been known that a raider was out in those waters, as the disappearance of the Hitachi could only have been due to the presence of one.