The original printing contained gaps in the text, varying in size from a few words up to several lines. This appears to have been a deliberate act by the author, editor, or printer. These gaps are indicated in this version with [*gap] or [*large gap].]
SIXTEEN MONTHS IN FOUR GERMAN PRISONS
WESEL SENNELAGER KLINGELPUTZ RUHLEBEN
Narrated by HENRY C. MAHONEY
Chronicled by FREDERICK A. TALBOT Author of "The New Garden of Canada," "Conquests of Science," Etc.
London and Edinburgh Sampson Low, Marston & Co., Ltd. 1917
TO MY WIFE AND CHILDREN
WHO WAITED PATIENTLY AND ANXIOUSLY FOR "DADDY," AND TO
STILL LANGUISHING IN RUHLEBEN, TO WHOM I OWE MY LIFE
It was whilst suffering the agonies of solitary confinement in the military prison of Wesel that I first decided to record my experiences so that readers might be able to glean some idea of the inner workings and the treatment meted out to our unfortunate compatriots who were travelling in Germany at the outbreak of war and who have since been interned.
From the moment of my decision I gathered all the information possible, determining at the first opportunity to escape to the Old Country. As will be seen I have to a degree been successful.
Owing to the grossly inaccurate and highly coloured reports which have been circulated from time to time regarding the life and treatment of prisoners of war, the story has been set out in a plain unvarnished form. There are no exaggerations whatever. Much of the most revolting detail has been eliminated for the simple reason that they are unprintable.
In nearly every instance names have been suppressed. Only initials have been indicated, but sufficient description is attached to enable personal friends of those who are still so unfortunate as to be incarcerated to identify them and their present situation. Likewise, in the cases where I received kind treatment from Germans, initials only have been introduced, since the publication of their names would only serve to bring punishment upon them.
On Friday afternoon, July 31, 1914, I shook hands in farewell with my friend Henry C. Mahoney. He was going to Warsaw and was full of enthusiasm concerning the new task which was to occupy him for at least three months. Owing to his exceptional skill and knowledge, practical as well as theoretical, of photography in all its varied branches, he had been offered, and had accepted an important appointment abroad in connection with this craft—one which made a profound appeal to him. Despite the stormy outlook in the diplomatic world he felt convinced that he would be able to squeeze through in the nick of time.
Although he promised to keep me well informed of his movements months passed in silence. Then some ugly and ominous rumours came to hand to the effect that he had been arrested as a spy in Germany, had been secretly tried and had been shot. I did not attach any credence to these vague, wild stories. I knew he had never been to Germany before, and was au courant with the harmless nature of his mission.
A year elapsed before I had any definite news. Then to my surprise I received a letter from him dispatched from the Interned British Prisoners Camp at Ruhleben. As a matter of fact I learned subsequently that he had previously written six letters and post-cards to me, but none had reached me; most likely they had been intercepted and suppressed by the German authorities.
The letter intimated that he had prepared a voluminous account of his experiences. Two or three days later I learned from another source that he had been "having a hard, rough, and exciting time," and that he could relate one of the most fascinating and sensational stories concerning the treatment meted out to our compatriots by the German authorities. I also learned that a closely written diary and a mass of other papers were on their way to me; that they were in safe keeping just over the frontier, the bearer waiting patiently for the most favourable moments to smuggle them into safety. This diary and other documents contained material which he desired me to make public with all speed in order to bring home to the British public a vivid impression of what our fellow-countrymen were suffering in the German prison camps.
The papers never reached me. Why, is related in the following pages. In prosecuting discreet enquiries to discover their whereabouts I learned, early in October 1915, that "Mahoney will be home before Christmas." My informant declined to vouchsafe any further particulars beyond the cryptic remark, "He's got something smart up his sleeve."
Knowing full well that my friend was a man of infinite resource and initiative I was not surprised to learn a week or two later that "Ruhleben knew Mahoney no longer." He had got away. His plans had proved so successful as to exceed the sanguine anticipations which he had formed.
On December 9, 1915, the day after his return to his wife and children, who had been keyed up to the highest pitch of excitement by the welcome news, we met again. His appearance offered convincing testimony as to the privations he had suffered, but I was completely surprised by the terrible tale he unfolded.
When the story narrated in the following pages was submitted to the publishers they received it with incredulity. After making enquiries concerning Mr. Mahoney's credentials they accepted his statements as being accurate, but my friend, to set the matter beyond all dispute, insisted upon making a statutory declaration as to their accuracy in every detail.
People in these islands were stirred to profound depths of horror by the cold-blooded murders of Nurse Cavell and Captain Fryatt, of whose trials nothing was heard until the sentences had been executed. A certain amount of curiosity has been aroused concerning the Teuton methods of conducting these secret trials. Henry C. Mahoney passed through a similar experience, although he escaped the extreme penalty. Still, the story of his trial will serve to bring home to the public some idea of the manner in which Germany strives to pursue her campaign of frightfulness behind closed doors.
FREDERICK A. TALBOT.
I. ARRESTED AS A SPY 11
II. COMMITTED TO WESEL PRISON 29
III. HOW GERMANY DRIVES HER PRISONERS MAD 44
IV. MY SECRET MIDNIGHT TRIAL 60
V. WAITING TO BE SHOT 74
THE BLACK HOLE OF GERMANY
VI. OUR "LUXURIOUS HOTEL" 91
VII. BREAKING US IN AT SENNELAGER 105
VIII. BADGERING THE BRITISH HEROES AT MONS 119
IX. THE PERSECUTION OF THE PRIESTS 136
X. TYING PRISONERS TO THE STAKE—THE FAVOURITE PUNISHMENT 148
XI. THE REIGN OF TERROR 165
XII. THE REIGN OF TERROR—CONTINUED 180
XIII. "THE BLOODY NIGHT OF SEPT. 11" 196
XIV. THE GUARDIAN OF THE CAMP 209
XV. THE AFTERMATH OF THE 11TH 225
XVI. FREE ON "PASS" IN COLOGNE 237
XVII. RE-IMPRISONED AT KLINGELPUTZ 253
XVIII. THE CAMP OF ABANDONED HOPE 266
XIX. ORGANISING THE COMMUNAL CITY OF RUHLEBEN 280
XX. HOW I MADE MONEY IN RUHLEBEN CAMP 301
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
The Author as he appeared on the Day of his Release from Ruhleben Frontispiece FACE PAGE
"The Bloody Night of September 11, 1914" 198
The Aftermath of the "Bloody Night" 226
Facsimile of the Pass issued by the German authorities to the Author on his leaving Sennelager for Coeln-on-Rhein 238
ARRESTED AS A SPY
"Start August First. Book tickets immediately."
Such were the instructions I received at Brighton early in July, 1914, from Prince ——. A few days previously I had spent considerable time with this scion of the Russian nobility discussing the final arrangements concerning my departure to his palace in Russia, where I was to devote two months to a special matter in which he was deeply interested, and which involved the use of special and elaborate photographic apparatus, microscopes, optical lantern and other accessories. I may mention that the mission in question was purely of scientific import.
During the discussion of these final arrangements a telegram was handed to the Prince. He scanned it hurriedly, jumped up from his seat, and apologising for his abruptness, explained that he had been suddenly called home. He expressed the hope that he would shortly see me in Russia, where I was promised a fine time, but that he would instruct me the precise date when to start. Meanwhile I was urged to complete my purchases of the paraphernalia which we had decided to be imperative for our purpose, and he handed me sufficient funds to settle all the accounts in connection therewith. That night the Prince bade me farewell and hurried off to catch the boat train. My next communication from him was the brief instruction urging me to start on August 1.
[Footnote 1: I have never heard since from the Prince. A day or two after the outbreak of war, upon joining the Russian forces, he, with an observer, ascended in an aeroplane—he was an enthusiastic and skilled aviator—to conduct a reconnaissance over the German lines. He was never seen nor heard of again. Searching enquiries have been made without result, and now it is presumed that he was lost or killed.—H.C.M.]
Shortly after his departure there were ominous political rumblings, but I, in common with the great majority, concluded that the storm would blow over as it had done many times before. Moreover, I was so pre-occupied with my coming task as to pay scanty attention to the political barometer. I completed the purchase of the apparatuses, packed them securely, and arranged for their dispatch to meet me at the train. Then I remained at home to await developments. I was ready to start at a moment's notice, having secured my passport, on which I was described, for want of a better term, as a "Tutor of Photography," and it was duly vised by the Russian Embassy.
Although the political sky grew more and more ominous I paid but little attention to the black clouds. The receipt of instructions to start at once galvanised me into activity to the exclusion of all other thoughts. I booked my passage right through to destination—Warsaw—and upon making enquiries on July 31st was assured that I should get through all right.
I left Brighton by the 5.10 train on Saturday afternoon, August 1st. There was one incident at the station which, although it appeared to be trivial, proved subsequently of far reaching significance. In addition to many cameras of different types and sizes stowed in my baggage I carried three small instruments in my pockets, one being particularly small. I had always regarded this instrument with a strange affection because, though exceedingly small and slipping into a tiny space, it was capable of excellent work. As the train was moving from the station I took two parting snapshots of my wife and family waving me farewell. It was an insignificant incident over which I merely smiled at the time, but five days later I had every cause to bless those parting snaps. One often hears about life hanging by the proverbial thread, but not many lives have hung upon two snapshot photographs of all that is dearest to one, and a few inches of photographic film. Yet it was so in my case. But for those two tiny parting pictures and the unexposed fraction of film I should have been propped against the wall of a German prison to serve as a target for Prussian rifles!
Upon reaching Victoria I found the evening boat-train being awaited by a large crowd of enthusiastic and war-fever stricken Germans anxious to get back to their homeland. The fiat had gone forth that all Germans of military age were to return at once and they had rolled up en masse, many accompanied by their wives, while there was a fair sprinkling of Russian ladies also bent upon hurrying home. An hour before the train was due the platform was packed with a dense chattering, gesticulating, singing, and dancing crowd. Many pictures have been painted of the British exodus from Berlin upon the eve of war but few, if any, have ever been drawn of the wild stampede from Britain to Berlin which it was my lot to experience.
As the train backed into the station there was a wild rush for seats. The excited Teutons grabbed at handles—in fact at anything protruding from the carriages—in a desperate endeavour to be first on the footboard. Many were carried struggling and kicking along the platform. Women were bowled over pell-mell and their shrieks and cries mingled with the hoarse, exuberant howls of the war-fever stricken maniacs already tasting the smell of powder and blood.
More by luck than judgment I obtained admission to a saloon carriage to find myself the only Englishman among a hysterical crowd of forty Germans. They danced, whistled, sang and joked as if bound on a wayzegoose. Badinage was exchanged freely with friends standing on the platform. Anticipating that things would probably grow lively during the journey, I preserved a discreet silence, and my presence was ignored.
The whistle blew, the locomotive screeched, and the next moment we were gliding out of the station to the accompaniment of wild cheering, good wishes for a safe journey and speedy return, and the strains of music which presently swelled into a roar about "Wacht am Rhein." The melody was yelled out with such gusto and so repeatedly that I hoped I might ever be spared from hearing its strains again. But at last Nature asserted herself. The throats of the singers grew hoarse and tired, the song came to a welcome end, and music gave way to vigorous and keen discussion upon the trend of events, which was maintained, not only during the train journey, but throughout the cross-Channel passage to Flushing, which we reached at six o'clock the following morning.
At the Dutch port the wild excitement and hubbub broke out with increased virulence. The report was circulated that the train now awaiting us would be the last through express to Berlin. There was a frantic rush for seats. Men, women, and children participated in the wild melee. The brutal shouts of the men contrasted vividly with the high-pitched adjurations of the women and the wails and cries of the terrified children. Within a few minutes the train was packed to suffocation, not an inch of standing-room being left, while the corridors were barricaded with the overflow of baggage from the guards' vans.
For two hours we stood there scarcely able to breathe. The heat of the waxing summer's day began to assert itself, with the result that it was not long before the women commenced to show signs of distress. Their spirits revived, however, as the train commenced to move. There was one solace—one and all were advancing towards home and the discomfort would not last for long.
So keen was the desire to get to Berlin that the great majority of the passengers had neglected to provide themselves with any food, lest they should lose their seats or miss the train. But they confidently expected that the train would pull up at some station to enable refreshments to be obtained. They were supported in this belief by the withdrawal of the usual dining car from the train. Those who trusted in luck, however, were rudely disappointed. The train refused to stop at any station. Instead, it evinced a decided preference for intermediate signal posts. It was described as an express, but a tortoise's crawl would be a gallop in comparison. It travelled at only a little more than a walking pace and the stops were maddeningly frequent.
The women and children speedily betrayed painful evidences of the suffering they were experiencing, which became accentuated as we advanced. The close confinement rendered the atmosphere within the carriages extremely oppressive. The weaker men and the women commenced to faint but no assistance could be extended to them. One could move barely an arm or leg. The afflicted passengers simply went off where they were, sitting or standing, as the case might be, and prevented from falling by the closely packed passengers around them, to come round as best they could when Nature felt so disposed. The wails of the children were pitiful. Many were crying from cramp and hunger, but nothing could be done to satisfy them, and indeed the men took little notice of them.
The arrival—in time—at the frontier station at Goch somewhat revived the distressed and drooping. Everyone seized the opportunity to stretch the limbs, to inhale some fresh air, and to obtain some slight refreshment. The Customs officials were unusually alert, harrying, and inflexible. There was the eternal wrangling between the passengers and the officials over articles liable to duty and it was somewhat amusing to me, even with war beating the air, to follow the frantic and useless efforts of old and experienced travellers to smuggle this, that, or something else through the fiscal barrier.
The Customs were so far from being in a conciliatory mood as to be absolutely deaf to entreaty, cajolery, argument, explanation or threat. They cut the operations summarily short by confiscating everything liable to duty. As may be imagined a rich harvest was garnered at the expense of the luckless returning patriot. While the Customs were busy the military officials, who appeared to be swarming everywhere, were equally exacting. They boarded the train and literally turned it inside out. Every man and woman and child was subjected to a close personal investigation and cross-examination. Foreigners were handled with even greater stress and with less ceremony. I saw four fellow passengers sorted out and rushed under a military escort into the waiting room.
At last it was my turn for military inquisition. I presented all my credentials, which were scanned from end to end, turned over, and even held up to the light, lest there should be something interwoven with the watermark. I followed the operations with a quiet amusement, confident in my security, but could not resist remarking upon the thoroughness of the search and the determination to leave nothing to chance. My passport created the greatest interest. It was dated July 7th, 1914. The official looked at me queerly in silent interrogation as he placed his finger beneath the date. I nodded and made no comment.
With a slight smile of self-satisfaction the officer turned on his heel and beckoned me to follow him. At the same moment two soldiers clicked their heels behind me and I saw that I was already under severe military suspicion. I was taken to a long-bearded individual sitting in state on a pedestal. The officer handed to him the papers he had found upon me. There was a hurried whispering, the superior individual eyeing me narrowly meanwhile. They compared the date of the passport with August 2nd, Sunday, the day on which I was travelling, and also examined the vise of the Russian Embassy in the corner.
Suddenly the long-bearded officer hurled a torrent of questions at me and at such a velocity that I was quite unable to follow him. Observing that his volcanic interrogative eruption was non-productive he slowed down and repeated the questions.
"Why are you travelling at this time?"
"To take up an appointment in Russia. There is the name—Prince ——"
"Ah!" and his eyebrows were elevated so much as to mingle almost with his hair.
"But why have you so much photographic apparatus?"
"It is necessary for the work I am taking up."
"Ah!" once again the eyebrows vanished scalp-wards.
"Have you a camera upon you?"
"Ah!" another dance of the eyebrows.
He rapped out a short command and before I was aware of the circumstance two pairs of hands were running rapidly over my body and in and out of my pockets with the dexterity of men who had served a long apprenticeship under an Artful Dodger. It proved a blank search. I gave a sigh of relief, because had the searchers run their hands over the lower part of my person they would have come across two cameras, and my treasured little companion, wrapped in his leather jacket, alert and ready for silent service, but concealed in a most unexpected corner. I could scarcely repress a smile when I recognised that I was immune from further search. Evidently the Pooh-bah was somewhat disconcerted at the negative results achieved, because, after firing one or two other desultory questions at me, he handed back my passport and other papers, and told me I could continue my journey.
Desiring to disarm suspicion completely I did not hurry away but lingered around the little court and even indulged in a short idle conversation with my interlocutor, who, however, somewhat resented my familiarity. I lounged back to the train, hugely delighted with myself, more particularly as, quite unbeknown to the fussy individual with the beard, I had snapped a picture of his informal court with my little camera.
The frontier formalities at last concluded, the train resumed its crawl, ambling leisurely along for some two hours, stopping now and then to draw into a siding. On such occasions troop train after troop train crowded with soldiers thundered by us en route to Berlin. The sight of a troop train roused our passengers to frenzy. They cheered madly, throwing their hats into the air. The huzzas were returned by the soldiers hanging out of the windows with all the exuberant enthusiasm of school boys returning home at the end of the term.
But we were not destined to make a through run to the capital. Suddenly the train was pulled up by a military guard upon the line. We were turned out pell-mell and our baggage was thrown on to the embankment. This proceeding caused considerable uneasiness. What had happened? Where were we going? and other questions of a similar character were hurled at the soldiers. But they merely shook their heads in a non-committal manner. They either did not or would not know. Our feelings were not improved when the empty carriages were backed down the line, the engine changed ends, and we saw the train steam off in another direction. The hold-up of the train had taken place at a depressing spot. We were completely stranded, without provisions or any other necessities, and at an isolated spot where it was impossible to obtain any supplies. The passengers pestered the guard for information, and at last the officers, to still any further enquiry, declared that they were going to do something, to carry us "somewhere."
Some two-and-a-half hours slipped by when a loud cheer rang out at the appearance of a train of crazy carriages which backed towards us. The passengers scrambled in and made themselves as comfortable as they could. But where was the baggage to go? The soldiery had overlooked this item and they surveyed the straggling mass of bags and trunks littering the embankment ruefully. But they solved the problem in their own way. What could not be stacked within the trucks would have to go on top.
We forged ahead once more to pull up at a small station. Here there was a mad scramble for supplies and the refreshment room was soon cleared out of its small stock. On the platform an extortionate German drove a brisk trade selling small bottles of lemonade at sixpence a bottle. More excitement was caused by a newsvendor mounting a box and holding aloft a single copy of the latest newspaper which he would sell to the highest bidder.
Being ignorant of what had transpired since I had left London I resolved to have that copy. I scrambled over a pile of baggage and came within arm's length of the newsvendor. I threw down coins to the value of 2s. 8d., grabbed his paper and vanished before he could voice a protest. I scrambled back to my car. Here the paper was snatched from me to be read aloud to the expectant crowd thirsting for news. There was a tense silence as the reader ran through the items until he gravely announced the latest intelligence—Russia and Germany had declared war. The news was official. For a second a profound silence reigned. Then there broke out a further outburst of wild, maniacal cheering, above which, however, could be heard hysterical screams and shrieks from women, especially from those bound for Russia, which they now realised they would never reach.
I saw at once that it was hopeless to get to my destination, as the Russo-German frontier was now closed. But as it was quite as impossible to turn back I decided to push on to Berlin there to await events. So far Britain was not involved and might even keep clear of the tangle. This I might say was the general opinion on the train. The remainder of the journey to the capital was now far more exciting, and the animated conversation served to while away the tedium of the slow travelling, although the latter part was completed in darkness, the train running into Berlin at 1.30 in the morning of August 3rd, the journey from Flushing having taken about 18 hours.
The platform at Berlin was overrun with officials of all sorts and descriptions, ranging from puny collectors to big burly fellows smothered with sufficient braid and decorations to pass as field-marshals. But one and all seemed to be entrusted with swords too big for them which clanked and clattered in the most nerve-racking manner. They strutted up and down the platform with true Prussian arrogance, jostling the fatigued, cursing the helpless who lounged in their path, ignoring the distress of the children, sneering at the pitiful pleadings of the women—in fact caring about nothing beyond their own importance. They disdained to reply to any question, and said nothing beyond the terse statement that no more trains were going East to Russia. At this intelligence the travellers bound for the latter country collapsed, the majority, women, flopping upon their baggage and dropping their heads in their hands in grief and utter despair.
Yet, although the authorities were fully aware that no more trains were going East they made no attempt to cope with the influx of arriving and stranded passengers. They were left to their own devices. The majority of the women and children were famished, thirsty, and tired, but the officials resolutely refused to open the waiting rooms and buffets before the usual hour. Accordingly the travel-tired, grief-stricken women either threw themselves prone upon the platforms, or crawled into corridors, sub-ways, and corners to seek a little repose, using their luggage as head-rests, or being content with the cold hard steps. The few seats upon the platform were speedily occupied but the occupants were denied more than a brief repose. At the end of 15 minutes officials came round and emptied the seats of those in possession to allow other parties to have a quarter of an hour's rest.
While the worn-out passengers slept the light-fingered German gentry passed swiftly from bag to bag, the conditions offering favourable opportunities for the light-fingered gentry. They appeared to suffer no molestation from the officials, who could plainly see what was going on, but possibly officialdom regarded the belongings of tired and exhausted foreigners as legitimate loot to those who were prepared to take it. Outside the station the heavier baggage was stacked in barricades in a wildly haphazard manner with the heavier articles at the top. These, crushing the lighter and more fragile packages beneath, spread the contents of the latter in the roadway to serve as sport for gamins and other loungers who prowled around.
The utter chaos was aggravated by the rain which pelted down with torrential fury. Mothers with their little children drew closely into corners or sat upon doorsteps seeking the slightest shelter. As I turned out of the station my attention was attracted by a woman—she had come up on our train—who was sitting on the kerb, her feet in the gutter, the rushing water coursing over her ankles, feeding her child at the breast, and vainly striving to shelter the little mite from the elements. The woman was crying bitterly. I went up to her. She spoke English perfectly. She was Russian and had set out from England to meet her husband at Kalish. But she could not get through, she had very little money, could not speak German, and knew not what to do, or what would become of her. I soothed her as well as I could. There were hundreds of similar cases around. Notwithstanding their terrible plight not a hand was moved by the authorities on their behalf. They were even spurned and roughly moved out of the way by the swaggering officials. It was not until the British colony got busy the next day that they received the slightest alleviation, and the majority, being strangers in a strange land, were sent back to England, the Germans mutely concurring in the task. The wild rush from the Continent may have precipitated congestion at our ports and railway stations, but there never could have been that absolute chaos which reigned at Berlin on the fateful night of the 2nd of August. Humanity was thrown to the four winds. The much-vaunted Teuton organisation, system, and scientific control had broken down completely under the first test to which it was subjected.
The terrific downpour caused me to decide to spend a few hours in the comfort of an hotel. I hailed a taxi and jumped in. The car was just moving when the door was flung open, I was grabbed by the coat-collar and the next moment found myself skating across the roadway on my back. I jumped up, somewhat ruffled at this rude handling, to learn that it was an officer who had treated me so unceremoniously. I had no redress. Berlin was under martial law. The uniform of the military came before the mufti of the civilian.
Unable to find another vehicle I turned into the first place I found open. It was an all-night cafe. It was packed to suffocation with German soldiers and the feminine underworld of Berlin. There was a glorious orgy of drunkenness, nauseating and debasing amusement, and the incoherent singing of patriotic songs. The other sex appeared to have thrown all discretion and womanliness to the winds. A soldier too drunk to stand was assisted to a chair which he mounted with difficulty. Here he was supported on either side by two flushed, hilariously-shouting, partially-dressed harpies. He drew off his belt—his helmet had already gone somewhere—and pointing to the badge he shouted thickly and coarsely, "Deutschland, Deutschland, Gott mit uns"—(Germany, Germany, God is with us). Metaphorically he was correct, because the words are printed upon the belt of every German soldier, but if the Almighty was with that drunken, debased crowd that night, then Old Nick must have been wearing out his shoes looking for a job.
When the crowd caught sight of me, which was some time after my entrance because I had dropped unseen into a convenient corner, they rushed forward and urged me to participate in their revels. I declined. They had been hurling distinctly uncomplimentary and obscene epithets concerning Britain through the room. My decision was construed into an affront to the All-Highest. A big, burly, drunken soldier wanted to fight me. The crowd pressed round keenly anticipating some fun. We indulged in a spirited altercation, but as neither understood what the other said, words did not lead to blows. However, the upshot was the intimation that my room was preferred to my company. This was received with enthusiasm, the result being that I made the sudden acquaintance of the pavement outside once more, being assisted in my hurried departure by fisticuffs and heavy boots.
I picked myself up and walked until I caught sight of an hotel. I entered, booked a room, and indulged in an elaborate wash and brush-up of which I was sorely in need, following this with a substantial breakfast. Then I sauntered into the vestibule for a smoke. Three German officers and a squad of soldiers came clanking in. There was a short sharp order. One officer remained at the door while the others disappeared into the depths of the building.
I went over to the officer and entered into conversation with him. He spoke English fluently and was fairly affable. We discussed things in general and also the political situation, from which I gathered that matters were rapidly approaching a climax, and that there was no telling what would happen next. This was the first time I had been brought face to face with the situation and my outlook was serious. The officer at last turned to me, and with a friendly smile, remarked—
"Look here, my English friend, I would advise you to make for your country at once. Don't stop for anything!"
"Don't ask questions. Do as I say! Can't you take a friendly warning? Take to-day's train home! If you don't—well, you may be detained!"
His advice was expressed in such significant tones that I looked at him sharply. He answered with another smile and a shrug which intimated only too plainly that he had said as much as he dared.
I was debarred from prosecuting the conversation farther by the return of his comrades with a crowd of waiters. They were all Russians and they had been rounded up by the military. No opportunity was given them to pack a few necessities. They were arrested at their tables, while performing their duties, were corralled and now were off to prison. No one possessed any more than he stood up in.
I followed them down the street, intending to proceed to the British Consulate. The streets were full of soldiers and the air rang with martial music. While proceeding to the Consulate I became aware that I was being shadowed. An individual resolutely dogged me. I had seen him previously but had taken no serious notice of his presence. Now he began to get a bit irksome. I bought some picture post-cards and addressed them to friends at home, announcing my immediate return, also introducing brief comments on the condition of things in Berlin as they appeared to me. A few hours later I regretted writing those post-cards.
[Footnote 2: Upon my return to England I made enquiries and discovered that not a single one had been received. Undoubtedly they were stopped by the German military authorities and contributed somewhat materially to my subsequent troubles.—H.C.M.]
The Consulate was besieged by hundreds of compatriots thirsting for guidance as to what to do. After waiting an hour-and-a-half I secured an audience. I briefly explained my position.
"Get home at once. The train leaves 1.13 mid-day."
"But I've got luggage worth L400 at the station!"
"Leave your luggage where it is!"
"Do you think—?"
"You take the 1.13 train. Good morning."
Further enquiries convinced me that the 1.13 was very likely to be the last train which would leave Berlin for Britain, so I scurried off to the station to recover my luggage. Many of the photographic instruments were exceedingly valuable because they had been made specially. I was bandied from one official to another. At last I alighted upon one who knew something. He led me to a huge building and flung open the door. It was stacked from floor to roof with baggage, which had been packed in without any semblance of order. I surveyed the pile ruefully. I asked him if he could trace my luggage but he shook his head. I held out a tempting pourboire. It was of no avail. If I wanted the luggage I could look for it myself. Reflecting that some six weeks at least would be required to complete the search I concluded that I should have to leave it behind willy-nilly. So somewhat depressed I prepared to leave by the 1.13 train.
The express was heavily laden and to it was attached a carriage reserved for the military, who were accompanying the departing Britishers to the frontier. Curiously enough, not one of us knew definitely what had happened. Rumour was busy, but it was inconclusive. The general feeling was that Britain had taken some drastic action which must have serious results, otherwise we should not have been bundled home so hurriedly.
We had been travelling some time when I noticed a lady sauntering along the corridor vainly searching for a seat. I was comfortable, but I instantly surrendered my place to assume a standing position in the corridor where I chatted with several fellow-travellers. I may say that slung over my shoulder was a black leather strap carrying a small camera case in the manner frequently affected by tourists. Ever after I have cursed that innocent looking camera case, and certainly when travelling in the future will favour some other means of carrying photographic apparatus.
About half-an-hour passed in this way. Then I observed a young German ambling along the corridor. He came up to us and entered into an idle conversation. One by one the others dropped away from him, not caring to talk with a German. I would have done the same but the strange youth would not let me. He pinned me to the spot with his conversation. At first his questions were extremely innocent, but they soon became somewhat inquisitive and searching, and were purposely directed to discover why I was travelling, where I had been, how long I had been in Germany, and so forth. As the conversation assumed this turn I came to the alert. He was a typical German with all the inexperience of youth, though he doubtless prided himself upon his powers of observation, deduction, and cross-examination by apparently idle questions. But to one and all of his interrogations I gave the retort courteous. His pressing attentions did not escape the notice of my fellow-travellers within earshot. Looking out of the corner of my eye I saw that they did not regard this questioning of myself as being so innocent as it appeared. Many were apparently familiar with German methods of inter-espionage and they extended me silent warning, by sign, frown, and wink.
The raw youth disappeared and I forgot all about him. But to my surprise five minutes later I saw him returning along the corridor accompanied by a military official whom he had evidently brought from the military carriage attached to the train. They came straight up to me. The youth pointing directly at me remarked,
"Here he is. See! There's the camera on his back!"
The officer looked at the strap and turning me round caught sight of the camera case. He nodded in acquiescence.
"And I saw him using it," went on the youth triumphantly. "He has been taking photographs of the bridges and sentries along the line!"
I was distinctly amused at this charge because it was absolutely untrue. But I was somewhat impressed by the strange silence which had settled upon my fellow-travellers and the inscrutable look upon the officer's face. Something serious was evidently amiss. I turned to the officer.
"The accusation is absurd. Why! Look at the windows! They have been kept closed all the time according to the military orders. And you could not take a photograph through the closed windows even if you wanted to. They are too begrimed with dirt."
The officer did not say a word but continued to eye me narrowly.
I began to feel uncomfortable before that piercing gaze, so I decided to floor the aspiring detective working so zealously for the Fatherland and to point out the danger of jumping at conclusions. I turned to him:
"You say you saw me taking photographs?"
"Yes, with that camera on your back."
"You are quite sure?"
I swung the case which had been so offensive to his eyes round to the front of me.
"Now I'll ask you again. You are quite certain you saw me taking photographs?"
"Ach! I distinctly saw you take the camera out of the case, take the pictures, and then put it back again!" was his rejoinder given with great emphasis.
I did not attempt to argue any further. I clicked the catch of the case. The lid flew open. Both the officer and the youth craned forward expectantly, to draw back, the officer giving vent to a smothered ejaculation.
The camera case was full of cigarettes.
Being a heavy smoker I had stocked myself with cigarettes with which I had filled the camera case. I turned them out into my hands leaving the case empty.
The youth's face was a study. He was so completely trapped in his lying that he went all colours, while his jaw dropped. My fellow passengers who had been watching and listening in profound silence gave expression to uproarious mirth at the complete manner in which the immature detective had been bowled out. But their mirth was misplaced. A German resents discomfiture. The officer, too, was not disposed to throw over his subordinate, who undoubtedly had been acting in accordance with orders. Looking me steadily in the face the officer placed his hand on my shoulder and in cold tones said,
"I formally charge you with being a spy in the pay of the British Government!"
COMMITTED TO WESEL PRISON
To say that I was completely dumbfounded by this accusation is to express my feelings very mildly. But, with an effort, I succeeded in keeping my sang-froid, which I am afraid only served to convince the officer that he was correct in his charge.
He assailed me with interrogations, demanded my passport, and after perusing it closely, enquired why I was travelling to Russia at such a time. "Why!" he pointed out, "you only left England on August 1st, when Russia and Germany were on the eve of war!"
I gave a detailed explanation of my mission, but I failed to shake his suspicions. I had to surrender my ticket for inspection and this caused him to frown more heavily than ever.
"Where is your camera?"
I produced two which were in my pockets, keeping my tiny companion in its secret resting place.
At the sight of the two cameras he gave a smile of complete self-satisfaction. He handed them to the guard together with my ticket. Turning on his heel he remarked:
"You'll ask for these articles when you reach Wesel!"
As he strode down the corridor the serious character of my situation dawned upon me. My companions had already formed their opinions concerning my immediate future. All thoughts of the war vanished before a discussion of my awkward predicament. I saw that the injunction to make enquiry for my cameras and ticket at Wesel, which is an important military centre, was merely a ruse to prevent my escape. My arrest at Wesel was inevitable.
I was carrying one or two other articles, such as a revolver, about me. I saw that although they were apparently harmless, and could be fully explained, they would incriminate me only still more. I promptly got rid of them. I had half-a-mind to discard my little camera also, but somehow or other I could not bring myself to part with this. I thought it might come in useful. Moreover there was very little likelihood of it being discovered unless I was stripped. So I left it where it was. Afterwards I was thankful I acted upon second thoughts on that occasion.
The outlook was certainly discouraging and when the train stopped at Wesel—outside the station I afterwards discovered—I acted on the impulse for self-preservation, darted along the corridor, found a place of concealment and tucked myself in. Now I realise that this was the worst thing I could have done, but then my thoughts were centred upon effecting my escape, in the half-hope that the Germans, unable to find me, would assume that I had surreptitiously left the train.
But I misjudged German thoroughness, especially when a suspected spy is the quarry. Fifteen, thirty, fifty minutes slipped by and still the train did not move. The other passengers were not being regarded kindly at my non-appearance. So, stealing out of my hiding place I sauntered as composedly as I could along the corridor to come face to face with the officer, who with his guard was diligently searching every nook and cranny and cross-questioning the other passengers. Directly he caught sight of me he sprang forward, uttering a command. The next instant I was surrounded by soldiers. I was under arrest.
The officer gave a signal from a window and the train pulled into the station. I was hustled unceremoniously on to the platform, where eight soldiers closed around me to form an escort and I was marched forward. As we crossed the platform the locomotive whistle shrieked, and about 9.30 p.m. the last train to leave Berlin on the outbreak of war bore my companions homewards.
Personally I was disposed to regard the whole episode as a joke, and an instance of Teuton blind blundering. The gravity of the situation never struck me for an instant. I argued with myself that I should speedily prove that I was the victim of circumstances and would be able to convince the military of my bona fides without any great effort.
But as I reflected it dawned upon me that my arrest had been skilfully planned. The youth on the train, whom I never saw again, had played but a minor part in the drama of which I was the central figure. My departure must have been communicated from Berlin. Otherwise how should Wesel have learned that a spy had been arrested? The station was besieged with a wildly shouting excited crowd who bawled:
"English spy! English spy! Lynch him! Lynch him!"
I was bundled into a military office which had evidently been hurriedly extemporised from a lumber room. The crowd outside increased in denseness and hostility. They were shouting and raving with all the power of their lungs. These vocal measures proving inadequate, stones and other missiles commenced to fly. They could not see through the windows of the room so an accurately thrown brick shivered the pane of glass. Through the open space I caught glimpses of the most ferocious and fiendish faces it has ever been my lot to witness. Men and women vied with one another in the bawling and ground their teeth when they caught sight of me.
The excitement was intense and the chant "Bring him out! Give him to us! Let us lynch him! Down with the English spy!" even began to grate upon me. At the time it appeared to me to be somewhat extraordinary, seeing that we were not at war with Germany, but it conveyed a graphic illustration of the anti-British sentiment prevailing in the military centre. Indeed, the crowd became so menacing that my guard became apprehensive of my safety, and I was hurriedly thrust into an inner room. My removal there was more abrupt than dignified. I was hustled to the door. Then a German soldier, by an adroit movement of his rifle which he held reversed, pricked my leg with the bayonet and at the same time brought the butt against my head with a resounding thwack! Simultaneously he let drive with his heavily-booted foot in the small of my back. I discovered afterwards, from actual experience, that this is a very favourite movement of the rifle by the Germans, and is used on every possible occasion.
The outcome of this action was to send me sprawling headlong into the room to pull up with a crash against the floor. The entrance was rendered additionally dangerous to myself because I stumbled over the legs of several sleeping soldiers. I felt inclined to remonstrate with the officer-in-charge of the escort at the treatment I was receiving, but the uninviting armed sentry at the door frustrated my efforts very effectively.
It was an improvised guard-room. The soldiers sprawled upon the straw littering the floor, striving to snatch a brief rest before going on duty, sleepily raised themselves to ascertain the cause of the disturbance. The sentry told them excitedly the charge upon which I had been arrested, at which the men turned to blink wonderingly upon the "Englandische Spion!" I was not sorry when they at last wearied of gazing upon me as if I were a freak side-show, and sank down to finish their two hours' rest before going on guard once more.
I had barely recovered my senses when the door again flew open and two further prisoners were injected into the room in a manner comparable with my own entrance. They were Hindoo students—young fellows returning to England after a continental holiday, who had been detained. Both were somewhat alarmed, but I speedily composed them. Later there was a repetition of the performance to admit three more Indian students. We all agreed that the German methods of introduction were decidedly novel and forceful if informal and unpleasant. The latest arrivals, however, were detained for only a short while. They were rich in funds and were equally astute in their distribution of largesse to advantage. Money talked in their instance to distinct effect. The three of us who were left maintained a conversation in whispers and finally came to the conclusion that the best thing we could do was to seek sleep so as to be fit for the enquiry which was certain to take place.
I was dog-tired, but the authorities, as represented by the sentries, were not disposed to let us enjoy what they were denied. The guard was constantly changing and the clattering and rasping of orders and commands repeatedly woke us up. Then again, at frequent intervals, the sentry would enter. Seeing me asleep he would either give me a prod with his bayonet or a smart rap with the butt-end of his rifle to wake me up, the idea no doubt being to impress upon me the serious nature of my position and to inflict upon me the utmost discomfort.
Being prevented from sleeping and commencing to feel the pangs of hunger, having eaten nothing since lunch upon the train, I asked for something to eat. The sentry was very sorry but related that food was quite out of the question because none of the officers in charge of me from whom he could obtain the necessary instructions were available.
The absence of the officers was explained a little later. They had been searching for an interpreter, so that I might be put through another inquisition. This interpreter was about the most incompetent of his class that one could wish to meet. His English was execrable—far worse than Chinese pidgin—and he had an unhappy and disconcerting manner of intermingling German and English words, while either through a physical defect or from some other cause, he could not pronounce his consonants correctly.
I was taken through the usual rigmarole such as I had at first experienced at Goch. The evidence also, as usual, was committed to paper. It was a perfunctory enquiry, however, and was soon completed. Naturally upon its conclusion I considered that I would be free to resume my journey. I turned to my interpreter.
"Now this is all over I suppose I can go?"
"Ach! nein zoo tant doh!"
His English was so vile that I thought he said and meant "ah! at nine you can go!"
Seeing that it was about eleven o'clock at the time, I thought I had better hurry in case there was another Flushing-bound train. So I scuttled towards the door only to receive another heavy clout from the sentry's rifle. What the interpreter really said was "Ah! No, you can't go!" As I rubbed my bruised head I treated that interpreter to a candid opinion of his English speaking qualifications, but he did not understand half what I said.
As I realised nothing further could be done that night I lay down to snatch another rest. But after midnight my trials and troubles increased. Every few minutes the door would rattle and be clanked open to admit an officer who had brought a number of friends to see the latest sensation—the English spies. The friends, who were brother-officers, regarded us with a strange interest, while the officer who had charge of me strutted to and fro like a peacock drawn to his full height, at the unique greatness thrust upon him, and dwelling at great length upon the enormity of our offence related a weird story about my capture.
Upon such occasions I and my two Hindoo companions were compelled to stand at attention. At first I regarded the incident with amusement, but after we had been through the circus-like performance about a dozen times, it became distinctly irksome, especially as I was dog-tired. It was with the greatest difficulty I maintained my self-control.
About four o'clock in the morning I heard voices in the adjoining room. Evidently someone in authority had arrived. I decided to seize the opportunity to secure an interview with one who at least would be able to give me some satisfaction. I moved smartly towards the door. The sentry lowered his rifle, but I evaded the bayonet, I saw a flash and then all was darkness.
Some time later I woke up. I was lying at full length upon the floor and my head was singing like a kettle, while it ached fearfully. I opened my eyes but for some minutes could descry nothing but stars. As I came round I made out the dim forms of the two Hindoo students bending over me. They were extremely agitated, but their peace of mind became restored somewhat when I at last sat up. Then they explained what had happened. After I had dodged the bayonet the soldier had swung his rifle round bringing the butt end smartly down upon my head and had knocked me silly. From the pain I suffered and the size of the lump which I could feel I tacitly agreed that I had received a pretty smart rap.
I felt round for the tin of cigarettes which I had extemporised to form a pillow before the incident, but was suddenly reminded that smoking was very much verboten. Regarding the tin longingly I absent-mindedly opened it. To my surprise I found that the fifty cigarettes which it had originally contained had dwindled down to one! I looked at the sentry and smiled quietly to myself. Rising to my feet I held out the open tin to him.
"You've been helping yourself while I have been asleep and I think you might as well take the last one," I muttered sarcastically.
The phlegmatic sentry looked at me cunningly. His face lapsed into a broad grin. Growling "danker!" (thank you!) he calmly took it and lighted up. From this incident I discovered that even a thick-skulled, dull-witted German infantryman has a bump of humour.
The din which still reigned around the station told me that the crowd was impatient to see me. In fact Bedlam appeared to have been let loose. The news of my capture had spread through Wesel like wildfire, and public animosity and hostility towards me had risen to fever-heat. During the night the crowd had swollen considerably, and it clung tenaciously to the station in the hope of having some glorious fun at my expense.
At six o'clock an officer entered with one or two subordinates and a squad of soldiers. Certain formalities had to be gone through in which I played a prominent part. These completed the officer stood before me with all the pomposity he could command and delivered a harangue at high speed in a worrying monotone. To me it was gibberish, but one of the men who could speak English informed me that the gist of his wail was the intimation that "if I moved a pace to the right, or a pace to the left, or fell back a pace, or hurried a pace during the march to the Wesel Arresthaus—Wesel Prison—I would be shot down immediately." I mentally decided to obey the injunction to the absolute letter, and must admit that never before or since during my life have I walked such a straight line.
With four soldiers behind with lowered bayonets, four in front and two on either side we moved out of the station. The clock was chiming seven, but the droning of the clock was drowned by the howls of rage, snarlings, screeches, shrieks and groans of fury which went up from the mob the moment they caught sight of us. Despite my self-control I winced. Directly we gained the roadway an ugly rush was made. I thought I was doomed to be torn limb from limb, for I was overwhelmed by a sea of itching hands, shaking fists, and gnashing teeth. The escort wavered and was all but overwhelmed. Although it quivered ominously before the mob assault it stood its ground. Swinging their rifles over their heads the soldiers lashed out with the butt-ends. A sharp order rang out. We turned about and hastily returned to the station. Here the officer demanded a double escort, which was granted, and we made another attempt to reach the Arresthaus.
But the increased parade of military power only served to infuriate the crowd still more. They surged, swayed, and pressed, and howled, groaned, and shrieked as if bereft. Baulked in their desire to snatch us from the soldiers they began to fling missiles of all descriptions. Fortunately they were too excited to throw with pronounced accuracy, although my two Hindoo companions and I were struck several times with vegetables. Then a bottle came singing through the air. I ducked, but it struck the soldier beside me full on the side of the face to shatter into a score of pieces. The blow was so terrific as to cause a gaping wound in the soldier's face, extending from his temple to his chin. The blood spurted out. The wounded man saluted, and requested the officer to permit him to drop out to have his wound dressed. But the officer curtly refused, and so the unfortunate soldier was compelled to walk, or rather to stumble, beside me, the blood pouring from his lacerated face.
As we turned into the square immediately facing the entrance to the prison I blanched. The mob which had gathered here was so dense, and was lashed to such a high pitch of vicious fury, that I felt convinced we should have to succumb to overwhelming numbers. The air was thick with missiles, and the soldiers suffered severely, although we three prisoners were not often struck. The soldiers tolerated the fusillade with the best grace they could command for some time, but even their endurance had its limits, and at last they turned. But the crowd was by no means daunted. By hook or by crook they intended to prevent us reaching the prison, and, they having closed behind us, we were completely hemmed in.
"Our last chance! Give them to us! English spies! Seize them, comrades! Lynch them! Lynch them!" were the coarse cries which rang out without ceasing.
It was a thrilling and critical moment. The mass of screaming men and women was now so dense that we could not move. The soldiers could no longer even swing their rifles. The outstretched hands of the mob were snapping and tearing within an inch or two of my coat. Had I swayed a trifle they must have grasped me.
A shrill whistle rang out. The prison door was flung open and a number of soldiers came out at the double with arms lowered, while the officers were waving their swords. The crowd around the entrance fell back, and the next moment a passage was being cleaved through the mass of raving humanity. This sudden appearance of extra force created a diversion of which our escort took advantage. We slipped through the gap which had been cut in the crowd, and the next moment were in the prison. As the gate closed with a resounding bang I gave a sigh of relief. We were safe from mob violence whatever other fate might be in store for us. Personally, although I passed through many exciting experiences subsequently, and was often a victim of Prussian brutality, I regard that march from the station to the prison at Wesel as the most dangerous few minutes which I have ever encountered.
We were promptly taken into an office and subjected to another inquisition. The questions were merely repetitions of those I had already answered half-a-dozen times previously. Then I was submitted to my second search. I was ordered to throw my hands above my head, a bayonet point being held at my stomach to enforce the command. Searchers went adroitly through my pockets, taking everything which they contained. These included a batch of letters which I had received just before starting from home, and which I had thrust into my pocket to read at leisure during the journey.
These letters provoked a considerable amount of whispering, head-shaking, wise smiles, and significant noddings. No one could read a word of English—but that was immaterial. In the wisdom of their conceit these inquisitors considered the communications to be fully incriminating, and the frequent recurrence of the word "Russia" in the letters convinced them that my guilt was now fully and truly established beyond a shadow of a doubt. The various articles were carefully wrapped up and tied with blue ribbon. Knowing the significance of red-tape at home, I concluded that this was the Prussian analogue of our official preference. Afterwards, however, I was told that "blue" ribbon was employed for a specific purpose—the sealing of articles and goods belonging to one arrested on the charge of espionage. How far this is true I do not know, but I did observe that in every instance blue ribbon was employed to secure the parcels belonging to spies.
My two cameras were regarded with reverent awe. As they were being examined I urged them to be careful. I suggested that they should allow me to develop the films, but this proposal was regarded with consternation and emphatic negative head-shakings. The authorities would see to that.
Suddenly there was intense excitement. One of the searchers had drawn a watch-like contrivance from my waistcoat pocket. It was not a watch, because it had no dial or works, but something which was quite foreign to them. First they dropped it as if fearing it might explode. Then finding that the fall brought about no ill-effects they approached it warily, picked it up gingerly, and held it to their ears. It did not tick. Then they shook it, banged it on the desk, studied it closely with a wise, old-owlish look, and at last, shaking their heads quizzically, consigned it to wrapping paper and sealed it with the blue ribbon.
Despite my serious predicament I could not refrain from indulging in an outburst of laughter which only served to annoy them still further. The mystery was not a new type of infernal machine as they imagined but merely a home-made actinometer! It was contrived from an old cheap watch-case, while the strange contents were merely strips of paper which had been soaked in a solution of potassium bichromate!
These preliminaries completed, my two companions and I were paraded before another pompous official who, like the majority of his ilk, was smothered with decorations. Drawing himself to his full height he fired a tirade at us for several minutes without taking the slightest pause for breath. What it was all about I do not know. He spoke so rapidly, and so in the style of a gramophone, that I came to the conclusion he was in the habit of holding forth in this strain at intervals of every few minutes. But his manner was so menacing as to lead me to apprehend that no feelings of affection or hospitality were to be extended towards us.
His speech completed, he shouted an order. Soldiers hurried in, and at the word of command they commenced to load their rifles. I was quite at a loss to understand this action, but my heart thumped and a queer, indescribable feeling came over me. I felt sick and faint, especially when I saw the men, upon completing loading, form up in two lines. Like a flash it dawned upon me that according to German military form I had been found guilty of the charge levelled against me, and that the harangue of the pompous individual was no more or less than the promulgation of my death sentence! For what else could these men have loaded their rifles so ostentatiously? And why were there so many soldiers? Their numbers plainly indicated the firing party.
My eyes grew dim with tears in spite of myself. Visions of my wife and family at home, waiting and momentarily expecting "Daddy," who had notified them of his return, flitted through my brain. A lump rose in my throat and for the first time I was within an ace of breaking-down. But smothering my thoughts, I pulled myself together. Assuming a bravado I was far from feeling, I demanded to see the Commandant. To my surprise the request was granted. This functionary was seated at his desk in a corner of the room, and I was escorted to him. Seeing me he curtly demanded what I wanted.
"Can I write to my wife?"
The officer who accompanied me explained the situation, and although I did not understand what transpired I caught the words "Englische Spion!" The Commandant glared at me.
"Where is she?" he roared.
"England!" and the word, full of venom and hate, burst out like the cork from a pop-gun. "Nein! Certainly not! It is impossible! Get out!"
Assisted by a vigorous prod I was brought alongside my two companions.
The soldiers lined up to march. My head was swimming, but all thoughts of my own plight were dispelled by an incident which was as unexpected as it was sudden. At the command "March" one of the two Indian students, positive that he was now going to his doom, staggered. I caught him as he fell. He dropped limply to the ground, half-dead with fright, and with his face a sickly green.
"Are we going to be shot? Are we going to be shot?" he wailed agonisedly.
He clutched the sleeve of a soldier, who, looking down and evidently understanding English, motioned negatively. Then he added as an afterthought, "Not now!"
While his negative head-shake revived my drooping spirits, his words afterwards sent them to zero once more. I hardly knew whether to feel relieved or otherwise. It would have been far better had the soldier curbed his tongue, because his final words kept us on the rack of suspense.
We were hustled out of the room. As we passed out I glanced at the clock. It was just nine o'clock—Tuesday morning, August 4. I shall never forget the day nor the hour. Like sheep we were driven and rushed downstairs, the guards assisting our faltering steps with sundry rifle prods and knocks. We tramped corridors, which seemed to be interminable, and at last came to a ponderous iron gate. Here we were halted, and the military guard handed us over to the gaolers. We passed through the gates, which closed with a soul-smashing, reverberating bang.
Over the top of this gate I had noticed one of those mottoes to which the German is so partial. I do not recall the actual words, but I was told that it was something to do with crime and punishment. It would have been far more appropriate had it been inscribed "Main entrance to Hell. No pass-out checks!" According to many accounts which reached my ears during the succeeding few days, many entered those gates, but few passed out alive. I can substantiate this from my own observations, which are duly narrated, while my experience was sufficient to vouch for its similarity to Hades.
This gate gave approach to a long corridor, flanked on either side by cells. This corridor is facetiously nick-named by the prisoners as "Avenue of the Damned," because it is in these cells that the tenants await their doom. I was separated from my two companions, who were already being treated more leniently than myself, the case against them being obviously very thin, and was brought to a stop before cell "No. 11."
The massive door swung open, and accompanied by four soldiers I entered. The door closed, there was a grating in the lock, and we were alone. Even now I could not keep back a smile. Although I had been thrust into the cell, together with four armed soldiers, and the door had been bolted and barred, I turned at the sound of a slight click. The head gaoler, who had ushered us in and had locked the door upon us, according to the regulations of the prison, had opened the peep-hole to satisfy himself that I was safely inside!
HOW GERMANY DRIVES HER PRISONERS MAD
The soldiers had accompanied me into the cell to complete the preliminaries which comprised the final search. This involved my transition to a state of nature. My frock coat was removed and all pockets further examined. The seams and lining were closely investigated while even the buttons were probed to make certain they concealed nothing of a dangerous nature. In a few minutes they discovered my silent companion, the tiny camera, which I had deftly removed from its secret hiding-place to a tail pocket in my coat, as I did not wish to have it found in its hiding-place, which would have been far more incriminating. I had done this while coming down the steps to the cells. Also I had extracted the exposed film and had placed this in a spot where it was absolutely safe from discovery.
When the soldiers alighted upon the instrument they were sorely puzzled. All my pockets had been turned inside out in the room upstairs and now this camera had been brought to light. They shook their heads completely baffled, and looked at me meaningly. But my face was inscrutable.
Every garment was subjected to a rigorous search. Yet beyond the camera they found nothing. Certainly no papers were brought to light. There was no mistaking their bitter disappointment; this was plainly written upon their faces. My watch was prized open, and the works were turned out, while a photograph of my wife and children was torn from the back case to make certain there was nothing concealed behind it. My shirt was turned over and over and held up to the light to be examined inch by inch for any traces of secret writing. But all to no purpose. From their mortification and behaviour I surmised that they had been promised a monetary reward if they succeeded in finding anything in writing. And now they were destined to go empty-handed. Thereupon, after laying their heads together for a few seconds, they drew pencil and paper from their pockets and commenced writing.
I was suspicious of this action. To me it was palpable that, animated by the lure of money and foiled in their efforts, they were prepared to go the length of concocting evidence against me. At least I thought so, and summarily frustrated their action. I went to them and by the aid of signs demonstrated that I wanted the paper torn up, or I would ring the emergency bell and summon the head gaoler to explain matters. They apparently did not relish my threat, because they instantly tore the paper to shreds.
By the time their search was completed I was stripped to the skin. But I was not permitted to re-dress. Evidently they concluded that I might have pockets in my epidermis because they went over me, inch by inch, resorting to actions which were wholly unnecessary and which were revolting, degrading, and demoralising to the last degree—such actions as one would hardly expect even from the lowest animals. During the process they joked and gibed freely at my expense.
Although it was with the utmost difficulty I controlled my feelings, my blood soon began to boil, rapidly rising to fever heat, when they descended to familiarities and personalities which flesh and blood could not stand. I suffered their indignities as long as I could. Then unable to contain my rage any longer I threw myself at the leader of the party, pitching into him with all the strength I could command. I pommelled him unmercifully with my fists and he began to howl somewhat vociferously. His comrades were too surprised at my unexpected rebellion to extend assistance, until at last their dull wits took in the situation. I caught a glimpse of one of the soldiers grasping his rifle. I saw it flash in the air—I remembered no more.
When I awoke I was lying stark naked upon the floor of my cell. My head was racking and throbbing like a hammer. Raising my hand to my forehead I sharply withdrew it. It was quite wet, and as I looked more closely, I saw that it was blood. I felt again and found my face clotted and my hair reeking wet from a ragged wound on the head. Evidently the soldier whose rifle I had seen swinging through the air, had brought it down heavily upon my skull, felling me like an ox. How long I had lain unconscious I never knew, but it must have been for some time, judging from the quantity of blood I had lost, which was partially congealed on my face, neck and shoulders. I shivered with the cold and collecting my senses I commenced to dress my wound. For bandages I had to tear my shirt to ribbons. I swabbed the ragged wound as well as I could, and then bound it up. Weary and faint from loss of blood I dressed myself with extreme difficulty and then proceeded to examine my present abode.
We are familiar with the cramped quarters at the Tower of London into which our mediaeval sovereigns were wont to thrust our ancestors who fell foul of authority. Wesel Prison is the German counterpart of our famous quondam fortress-prison. The cells are little, if any, larger than those in the Tower, and are used to this day. My residence measured about nine feet in length by about four and a half feet in width, and was approximately ten feet in height—about the size of the entrance hall in an average small suburban residence. High up in the wall was a window some two feet square. But it admitted little or no daylight. It was heavily barred, while outside was a sloping hood which descended to a point well below the sill, so that all the light which penetrated into the cell was reflected from below against the black interior of the hood. In addition there was a glazed window, filthy dirty, while even the slight volume of light which it permitted to pass was obstructed further by small-mesh wire netting. Consequently the interior was wrapped in a dismal gloom throughout the greater part of the day, through which one could scarcely discern the floor when standing upright. After daylight waned the cell was enveloped in Cimmerian blackness until daybreak, no lights being permitted.
The bed comprised three rough wooden planks, void of all covering and mattress, and raised a few inches above the floor. The other appointments were exceedingly meagre, consisting of a small jug and basin as well as a small sanitary pan. High on the wall was a broken shelf. That was all. The wall itself was about two feet in thickness and wrought of masonry.
The walls themselves were covered with inscriptions written and scratched by those who had been doomed to this depressing domicile. Some of the drawings were beautifully executed, but the majority of the inscriptions testified, far more eloquently than words can describe, to the utter depravity of many of those who had preceded me, and who had passed their last span of life on this earth within these confines.
A few minutes sufficed to take in these general features. Then my attention was riveted upon the floor, and this told a silent, poignant story which it would be difficult to parallel. The promenade was less than nine feet—in fact, it was only two full paces—and barely twelve inches in width. Consequently the occupant, as he paced to and fro, trod always upon the same spots. And the patterings of the feet in that short walk had worn the board into hollows at the treads. I felt those hollows with my hands, traced their formation, and despite my unhappy plight could not refrain from musing upon the stories which those hollows could relate—stories of abandoned hope, frenzy, madness, resignation, suppressed fury, and pathetic awaiting of the doom which could not be averted.
Those hollows exercised an irresistible fascination for me, and when I started to walk they drew my feet as certainly as the magnet attracts the iron filings. I would strive to avoid the hollows and for a few seconds would succeed, but within a short time my feet fell into them. Later I learned from one of my wardens that the pacings of the criminals condemned to this and the other cells is so persistent and ceaseless as to demand the renewal of the boards at frequent intervals.
In the United States the third degree has attained a revolting ill-fame. But the American third degree must be paradise in comparison with what can only be described as its equivalent in Germany. The Teuton method is far more effective and brutal. The man is not badgered, coaxed, and threatened in the hope of extorting a signed confession, but he is condemned to loneliness, silence and solitude amid a gloom which can be felt, and which within a short time eats into your very soul. Add to this complete deprivation of exercise and insufficient, un-nourishing, food, and one can gather some faint idea of the effect which is wrought upon the human body. The German idea is to wear down a man physically as well as mentally, until at last he is brought to the verge of insanity and collapse. By breaking the bodily strength and undermining the mind he is reduced to such a deplorable condition as to render him as pliable as putty in the hands of his accusers. He is rendered absolutely incapable of defending himself. He fails to realise what is said against him or the significance of his own words.
His brain is the first to succumb to the strain, utter loneliness speedily conducing to this result, aggravated by a sensation which is produced by walking the cell, and which I will describe later. Consequently he invariably achieves with his own mouth what his persecutors desire—his own condemnation. To make their devilry complete German justice resorts to a final phase which seals the fate of the poor wretch irrevocably, as I will narrate.
I had been deprived of every belonging. I was denied paper, pencil and reading material. Solitary confinement in Germany is carried out in strict accordance with the interpretation of the term. One is left alone with one's thoughts. At intervals of ten minutes the gaoler opens the peep-hole and peers within. Consequently you are under constant surveillance, and this contributes towards the unhinging of the mind. Night and day, without a break, the peep-hole opens with mechanical regularity. Not only is all mental exercise denied but physical exercise as well. All that one can do towards stretching one's limbs is to pace the tiny cell. The method is typically Prussian, and is complete in its Prussian thoroughness and devilishness.
I sat down upon my bed with my bleeding, aching head in my hands, an object of abject misery. Not a sound beyond the clanging of doors was to be heard, punctuated at frequent intervals by the dull thud of blows, as some hapless wretch was being clubbed, the shrieks and howls of prisoners, and the groans of those on the verge of insanity. It was just as if all the demons of the Nether Regions were at work worrying and harrying their victims. While rocking myself to and fro I heard the turning of the key. The gaoler entered with a bowl containing some evil-looking and worse smelling soup. I ventured to speak, but he merely glowered threateningly and departed without uttering a sound. The dinner was revolting, but recognising that I was considered to be a criminal, and as such was condemned to prison fare I ventured to taste the nauseous skilly. I took one mouthful. My nose rebelled at the smell and my stomach rose into my throat at the taste. One sip was more than adequate, so I pushed the basin to one side. I threw myself upon the plank bed. Ten minutes later the peep-hole opened. I took no notice but started when a gruff voice roared "Get up!"
I ignored the command. The door opened and the guard came in. He gave me a savage prod with his rifle. I sat up.
"Get up! Pace!" he roared.
I relapsed on to my bed without a murmur only to receive a resounding clout which set my head throbbing once more with accentuated intensity.
"Get up! Pace!" came the roar again.
The guard pointed to the floor.
I saw what was expected of me. I was to walk to and fro up and down the cell. I was not to be allowed to sit down. Wearily I got up and started to "pace!" One—two—steps forward: one—two—steps back! Only that and no more. The guard watched me for a few seconds and then went out.
I continued to do his bidding for a short while, but walking two paces, then swinging round on the heels, taking two more strides, turning round again, to make another two steps, soon brought on violent giddiness. But that doesn't matter to the German. Within a few minutes I felt as if I had been spun round like a top and stumbled rather than paced. But to stumble was to court disaster because my ankles came into violent contact with the plank bed. Again I had to keep my thoughts centred upon the pacing. To allow them to stray was to essay a third step inadvertently which brought my face into violent collision with the wall. More than once I made my nose bleed copiously from this cause.
Within a few minutes my brain was whirling madly, my head throbbed from my wound, while my face was bruised from colliding with the wall. I was so giddy that I could not stand erect, while my eyes burned and ached as if they had been seared with a red-hot iron. I fell upon the plank bed, but open flew the peep-hole and again rang out the ominous growl, "Pace!"
And this is what I was condemned to do hour after hour through the livelong day. The only respite comes when meals are brought in and during the night, when the prisoner is left alone. But throughout the day, from 6.30 in the morning to about 7 at night one must pursue the eternal round—two paces forward, right about, two paces back, right about, and so on. The punishment cannot be escaped; it is not suspended for illness until collapse comes to the relief of the hapless wretch. It is a refinement of cruelty which probably is not to be found in any other country. Little wonder that the continued dizziness and lack of ability to stretch the limbs bring about a complete nervous prostration and reduce the strongest man to a physical wreck within a very short time. And if the hapless prisoner declines to answer the stern command "Pace!" then bayonet prodding, clubbing and head-cuffing are brought into action as a stimulant.
Ages seemed to have passed before the door opened again, although as a matter of fact, there is only about 4-1/2 hours between the mid-day and the afternoon meals. I lost all account of time, even during the first day of my incarceration. An hour's pacing seemed like weeks. This time the gaoler brought me another basin containing a greenish liquid, very much like the water in which cabbages are cooked, accompanied by a hunk of black bread.
The method of serving the meals is distinctly German. The gaoler opens the door. He places the food on the ground at the entrance and pushes it along the floor into the cell as if the inmate were a leper. I tasted this repast, but it was even more noisome than the dinner, so I placed it beside the bowl which I had first received, and which with its spoon was left with me. Even if one could have swallowed it I should not have received a very sustaining meal, seeing that it had to suffice until 5.30 the next morning—13 hours without food. Moreover the food is served out sparingly. It is not designed to nourish the frame, but is just sufficient to keep it going though with depreciating strength.
Daylight waned to give way to the blackness of night and in my cell I could not see my hand before my face. Yet darkness was not an unmitigated evil. It did bring relief from the enforced pacing for which I was devoutly thankful. Although torn with hunger I was so exhausted as to jump at the opportunity to lie down. But the planks were hard, and being somewhat slender in build my thighs speedily became sore. My brain from the fiendish exercise refused to stop spinning. I was like a drunken man and to lie down was to provoke a feeling of nausea which was worse than pacing. Then as the night wore on I began to shiver with the cold because I was denied any covering. How I passed the first night I cannot recall, but I am certain that a greater part of the time passed in delirium, and I almost cried with delight when I saw the first rays of the breaking day filter through the window. They at least did modify the terrible darkness.
At 5.30 in the morning along came the gaoler. The cell was opened and a broom was thrust into my hands. To me that domestic utensil was as a new toy to a child. I grasped it with delight: it at least would give me some occupation. I set to sweeping the cell furiously. I could have enjoyed the company of that broom for hours, but a prisoner is only allowed two minutes to sweep his cell. Then the broom was snatched out of my hands and to the droning of "Pace!" which rang out continually like the tolling of a funeral bell, I knew the next day had begun.
I fell back on to my bed almost broken at heart at being deprived of the humble broom. But by now the significance of German solitary confinement had been brought home to me fully. I would not be broken. I would ward off the terrible results at all hazards. So when the gaoler came with my breakfast he found me in high spirits—assumed for the occasion I may say. When he pushed in the basin of skilly I picked it up and set it beside the others. Pointing to the row of untouched food I turned to him cynically and remarked, "Don't you think you're making too much fuss of me?"
"Ach!" he growled in reply.
"If you persist in going on like this I shall think I am in a nursing home!"
"Ach!" he retorted sharply, "If you think you are in a nursing home you'll soon change your mind," saying which he slammed the door with extra vigour.
The only interlude to the daily round is shortly after sweeping cells. The doors are thrown open and each prisoner, armed with his water jug and sanitary pan, forms up in line in the corridor. They are spaced two paces apart and this distance must be rigorously maintained. If you vary it a fraction a smart rap over the head with the rifle brings you back again to the correct position. The German warders never attempt to correct by words. The rifle is a handy weapon and a smart knock therewith is always forceful. Consequently, if you are dull of comprehension, your body speedily assumes a zebra appearance with its patches of black and blue.
We were marched off to a huge yard flanked by a towering wall studded with hundreds of heavily barred windows—cells. Only those resident in the "Avenue of the Damned" experience this limited latitude, the ordinary prisoners being extended the privilege of ordinary exercise. Not a word must be spoken; to do so is to invite a crash over the head, insensibility being an effective protection against communication between prisoners.
Reaching the yard we were lined up, still two paces apart and under the hawk-eyes of the guard. Then the first man from one end advanced to the pump, alongside which stood two soldiers with fixed bayonets with which the man was prodded if he evinced signs of lingering or dwelling unduly over his work. The duty involved cleaning out the sanitary pan, in which by the way dependence had to be placed upon the hands alone, no mop or cloth being allowed. Then the jug had to be refilled from the pump, which was a crazy old appliance worked by hand. I may say that so far as we prisoners residing in the ill-famed avenue were concerned we had to depend upon water entirely for washing purposes—soap was an unheard-of luxury—while a towel was unknown. Under these circumstances it was impossible to keep clean. Shaving was another pleasure which we were denied, and I may say that the prisoners residing in the salubrious neighbourhood of the condemned cells had the most unkempt and ragged appearance it is possible to conceive. When the man had finished his task he marched to the opposite end of the line, his place being immediately taken by the next man, and so on until the work was completed, which usually involved about ten minutes.
Although intercourse was rendered impossible by the vigilance and number of the guards yet I was able to take stock of my neighbours. We were a small but cosmopolitan family, the French predominating. For some inscrutable reason the Germans appear to have been unusually successful in their haul of French spies, although doubtless the great majority were as innocent of the charge of espionage as I was. Yet we were a motley throng and I do not think any self-respecting tramps would have chummed up with us. Many of my fellow prisoners bore unmistakable evidences of premature old age—the fruits of solitary confinement, lack of exercise, and insufficient food. Others seemed half-witted and dazed as a result of the brutal treatment which they had received. Some were so weak that they could scarcely manipulate the crazy pump. Many were garbed only in trousers, being void of boots, socks, shirts and vest. Unkempt beards concealed thin, worn and haggard faces studded with red bloodshot eyes.
While I was waiting in the line my attention was arrested by one man, who formed a member of our party. He was a German, but he did not appear as if he had been guilty of any heinous crime—at least not one of sufficient calibre to bring him into our Avenue. He was well built, of attractive personality, and was well dressed in a blue suit complete with clean collar, tie and other details.
Who was he? What was he doing with us? Was he a spy? My curiosity was thoroughly aroused. I became interested in him, and strange to say the sentiment was mutual because he could not take his eyes from me. I keenly wanted to speak to him but this was frankly out of the question. Yet we seemed to be drawing together.