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- Transcriber's Note: Inconsistent hyphenation in the original document has been preserved. Obvious typographical errors have been corrected. For a complete list, please see the end of this document. -
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THE ESCAPE OF A PRINCESS PAT
THE ESCAPE OF A PRINCESS PAT
Being the full account of the capture and fifteen months' imprisonment of Corporal Edwards, of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, and his final escape from Germany into Holland
BY GEORGE PEARSON
McCLELLAND, GOODCHILD & STEWART
PUBLISHERS :: :: :: TORONTO
COPYRIGHT, 1918, BY GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
TO THE MEMORY OF OUR COMRADES WHO FELL THIS BOOK IS DEDICATED
In order to remove all question of doubt in the mind of the reader it might perhaps be well to state here that the facts as given are the bona fide experiences of Corporal Edwards, Number 39, Number One Company, P. P. C. L. I., and as such were subjected to the closest scrutiny both by the author and others before it was deemed advisable to give the account to the public. In particular great pains were taken to do full justice to all enemy individuals who figure in the story.
Recognizing the seriousness of the charges implied by the recital, all those concerned with it are extremely anxious that the correctness of the account should constitute its chief value: In short the intention has been to make of the story a readable history.
The main facts—having to do with the destruction of the regiment on the eighth of May, 1915, the identity and activities of the individuals mentioned and the more important of the later happenings, including the final escape into Holland—are matters of official record and as such have frequently been mentioned in the official dispatches. The more personal details are based on the recollections of Corporal Edwards' retentive mind, aided by his very unusual powers of observation and the rough diary which he managed to retain possession of during his later adventures.
For the events preceding the capture of Corporal Edwards on the eighth of May the author has relied upon his own recollections; as he too had the honor of having been "an original Patricia."
Sept. 1, 1917. Toronto, Canada.
I Polygon Wood 14
II The Fourth of May 20
III Corporal Edwards Takes up the Tale 23
IV Major Gault Comes Back 28
V The Eighth of May and the Last Stand of the Princess Pats 33
VI Prisoners 45
VII Pulling the Leg of a German General 61
VIII The Princess Patricia's German Uncle 70
IX How the German Red Cross Tended the Canadian Wounded 76
X The Curious Concoctions of the Chef at Giessen 81
XI The Way They Have at Giessen 86
XII The Escape 104
XIII The Traitor at Vehnmoor 115
XIV Away Again 123
XV Paying the Piper 140
XVI The Third Escape 158
XVII What Happened in the Wood 177
XVIII The Last Lap 185
XIX Holland at Last 194
XX "It's a Way They Have in the Army" 203
The Evidence in the Case 210
Corporal (Now Sergeant) Edward Edwards, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry Frontispiece
British wounded waiting for transportation to a dressing station 26
The Princess Patricias in billets at Westoutre, Belgium 26
German prisoners bringing wounded men down a communication trench 42
Wounded Canadians receiving first aid after an attack 64
Recipes from Corporal Edward's Diary 84
Fellow prisoners at Giessen 98
Fellow prisoners at Giessen 98
Record of second escape and recapture 126
German prisoners at Southampton 136
High explosives bursting over German trenches 136
Salient details of the third escape 170
Private Mervin C. Simmons, C.E.F. 192
The cemetery at Celle Laager Z 1 Camp 206
Corporal Edwards after his escape 206
Homeward bound 220
THE ESCAPE OF A PRINCESS PAT
THE ESCAPE OF A PRINCESS PAT
Ypres and Hill 60—Preparing for the Gas—Why the Patricias Cheered—The Retirement—The Thin Red Line.
The Princess Patricias had lain in Polygon Wood since the twentieth of April, mid-way between the sanguinary struggles of St. Julien and Hill 60, spectators of both. Although subjected to constant alarm we had had a comparatively quiet time of it, with casualties that had only varied from five to fifty-odd each day.
By day and night the gun-fire of both battles had beat back upon us in great waves of sound. There were times when we had donned our water soaked handkerchiefs for the gas that always threatened but never came, so that the expectation might have shaken less steady troops. Quick on the heels of the first news of the gas the women of Britain, their tears scalding their needles, with one accord had laboured, sans rest, sans sleep, sans everything, so that shortly there had poured in to us here a steady stream of gauze pads for mouth and nostril. For the protection of our lungs against the poison of the gas they were at least better than the filthy rags we called handkerchiefs. We wore their gifts and in spirit bowed to the donors, as I think all still do. We soaked them with the foul water of the near-by graves and kept them always at our side, ready to tie on at each fresh alarm.
Once there had come word in a special army order of the day: "Our Belgian agent reports that all enemy troops on this front have been directed to enter their trenches to-night with fixed bayonets. All units are enjoined to exercise the closest watch on their front; the troops will stand to from the first appearance of darkness, with each man at his post prepared for all eventualities. Sleep will not be permitted under any circumstances."
The consequence had been that that night had been one of nervous expectation of an attack which did not materialise. We always carried fixed bayonets in the trenches but the Germans were better equipped with loopholes, as they were with most other things, and were forced to leave their bayonets off their rifles in order to avoid any danger of the latter sticking in their metal shields when needed in a hurry, to say nothing of the added attention they would draw in their exposed and stationary position at the mouth of a loophole. The "Stand-to" had come as a distinct relief that morning.
And always there had been the glowering fires of a score of villages. The greater mass of burning Ypres stood up amongst them like the warning finger of God. Occasionally the roaring burst of an ammunition dump flared up into a volcano of fiery sound. The earth under our feet trembled in convulsive shudders from a cannonade so vast that no one sound could be picked out of it and the walls of dug-outs slid in, burying sleeping men. But like the promise of God there came to us in every interval of quietness, as always, the full-throated song of many birds.
Our forces consisted of the French who held the left corner of the Ypres salient, then the Canadian division in the centre, next the 28th Division of the regular British Army and then our own, the 27th, with Hill 60 on our right flank. The enemy attacked both at Hill 60 and at the line of the Canadian Division and the French, and we held on to the horse-shoe shaped line until the last possible moment when one more shake of the tree would have thrown us like ripe fruit into the German lap.
So near had the converging German forces approached to one another that the weakened battery behind our own trenches had been at the last, turned around the other way and fired in the opposite direction without a shift in its own position. For our own protection we had nothing. And later still these and all other guns left us to seek new positions in the rear so that only we of the infantry remained.
Daily there had come orders to "Stand-to" in full marching order, to evacuate; at which all ranks expostulated angrily. And then perhaps another order—to stick it another day; at which we cheered and slapped one another boisterously on the back so that the stolid Germans over yonder must have wondered, knowing what they did of our desperate situation.
But the dreaded order came at last and was confirmed, so that under protest and like the beaten men that we knew we were not, we slunk away under cover of darkness on the night of the third of May to trenches three miles in the rear, and with us went the troops on ten more miles of British front.
The movement as executed was in reality a feat of no mean importance on the part of the higher command. Faced by an overwhelmingly superior force, our badly depleted three divisions had barely escaped being bagged in the net of which the enemy had all but drawn the noose in a strategetic surrounding movement.
In detail, the movement had consisted of withdrawing under cover of darkness with all that we could carry of our trench material, both to prevent it falling into hostile hands and equally to strengthen our new position. A small rearguard of fifteen men to the regiment had held our front for the few hours necessary for us to "shake down" in the new position. Their task was to remain behind and to give a continuous rapid-fire from as many different spots as possible in a given time, thereby keeping up the illusion of a heavily manned trench. Then, they too had faded quietly away, following us.
Our new trenches were three miles behind those we had just evacuated in Polygon Wood. Zillebeke lay just to the left and beyond that, Hooge. We were in the open, with Belle-waarde Wood and Lake behind us.
We continued to face vastly superior forces. To make matters worse the trenches were assuredly a mockery of their kind and there was even less of adequate support than before. And at that the drafts arrived each day—if they were lucky enough to break through the curtains of fire with which the enemy covered our rear for that very purpose, as well as for the further one of curtailing the arrival of all necessary supplies of food and ammunition.
Every camp and hospital from Ypres to Rouen and the sea and from Land's End to John O' Groat was combed and scraped for every eligible casualty, every overconfident office holder of a "cushy" job, and in short, for all those who could by hook or crook hold a rifle to help stem this threatening tide. And in our own lot, even those wasteful luxuries, the petted officers' servants were amongst us, doing fighting duty for the first time, so that we almost welcomed the desperate occasion which furnished so rare and sweet a sight.
THE FOURTH OF MAY
The Unofficial Armistice—The Clash of the Scouts—"Sticking It" on the Fourth.
We suffered cruelly on the Fourth. The dawn had discovered two long lines of men, madly digging in plain sight of one another. There was no firing except that one little storm when the stronger light had shown our rear guard ridiculously tangled up with a screen of German scouts so that some of each were nearer to foe than to friend and so had foes on either side. They shot at one another. Some of us in our excitement shot at both, scarce able to distinguish one from the other. Others amongst us strove to knock their rifles up. And the Germans in their trenches shot too. Both of us of the main bodies continued to respect the tacit truce imposed by the conditions under which we found ourselves, insofar as we ourselves were concerned, and fired only at the poor fellows in between.
As for them, I fear the absurd nature of their tragic plight excited more of wonder than of concern. They merged into hedges and ditches swallowed them. Their case was only one incident of many, and what became of them I have never heard, except that Lieutenant Lane who commanded our rear guard was with us on the Eighth, so I presume that some must have crawled up to us that night and so saved themselves for the moment. Anything else would have been a great pity for so brave a squad.
The digging continued until the better equipped Germans had finished their task; when they sought their holes with one accord, an example which we as quickly followed.
This was at nine o'clock on the morning of the fourth of May. From then on until dusk the intensity of a furious all-day bombardment by every known variety of projectile had been broken only at intervals to allow of the nearer approach of the enemy's attacking infantry. The worst was the enfilade fire of two batteries on our right which with six-inch high explosive shells tore our front line to fragments so that we were glad indeed to see the night come. Only once had ours replied, one gun only. That was early in the morning. It barked feebly, twice, but drew so fierce a German fire that it was forever silenced.
Some infantry attacks followed but were beaten off. Only a weak half of the battalion was in the front line trench. The remainder were in Belle-waarde Wood, the outer fringe of which was a bare one hundred yards behind the front line. They were fairly comfortable in pine bough huts which were, however, with some of their occupants, badly smashed by shell fire that day.
The outcome was that although all attacks were beaten off, our losses were well on to two hundred men, most of whom were accounted for in the more exposed front line.
The order had been that we were to hold this front for several days more although the regiment had been in the trenches since April the 20th, and, except for a march back to Ypres from Polygon Wood, since early April. But after such a smashing blow on men who were already thoroughly exhausted, the plan was changed and our line was taken over by the King's Shropshire Light Infantry, the "Shrops" we called them, a sister regiment in our brigade, the 80th.
CORPORAL EDWARDS TAKES UP THE TALE
Amongst the Wounded—Trench Nerves—Resting in Coffins.
It was on this day that I rejoined the regiment. I had been wounded in the foot at St. Eloi in February and had come up in a draft fresh from hospital and had lain in the supports at the huts all of the Fourth.
The survivors of the front line fire joined those at the huts shortly after nightfall. They were stupid from shell fire, too dazed to talk. I saw one man wandering in half circles, talking to himself—and with a heavy pack on. There were others in worse plight; so there was no help for him.
Myself, I was too much engrossed in a search for my comrade Woods to bother with other men less dear, however much I might sympathise with them.
He and I had been "mates" since Toronto days, had made good cheer together in the hot August days of mobilisation at Ottawa and had rubbed mess tins together under the starry sky at Levis before the great Armada had taken us to English camps and other scenes.
It was he who had fetched me out of danger at St. Eloi. And now it was my turn. They told me he was somewhere on a stretcher.
I searched them all. I struck matches—and was met by querulous curses; I knelt by the side of the dying; I inquired of those wounded who still could walk, but find him I could not. It appears that a new and heavy moustache had helped to hide him from me. I was in great distress, but in the fullness of time and when our small circles had run their route, I discovered him in Toronto.
The word was that we were to go to Vlamertinghe, where the Zeppelins had bombed us in our huts. It lay well below threatened Ypres.
We of Number One Company passed Belle-waarde Lake, with its old dug-outs and its smells, and struck off across the fields, the better to avoid the heavy barrage fire which made all movement of troops difficult beyond words. We reached the railroad up and down which in quieter times the battalion had been wont to march to and fro to the Polygon Wood trenches.
The fire became heavier here and the going was rough so that what with the burden of packs which seemed to weigh a ton and all other things; we moved in a mass, as sheep do. When slung rifles jostled packs, good friends cursed one another both loud and long. This was trench nerves.
Shortly, we ran into a solid wall of barrage fire. The officer commanding the company halted us. We were for pushing on to that rest each aching bone and muscle, each tight-stretched and shell-dazed nerve fairly screamed aloud for. But he was adamant. We cursed him. He pretended not to hear. This also was trench nerves.
It was growing late. The star shells became fewer. The search-lights ceased altogether. In half an hour those keen eyes in distant trees and steeples would have marked us down—and what good then the agony of this all-night march? Better to have been killed back there in Belle-waarde. We were still a good two miles from Ypres town.
The officer literally drove us back over the way we had come. His orders had anticipated this eventuality so that rather than force the passage of the barrage fire, merely for a rest, we should rest here where no rest was to be had. Undoubtedly, if we had been "going up" it would have been different. We should have gone on—no fire would have stopped us.
The half hour limit brought us to a murky daylight and an old and sloppy support trench which bordered the track and into which we flung ourselves, to lay in the water in a dull stupor that was neither sleep nor honest waking.
Later, when the rations had been "dished out" we bestirred ourselves and so found or dug queer coffin-shaped shelves in either wall. Out of courtesy we called them dug-outs.
I do not remember that any one spoke much of the dead.
The rain stopped and for a time the unaccustomed sun came out. We drove stakes in the walls above our coffins, hunted sand-bags and hung them and spare equipment over the open face and then crawled back into the water which, as usual, was already forming in the hollows that our hips made where we lay. Until noon there was little heard but the thick breathing of weary men. Occasionally one tossed and shouted blasphemous warnings anent imaginary and bursting shells; whereat those within hearing whined in a tired and hopeless anger, and, if close by, kicked him. Trench nerves.
All day the fire of many guns sprayed us. Near by, the well defined emplacement of one of our own batteries inevitably drew to the entire vicinity a heavy fire so that one shell broke fair amongst our sleeping men.
MAJOR GAULT COMES BACK
"The King Is Dead": "Long Live the King"—Back to Belle-waarde—The Seventh of May.
That was on the fifth. In the afternoon young Park came to us. He was the Commanding Officer's orderly. There was down on his face but he was full of all that strange wisdom of a trenchman who had experienced the bitter hardships and the heartbreaking losses of a winter in the cursed salient of St. Eloi, by Shelley Farm and The Mound of Death. But just now this infant of the trenches had the round eyes of a startled child, which in him meant mad excitement.
"The C.O.'s hit."
The word slid up the trench: "The C.O.'s hit."
"Strike me! Cawn't this bleedin' regiment keep a bleedin' Colonel——? That makes two of them!"
"How did it happen?"
"What the devil are we goin' to do?"
"Who says so?"
"The second in six weeks!"
"By——! This mob's in a Hell of a fix, Bo'."
Park was leaning on his rifle, trench fashion. "Oh, dry up. You give me a pain."
And then he launched his thunderbolt, "Gault's back."
The chorus of despair became one of wild delight.
"We're jake!" "He'll see us through." "Where is he?" "How's his arm?" "The son-of-a-gun! Couldn't keep him away, could they?"
"No fear. Not 'im. Bloody well wanted to be wiv 'is bleedin' boys, 'e did. 'E ain't bloody well goin' to do 'is bloody solderin' in a 'cushy' job in Blighty—like some of 'em. Not after rysin' us. Do it wiv 'is bloody self like a man; an' that's wot 'e is."
The speaker glared accusingly; but his declaration agreed too well with what all thought for any one to take exception to it.
The new Commanding Officer had been wounded at St. Eloi on March 1st and this was our first intimation of his return.
Park took up his tale. "He's over there with the C.O. now," and switching: "Shell splinter got him in the eye. Guess it's gone and maybe the other one too."
"By——!" he burst out passionately: "I hope it don't. He's been damn good to me—and to you fellows too," he added fiercely, while his lower lip quivered.
I think all stared anywhere but at Park, in a curious embarrassment.
"Got it goin' from one trench to another to see about the rations comin' up instead of stayin' in like a 'dug-out wallah.' Got out on top of the ground, walked across an' stopped one," he added bitterly.
A considerable draft of "old boys," ruddy of face and fresh from hospital, together with some more new men reached us that night. We "went up" again with the dusk of the following night and "took over" our previous trenches in front of Belle-waarde Wood.
We were told that the Shropshires had been rather badly cut up in the interval of their occupation by a further course of intense bombardment and some fierce infantry fighting. Nevertheless, the trenches had been put into much better shape since our earlier occupancy of them, so that what with our work that night they were by the morning of the seventh in fairly good shape.
The night was not unusual in any way. There was the regular amount of shelling, of star shells, of machine gun and rifle fire, and of course, casualties. Those we always had, be it ever so quiet.
Even the morning "Stand-to" with that mysterious dread of unknown dangers that it invariably brought gave us nothing worse than an hour of chilly waiting—and later, the smoke of the Germans' cooking fires.
There were none for us. It was as simple as algebra. Smoke attracted undue artillery attention—the Germans had artillery; we had not. They had fires; we had not.
The day rolled by smoothly enough. Except for the fresh graves and a certain number of unburied dead the small-pox appearance of the shell-pitted ground about might have been thought to have been of ancient origin; so filled with water were the shell holes and so large had they grown as a result of the constant sloughing in of their sodden banks.
During all these days the German fire on the salient at large had continued as fiercely as before but had spared us its severest trials.
The night of the seventh passed to all outward appearance pretty much in the same manner as the preceding one.
THE EIGHTH OF MAY AND THE LAST STAND OF THE PRINCESS PATS
Morning in the Trenches—The Artillery Preparation for the Infantry Attack—The P.P's Chosen to Stem the Tide—The Trust of a Lady—Chaos—Corporal Dover—The Manner in Which Some Men Kill and Others Die.
It seemed as though I had just stepped off my whack of sentry go for my group when a kick in the ribs apprised me that it was "Stand-to." I rubbed my eyes, swore and rose to my feet. Such was the narrowness of the trench that the movement put me at my post at the parapet, where in common with my mates, I fell to scanning the top for the first signs of day and the Germans.
The latter lay on the other side of the ravine from us as they had since the Fourth, except for such times as they had assaulted our position. The smoke of Ypres and all the close-packed villages of a thickly populated countryside rose sullenly on every hand.
Over everything there hung the pallor of the mist-ridden Flemish morning, deadly quiet, as was usual at that time of the trench day when the tenseness of the all-night vigil was just merging into the relieving daylight.
At half past six that stillness was punctuated by a single shell, which broke barely in our rear. And then the ball commenced—the most intense bombardment we had yet experienced. Most of the fire came from the batteries in concealed positions on our right, whence, as on the fourth, they poured in a very destructive enfilade fire which swept up and down the length of the trench like the stream of a hose, making it a shambles. Each burst of high-explosive shells, each terrible pulsation of the atmosphere, if it missed the body, seemed to rend the very brain, or else stupefied it.
The general result was beyond any poor words of mine. All spoken language is totally inadequate to describe the shocks and horrors of an intense bombardment. It is not that man himself lacks the imaginative gift of words but that he has not the word tools with which to work. They do not exist. Each attempt to describe becomes near effrontery and demands its own separate apology.
In addition, kind Nature draws a veil for him over so much of all the worst of it that many details are spared his later recollection. He remembers only the indescribable confusion and the bursting claps of near-by flame, as foul in color and as ill of smell as an addled egg. He knows only that the acid of the high-explosive gas eats into the tissue of his brain and lungs, destroying with other things, most memories of the shelling.
Overhead an aeroplane buzzed. We could even descry the figures of the pilot and his observer, the latter signaling. No gun of ours answered. The dead and dying lay all about and none could attend them: A rifle was a rifle.
This continued for an hour, at the end of which time we poked our heads up and saw their infantry coming on in columns of mobs, and some of them also very prettily in the open order we had ourselves been taught. Every field and hedge spewed them up. We stood, head and shoulders exposed above the ragged parapet, giving them "Rapid-fire." They had no stomach for that and retired to their holes, leaving many dead and grievously wounded.
It was at this time that we saw the troops on our flanks falling back in orderly fashion. I called that fact to the attention of Lieutenant Lane, who was the only officer left in our vicinity. He said that the last word he had received was to hang on.
This we proceeded to do, and so, we are told, did the others. We learned later that the battalion roll call that night showed a strength of one hundred and fifty men out of the six hundred and thirty-five who had answered "Present" twenty-four hours earlier. And the official records of the Canadian Eye Witness, Lord Beaverbrook, then Sir Max Aitken, as given in "Canada in Flanders," state that "Those who survive and the friends of those who have died may draw solace from the thought that never in the history of arms have soldiers more valiantly sustained the gift and trust of a Lady," referring to the Color which had been worked for and presented to us by the Princess Patricia, daughter of His Royal Highness the Duke of Connaught, then Governor-General of Canada.
We were on the apex of the line and were now unsupported on either side. It was about this time, I believe, that a small detachment of the King's Shropshire Light Infantry, a sister regiment in our brigade, fetched to the companies in our rear twenty boxes of badly needed ammunition and reenforced the Princess Patricias.
Following the beating off of their infantry attack the Germans gave us a short breathing spell until their machine guns had been trained on our parapet and a school of light field guns dragged up into place. The aeroplane came out again, dropping to within three hundred feet of our trench, and with tiny jets of vari-colored smoke bombs, directed the terribly accurate fire of the enemy guns, already so close to, but so well insured against any harm from us that they attempted no concealment. And the big guns on the right completed the devastation.
This continued for another half hour, at the end of which time there remained intact only one small traverse in the trench, which owed its existence to the fragment of chicken wire that held its sides up. The remainder was absolutely wiped out. This time there was no rapid fire, nor even any looking over the top to see if the enemy were coming on. Instead, the Germans fairly combed the parapet with their machine guns. Each indication of curiosity from us drew forth from them such a stream of fire that the top of the parapet spat forth a steady shower of flying mud, and, which made it impossible for us to defend ourselves properly, even had there been enough of us left to do so.
The rest was chaos, a bit of pure hell. Men struggling, buried alive and looking at us for the aid they would not ask for. Soldiers all. And the Germans now pouring in in waves from all sides, and especially from our unprotected flanks and rear, hindered only by the desultory rifle fire of our two weakened companies in the support trenches. We were receiving rifle fire from four directions and bayonet thrusts from the Germans on the parapet. Mowed down like sheep. And as they came on they trampled our dead and bayoneted our wounded.
The machine-gun crew had gone under to a man, doing their best to the last. I think Sergeant Whitehead went with them, too; at least he was near there a short time before, and I never saw him or any of the gun crew again. The only living soul near that spot was Royston, dragging himself out from under a pile of debris and covered with mud and blood, his face horribly swollen to twice its normal size, blinded for the moment.
To quote "Canada in Flanders" again:
"At this time the bombardment recommenced with great intensity. The German bombardment had been so heavy since May 4th that a wood which the Regiment had used in part for cover was completely demolished. The range of our machine-guns was taken with extreme precision. All, without exception, were buried. Those who served them behaved with the most admirable coolness and gallantry. Two were dug out, mounted and used again. One was actually disinterred three times and kept in action till a shell annihilated the whole section. Corporal Dover stuck to his gun throughout and, although wounded, continued to discharge his duties with as much coolness as if on parade. In the explosion that ended his ill-fated gun, he lost a leg and an arm, and was completely buried in the debris. Conscious or unconscious, he lay there in that condition until dusk, when he crawled out of all that was left of the obliterated trench and moaned for help. Two of his comrades sprang from the support trench—by this time the fire trench—and succeeded in carrying in his mangled and bleeding body. But as all that remained of this brave soldier was being lowered into the trench a bullet put an end to his sufferings. No bullet could put an end to his glory."
George Easton was firing with me at the gray mass of the oncoming horde. "My rifle's jammed!" he cried.
"Take mine." And I stooped to get one from a casualty underfoot. But a moment later, as I fired from the parapet, my bayonet was broken off by a German bullet. I shouted wildly to Cosh to toss me one from near by.
Just then the main body of the Germans swarmed into the end of the trench.
Of this Lord Beaverbrook says: "At this moment the Germans made their third and last attack. It was arrested by rifle fire, although some individuals penetrated into the fire trench on the right. At this point all the Princess Patricias had been killed, so that this part of the trench was actually tenantless. Those who established a footing were few in number, and they were gradually dislodged; and so the third and last attack was routed as successfully as those which had preceded it."
His conclusion that we had all been killed was justifiable even though, fortunately for me, it was an erroneous one. So I am glad for other motives than those of mere courtesy to be able here to set him right.
Bugler Lee shouted to me: "I'm shot through the leg." A couple of us seized him, planning to go down to where the communication trench had once been. But he stopped us, saying: "It's no good, boys. It's a dead end! They're killing us."
Cosh swore. "Don't give up, kid! We'll beat the —— yet!" A German standing a few yards away raised his rifle and blew his head off. Young Brown broke down at this—they had just done in his wounded pal: "Oh, look! Look what they've done to Davie," and fell to weeping. And with that another put the muzzle of his rifle against the boy's head and pulled the trigger.
Young Cox from Winnipeg put his hands above his head at the order. His captor placed the muzzle of his rifle squarely against the palm and blew it off. There remained only a bloody and broken mass dangling from the wrist.
I saw a man who had come up in the draft with me on the 4th, rolling around in the death agony, tossing his head loosely about in the wild pain of it, his pallid face a white mark in the muck underfoot. A burly German reached the spot and without hesitation plunged his saw-edged bayonet through the throat.
Close by another wounded man was struggling feebly under a pile of earth, his legs projecting so that only the convulsive heaving of the loose earth indicated that a man was dying underneath. Another German observed that too, and shoved his bayonet through the mud and held it savagely there until all was quiet.
This I did not see, but another did and told me of it afterward. Sergeant Phillpots had been shot through the jaw so that he went to his knees as a bullock does at the slaughtering. He supported himself waveringly by his hands. The blood poured from him so that he was all but fainting with the loss of it.
A big German stood over him.
Phillpots looked up: "Play the game! Play the game!" he muttered weakly.
The German coolly put a round through his head.
I was still without a bayonet, and seeing these things, said to Easton: "We'd better beat it."
He swore again. "Yes, they're murdering us. No use stopping here. Come on!"
And just then he, too, dropped. I thought him dead. There was no use in my stopping to share his fate or worse. It was now every man for himself. At a later date we met in England.
The other half of the regiment lay in support two hundred yards away in Belle-waarde Wood and in front of the chateau and lake of that name, where my draft had lain on the fourth. I made a dash for it. What with the mud and the many shell holes, the going was bad. I was indistinctly aware of a great deal of promiscuous shooting at me, but most distinctly of one German who shot at me about ten times in as many yards and from quite close range. I saw I could not make it. I flung myself into a Johnson hole, and as soon as I had caught my breath, scrambled out again and raced for the trench I had just left. I was by this time unarmed, having flung my rifle away to further my flight, notwithstanding which another German shot at me as I went toward him.
As I landed in the trench an angry voice shouted something I could not understand. And I scrambled to my feet in time to see a German sullenly lower his rifle from the level of my body at the command of a big black-bearded officer.
A German Version of a Soldier's Death!—The Courage of Cox—Robbing the Helpless—Water on the End of a Bayonet—The Curious Case of Scott—Prussian Bullies—Why I Was Covered with a Fine Sweat.
The Germans were by this time in full possession of this slice of trench, and for the next few minutes the officer was kept busy pulling his men off their victims. Like slavering dogs they were.
He did not have his lambs any too well in hand, however. O.B. Taylor, a lovable character in Number One Company, came to his end here. The Germans ordered him and Hookie Walker to go back down the trench. He had no sooner turned to do so than a German shot him from behind and from quite close, so that it blew the groin completely out, making a terrible hole. We could not tie up so bad a wound and he bled to death. Hookie Walker remained with him to the last, five hours later, when he said: "I'm going to sleep boys," and did so. Fortunately, he did not suffer. And all the others except young Cox were equally fortunate, since they were murdered outright.
Taylor's was the most calculated of all the murders we had witnessed and outdid even those of the wounded because the excitement of the fight was two hours old and he was doing the bidding of his captors at the time. The killing of those who resisted was of course quite in order. Why he was killed while Walker was left unharmed and at his side to the last we did not know and could only credit to a whimsy of our captors. No punishment was visited upon his murderer or upon any of them so far as we were able to learn.
Upon my later return to Canada I found that Taylor's sister there had received a letter from a German officer enclosing a letter addressed to her which had been found on her brother's body, together with three war medals and a Masonic ring. The latter was the key to the incident since the officer also claimed to have been a Mason. In his letter this officer said that her brother had met a soldier's death!
Some said that our friendly officer was not a German but an Irishman. I doubted that but it may have been so, for it was true that his speech contained no trace of the accent which is usually associated with a German's English speech. His was that of an English gentleman. And to him we undoubtedly owed our wretched lives that day.
I in particular have good cause to be grateful. A German, all of six foot four, who swung a tremendously broad headsman's axe with a curved blade, tried several times to get at me. Each time the officer stopped him. Still he persisted. He apparently saw no one else and kept his eye fastened on me with deadly intention in it. He pushed aside the others, Prussians and prisoners alike; he whirled the shining blade high above a face lit up with savage exultation, terrible to see, and which reflected the sensual revelling of his heated brain in the bloody orgy ahead. As I followed the incredibly rapid motions of the blade, my blood turned to water. My limbs refused to act and my mind travelled back over the years to a little Scottish village where I had been used to sit in the dark corners of the shoemaker's shop, listening to him and others of the old 2nd Gordons recount their terrible tales of the hill men on the march to Kandahar with "Bobs." And now I felt that same tremendous sensation of fear which used to send me trembling to my childish pallet in the croft, peering fearfully through the darkness for the oiled body of a naked Pathan with his corkscrew kris. Terror swept over me like a springtime flood. He saw no one else. His eye fastened on me in crudest hate. But as he stood over me with feet spread wide and the circle of his axe's swing broadening for the finale, the thread of rabbit-like mesmerism broke and I sprang nimbly aside as the blade buried itself deep in the mud wall I had been cowering against. I endeavoured to dodge him by putting some of my fellow prisoners between us. No use. He followed me, shoving and cursing his way among them, swinging his axe. My hair stood on end and I felt rather critical of their much-vaunted Prussian discipline. Another endeavoured to bayonet Charlie Scarfe. The officer at last stopped them both.
Our captors belonged to the Twenty-first Prussian Regiment and were, so far as we knew, the first of their kind we had been up against, all previous comers on our front having been Bavarians and latterly of the army group of Prince Ruprecht of Bavaria—"Rupie," we called him. They wore the baggy grey clothes and clumsy looking leather top boots of the German infantryman. The spiked pickelhauben was conspicuous by its absence and was, we well knew, a thing only of billets and of "swank" parades. In its place was the soft pancake trench cap with its small colored button in the front.
The enemy were armed for the most part with pioneers' bayonets, as well adapted by reason of their saw edges for sticking flesh and blood as for sawing wood; and, if for the former, an unnecessarily cruel weapon, since it was bound to stick in the body and badly lacerate it internally in the withdrawal; especially if given a twist.
The trench front had been about-faced since its change of ownership and the Germans were already casting our dead out of the shattered trench, both in front and behind, and in many cases using them to stop the gaps in the parapet; so that they now received the bullets of their erstwhile comrades.
We were ordered up and out at the back of the parapet and then made to lie there. The German artillery had ceased. We had none. Odd shots from the remnant of our fellows still hanging on in the supports continued to come over, but none of us were hit. In all probability, they withheld their fire when they saw what was afoot. Some German snipers in a farmhouse at the rear were less considerate, but fortunately failed to hit us.
Later we were ordered to take our equipment off and those who had coats, to shed them. We did not see the latter again and missed them horribly in the rain of that day. Two of the Prussians "frisked" us for our tobacco, cigarettes, knives and other valuables.
This was in bitter contrast to our own treatment of prisoners under similar conditions. True, we had always searched them but had invariably returned those little trinkets and comforts which to a soldier are so important. And I think our men had always showered them with food and tobacco.
We were then marched to the rear, with the exception of one, who, by permission of the officer, remained with the dying Taylor.
There were ten of us all told. I have only heard of a few others who were captured that day. Roberts is still in Germany and Todeschi has been exchanged and is now in Toronto. The latter lay with a boy of the machine-gun crew for a couple of days in a dug-out, both badly wounded. A German stumbled on to them. They pleaded for water. The German said, "I'll give you water" and bayoneted the boy as he lay. He raised his weapon so that the blood of his comrade dripped on Todeschi's face.
"All right," Todeschi cried in German, "kill me too, but first give me water, you——"
The German lowered his rifle in amazement: "What, you schwein, you speak the good German? Where did you learn it?"
"In your schools. For Christ's sake—give me water—and kill me."
"What! You live with us and then do this? Schwein!"
"All right, I will give you water and I will not kill you; just to show you how well we can treat a prisoner."
Todeschi was then taken to the field dressing station where according to his own account his mangled leg was amputated without the use of any anesthetic. But that may have been because in such a time of stress they had none. Later he was exchanged.
I met Scott in the prison camp a few days later and he told his tale. It appears that in the confusion of the earlier fighting he had become separated from the regiment, became lost and eventually floundered into an English battalion. He reported to the officer commanding the trench and told his story. The officer had no idea where the Patricias lay and so ordered Scott to remain with them until such time as an inquiry might establish the whereabouts of his regiment.
They were captured, but under less exciting circumstances than occurred in our own case. And the Germans had word that there was a Canadian amongst these English troops. It was one of the first things mentioned. They did not say how they had acquired their information, but shouted out a request for the man to stand forth. When no one complied, they questioned each man separately, asking him if he was a Canadian or knew aught of one in that trench.
They all lied: "No." The Germans were so certain that they again went over each man in turn, examining him.
Scott was at the end of the line. He began to cut the Canadian buttons off his coat and to remove his badges. Several men near by assisted and replaced them with such of their own as they could spare; each man perhaps contributing a button. They had no thread nor time to use it if they had, so tacked the buttons into place by all manner of makeshifts, such as broken ends of matches thrust through holes punched in the cloth; anything to hold the buttons in place and tide the hunted Scott over the inspection. He passed. The Germans were quite furious.
Scott and his companions could only guess at the cause of this strange conduct, but presumed that the Canadian was wanted for special treatment of an unfavorable, if not of a final nature.
To return to our own case:
About the middle of the afternoon we were herded by our guards into a shallow depression a short distance in the rear of the trench and there told to lie down. The officer and his men returned to the trench. Until we were taken back to the trench at six we were continually sniped at by the Germans in the captured trench. We had no recourse but to make ourselves as small as possible, which we did. And whether owing to the fact that the hollow we were lying in prevented our being actually within the range of the enemy vision, or whether they were merely playing cat and mouse with us, I do not know, but none were hit. Young Cox suffered stoically. His mangled hand had become badly fouled with dirt and filth, and the ragged bones protruded through the broken flesh. So, in a quiet interval between the sniping periods we hurriedly sawed the shattered stump of his hand off with our clasp knives and bound it up as best we could. It was not a nice task, for him nor us, but he did not so much as grunt during the operation. The nearest he came to complaining was when he asked me to let him lay his hand across my body to ease it, at the same time remarking: "I guess when they get us to Germany they'll let us write, and I'll be able to write mother and then she'll not know I've lost my hand." He was a most valiant and faithful soldier.
The perpetual rain and mist peculiar to that low-lying land added to our wretched condition and increased the pain of the wounds that most of us suffered from.
At six o'clock our guards returned and curtly ordered us to our feet. We were taken back to the trench, where our officer friend had us searched again. Here for the first time my two corporal's stripes were noticed and a mild excitement ensued. "Korporal! Korporal!" they exclaimed and crowded up the better to inspect me and verify the report, and jabbering "Ja! Ja!" Apparently a captured corporal was a rarity. Strangely enough, they paid little or no attention to the sergeant of our party, although he had the three stripes of his rank up.
As I happened to be in the lead of our party and the first to enter the trench, I was the first man searched and so had to await the examination of the others. Worn out by the events of the day and the wound I had received early in the morning from a shell fragment, I fell asleep against the wall of the trench where I sat.
I was awakened by a poke in the ribs from Scarfe. "Time to shift, mate."
I rose to my feet and, following the instructions of the officer, led the way along the trench. The Germans had already, with their usual industry, gotten the trench into some sort of shape again, with the parapet shifted over to the other side and facing Belle-waarde Wood. And everywhere along its length I noticed the bodies of our dead built into it to replace sandbags while others lay on the parados at the rear.
It was not nice. The faces of men we had known and had called comrade looked at us now in ghastly disarray from odd sections of both walls. Already they were taking a brick-like shape from the weight of the filled bags on top of them. In places the legs and arms protruded, brushing us as we passed. However, this was war and quite ethical.
Naturally we had to crowd by the other occupants of the trench. And each took a poke at us as we went by, some with their bayonets, saying: "Verdamnt Englaender" and: "Englaender Schwein,"—pigs of English. Also quite a number of them spoke English after a fashion. There was in these men none of the soldier's usual tolerance or good-natured pity for an enemy who had fought well and had then succumbed to the fortunes of war. Instead, a blind and vicious rage which took no account of our helpless condition.
They cuffed us, they buffeted us, they pricked us cruelly with their saw bayonets and then laughed and sneered as we flinched and dodged awkwardly aside. Then they cursed us.
Shortly, we were led into the presence of a man whom I shall remember if I live to be a hundred. He wore glasses and on his upper lip there bloomed such a dainty moustache as is affected by "Little Willie" as Tommy calls the German Crown Prince. He had the eye of a rat. It snapped so cruel a hate that one's blood stopped.
He seized me by the right shoulder with his left hand: "You Corporal! You Corporal!" as though that fact of itself condemned me, and at the same time tugging at his holster until he found his revolver, which he placed against my temple. Then and there I fervently prayed that he would pull the trigger and end it all. I was fed up. The all-day bombardment, the last terrible slaughter of helpless men, the rain and cold, combining with the pain of the raw wound in my side, had gotten on my nerves. With the revolver still at my head I turned to Scarfe: "They're going to do us in, Charlie. I only hope they'll do it proper. None of that bayonet stuff. Bullets for me." Already the Prussians were crowding round us threateningly again, with their saw-edged bayonets ready, some fixed in the rifle, others clasped short, like daggers, for such a butchering as they had had earlier in the afternoon, when I had been so nearly axed.
"Might as well kill us outright as scare us to death," complained Scarfe bitterly.
Nevertheless our hearts leaped when a moment later our mysterious black officer friend hove in sight. Life is sweet.
He asked them what they did with us. The tableau answered for itself before the words had left his lips. And then we had to listen to our fate discussed in language and gesture so eloquent and so fraught with terrible importance to us that our sensitized minds could miss no smallest point of each fine shade of cruel meaning.
"Little Willie" thought it scarce worth their while to bother with so small a bag; that it would not be worth the trouble to send a miserable ten of Verdamnt Englaender back to the Fatherland—Better to kill them like the swine they were.
Our blood froze to hear the man and to see the poison of that rat soul of his exuding from his every pore, in every gesture and in each fresh inflection of his rasping voice. And all his men shouted their fierce approval and shook in our faces their bloody butcher's bayonets. It was a bitter draught. If they had killed us then it would have had to have been done in most cold blood, exceeding even the murder of Taylor in planned brutality. He at least had not known that it was coming and had not felt this insane fear which we now experienced and which made us wonder how they would do it. Would each have to watch the other's end? And would it be done by bullet or by bayonet? We greatly feared it would be the latter. We pictured ourselves held down as hogs are—our throats slit——!
The dark officer thought otherwise and minced no words in the saying. Our hearts leapt out to him warmly, in gratitude.
He sharply ordered them to desist, at which they slunk sullenly away, as hungry dogs do from a bone.
I felt an uncomfortable physical sensation and ran my hand uneasily beneath my shirt. I was covered with a fine sweat.
PULLING THE LEG OF A GERMAN GENERAL
Polygon Wood and Picadilly Again—German Headquarters—Surprising Kitchener—"Your Infantry's No Good"—The Germans Give Us News of the Regiment.
We were then escorted under heavy guard out over the fields in the rear, past the nearby farmhouse, which was simply filled with snipers. The latter, however, did not shoot at us, presumably because they might have hit some of our numerous guards. We seemed to be working right through the heart of the German Army. Everywhere the troops were massed. Along the road they lay in solid formation on both sides. If we had had artillery to play on them now they would have suffered tremendous losses. The whole countryside presented a living target. All the way they shouted "Schwein" and taunted us in both languages. Every shell-hole, farmhouse, hut, dugout and old trench on the three-mile stretch between the Front and Polygon Wood contributed its quota.
The regiment had evacuated Polygon Wood on the night of the third. Across the old trail our fatigue parties had tramped new ones in the mud, up past Regent Street, Leicester Square and Picadilly. We passed them all.
We were marched over to the little settlement of pine-bough huts which the regiment had previously taken over from the French. The men with me greeted them like old friends. Here was the Sniper's Hut, there the Commanding Officer's. This was the hut in which the brave Joe Waldron had "gone West," that on the site of one where fourteen of "ours" had stopped a shell while they slept. Memories submerged us and made us weak. Even the guiding rope that our men had used to hold themselves to the trail of nights still held its place for groping German hands.
Beside it lay the fragments of the French signboards, jocular advertisements of mud baths for trench fever, the hotel this and the maison that. One of my companions pointed to a larger hut which he said our fellows had called the Hotel Cecil. The board was missing now. And no German signboard took its place. Their wit did not run in so richly innocent a channel.
The huts lay just off the race track in front of the ruined chateau, buried deep in the remnants of what had once been the beautiful park of a large country estate. These huts were now the German headquarters.
There was as much English as German talked there that day. Everywhere there was cooking going on, mostly in portable camp kitchens.
As we came to a halt one big fellow smoking a pipe observed nonchalantly: "You fellows are lucky. Our orders were to take no Canadian prisoners."
The man was so casual, so utterly matter-of-fact and there was about his remark so simple an air of directness and of finality that there was no escaping his sincerity, unduly interested though we were.
Another officer said "Englaender?"
The big fellow said "Kanadien." The other raised his brows and shoulders: "Uhh!"
A younger officer came up: "Never mind, boys: Your turn to-day. Might be mine to-morrow." Turning to the others, he too said: "Englaender?"
"Oh!" And he appeared to be pleasantly surprised. He asked me for a souvenir and pointed to the brass Canada shoulder straps and the red cloth "P. P. C. L. I.'s" on the shoulders of the others. But I had already shoved my few trinkets down my puttees while lying back of the trench that afternoon. Scarfe, however, gave up his "Canada" straps.
The young officer gave him in return a carved nut with silver filigree work and gave another man a silver crucifix for the bronze maple leaves from the collar of his tunic. And, more important still, he gave us all a cigarette, while he had a sergeant give us coffee.
That, the cigarette, was I think much the best of anything we received then or for some time to come. Since the bombardment and our wounding, our nerves had fairly ached for the sedative which, good, bad or indifferent, would steady the quivering harp strings of our nerves. And a cigarette did that.
The headquarters staff appeared on the scene. They wanted information, just as ours would have done under similar circumstances, but these took a different method to acquire it. As before, in the trench, they selected me for the spokesman. The senior officer, a general apparently, addressed me: "How many troops are there in front of our attack?"
I lied: "I don't know."
He shook a threatening finger at me. "I'll tell you this, my man: We have a pretty good idea of how many troops lay behind you and if in any particular you endeavour to lead us astray it will go very hard with all of you. Now answer my question!" His English was good.
I cogitated. It would not do to tell him the terrible truth. That was certain. So I took a chance. "Three divisions." He appeared to be satisfied. The fact was, there were none behind us. We were utterly without supporting troops.
"And Kitchener's Army? How many of them are there here?"
"Why, they haven't even come over yet, sir."
"Don't tell me that: I know better. They've been out here for months."
"But they haven't," I persisted. I told the truth this time.
"Yes," he shouted angrily.
"No," I flung back.
"Well, how many of them are there?"
The division yarn had gone down well. And perhaps I was slightly heated. My spirit ran ahead of my judgment. "Five and a half to seven million," I said.
He exploded. And called me everything but a soldier. I could not help but reflect that I had overdone it a bit. And I certainly thought that I was "for it" then and there.
To make matters worse he asked the others and they, profiting by my mistake and following the lead of the first man questioned, put Kitchener's army at four and a half million; which was only a trifle of four million out. So I determined to be reasonable. When he came to me again I confirmed the latter figure, explaining my earlier statement by my lack of exact knowledge. And so that particular storm blew over.
The general came back to me again. "You Canadians thought this was going to be a picnic, didn't you?" He was very sarcastic.
"No, we didn't, sir."
"Well, you thought it was going to be a walk through to Berlin, didn't you?"
"Why, no. We thought it was the other way about, sir," I ventured.
He shifted: "Well, what do you think of us anyhow?"
"Your artillery was all right but your infantry was no good." I began to feel shaky again. However, he took that calmly enough.
"Oh! So our infantry was no good."
"We could have held them all right, sir."
He ruminated on that a moment, rumbled in his throat and abruptly changed the subject, in an unpleasant fashion, however.
"You're the fellows we want to get hold of. You cut the throats of our wounded."
I denied it and we argued back and forth over that for several minutes, and very heatedly. He referred to St. Julien and said that this thing had occurred there. I said and quite truthfully that we had not been at St. Julien, that we were in the Imperial and not the Canadian Army and had been spectators in near-by trenches of the St. Julien affair. I even went into some detail to explain that we were a special corps of old soldiers who, not being able to rejoin their old regiments, had at the outbreak of war formed one of their own and had been accepted as such and sent to France months ahead of the Canadian contingent. I added that I myself had just rejoined the regiment, having got my "Blighty" in March at St. Eloi and as proof of my other statements I further volunteered that I was one of the 2nd Gordons and after the South African War had gone to Canada where I had finished my reserve several years since.
He listened but was plainly unconvinced. Another officer broke in: "I can explain it, sir. These men were in the 80th Brigade and the 27th Division. Colonel Farquhar was their Commanding Officer and Captain Buller took command when Colonel Farquhar was killed." We stared at one another in amazement, for it was all quite true.
This finished that examination. We did not tell them that Colonel Buller had been blinded a few days before and had been succeeded by that Major Hamilton Gault who had been so largely instrumental in raising us.
None of our wounds had received the slightest attention. Cox in particular suffered cruelly but refused to whimper. Royston's head was swollen to the size of a water bucket and he was in great pain. We left them here and never saw them again. Cox died two weeks later of a blood poisoning which was the combined result of our rough surgery and the wanton neglect of our captors. I do not think he was ever able to write his mother as he wished. At least she wrote me later for information. There was no need of his dying even though it might have been necessary to have amputated his arm higher up. Royston was exchanged to Switzerland and recovered from his wounds except for the loss of an eye.
THE PRINCESS PATRICIA'S GERMAN UNCLE
Roulers—The Old Woman and the Gentle Uhlans—Billeted in a Church—Quizzed by a Prince.
We were marched to Roulers, which we reached well after dark. A considerable crowd of soldiers and civilians awaited our coming. The Belgian women and children congregated in front of the church while we waited to be let in, and threw us apples and cigarettes. The uhlans and infantrymen rushed them with the flat side of their swords and the butts of their muskets; and mistreated them. They knocked one old woman down quite close to where I stood. So we had to do without and were not even permitted to pick up the gifts that lay at our feet, much less the old woman.
The church had been used as a stable quite recently and the stone-flagged floor was deep with the decayed straw and accumulated filth of men and horses. We lay down in it and got what rest we could for the remainder of the night. There were about one hundred and fifty prisoners in all—Shropshires, Cheshires, King's Royal Rifles and other British regiments—all from our division and mostly from our brigade. Other small parties continued to come in during the night, but there were no more P.P.'s. In the morning a large tub of water was carried in and each man was given a bit of black bread and a slice of raw fat bacon. The latter was salty and so thoroughly unappetizing that I cannot recall that any one ate his ration, for in spite of the fact that we had been twenty-four hours without food, we were so upset by the experiences we had undergone, so shattered by shell fire and lack of rest that we were perhaps inclined to be more critical of our food than normal men would have been.
Shortly afterward a high German officer came in with his staff. He was a stout and well-built man of middle age or over, typically German in his general characteristics but not half bad looking. His uniform was covered with braid and medals. Every one paid him the utmost deference. He stopped in the middle of the room.
"Are there any Canadians here?"
I stepped forward. "Yes, sir."
"I mean the Princess Patricia's Canadians."
"Yes, sir. I am. And here's some more of them," and I pointed at the prostrate figures of my companions, where they sprawled on the flagstones.
"Princess Patricia's Regiment?"
"Well, the Princess Patricia is my niece—awfully nice girl. I hope it won't be long before I see her again."
I grinned: "Well, I hope it won't be long before I see her, too, sir."
The other fellows joined us, the straw and the smell of it still sticking to their clothes as they formed a little knot about the Prince and his staff.
The scene was incongruous, the smart uniforms of the immaculately kept staff officers contrasting strangely with our own unkempt foulness. We occupied the centre of the stage. Around us were grouped the men of our sister regiments, most of them lying on the floor in a dazed condition. There were few who came forward to listen. They were too tired, and to them at least, this was merely an incident—one of a thousand more important ones. Odd parts of clothes hung on the ornate images and decorations of the room. A German rifle hung by its sling from the patient neck of a life-sized Saviour, while further over, the vermin-infested shirt of a Britisher hung over the rounded breasts of a brooding Madonna, with the Infant in her lap.
At the door a small group of guards stood stiffly to a painful attention and continued so to do whilst royalty touched them with the shadow of its wings.
The Prince questioned us further and I told him that I had been on a guard of honor to the Princess when she had been a child and when her father, the Duke of Connaught had been the General Officer Commanding at Aldershot.
He laughed back at us and was altogether very friendly. "You'll go to a good camp and you'll be all right if you behave yourselves."
Scarfe shoved in his oar here, grousing in good British-soldier fashion: "I don't call it very good treatment when they steal the overcoats from wounded men."
"Who did that?" He was all steel, and I saw a change come over the officers of the staff.
"The chaps that took us prisoners," said Scarfe.
"What regiment were they?" The Prince glanced at an aide, who hastily drew out a notebook and began to take down our replies.
"The 21st Prussians, sir."
"Do you know the men?"
"Their faces but not their names."
"Of what rank was the officer in charge?"
We did not know, but thought him a company officer of the rank of captain perhaps. He asked for other particulars which we gave to the best of our knowledge.
"I'll attend to that," he said. However, we heard no more of it. We refrained from complaining about the actual ill-treatment and indignities we had been subjected to, the murder of our unoffending comrades, or the lack of attention to our wounds, as we rightly judged that we should only have earned the enmity of our guards.
"May I have your cap badge?" the Prince asked, decently enough.
I lied brazenly: "Sorry, sir; I've lost mine."
The fact was I had shoved it down under my puttees while lying back of the trench the previous afternoon.
Scarfe said: "You can have mine, sir."
He took it. "Thanks so much." He glanced at the aide again; rather sharply this time, I thought. The latter blushed and hastily extracted a wallet, from which he handed Scarfe a two-mark piece, equal to one and ten pence, or forty-four cents. He gave us his name before leaving, and my recollection is that it was something like Eitelbert. Evidently he was a brother of the Duchess of Connaught, whom we knew to have been a German princess whose brothers and other male relatives all enjoyed high commands among our foes.
HOW THE GERMAN RED CROSS TENDED THE CANADIAN WOUNDED
"Come Out Canadians!"—The Crucifixion—"Nix! Nix!"—Civilian Hate—"Englaender Schwein!"
We remained in the fouled church all of that day and night and until the following morning. No more food appeared. We were marched down to the railroad under heavy escort, crowded into freight cars and locked in. The guards were distributed in cars of their own, alternating with ours. Our wounds remained unattended to.
At every station they thundered: "Come out, Canadians!" They lined us up in a row while a staff officer put the same questions to us in nearly every case. They were particularly interested in the quality of our rations and asked if it was not true that we were starving and if our pay had not been stopped. The guards invariably explained to the civilians that these were the Canadians who had cut the throats of the German wounded.
We did not know how to explain the prevalence of this impression. On the contrary, we were aware of the story of the crucifixion of three of the Canadian Division during Ypres. The tale had come smoking hot to our men in the Polygon Wood trenches during the great battle. It gave in great detail all the salient facts which were that after recapturing certain lost positions, the men of a certain regiment had discovered the body of one of their sergeants, together with those of two privates, crucified on the doors of a cowshed and a barn. German bayonets had been driven through their hands and feet and their contorted faces gave every appearance of their having died in great agony. This story was and is generally believed throughout all ranks of the Canadian Army. For its truth I cannot vouch.
We knew that our own men had never mistreated any prisoners and had in fact usually done quite the reverse. How far other regiments may have gone in retaliation for what was known as "The Crucifixion," it is impossible to say. That prisoners may have been killed is possible, for such things become an integral part of war once the enemy has so offended. But we could not believe that there had been any cutting of throats as that would imply a sheer cold-bloodedness that we could not stomach.
The mob surged around and reviled us, while the guards, in high good humour, translated their remarks, unless, as was frequently the case, they were made to the officials in English for our benefit. The other British soldiers were left in their cars.
Our wounded were getting very badly off by this time. It was impossible to avoid trampling on one another as the car was very dark at best and the one small window in the roof was closed as soon as we drew into a station. When taken out we were under heavy escort and were allowed no opportunity to clean up the accumulated filth of the car. We suffered terribly for food and water, and some of the wounds began to turn, so that what with exhaustion and all, we grew very weak.
At one station the guards took us out and made us line up to watch them eat of a hearty repast which the Red Cross women had just brought them. And we were very hungry. When, we too, asked for food they said: "Nix! Nix!" The crowds met us at every station and included women of all classes, who called us Englaender Schwein and who at no time gave us the slightest assistance, but, instead, devoted themselves to the guard.
Other men told us later that Red Cross women had spat in their drinking water and in their food. There was no opportunity for this in our case as we did not receive any of either.
We did not receive any food during this trip, which lasted from the morning of one day until the night of the next. We had gone since the day of our capture on the coffee received at headquarters in Polygon Wood and the single issue of bread, water and bacon received in the church, the latter of which we could not eat; a total of three days and nights on that one issue of rations.
We pulled into Giessen at eleven, the night of May tenth. The citizens made a Roman holiday of the occasion and the entire population turned out to see the Englaender Schwein. There was a guard for every prisoner, and two lines of fixed bayonets. The mob surged around, heaping on us insults and blows; particularly the women. With hate in their eyes, they spat on us. We had to take that or the bayonet. These were the acts not only of the rabble, but also of the people of good appearance and address.
One very well-dressed woman rushed up. Under other circumstances I should have judged her to have been a gentlewoman. She shrieked invectives at us as she forced her way through the crowd. "Schwein!" she screamed, and struck at the man next me. He snapped his shoulders back as a soldier does at attention. Then, drawing deep from the very bottom of her lungs, she spat the mass full in his face. The muscles of his face twitched painfully but he held his eyes to the front and stared past his tormentor, seeing other things.
THE CURIOUS CONCOCTIONS OF THE CHEF AT GIESSEN
Oliver Twist at Giessen—Acorn Coffee and Shadow Soup—Chestnut Soup—Fostering Racial Hatred.
We had a mile-and-a-half march to the prison camp. Those who were past walking were put in street cars and sent to the laager, where upon our arrival we were shoved into huts for the night, supperless, of course. This was our introduction to the prison camp of Giessen.
The next morning we each received three-quarters of a pint of acorn coffee, so called, horrible-tasting stuff; and a loaf of black bread—half potatoes and half rye—weighing two hundred and fifty grams, or a little more than half a pound, among five men. This allowed a piece about three by three by four inches to each man for the day's ration. The coffee consisted of acorns and four pounds of burned barley boiled in one hundred gallons of water. There was no sugar or milk. My curiosity led me later to get this and other recipes from the fat French cook.
All that day and for several following, official and guards were busy numbering and renumbering us and assigning us to our companies. They were hopelessly German about it, and did it so many times and very thoroughly. There were twelve thousand men in the camp and eight hundred in the laager. The majority were Russian and French with a fairish sprinkling of Belgians. There were perhaps six hundred British in the entire camp. The various nationalities were mixed up and each section given a hut very similar to those American and British troops occupy in their own countries. A number of smaller camps in the neighbouring districts were governed from this central one.
For dinner we had shadow soup, so named for obvious reasons. The recipe in my diary reads: "For eight hundred men, two hundred gallons of water, one small bag of potatoes and one packet of herbs."
To make matters worse the vegetables issued at this camp were in a decayed condition and continued to come to us so.
Another staple dinner ration was ham soup. This was the usual two hundred gallons of water boiled with ten pounds of ham rinds, ten pounds of cabbage and twenty pounds of potatoes. The ham rind had hair on it but we used to fish for it at that and considered ourselves lucky to get a piece. Oatmeal soup, another meal, consisted of two hundred gallons of water, two pounds of currants and fifty pounds of oatmeal; chestnut soup, two hundred gallons of water, one hundred pounds of whole chestnuts and ten pounds of potatoes. It was a horrible concoction and my diary has: "To be served hot and thrown out."
Meat soup was two hundred gallons of water, ten pounds of meat, one small bag of potatoes and ten pounds of vegetables. This was the most nutritious of the lot. Unfortunately for us, the small portion of meat and most of the potatoes were given to the French, both because the cook and all his assistants were Frenchmen and because the authorities willed it so.
This was usually managed without any apparent unfairness by serving the British first and the French last, with the result that the one received a tin full of hot water that was too weak to run out, while the Frenchmen's spoons stood to attention in the thicker mess they found in the bottom. This, with other things, contributed to make bad blood between the two races. A great show was made of stirring up the mess, but it was a pure farce.
Rice soup consisted of two hundred gallons of water, fifty pounds of rice, twenty pounds of potatoes and one pound of currants; bean soup, two hundred gallons of water, fifty pounds of beans, and twenty pounds of potatoes; pork soup, two hundred gallons of water, ten pounds of pork and fifty pounds of potatoes. Porridge was made of two hundred gallons of water, fifteen pounds of oatmeal and two pounds of barley. The diary states: "To be served hot as a drink."
Once in two months a ration of sausage was dished out. For breakfast once a week there was one pint of acorn coffee without sugar or milk and one and a half square inches of Limburger cheese. To quote from the diary: "Before serving, open all windows and doors. Then send for the Russians to take it away."
The Germans discriminated against the British prisoners. When there was any disagreeable duty; the cry went up for "der Englaender." The much-sought-for cookhouse jobs all went to the French, who waxed fat in consequence. No Britisher was ever allowed near the cookhouse. The French had for the most part been there for some time, and, their country lying so close by; they were receiving parcels. We were not, and this made the food problem a very serious one for us. Their supplies were received through Switzerland which was the one anchor to windward for so many of us in this and other respects.
At first the French used to give us a certain amount of their own food, but eventually ceased to do so. Most of them worked down in the town daily and could "square" the guard long enough to buy tobacco at twenty-five pfennigs—or two and a half pence—a package, which they sold to us later at eighty pfennigs—until we got on to their profiteering.
THE WAY THEY HAVE AT GIESSEN
"Raus!"—The Strafe Barracks—The Appeal for Casement—Why Parcels Should Be Sent—A Hell on Earth—That Brickyard Fatigue—Gott Strafe England—Slow Starvation—Merciless Discipline—Canadian Humor—The Debt We Owe—Inoculating for Typhoid?—Joseph's Coat of Many Colors—The Russian Who Unwound the Rag—The Monotony of the Wire—Teaching the Germans the British Salute.
Except for the starving, as I look back now, Giessen was not such a bad camp as such places go. At least it was the best that we were to know. The discipline, of course, was fairly severe, but on the other hand the Commandant did not trouble us a great deal. The petty annoyances were harder to endure. Frequently we would get the "Raus!" at half-hour intervals by day or night; "Raus out!" "Raus in!" and so on.
We never knew what our tormentors wanted but supposed it to be a systematic attempt to break our spirit and our nerve by the simple expedient of habitually interfering with our sleep so that we would become like the Russians. They were mostly utterly broken in spirit and had the air of beaten dogs, so that they cringed and fawned to their masters.
The least punishment meted out for the most trifling offense was three days' cells. Some got ten years for refusing to work in munition and steel factories, particularly British and Canadians.
There are large numbers of both who are to-day serving out sentences of from eighteen months to ten years in the military fortresses of Germany under circumstances of the greatest cruelty.
The so-called courts-martial were mockeries of trials. The culprit was simply marched up to the orderly room, received his sentence and marched away again. He was allowed no defence worthy of the name.
Some of the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry were "warned" for work in a munitions factory. When the time came around they were taken away but refused to work and so they were knocked about quite a bit. One was shot in the leg and another bayoneted through the hip, and all were sent back to camp, where they were awarded six weeks in the punishment camp, known as the strafe barracks.
This was a long hut in which were two rows of stools a few paces apart. The Raus blew for the culprits at five-thirty. At six they were marched to the hut and made to sit down in two rows facing one another, at attention—that is, body rigid, head thrown well back, chest out, hands held stiffly at the sides and eyes straight to the front—for two hours! Meanwhile the sentries marched up and down the lane, watching for any relaxation or levity. If so much as a face was pulled at a twinkling eye across the way, another day's strafing was added to the penalty. At the end of the two hours one hour's rest was allowed, during which the prisoners could walk about in the hut but could not lie down! This continued all day until "Lights out." For six weeks. No mail, parcels, writing or exercise was permitted the prisoners during that time, and the already scanty rations were cut.
During good behavior we were allowed two post cards and two letters a month, with nine lines to the former and thirteen to the page of the latter. No more, no less. Each letter had four pages of the small, private-letter size. The name and address counted as a line. Mine was Kriegsgefingenenlaager, Kompagnie No. 6, Barackue No. A. The writing had to be big and easily read and, in the letters, on four sides of the paper. No complaint or discussion of the war was permitted. Fully one-half of those written were returned for infringements, or fancied ones, of these rules. Sometimes when the censor was irritated they were merely chucked into the fire. And as they had also to pass the English censor it is no wonder that many families wondered why their men did not write.
We were there for three months before our parcels began to arrive. We considered ourselves lucky if we received six out of ten sent, and with half the contents of the six intact. In the larger camps the chances of receipt were better. The small camps were merely units attached to and governed by the larger ones, which handled the mail before giving it to the authorities at the smaller ones.
Thus, a man who was "attached" to Giessen camp, although perhaps one hundred miles away from it, had to submit to the additional delay and chance of loss and theft included in the censoring of the parcel at Giessen as well as at the actual place of his confinement.
This doubled the chances of fault-finding and of theft. Knowing this to be true, I most earnestly recommend the sending of parcels. True, a large proportion of them are not received, but those that are represent the one salvation of the prisoner-of-war in German hands. So terribly true is this that when we began to receive parcels at irregular intervals, we used regularly to acknowledge to our friends the receipt of parcels which we had never received. This was the low cunning developed by our treatment. If advised that a parcel of tea, sugar or other luxuries had been sent and it did not appear after weeks of patient waiting, we knew that we should never see that parcel. Nevertheless, we usually wrote and thanked the donor and acknowledged the receipt, fearful otherwise that he or she should say: "What's the use?" and send no more. And we were not allowed to tell the truth—that it had been stolen.
The first three months of our stay at Giessen were probably the worst of all, including as they did the transition period to this life. It seemed then a hell on earth. The slow starvation was the worst. Once, in desperation, I gave a Frenchman my good boots for his old ones and two and a half marks, and then gave sixty pfennigs of this to the French cook for a bread ration. Again, in going down the hut one day, I espied a flat French loaf cut into four pieces, drying on the window sill. Seizing one piece, I tucked it under my tunic and passed on before the loss was discovered. Some of the British could be seen at times picking over the sour refuse in the barrels. This amused the Germans very much. We endeavoured to get cookhouse jobs for the pickings to be had, but could not do so. At a later date, when the Canadian Red Cross, Lady Farquhar, Mrs. Hamilton Gault and our families were sending us packages regularly, we made out all right.
Some English societies were in the habit of sending books, music and games to the prisoners but none of these ever reached the group with whom I associated, even before our later actions put us quite beyond the German pale.
The appeal for Casement and the Irish Brigade was made to us. A number of prisoners were taken apart and the matter broached privately to them. Pamphlets on the freeing of Ireland were also distributed. I did not see any one go over, and an Irishman who was detailed with another Canadian and myself on a brickyard fatigue said that they had recruited only forty in the camp. The whole thing turned out to be a failure.
There were twelve of us all told on that brickyard job. Three or four shoveled clay into the mixing machine, two more filled the little car which two others pushed along the track of the narrow-gauge railroad. We were guarded by four civilian Germans of some home defense corps, all of whom labored with us. The two trammers used to start the car, hop on the brake behind and let it run of its own momentum down the incline to the edge of the bank where it would be checked for dumping. Sometimes we forgot to brake the car so that it would ricochet on in a flying leap off the end of the track, and so on over the dump. The guards would rage and swear but could prove nothing so long as our fellows did not get too raw and do this too frequently.
One day we shovelers decided to add to the gaiety of nations. While one attracted the guards' attention elsewhere we slipped a chunk of steel into the mess. There was a grinding crash, and a large cogwheel tore its way through the roof. In a moment, the air was full of machinery and German words. It was a proper wreck. The guards ran around gesticulating angrily, tearing their hair and threatening us, while we endeavoured to look surprised. It is reasonable to suppose that we were unsuccessful, for we were hustled back to camp and drew five days' cells each from the Commandant. There was no trial. He merely sentenced us.
United States Ambassador Gerard only came to Giessen once in my time there, and that was while I was off at one of the detached camps, so I had no opportunity of observing the result.
We knew very little of what was going on in the outside world. The guards were not allowed to converse with us, and if one was known to speak English he was removed. However, they were more or less curious about us so that a certain amount of clandestine conversation occurred. Some were certain that they were going to win the war. Others said: "England has too much money. Germany will never win." They used frequently to gather the Russians, Belgians and French together and lecture them on England's sins. They said that England was letting them do all the fighting, bleeding them white of their men and treasure so as to come out at the end of the war with the balance of power necessary for her plan of retaining Constantinople and the Cinque Ports of France. Many were convinced, and this did not add to the pleasantness of our lot.
The notorious Continental Times was circulated amongst us freely in both French and English editions. It regularly gave us a most appalling list of German victories and it specialised in abuse of the English. We counted up in one month a total of two million prisoners captured by the Germans on all fronts.
As I have said, Giessen was the best camp of all, barring the starvation. But the discipline there was merciless. The laager was inclosed by a high wire fence which we were forbidden to approach within four feet of. A Russian sergeant overstepped that mark one day to shout something to a friend in an adjoining laager. The sentry shouted at him. He either failed to hear or did not understand. The sentry killed him without hesitation.
A Belgian started over one day with some leftover soup which he purposed giving to the Russians. The sentry would not let him pass. He went back and told his mate. The latter, a kindly little fellow, thinking that the sentry had not understood the nature of the mission, decided to try himself. The sentry stopped him. He attempted to argue. The sentry pushed him roughly back. He struck the German. The latter dropped him with a blow on the head, and while he lay unconscious shoved the bayonet into him. It was done quite coolly and methodically, without heat. He was promoted for it. We were told that he had done a good thing and that we should get the same if we did not behave.
A Canadian who was forced to work in a munitions plant and whose task included the replacing of waste in the wheel boxes of cars enjoyed himself for a while, lifting the greasy waste out and replacing it with sand. He got ten years for that.
The German in charge of our laager hated the verdamnt Englaender and lost no opportunity of bulldozing and threatening us. One of the Canadians who had been in the American Navy was unusually truculent. The German purposely bunted him one day. "Don't do that again!" The German repeated the act. The sailor jolted him in the jaw so that he went to dreamland for fifteen minutes. The prisoner was taken to the guardroom and we never heard his ultimate fate, but at the ruling rate he was lucky if he got off with ten years.
It is men like this to whom our Government and people owe such a debt as may be paid only in a small degree by our insistence after the war that they be given their liberty. A greater glory is theirs than that of the soldier. They wrought amongst a world of foes, knowing their certain punishment, but daring it rather than assist that foe's efforts against their country.
One day we were told that we must be inoculated in the arm against typhoid. We thought nothing of that. But the next day men began to gather in groups so that the guards shouted roughly at them, bidding them not to mutter and whisper so.
Where the word came from I know not. It may have emanated in the fears of some active imagination on the chance and truthful word of a guard, flung in derision at some desperate man, or in a kindlier mood and in warning. The word was that we were to be inoculated with the germs of consumption. I understand that it appeared also in the papers at home. It seemed horrible beyond words to us. The idea appeared crazy but was equally on a par with the events we witnessed daily. Myself, I planned to take no chances; if it were humanly possible.
We were all ordered to parade for the inoculation. I hid myself with a few others and so escaped the operation. Nothing was said so I could only suppose that they failed to check us up as it was not in keeping with the German character as we had come to know it to miss any opportunity of corrective punishment even though the inoculation had been for our own good.
It is true that some of the men so inoculated fell prey to consumption. On the other hand one of them had had a well defined case of it before, and it was almost certain that the living conditions prevailing amongst us would insure the appearance of the disease so that we had no proof that any man was so inoculated. Some of the men so affected were sent to Switzerland for the benefit of the mountain air through an arrangement made by the Red Cross with the Swiss authorities.
One of our guards was subject to fits and habitually ran amuck amongst us, abusing some of the prisoners in a painful fashion. We made complaint of this through the proper channels, for which crime the officer in charge stopped our fires and other privileges for the time being.
Most of the men wore prison uniforms or in some cases, suits sent from England which were altered by the authorities to conform to their regulations. These required that if one was not in a distinctive and enemy uniform that broad stripes of bright colored cloth be set into the seam of the trousers; not sewed on, but into the goods. A large diamond shaped piece or else a square of such cloth was set into the breast and back of the tunic. I preferred my uniform, dilapidated though it was. We were permitted the choice, probably less out of kindness than because of the saving involved.
There was a big simple giant of a Russian here who was badly sprung at the knees. He had been forced to work during the winter in an underground railway station near Berlin. He had had no shoes and had stood in the water for weeks, digging. He was very badly crippled in consequence.