An account by an Australian officer who was severely wounded in the head. He was eventually repatriated via Holland but experienced varying medical treatment during his two years imprisonment. Three days after capture he was transported in a German train, lying on wood shavings to Caudry where he was hospitalised. His interrogation by the Germans, even though recently wounded, was presumably because he was an officer.
I was captured on 28th. August, 1916, at Mouquet Farm, near Pozieres (Somme).... I received a piece of either shrapnel or bomb in the left hip. . .
I was shot through the head while behind a boulder. I lay there for some time, and remember calling out, "Are there any Australians near? ". "Yes," came a reply from about 10 yards to the rear, I immediately scrambled up and dashed into a shell-hole, where two of our lads were lying. The bullet had, entered my head about half an inch to the right of my right eye, passing through, my head, and emerged under my left ear. One of the lads in this shell-hole, had been wounded, and the other was unwounded. These two lads stuck to me through it all. As I stumbled into this shell hole I received another wound in the left side from a bullet. We lay in that shell-hole till dark. I was completely blind in my right eye, and could scarcely see out of my left eye. ... We wandered about for days in "No Man's Land," hiding during the daytime, and trying to find our way back to our trenches at night.
The ground was muddy, and covered with an unyielding undergrowth of thistles, which cruelly lacerated our hands whilst attempting to crawl through. We could hear Germans talking on every side of us. When we advanced in this painful fashion for about 300 yards. we heard a large party of Germans approaching along what I tookto be some sort of communication trench. The enemy party set to work to deepen the trench, which lay just a few yards in front of us. After they had been working for an hour, perhaps a little less, our artillery suddenly opened fire upon them. A German officer and two German soldiers immediately jumped into the shell-hole in which we were hiding. This ended it. At first the Germans were just as amazed and dumbfounded as we were; but as soon as the German officer realised how matters stood, I and my two comrades became his prisoners of war.
We were taken into the trench, and kept there till dawn. I asked to have my wounds bandaged, and this was attended to. My wounds were dressed. and bandaged by a German medical man, who was palpably very nervous and thoroughly unstrung While my wounds were being dressed the trench was under our own artillery fire, and. the Germans were literally squealing. They jumped into any positions of shelter or vantage that offered. A German officer tossed me out of the corner in which I had taken refuge and got into it himself. I hardly blamed him for that.
At dawn we were marched along trenches, a distance of 7 or 8 kilometres to the rear of the enemy lines. The trenches were veritable mud channels, and in our weak and wounded condition we found this tramp a very trying ordeal. In the trenches the Germans gave us some coffee, and I remember them offering me some biscuits, but I could not open my mouth to eat them. They took us back to company head-quarters. There my head wound was cleansed and rebandaged. Struggling along the muddy trenches to company headquarters a German officer lent me his stick; he himself picked up a shovel. I thought this rather an act of decency. I have no complaint to make of our treatment by the Germans while in the lines. We were subjected to a rigorous cross-examination at head-quarters of the company.
Later on we were moved to divisional head-quarters at Bertincourt, and again industriously and ingeniously interrogated. Of course, the Germans gained no information from us beyond our names and regimental particulars. Back here there were a number of British and Australian prisoners of war, but I seemed to be the only officer.
All the wounded here were given an anti-tetanus injection. We were then taken in old waggons about 15 kilometres to what appeared to be a clearing station. With my two companions, Privates R- and F-, both of - Battalion, I had been captured about 2 a.m. on the 28th August.
At about 6 p.m., 28th August, I was taken into a church. Here having first been given a cup of coffee substitute (ersatz), I was ordered to bed. The doctor who examined iny wounds said, in broken English, It is a pity the German soldier was not a better shot. Precisely what he meant by this I have never bothered to find out.
The church at Bertincourt, to which I have already made reference, was filled by badly-wounded German soldiers, It was a veritable chamber of horrors, and gave me a grotesque idea of what Dante, may have imagined when he limned his "Inferno."
I received no more food or drink before being taken away, on the night of 29th August, to Velu. The camp at Velu consisted of tents erected outside an old chateau. We lay on straw, and had our wounds attended to. Furthermore, we were given soup, bread and jam, and "coffee."
We left Velu absolutely crawling with vermin, picked up from the filthy straw and blankets.
At the end of about the third day of our stay at Velu we were put on a train. Officers and men prisoners war were packed into the guard's van to lie upon shavings; the German wounded rode in the carriage. We were all badly wounded, and this nine hours' railway "jaunt" proved a very trying journey indeed for us.
Eventually we arrived at Caudry, where we were placed in hospital, all our clothing having been taken away from us. We were put to bed in a German ward. Here we were fairly well attended to. A German nursing sister wrote letters for a couple of English prisoners of war whose wounds would not permit them to write their own home letters. But, after about four days in this ward, we were moved into a ward that was "all British." Here beds were hard, the food was curtailed, and the medical attention became slacker than had been the case in the ward we had just left. So negligent was the medical attention that the wounds of some of the prisoners of war in this ward were crawling with maggots, which also overran the bedding. To insure your wounds being dressed at all, it was necessary to pull the bandages wholly off your wounds. Several wounded prisoners of war died while I was here, but I do not think any of these were Australians. There were fully 100 Australian prisoners of war in this hospital, nearly all, of them in this ward. . . .
Somewhere between the 10th and 12th of September we were transferred to Grafenwohr, in Bavaria. In the party there were about 70 Australian prisoners of war. ... When we arrived at Grafehwohr, those like myself who could do so had to walk 2 miles to the hospital. Those wounded in the legs were lumbered to hospital in lorries minus springs, and had the most trying of rough rides.
From Grafenwohr I was removed, to the Danube fortress of Ingoldstadt. Here we were made to walk about 8 kilometres to the camp, where we arrived thoroughly exhausted, but were cordially received by British officer prisoners of war who were already quartered there.
In varying succession I was quartered in the following German prison camps, to each of which I append a summarized description.
Ingoldstadt.- Both quarters and food very bad.
Constance - I was only here about four weeks, waiting examination by a medical commission, but was then returned to Germany.
Frieberg (in Hesse). - Quarters fair, but food very poor.
Crefeld - Fair to good.
Strohan (near Hanover).I was here from 25th May, 1917, till 23rd January, 1918. The treatment here was nothing,short of frightful. Prison life was one continuous "strafe." The food it was impossible to live upon in fact, it was not fit for pigs. Several officers were bayonetted within the camp upon the most trivial pretext. The "jugs " or clinks " were always full. The notorious Hun bully, Niemeyer, was commandant here for a time. We had other notorious "strafe merchants" at the same camp. We were subjected to continuous irritating "searches." In short, of this camp it may justly be said that there was nothing good and everything was bad.. Our own food issue was frequently stopped here, when we had to manage somehow to subsist on the German ration, and consequently almost starved. A fair-sized book could be written upon the iniquities and shortcomings of this German prison camp alone. There was scarcely any fuel issues during the most rigorous of winters.
Bad Colberg.- Good quarters, but a most promising outfit spoiled by a bad commandant. It was here that two British officers were recently shot dead. whilst attempting to escape. This happened after I had left for Holland.
I left Bad Colberg on 22nd March, 1918, for Aachen. After a sojourn of about eighteen days at this German frontier post, I passed into Holland for internment on 8th April, 1918.
In Holland I was in hospital at Clingendaal, and later on stayed at the Hotel Royal, at Scheveningen. I reached England on 2nd July, 1918.
Throughout the German prison camps many paltry petty things were done that would require volumes to so much as enumerate, let alone elucidate. The German attitude towards British prisoners of war is generally one of exasperating petty annoyances or exasperating bullying.
My Red Cross parcels first reached me at Frieberg in February, 1917, due, to my having been confused with another officer of the same name. We feel that we all owe a debt of gratitude to the Red Cross that can never be repaid. Most assuredly the Red Cross food parcels enabled us "to live to tell the tale."
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