Three Times and Out
Nellie L. McClung
Part 3 out of 4
was about to draw the trigger. This was his way of explaining that he
would shoot us if we didn't behave ourselves.
We tried to look back at him with easy indifference, and when he saw
that he had not succeeded in frightening us, he soon ceased to try.
However, from the wicked looks he gave us, we could see that he would
be glad to shoot us--if he had a reasonable excuse.
At the station in Meppen, where he took us fully an hour before train
time, as we stood in the waiting-room with the guard beside us, the
people came and looked curiously at us. The groups grew larger and
larger, until we were the centre of quite a circle. We did not enjoy
the notoriety very much, but the guard enjoyed it immensely, for was
he not the keeper of two hardened and desperate men?
We noticed that the majority of the women were dressed in black. Some
of them were poor, sad, spiritless-looking creatures who would make
any person sorry for them; and others I saw whose faces were as hard
as the men's. The majority of them, however, seemed to be quite
indifferent; they showed neither hostility nor friendliness to us.
We changed cars at Leer, where on the platform a drunken German
soldier lurched against us, and, seeing us tied together, offered to
lend us his knife to cut the cord, but the guard quickly frustrated
his kind intention.
At Oldenburg we were herded through the crowded station and taken out
on the road for Vehnemoor, the guard marching solemnly behind us. He
knew we had no firearms, and we were tied together, but when Ted put
his free hand in his pocket to find some chocolate, as we walked
along, the guard screamed at him in fear. He seemed to be afraid we
would in some way outwit him.
But he was quite safe from us; not that we were afraid of either him
or his gun, for I think I could have swung suddenly around on him and
got his gun away from him, while Edwards cut our cords with the knife
which was in my little package. I think he knew that we could do
this, and that is why he was so frightened.
But there was one big reason which caused us to walk quietly and
peaceably forward to take our punishment, and that was the river Ems,
with its cruel sweep of icy water and its guarded bridges. We knew it
was impossible to cross it at this season of the year, so the guard
was safe. We would not resist him, but already we were planning our
next escape when the flood had subsided and the summer had come to
warm the water.
He had a malicious spirit, this guard, and when we came to Vehnemoor
and were put in our cells, he wanted our overcoats taken from us,
although the cells were as cold as outside. The Sergeant of the guard
objected to this, and said we were not being punished, but only held
here, and therefore we should not be deprived of our coats. Several
times that night, when we stamped up and down to keep from freezing,
I thought of the guard and his desire that our coats should be taken
from us, and I wondered what sort of training or education could
produce as mean a spirit as that! Surely, I thought, he must have
been cruelly treated, to be so hard of heart--or probably he knew
that the way of promotion in the German army is to show no softness
But the morning came at last, and we were taken before the
Commandant, and wondered what he would have to say to us. We were
pretty sure that we had not "retained his friendship."
He did not say much to us when we were ushered into his little
office and stood before his desk. He spoke, as before, through an
interpreter. He looked thin and worried, and, as usual, the questions
were put to us--"Why did we want to leave?" "What reason had we? Was
it the food, or was it because we had to work?"
[Illustration: Friedrichsfeld Prison-Camp in Winter]
We said it was not for either of these; we wanted to regain our
freedom; we were free men, and did not want to be held in an enemy
country; besides, we were needed!
We could see the Commandant had no interest in our patriotic
emotions. He merely wanted to wash his hands of us, and when we said
it was not on account of the poor food, or having to work, I think he
breathed easier. Would we sign a paper--he asked us then--to show
this? And we said we would. So the paper was produced and we signed
it, after the interpreter had read and explained it to us.
In the cells the food was just the same as we had had before, in the
regular prison-camp. They seemed to have an inexhaustible supply of
that soup. We wondered if there was a flowing well of it somewhere in
the bog. The food was no worse, but sometimes the guards forgot us.
The whole camp seemed to be running at loose ends, and sometimes the
guards did not come near us for half a day, but we were not so badly
off as they thought, for we got in things from our friends.
On the first morning, when we were taken to the lavatory, we saw some
of the boys. They were very sorry to know we had been caught, and
told us Bromley had been sent to Oldenburg a few days before, for his
punishment. They also told us that the night we escaped, no alarm had
been given, although the guards may have noticed the hanging wires.
Several of the boys had had the notion to go when they saw the wires
down, but they were afraid of being caught. The general opinion was
that the guards knew we had gone, but did not give the alarm until
morning, because they had no desire to cross the bog at night.
Our method of getting stuff to the cell was simple. I wore my own
overcoat to the lavatory, and hung it up inside. When I went to get
it, I found another coat was hanging beside it, which I put on and
wore back to the cell. In the pocket of the "other coat" I found
things--bread, cheese, sardines, biscuits, and books. The next day I
wore the other coat, and got my own, and found its pockets equally
well supplied. It was a fellow called Iguellden, whose coat I had
on alternate days. He watched for me, and timed his visit to the
lavatory to suit me. Of course, the other boys helped him with the
contributions. Edwards was equally well supplied. In the prison-camp
the word "friend" has an active and positive quality in it which it
sometimes lacks in normal times.
On the second night in the cell I suffered from the cold, for it was
a very frosty night, and as the cells were not heated at all, they
were quite as cold as outside.
I was stamping up and down, with my overcoat buttoned up to the neck
and my hands in my pockets, trying to keep warm, when the new guard
came on at seven o'clock. He shouted something at me, which I did not
understand, but I kept on walking. Then he pounded on the wall with
the butt of his rifle, crying, "Schlafen! schlafen!"
To which I replied, "Nix schlafen!" (I can't sleep!)
I then heard the key turn in the door, and I did not know what might
When he came in, he blew his breath in the frosty air, and asked,
I did not think he needed to take my evidence--it certainly was
Then he muttered something which I did not understand, and went out,
returning about twenty minutes later with a blanket which he had
taken from one of the empty beds in the _Revier_. I knew he was
running a grave risk in doing this, for it is a serious offense for
a guard to show kindness to a prisoner, and I thanked him warmly. He
told me he would have to take it away again in the morning when he
came on guard again, and I knew he did not want any of the other
guards to see it. My word of thanks he cut short by saying, "Bitte!
bitte! Ich thue es gerne" (I do it gladly); and his manner indicated
that his only regret was that he could not do more.
I thought about him that night when I sat with the blanket wrapped
around me, and I wondered about this German soldier. He evidently
belonged to the same class as the first German soldier I had met
after I was captured, who tried to bandage my shoulder when the
shells were falling around us; to the same class as good old Sank
at Giessen, who, though he could speak no English, made us feel his
kindness in a hundred ways; to the same class as the German soldier
who lifted me down from the train when on my way to Roulers. This
man was one of them, and I began to be conscious of that invisible
brotherhood which is stronger and more enduring than any tie of
nationality, for it wipes out the differences of creed or race
or geographical boundary, and supersedes them all, for it is a
brotherhood of spirit, and bears no relation to these things.
To those who belong to it I am akin, no matter where they were born
or what the color of their uniform!
Then I remembered how bitterly we resented the action of a British
Sergeant Major at Giessen, who had been appointed by the German
officer in charge to see after a working party of our boys. Working
parties were not popular--we had no desire to help the enemy--and one
little chap, the Highland bugler from Montreal, refused to go out.
The German officer was disposed to look lightly on the boy's offense,
saying he would come all right, but the British Sergeant Major
insisted that the lad be punished--and he was.
I thought of these things that night in the cell, and as I slept,
propped up in the corner, I dreamed of that glad day when the
invisible brotherhood will bind together all the world, and men will
no more go out to kill and wound and maim their fellow-men, but their
strength will be measured against sin and ignorance, disease and
poverty, and against these only will they fight, and not against each
When I awakened in the morning, stiff and cramped and shivering, my
dream seemed dim and vague and far away--but it had not entirely
That day the guard who brought me soup was a new one whom I had not
seen before, and he told me he was one of the twenty-five new men who
had been sent down the night we escaped. I was anxious to ask him
many things, but I knew he dared not tell me. However, he came in and
sat down beside me, and the soup that he brought was steaming hot,
and he had taken it from the bottom of the pot, where there were
actual traces of meat and plenty of vegetables. Instead of the usual
bowlful, he had brought me a full quart, and from the recesses of his
coat he produced half a loaf of white bread--"Swiss bread" we called
it--and it was a great treat for me. I found out afterwards that Ted
had received the other half. The guard told me to keep hidden what I
did not eat then, so I knew he was breaking the rules in giving it
He sat with his gun between his knees, muzzle upwards, and while I
ate the soup he talked to me, asking me where I came from, and what
I had been doing before the war.
When I told him I had been a carpenter, he said he was a
bridge-builder of Trieste, and he said, "I wish I was back at it;
it is more to my liking to build things than to destroy them."
I said I liked my old job better than this one, too, whereupon he
broke out impatiently, "We're fools to fight each other. What spite
have you and I at each other?"
I told him we had no quarrel with the German people, but we knew the
military despotism of Germany had to be literally smashed to pieces
before there could be any peace, and, naturally enough, the German
people had to suffer for having allowed such a tyrant to exist in
their country. We were all suffering in the process, I said.
"It's money," he said, after a pause. "It is the money interests that
work against human interests every time, and all the time. The big
ones have their iron heel on our necks. They lash us with the whip
of starvation. They have controlled our education, our preachers,
government, and everything, and the reason they brought on the war is
that they were afraid of us--we were getting too strong. In the last
election we had nearly a majority, and the capitalists saw we were
going to get the upper hand, so to set back the world, they brought
on the war--to kill us off. At first we refused to fight--some of
us--but they played up the hatred of England which they have bred
in us; and they stampeded many of our people on the love of the
Fatherland. Our ranks broke; our leaders were put in jail and some
were shot; it's hard to go back on your country, too.
"But I don't believe in nationalities any more; nationalities are a
curse, and as long as we have them, the ruling class will play us
off, one against the other, to gain their own ends. There is only one
race--the human race--and only two divisions of it; there are those
who represent money rights and special privileges, and those who
stand for human rights. The more you think of it, the more you will
see the whole fabric of society resolving itself into these two
classes. The whole military system is built on the sacrifice of human
I looked at him in astonishment.
"Who are you?" I asked.
"I am just a bridge-builder," he answered, "but I'm a follower of
Liebknecht... We can't do much until the Prussian system is defeated.
There are just a few of us here--the guard who got you the blanket
is one of us. We do what we can for the prisoners; sometimes we are
caught and strafed.... There is no place for kindness in our army,"
he added sadly.
"I must go now," he said; "I heard one of the guards say we were
going to be moved on to another camp. I may not see you again, but
I'll speak to a guard I know, who will try to get the good soup for
you. The Sergeant of the guard is all right, but some of them are
devils; they are looking for promotion, and know the way to get it is
to excel in cruelty. We shall not meet, but remember, we shall win!
Germany's military power will be defeated. Russia's military power
is crumbling now, the military power of the world is going down to
defeat, but the people of all nations are going to win!"
We stood up and shook hands, and he went out, locking me in the cell
I have thought long and often of the bridge-builder of Trieste and
his vision of the victory which is coming to the world, and I, too,
can see that it is coming, not by explosions and bombardments, with
the shrieks of the wounded and the groans of the dying--not that way
will it come--but when these have passed there shall be heard a
still, small voice which will be the voice of God, and its words
"Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself!"
THE CELLS AT OLDENBURG
It was on February 3d that we were taken from Vehnemoor to Oldenburg,
and when we started out on the road along the canal, roped together
as before, Ted and I knew we were going up against the real thing as
far as punishment goes, for we should not have Iguellden and the rest
of the boys to send us things. We came out of the Vehnemoor Camp with
somewhat of a reluctant feeling, for we knew we were leaving kind
friends behind us. Ted had received the same treatment that I had in
the matter of the blankets and the good soup--thanks to the friendly
It was in the early morning we started, and as Vehnemoor was almost
straight west of Oldenburg, we had the sun in our faces all the way
in. It was good to be out again--and good to look at something other
than board walls.
Our road lay along the canal which connected Vehnemoor with
Oldenburg. Peat sheds, where the peat was put to dry after it was
cut, were scattered along the canal, and we passed several
flat-bottomed canal-boats carrying the peat into Oldenburg. They
were drawn by man-power, and naturally made slow progress.
The canal furnished a way of transportation for the small farmers
living near it, too, whose little farms had been reclaimed from the
bog, and their produce was brought into Oldenburg on the canal-boats.
We could see better-looking buildings back farther, where the land
was more fertile. At one place we saw a canal-boat with sails, but as
the day was still it lay inactive, fastened to an iron post.
The settlement seemed to be comparatively recent, judging by the
small apple-trees around the buildings, and it looked as if this
section of the country had all been waste land until the canal had
been put through.
When we arrived at Oldenburg, which we did early in the morning, we
were marched through its narrow streets to the military prison. We
could see that the modern part of the city was very well built and up
to date, with fine brick buildings, but the old part, which dates
back to the eleventh century, was dirty and cheerless.
The prison to which we were taken was a military prison before the
war, where the German soldiers were punished, and from the very first
we could see that it was a striking example of German efficiency--in
the way of punishment. Nothing was left to chance!
We were searched first, and it was done by removing all our clothing.
Then, piece by piece, the guard looked them over. He ran his hand
under the collar of our shirts; he turned our pockets inside out; he
patted the lining of our coats; he turned out our stockings and shook
them; he looked into our boots. As he finished with each article,
it was thrown over to us and we dressed again. Our caps, overcoats,
braces, belts, and knives were taken away from us. They were careful
to see that we should not be tempted to commit suicide.
When I saw my cap go, I wondered if my maps, which I had sewed in the
pasteboard, would escape this man's hawk eyes. I thought I had lost
my other maps, and wondered how we should ever replace them. But it
would be time enough to think of that--when we got out.
The guard's manner was typical of the management at Oldenburg. It had
no element of humanity in it. It was a triumph of _Kultur_. The men
might as well have been dummies, set by a clock and run by
There was a blackboard on the wall which told how many prisoners were
in the institution and what they were getting. The strongest and
worst punishment given is called "Streng Arrest," and the number who
were getting it was three. The guard, while we were there, rubbed out
the 3 and put in a 5.
Ted and I looked at each other.
"That's us," he said.
Our two little parcels were deposited in a locker downstairs, where
other parcels of a like nature were bestowed, and we were conducted
up a broad stair and along a passage, and saw before us a long hall,
lined with doors sheeted with steel.
The guard walked ahead; Ted and I followed. At last he unlocked a
door, and we knew one of us had reached his abiding-place.
"I always did like a stateroom in the middle of the boat," Ted said,
as the guard motioned to him to go in. That was the last word I heard
for some time, for the guard said not a word to me. He came into the
cell with me, and shut the iron door over the window, excluding every
particle of light.
I just had time to see that the cell was a good-sized one--as cells
go. In one corner there was a steam coil, but it was stone cold, and
remained so all the time I was there. There was a shelf, on which
stood a brown earthen pitcher for drinking-water--but nothing else.
Our footsteps rang hollow on the cement floor, which had a damp
feeling, like a cellar, although it was above the ground floor.
Without a word the guard went out, and the key turned in the lock
with a click which had a sound of finality about it that left no room
Well, it has come, I thought to myself--the real hard German
punishment... they had me at last. The other time we had outwitted
them and gained many privileges of which they knew nothing, and
Malvoisin had cheered me through the dark hours.
Here there was no Malvoisin, no reading-crack, no friends, nothing to
They had us!
We had staked the little bit of freedom we had on the chance of
getting full freedom. It was a long chance, but we had taken it--and
I knew the object of all their punishment was to break our wills and
make us docile, pliable, and week-kneed like the Russians we had seen
in the camps--poor, spiritless fellows who could give no trouble.
Well--we would show them they could not break ours!
* * *
The eight-mile walk had tired me, and I lay down on the platform to
try to sleep, but it was a long time before I could close my eyes:
the darkness was so heavy, so choking and horrible. If there had been
even one gleam of light it wouldn't have been so bad, but I couldn't
even see a gleam under the door, and every time I tried to sleep the
silence bothered me--if I could only hear one sound, to tell me some
one was alive and stirring about! Still, I kept telling myself, I
must put it in, some way--I must--I must--I must.
* * *
When I awakened, my first thought was that it was still night! Then I
remembered it was all night for me, and the thought set me shivering.
My hands were stiff and cold, and I missed my overcoat.
The waking-up was the worst time of all, for my teeth chattered and
my knees trembled, so it was hard to stand. But when I had stamped
up and down for a while, I felt better. It must be near morning, I
thought. I should know when it was morning, because the guard would
come and let me have ten minutes to sweep my cell, and then I should
see Ted. I should perhaps get a chance to speak to him--even a wink
It was a larger cell than the one at Giessen, and after sitting still
for a while I got up and walked up and down. I could take four steps
each way, by not stepping too far. My steps echoed on the cement
floor, and I quite enjoyed seeing how much noise I could make, and
wondered if anybody heard me. But when I stopped and leaned up
against the wall, I could hear nothing. Then I sat down again and
I remembered how, after the cells, the Strafe-Barrack did not seem
too bad, for we could see people and talk occasionally; and after the
Strafe-Barrack the prison-camp was comparative freedom, for we could
get our parcels and read, and see the boys, so I thought I will
pretend now that my punishment was sitting still.... I can't move a
muscle; the cut-throat guard that was over us in the Strafe-Barrack
is standing over me with his bayonet against my chest--I must not
move--or he'll drive it in.... I wish I could change my position--my
neck is cramped....
Then I jumped up and walked up and down, and tried to tell myself it
was good to be able to move! But I caught myself listening all the
time--listening for the guard to come and open the door!
* * *
It seemed a whole day since we came, and still there was no sound at
the door. The guard must have forgotten us, I thought.... The guards
at Vehnemoor forgot to bring us soup sometimes.... These mechanical
toys may have run down; the power may have gone off, and the whole
works have shut down. Certainly the lights seem to have gone out. I
laughed at that. Well, I would try to sleep again; that was the best
way to get the time in.
I tried to keep myself thinking normally, but the thought would come
pushing in upon me, like a ghostly face at a window, that the guard
had forgotten us. I told myself over and over again that we had come
in at noon, and this was the first day; it was bound to be long, I
must wait! They--had--not--forgotten us.
* * *
I knew exactly what I should look like when they found me. My hair
would be long, falling over my shoulders, and my beard--not red,
but white--would be down to my waist,--for people live for weeks on
water, and my nails would be so long they would turn back again...
and my hands would be like claws, with the white bones showing
through the skin, and the knuckles knotted and bruised. I remembered
seeing a cat once that had been forgotten in a cellar... It had worn
its claws off, scratching at the wall.
Then a chill seized me, and I began to shiver. That frightened me, so
I made a bargain with myself--I must not think, I must walk. Thinking
is what sends people crazy.
I got up then and began to pace up and down. Twelve feet each way was
twenty-four feet. There were five thousand two hundred and eighty
feet in a mile--so I would walk a mile before I stopped--I would walk
a mile, and I would not think!
I started off on my mile walk, and held myself to it by force of
will, one hundred and ten rounds. Once I lost the count and had to go
back to where I did remember, and so it was really more than a mile.
But when it was done, and I sat down, beyond a little healthy
tingling in my legs I did not feel at all different. I was
listening--listening just the same.
Ted and I had agreed that if we were side by side, we would pound on
the wall as a sign. Four knocks would mean "I--am--all--right." I
pounded the wall four times, and listened. There was no response.
Then, for a minute, the horror seized me--Ted was dead--every one was
dead--I was the only one left!
If the authorities in our prisons could once feel the horror of the
dark cell when the overwrought nerves bring in the distorted
messages, and the whole body writhes in the grip of fear,--choking,
unreasoning, panicky fear,--they would abolish it forever.
* * *
After an eternity, it seemed, the key sounded in the lock and the
guard came in, letting in a burst of light which made me blink. He
came over to the window, swung open the iron door, and the cell was
"What time is it?" I asked him in German.
He knew his business--this guard. He answered not a word. What has a
prisoner to do with time--except "do" it. He handed me a broom--like
a stable broom--and motioned me to sweep. It was done all too soon.
He then took me with him along the hall to the lavatory. At the far
end of the hall and coming from the lavatory, another prisoner was
being brought back with a guard behind him. His clothes hung loose on
him, and he walked slowly. The light came from the end of the hall
facing me, and I could not see very well.
When we drew near, a cry broke from him--
"Sim!" he cried. "Good God!... I thought you were in Holland."
It was Bromley!
Then the guard poked him in the back and sent him stumbling past me.
I turned and called to him, but my guard pushed me on.
* * *
I put in as much time washing as I could, hoping that Ted would be
brought out, but I did not see him that day or the next.
At last I had to go back, and as the guard shoved me in again to that
infernal hole of blackness, he gave me a slice of bread. I had filled
my pitcher at the tap.
This was my daily ration the first three days. I was hungry, but I
was not sick, for I had considerable reserve to call upon, but when
the fourth day came I was beginning to feel the weariness which is
not exactly a pain, but is worse than any pain. I did not want to
walk--it tired me, and my limbs ached as if I had _la grippe._ I soon
learned to make my bread last as long as it would, by eating it in
instalments, and it required some will-power to do this.
Thoughts of food came to torture me--when I slept, my dreams were all
of eating. I was home again, and mother was frying doughnuts.... Then
I was at the Harvest-Home Festival in the church, and downstairs in
the basement there were long tables set. The cold turkey was heaped
up on the plates, with potatoes and corn on the cob; there were rows
of lemon pies, with chocolate cakes and strawberry tarts. I could
hear the dishes rattling and smell the coffee! I sat down before a
plate of turkey, and was eating a leg, all brown and juicy--when I
There is a sense in which hunger sharpens a man's perceptions, and
makes him see the truth in a clearer light--but starvation, the slow,
gnawing starvation, when the reserve is gone, and every organ, every
muscle, every nerve cries out for food--it is of the devil. The
starving man is a brute, with no more moral sense than the gutter
cat. His mind follows the same track--he wants food...
Why do our authorities think they can reform a man by throwing him
into a dark cell and starving him?
* * *
There was a hole in the door, wide on the inside and just big enough
on the outside for an eye, where the guards could spy on us. We could
not get a gleam of light through it, though, for it was covered with
a button on the outside.
On the fourth day I had light in my cell, and it was aired. Also, I
got soup that day, and more bread, and I felt better. I saw Ted for
a few seconds. He was very pale, but bearing it well. Though the
sunburn was still on his face, the pallor below made it ghastly; but
he walked as straight as ever.
I climbed up to the window, by standing on the platform, and could
just see over. Down below in the courtyard soldiers were gathering
for roll-call, and once I saw recruits getting their issue of
uniforms.... Sometimes the courtyard was empty, but I kept on
watching until the soldiers came. At least they were something--and
alive! During the light day, probably as a result of the additional
food, I slept nearly all day.
When I awakened, the cell was getting dark. I have heard people say
the sunset is a lonely time, when fears come out, and apprehensions
creep over them... and all their troubles come trooping home. I
wonder what they would think of a sunset which ushered in eighty-four
hours of darkness!... I watched the light fading on the wall, a
flickering, sickly glow that paled and faded and died, and left my
eyes, weakened now by the long darkness, quite misty and dim.
And then the night, the long night came down, without mercy.
* * *
On one of my light days the guard forgot to bring my soup. He brought
the coffee in the morning, and went out again at once. I thought
he had gone for the bread, but when he did not come, I drank the
coffee--which was hot and comforting. He did not come near me all
day. It may have been the expectation of food, together with the hot
coffee, which stimulated my stomach, for that day I experienced what
starving men dread most of all--the hunger-pain. It is like a
famished rat that gnaws and tears. I writhed on the floor and cried
aloud in my agony, while the cold sweat dripped from my face and
hands. I do not remember what I said... I do not want to remember...
That night when I saw the light growing dim in the cell, and the long
black night setting in, I began to think that there was a grave
possibility that this sentence might finish me. I might die under it!
And my people would never know--"Died--Prisoner of War No. 23445,
Pte. M. C. Simmons"--that is all they would see in the casualty list,
and it would not cause a ripple of excitement here. The guard would
go back for another one, and a stretcher... I shouldn't be much of a
Then I stood up and shook my fist at the door, including the whole
German nation! I was not going to die!
Having settled the question, I lay down and slept.
When I awakened, I knew I had slept a long time. My tongue was
parched and dry, and my throat felt horribly, but my pain was gone.
I wasn't hungry now--I was just tired.
Then I roused myself. "This is starvation," I whispered to myself;
"this is the way men die--and that's what--I am not going to do!"
The sound of my own voice gave me courage. I then compelled my
muscles to do their work, and stood up and walked up and down, though
I noticed the wall got in my road sometimes. I had a long way to go
yet, and I knew it depended now on my will-power.
My beard was long and my hair tangled and unkempt. I should have
liked a shave and a hair-cut, but this is part of the punishment and
has a depressing effect on the prisoner. It all helps to break a man
* * *
I kept track of the days by marking on the wall each day with my
finger-nail, and so I knew when the two weeks were drawing to a
close. The expectation of getting out began to cheer me--and the last
night I was not able to sleep much, for I thought when the key turned
next time I should be free! I wondered if we could by any chance hear
what had happened on the battle-front. Right away I began to feel
that I was part of the world again--and a sort of exultation came to
The key turned at last!
Entering, the guard, with face as impassive as ever, motioned to me
to sweep out. I wondered if I could have mistaken the number of days,
or if... we were going to get longer than the two weeks.
He did not enlighten me! I was taken out to wash, and filled my brown
pitcher at the tap--just as usual. Then came the moment of tense
anxiety.... Would he lock me in?
He gave me the usual allowance of bread, which I put in my pocket, as
a man who was going on a journey and wants to be on his way, without
waiting to eat.
Then he motioned to me to come out, and I knew we were free! Ted was
at the door of his cell, and we followed the guard downstairs without
In the room below our things were given back to us. I dared not
examine my cap to see if my maps had been touched, but I could not
keep from turning it around as if to be sure it was mine. Certainly
it looked all right. Our two little parcels, still unopened, were
returned to us, and the guard from Vehnemoor who had come for us had
brought one of the prisoners with him to carry our stuff that had
been left there, blankets, wash-basin, clogs, etc.
[Illustration: Map which Private Simmons got from the Canadian Artist
at Giessen, and which was sewed inside the Pasteboard of his Cap / His
successful journey from Selsingen to Holland is indicated by the dotted
line ............ / The unsuccessful attempt is shown ---------- from
From the prisoner we got the news of the camp.
"How are the folks at home?" we asked him.
"Ninety of the worst ones--since you two fellows and Bromley
left--were taken to another camp, and when they were moving them
McKinnon and another fellow beat it--but we're afraid they were
"Why?" we asked him.
"They catch them all; nobody gets out of Germany alive."
"You talk like a guard!" Ted said.
"Well," said the boy (I am sorry I forget his name), "look here. Who
do you know that has got away? You didn't; Bromley didn't; the two
Frenchmen who went the night before you went didn't. Do you hear of
any who did?"
"Keep your ear to the ground and you will!" said Ted.
"They'll shoot you the next time," he said earnestly. "If I were you,
I wouldn't try it."
Then the guard came, and we could say no more.
Again we were taken to the station and put on the train. Our hands
were not tied this time; we were just ordinary prisoners now--we had
done ours. Besides, I suppose they knew we shouldn't run far--that
had been taken out of us by the "cells."
But our good spirits came back when the train started. We went east
towards Rotenburg, through the same sort of low, marshy country we
had travelled before, with scrubby trees and plenty of heather moor.
We passed through Bremen again, where we got a glimpse of white
sails, and then on to Rotenburg, where we changed cars and had to
wait for two hours.
Of course we were hungry--the Oldenburg prison had not sent us out
well fed to meet the world, and the one slice of bread had gone. But
we had prison-stamps, and our guard took us to the lunch-counter at
Rotenburg, where we got a cup of real coffee, some bread, and an
orange. The guard paid for what we got with his own money, accepting
our stamps in payment. Our stamps were good only at Vehnemoor Camp,
having the name "Vehnemoor" stamped on them.
I suppose we were two tough-looking characters. The people seemed to
think so, for they looked at us with startled faces, and a little
girl who was crossing the platform ran back in alarm to her mother
when she saw us coming.
We arrived at Dienstedt after nightfall, and walked out a mile along
a rough road to the camp, which was one of the Cellelager
We saw that it consisted of two huts, and when we entered the hut
to which we were taken, we saw nothing but Russians, pale-faced,
dark-eyed, bearded Russians. They were sitting around, hardly
speaking to each other, some mending their clothes, some reading,
some staring idly ahead of them. We were beginning to be afraid they
had sent us to a camp where there was no one but Russians, until we
saw some British, at the other end.
"By Jove, I'll bet you're hungry," a big fellow said, reaching up
into his bunk and bringing out a pasteboard parcel. "Here you are,
matey; there's a bit of cheese and biscuits. I've a bit of water
heatin', too; we'll get you something to drink. Get something into
you; we ain't bad done for 'ere with our parcels comin' reglar."
The other men brought out boxes, too,--currant-loaf, sardines,
fruit-cake, and chocolate. There were three coal-stoves in the room,
and on one of these a pan of water was steaming. They had condensed
milk and cocoa, and made us up mugs of it, and I never, anywhere,
tasted anything so good.
There were two tiers of bunks in the room, but around the wall there
was an open space where there were some little tables. Two of the
Englishmen, who were playing cards, put them away and offered us
"Here, boys, be comfortable; sit right down here and let us see you
We let them see us! We ate like wolf-hounds. We ate, not until we
were satisfied, but until we were ashamed! And still the invitations
to eat were heard on every side. We were welcome to the last crumb
When at last we stopped, they began to tell us about the camp. It
seemed that the distinguishing feature was _lice!_ It had never been
fumigated, and the condition was indescribable. "We're bad enough,"
one of the Englishmen said, "but the Russians are in holes."
Then they told us what they had done to attract the attention of the
authorities. The branch camps are never inspected or visited, as
are the main camps such as Cellelager itself and Giessen, and so
conditions in the out-of-the-way camps have been allowed to sink far
below the level of these.
"We each wrote a card to some one in England, telling them about the
lice. We would have stretched it--if we could--but we couldn't. We
drew pictures, and told what these lice could do; especially we told
about the Russians, and how bad they were. There are twenty-one of
us, and there went out twenty-one cards all dealing with the same
subject. The censor began to feel crawly, I'll bet, before he got far
into reading them, and he would not let one of those cards out of
Germany. It wouldn't have sounded very good to the neutral countries.
So along came one of the head officers. He came in swaggering, but,
by George, he went out scratching! And he certainly got something
moving. We're all going down to Cellelager to-morrow to be fumigated;
and while we're out, there's going to be a real old-fashioned
house-cleaning! You're just in time, boys. Have you got any?"
"We did not have any," we said, "when we came."
"Well, you'll get them here, just sitting around. They're all over
the floor and crawl up the leg of your chair; they crawl up the wall
and across the ceiling and drop down on your head and down the back
of your collar; they're in the walls and in the beds now. But their
days are numbered, for we are all going up to Cellelager to-morrow to
be fumigated. They're running a special train, and taking us all."
That night Ted and I slept on two benches in the middle of the room,
but we found that what the boys said was true. They had crawled up on
us, or else had fallen from the ceiling, or both. We had them!
But the next day we made the trip to Cellelager by special
train--"The Louse Train" it was called.
The fumigator was the same as at Giessen, and it did its work well.
While the clothes were baking, we stood in a well-heated room to wait
for them. The British and French, having received parcels, were in
good condition, but the Russians, who had to depend entirely on the
prison-fare, were a pitiful sight. They looked, when undressed, like
the India famine victims, with their washboard ribs and protruding
stomachs, dull eyes and parched skin. The sores caused by the lice
were deep and raw, and that these conditions, together with the bad
water and bad food, had had fatal results, could be seen in the
Russian cemetery at Cellelager I, where the white Russian crosses
stand, row on row. The treatment of Russian prisoners will be a hard
thing for Germany to explain to the nations when the war is over.
Parnewinkel was the name of the village near Cellelager I, and this
name was printed on the prison-stamps which we used. The camp was
built on a better place than the last one, and it was well drained,
but the water was bad and unfit to drink unless boiled.
As the spring came on, many of the Russians went out to work with the
farmers, and working parties, mostly made up of Russians, were sent
out each day. Their work was to dig ditches through the marshes, to
reclaim the land. To these working parties soup was sent out in the
middle of the day, and I, wishing to gain a knowledge of the country,
volunteered for "Suppentragen."
A large pot, constructed to hold the heat by having a smaller one
inside which held the soup, was carried by two of us, with a stick
through the handle, to the place where the Russians were working, and
while they were attending to the soup, we looked around and learned
what we could of the country. I saw a method of smoking meat which
was new to me, at a farmhouse near where the Russians were making a
road. Edwards and I, with some others, had carried out the soup. The
Russians usually ate their soup in the cow-stable part of the house,
but the British and Canadians went right into the kitchen. In this
house everything was under one roof--that is, cows, chickens,
kitchen, and living-room--and from the roof of the kitchen the hams
were hung. The kitchen stove had two or three lengths of pipe, just
enough to start the smoke in the right direction, but not enough to
lead it out of the house. Up among the beams it wound and curled and
twisted, wrapping the hams round and round, and then found its way
out in the best way it could. Of course some of it wandered down to
the kitchen where the women worked, and I suppose it bothered them,
but women are the suffering sex in Germany; a little smoke in their
eyes is not here or there.
The houses we saw had thatched roofs, with plastered walls, and I
think in every case the cow-stable was attached. Dairying was the
chief industry; that and the raising of pigs, for the land is poor
and marshy. Still, if the war lasts long enough, the bad lands of
Germany will be largely reclaimed by the labor of Russian prisoners.
It's cheap and plentiful. There were ninety thousand of them bagged
in one battle in the early days of the war, at the Mazurian Lakes!
The Russians are for the most part simple, honest fellows, very sad
and plaintive, and deserving of better treatment than they have had.
When the Russians had gone out to work, leaving only the sick ones,
and the English and French, sometimes there were not enough well
prisoners for "Suppentragen," for the British were clever in the
matter of feigning sickness. The _Revier_ was in charge of a doctor
and a medical Sergeant, who gave exemption from work very easily.
Then there were ways of getting sick which were confusing to doctors.
Some one found out how to raise a swelling, and there was quite an
epidemic of swollen wrists and ankles. A little lump of earth in a
handkerchief, pounded gently on the place, for twenty minutes or so,
will bring the desired result. Soap-pills will raise the temperature.
Tobacco, eaten, will derange the heart. These are well-known methods
of achieving sick-leave.
I had a way all my own. I had a loose toe-nail, quite ready to come
off, but I noticed it in time, and took great care not to let it come
off. Then I went to the doctor to have it removed. On that I got
exemption till the nail grew.
* * *
One day at Parnewinkel, Edwards and I were called into the
Commandant's office, whither we went with many misgivings--we did not
know how much he knew of us and our plans.
But the honest man only wanted to pay us. Edwards had worked quite a
bit at Vehnemoor, but I couldn't remember that I had worked at all.
However, he insisted that I had one and a half days to my credit,
and paid me twenty-seven pfennigs, or six and three quarter cents! I
remembered then that I had volunteered for work on the bog, for the
purpose of seeing what the country was like around the camp. I signed
a receipt for the amount he gave me, and the transaction was entered
in a book, and the receipt went back to the head camp.
"Look at that," said Ted; "they starve us, but if we work they will
pay us, even taking considerable pains to thrust our wages upon us.
Of a truth they are a 'spotty' people."
However, the reason for paying us for our work was not so much their
desire to give the laborer his hire as that the receipts might be
shown to visitors, and appear in their records.
* * *
The Russians had a crucifix at the end of the hut which they
occupied, and a picture of the Virgin and the Holy Child before which
they bowed and crossed themselves in their evening devotions. Not all
of them took part. There were some unbelieving brothers who sat
morosely back, and took no notice, wrapped in their own sad thoughts.
I wondered what they thought of it all! The others humbly knelt and
prayed and cried out their sorrows before the crucifix. Their hymns
were weird and plaintive, yet full of a heroic hope that God had not
One of them told me that God bottles up the tears of his saints,
hears their cry, and in His own good time will deliver all who
trust in Him. That deliverance has already come to many of them
the white-crossed graves, beyond the marsh, can prove. But surely,
somewhere an account is being kept of their sorrows and their wrongs,
and some day will come the reckoning! Germany deserves the contempt
of all nations, if it were for nothing else than her treatment of the
When my toe-nail began to grow on, I got permanent exemption from
work because of my shoulder, and was given the light task of keeping
clear the ditches that ran close beside the huts.
I often volunteered on parcel parties, for I liked the mile and a
half walk down the road through the village of Parnewinkel to
Selsingen, where there was a railway station and post-office. Once in
a while I saw German women sending parcels to soldiers at the front.
The road lay through low-lying land, with scrubby trees. There was
little to see, but it was a pleasure to get out of the camp with its
depressing atmosphere. In Parnewinkel there was an implement dealer
who sold "Deering" machinery, mowers and rakes, and yet I never saw
either a mower or a rake working. I saw women cutting hay with
scythes, and remember well, on one trip to the post-office, I saw
an old woman, bare-legged, with wooden clogs, who should have been
sitting in a rocking-chair, swinging her scythe through some hay, and
she was doing it well, too. The scarcity of horses probably accounted
for the mowers and rakes not being used, cows being somewhat too slow
in their gait to give good results. Although Hanover is noted for its
horses, the needs of the army seem to have depleted the country, and
I saw very few. Every one rides a bicycle. I think I saw less than a
* * *
Having been exempted from work, I was around the camp all day, and
one day found a four-legged affair with a ring on the top big enough
to hold a wash-basin. In this I saw a possibility of making a stove.
Below, I put a piece of tin--part of a parcel-box--to hold the fire,
with a couple of bricks under it to save the floor, and then, using
the wooden parcel-boxes for fuel, I was ready to look about for
ingredients to make "mulligan."
There is nothing narrow or binding about the word "mulligan";
mulligan can be made of anything. It all depended on what we had!
On this stove I made some very acceptable mulligan out of young
turnip-tops (they had been brought to the camp when very small
seedlings, from a farmer's field where one of our boys had been
working, and transplanted in the prison-yard,--I only used the
outside leaves, and let them go on growing), potatoes (stolen from
the guards' garden), oxo cubes (sent in a parcel), oyster biscuits
(also sent in a parcel), salt and pepper, and water. The turnip-tops
I put in the bottom of the dish, then laid on the potatoes, covering
with water and adding salt. I then covered this with another
wash-basin, and started my fire. We were not allowed to have fires,
and this gave the mulligan all the charm of the forbidden.
When it was cooked, I added the oxo cubes and the oyster biscuit, and
mashed all together with part of the lid of a box, and the mulligan
was ready. The boys were not critical, and I believe I could get from
any one of them a recommendation for a cook's position. In the winter
we had had no trouble about a fire, for the stoves were going, and we
made our mulligan and boiled water for tea on them.
Our guards were ordinary soldiers--sometimes those who had been
wounded or were sick and were now convalescent--and we had all sorts.
Usually the N.C.O.'s were the more severe. The privates did not
bother much about us: they had troubles enough of their own.
At the school garden, where the Commandant lived, I went to work one
day, and made the acquaintance of his little son, a blue-eyed cherub
of four or five years, who addressed me as "Englisches Schwein,"
which was, I suppose, the way he had heard his father speak of us. He
did it quite without malice, though, and no doubt thought that was
our proper name. He must have thought the "Schwein" family rather a
* * *
It was about May, I think, that a letter came from my brother Flint,
telling me he was sending me some of the "cream cheese I was so fond
of"--and I knew my compass was on the way.
In about three weeks the parcel came, and I was careful to open the
cheese when alone. The lead foil had every appearance of being
undisturbed, but in the middle of it I found the compass!
After that we talked over our plans for escape. Edwards and I were
the only Canadians in the camp, and we were determined to make a
break as soon as the nights got longer. In the early summer, when the
daylight lasts so long, we knew we should have no chance, for there
were only four or five hours of darkness, but in August we hoped to
"start for home."
THE BLACKEST CHAPTER OF ALL
When the days were at their longest, some of the Russians who had
been working for the farmers came into camp, refusing to go back
because the farmers made them work such long hours. There is
daylight-saving in Germany, which made the rising one hour earlier,
and the other end of the day was always the "dark." This made about a
seventeen-hour day, and the Russians rebelled against it. The farmers
paid so much a day (about twenty-five cents) and then got all the
work out of the prisoners they could; and some of them were worked
unmercifully hard, and badly treated.
Each night, a few Russians, footsore, weary, and heavy-eyed from lack
of sleep, trailed into camp with sullen faces, and we were afraid
there was going to be trouble.
On the night of July 3d, three tired Russians came into camp from
the farms they had been working on after we had had our supper. The
N.C.O. was waiting for them. The trouble had evidently been reported
to Headquarters, and the orders had come back. The Commandant was
there, to see that the orders were carried out.
In a few minutes the N.C.O. started the Russians to run up and
down the space in front of the huts. We watched the performance in
amazement. The men ran, with dragging footsteps, tired with their
long tramp and their long day's work, but when their speed slackened,
the N.C.O. threatened them with his bayonet.
For an hour they ran with never a minute's breathing-spell, sweating,
puffing, lurching in their gait, and still the merciless order was
"Marsch!" "Marsch!" and the three men went struggling on.
When the darkness came, they were allowed to stop, but they were so
exhausted they had to be helped to bed by their friends.
We did not realize that we had been witnessing the first act in the
most brutal punishment that a human mind could devise, and, thinking
that the trouble was over, we went to sleep, indignant at what we had
In the morning, before any of us were awake, and about a quarter of
an hour before the time to get up, a commotion started in our hut.
German soldiers, dozens of them, came in, shouting to everybody to
get up, and dragging the Russians out of bed. I was sleeping in an
upper berth, but the first shout awakened me, and when I looked down
I could see the soldiers flourishing their bayonets and threatening
everybody. The Russians were scurrying out like scared rabbits, but
the British, not so easily intimidated, were asking, "What's the
One of the British, Walter Hurcum, was struck by a bayonet in the
face, cutting a deep gash across his cheek and the lower part of his
ear. Tom Morgan dodged a bayonet thrust by jumping behind the stove,
and escaped without injury.
When I looked down, I caught the eyes of one of our guards, a decent
old chap, of much the same type as Sank, and his eyes were full of
misery and humiliation, but he was powerless to prevent the outbreak
I dressed myself in my berth--the space below was too full already,
and I thought I could face it better with my clothes on. When I got
down, the hut was nearly empty, but a Gordon Highlander who went out
of the door a few feet ahead of me was slashed at by one of the
N.C.O.'s and jumped out of the way just in time.
All this was preliminary to roll-call, when we were all lined up
to answer to our names. That morning the soup had lost what small
resemblance it had had to soup--it had no more nourishment in it than
dishwater. We began then to see that they were going to starve every
one into a desire to work.
We had not been taking soup in the morning, for it was, even at its
best, a horrible dish to begin the day with. We had made tea or
coffee of our own, and eaten something from our parcels. But this
morning we were lined up with the Russians and given soup--whether
we wanted it or not.
After the soup, the working parties were despatched, and then the
three unhappy Russians were started on their endless journey again,
racing up and down, up and down, with an N.C.O. standing in the
middle to keep them going. They looked pale and worn from their hard
experience of the night before, but no Bengal tiger ever had less
mercy than the N.C.O., who kept them running.
The distance across the end of the yard was about seventy-five feet,
and up and down the Russians ran. Their pace was a fast trot, but
before long they were showing signs of great fatigue. They looked
pitifully at us as they passed us, wondering what it was all about,
and so did we. We expected every minute it would be over; surely they
had been punished enough. But the cruel race went on.
In an hour they were begging for mercy, whimpering pitifully, as they
gasped out the only German word they knew--"Kamerad--Kamerad"--to
the N.C.O., who drove them on. They begged and prayed in their own
language; a thrust of the bayonet was all the answer they got.
Their heads rolled, their tongues protruded, their lips frothed,
their eyes were red and scalded--and one fell prostrate at the feet
of the N.C.O., who, stooping over, rolled back his eyelid to see if
he were really unconscious or was feigning it. His examination proved
the latter to be the case, and I saw the Commandant motion to him to
kick the Russian to his feet. This he did with right good will, and
the weary race went on.
But the Russian's race was nearly ended, for in another half-dozen
rounds he fell, shuddering and moaning, to the ground--and no kick or
bayonet thrust could rouse him...
Another one rolled over and over in a fit, purple in the face, and
twitching horribly. He rolled over and over until he fell into the
drain, and lay there, unattended.
The last one, a very wiry fellow, kept going long after the other
two, his strength a curse to him now, for it prolonged his agony,
but he fell out at last, and escaped their cruelty, at least for the
time, through the black door of unconsciousness.
Then they were gathered up by some of the prisoners, and carried into
* * *
Just as the three unconscious ones were carried away, three other
Russians, not knowing what was in store for them, came in. We did
not see them until they walked in at the gate. They also had been on
farms, and were now refusing to work longer. They came into the hut,
where their frightened countrymen were huddled together, some praying
and some in tears. The newcomers did not know what had happened. But
they were not left long in doubt. An N.C.O. called to them to
"heraus," and when they came into the yard, he started them to run.
The men were tired and hungry. They had already spent months on the
farms, working long hours: that did not save them. They had dared to
rebel, so their spirits must be broken.
Our hearts were torn with rage and pity. We stormed in and out of the
huts like crazy men, but there was nothing we could do. There were
so few of us, and of course we were unarmed. There was no protest
or entreaty we could make that would have made any appeal. Orders
were orders! It was for the good of Germany--to make her a greater
nation--that these men should work--the longer hours the better--to
help to reclaim the bad land, to cultivate the fields, to raise more
crops to feed more soldiers to take more prisoners to cultivate more
land to raise more crops.
It was perfectly clear to the Teutonic mind. No link in the chain
must be broken. Deutschland ueber Alles!
At noon the Russians were still running--it is astonishing what the
human machine can stand! The N.C.O. impatiently snapped his watch
and slashed at the one who was passing him, to speed them up, and so
hasten the process. He was getting hungry and wanted his dinner. Then
an order came from the Commandant that it was to be stopped--and we
hoped again, as we had the night before, that this was the end.
We brought the three poor fellows, pale and trembling, to our end of
the hut, and gave them as good a meal as our parcels would afford.
One of them had a bayonet wound in his neck, which the N.C.O. had
given him. He had jabbed him with the point of his bayonet, to
quicken his speed. In spite of their exhaustion, they ate ravenously,
and fell asleep at once, worn out with the long hours of working as
well as by the brutal treatment they had received.
But there was no sleep for the poor victims--until the long, black
sleep of unconsciousness rolled over them and in mercy blotted out
their misery--for the N.C.O.'s came for them and dragged them away
from us, and the sickening spectacle began again.
There were just eleven of us, British and Canadians, in the camp
at this time, twelve of the British having been sent away; and it
happened that this was the day, July 4th, that we wrote our cards. We
remembered that when the men had written cards about the lice it had
brought results: we had no other way of communication with the world,
and although this was a very poor one, still it was all we had. We
knew our cards would never get out of Germany; indeed, we were afraid
they would never leave the camp, but we would try.
We went to the place where the cards were kept, which was in charge
of a Polish Jew, who also acted as interpreter. He had been in the
Russian Army, and had been taken prisoner in the early days of the
war. There was a young Russian with him who did clerical work in the
camp. They were both in tears. The Jew walked up and down, wringing
his hands and calling upon the God of Abraham and of Isaac and of
Jacob! Sometimes he put his hands over his ears... for the cries of
his countrymen came through the window.
When we got our cards, we wrote about what had happened. Some of the
cards were written to John Bull; some to the British War-Office; some
to the newspapers; some to friends in England, imploring them to
appeal to the United States Government at Washington, to interfere
for humanity's sake. We eased our minds by saying, as far as we could
say it on a card, what we thought of the Germans. Every card was full
of it, but the subject was hardly touched. I never knew before the
full meaning of that phrase, "Words are inadequate."
Words were no relief!--we wanted to kill--kill--kill.
* * *
The running of the Russians went on for days. Every one of them who
came in from the farm got it--without mercy.... Different N.C.O.'s
performed the gruesome rites...
* * *
We had only one hope of quick results. The Commandant of the camp at
Celle--that is the main Cellelager--had an English wife, and had,
perhaps for that reason, been deprived of his command as an Admiral
of the fleet. We hoped he would hear of our cards--or, better still,
that his wife might hear.
The first indication we had that our cards had taken effect was the
change in the soup. Since the first day of the trouble, it had been
absolutely worthless. Suddenly it went back to normal--or a little
Suddenly, too, the running of the Russians stopped, although others
of them had come in. A tremendous house-cleaning began--they had us
scrubbing everything. The bunks were aired; the blankets hung on the
fence; the windows cleaned; the yard was polished by much sweeping.
Evidently some one was coming, and we hoped it was "the Admiral." At
the same time, the N.C.O.'s grew very polite to us, and one of them,
who had been particularly vicious with the Russians, actually bade me
"good-morning"--something entirely without precedent.
Every day, I think, they expected the Admiral, but it was two weeks
before he came. His visit was a relief to the Germans, but a distinct
disappointment to us. Apparently, the having of an English wife does
not change the heart of a German. It takes more than that. He did
not forbid the running of the Russians; only the bayonet must not be
used. The bayonet was bad form--it leaves marks. Perhaps the Admiral
took this stand in order to reinstate himself again in favor with the
military authorities, and anxious to show that his English wife had
not weakened him. He had the real stuff in him still--blood and iron!
* * *
The running of the Russians began again--but behind the trees, where
we could not see them... but we could hear...
There are some things it were well we could forget!
The running of the Russians ceased only when no more came in from the
farms. Those who had been put out came out of the _Revier_ in a day
or so--some in a few hours--pale and spiritless, and were sent back
to work again. They had the saddest-looking faces I ever saw--old
and wistful, some of them; others, gaping and vacant; some, wild and
staring. They would never resist again--they were surely broken! And
while these men would not do much for the "Fatherland" in the way of
heavy labor, they would do very well for exchanges!
[Illustration: Friedrichsfeld Prison-Camp in Summer]
As the days began to shorten, Edwards and I began to plan our escape.
We had the maps, the one he had bought at Vehnemoor and the one I had
made. We had the compass, which we had kept hidden in a very small
crack in the sloping roof of the hut, and the Red Cross suits had
come, and were dark blue and quite unnoticeable except for the piece
of brown cloth sewed on the sleeve. Mine had Russian buttons on it,
which I had put on to have for souvenirs--and which I have since had
made into brooches for my sisters.
On the map which Edwards had bought at Vehnemoor, the railways were
marked according to their kind: the double-tracked, with rock
ballast, were heavily lined; single-tracked with rock ballast, were
indicated by lighter lines; single-tracked, with dirt ballast, by
lighter lines still. I knew, from the study of maps, every stream and
canal and all the towns between us and the border. On the map which I
had drawn myself, from one I got from the Canadian artist at Giessen,
I had put in all the railways and the short spur lines of which there
are so many in northern Germany.
We knew that when a railway line ended without reaching another line,
it was a good indication that the soil was valueless, and therefore
there would be no settlement of any account. Through such districts
we would direct our way.
We began to prepare for our flight by adopting a subdued manner, such
as becomes discouraged men. We were dull, listless, sad, rarely
speaking to each other--when a guard was present. We sat around the
hut, morose and solemn, sighing often, as men who had lost hope.
But we were thinking, all the time, and getting ready.
I had a fine toffee tin, with a water-tight lid, which had come to
me in a parcel from Mr. Robert McPherson, Aberdeen, Scotland, whose
brother-in-law, Mr. Alec Smith, of Koch Siding, was a friend of mine.
This can, being oval in shape, fitted nicely into my pocket, and we
decided to use it for matches.
Edwards had a sun-glass, which we thought we would use for lighting
our pipes when the sun was shining, and thus conserve our supply of
Our first plan was to cut our way through the wires, as we had done
at Vehnemoor, but, unfortunately, three Russians, early in the
spring, did this--and after that no cat ever watched a mouse-hole
with greater intentness than the guards at Parnewinkel watched the
wires. We saw this was hopeless!
We then thought we would volunteer for work on farms as we had done
before at Rossbach, but although French and Russians were taken,
"Englaenders" were not wanted! The Englishmen in the camp not wanting
to work had given themselves a bad name, hoping that the Russians and
French would carry it on to the farmers for whom they were working,
so that they would be afraid to employ such desperate characters. One
of them had "et an ear off'n" the last man he worked for. Another one
never took orders from any one--"the last man that tried it, woke
up in the middle of a long fit of sickness!--and had since died."
Another one admitted he had a terrible temper, but he had had it
"from a child and couldn't help it--he turned blind when he was mad,
and never knew where he was hittin'!"
This all worked well for them, but when Ted and I wanted to get out,
we were refused. "Englaenders" were not wanted!
The first working party that was made up to go out and work with a
guard did not give either Ted or me a chance, although we wanted to
go, but four other Englishmen volunteered. They were not anxious to
have us go with them, for they knew we were thinking of escaping,
and when there is an escape, those who were present at the time have
embarrassing questions asked them and various privileges are likely
to be curtailed afterwards.
On Saturday morning, at roll-call, a working party was asked for, and
Ted and I volunteered, and with a Welshman and some Frenchmen, we
walked out to a small village called Seedorf, about four miles away,
where we were turned loose in a field of turnips from which the weeds
had not been taken out since the turnips were planted. There were
about a dozen of us, and we were taken into the house at noon to be
fed. The farmhouse was one of the best I had seen in this section of
the country, for the pig-pen, chickens, and cow-stable were in a
The two daughters of the house were true daughters of Germany and did
not eat the bread of idleness; the biggest one, bare-legged and with
sleeves rolled up, was attending to the stock, without pausing for
anything. She looked as strong as a man, and was absorbed in her
work--not even stopping a second to look at us. The other one worked
in the house at meal-times, but no doubt joined her sister
The dinner consisted of soup, potatoes, bread, and coffee, and the
soup was a real treat, entirely different from the kind we were
used to. After dinner we went back to the field and put in a fine
afternoon's work. We were anxious to establish a good record before
we left there.
We had saved up a lot of things from our parcels, thinking that our
manner of escape might be such that we could take them with us.
A working party such as we were on made it impossible to carry
anything, for we were in great danger of being searched. Whenever the
Commandant thought of it, he ordered a search. Just as the Commandant
at Giessen was keen on rings, so this one went in for searching. We
were searched at unexpected times--going out to work or coming in--at
meal-times or at bedtime.
The following day--Sunday--we sat around with our saddest, most
dejected air, like two men in whose hearts all hope had died. We had
everything ready--razor, tobacco, matches, toffee tin, toothbrush,
comb, pocket-knife, watch, soap, strong safety-pins, and some strong
string. Edwards had the sun-glass, shaving-soap and brush, and other
things to correspond with mine.
It was quite a grief to us to have to leave behind us all the things
we had been saving from our parcels. The people of Trail, British
Columbia, had sent parcels to all their prisoners, and one of mine
had followed me from Giessen to Vehnemoor and from Vehnemoor to
Parnewinkel, and at last had found me. It contained, among other
things, hard-tack biscuits, just the thing for carrying in our
pockets, and my aunts in Ontario had sent me some line dried beef and
tins of jam. At this time, also, an exceptionally good box came from
Miss Ray, of London, England, and home-made candy from Miss Dorothy
Taylor, of New Westminster, British Columbia. We had a regular
blow-out on Sunday, but were too much afraid of being searched to
risk taking anything with us beyond the necessary things, and so had
to leave our precious stores behind. Oh, well--they wouldn't go to
Monday morning we dragged our tired feet along the four miles to the
turnip-patch--with every appearance of complete submission. I had the
compass in the middle of a package of tobacco; my maps were still in
the pay-book case in my pocket.
We gave ourselves up to the joy of labor, and pulled weeds all day
with great vigor. We wanted to behave so well that they wouldn't
notice us. Of course we were not sure that any chance would come. We
might have to carry our stuff for several days before we should get
That night we came into the kitchen again and sat down at the long
table. Every one was hungry and fell to eating without a word. No
wonder the guard thought he had a quiet, inoffensive gang whose only
thought at that moment was fried potatoes. The potatoes were good,
hot from the frying-pan, and we ate as many as we could, for we
believed it might be a long time before we again sat at a table.
The guard, at last, satisfied that we were all right, strolled into
the next room--a sort of dining- and living-room, where the family
were eating. We could hear fragments of conversation and some
laughter, and it seemed a good time to slip away! We crowded down a
few more fried potatoes, and then leisurely left the table and looked
out of the window.
A big black cloud had come up from the west, and although it was
still early in the evening it was beginning to grow dusk. Outside
there was no one stirring but the young lady feeding the pigs, and
she was not taking any notice of any one. She was a fine example of
the absorbed worker. We lit our pipes and strolled out to enjoy the
cool of the evening.
The pigs were gathered about the trough, protesting the distribution
of their evening meal, squealing "Graft" and calling for a commission
to settle it. The lady took no notice of them. They could settle it
among themselves. They did not need to eat at all if they didn't want
to. She should worry. It was take it or leave it--for all she cared!
She had gone as far as she was going to, in bringing it to them.
We looked back at the kitchen. Fried potatoes still held the
attention of the prisoners, and the guard was not to be seen.
We turned around the front of the house and found ourselves on the
shaded street. There was a row of trees along each side of the street
and the houses were built well back. It was not the main street of
the village and had more the appearance of a lane. We had concluded
that even if the alarm were given, we should only have the one guard
to deal with, for the prisoners would not pursue us, neither would
The big danger was in the fact that the guard had his gun, and if he
saw us would shoot, but the shady lane was deserted and still, and we
pushed on with an unconcerned stride that covered the ground, but
would not attract the attention of the casual observer.
When we came to the edge of the village, we saw the wood which we
had observed when coming in from work both days, and which seemed to
promise shelter, although the trees were small. We passed through it
quickly, and kept it between us and the village until we reached a
ditch two and a half or three feet deep and overgrown with heather.
By this time it was beginning to rain, for which we were glad, for it
would discourage travelling and drive indoors those who had any place
to go to. We crawled on our hands and knees along the ditch, whose
bottom was fairly dry and grassy, until we found a place where the
heather hung well over the edge and made a good protection. We could
look through the heather at the village, which was about six hundred
We stayed here until it was quite dark. There did not seem to be any
search made for us. The guard would be afraid to leave the other
prisoners to come looking for us himself, and we knew none of the
village people would be keen on coming out in the rain. But there
was a telegraph station at Seedorf, and it gave us an uncomfortable
feeling to remember that the guard could wire to Selsingen and get
some one there to telephone to the camp. But the rain, which was
falling heavily, was our best hope that we were unpursued. It beat
into my ear as I lay in the heather, until I put my cap over the side
of my head.
At dark we stole out, after taking our direction with the compass
while we were in the ditch. When we came out, we observed the
direction of the wind, and started straight south. We would follow
this course until we rounded Bremen, and then it was our purpose to
go west to the Holland boundary. From our maps we knew that to strike
straight across from where we were would bring us to a well-settled
country, and the chief desire of our lives now was for solitude!
TRAVELLERS OF THE NIGHT
The country we travelled over in the first hours of the night was
poor and evidently waste land, for we saw no cultivation until near
morning, when we crossed through a heavy oat-field, soaking wet with
the night's rain. When we came out we were as wet as if we had fallen
into the ocean. We took some of the oats with us, to nibble at as we
We came to a wide stream, with wooded banks, which looked deep and
dangerous. So we made a pack of our clothes, and cautiously descended
into it, expecting to have to swim over. However, we found we could
easily wade it, for we had made our crossing at a ford.
On the other side we found ourselves stumbling over a turnip-field,
and very gladly helped ourselves, and carried away two of them for
provisions for the next day. When morning came we took cover in a
On the other attempts we had been able to carry something to eat, and
an extra pair of socks. This time we had nothing but what we had on.
I had selected from the stockings I had a pair knit by Miss Edna
McKay, of Vancouver, which were the first pair she had knit, but were
very fine and well made. We removed our socks the first thing each
morning, and rubbed our feet and put the socks in a tree to dry,
being careful not to have them so high they would be seen. We were
trying to take every precaution this time!
The first day we were near some farm-buildings, and as we lay in the
woods, pretty chilly and wet, we could hear the hens scolding and
cackling. Cackling hens always bring me back to the pleasant days
of childhood, and I was just enjoying a real heartsome visit to
the old home at Delmer... and was chasing Willie Fewster around a
straw-stack... when the farmer's dog, an interfering, vicious-looking
brute, came peering through the woods and gave us heart spasms,
barking at us for a few minutes. But we did not move a muscle, and,
seeing that he couldn't start a row with us, he went away, muttering
to himself about suspicious characters being around.
A woman passed through the wood, too, going over to one of the
neighbors--I think to borrow something, for she carried a plate. But
she did not see us, as we lay low in the scrub.
* * *
We certainly found plenty of unsettled country to travel through in
the first days of our journey, for we seemed to go through one marsh
after another, covered with coarse, long hay, which would have been
cut, no doubt, but for the soft bottoms which make it impossible
to use a mower. To drain this land would furnish more work for the
Russian prisoners! In one place we suddenly stepped down a couple of
feet into a bog filled with water, but with grass on the top. We
discovered that it was a place from which the peat had been removed,
and it was the only sign of human activity that we saw all night.
On the evening of August 23d, when we started out after a fairly good
day in a spruce thicket, we could see the lights of Bremen reflected
in the sky. The lights of a city, with its homes, its stores, its
eating-places, its baths, should be a welcome sight to wayfaring men
who have been living on oats and turnips, but not for us, to whom a
city meant only capture. So when we noticed the rosy glow in the
southern sky we steered our course farther west, but still taking
care to avoid the city, which we intended to pass on the south and
Our troubles were many that night. A good-sized river got in our way
and had to be crossed. There was no bridge in sight, and we had
determined to waste no time looking for one. So we undressed on the
marshy bank and made bundles of our clothes, pinning our tunics about
everything with the safety-pins which we carried. We also used the
cord around the bundles. Ted was doubtful about swimming and carrying
his clothes, so I said I would try it first, with mine. I went down
through the coarse grass, which was harsh and prickly to my feet, and
full of nettles or something which stung me at every step, and was
glad to reach the open water. The moon was in the last quarter, and
clouded over, so the night was of the blackest. I made the shore
without much trouble, and threw my bundle on a grassy bank.
I called over to Ted that the going was fine, and that I would come
back for his clothes. At that, he started in to meet me, swimming on
his back and holding his clothes with both hands, using only his
feet, but when he got into the current, it turned him downstream. I
swam toward him as fast as I could, but by the time I reached him he
had lost the grip of his clothes, and when I got them they were wet
through. As we were nearer to the bank from which he had started, we
went back to it, for we were both pretty well blown. However, in a
few minutes we were able to strike out again, and reached the other
bank in safety. Poor Ted was very cold and miserable, but put on his
soaking garments, without a word, and our journey continued.
This was another ditch country--ditches both wide and deep, and many
of them treacherous things, for their sides were steep and hard to
climb. The darkness made it doubly hard, and sometimes we were pretty
well frightened as we let ourselves down a greasy clay bank into the
muddy water. Later on we found some corduroy bridges that the
hay-makers had put over the ditches.
All night we had not found anything to eat, and when we arrived at
a wood near morning, we decided to stay, for we could see we were
coming into a settlement, and the German farmers rise early in
harvest-time. So, hungry, muddy, wet, and tired, we lay down in the
wood, and spent a long, uncomfortable day!
My watch stopped that day, and never went again. Edwards's watch was
a better one, and although it stopped when it got wet, it went again
as soon as it had dried out.
That day we had not a mouthful of anything. But we comforted
ourselves with the thought that in this settled country there would
be cows, and unless these farmers sat up all night watching them, we
promised ourselves a treat the next night.
At nightfall we stole out and began again to get over the distance
that separated us from freedom. The country was drier and more
settled, but the cows, we saw, were all in farmyards, and we were
afraid to risk going near them. About midnight we almost stumbled
over a herd of them, and one fine old whiteface arose at our request
and let us milk her. Ted stood at her head, and spoke kind words to
her and rubbed her nose, while I filled our tin again and again. She
was a Holstein, I think, though we could not see if she was black or
red--it was so dark, we could only see the white markings. We were
sorry to leave her. She was another of the bright spots in my memory
We crossed a railroad, a double-tracked one with rock ballast, which
my map showed to be a line which runs to Bremen, and a little later
we came to the Weser. This river brought up pleasant recollections of
the Pied Piper of Hamelin, who drowned the rats in the Weser by the
magic of his pipe. But there was no romance in it as we came upon it
in a gray and misty dawn. It was only another barrier to our freedom.
There were bunches of willows on the water's edge, and some fine
beeches, whose leaves were slightly tinged with yellow, farther back.
We selected a close bunch of willows for our hiding-place, and after
spending a short time looking for a boat, we gave up the quest, and
We were feeling well, and were in a cheerful mood,--no doubt the
result of our pleasant meeting with the Holstein,--and when we saw
some straw in a field not far from the willows, we went over and got
two armfuls of it, and made beds for ourselves. Fresh, clean straw,
when dry, makes a good bed, and no Ostermoor mattress was ever more
comfortable. We burrowed into it like moles, and although it rained
we had a good day.
Waking up in the afternoon, we decided on a general clean-up, and,
dipping water from the Weser in a rusty tin pail without a handle, we
washed our faces, cleaned our teeth, shaved, and combed our hair.
My socks were in fine shape, but Ted's began to show signs of
dissolution. The heels were gone, and the toe of one was broken and
going. His feet were sore and blistered, and he sat long looking
at the perfidious socks which had failed him so soon. Then he had
a plan--he would make himself a pair out of the sleeves of his
undershirt. To me was given the delicate task of cutting off the
sleeves with rather a dull knife, which I managed to do with some
difficulty, and, with a thorn for a needle and wool from the socks
for thread, a pair of socks were constructed. The thorn was too soft
and doubled back, so Ted sharpened a piece of hard wood, and with it
made the holes for the yarn.
From our shelter in the willows we could see a ferry-boat carrying
people across the river, and sometimes people passed along the sandy
shore quite near to us, but the willows were thick and we were not
discovered. Two big freight steamers also passed by us.
That night we went cautiously down the bank looking for a boat. We
could swim the river, but a boat would suit us better, for the night
was chilly and dark. Before we had gone far, we found one tied in the
rushes. But the oars were locked to the bottom of the boat, and we
had to cut them loose with our pen-knives, which took quite awhile,
for the wood was hard!
When we got across the Weser we found plenty of cows. Some of them
were fickle jades who would let us almost touch them, and would then
sniff at us in disapproval and leave us. Others would not consider
our case for a moment. They were not going to run any danger of
giving aid and comfort to the enemy! But one good old one with a
crooked horn took pity on us, and again we felt better.
The fields were divided by hedges, made of a closely-leaved green
shrub, somewhat resembling--in the leaf--our buckthorn. It was very
thick and very green, and we crawled into one of these on the morning
of the fourth day, glad of such a good shelter. However, there was no
room to move--or stand up. The hedge being low made it necessary to
lie down all day. Still, we were well satisfied with the hot milk,
and slept most of the day.
Waking up suddenly, I heard a whistle, and, without moving, could see
a man's legs coming toward us. Then a dog, white with black markings,
darted past him, and, to my horror, stood not six feet from me. We
stopped breathing--we shut our eyes for fear we might wink--we
effaced ourselves--we ceased to be--I mean we wished we could.
The dog came nearer--I could hear his soft footfalls--I knew the
brute was stepping high--as they do when they see something. I knew
his tail was going straight out behind--he was pointing!
The man walked by, whistling--but the dog stayed!
Then I heard the man call him--insisting that he come--making remarks
about his lack of sense. It sounded like "Come here, you fool!" The
dog, with a yelp of disapproval, did as he was told, but I could hear
him barking as he ran along--in a hurt tone. His professional pride
had been touched!
That afternoon as we lay in the hedge, we saw a company of
school-children running toward us. I think it was the afternoon
recess, and they came running and shouting straight for the hedge. I
could only see their feet from where I lay, but it seemed to me that
there were a large number. They stopped in the field on the right of
where we lay, and played some game--I was too excited to notice what
it was. Sometimes it brought them close to the hedge, and then they
ran away again. It may have been a ball-game.
We were cold and hot by turns, watching the feet that advanced and
receded, and were coming at us again, racing this time as if to see
who would reach the hedge first, when a sudden downpour of rain came
on--and they ran back! We heard the voices growing fainter in the
distance, and registered a vow that if we got out of this place alive
we would not trust in a hedge again. Dogs and children seemed to be
our greatest dangers!
When we began our journey that night, we crossed a light railway, one
of those which on the map was indicated with light lines, and which,
sure enough, had only dirt ballast. Ahead of us was another railway
track with lights, which we determined to leave alone. The lights of
the two towns, Delmenhorst and Gunderksee, shone against the western
sky, and we kept to the south to avoid them. The going was difficult
on account of the settlement, and we had to be watching all the time
for travellers. There were a lot of people out that night who might
better have been at home--and in bed!
We were glad to take refuge before daylight in an extensive wood. We
had a few turnips, which we ate. The day was spent as usual trying to
dry our socks and get our feet in shape for the night, but the rain
came down hard, and when we started out at dusk we were soaking wet.
We at once got into a forest, a great dark, quiet forest, where
fugitives could hide as long as they liked, but which furnished
no food of any kind. In the small clearings we came upon herds of
cattle, but they were all young, with not a cow among them. This was
one of the planted forests of Germany, where a sapling is put in when
a big tree is taken out, to conserve the timber supply. No one would
know that it had been touched by man, except for the roads which ran
through it. There was no waste wood; there were no stumps, no hacked
trees, no evidences of fire--such as I have often seen in our forests
in British Columbia. The Germans know how to conserve their
There was no wind or stars, and there were so many roads crossing
and dividing, that it was hard for us to keep our direction. Toward
morning it began to rain, and soon the wet bushes, as well as the
falling rain, had us wet through.
We stopped at last to wait for daylight, for the forest was so dense
we believed we could travel by day with safety. We lit our pipes in
the usual way, to conserve our matches. One match would light both,
when we followed this order. The lighted one was inverted over the
unlighted one. Into the lighted one Ted blew, while I drew in my
breath from the unlighted one. This morning, something went wrong.
Either the tobacco was soggy or I swallowed nicotine, for in a few
minutes I had all the symptoms of poisoning, I wanted to lie down,
but the ground was too wet. So I leaned against a tree, and was very
sorry for myself. Ted felt much the same as I did.
Then we tried to light a fire--we were so cold and wet, and, besides,
we had a few potatoes, carried from a garden we passed the night
before, which we thought we could roast. Hunger and discomfort
were making us bold. Our matches would not light the damp wood,
and we could find no other. We chewed a few oats, and were very
down-hearted. It looked as if lack of food would defeat us this time!
We had so far come safely, but at great expense of energy and time.
We had avoided travelled roads, bridges, houses, taking the smallest
possible risk, but with a great expense of energy. Our journey had
been hard, toilsome, and slow. We were failing from lack of food.
Our clothes hung in folds on us, and we were beginning to feel weak.
The thought of swimming the Ems made us shudder! One thing seemed
clear--we must get food, even if to get it imposed a risk. There was
no use in starving to death.... The recklessness of the slum-cat was
coming to us.
The weather had no mercy that day, for a cold, gray, driving rain
came down as we leaned against a tree, two battered hulks of men,
with very little left to us now but the desire to be free.
* * *
If this were a book of fiction, it would be easy to lighten and
vary the narrative here and there with tales of sudden attacks and
hair's-breadth escapes. But it is not a fancy story--it is a plain
tale of two men's struggle, with darkness, cold, and hunger, in a
land of enemies. It may sound monotonous to the reader at times, but
I assure you, we never, for one minute, got accustomed to the pangs
of hunger, the beat of the rain, or the ache of our tired legs, and
the gripping, choking fear that through some mishap we might be
The country was so full of bogs and marshes that we had to stick to
the road that night, but we met no person, and had the good fortune
to run into a herd of cows, and drank all the milk we could hold.
Unfortunately we had nothing in which to carry milk, so had to drink
all we could, and go on, in the hope of meeting more cows.
While we were helping ourselves, the storm which had been threatening
all night came on in great fury, and the lightning seemed to tear the
sky apart. We took refuge in an old cow-shed, which saved us from the
worst of it.
That morning we hid in a clump of evergreens, thick enough to make a
good shelter, but too short for comfort, for we could not stand up!
Ted was having a bad time with his feet, for his improvised socks
did not work well. They twisted and knotted and gave him great
discomfort. This day he removed his undershirt, which was of wool,
and, cutting it into strips five or six inches wide, wound them round
and round his feet, and then put his boots on. He had more comfort
after that, but as the weather was cold the loss of his shirt was a
That night we came to a river, which we knew to be the Hunte, and
looked about for a means of crossing it. We knew enough to keep away
from bridges, but a boat would have looked good to us. However, there
did not seem to be any boat, and we decided to swim it without loss
of time, for this was a settled district, and therefore not a good
place to hesitate.
On account of our last experience in crossing a river, we knew a raft
to carry our clothes on would keep them dry and make it easier for
us. So, failing to find any stuff with which to make a raft, we
thought of a gate we had passed a short time back. It was a home-made
affair, made of a big log on the top, whose heavy root balanced the
gate on the post on which it swung. We went back, found it, and
lifted it off, and although it was a heavy carry, we got it to the
river, and, making two bundles of our clothes, floated them over on
it. I swam ahead, pushing it with one hand, while Ted shoved from
behind. Our clothes were kept dry, and we dragged the gate up on the
bank. We hope the farmer found it, and also hope he thought it was an
early Hallowe'en joke!
That day, August 31st, we took refuge in the broom, which was still
showing its yellow blossom, and, as the, sun came out occasionally,
we lit our pipes with Ted's sun-glass. The sun and wind dried our
tobacco and our socks, and we started off that night feeling rather
It was a fine night for our purpose, for there was considerable wind,
and we kept going all night, mostly on the roads. At daylight we took
refuge in an open wood. The day was cloudy and chilly, and we found
it long. At night, we had not gone far when we found three cows in a
small field. We used all our blandishments on them, but the lanky one
with straight horns was unapproachable and aloof in her manner, and
would not let us near her. One of the others was quiet enough, but
was nearly dry. The third one was the best, and we filled and drank,
and filled and drank, until her supply was exhausted too. On account
of the field being near the house, we were careful not to let the
stream of milk make a sound in the empty can, so left some milk in
the can each time, to deaden the sound. However, the owners of the
cows were safe in bed, and asleep. We wondered if they would think
the cows were bewitched when they found they would give nothing next
THE LONG ROAD TO FREEDOM
When we had taken all the milk we could extract from the cows, we
moved off quietly to the corner of the field farthest from the
buildings, to get back to the road. We were going over the fence as
gently as possible, when we saw two men whom we knew from their
uniforms to be French prisoners. They were evidently escaping, like
ourselves, but had been more fortunate than we, for they had packs on
their backs. We tried to get their attention by calling to them, but
the French word for "friend" did not come to us, only the German
"Kamerad," and when they heard that, they took us for Germans and ran
with all speed. We dared not pursue them, or even call, for fear of
being heard; so had to see the two big packs, which no doubt had
chocolate, sardines, bread, and cheese in them, disappear in the
darkness. However, it may have been just as well--two escaping
prisoners are enough, for safety.
September 2d was a fine day, with several hours of sunshine. From
where we had taken refuge in a high spruce thicket, we could look out
across a wide heather moor, all in bloom and a glorious blaze of
color, amethyst, purple, mauve, with the bright September sun pouring
down upon it. Our spirits always rose when the sun came out, and sank
again when the day grew dark.
[Illustration: A Prison Post-Card from Friedrichsfeld bei Wesel /
The group includes soldiers from Canada, Newfoundland, England,
Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa,
France, Belgium, Italy, Russia, Serbia, and Roumania.]
Since these experiences of battling bare-handed with the elements I
can understand why primeval man fell into sun-worship, for on the
caprice of the sun with its power to give or withhold, the happiness
and well-being of the roofless traveller depends.
We stayed closely in the dark shadows of the heavy evergreens that
day, although just beyond was the golden sunlight with its warmth and
comfort, for we were afraid to show ourselves in the open. That night
we came upon a potato garden, and dug out some with our fingers,
filling our pockets and our handkerchiefs with them. We had a good
night, and shoved the miles behind us. We had promised ourselves a
fire just at dawn, and the thought of it, and the potatoes we should
bake, was wonderfully cheering.
Just at the beginning of the dawn, in that gray, misty light, a fire
can scarcely be seen, for the air is something the color of smoke,
and there is enough light to hide the fire. At night the fire shows,
and in the daylight, the smoke, but in the gray dawn it is not easy
to see either. So on the morning of September 3d, we gathered dry
sticks and made our first fire. There was a blue veil of haze on the
horizon, and a ragged gray mist hung over the low places. The air was
sweet with the autumn smell of fallen leaves and wood bark, and as we
sat over our tiny fire, we almost forgot that we were in a world of
enemies. The yellow beeches and the dark green spruces bent over us
in friendliest fashion, and a small bird chased a hawk above the
Still, we were not beguiled by the friendliness of our surroundings
to take any chances, and, instead of waiting for ashes or coal to
roast our potatoes, we put them right on the fire. What if they were
burnt on the outside? We scraped off part of the charcoal and ate the
rest. We knew about charcoal tablets being good for digestion, and we
believed ours could stand a little assistance, for green apples and
new milk are not a highly recommended combination.
We kept track of the number of potatoes we ate that morning. It was
twenty-five! What we couldn't eat we put in our pockets, and held in
our hands--for the warmth. That day, September 3d, was the brightest
and warmest day we had.
Toward evening we crept out to the edge of the wood to see what sort
of country we were in--and found there was a village quite near
us. But as we had heard not a sound all day, and as there was not
a flutter around it now,--not a soul stirring or a cow-bell
tinkling,--we thought it must be a deserted hamlet. The old and now
almost indistinct paths through the wood where we sat seemed to tell
of a departed people.
We sat in one of these old paths, watching the shafts of sunlight
which filtered through the woods as we waited for the dark. Then Ted
began to fix the strips of cloth around his feet, and I lay down upon
my back, across the path, looking up at the sky, which was shot over
with mackerel-back clouds, giving promise of settled weather.
Suddenly, around a bend in the path, came a man and a dog. The man
carried a gun across his shoulder, and evidently had been shooting
birds. I swung myself off the path and motioned to him to go by--for
he had stopped in surprise. Ted did the same. Our gestures were
polite--but I think had something suggestive in them too--almost
He passed by, merely bidding us "good-evening," and remarking in
German that Ted's feet were sore!
He walked on, as a peaceable old fellow who had no desire to get into
trouble, and although he must have seen the yellow stripe down the
seams of our trousers, and the prison numbers on our tunics, he kept
We watched him through the trees, as far as we could see him, but
only once did he turn and look back--and then only for a minute. He
was not going toward the village, but we decided to keep away from
it, anyway, and at nightfall we made a wide detour to avoid it. The
night clouded up, too, and we pushed along with thankful hearts that
the old man with the dog knew when to keep quiet.
A rare piece of good luck came to us that night. We came to a
settlement, evidently a new one, for the houses were of modern
design, and the farm-buildings, too, were fresh and newly built.
There was evidently a creamery somewhere near, and beside the road we
found a can full of milk set out, to be gathered up in the morning.
The cream had risen to the top of it, and with our toffee tin we
helped ourselves. Later on, we found others, and helped ourselves
again. It was a very satisfactory arrangement for us to have the
refreshment booths scattered like this along the way. Then we ate
some of the burnt potatoes and an apple or two, had a few drinks of
cream from another can, and the night passed pleasantly. From the
apple-trees beside the road we replenished our pockets, and felt this
had been a good night.
It was a good thing for us that the night had started so well, for
along toward morning, probably two hours before daylight, we crossed
a peat-bog. There was a road at first which helped us, but it ran
into a pile of cut peat, drying for the winter. There were also other
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