A Canadian Prisoner at Ruhleben
Eighteen'Months .in a German Prison Camp
NKIUTOR'ÎV NOTE.—The writer of the accompanying article, a Canadian by birth, lived for many years in Berlin prior to the war. After his eighteen months incarceration at Ruhleben he was permitted to go to Switzerland for his health, and there he has remained under a measure of Surveillance. For obvious reasons the identity of the writer must be kept secret.
You ARE under arrest,” was the brusque statement that fell on my ears one memorable morning in November. 1914. “You must come along. And be quick about it.” It came as a thunder clap to me so utterly unexpected was it. I could hardly believe that the private detective who uttered the words, his cold gimlet-like eve boring through me the while, was in earnest. I thought for a moment that it must be a practical joke and for one panicky moment I .considered flight. But it was riot a joke. It was very much grim earnest. The relentless and efficient arm of the German Secret Service had reached out and was sweeping in every atom of humanity who could be termed a British •object within the domains of Kaiser Wh il helm.
We had lived in Germany for seventeen years; consequently my brother and I had come to look on Berlin as our home. We had entered into business there, we spoke German like natives and all our friends and acnua in tances practically were German.-. \.e never thought for a moment that the authorities would look upon us with suspicion.
There had been a great deal of talk in the press about the internment of German people in England. The wildest kind of .stories circulated about the ill-treatment they were receiving and'this swelled the chorus of hate. Retaliation was loudly demanded. Then the story got around that the Imperial Government had sent an ultimatum to Britain demanding the i elease of all German civilians interned toere by November 6; failing such action by the British the order for the arrest of all British subjects in Germany from the ages of 17 to 55 was to be given.
\\T E I>11 » not take this very seriously, * ^ however. As I was leaving the office where I was emp’oyed on the evening of November 5. I laughingly remarked to a group of my colleagues: “If I don’t turn up in the morning, boys, you’ll know I’m in gaol.”
No such ultimatum had been sent so'-I can only regard what followed as a coincidence. For. sure enough, the summons came next day. We lived in Halensce. a suburb of Berlin. On that memorable day—the blackest of my life—I arose as usual and was having my morning tub when there came a ring at the door. My sister answered the ring and found a man there who asked for my vounger brother and myself. He was not in uniform, but there was no mistaking him for anything but what he was. Police official was written all over him. My. sister came back and announced him with visible trepidation. I slipped into a hath
robe and went down with my brother to see what he wanted. And we got the surprise of our lives.
“Bring your bedding and blankets along with you,” he ordered, after his first gruff intimation of his errand. We hastened dumbly to obey, partaking of a hurried and dismal breakfast before packing such meagre belongings as we found we would' be allowed to take. We still thought that the matter would be straightened out when we reached headquarters; at any rate, we tried to keep our courage up by repeating this over our coffee. We even tried to make a joke out’of it al! and informed our parents that it would be an experience to heartily laugh over when the troubled times were gone. We left the house seemingly in the best of spirits. In reality I felt like a convicted criminal being led to the gallows or to penal servitude. I had a premonition that it was rot a joke at all—that we were due to •offer the foil brunt of German thoroughness.
We never saw our home again and a few days later we heard that our parents and sisters had decided to return to England.
TOADED down with bedding and rugs and portmanteaux and parcels, we arrived at the local police station. We were rather unceremoniously bundled into a little room which we found already crowded with other British subjects. Among them was my married brother who lived in the same district. Every few minutes more worried-looking additions to our party arrived, until finally the room was packed full to overflowing. Finally an officer in uniform came and looked us over and announced with a selfsatisfied smile that he had rounded up every Englishman in the district. It is said that misery loves company, so this should have cheered us up. But we didn’t cheer up in any noticeable degree. We were, in fact, a very dismal looking lot.
It wasrthen announced-that our destination was the Stadtvogtei, a prison in the heart of Berlin. We were told that we could either walk there, travel in the “Black Maria” or go in cabs—hired at our own expense. The majority elected to pay for the cabs, so in due course a string of taxis came up and we crowded in. A policeman went in each cab.
Arriving at the Stadtvogtei we were
very promptly clapped into cells. This rather amazed us as we had not thought we would be treated as common criminals. We found afterward, however, that on a basis of comparison we were very well treated, indeed. Ever since the declaration of war the authorities had been picking up Englishmen from all parts of the country. In many cases these men had been locked up for weeks in solitary confinement. Before war was declared British seamen in Hamburg and other seaports.had been seized and shut up in disgraceful old hulks. We subsequently met some of these men and found then that our treatment had been comparatively decent and mild.
We were not kept long in suspense as to the German intentions. At 3 o’clock that afternoon we were marched to the station through crowds that jeered and hooted at us lustily.
“Bedank Euch bei Eurem Grey,” they bellowed at us time and again. This meant, “You have Grey to thank for this.” The state of the German mind was very bitter against Grey at that time. He had been cartooned and lampooned as the Machiavelli of European diplomacy until the average German had come to regard him as a literal fiend incarnate.
A T THE station was a special train waiting for us and we pretty well filled it up, our party now consisting of the whole male British colony of Berlin.
There were a large number of Canadians that I recognized. No intimation had yet been given us as to whither we were bound and we had made up our minds that our destination w'as some distant part of Germany. Consequently we were much surprised when the train stopped at the Emigration station at Ruhleben, near Spandau, about half an hour’s journey from Berlin.
The station was in the hands of & squad of soldiers and we were turned over to them. They lined us up in fours and then escorted us to the Ruhleben race course. The iron ¿ates clanged behind us and we beheld our new abode.
The grounds we found pretty well sprinkled already with prisoners who hufried over to watch us. Our arrival apparently was an event of great importance in the grey monotony of their prison lif They looked us over eagerly and in some cases found friends or - relatives amongst us.
The soldiers then lined us up, each man with his own luggage.apd searched us carefully for weapons,' spirits, playing cards and other articles that were “verboten.” Confiscations were common in practically all cases.
F INALLY we were marched in to the
“apartments” that had been allotted us—a long succession of horse boxes and lofts. Imagine an ordinary stable carried out on a very extensive scale and you will have a fairly accurate picture of our new home. Those of us who were lucky enough to be assigned to boxes were able to ocate ourselves with a certain degree of comfort. My brother and I belonged to thi? fortunate ones. The poor beggar-who drew lofts for their sleeping quarters were indeed to be pitied.
We were now lined up again—we got quite accustomed to this in a day or so— anti our dinner service was handed out. consisting of a metal bowl with handles attached to the sides. No spoons were provided. A few days later we were able to buy spoons, but until that time our manner of eating necessarily reverted back to the most primitive methods. We ate with our hands. Nor were we provided with tables and chairs at first. We had. in fact, no more accommodation than the original occupants of the quarters. Later all this was changed and we were able to secure almost anything we wanted at the carteen established in the camp. Most of us also got things sent in from our houses and fixed up our lk>xes quite comfortably.
At the same time that we were handed our bowls we were presented with a couple of thread-bare blankets and a towel. We were uncertain at first if the towel were intended for our toilet or for the cleaning of the bowls. We learned, however, that it was intended for the later purpose. Soap apparently-was an article deemed unnecessary by the authorities; at any rate we received none. And when more prisoners arrived each of us had to give np one of our blankets. Supplies were not plentiful. *
Our beds, at first, consisted of a litter of straw, that was not over clean. Later we received sacks which we filled with the same straw. This did us for a few months and then -we were allowed to change the straw for a filling of wood shavings. Finally, however, the authorities installed plank bedsteads. From that time on we could use the bedding which most of us had brought along. Those assigned to the lofts, continued unfortunate right through the piece, however.
N o bedsteads were installed for them and up to the time when 1 left—and probably right to the present day —they continued to sleep on their straw mattresses on the floor. Racing stables are always infested with rats and Ruhleben was n o exception.
Let us hope that by this time, the men in the lofts have succeeded i n exterminating the rodents.
The number thry caught the first few nights was astonishing.
The one advantage that the loft men had
over the aristocrats of the boxes was in c the matter of space. We were assigned six men to a box, so that at night we were wedged in like sardines in a box.
DURING the first few days of our captivity. prisoners continued to arrive from all parts oi Germany. The swec > had beer, a clean one. AU men of military age, irrespective of occupation and connection. ai.d without regard to matters of health, had been gathered into the police dragnet. By the end of the first month. 4,ud0 men were housed in the stables at Ruhleben! It then became necessary to find additional accommodation, and barracks were erected on the grounds. Finally, about 300 negroes arrived and they were housed in a special irracks.
By this time, we resembled very much a new town in a pioneer district. Men of all k’nds and from all walks of life had been indiscriminately thrown together.
It was almost as though we had been taken away and marooned on a désert island, with this difference, that the barest means of sustenance were provided us. We began to find it necessary to establish some form of government in order to keep law in camp. We took this matter into our own hands and soon had a kind of organization worked out. Captains were elected for each barrack*and a police force organized, the members of which assembled every morning to receive orders and instructions for the day from the superintendent. The men selected for service on the force wore badges with numbers and blue bands on their sleeves, much after the order.of the London policemen. The police had to be obeyed just as they have in civil life. They patrolled the grounds, prevented fighting and promptly arrested all offenders. It was a remarkable tribute to man’s inherent instinct for the establishment of order that this organization was completed so quickly and was so zealously upheld. In this
or.nection it must be said that the German authorities gave us every "co-operation. allowing us to practically govern ourselves. It was, of course, in their own interests to do so, as we managed to maintain order ourselves mudi better than if it had been left to the soldiers in charge.
They kept, of course,'a very close watch on us. There was a non-commissioned officer assigned to each barrack, who had the most complete authority. On the whole, we got along very well with these officers, although sometimes they could turn very nasty. We -were lucky in our section, having in chargé a non-commissioned officer whom I shall call Karl. He had two outstanding characteristics, a love for animals and a passion for strong drink. The one made him very popular with the prisoners; the other ultimately led to his disgrace and banishment to active service. He had a black poodle which he called Peter and which he always spoke of as “Ein Guter Kerl” (a good fellow). One of our company was an artist and he spent quite a little time making a sketch of Peter, which he'presenter to Karl. Beneath the sketch were the lines “Ein Guter Kerl.” Karl could not do too much for us for a time after that, and even went to the length of estab-’ lishing a poultry yard in front of the barracks for the ostensible purpose of providing fresh laid eggs for the prisoners. As we paid him liberally for the eggs, a suspicion gradually took hold of MS that his philanthropy in this was not an unmixed one; especially when it was found that most of the eggs he sold at high prices w’ere previously purchased at the canteen. Karl’s weakness for intoxicants, however, led to his undoing. Once, after being out on leave, he came back in a condition of tipsy imbecility and was very promptly ordered off to the front.
Many of the non-coms were very different, however, from good-natured Karl. The officer in charge of the barracks next to us, wasa typical Prussian martinet H e delighted ir» the exercise of authority. H i s language was vile and his temPer frightful. Once I saw him give * an elderly gentleman a bfiSw on the back which sent him sprawling in a huddled heap to the ground. To protest against this was useless — nay, dangerous. The commanding officer had peremptori1 y announced that he would severely punish any prisoner who brought complaints b e -forehim. Thus, all we could do was to grin and bear whatever burdens were thrust upon us.
Later, when the pith o~ man power was being felt, all these so. dierp were order ed .ff to the front. `tern that tir~e on, the police cap tairn of our own selection had sole charge of order in the camp. Every night, one of our o~R po,ice was On duty in each see tioa. This very welc.me change took place in the autima .f 1915.
IA! E HAD A treat many invalids in the camp and also not a f e w crrpples. There were pri sonera among us rn the last stages o f consumption. was due to the fact that the order for the in teri~rnent of all English civilians had bee.. charac
nau &eR, cnarac teristically1 enough, carried out to the very letter. No exceptions whatever had been made. Englishmen were hauled out of nitariums and hospItals and bundled off tQ Rubleben. No special provision had been made for them there, and they simply had to take their chance with the rest of the prisoners and without any concession in the matter of accommoda tion. The commanding officer of the camp, a very kind-hearted Idcrly man. was powerless at first, to do anything. It wa~ some months before these poor feflo~s were permitted to go back into hospitals. Naturally. a great many deaths occurred during this period. How many, we were never able to ascertain. Later, a hospital was established in the camp, but it left a great deal to be desired. At no time was ary special diet provided for patients. Black tea and potatoes boiled in their jackets were doled out to every one-the consum~t1ve, the fever stricken, the paralytic.
The camp doctor, a clever man, doubt less, in his profession. took little interest in' the eases. He had one outstanding characteristic-a wonderful faith in the healing poweis of aspirin. He pre~ribed nis for everything. Rather a funny story went the rounds of the camp, at the ex pense of this official. One day a chap who had a wooden leg had gone to him com plaining of pain in that limb. The suf ferer spoke in English which the doctor did notunderstand perfectly. he prompt ly prescribed a couple of asp~in tablets!
HE officers of the camp vere on the whole civil an.d well irtei;t. There were, however. few exceptions. and unfortunately the greatect power lay in the hands of these men. The regulations governing th~ camp, rigid enough in themselves, w~re carried out to the letter. It had been decreed that leave would he granted, to prisoners on only the very rare~ occasions. such as the death of near relatives, or a summons to attend a lawsuit This regulation was grimly ad hered to. No excuse, however plausib~e,
no story however heart-rer di .g ever moved ou'r iailors to an infringement (if this rule. Perhaps the most drast:c ea~ where leave was refu~'d was that of my eldest brother. His wife sudden lv can~e~ ill arid had to undergo a serious opera tior. Word wa~ sent in to him that the doctor attending her deemed hk presere'e of the utmost importance. lie applied fir leave but was refu~*d. "`lour wife n~t dvi r' s.inf the officer in charge. `You're rot reeJ'd." I.uck:v the oneration proved a uece~-. Ar.other case. A mar: whose busiie~s affars were, owing to hi~ al'~ei ce. a1 -ir.g wrong, arid who cor.s~luerty. od in grave danger of slipping into lark ruptey, applied for leave for ju~ one day. He explained that if he did ret at Orice~ personally settle his affairs. hr would he ruined. The officer laughed and rep~ivd: "That is very good indeed. It is our in tention to ruin you completely. This me officer prefaced every refusal of leave, with a question as to whether the applicant c.ared to join th~ German army. It was supposed that he was paid a commission for every recruit he secured in the camp. He did not get many. how ever.
HERE were a few who did joir. the army from the camp, hut they were. without exception. men who had r.t practically all their lives in (;ermanv. could rot speak a word of Erglish ard had been considered Engli9hmen only be cauFe. their fathers had happered to l~ born under the English flag. or had spent a few v&ar~ of their lives in Er.g!ar.d. and had become naturalized there; The'~& fel low! had remained Britkh uhjects in order to escape military -~erv!ce. Some of them volunteered for serv ce rather than remain pr1sor:tr~ at Ruhhh.r~. One young fellow with u~ had beer taken out of the army on attive servie~ and sent to the camp. The story ran that his father was a German who had lived in England years before and. a~ most Germans do. had become a British
`uliject. L~6L.tI. ad returied it~ !1)~L' ¶.`. I~ - sa' tor,. (~-rn~er:y and t nuruugh-gou a T utur' 5Q I h:. • At U * .ir r t~e a h. ad voiuritet l fur a r d h a d Ier%-: v. ith great (`ut earnir.g pr flt t(J~t and . a pronn'~c of th. I r 0 . C r o s Neve rtheIe~~. when •th~ arr.~ ut' a1 l~nglishmt'! wa~' ordered, h father, who Wa t:ot quite 5 yca~ of age, was ir terned with the rtu~t of us. Th~ Sofl heard of thi and protested vig orous!v, with the result that he *tripped of h i uniform and' promptly bundled, off to Ruhleben
him~lf. When th old man turned f'-' h. w:t'~ re~t-a~ed a~tf soon afterwards th. son dap~h~tre(j from the camp. Pr.' hahlv he had gone hack into the arm). Ma~ of the prLsoner~ were forced .` jon the colors much again~it their wifl In ta~'~ where parent~ had husine~ ii. in th. country. pre~ure Was to huar upon thetn to induce the: o!:~ to iu!.t.er.
S NV! N( El' wert the ;erm~m9 c'~ the ri~htt `~-`re~of their eau~e tha~ rhe act ;a~v expected a pro-(krman feel ir~ fl `r camp. Th~s feeling led to a Vtrv 1 raniat ic iccu rrtri&'e one day which I shah r:c~c~ forget. We were at our .` Ofi iia meala scanty one I assure you when the alarm bell rarg. This alway~ happer:ed when anything special W~9 oi an~ was called `Appcll.~' At the OUrd of the hell we had to as.~mble in front of our harrack~. On thi~i occasion, the corn mi'~Iu.g officer with his adjutant. the lat ter OfiC of the mo~'t ob~t,cUonab1e officeri~ ir~ the camp, walked from barrack to bar rack. eonfrofltir.g each group of pri9oner~ ar(I putt:n~r the f~l:o~v~r.~ question. Which of the prisoners are pro-Ger man `~ All who ar tep forward." A-~ the question was put, the adjutant scanr.ed u-i over with, a menacing eye, which toid us p1aIi~er thar. word~i oulil. l~*~ t~-r ttp forward." A good many stepped forward. It wits. of cu an unfair ti-st to put to pr~ plenty of whom had German wive~ and pratt (`ally all of whom had busine~'~ r `rest~i `el t red ;trmarly. What ioU l. t he'. tb'? Tho.c who did not step trwarl! f:t'itj the alter~atjv&~ of havint~ a! hi-i r proportv cflflfi-cate(l and thet w~v lan h.d Trou~ the country, The~ \Vl'e tat' (1 ii; a serious (filemna. And a -iii; Iiiiroft~ "`ii pri -G&rman sent i me'.: A tt*r that the p ;erman, "P.G.'s" a~ we t'i ad them, wel e `eparated from ihe jr~-rcr~ and housed in Rpecial liarrack-. `i L-~ were piomptly hocotted 00 0' (Iii ,Wlq(' 110. by the other members of the camp and excluded froimthe football field and other amusements. * We were never able to learn what object the authorities had in bringing about this separation, for we were very pleased indeed that the “P. G.’s” were no better treated than the rest of us. Certainly no special concessions were made for them.
A Canadian Prisoner at Ruhleben
Continued from page 14.
E HAD to be very careful what we “ said and did. There were a number of seamen among us who were rough and outspoken in their language. As there was always plenty of provocation for outbursts, we were continually in fear that these hardy sons of Neptune would start something which would involve the whole camp in trouble. On one occasion they did. A sailor, goaded to exasperation, referred to the “bloody Germans," in the overhearing of one of the “P.G.’s” who very promptly carried it to headquarters.
The result was an “appell." The commanding officer walked from one group of prisoners to the next, and harangued us somewhat to this effect:
“Somebody has used the expression 'bloody Germans.’ This is an insult! I return it to you, 'bloody Englishmen!’ We did not begin this war, but, thank God, we are going to finish it”
He went on in a similar vein, working himself up into a pretty rage. The offender could not be found, however, and finally, when the commander had cooled down a little, the captains went to him and explained that the word was not really one of contempt. It was, they explained, a contraction for. “By our Lady," and had been at one time, an expresnon of respect rather than of derision. This proved quite satisfactory to UM officer, who laughed heartily and finally let the matter blow over.
But a more serious case occurred shortly afterwards. Our jailors liked to “rub it in,” whenever German successes were announced. They had erected a huge flag
staff, and, whenever anything out of the ordinary occurred, up went the flag. On the Kaiser’s birthday, a special celebration waî» planned and we were all summoned to witness the raising of the flag. It had hardly reached the top when the rope snapped and the flag toppled to the ground. Somebody, obviously, had tampered with the line.
There was a tremendous row, of course. This was lèse majesté, the unforgiveab!e sin. “Appell” was immediately sounded and'we were all lined up and interrogated. The culprit, needless to state, did not come forward. Accordingly, we were all ordered back into our barracks and forbidden to leave them until the guilty party had confessed his crime. Smoking was prohibited. We remained indoors the whole day with nothing to do and lynx-eyed guards watching every move we made, eager to pounce upon us for any offence. In the evening a deputation of the captains went into the commander and expressed deep regret at what had occurred. They threw out the suggestion that the affair had been an accident. The authorities finally accepted this explanation of the affair and we were allowed to leave our barracks the next morning. The affair has always remained a mystery. But we all felt sure that it had not been an accident.
We were punished -for the ^smallest offences, 6uch as disobeying a non-com, not getting up in the morning at the appointed time, not being indoors after the order for retiring had been given, etc. For such offences we were given solitary confinement with bread and water, ranging in length from 24 to 72 hours. Graver offences such as letter smuggling, attempts to escape, etc., were dealt with by a species of court martial. The culprits were usually sent for a few weeks or months imprisonment in the Stadtvogtei at Berlin.
Attempts at escape were made more or less regularly, by the bolder spirit.,
ii, camp. I recall several instances, paiticularly. There were two young ship boys who had been gathered into the net at Hamburg when war broke out. They fretted greatly at the confinement. The monotony of camp played upon their ardent young spirits to such an extent that they finally decided to make an attempt to get away.
"Got to get out o’ this, Fred.” said one of them, a lad of fifteen. “I’d just as soon be run through with a bayn’t as to stay and rot around this hole.”
So they slipped away one day, getting by the guards who did not pay much attention to such mere lads. Neither of them could speak a word of German. They probably didn’t have half a crown between them. And certainly they hac^ no knowledge of the country into which they so intrepidly plunged.
Needless to state, they were recaptured the same day and brought back very tired, very muddy and very disgusted; but as full of fight as joung game cocks. They got 72 hours solitary confinement on bread and water for their pains.
Another daring attempt was made by a poor fellow who apparently was not quite sane. He managed to slip out of camp with a working gang and his absence was not detected. At any rate, no hue and cry was raised.
He walked openly to' Spandau and jauntily sought out the railway station. Slapping some English money on the counter, he demanded:
“Ticket to London, please.”
He was promptly taken in charge and sent back to camp. After some delay, during which time we wondered what would be done with him, fearing the worst, he was sent on to Berlin. We never heard of him afterward.
After thht the authorities grew very angry and we were warned that if any again attempted to escape, they would be court-maftialed and shot.
THE food that was provided for us by the authorities was just enough to keep us alive. If we had been solely dependent upon it we would have been in a very sorry plight indeed. In the mornings, we received a bowl of black liquid supposed to be coffee and which, it is true, had a taste and odor that faintly suggested that beverage. As we had to tramp a long distance to the kitchen to get it, when we got back to the barracks it was almost too cold to drink. For dinner we were served with a soup made from vegetables and to a small extent from meat. For supper we usually had baked potatoes and a bowl of black tea. Twice a week we obtained a small piece of liver sausage or a bloater. Each day they gave us a small slab of bread which consisted chiefly of potatoes. Happily we received a good many parcels fcom England so that we did not starve. There were a good many poor fellows, however, who had neither friends nor money and so had to subsist on the camp diet. The negroes suffered a great deal in this respect. It was touching to »e them going from barrack to barrack, begging for bread. .We helped them all we could.
And while we thus eked out a meagre existence, the Berlin newspapers published articles frequently which showed that we were living like lords and feeding on the fat of the land! Sometimes we found amusement in reading these articles, but I cannot say that we ever waxed very hilarious over them. One does not laugh loudly on an empty stomach.
DUT THE discomforts we suffered ^ from all these sources were as nothing compared to what we experienced when winter set in. No tongue could tell of the misery of the camp during that first winter; no pen could depict our sufferings Picture a band of ill-nourished men huddling together in a poorly heated and damp stable almost without light! Conceive, if you can, of this being repeated day in and day out, week in and week out, month in and month out The winter was long and bitterly cold. We suffered so much that we became apathetic and passed the time in a condition almost of coma. .
The buildings were not heated during the first few weeks of the winter season. When the heating apparatus had at last been set up, it did not provide much warmth. The only place where we could feel in any way comfortable and warm was in bed. So to bed we often crawled as early as six o’clock. We had no lights in our boxes and were dependent entirely upon the electric bulbs in the gangway of the stables. It was impossible to read or do any work in the evenings. We didn’t talk muc]}, as we sat around after dark. It was too cold and dark and depressed. We just sat quietly and thought; sometimes we didn’t even think. . . .
At that we were better off than the poor fellows up in the lofts. They spent most of their time in semi-darkness and were colder, if possible, than we were.
To make things worse, wet weather always turned the grounds into a veritable swamp. The journeys to and from the kitchen for food became odysseys fraught with peril. We would come back with our clothes soaked and caked with thick Ruhleben mud and our hands full of thin Ruhleben food. The seamen took this phase of our daily life better than the rest of it. Most of them had their oilskins and sea boots and in these they used to slosh around in the wet quite contentedly. The camp sometimes for that reason used to look like a fishing village.
Not even the wet and the cold and the hunger could banish entirely the English sense of humor. I remember one occasion when an inspection of the camp by the officers of the Berlin Kommandatur was announced. The great Von Kessel himself, commander of Berlin, was to come. It was very wet just at the time and the grounds were feet deep in water/" Some of the sailors painted notices and put them up near the deepest places. “No mixed bathing allowed here”; “Fishing positively prohibited,” etc.« One of the sailors sat down by the side of the pond in the drizzling rain and proceeded to fish. Just as the officers proceeded, Von Kessel leading, he gravely landed an old bloater which he had saved up for the occasion.
* I ' HROUGH it all our communication with the outside world was very intermittent and scanty. We were permitted to write two letters and four postcards a month. The letters and cards that went to England or any other country outside Germany for that matter, were always held ten days before being dispatched. This was done, as a safeguard against military information being sent out in any
way. The railways passed the camp and we could often observe the passage of troop trains. Mail was delivered at a certain time each day and that hour became by long odds the most important event of the day.
No visitors were permitted into the camp. Although many of the wives and families of the prisoners resided in Berlin or at. points not far from the camp r.or.e of them were allowed in. This was a form of cruelty that pressed upon us very much. Why such stringent measures were adopted no one seemed to know.
It was hard to conceive of any mischief that such visits could bring about. I have heard that recently this regulation has been amended and that now wives, mothers and children can visit the camp once a month for just one hour! They have to obtain a special permit for each visât.
Life in the camp was not bad in the summer months. Lightand warmth created a more cheerful feeling amongst us and we did everything in our power to keep fit and well. Permission was secured to use the inner part of the race course for sports, and soon games of football,* cricket, golf, hockey (English variety) and tennis were arranged. One barrack playing against another. The German guard used to watch the games and were astonished at the way we played football. Said one guard to a fellow: “If these English play like this, they must be terrors at fighting!”
OUR efforts did not stop at keeping fit physically. An Arts and Science Union was founded, the members being mostly men who had engaged in scientific and literarjrpursuits. Under the auspices of the Union lectures were held on the tribunes of the race course, on all subjects imaginable. Conversational circles were formed with the idea of teaching various languages and the camp soon could boast of a French, German, Spanish, Italian. Russian, and even a Chinese circle. We had a debating society which met once a week and' a theatre in the hall beneath the tribunes. Here all kinds of plays were produced—in full costume! The costumes were made in camp out of whatever odd material could be found. It was surprising what could be produced in this way. A discarded and badly worn fur collar formed the nucleus of the costume for Caliban and a discolored tunic gave color to the robes of both Romeo and Mercutio. As we had plenty of musicians among us, including a professional cofiductor, an orchestra was formed and many excellent concerts were given.
Ultimately a camp paper, The Ruhleben Camp News, came into existence. It appeared once a fortnight and after a time was sent out to be printed. It contained excellent illustrations and always had plenty of good articles, dealing mostly with camp life, of course.
MANY of the prisoners obtained permission to practise their, trades in the camp. Ruhleben soon became a hive of industry. A first-class London West End tailor set up a shop and it was possible after that to obtain a suit of clothes* made to measure in the very latest fashion. Truth to tell, however, there were few of us who could afford this luxury.
It even reached the stage where tradespeople advertised in the Ruhleben Camj News.
As I look hack the thing that stands out most vividly from the background of the*camp activities was the election we put on during that summer of 191f>. The borough of Ruhleben was to be represent cd in Parliament and three candidatewere nominated—a Liberal, a Conserva tive. and a supporter of woman’s suffrage. The camp threw itself into the tight with an interest that was almo.-i feverish. Posters were stuck all over the camp, meetings were held and the camp broke up into rival factions, sporting the colors of the candidates in their buttonholes. The fervor of that election made the efforts of the Potts’ and Slurks’ of Katanswill seem dignified and staid. After the polling—and thousands of votes Were cast, mind you — the results were announced by the Mayor of Ruhleben, whose chain of office consisted of a string of old sardine cans. The woman suffrage candidate won.
Thus we lived; making the best of everything; joking and laughing, sometimes with aching hearts, always with a sense of the misery and suffering around us; longing for the day of deliverance but struggling to escape the evil effects that come from such enforced idleness. As I look back I realize how brave most of them were. They are there yet—most of them; and I will stake my all that they still keep up the same brave front. Poor fellows. . . .
* I ' OWARDS the middle of September. 191*», I became seriously ill and, after seeing the camp doctor, was sent to a hospital in Berlin. Here, as a civil prisoner of war. I remained over six months. I was caged in a stuffy sickroom and had no opportunity of taking fresh air and exercise during the whole time. Although by no means bedridden myself I had to share my toom with patients who were in a very bad way indeed and had to witness the death struggles of many of than. What I suffered in this atmosphere of misery, sickness and death all these months', is hard to describe. What helped me to endure it was the fact that I at least was permitted to see my friends and write as many letters as I liked.
I sent in petition after petition to the authorities to be permitted to go to a .-anitorium in some part of Germany, but needless to say, they were all refused. At last, however. I heard to my great joy that I would be permitted to proceed to Switzerland.
Then followed weeks of suspense. Would I reajly be allowed to leave or not? On the morning of the 6th of April, 1916. I was informed that a soldier would call for ine in afternoon.
He came at 5 o’clock and conducted me to the station. Here we met Lieutenant R.. or.e of the officers of the camp, who escorted me to the Swiss frontier. I was at liberty at last! What a glorious feeling to be free again, and in such a beautiful country!
The beauties of nature do a lot to compensate me for all I have suffered. Not a sound of the great war reaches me in the little farm house, high up in the mountains, where I have found a refuge for the present, and where I hope to regain my health.