ON February 3, 1915, Lieutenant Coutisson, of the French Aviation Corps and I, his observation officer, set out on a Voisin biplane from St.Pol-sur-Mer, to reconnoitre the region embracing Tourcoing, Roubaix, Avelghem, and Courtrai. The weather was clear, but heavy clouds in the west foretold a stormy afternoon. For several days bad weather had prevented any flight in the rear of the enemy’s lines. As a survey of the lines seemed possible, we felt we must attempt it; accordingly we set out from the aviation field of St.-Pol-sur-Mer at eight o’clock in the morning.
A little before eleven o’clock we had finished our reconnoitring, and were returning to our lines from Avelghem to Courtrai, when a strong west wind began to blow. For almost three quarters of an hour Coutisson did his best to get back to our lines. Twenty kilometres still separated us from our first-line trenches. We had just enough gasoline to last half an hour and we were making only three kilometres an hour. There was only one thing left for us to do — namely, to try to reach Holland. I knew the country well and could speak its language, having passed almost three years in the metropolis and its colonies. I had no doubt about being able to get us out of the scrape.
With the wind at our backs, in twenty minutes we were within sight of the Scheldt. I should have preferred to go as far north as possible, so as to land among the islands south of the Meuse, whose topography I am well acquainted with, but the motor began to slow up as the gasoline was giving out. Below us lay an island, an isolated farm, and a pretty meadow.
The landing was somewhat exciting, for a wide canal loomed up before the biplane, which was rolling dangerously; however, Coutisson succeeded in righting the machine before it pitched headfirst into the heavy soil on the other side of the canal. We fully appreciated at that moment the landing-speed of the Voisin, whose refusal to go against the wind had just played us such a nasty trick.
We got down on the ground and went to meet a peasant who came running up to us. I had no difficulty in persuading him to sell us a couple of suits of clothes. We were already hoping to get off without being seen, when other peasants came up out of curiosity and made signs to our benefactor not to help us. Our last hope of escape was taken away by the arrival of a policeofficer, who took us to Colijusplaats. From there we sent a telegram to our chief, Captain Bousquet, to make him feel easy about us.
Toward evening two Dutch officers arrived from Middelburg, and, on our refusal to give our parole, they stripped our pockets of everything in them and took us to Fort Wiericherschans, which we reached on February 4, after a long roundabout journey. There we found the only Frenchman interned in Holland before us, Lieutenant Chauvin, interpreter for the Royal Naval Division, and also about forty men of that unit, who had been sent somewhat late to the defense of Antwerp and had been obliged to go over into Holland after fighting for a few days.
Wiericherschans is an old abandoned fort which served as a powder-magazine before being used as an internment camp. It is situated on the bank of the ‘Old Rhine,’ in the midst of the lowlands between Leyden and Utrecht, and is surrounded by water. The fort consists of two groups of buildings, one reserved for the interned officers and the other for the use of the small garrison consisting of about one hundred men. The life that we led there was rather monotonous, but quite endurable. The food was good. During the daytime we were permitted to take walks on the ramparts. Tramps outside of the fort under the escort of guards were arranged for us. Leaves of absence for the whole day were soon given, to go to The Hague or to Rotterdam. Our letters and packages were not opened. Major Van Boecop, the commanding officer at the fort, tried to make our lot easier by installing a library, and afterwards a tennis-court. In spite of all these kind attentions our sole idea was to get back our liberty. All our thoughts as well as our talks centred about that one object.
The building that we occupied was in an enclosure shut in by a high barbedwire fence. This yard was lighted up at night and guarded by numerous sentinels. On one side was a grated door, locked at night, which gave access to the soldiers’ barracks. But as their lunch-room was located in the enclosure we lived in, there was a continual going and coming through this door every evening between eight and nine o’clock.
If we could succeed in getting soldiers’ uniforms we ran a good chance of passing the sentinel at the gate without attracting his attention. After that it would be a simple matter for us to cross the outer yard, which was not lighted at night, climb over the wall surrounding this yard, and so get to the water’s edge. But we needed some one outside of the fort to get uniforms for us and to take us off in a boat.
On February 17 Mr. ——, to whom we had written on February 14, visited us. We made known to him our plan of escape; he was kind enough to promise to help us and told us that his best friend would look after us. Soon we received small parcels containing two caps and two khaki suits. Then we were ready and had only to await the date agreed upon for the escape, which was February 26. But a telegram, followed by a letter, informed us that the project was put off and directed us to await instructions. Days passed and no news came.
Meanwhile, the commander of the fort, wishing to make the interned officers as comfortable as possible, piled up the difficulties that stood in the way of our escape, without even trying to. He had a new guard-house built outside of the fort and transferred the soldiers’ lunch-room to the outer yard. From March 5 on, the going and coming, on which the successful execution of our plan depended, died off considerably, to our great despair. Only a few orderlies now passed through the gate between eight and nine o’clock in the evening. Postponing the date fixed for our escape would, perhaps, upset all our plans.
Hearing, on March 25, that an English officer, Lieutenant Pitel, and a few comrades were preparing to escape, I came to a decision. Since Coutisson was likely to be exchanged, I would leave with the English. If I let them get the start of me, their flight would result in an increased vigilance which would make my escape all the more difficult for me. I talked with Lieutenant Pitel without making known my plan. We promised not to attempt to get away by the gate without first consulting with one another. I then had a letter taken to —, explaining the situation. I brought the letter to a close by saying that, with or without help, my mind was made up, but that I needed a pass and some money. I said that I would call on March 28.
When we were given a leave of absence in exchange for our parole, given in writing, we received a pass, which opened all doors to us. This we handed back, on our return, to the commanding officer, who then gave us back the papers that we had signed and given to him before leaving. Now, on March 26, I found among my papers a pass of which the commander at the fort had, by mistake, given me an extra copy, and which I had happened to keep. This circumstance facilitated the most difficult part of my escape, as it permitted me, by simply changing the date, to leave the fort without the help of any one outside, and also without hindering the plans of the Englishmen or even of Coutisson, in case he should not be exchanged.
On March 28 I got permission to go to The Hague, where I learned that the French government had refused to exchange Coutisson. Mr. —— and I now agreed on the following plan. As Coutisson had made no promises to the Englishmen, he was to follow the first plan of escape, while I was to take advantage of the pass that was still in my possession. Once free, we still had to get on board a vessel. Mr. —— told me that he would attend to all the necessary details, that there was no need of my worrying, that all we had to do was to leave the fort and he would attend to the rest. He put me in touch with ——, who had carefully studied the surrounding country and who was to help us. Coutisson was to go to The Hague on leave of absence the next day and would arrange the final details with him.
Everything was carried out as we had planned; Coutisson’s escape was arranged for that very evening (March 29). He returned to the fort about seven o’clock, and reported immediately to Major Van Boecop.
After dinner Coutisson and I retired to our room as we were in the habit of doing each evening. Quickly my comrade shaved and dressed up as a Dutch soldier; he would never have been recognized. When he was ready, I went to make sure that the way was clear and then came back to get him. We shook hands as people do only at such moments, and wished each other good luck.
I left the room whistling, in order to attract the attention of the sentinel, before whom Coutisson passed very coolly. I saw him cross the porch, open the gate, and enter the outer yard, where I lost sight of him. It was then about half-past eight. My joy knew no bounds. But what a night for an escape! There was a clear sky and a full moon; it was bitterly cold. The attempt was made under the worst conditions. I soon learned that it had succeeded marvelously.
As for myself, who was to escape the next morning, March 30, by means of my duplicate pass, I arranged matters so that our absence should be found out at the last moment possible. I placed in our beds dummies made up of suits stuffed with soiled linen. The arrangement was a success, for they did not learn about our escape till eleven o’clock in the morning, five hours after my departure and fifteen after Coutisson’s.
So at half-past six I left by the main door of the fort, which I passed through without the least difficulty. We had decided that I should go to Amsterdam; at Leyden, however, I met a messenger from ——, who asked me to join him at The Hague. Fearing lest I should be held up at Leyden by a telephone call from Wiericherschans, I looked for and found an automobile that took us to The Hague, where we arrived at nine o’clock. An hour later we were assembled at ——’s, where I found Coutisson, who had arrived the evening before. Shortly afterward we were taken to Scheveningen. There we waited over an hour for the arrival of a person who was to hide us, and who took us to the houses of a Mrs. Westman-Kramer and her sister who lived in two small connected pavilions at 250 Van Aersenstraat. One of these ladies gave us her apartment, where we spent the day. As we were worn out with fatigue, we retired immediately after dinner.
Toward one o’clock in the morning (April 1) Mrs. Westman-Kramer came rushing into the little drawing-room where I was resting on a couch and cried out, ‘Get up! You are caught!’
Awakened abruptly from a sound sleep, I rose quickly without understanding exactly what she said, and went to the door, where I ran into a police inspector. In the street were half-a-dozen policemen. Soon Coutisson was brought out. We were somewhat anxious about the persons who had been so kind as to take us in. A gentleman, introduced to me as Mr. de Vos, assured me that the ladies would not be prosecuted. No sooner were we dressed than they took us in a motor-car to the police-commissioner’s office, where we passed the night in separate rooms and under a heavy guard.
The next morning the police commissioner came to question us, — he was very courteous, too, — but we refused to make any statement. Brought back in a motor to Fort Wiericherschans under a heavy guard, we were received very coolly by Major Van Boecop, who prevented us from communicating with our comrades and proceeded to examine us, assisted by a law officer, in the presence of General Onnen, who was in charge of the camps for interned soldiers.
They put us under close arrest, in solitary confinement, the windows of our cells being heavily barred, while sentinels were placed before our doors. It was only after repeated protests and complaints that they finally allowed us to walk for an hour each day, under guard, in a small yard.
A few days later, Coutisson and I received orders to prepare to leave for an unknown destination. That signified, we knew only too well, that we were to be sent to the island of Urk, where the Dutch government interned the ‘dangerous’ officers of the Allies.
Urk is a picturesque little island, in the middle of the Zuyderzee, forty kilometres from the coast, with a population of about 2000, mostly fishermen. It is one large family — for all are more or less related — which has kept the manners and customs of the past.
The sympathies of these simple people are with the Germans, who buy their fish, whereas the English seem to them to be only competitors. Thanks to this circumstance (which the Germans have made the most of) and also to the fact that the garrison is recruited on the island and that each soldier has been notified that he will be transferred to some other place if any interned officer should escape, the whole population can be said to guard us.
At the time of our arrival there were not many interned officers,—only three Englishmen and seven Belgians. The Englishmen had been interned there after they had failed in an attempt to escape, the others for having asked for a return of the parole which, after the hardships of a retreat and of painful forced marches, their superior officers had requested the Dutch authorities to give them. The number was soon increased by the arrival of some Belgian officers, a few Englishmen, and Lieutenant Chauvin, who joined us for having attempted, like us, to escape from Wiericherschans. By September, 1915, there were about forty of us. We were housed in a one-story portable wooden building, surrounded by two barbedwire fences between which armed sentinels paced. At night powerful lights illuminated the building and grounds about it. At the beginning each of us had his own room; but later we were obliged to share our quarters with one or two comrades when the interned officers became more numerous.
They did their best to make us comfortable. The food was very bad in the beginning, but improved little by little. Every month we could spend three days at The Hague; besides, during the summer, there was no lack of diversion: we could bathe and play tennis. Until nightfall we were allowed to tramp about the island under guard. Although we were not permitted to enter the houses or talk with the people, those walks were our happiest moments. When winter and the rainy season came on, however, confinement there became exceedingly disagreeable. The building was cold and damp and could not be sufficiently heated; the rain entered certain rooms.
We arrived at Urk fully decided not to remain there, but we realized, all the same, how difficult it would be to escape from that place. The very strict supervision that we were under had been made even stricter after Rainey, the English aviator, had attempted to get away. From that time on a torpedo-boat was kept in the roadstead and a watchman in the top of the churchsteeple, whose business it was to make known the approach of any suspiciouslooking boats.
After a thorough examination and discussion of the situation, we decided to dig a tunnel. This solution — the most complicated, the most risky, and the least sure of success — seemed, on first consideration, to be a very foolhardy one. All the same, it certainly must have been the only one possible, as French, English, and Belgian officers, of different temperaments and good judgment, did not think of any better. The scheme was not such a crazy one, after all, as it almost succeeded.
This decision arrived at, we set to work at once — it was the beginning of July — but were discovered at the end of three weeks. This mishap, far from discouraging us, taught us a lesson, and toward the middle of August we bored a new tunnel, which, starting from my room, would come out in the middle of a cemetery, in a little room that was used as a morgue, about fifteen metres distant from a hole that we dug under the floor of my room.
We made very slow progress in the beginning, for there was room for only one workman; but soon we made the hole wide enough for four men to work in it at a time. A little later the work was divided into two periods, one from two to half-past six in the evening, the other from eight till midnight. For tools we had our knives; afterwards, children’s shovels that we were fortunate enough to get hold of.
From the very beginning a serious problem had to be solved, — namely, how to dispose of the earth taken out of the tunnel. We soon had to give up carrying it outside in our pockets and there disposing of it, as we accomplished nothing by pursuing such a slow method. The idea occurred to us next to put it in the narrow space between the floor of our room and the ground. To accomplish this, we dug a whole network of trenches and piled up the earth that we took out of the tunnel on the edges of the trenches. We then pushed it back under the floor as far as possible and heaped it up by means of scoops. We dug forty metres of such trenches.
As the tunnel was only three metres below the surface of the ground, we were much annoyed by the water that entered it on rainy days. We partly provided for a drainage-system by sinking a series of sumps, one of them three metres deep, with a diameter of one and one-half metres, at the tunnel’s entrance. These sumps were about large enough to hold the water that filtered down from above, but we still had to dig a large reservoir, ten metres from the tunnel, and carry the water to it in five-litre jugs.
We were also annoyed considerably by the walls of the tunnel caving-in rather frequently. We soon had to brace them up with small boards that we had untold difficulty in procuring and that we fastened in place with metallic clamps. Finally, as we made headway, our lamps went out in the foul air. After we had propped up the walls, we then had to ventilate the tunnel. This we succeeded in doing by means of bellows and a rubber tube about thirty metres long. One of our comrades in the room above worked the arrangement.
The earth was hard and cold and often mixed with large stones that we had great difficulty in digging out and carrying off. Every few moments a stream of water came rushing in. We were in mud and water all the time; we crawled along in slime, as we could work only when stretched out flat, now on our backs, next face-down, sometimes on our sides, and almost always in a cramped position. Under such conditions, we were lucky if we could advance forty centimetres in twenty-four hours.
The fatigue brought on by this wearing work could not compare with the nervous strain that we were kept under by our anxiety to quiet the restless vigilance of our guards so as not to compromise the success of our enterprise by any indiscreet act.
Before we arranged our reservoir, we carried off the water in the tunnel in bottles, concealed under our clothes, and emptied them into the toilets. As we had more than two hundred bottles to empty every day, we were continually going back and forth between the toilets and our room. More than once we happened to meet the colonel or some Dutchmen, when the fear of having our trick discovered can be only too easily imagined. Quite frequently some of the interned soldiers who were not in the secret, or some Dutch officers, visited us, when we were obliged to stop ventilating the tunnel. The men working below suffered considerably at such times.
In order to avoid arousing the slightest suspicion, we had decided to leave the door of my room wide open. Coutisson and I took turns watching. When the time came for shifting gangs, we closed the door for about ten minutes, but, as it could not be locked, this period was a critical one and full of excitement. We had to move quickly and without speaking to one another. As soon as we had hung up our working clothes in the closet and put on our everyday suits, one of us who was not on duty in the tunnel cleaned up the dirt left by the workmen and threw back into the hole the earth that the men had brought up on their shoes or that had stuck to their clothes. Besides, every morning, at daybreak, it was absolutely necessary to wash out the rooms thoroughly, so as not to leave the slightest trace of anything that could cause suspicion.
The opening of the tunnel was hidden by a large chest on which the bed rested. Under the bed we had heaped up such a pile of bottles, hand-bags, boots, and the like, that it would never have occurred to the most inquisitive person that the entrance to a tunnel could be concealed at that spot. After working three months and a half like dogs, we had dug forty metres of trenches and twelve metres of tunnel; scarcely two metres of earth separated us from freedom.1
After much difficulty we had succeeded in procuring a boat, and made ourselves thoroughly familiar with the routes around the Zuyderzee and in the northern part of Holland, and we were preparing to leave early in December, when an indiscreet remark or act, by somebody outside of the island, caused General Onnen to telephone to Colonel Vreedenberg that there must be a tunnel under the Frenchmen’s room. The colonel immediately examined our room from top to bottom, without finding the entrance to the tunnel, so well had we hidden it; but, in spite of the perfectly natural arrangement of everything in the room, hitherto our best safeguard, the information was too definite to be disregarded. Coutisson and I were taken out and put into another room, and the moving of our belongings disclosed the whole plot.
An officer of the Dutch Engineer Corps was sent out to draw up a report on our work. He was amazed, and did not hide from us how sorry he felt that such a work had not been carried to a successful issue. The inhabitants of the island did not take the thing so well; they were sure that we had intended to place a mine under the building and blow it up.
As a result of this work, I fell seriously ill of inflammation of the liver, due to poisoning contracted in the tunnel, and I had to be carried to Amsterdam, where I passed more than two months in the most absolute immobility. Meanwhile, I did not lose sight of my objective. As the physicians believed that my return to Urk might bring about a dangerous relapse, I succeeded in getting the authorities to send me to the military hospital at Utrecht.
I arrived at Utrecht preceded by a reputation that argued ill for the success of my plan. Captain Van der Minne was taking the place of Colonel Folmer,2 the Director of the hospital; he was not pleased at all to see me arrive. He called my attention to the fact that he not only had to keep watch over an officer whose only thought was to escape, but that a hospital was not a place to intern men in, and that I occupied, without any reason for it, the bedroom intended for three patients. Then he arranged with a physician to declare that I was completely cured, and took official steps to have me sent back to Urk.
These plans, about which I was kept posted in a roundabout way, were about to be carried out when I finally succeeded in escaping under the following circumstances.
The room that I occupied at the hospital was on the second story of an old and very high building. My windows, heavily barred, looked on a garden twenty feet below. A steel grating, locked by a chain and padlock, had been erected before my door. This the officer in charge of me personally locked; he also kept the key. My guard, besides this officer, consisted of a noncommissioned officer, a corporal and twelve men.
This officer occupied a room next to mine while he was on duty. There was no bed in it, his orders being to keep a sharp look-out all night, with the windows wide open. The room above mine served as a guard-house, the one below being occupied by the doctor on duty. Two armed sentinels stood guard at my door while two more were stationed in the garden under my windows.
The walls were thick and, of the four windows of my room, — all sash-windows, — two opened with great difficulty and at the top. The other two were nailed up, but one could be opened at the bottom. I succeeded in forcing it up, and it was plain that, by sawing two bars, I could lower myself, by means of a rope, down to the roof of a building which divided the garden into two parts. From this roof I could reach that part of the garden where there were no sentinels, and then should have only to climb over the wall surrounding the hospital to find myself in the town.
Before undertaking anything, I talked the matter over with ——, who had shown an inclination to be of service to me several times during my illness. I told him how I dreaded to return to Urk and what I planned to do. He gave me the two hundred florins I asked him for, but expressed his regret at not being able to help me more, on account of the strict watch that was kept over his colleagues. Evidently he had his doubts about the success of a plan that must have smacked of the romantic to any reasonable person. As for myself, determined as I was to succeed, I set to work alone.
Meanwhile I had got a rope and a saw, both absolutely necessary, and I began to saw the bars. I could work only at night, for during the daytime I was free, on parole, from ten o’clock in the morning to nine o’clock in the evening. During that time I was under obligation, not only not to escape, but also not to prepare to escape. I spent all the time that I was outside visiting my new acquaintances, my sole occupation apparently being to make the most of the pleasures of society. I acted as if the last thought to enter my mind was to escape. On my return in the evening I reported to the officer on duty, who gave me back the written pledge that I signed and handed over to him every time I went out. After that I was at liberty to prepare my flight.
It took me fifteen nights working all night long to saw the bars in two. I worked in the dark with the shutters drawn down over the window through which I was to escape. I tried to lessen the noise that the saw made in biting into the iron by giving two or three rasps, then stopping and beginning again after a moment. The least noise that would have interrupted the deep silence of the night could be heard by the officer on guard, the sentinels posted at my door, or the soldiers in the guardroom, whose windows overlooked mine. Now and then I had to wait hours at a time for a favorable moment, for the guard under my windows was made up of young soldiers, who, with a respect for discipline that was meritorious but extremely annoying to me, did not remove their eyes from my windows while they were on duty.
When it was time for me to stop work I cleaned the bars and covered up the cracks by sticking pieces of black paper on them and rubbing the whole over with coal. When I had at last cut the bars in two, I wedged them in place with match-ends soaked in a little glue, again covering the whole over with black paper. As the sentinels in the garden had the habit of walking up and down beneath my windows, I thought that I could avail myself of the short interval when they had their backs turned, to slip to the ground; but I was disagreeably surprised to learn, after four whole nights spent watching, that (as a result of new orders undoubtedly) they no longer walked to and fro, but stood still directly beneath my windows. As to bribing men who were changed every twentyfour hours, it was no use to think of that.
This supervision, the minute perfection of which annoyed me exceedingly, had, all the same, one flaw in it which I finally discovered and of which I took advantage. When I came in at nine o’clock in the evening, the officer accompanied me to my room and then went to arrange the night-watch — no sentinels being on duty during the daytime. But he often gave me back my parole before he went to station the guards. With a little good luck on my side and by acting quickly, I should have time to reach the garden before the sentinels came down from the guardroom, situated, as I have previously said, just above my chamber.
On the evening that I had set for my escape, I returned at half-past seven instead of nine o’clock, and invited, as usual, the officer on duty to take tea with me. At nine o’clock I told my guest that I should have to ask him to excuse me, as I was very tired, and wanted to retire, and I bade him goodnight — taking good care, before he left, to burn up the written pledge that he had given back to me.
He went out. Without losing a second, I turned up my coat-collar, to cover the white of my shirt, and went to the window. At that moment the officer came back, made a few remarks to me which I did not understand and to which I made some indefinite reply, then went out again without noticing my confusion.
I turned down the lamp, ran to the window, and glanced outside; not a soul was in sight. I pulled the bars aside, arranged the rope, opened the shutters, and slipped through the small opening that I had made. It was a tight squeeze, and in struggling through I tore my trousers badly. I slipped down the rope. In the room below the doctor was reading his paper with his back turned to the window; he started to turn round, saw nothing, and went on with his reading.
I had reached the roof of the adjoining building and was beginning to cut the rope, when I noticed two soldiers at the window of the building about ten metres away from the one I had just got out of, staring at me without apparently understanding what I was doing. They did not remain quiet long, but commenced to shout to the guard at the top of their voices. The racket they made soon aroused all the others, who began to shout in their turn.
Leaving the rope where it was, I ran to the edge of the roof, which was much too high for me to risk leaping to the ground. There was a small fir tree two metres away from the roof; I jumped for it and grasped a branch, which broke under my weight and let me down gently to the ground. Across the officers’ garden I ran, climbed over the hospital wall, and found myself in the street near a good old soul who stood glued to the spot with fear. I continued to rush on and did not resume my ordinary gait till I had turned twice to the left. I had wrapped up one of my hands, which was bleeding, in my handkerchief, and held up my torn trousers with the other.
I was now free, but somewhat worried lest I should be caught, for I knew I should be acting very unwisely if I followed my first plan and tried to leave Utrecht. This hitch in my programme did not take me unawares. I went and called on a Hollander whom I scarcely knew, but who I felt sure was favorable to our cause. This kind gentleman hid me four days in a garage. During the daytime I hid in a tool-closet; at night I slept in an automobile.
He kept me posted on what was going on outside, with special regard to the inquiries that were being made for me. All the roads leading out of the town were guarded; all the automobiles were examined. At the railway stations policemen, with my photograph in their hands, stood at all the ticketwindows, while the trains were carefully searched before their departure. They telegraphed the news of my escape all over Holland.
As the police did not find me at Utrecht, they believed that I had left the city. Consequently the search for me relaxed somewhat, except in the large cities and in the ports. On the evening of the fourth day after my escape from the hospital, I left Utrecht on a bicycle at nightfall, with moustache shaved off and wearing eye-glasses, accompanied by my good friend. We rode along for forty kilometres, looking as innocent as two persons off on a pleasure-trip, until we came to a small dwelling situated in the country, where I remained a fortnight, going out only for two hours each night.
My departure was arranged in the greatest mystery and with great success, as I was able to go aboard the boat without even being seen. I was first hidden in a sort of locker used to keep odds and ends in, where I remained fourteen hours without stirring, closeted with ropes, paint-pots and cordage. After the boat got under way, they had me come out of my hidingplace and took me to a little store-room, into which I climbed through a trapdoor; for, as all vessels underwent a final and very thorough search just before leaving the Dutch coast for good, it was necessary to take every possible precaution. I did not consider that they had taken sufficient precautions; and as I felt, beneath my feet, a metallic plate, I unbolted it and discovered a hole into which I got with great difficulty, and there I remained for five hours, astride the cylinder inside of which the screw-shaft revolved.
Toward half-past seven in the evening I could tell, by the rocking of the vessel, that we were at sea; so I came out of my hole, where I was beginning to suffer considerably from lack of both space and air. A little later they came to tell me that all danger was over; I was safe at last. On my arrival at London on the following day, I had some trouble with the police. This was quickly straightened out as soon as I called at the consulate-general and the embassy.
A few days later I returned to Paris via Southampton and Havre. I reported at once to the Director of Aeronautics, Colonel Régnier, then to the Director of Cavalry at the Ministry of War, and finally to the headquarters of the 27th Regiment of Dragoons at Versailles, where I was reinstated, for the time being. I have been given a leave of absence for thirty days, at the expiration of which I hope to enter an aviation-school and be put in command of a fighting aeroplane.
- Coutisson and I were helped at first by four officers; two Englishmen and two Belgians. A little later three more Belgians joined us, so that our group was finally made up of nine persons.— —THE AUTHOR.↩
- In March, 1915, Colonel Folmer had been brought up before a court-martial for having failed to prevent an English officer from escaping.—THE AUTHOR.↩