I was wounded and taken prisoner near La Bassée on the 21st December, 1914, and was well caked-up in mud, blood, and water. On being taken through the German trenches they gave us a right German welcome. ‘Och, Englander, swinehund! You use dum-dum [which I may say is a lie, one of a good many] and fight for money.’ And then again we would hear, ‘Swinehund’ and ‘Swine’ something else. Then up with their rifles as if to blow our brains out. They drew their fingers across their throats, meaning, I suppose, that they would like to cut our throats, which I would not have cared if they had at the time. I confess I had the satisfaction of seeing plenty of dead Huns in their own trenches, and I was glad to think that they had not been having all their own way.
I could not help smiling at one young German, who had got his just as we were coming along. He would weigh about twelve stone, and he was having his hand wrapped up, and squealing like a stuck pig. He was then sent along with us on to La Bassée. The Germans would not bandage my wounds up, so I had to wait while we got to La Bassée, which might have been about four miles off. I should think we walked all over La Bassée, first up one street and then down another, until I was properly done up with the loss of blood and the fatigue of walking with my bruised shin. I tried to make one of the escort understand that I wanted my wounds wrapped up, as my arm was paining me very much. And at last, after a bit of arguing, I was taken into a house where there were six more Germans. After a bit of wrestling, they got my jacket off (it had stuck to my jersey and shirt-sleeves, and my arm had gone quite stiff). They then cut my jersey and shirt-sleeve off, a quicker and less painful way. That lot over, and my arm in a sling, we set off again to find the house they were taking us to.
After another hour or so we found the place, which looked like a hospital full of wounded men. We had to go through an archway and across a big yard to the house where a little red-haired German officer was staying. He could speak English, but the first words were, ‘Ah, Englanders, swiners,’ and then in English he asked us for our pay-books, so as to take our names and particulars. As soon as he got them, he said something in German to one of the escort, who then marched us off to another place across the yard, with two or three kicks to help us along, and roused us up some steps into a room, and made us stand with our faces turned towards the wall, by being knocked round. We were kept like that for about half an hour, and if we looked round there was a kick for us and a grunt. Then up came one of the escort, and roused us out of it again, and with kicks from the young German soldiers and a few blows across the back as we were passing through the archway on our way to La Bassée station.
When we arrived at the station, I had no sooner got into the waiting-room when I saw some more of our regiment and French soldiers and some Sikhs and Gurkhas. Here I was knocked round about six times, with a German big enough to eat me, who then robbed me of three francs, which was all I had, and I was very glad I did not have any more. After about one and a half hours waiting, we were all bundled into some cattle-trucks. One end of our truck had some straw on the floor, and the other end had some water thrown on to it. And because I could not get in fast enough to please them, having one arm slung up, and feeling the pain of my shin, also being very tired, as I had practically no sleep from about 5 A.M. the 20th to late on the night of the 21st before getting into the truck, they almost threw me in. They put the Frenchmen, twenty of them, on the straw end, and Englanders, fifteen of us, on the wet end. The escort, I am sure, had had a drop too much from the way they carried on, and of course the spite fell on to us crouched on the bottom of the wet truck. They would pat the French on the back and say, ‘Good comerade,’ then they would come to our end and say, ‘Englander, swinehunds,’ etc.
After this, they searched and turned us over four times on our journey to a big railway shed about six or seven miles from La Bassée. It was plain the engine-driver knew all about us being behind his engine, for he gave us a good few jolts before he parted with us at this little station. I was very glad when they hustled us out of the truck into this shed. But I had no sooner got onto the platform before one of the Germans was going to give me one with the butt end of his rifle. But the timely aid of a German officer stayed his hand and prevented the blow, for which I thanked him very much in my mind, not knowing how to thank him in his own language.
We got into the shed all right and I was very thankful when I saw a lot of straw laid out ready for us, which they told us we could lie down on for the remainder of the night. They then brought us a drink of coffee and a slice of black bread. I was very thankful to get under the straw, as I was nearly starved to death with the cold, and being wet through with coming straight out of the trenches. With cold, pain, and a heavy heart, I was not long before I was underneath a bit of straw. And I thanked God that the day was over, which up till then had been the worst in all my life. And little thinking I had worse to follow, I fell asleep.
We were roused very early the next morning (the 22d) and I knew that I felt very stiff. My arm had swollen to about twice its size. Then we fell in, and had to write our names and our regiment. They then started to question us, but the only thing they got out of me was that I belonged to the Manchester Regiment. To the other questions I answered, ‘I do not know.’ ‘Och,’ he says, ‘you do not seem to know anything.’ He then asked me what I was fighting for, so I told him for my country. ‘Och,’ he says, ‘I know what you fight for. You fight for money, for Mr. Churchill and Mr. Grey.’ So I said to him, ‘Why do you ask me if you know all about it?’ ‘Och,’ he then said, ‘you will not fight any more. You finish, you will go to Germany.’ And with that he left me to try his hand on some one else. I was not sorry, for I felt very sore and hungry after the strain of the day before. After they had finished with the taking of the names and putting the most ridiculous questions, they bundled us into the trucks again, and after a few jeers and ‘Swinehunds’ from the soldiers, we set off for Lille, which we reached, I think, about noon, when we were roused out of the truck and fell in on the platform. There were either two or three French officers, I forget which, so they were put in front. The English next, then the natives, and the French soldiers last.
Then we set off on the march through the town of Lille, which I thought a very fine place. There was an escort along each side of us, and it brought tears to my eyes to see the poor French women crying and wanting to give us chocolate, cigarettes, and other bits of comforts, some of them even emptying their purses to give us money. But the escort would not let them give us anything when they could help it. I was the right-hand man of the front section of fours so I had a German close to me all the way. Still I managed to get a bit of something right under his nose. I had no hat, as I had lost mine in the scuffle in the trenches, and a lady was going to give me a cap; but as she tried to give it to me, the Hun gave her a nasty blow across the arm, which was enough to break it. I felt very sorry for her getting the blow through me, but I had not then learned the Hun’s ways, else I would not have offered to accept her gift. Another lady, however, had the sense to throw a muffler at me, I should say about six feet long, and through a bit of luck the muffler fell around my neck, for which I shall always thank her as it came in very useful to me a long time after, during the severe winter we had to face.
Then, as we went on a bit farther, four young women shouted out as loud as they could, ‘Good old England! Cheer up!’ I can say that was the last and sweetest bit of music I heard for a long time to come. Then two of them came as close to us as they dared, the one nearest with her arms folded, and just peeping out, a packet of cigarettes. She looked at me and drew my attention to the cigarettes. I nodded my head to say that I would like them, so, like a flash our hands met, and the cigarettes had changed their ownership. The German made a hit at her arm, but he was a bit too late that time, and before he had time to look round, the cigarettes were in my pocket. And six of us enjoyed a whiff after we got to our destination, where we arrived shortly after.
I do not know what they called the place, but it looked to me like a barracks and a magazine. We were taken into this place, and put in some arched places, which looked like tunnels, and maybe about 25 to 30 yards long, and 4 yards wide across the floor. There were three of them, so they put the English in one, the natives in another, and the French in the other; and when we got to our places I was surprised to see some Highland Light Infantry inside, I should say about 200 or so all told. When we got in and after we had got settled down a bit, they brought us some coffee and some German biscuits in a small linen bag. I was not long before I had eaten mine as I was very hungry. Then we wounded were taken to have our wounds dressed, which made us feel a little easier, after which we were sent back to our tunnels again.
After a chat amongst ourselves talking about our troubles, and enjoying those cigarettes I had given to me on our journey through Lille, we all straightened a bit of straw and lay down to sleep. But before I fell asleep I got to wondering if my dear wife would be able to get to know where I was, and that I was alive. This was a great worry to me for a long time after, and will come into my story later on. At last I fell asleep. We were roused early the next morning (the 23rd) when, after a bit of cleaning, we smartened ourselves up a bit, as well as we could. I was however a few days before I managed to get all the mud and blood off my clothes. About 7 A.M. they brought us some coffee, and another small bag of biscuits, and as one man of the Highland Light Infantry did not get any, I gave him a half of mine. His name is Wilson. He and I got to be chums, and he helped me a lot afterwards, as I was not able to do much for myself for a while.
Then after coffee we were paraded outside, and they gave us one wash-hand-bowl between two men to eat our meals out of. Several of us drank the coffee out of a sardine tin. They also gave us a spoon, which was not a great deal of use to us, as we could drink the soup better without the spoon. If you had a knife of any sort on you, you had to give it up, for if they found one on you, you were severely punished. I had a very small penknife, one which my brother William gave to me before I left dear old England, and I wanted to preserve it as a keepsake. I had managed to dodge five searchings, but the sixth time a German, a bit sharper than the others, found it in my field-dressing pocket, and then he put his fist up to my face, and growled ‘Swiner’ for not giving it up. I thanked my lucky stars he let it stop at that.
After they had finished searching and issuing the utensils, they sent us back to our tunnels, where we were at liberty to talk among ourselves, with two sentries with fixed bayonets walking amongst us. About 12 noon, they brought up the soup, with the aid of those of our men who were strong enough to carry it. The soup was very thin, but it was hot, and it helped to fill a vacant place in my ‘little Mary,’ which was beginning to wonder if it had to keep going on wind and water. After soup (I will not say dinner, as it would be an insult to the name of dinner), we had nothing to do, so I had a sleep, which is the best ease for an empty stomach, as I found out by experience later on. I woke up after about four hours’ good sleep, so I had not long to wait to see what the next meal was like. About 6 P.M., up came soup again, like that we had at dinner-time, and I may say there was a rush for it, as the boys were beginning to feel the pangs of hunger, which has a very sharp thorn, and I was very pleased to see my new-found chum come along with some for both of us. After we drank it, and he had washed the bowl out, we all set to telling yarns, when there came word that we were going away early the following morning, and had to be in Lille station by about 5 A.M. before the townspeople were up. That set us all wondering where they were going to send us, but we all dropped off to sleep, abut as wise as before we started thinking.
We were roused about 3:30 A.M., the 24th, and fell in on the parade-ground, and I should say that we were counted at least a dozen times before they knew how many they had on parade. At last we got on the move, and reached the station about 5:30 A.M.; then we were told off to our trucks and we were not long before we left Lille on our way to Hell, as we found out a few days after. It was the worst railway journey I ever had in all my life. The weather was very cold. It was snowing and freezing. Hungry and cold, we crouched on the bottom of the truck, and made ourselves as comfortable as possible, and passed the time away by having a few songs and telling yarns of what we had seen and done. About 3 P.M. we had a slice of bread and a drink of water. The names of the stations I cannot remember, but at each station we stopped at, the doors of the doors of the trucks were opened so that the people on the platforms could see us, and then we would hear ‘Swiner,’ from the youngest to the oldest of them. We were on view like a lot of wild animals. We passed the night away shivering with the cold, and trying to have a snooze, but we could not sleep for the shaking of the train. The driver was well up in the way of giving you a good jolt now and again, and so on through the night and the next day (Christmas day, the 25th).
What a Christmas day that was! I remember I dropped off to sleep once, and I was having cake and jam-tarts, and fairly enjoying myself. I fancy I can see them now, as I write this, but alas, I woke up with a start, the train having stopped with a sudden jerk, and set my arm on the go again. But the worst disappointment was, I could not see any cake or jam-tarts around. It was only a dream. After a short time on view, we set off again. About 10 P.M. the train stopped, when we were shunted onto a siding, where we had to get out, and then were marched into a shed with a lot of tables and forms in it. I began to wonder if my dream was coming true, for on some of the tables there were some small Christmas trees with a few bright things on them; but I had no need to wonder long, for in they came with some soup for which I was very thankful, and then after soup we had some coffee and a bit of bread. And then we were marched back to our trucks again. I confess I felt a bit more comfortable in my little Mary after that feed. Off we go again, all of us a little brighter. First one and then another would have a pull at a fag-end, as they were very scarce, and we passed the remainder of the night and up to about 1 P.M. the next day (26th), in talking and snoozing. We had given up wondering where they were taking us to. And we did not know until we got to a station and we saw Klein Wittenberg—a hell on earth, as we found out.
It was about 1 P.M., December 26, when we arrived. We were hustled out of the trucks and marched straight into the camp. It is close to the station, and as the trains run right along the top end of the camp, we were able to see the trains pass. We were hustled out of the trucks and marched straight into the camp. I tis close to the station, and as the trains run right along the top end of the camp, we were able to see the trains pass. We were then told off to our barrack-rooms in No. 1 compound. There were eight compounds, and in each one there are six huts, and two rooms to each hut. They are numbered AI, AII, BI, BII, and so on. I was sent to AII. We had 150 men in our room. They then issued us out a bowl and spoon, and then we had soup. I must say this soup was not as bad as the other; it was the best basin of soup I ever did have from them whilst I was in Germany. After we had finished soup they gave us two blankets a man and two sacks with a bit of straw in between 3 and 4 men. Then we had lectures to tell us what we were to do, and not to do, and who we had to salute. But we did not know a sergeant form a private, and of course we made several mistakes as regards the saluting. We would sometimes salute a private and not a sergeant. Then he would come and give us a kick or a blow with his fist. Of course the private we had saluted would have a laugh at us. So we thought it best to give them all a salute and be on the safe side. At 6 P.M. soup again, but we did not want our spoon this time, as you could read a copy of the Daily Mirror through a bucketful. It was nothing but hot water with a bit of grease floating on the top. After we had drunk it, we made our bed down on the floor, and got underneath the blankets, as it was practically dark at that time, and we only had one stable-lamp to light the whole room up for 150 men. Being very tired after our long and horrible journey, all of us were soon fast asleep.
We were roused about 6 A.M. (27th), when we had coffee up, but we did not get any bread till about 9:30 A.M. And when we did get it, I was not long before I had eaten mine, as I was so hungry. And I can safely say that the remainder had seen theirs off as well. Then we all set so to clean ourselves as well as we could. But it was hard work without any soap, and I could not wash myself very well with one hand, as it was so frosty. I never witnessed such a cold winter in all my life. Then we wounded had to attend hospital to have our wounds dressed. And I may say that I never had a drop of warm water all through the winter to wash my wounds with, and I was not allowed to wash them in the barrack-room. We had about 150 yards or more to go to the tap and wash, and very often it was snowing, and the water almost froze as it ran out of the tap. Vey often we could not walk about, as it was so slippery. I know I had several nasty falls myself, and I have had many a good laugh at some of the other chaps’ legs giving way under them. Our dinner that day consisted of sourkrout, which some of the boys could not manage to eat, but I got mine down after a hard struggle. I was so hungry I could have eaten a horse, and then gone back for the man that rode it.
The smoking was very restricted too, as there were not so many of the boys who had any money. So we who had none had to get the fag-ends off them that had some. I had a little short pipe, and every morning, I and a chum, Private Lew, of the Highland Light Infantry, used to be on the hunt for fag-ends or anything that we could make a smoke out of. I had got separated from my Lille chum, as the wounded were put in one section, 15 of us, which was called No. 5 section. (The boys used to call us the crippled section.) Lew’s right hand was wounded, and my left hand was useless through the wound in my arm, so the two of us made one pair of good hands. He would go down one side of the room and I the other; then when we met, and if we had been successful in our hunt, we would put the fag-ends in the old pipe. He and I would then have a pull in our turns. But the cigarette-ends got the same as everything else, ‘very scarce,’ for the boys who used to throw them down would put them in a little tin box and make them up afresh with a bit of paper. We had to look out for something else, so we saved the coffee-grounds and dried them. Then we found some peat, so we used to mix the coffee and peat together, and get a draw that way. Sometimes we would drop in very lucky and come across a good Samaritan who would give us a pull out of his cigarette-end. I have seen as many as eight men have a draw out of a cigarette-end not half an inch long, and then the little bit of wet end would be put away to help towards making another.
I can tell you that nothing whatever was wasted. I have longed for some of those half-cigarettes I had thrown away before I was captured, and also some of the biscuits that were left in the trenches. But the coffee and peat got the same as the cigarette-ends, if you put a bit to dry. You would have to do guard over it, or else it would walk. So we had to find something else for a smoke, for a smoke we must have, no matter what it was. I think the hunger must have had a great deal to do with the craving for a smoke, so as a last resort we used to get the bark off the posts around the camp and cut that up and smoke it. I do not know what we should have had to fly to next for a smoke if it had not been for the packages coming from dear old England and Switzerland. But they came a long time after we started to smoke the bark, and the posts were getting very bare before they came to our rescue.
I have explained the smoking part, as it would take me too long to mix it up with the remainder of the story, so you will have an idea what our mind-soother was before our parcels came. I will therefore get back to the afternoon of the 27th. The sick and wounded were allowed to lie down in the afternoon, so I passed the time away sleeping, and I can tell you I could sleep. I think I could have slept on a clothesline. At 6 P.M. we had tea u, in the way of a change, but it was so weak it had not the strength to run out of the ladle. It was the color of whiskey, so you may guess how they make tea in Germany; but we drank it all the same. I began to wish that I had saved a bit of my bread from the morning, as my little Mary was troubling me a great deal. The front part was knocking at the back, but it got no answer up to 7 A.M. the next morning; so after we drank the weasel water, we all got down to sleep.
The next day at 7 A.M. we had what they call porridge, but it was more like bird-seed and water. It would settle to the bottom, and when we had drunk the water off, there would be about two spoonsful of this seed at the bottom of our bowl. At 8 A.M. we would have to go to the hospital, and we would be back about 9:30, ready for the bit of bread which would weigh from 8 to 10 ounces, and the best part of that would consist of potatoes, and some of it used to be so sad! You would have thought that it had had a fit through the night. It was like a lump of dough, just the same as if you had mixed some meal to feed the ducks with. It reminded me of the days when my mother used to feed our ducks at home. When we had eaten it, it would lie on the bottom of our stomachs like a bag of cement. We were getting filthy with lice by then, but what could you expect with so many men in one room; and I did not have a wash with soap form the time I left Bethune on the 20th December, 1914, until the 5th of March, 1915, nor even a bath. And you may guess what we were like. I would have my shirt off for an hour in the morning, and an hour in the afternoon, and so you see the lice found us a bit of something to do. But I can tell you it was difficult work hunting lice and killing them, with one hand numb with the cold, and the other useless through the wound. It was like trying to catch a flea with a pair of boxing gloves on. But I managed to bag a few of the tormentors, and there were some big ones too. Some of them when you cracked them made so much noise that some of the boys who heard them would say, ‘Look out! There’s another Jack Johnson gone off.’
It did not matter how much we cleaned our shirt, it would be as bad again in the night. We would be rubbing and scratching ourselves nearly all the day and night through. After we had finished looking our shirts over, we would have a brisk walk up and down the room to warm ourselves up a bit. This is where the muffler which the kind lady threw around my neck in Lille came in very useful. I would put the middle across my head and wrap the ends around my neck, but I was not long before I found the means of getting a cap. I tore a bit off one of the ends of the blankets, and got one of the boys to make it into a cap for me, as he happened to have a needle. We got the cotton from the end of the blanket, which is sewn across to stop the ends from fraying. I am afraid a great many suffered in that way. If they (the Germans) had been sensible and given us some clothes to keep ourselves warm, their blankets would not have suffered as much as they did. The Russians were very good at making suits and even slippers out of them. When the cotton had run short form off the ends of the blankets, the towels come to the rescue. They would pull the strands off one by one, and then twist two together to make it stronger. They were very clever fellows at making anything you could mention. They would make knives and scissors out of hoop-iron and large nails, and they would sharpen the spoon-handle so that it would shave you. I have had many a shave with one of them. The Germans would not allow us knives, so we had to put these out of sight when they were knocking around.
The men that were fit did all the fatigues in camp. One day they did not turn out sharp enough for the Germans, so they stopped the bread for that day. They gave all the N.C.O.’s theirs, but we sick and wounded had to go without, the same as the remainder, so we were without bread for 48 hours, as we used to eat it as soon as they gave it to us. I have tried many a time to save a bit for my soup, but my little Mary was continually asking for it, so I could not refuse it while I had a bit left and down it went. We would be without bread practically every 23 or 24 hours. You see the soup that they gave us was not nourishing at all. I have gone as long as six weeks and never had a bit of meat. The only comfort we got out of the soup was that we would feel full as soon as we had drunk it, but an hour after we would feel worse than we did before we had it. I was always ready for the next issue five hours before it came up.
I think the time was against us as well as the Germans, for every minute was like an hour and an hour like a day. I never felt time hang so heavy before. When I had been there a month, I felt as if I had been there six. We managed to have a song on New Year’s eve, and the old carol was sung with a vengeance. (‘The Log was Burning Brightly’ sounded grand, but none of us felt very warm from the heat of it, as the stove fire had gone out early in the day.) And another favorite song that night was, ‘Oh where is my wandering boy to-night?’ and then some one would shout out, ‘In Wittenberg, d—— night froze to death.’ So after we had finished our singing, we all turned in wondering what the new year would bring forth.
We started new year very well, as news came that we could write home and I can say that we all were very glad. So we wrote, and every one of us sent word for some bread and a few shillings to buy something to eat, as they had a canteen open at that time. We all felt a lot happier when we handed them in, and each one of us looking forward for an answer in about a month’s time, but we kept waiting and speculating and saying they might come next week. But never an answer came, and not likely; because they never sent them our cards and we were made to believe that they had sent them. I felt like giving way when I got to know, as I had been hoping and trusting that my wife and children had got my card telling them that I was all right, and I may say it made me off color for a long time after.
Early in January, typhus broke out, and no wonder, for the condition we were in was terrible; so the first thing they did was to close the canteen and the next thing was they left us to it. We could not see a German anywhere only well outside the wires. But they did not forget to torment us. They kept having an alarm. The sentries would blow a whistle, and we were supposed to be allowed ten minutes to get inside the barrack-room. But if we were outside two minutes after the whistle blew there would be a short sent after us, and if we looked through the door or window we would be shot. I remember when the alarm went the first time, we all fell in, in the middle of the room, and the color-sergeant, named Brisbane, of the Highland Light Infantry, went to open the window. But he had no sooner got to it when one of the sentries came up to the present to shoot him and he had to get back quick. We had heard several shots fired whilst we were fell in, so we passed the remark that they were only firing blank ammunition to frighten us; but after we were allowed to go out again, we very soon found out that it was ball instead of blank as we thought, for one of the bullets had gone right through one of the rooms. I think they rather liked to see us running like a lot of rabbits to our burrows, for they very often blew the alarm when we would least expect it; then there would be a race for it, as I do not think any of us wanted to be shot like that. But I am sorry to say some were, some fatally and some wounded.
The men were beginning to go in hospital and dying very fast now. I have stood against the wires and seen as many as 15 being carried to their last resting place, and the sentries laugh and jeer as the coffins went by. The same thing happened not only once but many times. Things were beginning to look very serious for us, as the disease was spreading very rapidly, especially in our compound, No. 1. They would be carrying them away on tables at all times of the day. It made me wonder if I should get it, for it is no joke standing there against the wires, with your eyes sunk right in your head and the skin of your stomach that loose that you could almost wipe your nose with it, from starvation, watching the sick going one way and the dead the other.
I can tell you it was a great relief to us when those six brave English doctors came, as we were in a fine mess then. When they saw the condition we were in, it was a bit too much for one of them; but when he could talk to us a bit he told us to cheer up and keep a good heart, and that the Germans would shake hands with us before we left that place; and I can safely say his words came to Switzerland. I am sorry to say that the poor fellow did not live to see it. He died with the disease about a month after he came to us. We had the misfortune to lose three of them in about five weeks, so it threw a lot of work on the shoulders of the three that were left; and I am proud to say that they fought hard and won through, and I hope are having a good time in dear old England to make up for the hard work they did for us.
When our doctors got to work they were not long in making things hum. If you had the least signs of the disease about you, away you went, which ought to have been done before. I have known men to lie in their rooms over a week before they were sent to hospital. They sent as many as thirty-six out of one room in a day. What would have happened in that room if our doctors had not come? The biggest part of them would have died, but by catching them in time, before the disease had got proper hold of them, the most of them got over it, so not only myself have to thank them for being alive but a great many of the camp, both English, French, and Russians and Belgians. They have earned all the praise and thanks they get and more besides, as it was far worse than being in the trenches. A German doctor got the Iron Cross for leaving us to die, and then comes along the wires once, and is padded up as if he were going to meet a mad dog.
On the 28th of February there were some plum pudding and some dried grapes came, and was issued to us. Some got a bit and some did not. I was lucky, as I was one of four to share in a one-pound pudding and a few dried grapes, and there were also one pair of socks and a New Testament between the four of us; so we put four pieces of paper into a cap, one marked socks, one marked testament, and two blank, and drew for them. My chum Lew got the socks and I got the testament which I have now, and I have passed many an hour away reading it.
On the 3rd March my chum went as orderly to the sick in hospital, his hand having nicely healed up. My wound had also healed up, but it had left my hand quite useless and painful, and it has never been free from pain since the day I was wounded. The bruise on my shin had not quite healed up then, and there were six great big sores in different places on my leg, but it was not long after I came out of the hospital from having typhus before it was better and has never troubled me since. On the 4th I had severe pains in my head. I did not report sick as I thought it would be better after I had a sleep, but it was no better when I got up. On the 5th I had my first bath, and a small bit of soft soap and some clean underclothing for the first time since I was captured.
My head got so bad that on the morning of the 6th I reported it to the doctor, so he had a look at my ribs, then said, ‘Hospital,’ so I went with my blankets, and the first one I saw when I got to hospital was my chum (Lew). His greeting was, ‘Hello, what’s to do with you?’ So I told him about my head. He then made me a bed on the floor. I got in and made myself comfortable. Lying next to me was a Frenchman dying, who died early the same night, and that was the last thing I remember before I fell asleep myself. When I woke up on the 23rd March, the doctor was injecting something into my arm. I did not know but that it was the next morning, after I had gone into hospital, for I remembered the Frenchman dying and asked if they had taken him out. They were puzzled as to what I meant, so I began to think a bit, for I found myself in a wooden bed and in a fresh room with only English in, while the room that I went to sleep in had French and Russians as well. So one of the men that was getting better came over to me after the doctor had gone and explained a few things to me. When he told me the date, I asked him if he were trying to pull my leg, but I soon found out that it was all true, so I said I must have had a long sleep. ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘you are very lucky to wake up again, as you have been very bad.’
When I had finished talking to him, I had another sleep, about two hours this time, and I felt a lot better after that. Then he came over to have another talk with me, and he told me this time that my chum Lew was in bed with the typhus; and there he was, fast asleep the same as I had been, and he laid just in front of me. The corporal injected some more stuff into my arm, and he told me that I had plenty of that whilst I was asleep. So the next day I managed to have a drop of soup, and I could have done with some more, but they told me too much was not good for me. I then passed the remainder of the day away collecting my senses together and wondering what all the black specks were that were always dancing in front of my eyes. It was the same as if I had a veil in front of me, and it was about two months before they disappeared. The next day I had another drop of soup brought me and there were two nice little bits of meat in it. I thought I would enjoy them, but I had no sooner had two spoonsful of the soup when severe pains came across my stomach and I could not eat any more, so with a longing look at those two bits of meat I gave it away to the man that came to have a chat with me the day before. After the pains left me I had stomach trouble bad for five days. It then left me as sudden as it came, and it left me very thin too. I do not think I weighed more than five stone.
I wanted then to be up and about, so I chanced it out of bed; but I had no sooner got on my feet than down I went between the two beds. I was then lifted back into bed again and told not to get out any more, but I wanted to be out of it; I knew that if I kept lying in bed, my legs would get weaker instead of stronger; so the next day I chanced it again. I took good care this time not to leave hold of the beds, and I managed to hobble alongside of the beds, and I very soon found my feet again with a little practice.
I crawled out of hospital on the first of April. I insisted on going out, as I hated to be in the place. When I got to the compound I was done up. There is a step about six inches high and for the life of me I could not get both my feet up, so a Russian came and lifted me into the room. I was very glad to be down again. It was a good job I had nothing to carry, or else it would have been all up before I had come half way. One of the other men brought my blankets for me. There was snow on the ground then, and I just had my two blankets and an empty sack for a bed for nine days before I got any straw to lie on, and there were some men who came out with me were even longer. And there I walked about like a drunken man for weeks, not caring whether I died or lived, I was so weak and weary.
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