September 12th 1919

I n   G e r m a n y   ( 1 9 1 4 – 1 8 )

12345 Part 6

Yesterday morning (October 28th 1914) we were informed that Ruhleben was ready for us, and after much waiting about, and a short railway journey and two of the longest and weariest marches which we have made so far, arrived at 5 o’clock in the afternoon.”

After a three-week interlude at Plötzensee Prison, Cyril King has finally arrived at Ruhleben Camp, set up on a race course to house what was to be some 4-5000 mainly British civilians. He was destined to spend the rest of the war here.

“We sleep on our straw sacks, four on a bed board  and there is no room to put anything… The other occupants of the loft besides L., E., B., M. and Coote from Oxford (who were all at Baden-Baden) are chiefly merchant service officers and seamen and very cheerful and nice. Most of them come from Hamburg and they have great stories about the ‘hulks’ on which they were kept – some of them weeks – among rats and vermin with practically nothing to eat.

The camp consists of 11 long stone stables, fairly close together, a guard room and two other buildings, used by the Germans, three grand stands and a tea house, lying along one side of a race course. In each stable there are 26 horse boxes, about 7 or 8 feet square and containing six camp beds – two (one on top of the other) along each of three walls – and leaving about 4 x 5 feet of free floor space. The ‘lofts’ slope down to the windows and are never more than 8 or 10 feet high; they hold 3 rows of closely touching beds – one down each wall and one in the middle… 

This picture is taken from ‘In Ruhleben, Letters From a Prisoner to his Mother,’ edited by Douglas Sladen in 1917, which shows something similar to what Cyril is describing.

I hear we are to be allowed to march round the racecourse for an hour every day for exercise. No newspapers are allowed except the ‘B.Z. am mittag,’ an afternoon paper which contains much less news than one edition of the ‘Star.’ The canteen is good though and one can buy most things, butter, roll, tea, biscuits, clothes, basins etc., though prices are very high, and I myself am very nearly ‘broke.'”

September 5th 1919

I n   G e r m a n y   ( 1 9 1 4 – 1 8 )

1234Part 5:

Having left behind his family and the comfort of a Baden-Baden hotel on October 6th 1914, Cyril King had an uncomfortable 36 hours at Rastatt, before he was on his way again:

“The next stage was a weary, and, except for some supper about half way in a refreshment barrack by the side of the railway, a very hungry one. We were over 30 hours in the train and it was so crowded that we had to take it in turns to sit.

We arrived in Berlin at about midnight of the following day, and walked for a good two hours carrying our luggage before we eventually reached our destination. This we thought was to be Ruhleben Camp, and were surprised to find ourselves suddenly in what looked like a palace, but was in reality the waiting-room of Plotzensee convict prison.

All razors, knives and watches were taken off us and we were led into a huge hall containing about 150 big birdcages – made of wire and just big enough to hold a bed, and standing-room along it… We threw ourselves on to our beds at once and slept soundly.

Next morning we woke up with swollen faces and itching bodies – covered with bug bites! There were swarms of little red bugs everywhere and it took us a fortnight, with the help of disinfectant… to get rid of them completely. Whereupon our warders moved us to another part of the prison…

I admit I enjoyed those three weeks. We were given – as in Rastatt – acorn coffee or soup 3 times a day and a third of a black loaf each, and had to wash ourselves and our dishes from one solitary tap; but bribery soon got to work, and before long potted meats, biscuits, chocolate and cigarettes found their way in, while one group of plutocrats actually dined regularly off mutton chops and red wine!

We were allowed an hour’s exercise in the prison yard every morning and were greatly admired by the other convicts for our energy in ‘doubling’ and ‘hopping’ and walking on our toes…

The rest of the day was spent in talking and playing chess, bridge and piquet, washing up dishes and ‘spring cleaning.’ The prison was quite warm and it was a very careless existence!”