February 15th 1920

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

123456789 – 10111213Part 14

The staleness of which Cyril King wrote in October 1917 probably explains why he did not write much until the end of the war was in sight.

Towards the end of October 1918, when the German naval commanders ordered the Imperial fleet to sail out to engage the forces of the Royal Navy, the German sailors mutinied and this triggered a general state of revolution in Germany, leading to the Kaiser’s abdication on November 9th 1918.

News of this soon reached Ruhleben:

10/11/18. “They have had a revolution and are mightily pleased with it. Everyone here is wildly excited. A soldiers’ council has been formed among the garrison and representatives have just left for Berlin in the officers’ dog-cart flying a red flag. The officers have changed into mufti and most of them have gone home; but one, we hear, is to be courtmartialed.

A red flag has been hoisted on the flagstaff in the square where so many black and white eagles have flown during the last four years, for innumerable victories and royal birthdays! 

We heard firing last night and expect to be attacked by a mob at any minute – especially as several people have escaped, carrying food with them – and a bodyguard has been formed to patrol the camp and keep people from entering or leaving the camp.

They are absolutely certain to sign the armistice now.

How right Cyril was; at 11 o’clock on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, after four long years, the war was brought to an end.

11/11/18. They have signed all right. Powell has gone to the soldiers’ council at the War Office and asked about release. They say they will probably let us go as soon as they can get a train, but they don’t know whether we are to be counted as ‘prisoners of war.’

I am off to Berlin tomorrow to look round and see ‘Measure for Measure,’ which I hear is on at the ‘Volse’s Bûhné.”

Who would have believed that amongst such chaos, theatres continued to operate? Cyril’s adventures in the week that followed are the subject of the next instalment.

February 4th 1920

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

123456789 – 101112 – Part 13

The story of Cyril King‘s incarceration in Ruhleben for the duration of the war must be completed. This is the final part of his journal dated October 28th 1917, and conjures up an air of staleness. The novelty has worn off.

“Everything has seen its best days and is carried on rather mechanically and professionally. The old enthusiasm has died. ‘Family’ life has become rather a strain. We sit over our meals vacantly and in silence – every topic of conversation having been exhausted…

The camp is littered with dead and broken friendships and no one has a scrap of energy left.”

There were of course many attempts at escape, some of which were successful. But the thought of being transferred to a worse camp if caught deterred many, including King.

“There have been many attempts at escapes, and one or two successes. Last year in fact everyone was talking of trying, but the authorities decreed that failure would be punished by a fortnight’s dark cells, followed by a removal to Havelberg, which is a much worse camp, where one would have to begin life all over again – so that it doesn’t seem worthwhile, unless one had very good plans.

In order to lessen the chances of success still further, they have instituted two ‘Appels’ (roll-calls) a day – one at 8 am and the other at 7 pm when we have to line up and march on to the racecourse to be slowly and carefully counted. It is tiresome having to get up so early, but we have reduced it to a fine art so that we don’t jump out of bed till half a minute before the barrack moves off.

The camp is much emptier now, as most of the people over 45 have been released to England and about 200 invalids have been moved to Holland.”