October 15th 1919

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

12345678Part 9

Cyril King had anticipated that the Ruhleben camp would be too unhealthy a place for the summer and that they would be moved elsewhere. He was wrong.

The next entry from his journal marks the first anniversary of his incarceration in Ruhleben.

28/10/15. “We have been here for a year today and there seems no immediate prospect of getting out. We see all the German papers regularly now and an occasional ‘Daily Telegraph,’ which enterprising people manage to get smuggled in and let out for a shilling an hour, but the news is hardly very decisive!

Parcels arrive regularly from England – 5 per man per month – containing generally a tin of meat, another of fish, another of dripping or margarine, and another of condensed milk or jam, ¼ lb. of tea or cocoa, ½ lb. of sugar or a packet of Quaker Oats, and with any luck 30 woodbines or an ounce of tobacco.

The Germans give us potatoes twice a week and an occasional lump of meat, and though the soup, bread and coffee are less eatable than before, we are no longer dependent on them, and hardly anyone ever draws them, except as a means of putting pressure on our captors when we think they are being unpleasant – in which case the whole camp marches for a few days, loudly and in a body, to the kitchen, and by the sudden demand empties all the stores which the garrison had hoped to consume by itself!

But that doesn’t often happen, and they really are very good to us and leave us almost completely alone. They have removed the soldiers from the barracks, as being too bribable to be of any use, and practically the whole administration is in the hands of Englishmen – barrack ‘captains’ and a voluntary police force, whom we don’t like…”

October 4th 1919

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

1234567 Part 8

This is a continuation of Cyril King‘s journal, written in Ruhleben Camp, dated January 3rd 1915.

“We are allowed to write two letters and four cards a month on official notepaper and to receive as many as we like, though they haven’t started to arrive regularly yet and there is very little to write about that the censor would pass.

The Germans are harmless on the whole. In each barrack there is a noncom. and a private, who shout a lot and take hours counting us before they lead us to the kitchen for our meals, but in most cases they are very bribable…

The commandant is an old doddery East Prussian squire. He makes frequent and touching speeches; calls us his ‘beloved charges’ and says he knows he will soon have to go and answer for us to his God, which he will do with a good conscience – whereupon he is at once as unpleasant as he can be, and goes on to tell us all about the crimes of the nation to which we belong and how sure he is that God will soon give his dear Kaiser victory over his wicked enemies. He evidently tries himself to imitate the Kaiser and seems quite sincere in his convictions.

The 2nd officer is a swine – also fond of haranguing us in the most Prussian way possible – and always loses his temper when he sees that we only laugh at his eloquence…

There are about 1500 seafaring people in the camp, about 50 public school and university men… The rest – about 1500 – are business men, English, half German, or almost wholly German, – managers, commercial travellers, civil engineers, clerks and ‘sharks.’ 

The German element is a great difficulty – many of them can’t speak English and have German sympathies which don’t please the rest of us, and there are constant quarrels and even bloodstained fights!

Apart from these, queues and rumours are the greatest nuisances. Literally hours are spent every day in queues – for water, hot or cold – for the canteen, or for the kitchen; and hundreds of rumours float round every day and are always believed, only to bring disappointment – great victories – exchange to England – release into Germany – the signing of an armistice – the entry of Italy into the war – all arrive daily and fall daily to the ground. 

I for one am sure that they won’t keep us here for the summer, it would surely be too insanitary.”

 

September 22nd 1919

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

123456 – Part 7

Cyril King, having arrived at the Ruhleben Camp when it opened at the end of October 1914, settled in for his first winter in captivity. The next entry from his journal is from January 1915, and describes how life there has developed:

3/1/15. “Everyone is very nice, cheerful and unselfish, watching for opportunities to help other people. It is very cold and we had snow and snowball fights – loathsome institutions, especially when one has no change of clothing! The camp is a perpetual bog as the soil is sand and there is no system of drainage. Everyone walks heavily and slowly about in huge clogs, corduroy trousers and innumerable woollen scarves.

In the mornings the whole camp seems to collect in the middle grandstand – a big sort of tearoom full of counters and benches. A rough stage has been erected along one wall by using the counters as trestles and covering them with planks of floorboards from some of the horseboxes, and we are soon to have concerts and, I hear, even a play. Rehearsals for the former – choruses accompanied by a few instruments – are generally in progress in one corner, while in another some of the men have fitted up a carpenter’s shop and are making badly needed tables and chairs – most energetically to judge by the infernal din which accompanies their efforts. In another corner a few are learning to dance and others to box, while in the middle people smoke and talk and laugh and play chess or study German.

In the evening the great pastime is ‘walking up and down the front’ – the ‘promenade des Anglais,’ which is bounded by the Guardroom, the three grand stands, the ‘tea house’ and the barbed wire – it is about 150 yards long and 20 broad and looks on to the race course.

The rest of the day I play chess (cards being forbidden) and am very good at it – though I know I shouldn’t say so. We have organised inter-barrack matches and all kinds of tournaments.”

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!”

 

August 31st 1919

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

123Part 4:

The 17 year-old Cyril King, having spent two months in Baden-Baden, is now suddenly taken away from his mother and sisters (who were subsequently allowed to go to Switzerland, and from there were eventually able to return to England):

“At 8 o’clock on the morning of the 6th [October] I woke up to find a policeman standing by my bedside who told me in a stolid solemn voice to ‘come with him.’ (‘Kommen sie mit.’) I could get nothing else out of him, so I obeyed. I collected as much luggage as I could and after a hasty breakfast and parting from my mother and sisters, set out with him through the admiring town for the police station.

The rest of the English colony were already assembled there and we sat together on the ground of the yard waiting for something to happen… and at one o’clock were marched off to the station… and at 2 o’clock were put into a train for Rastatt, which we reached at 8 o’clock in the evening…

Rastatt is a small garrison town in Alsace and its gaol hardly does it much credit. It consisted, as far as we were concerned, of two big bare rooms separated by a small airless courtyard – the one, our dining and sitting room, long and narrow and completely filled by 3 big wooden tables and 6 wooden benches; the other, our bedroom, square and gloomy, lighted by 3 gas jets and containing about 50 naked iron bedsteads. It was very cold and dirty and there were no washing facilities except one tap in the yard. Our meals consisted in dishes of soup or acorn coffee and a third of a loaf per day each. There was no room to move about and nothing to do except talk, grumble and play cards…

Altogether it was most unpleasant. It seemed years before we were told to get ready to go; but in reality it was only one day and two nights, making 36 hours in all!”

August 28th 1919

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

12Part 3:  

Still at the Hotel Drei Könige in Baden-Baden, Cyril King has established some sort of routine for his new life in semi-captivity:

15/10/14 “Coote and I buy Norwegian papers and an occasional Dutch one and greedily work out the French and British reports, trying to find accounts of violent victories on our side – but not with much success…

I have a job at the Red Cross which occupies my afternoons – a glorified errand boy, carrying fruit from private houses to a shed to be weighed before it is made into puddings and jam, which I then carry to the different hospitals. It is quite hard work, and I cannot learn what relation a German pound bears to an English one.

The rest of the day I spend reading the papers or walking about the streets looking at the maps and trying in vain to see big changes.”

25/10/14. “The people in the hotel are very nice – an old spinster who speaks very good English but is frightfully bitter, and a widow with three young daughters, all older than myself, who knits socks whilst I knit scarves; and a French lady of about 30 who gives us French papers to read which she has smuggled in. She is very enthusiastic about England.

Coote has gone to live in another hotel with some men from Oxford, some other Englishmen and a few Russians, and it is very pleasant not to have to work…

The local rag has started a campaign against us and complains that the populace is too friendly. The hotels are one by one changing their French, Russian and English names into German ones!

We have now to report once a week at the police station, which is quite amusing as I meet the other Englishmen there. But last week I was 20 minutes late, and after waiting for an hour till they were willing to attend to me, was fined 5 marks and 20 pfennigs costs (2d). I’m sure it cost them almost that in paper and ink alone, as they filled up huge forms minutely for the occasion. Five marks though is a lot of money just now!

Everyone I meet is very patriotic and would obviously sacrifice everything for his country, and no one seems to doubt the righteousness of his cause for a moment.”