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.”

 

August 19th 1919

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

Part 1 Part 2:

Cyril King and his family arrived in Baden-Baden on August 7th 1914 and were sent to the Hotel Drei Könige. Here, although they were allowed “complete freedom in the daytime within the precincts of the town,” they had to be indoors by 8pm every evening.

“24/8/14. I was walking with Coote this afternoon among the wooded hills on the outskirts of the town, when suddenly we heard the bells ringing and saw flags being posted everywhere.  We are tired of those beastly bells – they have been rung every other day since we came here and always for a greater victory. We are tired too of the innumerable German national anthems and the shouting and cheering. But this afternoon they are louder than ever. As usual ‘Extrablätter’ are being sold everywhere… and we see they have had their first victory over das Perfide Albion.

Soon the whole town will collect in the square below my window, and it will be midnight before they disperse. Every half-hour or so more extrablätter will be published as the number of prisoners rises, one national anthem after another will be sung over and over again, and every member of the royal family and almost every general in the German Army will be loudly cheered.”

They soon gathered that there was a good deal of bad feeling towards the English.

“They are most bitter against the English, particularly Sir Edward Grey, whom they accuse of not stopping the war when he could have done so quite easily, but are very contemptuous about our army of ‘mercenaries’ and laugh at the idea of trying to equip 500,000 soldiers out of nothing. The papers are full of Belgian and Russian atrocities and they say the use of dumdums is an outrage against civilisation…”

At this time the King family were clearly still hopeful of repatriation:

“We are assured that we shall be sent back as soon as the mobilisation of their troops is complete.”

 

August 8th 1919

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

The last we heard of Cyril King was in September 1914, when he failed to return to Winchester College for the new term. When war broke out, at the end of July 1914, he was on holiday in Germany with his family and was not allowed to return to this country. He remained in captivity there until the end of the war.

We are delighted to hear that he has now returned safe and sound and, despite missing his final year at Winchester, has been accepted at King’s College, Cambridge, to read Economics.

His journal of his time in captivity, which he has kindly provided for inclusion in the next edition of the ‘Draconian’ is of great interest and as it is extensive, will be published here in parts over the coming weeks.

Part 1.

“Schluchsee, Black Forest, Germany. 30/7/14.   Started from Winchester on the morning of the 25th and arrived here this afternoon. Undaunted by rumours of war! We are sure to be sent back to England if there is any trouble. Half-an-hour wait at Strasburg, but saw nothing unusual. Freiburg though was crowded and full of excitement. A troop train left the station while we were there amid tremendous enthusiasm – everyone was talking of war and the rumoured capture and execution of six French spies in the town this morning…

3/8/14. It is glorious here. We (my mother, four sisters and Coote from New College, who is to tutor me) are living in a cottage, six miles from the nearest station, among mountains, by the side of a very dark blue lake. All the hotel guests have already left.

‘Rumour’ is very busy and there are many tearful partings. Did a Greek prose this morning, but hardly a very good one. This afternoon we took out a boat and bathed in the lake…

Baden Baden 7/8/14. Yesterday morning early, three plain clothes detectives arrived at Schluchsee and told us to be ready to leave in half-an-hour. They put us and our luggage into two motors and we drove off. Every mile or so we were stopped by a rough barrier across the road and the detectives had to show papers, but we reached Freiburg Railway Station at midday. The town was so crowded that we could hardly move, and I felt very nervous when we had to make our way across the road to an hotel for lunch, but nothing exciting happened.

At half-past one we were taken back to the station yard, where we lined up with our luggage in a long queue for passes and tickets to here. The queue was composed chiefly of Russian invalids from a neighbouring health resort – a few men, but mostly women and children – and thick crowds stood gaping and talking on each side of it. By 3 o’clock we were in the train, but we didn’t reach our destination till midnight, as we stopped at every station to pick up more foreigners…”

June 1st 1918

There is news that 2nd Lieut. Adrian Raleigh (Leics) and 2nd. Lieut. William Dyson (Devons) went missing in recent fighting at the Front.

Adrian is the son of Sir Walter Raleigh, Oxford’s Professor of English Literature. (Professor Raleigh is a familiar figure, along with the Poet Laureate, Robert Bridges, training with the Oxford Volunteer Corps – known to some as ‘Godley’s Own’ – around the town).

Adrian was wounded on March 24th and captured along with a significant proportion of his unit the following day. News that he was a prisoner of war was noted in the newspapers on May 3rd.

The Devons were enveloped by a German attack on Villers Bretonneux, near Amiens, on April 24th and William Dyson is one of many whose fate is unknown. He is listed as “missing,” but in the circumstances there is every chance that he has become a prisoner of war.