November 25th 1919

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

123456789 – 1011 Part 12

Cyril King took a two year break from journal writing between October 1915 and 1917, by which time Ruhleben had grown most impressively:

28/10/17. “Two more years have rolled [by] since I wrote last. There have been no great changes in our life and we have almost forgotten the world outside. The only new institution is the Horticultural Society and it is perhaps the greatest of all and certainly works most smoothly. It has succeeded in acquiring a lease for the other half of the inside of the racecourse, and after tremendous struggles with the soil in which most of the camp joined, has turned it into a model market garden! In the summer we were able to buy lettuces, cucumbers, tomatoes, radishes and a few melons at almost nominal prices, while all over the camp there were bowers, borders and beds filled with every kind of garden flower. It makes all the difference in the world.

The school has greatly increased in size, filling a whole stone barrack and several sheds around it. It has from 1000 to 1500 pupils and about 100 teachers, several small class-rooms, a big reading-room, an office, two big lecture rooms, an arts and crafts department where people bind marvellous books, while others work in leather or hammer silver; a big science research laboratory where, as we hear, new ‘elements’ are discovered every day; a ‘wool and worsted’ shed, where they dye clothes in many colours and where someone has invented and constructed an apparently epoch-making weaving loom; an engineering shed; and a real live motor car, which is daily taken to pieces and put together again.

The theatre has seen over a hundred plays in five languages, including five by Shakespeare, two by Ibsen, one by Chekhov, two by Rostand, several by Maeterlinck, Synge, Lady Gregory, Yeats, Shaw and Galsworthy, five Gilbert and Sullivan Operas, two pantomimes, a German musical comedy, variety shows and numerable French and English farces, melodramas and other plays – nearly all completely successful and I think really awfully well done. The fortnightly chamber orchestral and choral concerts, and the weekly debates and lectures, have been continued unbrokenly, and in the summer we have had open air concerts on the promenade des Anglais.”

November 19th 1919

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

123456789 10 – Part 11

This is the final section from Cyril King‘s journal of October 28th 1915, in which he continues his description of life in the Ruhleben camp for civilian prisoners of war:

“Societies, circles and committees have sprung up, and though there are constant quarrels and heated resignations, a very great amount of work has already been done. The stage in the grandstand has been enlarged and most extraordinarily fitted with footlights, scenery, battens, costumes, make-up, furniture and so on, and we have weekly debates, fortnightly concerts of every kind of music, fortnightly lectures and five performances of a different play almost every week, ‘variety shows’, revues, French, German, Irish and English ‘classics’, melodramas and farces – paying their way by tickets costing from one mark to twenty pfennigs each. French, German and Italian circles have been formed for debates, lectures and discussions in those languages, and the school has already about 800 pupils and almost as many teachers!

We have been able to rent the inside of the oval-shaped racecourse, and football was played on it… and cricket, on coconut matting, during the summer. There is enough space for one full-sized ground and two small ones – one of which is now used for hockey and rugger and the other two for soccer. In August and September we played tennis on a part of the racecourse itself, where by dint of constant laborious rolling and watering, eight courts have been made and kept in very good condition on the sand…

It is wonderful to be so free of money cares, and many of the conventions which seem necessarily to accompany them – the greatest plutocrats living on 20 marks a week and there being almost no distinction in dress; and it is wonderful too to know so many people so thoroughly and to be able to make all kinds of interesting acquaintances whom one would never see outside; but one longs for privacy and to be forced to work hard, instead of being always observed by someone and having more leisure than one knows how to spend.”

November 2nd 1919

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

123456789 Part 10

This is a continuation of Cyril King‘s entry for October 28th 1915, marking the first anniversary of his stay at Ruhleben.

“Thirteen new wooden barracks have been built – six behind the grandstands, four just beyond one end and the rest in various spare places. The American YMCA has put up a big wooden hall, which is used as a church, a reading room, reference library and lecture room;  and camp carpenters have built several sheds – mostly about 20 ft. x 6 – behind some of the stone barracks. These are used as rehearsal rooms, artists’ studios, canteens, tailoring, watch-mending and boot-making shops, hair dressing saloons, clubs and ‘boiler-houses.’ The latter supply hot water for 5 phennigs at almost any time of the day, and there is enough coal even to do some cooking, such as boiling porridge or frying potatoes…

One of the new wooden barracks is used as a parcel office, staffed chiefly by public school people, who appear to lead very idle lives but really do a lot of work and sometimes issue as many as 2000 parcels a day; while another has been made into a kind of convalescent home (the actual hospital being outside the camp) and contains two very comfortable ‘wards’ and a surgery, kitchen, waiting and medicine room. Anyone who is ‘run down’ or recovering from an illness, and many of the older people, are allowed to sleep there, with better food and more rest.”

The two German doctors are quite nice and very efficient and the Englishman in charge of the barrack is a perfect heroic marvel. About 300 of us have had German measles in May, but there were no very serious cases and the camp is on the whole very free from illness – everyone leading such an open air life that nerves and general weakness from insufficient food are the only serious maladies.”

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.'”