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.'”