February 24th 1920

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

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Berlin, in the week after the Armistice was signed on November 11th, appears to have been an extraordinary place – not what one would have expected in the aftermath of national defeat and humiliation. Cyril King and his fellow prisoners in Ruhleben were free to roam at will and rather enjoy themselves:

20/11/18. “I think that’s the date, but I am not quite sure, as we have lost all count of time. What a week it has been! I have been out to Berlin several times and have slept three nights there in a clean and comfortable hotel where a friend of R’s got us a room.

The first time we made elaborate plans for escape, but now I just wait at the gate until it is opened to let a soldier in or out, and then slip boldly through. A tram stops practically at our doors and runs all the way into Berlin…

I got some cash by selling an old German frock-coat and trousers, which I had bought in Baden-Baden for 100 marks, but it is all gone already, as money runs away like anything, and one has to pay 15 marks for a two course dinner of soup and potatoes and vegetables!..

I have seen ‘Measure for Measure’ twice, and ‘Twelfth Night’ at Reinhardt’s Theatre once and could have seen ‘Hamlet’ or ‘The Merchant of Venice’ if I had had time – as they are all on in Berlin now! ‘Measure for Measure’ was too wonderfully done for words and I have never seen anything like it. Both times the house was packed and it was a tremendous success – whilst all the time the town is starving – for it is indeed, and I haven’t seen a single cheek that wasn’t deadly pale.

They talk about nothing but the revolution and seem to have forgotten all about the war. ‘Now we are free like you,’ someone said to me in a restaurant. Everyone is very polite but not cringing as I had expected…

I have heard some speeches by Socialists and have seen the marks of machine-gun shots in the walls of the Palace and War Office, and the four-mile long funeral procession of the ’80 heroes’ of the revolution – most of the sights in fact. It is all very depressing.

The camp is a horrible place now – full of soldiers, searching the dustbins and trying to buy old clothes and food and haggling… about prices. The ground is everywhere covered with paper and rags and wood.

We may go at any time now, and it is unsafe to keep away from the camp too long. We have placed our books and most valuable possessions in wooden boxes, which we have stacked in the YMCA hall, in the hope that the Dutch Embassy will forward them later.”

Berlin was indeed a strange place at this time.

February 15th 1920

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

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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.”

November 25th 1919

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

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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…”