I here made the acquaintance of a couple of English mates who had been prisoners since Mons, 1914. They were fine decent chaps and we were close pals until our release. We had our special corner of the hut and slept together in winter for warmth. All our parcels went into a common pool and we shared or starved together as circumstances allowed.
We found it was to our advantage to learn the German language so by bribing the guard we managed to obtain some German dictionaries and Grammers and we soon picked up enough to be able to converse freely with the Germans when opportunity allowed.
One of my mates was well educated, an accountant by profession and naturally shrewd and by putting our heads together we managed to outwit our captors occasionally. We held councils of was on our own account and decided that as we were working hard and receiving practically nothing for our labour that we were entitled to augment our supplies at Jerry’s expense. So we took advantage of whatever chances came our way.
When our parcels arrived regularly we found various articles in them that we could barter with to our advantage. For instance, a small packet of cocoa could be sold to the upper class Germans for as many as 30 eggs, although eggs were at the time under control of the Government and could not be purchased, yet the law was evaded by people who had the eggs, and so we got them occasionally. Of course the shells had to be kept out of sight.
Then we found our guards could be bribed for a piece of soap, a few cigarettes or some vile tobacco which came in the English parcels, to do us little favours or to look the other way when we wanted to bring home some “pinched” firewood or other articles too large to conceal about our persons.
But all of the guards were not easily bought over. Some of them were cowardly brutes as I have good reason to know. On one occasion I objected to do work, which was beyond my strength, and the result was that I got a blow from the guard’s rifle butt, which landed on my cheek bone, about an inch below the temple: an inch higher and I should in all probability have figured in the casualty list as “died while prisoner of war”. As it was I was knocked unconscious and had a terrible head for weeks afterwards. A running abscess formed on the cheek bone and I went to the doctor who, after torturing me a bit, sent me back to work. My mates used to poultice the sore using a biscuit a day from our slender stock.
Great Uncle Alf seemed to be a congenial bloke himself and made several mates.
As I read his words I see that the writers from Hogan’s Hero’s weren’t so far off the mark :O) Yet no matter how they tried to keep their spirits up and make their existence better they still had unnecessary brutality to deal with.
*This is why we remember them !
LEST WE FORGET !!
NB This is NOT my Fictional Writing this is an actual account written by my Great Uncle Alfred Gray following his experiences in the "Great War – 1914-1917
I take no responsibility for any offense taken by the reader of this view be that in the language used or the opinion of my Great Uncle.*
Great Uncle Alfred’s Great Adventure
In the Hands of the Hun 1 – Prelude
In the Hands of the Hun 2 – Bullecourt
In the Hands of the Hun 3 -Starved and Frozen
In the Hands of the Hun [4 & 5] – Lille
In the Hands of the Hun [6, 7 & 8] – behind the lines
In the Hands of the Hun 9 – Surprise
In the Hands of the Hun 11 – Camp Life