Thanks to Rick Riehl, who give us this diary, from his Uncle
I cannot explain how I felt or all the things I thought of. Like most of the American soldiers that I know, I had said I would always keep one bullet to use on myself before I would let a Hun get hold of me. Being captured was the last thing I thought of, especially when I was going back to the rear- and with two of our own men. Those few Huns who came up to us kept shooting at us. I yelled at them as loud as I could, "Hey!" Still they kept shooting. I yelled "Hey," again even louder this time. One lowered his rifle and beckoned me toward him, saying "Schnell, Schnell". He meant- "Hurry up!" I turned my hip toward him and said very loud, "Nix," shaking my head at the same time. My breeches were soaked with blood and he could easily see that I was wounded.
He came closer and gave me a jerk that was by no means gentle. My blood boiled to think of having a Hun jerking me around, but I soon found out that this was nothing.
He mumbled something in Dutch, and it must have been something that wasn't in the dictionary. I don't think he was calling me any nice names. Having spent a few years among German- Russians, I could understand and speak their lingo pretty well, but I found it to be a whole lot different than regular German. I could understand a little of what these Huns were saying and they could understand me a little, and this made it a lot harder for me as they thought I was putting them on. As near as I could understand at that time, they said:" You are a German and still you fight against us" and then they took turns swinging and kicking at us.
The fellow who was insane sort of "came to himself" once in a while and would talk a little bit, but most of it was irrational- for which I was glad. He didn't remain sane very long and would again be as demented as ever. These few "Jerries" took us to where there were more of them and one Hun took his gun by the muzzle, and started to swing it toward my head. Another fellow caught the back of it as he was swinging it and they had a little scrap between themselves. If he had struck me I wouldn't be writing these notes. He also called me some name that I hadn't heard before.
As we marched along everyone whom we passed had something to say or do to us. Every once in a while we would receive a push, a slap, or a stick with a rifle, and we were called names: "Amerikaner Swine," for one.
Entry Twenty- two
On our way to the rear we passed a bunch of Germans and one of them had the gall to ask for a cigarette. I had a few cigarettes but would have rather had them stamped into the ground than give them to that cuss. Thinking it was best to do, however, I pulled them out and the way they pecked about me wasn't slow. The cigarettes were gone in a hurry. I wished that I had more, as I did not receive so many knocks from this bunch, and perhaps I could have gotten away with a package or two.
The poor fellow with me was a joke. I asked him to help me along, as my pain was getting worse all the time and I suffered from it very much. He would take hold of me and help me along, and all of a sudden he would let go and start off in a hurry. I guess he must have been seeing things.
Our artillery was dropping a few shells over where we were, and there were several dead Huns, and several wounded ones. All of the cussings we got that day weren't a few. Every German soldier had something to say. As we marched along, our escort with a rifle and fixed bayonet, would drop to the ground every once in awhile when a shell came near. We didn't drop. I told the guy with me that I would die happy if one of our own shells got me and took the Jerry with us. He said that he would too and we were wishing that the next shell would be ours. After all we had heard, we thought that we would die before we got to a hospital or prison camp. Up to now about the only questions that had been put to us were, "How many Americans are in France?" and "How many are this front?" We were expecting a questioning by some officers and thought we had better get prepared. Our guard did not understand American and did not try to stop us from talking. The few simple questions already asked of us had been asked by just common soldiers, merely to satisfy their own curiosity. I asked my pal if he didn't think we should stretch the number of Americans in France a little. He seemed to think so, but wasn't sure of his surroundings so I didn't say a great deal to him. He still imagined that he was wounded.
We reached a dugout and were led into it. There was an officer who had been in America and could speak pretty fair English. He wasn't bad to us. He laughed and made fun of us for coming "over the water" as he termed it. He asked how many American soldiers were in France and I told him two million. He said he didn't believe it, as their U boats were sinking a lot of American ships. I told him their U boats hadn't sunk a single one of our boats yet, with the exception of a Red Cross ship that was loaded with wounded soldiers. He then told me that if there were that many American soldiers in France that they were all in Paris, promenading around with the French girls. I told him that no American soldiers were allowed in Paris, except on duty behind the lines. He soon dismissed us and we were hiked on.
Standing still had given my hips a chance to swell and get stiff, which made it all the more painful. We passed some Austrian artillery and they, too, had some pleasant names, knocks, and slaps in store for us.
Whenever there was no other Hun near the one who was driving us, he was pretty decent, but as soon as he had a few of his friends about him he was very mean.
Along the way I picked up a stick to help myself along. He made me drop it. I guess he was afraid I might take a swipe at him. We passed several German soldiers and all had something for us, if it was only "Amerikaner swine". I was commencing to think that maybe I was a "swine" because I was being called that so much.
We reached another village and were led into a large building. We were stopped in the hall and the guard went into a room. I looked into it and saw a bicycle fixed up to run something that looked like a dynamo. I looked at my buddy and winked and pointed out the rig to him. I couldn't think of what this rig was for, but thought perhaps they might rock us to sleep- never to awake. I had heard of so many stunts that they had tried that I put nothing past them. We couldn't talk or they would hear us.
Soon the door of the room opened and a big, fat husky Hun officer appeared on the scene. Fatty Arbuckle hasn't got much on him when it comes to size. He was as grouchy and ugly as he was large. He cussed us and asked us what we had lost on this side of the water. We said that we were over because we had been forced into the war by Germany, but he took it that we were sent to France against our will and said it was a lie, that we didn't go into the army in America unless we wanted to- as we had no militarism. I then told him as best I could that our government was drafting men too in wartime. He was a hard customer and wouldn't listen to that. He said to the guard: "Raus mit dem und auf hangen." The guard looked at him and then at us. The officer said "Loos" and the guard turned his rifle toward the door that we had come in. We started out. The fat Hun stood there howling as we went toward the door. I looked toward my buddy and winked at him again.
I had understood what the Hun had said and really thought that our minutes were numbered. When we got to the door, in walked a very tall and thin man, also a Hun. He had braid enough on his shoulders for a dozen men. He stopped and said: "Vas is das?" The guard answered "Amerikaners". This fellow could speak good English, as he had attended some college or university in America.
"You are Americans, are you?"
"Why do you fight against us?"
"Because our country has declared war on your country."
He asked me why and I told him they had been sinking our ships. He asked me how many Americans were in France, and I told him 2 million. The big, fat ugly looking Hun, who had ordered us to be hanged had shown up- and he was again making a lot of noise. The tall one must have out-ranked him, and he seemed to have the say. The tall one asked if Americans killed wounded Germans who had been captured. He said that he had heard that we did that. I told him that if any individual did that, they did so against orders. He asked me if we were getting short of food, and I told him that we had plenty. I said that I didn't think that we were going to be short, as we had very good crops in the States.
He talked in a very low tone to the ugly officer. As my ears were still on the bum, I couldn't hear what was said. Anyhow, we were hiked out again and into a very large dugout. There were a great many men in there, and also horses.
Later we were hiked out again, and had a new escort- a man on horseback, and one walking. This new guard seemed to think that I was going to run. The fact is that I could hardly walk because my hip pained me so much. He kept saying "Schnell, Schnell". I said, "Nichts", and pointed to my hip. I was doing the best I could at walking. He said something again, but all I could understand was the word, "Officer." I took from that that the officer had given orders for him not to let us take it easy on the way. When we got around the curve in the road, he cooled down and wasn't in such a hurry.
We passed some more soldiers in Company formation on their way to the Front. Several of these took a slap, poke or kick at us, and all called us names and laughed and jeered at us. After quite a hike we reached another village and were led up to another building.
One guard went in and out came a gang of officers, several of whom spoke a little English. This must have been some large headquarters. They all seemed to be having a lot of fun. Some asked us how we liked fighting the Germans; others asked what we had lost on this side of the ocean. One asked if it was true that we hung up dummies and ran our bayonets through them and called them the Kaiser. If it hadn't been under the circumstances I was in, I would have laughed good and hard. I told him that some of the soldiers might have called the dummies the Kaiser, but that the government had never officially named them as far as we knew.
They asked how many Americans were in France and I told them two million- and that there were ten million more coming in answer to their question as to how many soldiers we had.
We were now about ten or twelve kilometers from the Front. Although I had asked for water all the way, all the answer I got was "Kein vasser" meaning no water. It was very hot and being wounded made me all the more thirsty.
When these officers came out they were eating what looked to me like graham bread, but I found out different before long. When they went in I remarked to my buddy that Germany could not be so bad off for food by the looks of what those officers were eating, but I soon discovered that this was not the case; such fine tasting bread as it looked to be. Beauty was not even skin deep on the bread left in my possession; a 150 gram loaf which constituted a full day's ration. This bread is made of sawdust, straw, potatoes and whole rye flour. The straw and sawdust can easily be seen with the naked eye.
We had no official questioning and didn't want any, as that was one thing that we feared. All the questions that we had been asked thus far were just to satisfy some individual's curiosity.
Entry Twenty- five
The guard followed the officers in, but soon returned. We were marched across the street and entered an old church that was being used as a First Aid station. The men in there seemed to enjoy themselves when they saw us coming. They at first thought that we were English, but when the guard told them that we were Americans they all crowded around and looked at us as though we were some kind of dumb animals. We were the first Americans they had ever seen and like most of the Huns, they seemed to think that we would look different than other people.
Perhaps they expected to see us with feathers all over us instead of clothes. We did look different than them as our heads had no rough corners, while theirs were square. Actually a great many Hun's heads would fit into a square much easier than into a circle. We always called them "Jerries", "Fritzies", or "Square Heads", and the latter name suited a great many very well. After calling me a "schwine", the attendant at the First Aid station ordered me to remove my clothing.
As I was doing so, he said to my buddy, "Vas ist das?" pointing to his hand. He seemed to understand that much and stuck out his hand. The poor fellow still apparently thought he was wounded. His hand had a scratch on it and the Hun hit it with his own hand and said, "Das ist gut" meaning that the hand needed no treatment.
They said something about "Tot scheisen" and my buddy was ordered out of the church. I was ordered to lean over a pew and as I did so, they jerked the bandages off of my wounded hip. I gritted my teeth all the while this Hun was pulling and saying something not at all pleasant. My eardrum apparently being ruptured, I could not hear well enough to understand.
After he had jerked the bandages off, he ran a steel rod into my hip. I jerked away and made some kind of noise as I could not possibly stand this pain. He gave me a blow in the ribs on my right side and then took hold of me and turned me back over the pew, pinching me as he did so. The rod he used looked something like a knitting needle, but somewhat larger. He started poking it in again. I pulled away and then he used me rougher still. I gave him an awfully angry look as he was driving me mad. I guess he must have been trying to locate the piece of shell that had entered my hip. He then wrapped my old bandages back on and was not very gentle about doing it either. I then got a shot in the arm. I had heard about them injecting diseases into prisoners of war and wondered if that's what I was getting. I had had several shots in the arm from American doctors and thought they could have been more gentle, but when this Hun got through with me I declared that I would never frown at all of the shots an American doctor might give me. He just jabbed the needle in my arm and wasn't particular whether it went under the skin or into the flesh. I was told that this shot was to prevent blood poisoning and lockjaw.
About the time I got my clothes back on, the guard returned and said something to me about my comrade being "kaput". I am not sure but actually believe that he was shot. How could the guard have disposed of him so quickly? Why was he taken away from me? I do not know his name, but know that he was from North Dakota and was a member of company F of my regiment. We had been told that the Huns very often killed men who were not wounded and that a wounded man had a better change of getting by that one who wasn't.
I was motioned over to a pew and told to sit down. I had the pleasure while there to see a great many Huns brought in for treatment. Some were in pretty bad shape and never lived to see the end of the war. I lay down in the pew and while I was wondering what would happen next, a couple of French prisoners were let in. They were also wounded pretty badly, and when they saw me they shook their heads. They had a look that I understood better than words.
One of the Jerries could speak French and because I could understand a few words of that language I managed to make out enough to know what they were talking about. They seemed to think that the French had a right to be taken as prisoners but that Americans had no right to be in France. They seemed to be enjoying themselves pointing me out as an, "Amerikaner Schwine" to everyone who happen to come in. these insults they said as making fun of me hurt me as bad as the knocks and slaps. No matter what they said or did I had to take it with indifference.
After I had lain there for a while one of the fellows who had been making so much sport of me seemed to have a heart all of a sudden. He came over to me with something to drink which was a poor imitation made from something that grows wild. They called it "cow bean". These cow beans were roasted and prepared the same way as coffee was. I got a cup full of it and a half slice of bread. The drink was wet, but aside of that I cannot say much for it. The bread was very bitter and I wasn't hungry enough to relish it, but after a few days I ate all I got and looked for more. A person has to be awfully hungry to eat this bread. I was hungry because I hadn't had any breakfast, but I wasn't awfully hungry just then. I wondered if they perhaps put something in it to "rock me to sleep". I had heard of so many of their dirty stunts but I wouldn't put anything past them. I did not care just then. I would have gone to bed happily if I had known I would never wake up again.
As our armies advanced they commenced dropping a few shells into this town, and the Germans were beginning to feel alarmed. I was ordered up again and put on the hike. What little time I had spent on that pew had rested me, but my wound had swollen more and I couldn't possibly put my foot on the ground. A Frenchman came and helped me a little. I soon got so I could stand up and straighten my leg out and put a little weight on it, not because it was pleasant, but because I had to do it by force.
I hopped along, gritting my teeth at every stop. I was put in with a bunch of Jerries and was told that we were going to the "Lazeritt", meaning the hospital. I asked how far it was and they said, "Twenty kilometers". I had already walked ten and I did not think I could stand to walk further in this condition. That didn't seem to be the question. I had to- that was all.
I tried to keep up but it was impossible. There was one extra mean fellow in the bunch and I got a good many knocks and jerks from him. The bunch got away and one guard remained with me. It was very hot and every time we came to a place with water, I actually begged for it. Each time he said, "Nichts" yet he would drink, empty his canteen on the ground, fill it up with fresh water, and then move on. Very often he would not even let me stop, but make me hike along and he would walk fast to catch me. Every now and then we would meet troops on their way to the front. They were all surprised to see an American but all had something to say or a kick or a slap for me. If the guard who was with me had been told once to kill me, he had been told fifty times.
As we were going to the rear we had to pass through a small town that our long range guns were dropping shells into. My guard tried to get me to run but I couldn't. He said something to me and he started to run. I took from what he said and the way he ran, that we would meet on the other side of the town. I looked for water but I couldn't find any.
When I got to where I supposed I would find my guard, he was gone and I couldn't find him. I stopped and wondered what to do. Should I stay there? I knew it would be impossible to get back. If I stopped, it would be hard to start hiking again so I kept o following the road. I passed some apple trees and picked a bunch of them. They not only helped to satisfy my appetite, but quenched my thirst as well. I was beginning to think of the two loafs of bread I had lost that morning.
As I walked along I came to a crossroad where there seemed to be a lot of traffic. There was a guard there. I walked toward them and said "Lazeritt." He pointed off in the direction and I started that way. He gazed at me and I suppose he wondered who I was. I limped on and finally saw a big sign "Feld Lazeritt 104".
When I got closer I found three very large tents and turned in there. This was very hard for me to do and I would have given all I ever owned not to do it. I might say that it required an extra lot of nerve.
There were Huns standing about and they all had a laugh at me. Some came and met me and said, "English?" I answered, "No, American." They were very much surprised and called a few more Huns around to look me over. All made a point to ask about the food proposition. Evidently the German newspapers had been trying to make them believe that the Allies were starving to death. I answered them as I did the others, saying that if the war kept up until we ran out of food, that it would go on a good many years. They pointed out a building and motioned me toward it. I knocked at the door and a gruff voice yelled out, "Komm". I entered and that fellow was sure surprised. He looked me over before asking me who had sent me there, how I got there, and how many Americans were in France. He took my name and address, which he put into a chest. Then he called one of the Jerries in from outside and after telling him something I was led into one of the big tents. As I limped past dozens of beds on each side of me, I was laughed at and made fun of by some who were in those beds. Some were very angry. They all took me to be English and when any of them found out that I was an American, they thought it more of a joke.
I was finally turned into one of the beds in the corner of the tent. It was a cheap iron bed with a tick made of paper and filled with hardwood shavings, and one blanket. All the Huns in the place who could walk flocked around me and I sure felt out of place. They did not misuse me, but several called me "Schwine" as they laughed and made fun of me.
After they cleared out a bit, I got my shoes off and was trying to get the rest of my clothes off. In walked an Englishman who was also a prisoner of war and was being held at this place to be doing work of all sorts. I sure was glad to see him, and he was glad to see me. Of course I had to tell him about what we had been doing, our great successes, and then he commenced to tell me something about prison life.
He said he was getting along pretty decent here, and for me not to be in a hurry to get away as this was a s decent a place as I would strike. He gave me some idea of what I would have to go through at "Kommander", which is what they call the place where the prisoners are sent to work. The more I heard, the more I realized that I was in even more danger than under shell fire, and I shouldn't give a nickel for my chances of living through it.
The English Tommy helped me to get undressed and I lay down intending to make the best of it for the night. The bed was very hard but I sure didn't complain. It was about the same as a board, except that a board hasn't as many humps on it as a rule.
Entry Twenty- seven
After I had been there an hour or so I got a bowl of barley soup. It was pretty good and I really relished it. I ate all I got and was glad to get it. The Tommy brought some water and I washed my hands and face. I had an awful fever and the water offered some relief. I soon fell asleep but was awakened about midnight. Two Americans had been brought in and I was asked if I knew them. Both were from my Division; one from the 28th and one from the 16th Infantry. Both were in pretty bad shape and both were being carried on a stretcher. The fellow from the 16th had his left leg pretty badly shot up and suffered a lot. The fellow from the 28th had his chest almost blown away. We had a little talk, after which we all went to sleep. We were all very weary, having been in the drive for three days with very little sleep. This was my first day with the Huns and I had learned a lot- enough to last me for the rest of my life.
The next morning when we awoke, we were all wondering what the day would bring forth. We learned that there was another American up in the far corner of the same tent we were in. He was a Sergeant Heinz from Boston. We were all very sore and our wounds were giving us more pain than when we first received them. I had been on my right side all night and by the way I felt, I must continue to lie that way. We received a small quantity of soup for breakfast and finished all before we really knew what we were eating.
Right after eating they carried out quite a few, mostly Germans, who would never go to the Front again. There was also an occasional Frenchman. This had been a French hospital only a short time before and the Germans had captured it from the French. There were still a few French in the hospital that had been captured with the hospital but they were becoming very scarce.
About one hour after we had our soup a very tall Hun came in. He walked past everyone, looked at his chart, and would tell a soldier with him something that the soldier would make a note of. Very often he would question the patient. He was very tall and slender, and resembled "Mutt" in Bud Fisher's cartoons. He had on a large a white apron that was so covered with blood that it was as much red as it was white. Anyone who saw him would be scared-even if he hadn't been scared before. His sleeves were rolled up and he had a real Hun look about him. A good windstorm would have blown him away. When he reached the fellow from the 16th he passed him up. I couldn't hear enough of what he said to understand.
When he reached the fellow from the 28th, he told his dependable, and he made a note of it. This man had had first aid, but was not bound up very well. His chest was in awful looking shape and every time he breathes matter would ooze out. Instead of putting the bandage over the wound, the doctor simply threw the blanket over it. These blankets had been on the beds for months and were far from clean. The foot of the one I had was stiff from having been blood soaked.
He came to me and because I could speak a little German, I wish he hadn't come. The treatment I had received from him was far from pleasant. He looked at my wound and squeezed about it for a while, causing me to yell several times. He said something about me and I was marked up, as were several others. Every time I would make a little noise, he would yell "still" at me. After examining me, he turned and went to the opposite side of the tent because I was the last one on
my side of the tent.
After he left we tried to figure what would happen next. We decided we would be taken to the operating room just when the Tommy appeared and confirmed our decision. Pretty soon they began to carry out the patients and I was trembling. It would be bad enough to have a "white man' work on me-but think of a Hun!
The fellow next to me went first. Before he returned I was loaded on a stretcher and followed. When I entered the operating room in another building there lay the fellow from the 28th by the name of Mike Kerns on the table. He was just being dressed. There was a basket full of bandages there that were no means pleasant looking. The operating table was a homemade affair, covered with oil clothes, which was covered with blood. I was put onto this table without it even being cleaned or wiped off. They lost no time in telling one another that I was the "Amerikaner" who could "Deutsch Sprechen". They made me get on my knees and the old bandage was jerked off of me. The doctor then told me to lay face down and he began squeezing my hip again. I couldn't help but squeal and he yelled for me to keep quiet. He then got a steel rod, similar to the one that had been used on me the day before, like a knitting needle only a little larger. The sight of this was enough for me, and when he began to run into my wound I couldn't help but catch his hand. He slapped my hand and, of course, I took it away. He then put his tools way and put something over my face. This was done so quickly that I didn't get a chance to see much of it. He ordered me, "Count."
I didn't understand and he started out, "Von, Two, Tree..." and then I started.
I counted and soon I was singing the numbers and at the same time doing a lot of thinking.
I would count to ten and then go back to one. I thought of all I had ever heard of in a very few minutes. I thought that if they were sending me to the happy hunting grounds, it was a very pleasant way of going.
I was singing my numbers right along, only very slow, and every once in awhile I would forget and pause for a few moments. By and by I stopped all together. I couldn't do any more. I felt them start to work on me. One said that the "right way for me", and another said, "That's where the Amerikaners belong." I couldn't talk although I tried to. I couldn't move and that's the last I can remember.
When I awoke they were bandaging me up. My hip burned as if it were on fire. I thought they had operated on me. I'd asked for the piece of shell and one answered something by which I understood that they hadn't located it.
I was then given a quick roll into the stretcher. They all had a good laugh about the way they had rolled me over, and then I was carried back into the tent.
The Tommy had straightened my blanket in the meantime and I was glad to be back into my bed, even if it was hard. We then talked about our treatments and didn't wish for any more.
This was the only dressing that I got for my wound, except what I was able to do for myself- and a little help now and then from some of my American friends.
We received some black bread and some imitation black coffee later that morning. This helped us out pretty well- especially the coffee. We soon discovered that our shoes had been stolen and our pockets had been emptied. I told the Tommy about it and he said that he saw a German taking my stuff while I was asleep. Of course I couldn't say anything. Kerns found that he had lost what little stuff he possessed. Before I was taken into the operating room, I had given the Tommy a trench mirror to keep for me, and when I returned I asked him for it- also a fountain pen. He said that these had been taken away from him. I, of course, believed him. I valued that trench mirror very much as I had retrieved it just ten days before being captured.
It seemed strange to me that a German would search this Tommy who had been there so long, but I believed him for the time being- although I noticed that he acted very queer. Kerns and I had talked about it and we mistrusted him a little bit. That afternoon a German came to me and asked me to trade watches with him. I told him that my watch had been stolen and he looked toward the Tommy and winked.
I didn't say anything then, but I did a lot of thinking. I didn't care to have anything to do with the Huns, but I appreciated the tip. I then began talking to the Tommy about the things that I had lost, and how I valued them as special keepsakes. Some time afterwards he asked if I had searched my blouse in good shape. I told him that I had, but to satisfy him I searched it again and found a photograph that I had mentioned to him, a few addresses, and a book of American postage stamps. The Tommy had undoubtedly returned these.
Later that evening I saw the Hun who had given me the tip and I beckoned to him. He came and I asked, the best I could, about my stuff. I understood him to say that he had seen the Tommy going through my clothes. I then told him that if he could get my things back that I would give him a fountain pen which I told him the price of, and named the articles that had been stolen: a leather wallet, a wrist watch, two fountain pens, a trench mirror, a couple of souvenir cigarette lighters, a pocket knife, and several other articles that I did not care as much about.
The next day I saw the Tommy go to his bed, and could tell that he was after something. He saw me watching him and took all of his stuff down to the thirteenth bed from me. I told Kerns about it and we decided then and there that he was guilty. The Tommy kept looking back every once in awhile to see if I was watching him.
Some time later I saw the German. I called him and told him as best I could to ask the fellow in the thirteenth bed what the Tommy had been showing him. He went there directly and the fellow from that bed came to me. He could speak a little English and described the stuff the Tommy had showed him. He also told the value of it. He told us about all of my stuff and also about Kerns' rings. Kerns was an Irishman and his blood boiled to think of an Englishman taking things that were our prized possessions.
The next time the Tommy left the tent to do some work, the German brought the Tommy's blouse to me and laid it on my bed. He pulled out everything I had lost. Kerns got his rings and I gave one pen and the cigarette lighters to the German for recovering my things. When the Tommy came back he looked very cheap. Someone went and told him what had happened.
Later I told him what I thought of him and that if it were any other conditions I would report him if I ever got the chance. He had been very good to me and I would have given him some of the things I had, but seeing that he had treated me in this manner, I told him that what articles I hadn't valued as keepsakes, I had given to the German for recovering my things, and that he could have been much more welcome to them.
The Tommy then told us that he was keeping our stuff for us, and that he would have given it back to us as soon as we were able to leave. We had several reasons to believe otherwise, so we did not believe what he said. Any time any of the Huns said anything about him taking it, however, we said that he had actually been keeping our stuff for us so they wouldn't use him any rougher for it.
I didn't get so much sleep the next night, as I was not so sleepy and the cooties had commenced action. The following morning the tall doctor was making his rounds. The fellow from the 16th Infantry (Kerns) was called in. When he came back he had only one leg and he was unconscious. We came to in about an hour and was very sick and weak; and also felt very badly about losing a limb. He didn't know they were going to amputate it so he was very much surprised. We tried to make him believe that it was for the best, although we didn't know whether it was or not.
That second day passed without much excitement, other than what the Englishman had stirred up. Kerns' bandages came off and his wound was exposed to all that came his way. My right hip was getting sore from lying on it.
The third morning the Hun doctor made the rounds again and I was again pointed out, but the other two were not. I was told that I was going to be sent into Germany which made me feel very badly, although the Englishman told me that I would be better off if I got registered because I would get help from the Red Cross.
I looked at the bright side of my prospects as much as possible, but I didn't like the idea of going to Germany. The last two nights we had heard our own guns all night and knew that they were getting closer and closer. It was our one hope that the Allies would come so fast that the Germans would not have time to get us out of the way- and that the Allies would recapture us. The thoughts of going into Germany made me shake.
I was soon put on a stretcher and given a hospital chart. It contained some German writing, my name and said that the piece of shell in me could not be located. I wanted to keep this piece of paper pretty bad and will attempt to do so by not producing it for anyone.
After about a fifteen-minute ride we reached a string of cars and I was loaded into one of them- a freight car. I was placed on the floor and one of the Germans from the hospital put one half of the blanket under me and the other half over me. This was a pretty hard bed. There I was among a carload of Huns, all of whom were able to walk and who sat on planks while I lay there on the floor. I could not get my clothes on so I used them for a pillow.
Before we left, a Hun officer came on. When he saw me with a blanket, he took hold of it and said, "Vach mit das" and gave it a jerk. I raised myself with great difficulty and away it went. Then I lay there naked. I covered myself as much as possible with my blouse. I got hold of a piece of paper and put it under me, which helped some, and off we went- the whole train load of Huns and I.
There were also a few carloads of some far worse, but they were lying on stretchers, I was told. Nobody seemed to know where we were going, although some thought it was to Deutschland. This journey lasted for three days and nights, raining most of the time. The atmosphere was quite cool and with the train running, which made more draught, it was very cool, especially at night.
My little blouse was very small and seemed to be getting smaller. I just shivered like a leaf and my teeth chattered. The Huns thought it quite a joke to see me lay there. I was unable to sleep at night and would fall asleep during the day. They seemed to think it lots of fun to do some tormenting thing to me and then get back to where they were so that I wouldn't know who did it. Naturally I would awake suddenly and look about surprised. They were worse than small children. They thought they were having an awful good time.
The train would run a while and then pull in on some side track and wait for a few hours. The second morning we pulled into Laon, and there was all kinds of excitement there. They were very much alarmed because the Allies were getting too close to suit them.
Laon was a very important place, because here was located several hospitals, three different headquarters, some prison camps, ration dumps, a very important railroad center, and greatest of all a wonderful observation post from where they could see in all directions for over one hundred kilometers-so I was told. At this place I could see the streetcars running and French civilians walking about working. Soup was served here. The Huns had to walk out of the car and were each issued a ticket that entitled them to a bowl of soup each. I fell short.
Some of the Germans came back into the car to eat and one of them gave me a little that was "left over" of what he didn't eat. I couldn't quite guess them; couldn't he eat it all or did he have a heart? I gave him credit for having a heart. I had to eat after the Hun had eaten and what he left, but I was very glad to get it.
Most of the bunch were in pretty good spirits, as it seemed they were all going on a furlough to convalesce.
The third night we stopped at a place and everybody got out and we were marched away. I was left lay there and was very uneasy. I disliked to become acquainted with a new bunch. After I had laid there for an hour or so someone came along with a lantern and looked into all the cars. He discovered me and after asking how I got there called to someone and I was loaded into a wagon. A French civilian was in charge of the wagon and, as I could speak a little French and he a little German, between both languages we understood each other quite well. We passed a place and there was a lady sitting out in front. Evidently she was his wife. He told her that I was an American and she was very glad to see me and to know that "Amerique" was in the war and that they would get out now. They had been prisoners for four years and were more than anxious to gain their freedom.
We finally landed into a great big court. I was unloaded from the truck by some Germans who didn't handle me very gently. I was taken up two flights of stairs and put to bed. This was a dreary place but the bed was a lot better.
Those who hadn't looked me over soon did so. Soon after we reached this place we got some bread, which I surely ate as though I was hungry. I was commencing to feel very hungry now. I had gone without several meals at a time in the American army and thought that I knew what it was to be hungry, but I never was near as hungry as this time. Nothing we got seemed to have "bottom" to it. The piece of bread was usually very small and the soup was very thin, hence not very nourishing.
The next morning I got a look at the place in daylight and concluded it must have previously been a hotel or lodging house. We got another small piece of bread and some black "cow bean" coffee. After "breakfast" a Hun with a Red Cross band around his arm came around and looked everybody over. My dressing was about off and was very full of cooties. I didn't say anything to him because he had asked me nothing, so I didn't feel as though I had a right to ask for anything. He didn't do anything-just looked everybody over and left. Later he returned with some women nurses. I expected then and there to ask to be dressed, as I thought these women would have a heart. I watched them dress some of their own men and thought them very rough. They were.
When they got to me they snarled at me and said a number of mean things, so I decided to dress myself as best I could and not give them a chance to torture me again until I had to. Even though these were women they had some very mean things to say and would have delighted in having a chance to be mean to me. I was the only prisoner of war in the room and felt very funny about it. After I was there a day or two a German came running in and made an awful noise. He was more than excited and yelled "Hindenburg Kompt."
The way the Jerry who was in charge of that room flew about wasn't slow. Everything was put in order in short time and they got ready for an inspection by Hindenburg.
I was again uneasy, as I had no love for Hindenburg above all except the Kaiser, and I knew that he had no love for me. He did come, too, but he wasn't very strong on inspection. I wished that I could fly out of that place. I had heard so much of "Old Hin" that I didn't care about seeing him.
He didn't see me, as he just walked into the room and gave it a quick "once over" and then passed out again. I was afraid of a questioning by him, if he saw me, and considered myself lucky when he left without seeing me.
No cartoon or photograph has ever shown Hindenburg too ugly or rough to be natural. The looks of him would make anyone cringe.
I stayed here about three days and all the while wondering what was coming next. This was a place where the Hun soldiers were sent, sorted out, and then sent to other hospitals or to their own people. Whenever anyone's bandage came loose it was not put back on, nor was anyone who was otherwise in bad shape even touched here. These nurses were very rough and not even the Germans there wanted to be dressed.
The last day I was there my bandage had come off and I re-rolled it, after killing all the cooties on it that I could find, and I started to dress my wound again. The nurses came around about that time and one, a middle-aged woman, came toward me. I had gotten down and covered up by that time, but her eagle eye had seen me and she wanted to know what I was doing. Of course I had to show her. She was grumbling all the while about the "Amerikaner" in the "Kreig." I was glad when she left.
One afternoon someone came up to the room that I was in and called my name. I answered and he told me that I was going to leave. No one knew where, but I knew that I was "going." I told him that I couldn't walk down and leave all my things there. I told him that I couldn't walk and asked him what I was going to wear when I got well. He asked me whom I expected to carry me and said that I didn't need any clothes.
I didn't like the idea of leaving any clothes there, so when this fellow left the room I asked the German in charge of the room if he was an officer. He told me that he wasn't, so I got into my clothes the best way I could and asked the fellow in charge if he wouldn't help me down, which he did.
My hip pained me very much, as this was the first time that I put my weight on it since the first day. One the way down the steps we met the fellow who had ordered me to leave my clothes there and-all the noise he made wasn't a little! He wanted to take my clothes off then and there.
I decided to stick up for myself a little bit and not lose my clothes without trying to keep them. I told him that I knew that I was a prisoner and that if I lost these clothes I would have a hard time to get any more. (The Englishman had told me this and the clothes he wore proved his statement.)
The fellow in charge of the room then spoke up and told him that he had better let me keep them. He then told me that I could keep my clothes but that he wanted my blouse and puttees. I told him that I needed them and he pointed to my shirt. I told him that I needed my blouse also. I knew by now that he wanted my clothes as souvenirs and as long as he had no authori8ty to take them I was going to stick to them as long as I could. He finally left me, cursing and wishing me a lot of good (?) luck. He seemed to be afraid to do anything to me.
I was then put into an ambulance with a place for two stretchers in it. I got on one and in a very few minutes a Frenchman was loaded alongside me. We both wondered again where we were bound for this time.
We were pulled up near the gate. Our clothes showed that we were not Huns and quite a number of French civilians came over to where we were. They could speak some German and I could understand some French, so we could understand each other quite well. They told of some of their hard times, how they wished the war was over, etc. Soon the Hun with the Red Cross on his arm appeared. One yell out of him and the French civilians scattered in all directions. He came toward where we lay and asked me for something that I couldn't understand: "Wiggle commercha." He commenced winding his hand around his leg and I understood he wanted my leggings, or puttees. I very frankly said "Nix!" that I needed them, and without paying anymore attention to him turned toward the Frenchman and started talking, winking as I did so, and I felt none the worse for what he had said; in fact I felt better because I had bluffed this Hun.
We were soon moved out of here and passed through the town. It was quite a place. Naturally the names had all been French, but now right above or below all names of the streets, buildings, etc., were changed to German. The streets that I remember were "Kaiser Wilhelm Strass," "Von Hindenburg," "Ludendorf," "Berlin Strass" and several others. I thought this quite amusing and wondered what the Huns would feel like when they were forced back into their own country. The name of this town was "Fourmes" and is not more than ten or twelve kilometers from the Belgian border. This also seemed to be a very important place for the Germans. Work was going on in factories and buildings were going up. I don't believe the Germans ever intended to leave here.
We reached a string of cars-Red Cross cars-with comfortable looking seats in them. The driver pulled up to us and a Hun appeared who seemed to be in charge. He asked something about "Ge fangener," meaning prisoners, and he pointed over to some other cars. The driver went over to them and we were unloaded into another freight car. We were the first in and were laid on the bare floor. Soon some more came. All were prisoners. Then came a bale of shavings, which was a little better than the bare floor.
An English officer was brought in. He couldn't walk. He saw me and came toward me and we both cursed the Huns. Several French were brought in, among them a Major, one more Englishman and two Americans. The Englishman and Americans got together with this Major and we all had some stunts as we were glad to be together.
The French Major was very humorous. The Hun guards sure got their needings. They sent two guards with us and we surely made them feel like a cent half spent. What one of us wouldn't think of and say the other one would and for a while we forgot we were prisoners. These Huns never let a word out of them. If there had been any possible chance of getting away we could have thrown these fellows out of the door without much exertion.
When we started out someone said that we were not going very far-only about ten kilometers to Trelon, a prisoner-of-war hospital. We arrived there, but as it was raining we stayed in the car for quite a while and a Hun with a bayonet appeared on the scene. He looked us over and wanted to know who could walk and who couldn't. Those who could walk were unloaded and hiked away.
One of the Americans with me had lost his right arm above the elbow and was also wounded in the leg. The other had an awful bad left leg. First he had been hit with four machine gun bullets in the knee and while laying there awaiting for first aid a shell burst not far off and a piece of that had torn his leg in a very bad shape from the foot to the knee. He had a splint strapped to his limb and suffered very much pain. Both were from the 26th division.
After a long wait a German guard appeared with a bunch of English prisoners of war. They were the worst sight I ever saw. They were walking skeletons-nothing more than skin and bones-and their clothing was in tatters. Our hearts dropped much lower. Were we to be in this shape? How could we help but speculate over the prospects? Starvation had reduced these fellows to their sorry condition. They were very weak and didn't seem to have sufficient strength to walk or talk.
They told us that there were Americans, or "Yanks," as they called us, at the "Lager." "Lager" is the German name for "camp," and that name was used by all nationalities for prisoners of war. They told us that an American officer had died there that morning and also told us about the chow at this place and about the sleeping quarters.
We were put into a large two-wheeled wagon. It was raining and we saw where we were going to get "soaked" in both senses of the word-from what we heard and been getting, and the rain. The poor Englishmen were supposed to push and pull us to this "lager." They could hardly walk themselves and in a little "scrap" they had among themselves it would have been amusing to see them fall to the ground if it had not been that they were so weak from starvation. They would fall into a heap on the ground just from a little push from one another. Finally they settled their little argument and we got started. W passed a long row of houses filled with French civilians. They were crowded into small quarters because most of the places were occupied by Germans. This made it necessary for several French families to live in one home.
A lady came out from one of the occupied places. Englishmen pushing and pulling our cart were stopped. The lady came out again with several glasses and we were served with hot coca. This was very good and was very much appreciated by all.
We then entered a big gate that was guarded by two guards and on top of the high brick wall was a barbed wire fence. I trembled when I thought of going in there. We were stopped in front of a place and our names were taken down. We were next moved up to another building and unloaded.
The "Tommies" had given me a horrid idea of what this place was like, but after seeing and experiencing it I found that it was worse than my darkest dreams. These buildings had been an old factory and now were partitioned off and being used as a hospital. It was a dingy looking place and the poor fellows standing around looked a lot dingier. Some had scarcely any clothes on, while others had pieces of blanket or sack tied around their bodies. The odor about the place was anything but pleasant.
When I got into my "Saal," the French and German word for room or ward, it was a sight. There were eighty some odd Frenchmen lying in there. The two Americans had reached there just ahead of me and I was put into the bed next to them. I say "bed," but it was the poorest excuse for a bed I ever saw. It was far worse than the floor and I would take the ground in preference any time. It was made of rough boards, had the usual paper sack full of shavings on it for a mattress and one blanket, which was quite stiff with dirt. It had been fumigated several times and had a burned smell about it. The shavings were bunched up and were very disagreeable to lie on. We had our talks and believed we were into the worst of it now. We looked over toward some windows and they were covered with iron bars and every once in a while we could see guards walk past. This was my first time behind bars and I couldn't get used to the idea. I couldn't forget them. No matter what we talked about, those bars and barbed wire would come into my mind. They seemed worse to me than the guards. Practically every man was in very bad condition and very few could have gotten away even if there were no fences or guards.
It was about nine o'clock and we hadn't had anything to eat since noon, and then had only some thin soup. I was very hungry and it was commencing to "get my goat." When the French sergeant returned and said he could get us nothing I took the part of a baby and cried. What I had seen of the others who had been there longer, the iron bars, barbed wire, the horrors of the place, the guards, looking ahead and seeing myself in the future and starvation, was more than I cared to experience, saying nothing of my pain and the horrid thoughts of having to dance to the Hun's music.
We couldn't sleep, so the man next to me by the name of George and myself talked and cried all night. Something was biting us and we couldn't discover what it was. It was worse than a bite-more like a burn. A civilian came in during the night and took our names, numbers, occupation, religion, emergency address and a few more similar things. We used the fellow very cool. He spoke German when he first came in and we thought him a Hun. After he saw that it was very difficult for us to get along in German, he commenced speaking English. We said some things that maybe he wouldn't have liked very well if he had been a Hun, before we knew that he could understand our language. We were surprised to hear him speak English and he told us that he spoke nine different languages and that he spoke and understood all the rest easier than English, and also told us that he was a Belgian civilian. We asked him some questions about this place, but decided not to say too much as long as we didn't know him.
Later on that day we learned that he was more of a Hun at heart than a Belgian. We asked what it was that was biting us and told how it hurt. He told us that his place was full of fleas, which were an awful pest. He told us that some of the prisoners bodies who weren't able to help themselves were covered with a mass of sores from these fleas and we could well believe it as the few hours that we had slept there proved it. Neither of us went to sleep until it commenced to get brighter outside and the fleas let up a little bit. We were awakened before long and received a piece of "Schwartz Brot" (black bread) containing 150 grams and some imitation black coffee.
We were told that this bread must last us all day and that if we ate it all for breakfast we would not get any more. I could have eaten mine and several more like it at once. It was a very small piece, no larger than my fist and I was very hungry, but under the circumstances we were glad for "small favors." The guards were still walking by our windows, as they had been all night. About eight o'clock a Hun came in and let a yell out of himself. Everyone was startled. He felt like a king- perhaps like the Kaiser. We could tell his feelings from his appearance. We watched the older prisoners and tried to do as they did. All who could walk stood at attention, while the rest of us lay still. The French sergeant went toward him and after pointing out a few things and doing a lot of yelling, started to walk about the room. When he reached our "beds" he said "Vas is das" and the Frenchman who could speak German said that we were Americans. This fellow grumbled all the time and didn't say much about any one in particular. After making his noise he seemed to feel some relief and left the room. We learned that he was the German who was in charge of that ward and that it was very natural for him to make as much or more noise than he did that day.
The other American, George, could speak French very well and got a "stand it" with the French at once. He was a very fussy sort of fellow, always wanting more than his share of attention, under the circumstances. The Frenchman in charge of the ward, under the German, at first gave him a lot of attention, but soon got tired of it and then didn't give him any. This George was always complaining and asking for something. He could have kept about two healthy fellows busy most of the time. His limb was in very bad shape, which helped to account for his uneasiness. A French Catholic sister came around about nine o'clock with something in a pitcher and we were given a little of it. It was some condensed milk, reduced. She would come around every morning and we received a little each time. One day she came to us and said that she could no longer give us this milk, as it was for the French. She told us that it had been sent to the French and Belgian people and they had donated some to the Frenchmen who were in bad shape. The Americans had sent it over to them. It wasn't very rich, having been diluted so that it would go around, but it surely tasted good. One teaspoonful of diluted milk was more appreciated there than an extra fine meal would be now. Just a taste of something besides black bread, the liquid they called coffee, or their awful stuff that they called soup, was surely good.
The same milk, of which we were told that we could get no more of because it was not sent to us, was perhaps sent to the suffering French and Belgian civilians by some of our own relatives. We spoke of it and wondered if what we had donated to ourselves before we got into the army had helped buy it. We didn't begrudge anyone any for it, but as long as the French prisoners of war who were in bad shape got some of it, why shouldn't the American prisoners of war have it as well? Of course we understood that it wasn't sent there for us, neither was it sent to the French prisoners of war. It was sent to the French and Belgian civilians.
Several soldiers had died during the night and in the morning their blanket was pulled up over their heads and they were left lay. We asked the sergeant what was the matter and he told us that some had died from bad wounds, some because they had not received attention, and others because they had starved to death. He told us not to pay any attention to them and said that we would see a lot of that. He also pointed out some who had died the day before and were still there. He said at times they lay there for a couple of days before they were taken out. We did not wonder at the odor of the place when we heard this.
George was suffering much pain when I first met him and had suffered all night. The dreadfulness of the place, and what he had seen and heard had made him ill. About noon he got to be quite bad. He couldn't eat anything. Every time he would put something into his mouth he would have to remove it, as it seemed to choke him, and he gave it up as a bad job.
After the Jerries had made their rounds inspecting, several Americans there came in to see us. They confirmed a great many things that we had heard and told us by all means to stay as clear of the operating room as possible. All had been wounded and some had had an awful lot of abuse and showed it. Rumors started at once and from then on we had ourselves recaptured each day-or the war coming to an end-by rumor only. We considered that this was a good way of looking at things as it would keep us in better spirits. The Americans who came to visit were awful looking. Some were dressed in part French uniforms; some were in their own American uniforms. All had been wounded and two had their heads bound up, others had their limbs, or wherever they were wounded bound in rags. They were all hungry and that seemed to be the main subject among us-"eats."
It was the custom at this place for all new patients to visit the operating room the morning after arrival there. We were told so. George got out of going to the operating room. The fellow who had lost an arm and had the wounded limb went first. He fainted away while in there. I picked up courage enough to go then and my bandage was again jerked from me. There were three stools in this place and I was told to lean over one. As I did so they squeezed my wound and again felt around with the small rod to see how deep it was. I jerked away and a German sergeant caught hold of the flesh on my side and didn't twist me around very gently. He said something about it to a Russian prisoner who was working in there and he put some sticky balm around my wound and pasted a piece of my old bandage over it again. I was glad to be through and get out of this place.
I have previously stated that I only received one dressing for my wound and one dressing is all that I did receive. Such as the one just mentioned could hardly be called a dressing, although I received very few of them. The time that I was in the hospital, I got a good dressing, although not a very gentle one.)
One of the boys had helped me down to the operating room. When we got to it there was a line of about thirty or more waiting to get in. All were a frightful looking sight. Some had the most awful looking wounds exposed to all that happened to come their way. I saw many who were almost a solid sore from the fleas. The hallway was lined with patients who couldn't walk, so they were carried up on stretchers and were often rolled off while the stretchers went back after more. All were awaiting their turn, each having a little piece of cardboard with some figures written on it-the date on which they were to return for another "dressing." The door of the operating room would open and a German sergeant in charge would take the ticket. If the number on the ticket was not the correct date the patient "found out" about it. If his bandage came off and he went back to have it replaced a day or two before his ticket called for, he would get a shove or a kick away from the place as though it was his fault because his bandage came off, or because he might be suffering a lot of unnecessary pain. If he dreaded the place so that he hated to go to it and he got there a day more after his ticket said he got a shove or a kick regardless of how bad he was wounded. When my turn came to go in I got up in front of him and stopped. He said "scettle" (meaning "ticket," as I afterward found out). I didn't know just what it meant then and stood there looking at him. He stared back at me and wondered who I was, I guess. I finally "came to" and said "Ich hab nichts" (I haven't any) and didn't move, as I didn't know whether to go in or not. He got hold of my ear and pushed me in. I watched the rest of the boys in there and I noticed that they got their clothing out of the way if necessary and I did likewise. I then got what I have already related.
While waiting in the hall we saw two men, civilian prisoners who were very busy carrying out dead men. They entered a small lean-to built onto the "hospital," being used as a morgue, which the Germans called a "Tot house," meaning "dead house," and in here these men were placed until they were moved away, often one on top of the other.
For dinner that day we had mangle soup. It was an awful-tasting stuff and a great many experienced prisoners there refused to eat this because it always made the prisoners who ate it quite sick.
The soup was made of mangles and water, the mangles having been shredded and dried, undoubtedly by the sun on a roof, as they were always cinders in it. They were put up in packages and were prepared by boiling in water. It tasted very bitter and contained more water than mangles. As so many went without eating their soup that noon, it was very easy to get more, but several warned us not to eat too much and we took their advice. George didn't eat any, but the one-armed fellow and myself ate our share and decided that it was either a "kill or cure" proposition. I ate very little of my breakfast and intended to keep a little bit for later, but couldn't stand the temptation, knowing that I had it, and being so hungry, so ate all I had, which was only a very few mouthfuls.
Some time that afternoon three more Americans were brought in. One had a broken jaw. His jawbone was in a very bad condition and his teeth were all loose. They were fastened in by a piece of wire which had been put in by a captured Belgian doctor. Every once in a while he would reach into his mouth and take out a splinter of bone. He couldn't eat the crust of bread and I used to exchange sections with him. I would give him the center of mine for his crust. He considered this a great favor and I know that he appreciated it. He was a fine sort of fellow. He had lost his uniform and had got hold of one from a Frenchman at a hospital that he had just come from. He said that the Frenchman gave it to him and when he did so told him that he would never live to wear it again. Fisher, the American, said that the Frenchman made a good guess, as he died that night.
Another fellow from Montana by the name of Southerland was in bad shape also. He had a very ugly wound on his chest, which had punctured his right lung. Every time he breathed, the matter would ooze out and the odor was very unpleasant. He was very thin and death seemed to be staring him in the face. Since being released, I have written to him but have received no answer, so I think he has died. This man suffered much pain and was very weak.
The third man was from Kansas and his name was Cavenee. He was a big husky looking man and was now quite weak. His left leg was in very bad shape, having been broken and cut up pretty badly. He had a piece of board down the side of it to keep it straight. He also had a bad wound in the back that seemed to paralyze parts of his body. His left arm and hand was useless and had to be moved about with his right. This man was in the worst condition of any American in that place. He couldn't lay on either side on account of his left leg, therefore he was compelled to lay on his back with that ugly, awful wound on it. His bed was of the horrid shavings, the same as the rest of the beds and one can imagine that it would be very uncomfortable for a well person to lay on, say nothing of this unfortunate fellow with his awful limb and the horrid wound on his back.
We told one another how we were captured and about some of our abuse since, where we were from in the U. S., and our Division, Regiment, and Company in the army.
All of us Americans were bed patients. Fisher could walk about but couldn't do anything on account of his jaw. He was also blind in one eye. All needed attention-and how were we going to get it?
I soon decided that someone had to help us out and thought that I was better off than most of the rest to do it. I therefore elected myself as head nurse. I was far from able to do this work, but knew that it had to be done and thought that I was most able to do it. My hip pained very much whenever I tried to use it. I got into my pants and then missed my shoes. I walked about in my stocking feet and as the floor was far from clean, the stockings were soon the same.
I attended to all for a few days and was kept on my feet most of the day and there was not one hour at night that I didn't have to be around as well.
George was very fussy and if nothing else, would ask me to stand over him and rub his leg. Whenever any of the other poor fellows would ask for anything more necessary (and I left him to attend to them), he felt terribly hurt to think that I didn't stick to him, and he often cried. I told him that I was only too glad to help him all I could but though the others needed help also and that he must consider that I was also wounded.
Southerland was very modest about asking me for anything and wouldn't ask unless it was absolutely necessary.
Cavence, poor fellow, was in awful shape. He couldn't move either way. He had a bad case of dysentery and with that his wounds were more than any man could endure. Cavence was a married man and all the rest were single. He often spoke of his wife and little baby and showed me pictures of them. He also had a lock of the baby's hair that his wife had sent to him, which he also showed me. His thoughts were of them a great deal of the time. His voice grew feebler. He used to call me "1st Division" and at first whenever he needed help his voice was quite clear and strong. Each day it grew weaker. He then commenced to call me by my name, as I requested him, as I was hard of hearing and would catch that quicker, as several fellows went by their division names or numbers.
Fisher, although in bad shape, could get about better than I could, so after waiting on him a few days I asked him if he wouldn't try to help himself a little.
The other three fellows were all suffering from dysentery, as I was myself, and I got practically no rest. At night when I lay down one or the other would call and then some Frenchman would hear me, and he would call. Of course I didn't turn down the Frenchman, who was in bad shape, no quicker than the Americans. They were all human. My usual sleep was from 4 A.M. to 7 A.M. and then little naps during the day.
The fleas were still very bad and seemed worse, if anything. Our bodies were getting pretty badly scratched up. I kept my clothes on all night and each day took them off and fleas would jump every way. I would also kill "cooties" as a pastime, but more to get rid of them.
Our "feeds"' were still the same. Each morning we got our little 150-gram piece of bread. This bread was made of potatoes, sawdust, straw and whole rye flour. I have been told that there were dried leaves in it, also mangles, but can't vouch for that, but the first named ingredients can easily be seen. This bread is often moldy, very often sour and always bitter. At noon we got one liter of very thin soup, either mangle or grass. As a treat we got barley soup once in a week or so. This was pretty good, but was very thin.
At night we got some colored water, usually a gray. We called it "potato water," and the Tommies called it "greasy Lizzie." I do not know what it was, but it was never more than a liquid like water. We guessed that it was the water that was used to boil the Germans' potatoes in and had been diluted to feed the rest of us. We used to drink it, not because it was good, but because it was hot and was a lot more healthy than drinking the other water. The water in France was very impure. While we were still fighting, almost all of the water was medicated. The Germans did not go to the trouble to do this and each day and night. A great many have died from dysentery as the result.
George had to go to the operating room the second day and we had an awful time getting him onto the stretcher. I wasn't able to help carry him and two Frenchmen took him down. He had quite a story to tell when he came back. The Germans had ordered the fellows in the operating room to hold the flesh that had been torn apart by the piece of shell open, and then shoot benzine into it. He sure must have suffered a lot. We had another time getting him back on his bed.
Southerland and Cavenee were both in need of a dressing. Southerland's wound was not covered at all and every time he would raise or take a deep breath the matter would run down in a stream. Cavence's wound on his limb was covered but the bandage was loose and he was very uncomfortable. He didn't have any dressing on his back at all and lay right next to the blanket, half of which was over him and the other half under him. The blanket was of coarse texture, very rough and far from being clean. They both wanted to be dressed and would have gone to the operating room willingly. I asked the French Sergeant at their request if they couldn't go for a dressing. He said that it wasn't their turn to be dressed. Southerland didn't say much but felt rather bad about it.
Cavence felt very much disgusted and discouraged and broke down and cried. No one could blame the poor fellow. He had gone through a whole lot in the last few days and he had a lot more to think of than the rest of us. He was such a pitiful fellow and such a fine fellow that I at once took a great liking to him. I used to talk to him for a couple hours at a time during the day while I wasn't waiting on some one of him. He used to feel greatly relieved with a footbath. Two or three times a day I would get cold water and with a piece of the blanket to use as a wash rag would bathe his foot and ankle. I bathed George's foot as often. I also got water for them to wash their faces and hands each morning and I washed Cavence's, as he was unable to wash them himself, having lost control of his left arm.
The next day I went to the French sergeant early in the morning and asked if he couldn't get these two Americans to the operating room. He said he would try. They were both carried out.
While they were gone I turned their blankets around and shook up the shavings to make them a little more comfortable. Both blankets were covered with matter and Cavence's mattress was soaked through. I turned it around and the odor was far from being pleasant. Near noon they were both brought back again, neither had been touched. Cavence cried again and I told him that I would see what I could do for him after dinner. It had gotten so close to noon before their turn came that they didn't get into the operating room- and had to come back.
Southerland got back on his feet but as it was such a job to move Cavence that he was left on the stretcher. Right after we had "dinner" I went out with the intention of seeing the German who made so much noise each morning and was in charge of that ward. I found him and went toward him. I rather hated to say anything to him, as I didn't know what he would say or do to me. I asked him as best I could whether he knew the one who was in charge of Ward #4. I knew that he was, but I wanted to make him believe that he had a lot of authority. I had him sized up to be that kind of a fellow by all the noise that he was making.
He answered that he was and I told him about these two Americans, also about their wounds and how badly they needed dressing. I asked if he wouldn't look at them. He came in and gave the French sergeant orders to see that they got down for a dressing right early in the afternoon and that he would give the fellows in the operating room orders to fix them up.
Southerland returned first. They had shot benzine into his wound to wash the horrid looking matter away that had gathered there. He did not enjoy his visit there very much but was glad that it was over with. He seemed to think that his wound was in a lot better shape than it was before. He was bound up with paper bandages.
When Cavence returned I found they had redressed his limb, but hadn't touched his back, and I considered that about the worst. He also felt some relief to think that something had been done. His limb had also been wrapped in paper and a board or splint was again placed along the side and tied there with a most filthy looking old bandage. He didn't complain of any pain there. The poor fellow sure hated the Huns. He couldn't feel the pain and, as I am not a physician am unable to say, I think that his whole left side was paralyzed-therefore it felt no pain-but he suffered a lot. None of us had any pillows. He had a blouse and a pair of French breeches. First he would want these under his head, and then just one or the other, and then perhaps my blanket folded or both, or some other changes. He couldn't rest any way. He would ask for a drink and after I would bring it he wouldn't want it. He couldn't eat. Everything he put to his lips seemed to choke him. Nothing went to waste. A Frenchman right next to him stole his bread from him each day as soon as he would fall asleep. We didn't know where it was going, so watched and caught the Frenchman in the act and threatened to tell the Jerries if we caught him again. I then got it toasted for a few mornings. I asked one of the Catholic sisters if she would get it toasted, and she did. He ate some each day, but this also got "old." I then went to the sister and asked her if she couldn't give him just a little milk, as this man was very low and we didn't expect him to live. She gave us a very little. I soaked some of the toast in this and fed it to him. Each mouthful seemed to choke him, but I kept telling him that if he didn't eat that he wouldn't get well-which he wanted very much. He tried very hard to eat, but... try it seemed impossible. He would chew each mouthful a long time trying to swallow it. He couldn't help himself to any liquids and had to be fed. He usually got away with quite a lot of his soup.
George was also quite bad and between these two I was kept quite busy. George would want his foot rubbed and then tip his tow just a little toward the front or back and then to the right or left and when I would do all this it would be right where I started from. Perhaps he would have me looking through his bandages for a cootie or a flea.
Southerland was very quiet and only asked for things that were really necessary. He was not enduring near the suffering that either of the other two were encountering.
One day when the Jerry came in he saw one of my fountain pens in my pocket and wanted it very badly. I asked a big price for it, although I wanted to get rid of it pretty badly to get something to eat. He left that day and next day returned again. He offered me ten marks and a loaf of bread. I took him up. I cut the bread up. Fisher, the one-armed American, and myself ate a little. The rest of the boys couldn't eat any of it. I traded a little piece for an American cap, as I had none.
A Frenchman came around with a razor and I got him to shave Cavence, Southerland and myself. George had money of his own and paid for his own shave, also Fisher's. The rest had none and all I had was the ten marks. We all looked a little more like white men after our shave and we also felt a lot better.
After about six days Cavence was again taken to the operating room. I went to shake up the shavings and blanket and when I removed the blanket, which was wet from the matter, the bottom of it and the mattress were crawling with maggots. Such an awful sight! To think of a man lying there! He could not go back there. I saw an empty bed and took the sack-full of shavings off of Cavence's bed and took it over to the other one. The boards underneath were full of maggots. I got hold of a broom made of twigs and brushed them away. I then got the other sack of shavings and put them on the bed. They were at least dry. I could not understand what they were saying, but I knew that the French were talking about what I had done and by the tone of their voice I didn't think that they were in favor of it. I afterward found out. The Sergeant had told the Jerry and he jumped onto me in fine style. Of all the things that he was going to do to me "next time" weren't a few. The French were afraid that some more French would be brought in and would have to lie on that sack. I had also gotten another blanket. I was then made to carry the sack out to be burned and had to put the blanket on the line to dry and knock the maggots off of it.
When Cavence came back I asked him about his back and still they had done nothing. I then decided to go with him and ask them about it. Cavence said that he didn't think they knew that he was wounded there.
Our eats were the same: grass soup, mangle, or thin barley soup. None of it was good, but we were always glad to get it. On night, we all received a herring. It hadn't been dressed, but none of it went to waste. We received it right from the bone. Some ate all of theirs at once, and the water that was drunk that day wasn't a little. The next day and night, and for a few days afterwards, many died. None of us could say for sure if it was the German's work to get rid of some of the weaker ones. Dysentery always followed whenever water was drunk. Things went on this way for some time. George was quite bad, but began to feel better after he lost his limb. Southerland seemed to be getting worse. Fisher seemed to be the same. Almost every day he would take splinters of bone out of his mouth. The one-armed American was also getting better. He was of Russian birth and as there was a great number of Russians there, he had company. We got a lot of information through them. They told us how they had seen men lined up and shot for nothing, just to get rid of them. In one case, a commander had asked for a certain number of men to be marched out and counted. There were more men then the commander had asked for. So they were counted off, and every tenth man was shot down. They also told about how men were being marched along and took sick. If they were so weak that they couldn't go on, they were killed when they fell out of line.
Cavence was growing worse each day. On the tenth of august, a number of names were read off, and all of the Americans from that "Saal" were called except mine. They were all to go to Germany on the following day, and I was to be the only one left. Cavence had been unconscious for about three days. He would call me sometimes. Occasionally he would be doing some work on the farm, and he talked a lot about one of his neighbors. The afternoon of the tenth, I knew the end was very near for him. I went to him and told him that I was to be sent to Germany (although I knew I wasn't). I told him I would undoubtedly be able to write letters and that if he would give me his wife's name and address, I would write to her and tell her that he was getting along okay. My purpose for asking this was actually to let Cavence's wife know that he had died in a Hun prison. Cavence brightened up and said, "Will you do that? If only I knew that my wife would not worry about me, I would be alright!"
He gave me the address and after a few minutes, he was again unconscious. This was the last time he talked, except while unconscious, but then he talked quite a lot and even sang. He asked for things quite often, but when I came to him he obviously didn't want them. I was up most of the night with George and we both knew that Cavence wouldn't last but a little longer. He had become very thin and his cheekbones stuck out, while his eyes and cheeks sank way in. I saw him about 4:30am on August 11th. I went to what I called my bed and fell asleep. I was awakened about 6:00am by the French sergeant and was told that my comrade was dead. It wasn't much of a surprise, but it was a shock to me anyway. I went over to him and ascertained that he had just died because he was still warm.
The Germans would soon be notified and so I thought I would what few things he had and send them to his wife if I ever got out. One of the other boys took his clothing. I took a testament bearing his wife's name, a lock of his baby's hair that had been sent to him by his wife, several letters (which I at once destroyed) some photographs, a sweater, and an identification card.
About two days before he died Cavence had given me a signet ring and asked me to see if I could trade it for some cigarettes. I didn't do this as I knew he would be glad that I hadn't if he ever got well. The Germans asked for his personal stuff when they came in to see that he was dead, and the French wasted no time in pointing me out. I had to produce everything and the ring was taken away. I had tried to keep this back but they had been told that I had it and I was again warned about what I would get the next time. I got a lot of scolding and they did a lot of yelling, but I was getting used to that. I loaned the sweater to another American and will write to Mrs. Cavence if I ever get out of here.
One more thing that has bothered me is that I am not able to notify my parents. I have begged for a chance to send a letter a great many times, but always get "Nein" or "Nichts" for an answer. I have told them that I would go without food if I could write a few words on a card saying that I was still alive. No one has been allowed to send a letter from this place. I know that I would have been reported "missing" and that news would be worse than killed. I also knew that my parents would do a lot of worrying, but as much as I begged, it did no good.
About noon of the day that Cavence died, the Americans were called out and those who could not walk were loaded onto a wagon and hauled to the depot. All were glad to get away as nothing could be worse than this place. I was left alone in this ward and felt very blue and so lonesome. Cavence still lay where he had died. The maggots were again all through the sack of shavings and around him. The odor was very bad around there.
That night I was told to go to Saal 20 where there were a few other Americans. This place was just as dingy as the other, but there were not so many wounded men in it. I didn't get any sleep that night as the fleas were bad and I was very uneasy. I got up and limped up and down the hall until a German guard drove me back in. I lay down and cried and finally fell asleep. The next morning I got myself up and went back to Saal 4. I felt as though I knew a few of the French there anyhow. Cavence's body was still there. The French sergeant asked me to say something about it to the German guard. I did and he said, "Ich weis".
The body remained there until two days after Cavence had died. The second day in the new saal, while standing in the hall, I saw them carry the body to the morgue. We talked about what an awful thing that was to do.
I had nothing to do now, but stand or sit around and talk about what we were going to do when we got out, and how satisfied we would be when we got back to God's Country. Men continued to die and on bright, sunny days a great many who managed to get out for a little sun would die about the yard. Some died from wounds, some from neglect of treatment, and a great many from plain starvation. Grass was about as scarce about the prison yards as roast beef or some other good food. We would walk around the fence looking for a good clump of grass. We would ask the guard to hand the clump to us, especially if it was a clump of dandelions. Sometimes the guard would be man enough to do this, and sometimes he wouldn't. If he wasn't, we would keep our eye on this clump of grass and watch for the next guard. We never got very close to the fence to ask for this because we never could tell when we might get a good poke of the rifle, so we always played safety first and kept out of reach.
It was common to see men with their clothing off on the bright days, killing cooties or fleas. A man might be sitting or lying down with his head in the lap of another who might be cutting his whiskers with a pair of old shears. I have had mine cut that way a few times and can say that it's not very pleasant. I believe, by the way, that more of mine have been pulled out than cut off.
After I got so that I could walk without too much pain, I would walk from one end of this pen to the other with some other prisoner. Very often we would walk back and forth a couple of times with our heads down and never say a word. We were doing a lot of thinking. Rumors were very common. Most of us tried to look at things in a bright light and talked about being "recaptured".
The Jerries did not let us talk much in bunches. They walked around the yard with sticks in their hands and it was hard to tell when someone was going to get a beating. At times I have seen fellows standing around talking, perhaps not even about the war, and the guard will come up and beat all of them with his stick. No one knew what it was for, and it was hard to tell when it was coming. If one wore too much of a smile, he got it. If one looked too grouchy, he got it. Very often a Jerry would take someone by the ear and then beat him or kick him. I have seen some prisoners knocked down and then beaten by the Huns until they couldn't get up. They were always so very weak that it took some time to get up. An Englishman was struck over the back with the butt of a rifle one day while marching to the station. His back was broken simply for picking up a cigarette butt. He was left there to die. An Italian who was very weak and sick happened to spit on the ground one day. The German knocked him down and kicked him until he was unconscious.
One evening some German soldiers from a hospital came to the "Lager" and wanted to buy something cheap. Of course they knew that the prisoners would part with anything they had very reasonably. I had an Ingersol wristwatch. I didn't want to part with it, but wanted some money to buy eats whenever it was possible. I asked an enormous price for it. They offered 15 marks and 5 cigars. I had smoked quite a lot up to the time that I was captured, but I knew at once that I must use my willpower. We settled on 17 marks and the cigars.
I sold my five cigars for a mark each, the lowest price for a cigar around there. This made me five dollars and fifty cents in American money- more than I paid for the watch in the first place- and it was fifteen months old. This has done me a lot of good. I figure that I soaked the Hun, knowing that I would have something to eat as soon as I could see any food.
The Russian prisoners were taken out for work of different kinds quite often. Very often they would return with some potatoes or corn to eat, so they would sell their ration of bread. This small piece of bred sold for five marks or 1.25 in American money. This was sure expensive feed, such as it was, but we were always glad to get this bread whenever it was possible.
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