The Great War, I was there - Part 32

SECT ION XXXIV V J P u A d y f i J l Z l : OAz tfeca-nd JlfiaAe September —October 19171 J the weather steadily deteriorating and the condition of the battlefield growing (4 /worse and worse, the Third Battle of Ypres continued its melancholy course through­out September and October 1917.< J The chapters in this section reveal the ghastly hardships of the troops and the unavailing heroism they so constantly displayed.< J They are written by C. Carstairs, Lt.-Col. Hutchison, R. Stuart-Wortley, F. Richards, C. Edmonds, H. V. Drinkwater, H. Quigley, and A. Lambert.€ J Capt. Murphy writes of the perils of a master mariner in wartime, and E.A. Keith of an escape from the German civilian prison of Ruhleben. < J The section opens with an account of the rounding up of British deserters, byE. T. Woodhall, late of the C.I.D. and Counter-Espionage Department.? 23I September I9I7 The SEAMIEST SIDE of WAR A Police Officer’s Life at the Base byE. T. Woodhall HIS WAS A POLICEMAN’S LOT Mr. Woodhall was one of the detectives who guarded the Prince of Wales when he was in France. After the war he served in the Central and Special Branches of the GI.D. and in the Intelligence Department of the Secret Service. I N 1917 I was transferred from the Intelligence Police to the Military Police at Etaples, to assist in the rounding up of deserters. I arrived at a period when this tremendous base depot, the largest reinforcement camp in France, situated about twenty miles or so from Boulogne, was settling down to comparative quietness. Sometime previously a first detachment of W.A.A.C.s had arrived. The Military Police at that time was comprised of a peculiarly assorted body of men, tact and experience apparently being the least sought-for qualification. It would appear that a quarrel took place one night between a Tommy and a lance-corporal of the Military Police. The subject was one of the W.A.A.C.s. The row occurred through jealousy and terminated fatally, the Tommy being shot— I believe, acci­dentally— in the struggle. Immediately the news flew round the huge camp, and the troops rose en masse. “The Military Police !The ‘Red-Caps.’ Down with ’em !”And nothing would have prevented a terrible riot had it not been for the presence of mind and wonderful tact displayed by several members of the Headquarters General Staff. For days the trouble seethed, but in the end it simmered down to the normal. From this time onwards the Military Police was improved by an introduction into its ranks of non-commissioned officers made up mostly of policemen from all parts of the United Kingdom. Two very popular, and certainly the most efficient, Military Police officers this difficult area ever had in command were Major Pym and Captain Cross, the former being Provost and the latter Assistant-Provost. They com­manded wisely, diplomatically and firmly. At any rate, that was the unanimous opinion, so I think I am at liberty to quote what was considered to bethe case.In passing, I think it fair to refer to two other men of the rank and file who rendered signal service at all times and under very difficult conditions. They were Detective Jack Williams of the Bristol Constabulary, and Detective Skelton of the Windsor Borough Police. There were, of course, many others but as space does not permit of detail I hope, if this book is ever read by them, they will appreciate my opinion of all their splendid individual efforts in the area of Etaples. At the time of my transfer to the Etaples base the court-martial prison and detention camp of Etaples was formed just outside the town on the road to Camiers. It was situated on the sandy soil overlooking the railway, while on the other side it faced an estuary of a river that runs inland from the English Channel. It was a sort of stockade erected from huge wooden stakes about ten feet in height, inside which again was a double compound of heavily-woven barbed-wire entanglements. Sentries guarded the place at night and armed military warders by Today. this place were fetched delinquents, absentees and deserters from all parts of the British lines. The organization was crude, but the methods applied to prisoners were sound and certainly fair. It was simply a detention compound for men awaiting armed escorts, and, in conse­quence, prisoners were arriving and departing constantly for their units in the battle areas of the British Front. The work of rounding up deserters and absentees necessitated great pa­tience, tact and discretion, always accompanied by rigid firmness. Some of these men would stick at nothing, especially if the death sentence was against them. Our method used to be that of silently getting our information, then, having made sure they were deserters, shadow them to their hiding-places. Many and many a time I have gone out to some particular area which we had decided to raid and brought back sometimes as many as a dozen“ Ishmaels.” On one occasion I had a man who had been missing from his regiment for nearly three years, and another almost two. We used to carryout our raids unostentatiously but very effectively. With a large covered lorry, about an hour before dawn, eight or nine picked, armed Military Police, accompanied by 1260
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