The Great War Part 200, June 15th 1918

302 The Great War The “post ”was a frequent instrument of punishment, and it was reported that it was not an uncommon thing to see twenty prisoners tied up at the same time and undergoing this hideous form of torture. Among the punishment cells were four so terrible that they were characterised as “absolutely Black Holes of Calcutta.” The climate of the Baltic chill and damp as well as the privations and sufferings they were compelled to endure, told heavily 011 the men and consequently there was much sickness for which there was little or no medical aid forthcoming. Bad as was the lot of the prisoners at Libau, there was something worse in store for many of th emit seemed always possible for the Germans to“go one better "in the way of remorseless brutality. In February, 1917 five hundred men were picked out and sent to the Russian firing-line to undergo the rigours Prisoners under of an Arctic temperature on meals Russian gun lire reduced to two a day and with extremely inadequate protection against the bitter cold. For ten hours they were forced to work under fire from the Russian guns. They slept in a tent hardly warmed at all by small stoves and some of them had no blankets. Not one had a change of clothing. The solace of smoking was denied them. “It is an awful and most ”miserable existence wrote one of the Coldstream Guards thereto his wife. “You are being dealt within ”this manner said the German authorities to these men in the firing-line on the eastern front “as a retaliation for German prisoners of war being sent into the firing-line on the western front by the British authorities.” The German Government alleged that both Great Britain and France had kept German prisoners immediately behind the firing-line, and it asserted that' it had done nothing of the same kind with respect to British and French prisoners. This assertion was entirely false but there was unfortunately some degree of justification for the allegation regarding German prisoners being employed in the zone of fire behind the British Inline. a speech in the Lords in May 1917, Lord Newton said that some German prisoners who were making roads were wounded by shells from the German guns and he stated that Germany perceived in this incident a good chance for making reprisals. Germany demanded that the prisoners should be withdrawn thirty kilometres (about nineteen miles) from the line of fire, and the Allies agreed to do so. But she had given the British Government to understand that thereafter she would withdraw the British prisoners from the eastern front. Instead of this being the case she had sent the five hundred men referred to into the trenches and had to quote Lord Newtons words “subjected them to deliberate ferocity.” Furthermore Germany had in­formed the Government that she had never put British prisoners into the firing-line on the western front but Lord Newton showed this was not true the fact being that several bodies of British prisoners had been kept for months though secretly within four or five miles of the trenches on the German front and ill-treated most abominably. It was another characteristic story of German treachery. What had taken and was still taking place was revealed by three men of the Dorsets who had been taken prisoner by the Germans at Beaumont-Hamel on January nth ,1917. They had escaped in the following April and got back to England where they made statements which proved the falsity of the German claim. The company to which the three soldiers belonged had raided a portion of the German line and captured two dug-outs but by a turn in the tide of war it was shortly afterwards sur­rounded by afar more numerous force of Germans who made prisoner one officer and about eighty of the rank and file. These captives were removed to Cambrai where they found between three hundred and four hundred other British prisoners some of whom had been captured as far back as the preceding November. They had been kept behind the German lines near Trescault and had been made to work in the zone of fire. Nothing had been heard in Great Britain of these men and their relatives could thus but have feared the worst. It was not the fault of the men that no word of their fate reached their friends. The absence of news had to be credited to a peculiarly dastardly act of cruelty on the part of the Germans. For, though the prisoners were per­mitted to write postcards not one of these postcards ever reached its destination— a thing that was capable of only one explanation: the destruction of the cards by the Germans. Of course no parcels were sent from home to these men for their very existence was unknown they were given moreno food by their captors than just kept body and soul together and they were brutally ill-used in other ways. In the middle of January 1917 about a hundred of these soldiers whose condition was worse than that of slaves were transferred to Ervillers where six miles behind the German front they were set to work on making roads. A month later they were sent to Sauchy-Lestree, some tenor twelve miles behind the German lines but by that time about twenty of them had succumbed. Still later they were marched to Sauchy-Gauchy but their number had been reduced then to sixty. Never a word, never a parcel came from home for any of them they were as the dead. The odious farce of allowing them to PRISONER VICTIM OFT E U TON BARBARITY .Burial o f Seaman John Play erG enow er o f H .M.S. Nestor prisoner of w a rat Branden burg Prisoners’ Camp. Seeking to escape from a burning building he was brutally bayoneted b they German guard and thrust back into the flames to die on March gth 1917. In circle :Portrait o f Seaman G enow er.
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