we boarded a train bound for Stralsund, an island
camp in the Baltic.
The journey to Stralsund was long and wearisome.
For some time our course ran parallel with the
frontier, but though we kept a sharp lookout, the
guards kept a watch equally good, and no chance of
" jumping " occurred.
I will say no more of it than that when we arrived
(about midnight), after two days' travelling, and were
ferried over to sleep in our new prison, we all felt
desperately tired and mouldy.
" Mouldy," did I say ? My mouldiness was such
that even to-day, as I look back and try (but not
very hard) to describe the camp of Stralsund, my
chief impression is one of wired-in green mould upon
a sunset. Stralsund is within sight of Rugen (where
Elizabeth wandered about), and its sunsets are very
Once only during my stay there did I come out of
my shell to sing at a camp concert, and then I nar-
rowly escaped being sent to prison over a song I
had made up about the condition of the bed-linen
in one of the huts. It went to the tune of " Cockles
and Mussels "; and what the Germans principally
objected to was the chorus of " Alive, alive-0 !"
which, as I tried to explain to them, I had not
written at all, but was part of an old Irish song.
Since my boots had by this time completely
worn through, I now returned to lie on my bed and
grow a beard, only rising to let the Germans count
me at such times as they thought it advisable. I
did not write a single letter all the time (which
was unkind of me), but read a dictionary. It was all
I could read; not that Stralsund was a very bad
camp â€” as a matter of fact it was rather good, and
the library above the average of camp libraries â€”
but I was unspeakably mouldy. Still, I had suffi-
cient guts to make a long list, which is, in fact, before
me at this moment, of words which struck me as
being unusual, such as " quob " and " yoicks "; or
lovely, as " violet."
Words are, as Trench pointed out, " crystallized
poetry," and there is much to be said in favour of
reading dictionaries. But that was a thing which
I found out after I had done it, and I did it simply
because I couldn't do anything else.
It was so easy to stop when one wanted to, and
just dream. " Wild thyme " â€” ah, let me see, " wild
thyme "; surely I had smelt that ! It grew on Md-j
Hill. Again I saw that tree-tufted bubble float up
upon a sulphur dawn. Hadn't I read it also ?
" I know a bank whereon the wild thyme blows,
Where ox-lips and the nodding violet grows."
304 COMRADES IN CAPTIVITY
Old Shakespeare ... yes ... ah, what music !
And so on, picture after picture, thrown upon the
blank darkness of captivity by a " Chambers's Dic-
tionary." Oh, there is no denying that I was in
" a state."
Notwithstanding this, I wrote a fair number of
poems at Stralsund, and their tone is not unduly
pessimistic as judged by the following.
Now joy is dead and hope o'ercast
I call a dream out of the past
And thus command him : " Slave, go bring
Out of my days, one day in Spring; !
" And out of that a certain hour
Which glimmers through an April shower.
Let apple-blossom crown the day,
And heap the hedges white with may !"
'Tis done. In one great backward surge
Of Time the Past and Present merge:
For Time is not a drifting river,
A moment here, then past for ever â€”
And what is done in the heart's deep core
Is done not once, but for evermore.
Therefore, upon a little hill
Where once you stood, I see you still.
And in that moist and diamond weather
We two take shelter still together.
And still there tumble from the tops
Of emerald trees the teasing drops
To hang within your dusky hair.
And be for queenly jewels there.
â€¢ â€¢ â€¢ *
So in my heart I kiss you still
Upon a rainy April hill.
I have such joy in my heart's coffer.
Little I care what Life may offer ;
Little it matters if I lie
In dungeons, who possess the sky.
The sparkling morn, the starry night,
Are locked away for my delight.
But in my heart there hangs a key
To open them, called Memory.
How should I ever lack a friend
Who so have lovers without end ?
How can I ever lose my home
Who bear it with me where I come ?
My home is in my heart, and there
In dreadful days I do repair ;
And I have broken off the seal
Of that Dream-box, whose dreams are real.
So rich am I, I do possess
Their overpowering loveliness ;
And have such joy in my heart's coffer,
Little I care what Life may offer.
It is a Strange thing, this power of poetry, to
substitute life, or recreate it, when life has failed
us. It is responsible for all the fine poetry which
has come, surprising us for no reason, direct from
In this book on prison life I have endeavoured to
avoid monotony â€” w^hich is, of course, the chief
feature of prison life. Art is not life, but selection.
It is not experience, but experience filtered through
personality. This book took two years and more to
live; it has taken about tM^o months to write: and it
will take two days or less to read. Readers who
desire to know more than it tells them about how it
feels to be a prisoner need only read it over again,
and after that over and over again till they are sick.
Then, when they have thrown it on the floor in
disgust, let them remind themselves that this was
precisely what prisoners were not able to do, though
many tried hard and some paid their lives for the
attempt. And not only must they read everything
I have written in this book a thousand times (if any-
thing so horrible as that can be contemplated),
but a thousand times also they must read blank
pages. It is the blank page which kills you in the
end; even nonsense is better than that.
I continued to read blank pages and " Chambers's
Twentieth Century Dictionary " alternately for
TO HOLLAND 307
two months, and then (about October 20) I started
off again to Holland, together with about half the
party who should have gone over from Aachen four
months previously. The other half, including E., was
kept back, and these unfortunate officers remained
at Stralsund until the Armistice and the Workers'
and Soldiers' Council put an end to their weary-
captivity by sending them on a ship to Denmark.
I think it must have been rather funny just at
the end, when the Commandant had been deposed
and his place was taken by the local bookseller;
but even under this new and enlightened regime an
American officer was shot dead by a sentry for wander-
ing about the island outside the wire â€” surely not a
very serious crime after the signing of an Armistice !
It was nice to hear that T. had kicked the inter-
preter down a few steps before leaving. He was a
very beastly little man, who got angry because we
laughed at his silly lies. " You laugh !" he screamed
one day, " but I tell you it is no laughing matter.
It is a shame and a curse !" â€” which same became a
After another wearisome journey we arrived at
Aachen for the second time, a thoroughly mouldy
party, not really believing that we should ever be
allowed over the border. But we crossed it a few
days later, and, where the sleepers changed from iron
to wood (the escaper's invariable assurance that he
is " over "), saw incredulously a crowd of Dutch
3o8 COMRADES IN CAPTIVITY
children cheering us and blowing kisses. It was
a very choky feeling that we had then, a lump in the
throat which almost prevented our returning their
pretty welcome; but soon we were all shouting back
lustily to greetings which met us as the train rocked
quietly through that low-lying land of bell-towers
and canals. If we found later on that Holland and
Heaven chiefly resembled one another in the fact
that both were extraordinarily difficult to reach,
we seemed certainly to be getting into Heaven the
day we crossed over from Germany. Miss V. met
us at Venlo, as she met so many who will remember
her with gratitude ; and the " old Mullah " (who
arrived terribly immaculate) dragged me out, beard
and all, to be introduced, from the place where I was
hiding because I feared she would ask me, "What do
you think of Germany ?" and knew that my reply
would be too much in prison-camp parlance to be lit
for any lady's ears. But she didn't ask me that,
and I got through the interview without a sUp;
although one or two of my friends dropped heavy
bricks. However, she was probably pretty accus-
tomed to it by this time, after meeting so many
train-loads of repatriated prisoners.
At Scheveningen station we were met by hun-
dreds of friends, both officers and orderlies, pressing
round and cheering us as we came off the train. I
believe there was a reception somewhere, but am
not sure, for I was immediately whirled off to The
r" ^" - -^ i
TO HOLLAND 311
Hague by dear old R. There suddenly and with
violence our swiftly running tram was boarded by
two highly excited officers, O. and D.S., who had
seen us from the roadway. Then altogether we
stood up and sang " The Old Bold Mate." The
Dutch passengers looked stolidly on without astonish-
ment, being apparently used to this sort of thing.
After that, we went to the " House of Lords,"
Hook's, and various other places of good repute,
finishing up exhausted and happy about i a.m.
The same morning my beard, that badge of mould,
was taken away from me, and thrown with every bad
memory upon a dust-heap.
The Armistice, which came about a month later,
did not surprise us very much. For more than a
year we had seen the German people gradually starv-
ing. Even the sentries would go round every day
picking out dirty old tins from the rubbish-heap
in the hope of finding a bit of meat or some dripping.
After Armistice most of the early captures were
sent home, but some officers (and I was one) were
retained to help in the repatriation of prisoners
then flocking over the border after having been
turned loose in Germany. Amongst those who came
over were some very bad cases of Hun brutality.*
Germans and British repatriated in Holland were
very wisely kept apart, the former round Rotterdam
and the latter in the Hague district ; but occasionally
they met, and fights could not always be prevented.
312 COMRADES IN CAPTIVITY
One man, whose foot had been badly frostbitten in
a Russian strafe camp, spent most of his time in
Holland within prison walls because the first thing
he did when released was to go round looking for a
Hun, and, as soon as he had found him, knock him
out. Our men were exceedingly smart in their
dress, and were great favourites generally, especially
with the Dutch ladies. Their bearing, and punc-
tilious saluting, formed a great contrast to that of
the German and Dutch soldiers, who were by this
time somewhat affected by the wave of Bolshevik
feeling sweeping Europe.
I was sent, together with five other officers and a
number of orderlies, to distribute food and clothes
at a central camp, which was fed from frontier
stations as the men came through. Leeuwarden was
the name of the place. Afterwards, when English
prisoners had ceased to come over, I went with
another officer to feed Italians and Portuguese at
Harderwijk by the Zuider Zee.
I did not much like either of these places, and at
Leeuwarden, where I got Spanish " flu " and spent
a bad Christmas and a lot of monev, I wrote the
following ballade :
BALLADE OF LEEUWARDEN.
Like as a mighty painter draws
God drew the world, and even as he
Rubs out a line or two because
'Twould mar the picture, so with sea
TO HOLLAND 313
God covered over carefully
Whenas He fashioned Eve's green garden
And azure skies on Italy,
The loathsome city of Leeuwarden.
Beneath the water many a year
'Twas hid (and wisely so) from view
Until at last an engineer
(Undoubtedly a German Jew)
Reclaimed it, and in such wise grew.
What time the sad sea slime did harden
To something like an Irish stew.
The loathsome city of Leeuwarden.
A place of straying, staring cows,
And staring cow-like human creatures ;
Built over-broad across the bows.
Cow-like of mind with cow-like features,
The home of avaricious lechers
Who'd rob you of your last poor farden.
A wicked town of no renown,
The loathsome city of Leeuwarden.
Prince, here is no one kind or matey j
They steal your hat and don't beg pardon.
Not one is fair 'twixt eight and eighty.
The devil be its proper warden.
The loathsome city of Leeuwarden !
In February of this year I was very glad indeed
to be told that I might go back to old England.
Home â€” that was what I hungered for. Holland
might be a sight better than Germany, but it was
hardly that. -
CHAPTER THE LAST
How does England seem to a returned prisoner ?
That "is the last question within the scope of this
book, and I will attempt to answer it.
First, I know it myself, and have it as a unani-
mous opinion by many other returned prisoners, that
what is most striking is the kindness and sympathy
one meets. (This has no bearing on the demobilized
It surprises us all very much. That it surprises
us is queer, but quite accountable: for good things
are always surprising. This is not cheap cynicism,
but the reverse. In the same way a poet is surprised
by beauty. " Too good to be true !" â€” the motto
of our mortality â€” is the feeling of all men in contact
But if such is the instinctive feeling of the ordinary
man, how much more so is it the feeling of the
returned prisoner, who for months and years has
forgotten what it is like ! For the fine friendliness
of prisoners one to another was but a gallant and
ineffectual candle in the night of captivity, so heavy
with hate or (at best) cold with callousness.
HOME AGAIN 315
It is true that Vice and Virtue carry their
atmosphere, and that it affects all who come in
contact. One had only to fall into morbidity (and
it was easy enough in prison) to fancy that one
heard like waves beating in on all sides the many
thousand thoughts of ill-will and hatred in all
the German land around. And though one said
that one " didn't care a damn," the heart was
being starved, and vitality flickering down under
Morris was right when he said that fellowship
was life and lack of fellowship death. Kindness
(whether of God or of men) is the common air of
the human heart, which dies without it. When a
man feels that there is no kindness either in heaven
above or on the earth beneath, he will commit
suicide, and well he may, for he is already damned
But I am not writing an essay on Kindness (though
it is high time somebody did), but only explaining
why returned prisoners of war were all surprised
and touched by the general flavour of the welcome
England itself, it seemed to me, was just the
same : and the only surprising thing (of any impor-
tance) which I noticed on my way through it from
the north to the south-west, was in a Midland town,
where I saw a servant-girl washing some steps, and
wearing silk stockings.
3i6 COMRADES IN CAPTIVITY
Everything else (of any importance) I could, I
think, have seen before war broke out.
It is wonderful to get home â€” home : in the grave
beauty of night to lie wakeful, disturbed only by the
delicious unrest and distress of the trees â€” kept
awake, as by a lover, all night. It is happiness.
There is the moonlight cold and quiet, and bars
of darkness, within the room; and outside in the
whiteness of moonshine my dear hills, so blue,
phantom-fast, and shadowy â€” the hills that I shall
see again (and so changed) at dawn.
But as I was sitting reading to my mother in her
bedroom (for she was ill at the time), talking occa-
sionally, or listening to the little lapping voices of
the fire, I said to myself, thinking of all I had seen
and experienced, " This is the most wonderful thing
that has ever happened to me !"
So life resumes its normal but curious course.
One applies for demobilization. One applies for
extra leave pending it. One returns to one's unit,
about two hundred miles off. One comes back the
following day quit of the Army. Subsequently
one receives War Ofhce communications asking if one
wishes to be demobilized, and sending all sorts of
funny forms. Waste-Paper Basket ! Finally a cer-
tificate comes testifying that the circumstances of
one's capture have been investigated, and that no
blame attaches to one in the matter. Many
HOME AGAIN 317
Meanwhile one is entertained by the mayor,
and possibly by the vicar of the parish, and in be-
wildered happiness and effort to recognize all old
friends one drifts here and there, receiving " the glad
eye " and " the frozen face " from a number of
Gradually " the tumult and the shouting dies
one gets back into one's old stride. Then, with
leisure at last to look at familiar things (now in their
full blaze of summer beauty), the final realization
comes in upon the soul of what is implied and
effected by Casualty Lists ; and the first mood is
that of this " Lament."
I am smelling the smell of the old brown river,
And hearing the bumble of bees:
Half-blind I stand with the shine and shiver
Of waving willow-trees.
These were a dream when that I wandered
Beyond the seas afar;
But now so much of life lies squandered.
Less than a dream, they are.
Death, you have robbed the Earth of her glory !
You have robbed the Sun of his fire !
And because of my brothers' pitiful story
My heart is robbed of Desire.
Would I were there in the wind and weather
Of your dark Flanders sky !
Would we were sleeping there together.
My brothers â€” you and I.
3i8 COMRADES IN CAPTIVITY
A colour is on the rose, and the clinging
Clematis, never before
I saw: the colour of blood ! And the singing
Of birds may charm no more.
Oh, would I were slumbering, sleeping blindly,
Beneath those wet-eyed stars.
With the heavens to shelter us bending kindly
Above â€” till the end of wars !
A second mood (in reaction from the mood of the
" Lament ") comes later when
The purple plums lie scattered on the ground
Under the garden hedge, where Sun has etched
Outline of Prune and Damson tree, and sketched
Grasses in thin dark shadow. A sweet sound
Of windy whispering runs the garden round.
Lines of high-clambering rainbow-tinted peas,
With coloured butterflies that seem as if
Those flowers were taking wing, are here: and stiflt
Still soldier-pea-sticks, heeding not the breeze
That shakes to merriment the Damson-trees,
So that they fling their fruit for very mirth
(Small dusky plums) around me, as I sit
Pondering with a wasted love and wit
The old Earth's sweetness, and that mortal worth
Buried beneath the beauty of the Earth :
Because the utter sweetness of this ground
Comes of a strength and sweetness hidden there â€”
The golden lads, and girls beyond compare
In beauty: and they speak in every sound
Of this old garden when the wind goes round.
And between these two moods we travel all the days
of our life.
HOME AGAIN 319
Now at last I am back in my own country and in
my own county. I don't care if 1 never leave either
again, and so conclude this book of wandering with
a last poem on
" They brew good beer at Haslemere." So let it be, but I,
Who never have been to Haslemere, would liefer lie
In a snug little tight little inn on the Cotswolds close to the sky,
I never walked hito Sussex, but be all her praises true,
And do I never behold her downs beneath then: sky of blue.
Nor the sea that batters on her downs, my heart won't break in two,
If the devil steals my flask away, and my a.-h-stick splits in twain;
If the soles of my walking-boots wear tlirough, and never at all again
I move from where I am sitting, even then I'll not complain.
For I am come to Gloucestershire, which is my very home.
Tired out with wandering and sick of wars beyond the foam.
I have starved enough in foreign parts, and no more care to roam.
Quietly 1 will bide here in the place where I be,
Which knew my father and his grandfather, and my dead brothers
And bred us and fed us, and gave us pride of yeoman ancestry.
Men with sap of Earth in their blood, and the wisdom of weather
Who ploughed the land to leave it better than they did find,
And lie stretched out down Westbury way, where the blossom is
And lie covered with petals from orchards that do shed
Their bloom to be a light white coverlet over the dead
Who ploughed the land in the daytime, and went well pleased to
BILLING AND SONS, LTD., PRINTERS, GUILDFORD, ENGLAND
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA
THIS BOOK IS DUE ON THE LAST DATE
UC SOUTHERN REGIONAL LIBRARY FACILITY
AA 000 295 416