Henry Charles Mahoney.

Sixteen months in four German prisons: Wesel, Sennelager, Klingelputz, Ruhleben online

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Online LibraryHenry Charles MahoneySixteen months in four German prisons: Wesel, Sennelager, Klingelputz, Ruhleben → online text (page 1 of 25)
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From an ofTlcial photograph taken by the German Government

lor attachment to the passport. The embossed imprint of the

stamp of the Kommandantur of Berlin may be seen.


















It was whilst suffering the agonies of soUtary confine-
ment in the miUtary prison of Wesel that I first decided
to record my experiences so that readers might be able
to glean some idea of the inner workings and the treat-
ment meted out to our unfortunate compatriots who

^2 were travelling in Germany at the outbreak of war and

^ who have since been interned.

>- From the moment of my decision I gathered all

< the information possible, determining at the first

1 opportunity to escape to the Old Country. As will be
•^ seen I have to a degree been successful.

3 Owing to the grossly inaccurate and highly coloured

% reports which have been circulated from time to time

cA regarding the life and treatment of prisoners of war, the

-* story has been set out in a plain unvarnished form.

S There are no exaggerations whatever. Much of the

'^ most revolting detail has been eliminated for the

simple reason that they are unprintable.

^ In nearly every instance names have been suppressed

2 Only initials have been indicated, but sufficient descrip-
^ tion is attached to enable personal friends of those who
■^ are still so unfortunate as to be incarcerated to identify

them and their present situation. Likewise, in the
cases where I received kind treatment from Germans,
initials only have been introduced, since the publication
of their names would only serve to bring punishment
upon them.

H. C. M.

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On Friday afternoon, July 31, 1914, I shook hands
in farewell with my friend Henry C. Mahoney. He
was going to Warsaw and was full of enthusiasm con-
cerning the new task which was to occupy him for at
least three months. Owing to his exceptional skill and
knowledge, practical as well as theoretical, of photo-
graphy in all its varied branches, he had been offered,
and had accepted an important appointment abroad in
connection with this craft — one which made a profound
appeal to him. Despite the stormy outlook in the
diplomatic world he felt convinced that he would be
able to squeeze through in the nick of time.

Although he promised to keep me v/ell informed of
his movements months passed in silence. Then some
ugly and ominous rumours came to hand to the effect
that he had been arrested as a spy in Germany, had
been secretly tried and had been shot. I did not
attach any credence to these vague, wild stories. I
knew he had never been to Germany before, and was
ail courant with the harmless nature of his mission.

A year elapsed before I had any definite news.
Then to my surprise I received a letter from him dis-
patched from the Interned British Prisoners Camp at
Ruhleben. As a matter of fact I learned subsequently
that he had previously v/ritten six letters and postcards
to me, but none had reached me ; most likely they
had been intercepted and suppressed by the German

The letter intimated that he had prepared a
voluminous account of his experiences. Two or three
days later I learned from another source that
he had been " having a hard, rough, and exciting


time," and that he could relate one of the most
fascinating and sensational stories concerning the
treatment meted out to our compatriots by the German
authorities. I also learned that a closely \vrittcn
diary and a mass of other papers were on their way to
mc ; that they were in safe keeping just over the fron-
tier, the bearer waiting patiently for the most favourable
moments to smuggle them into safety. This diary
and other documents contained material which he
desired me to make public with all speed in order to
bring home to the British public a vivid impression
of what our fellow-countrymen were suffering in the
German prison camps.

The papers never reached me. WTiy, is related
in the following pages. In prosecuting discreet
enquiries to discover their whereabouts I learned,
early in October 1915, that " Mahoney will be home
before Christmas." My informant declined to vouch-
safe any further particulars beyond the cryptic remark,
" He's got something smart up his sleeve."

Knowing full well that my friend was a man of
infinite resomxe and initiative I v\^as not surprised to
learn a week or two later that " Ruhleben knew
Mahoney no longer." He had got away. His plans
had proved so successful as to exceed the sanguine
anticipations which he had formed.

On December 9, 1915, the day after his return to
his wife and children, who had been keyed up to the
highest pitch of excitement by the welcome news, we
met again. His appearance offered convincing testi-
mony as to the privations he had suffered, but I was
completely surprised by the terrible tale he unfolded.

When the story narrated in the following pages was
submitted to the publishers they received it with
incredulity. After making enquiries concerning Mr.
Mahoney's credentials they accepted his statements
as being accurate, but my friend, to set the matter
beyond all dispute, insisted upon making a statutory
declaration as to their accuracy in every detail.


People in these islands were stirred to profound
depths of horror by the cold-blooded murders of Nurse
Cavell and Captain Fryatt, of whose trials nothing
was heard until the sentences had been executed. A
certain amount of curiosity has been aroused concerning
the Teuton methods of conducting these secret trials.
Henry C, Mahoney passed through a similar experience,
although he escaped the extreme penalty. ■■: Still, the
story of his trial will serve to bring home to the public
some idea of the manner in which Germany strives
to pursue her campaign of frightfulness behind closed

Frederick A. Talbot.




I. Arrested as a Spy .....

II. Committed to Wesel Prison .

III. How Germany Drives Her Prisoners Mad

IV. My Secret Midnight Trial

V. Waiting to be Shot ....



VI. Our " Luxurious Hotel "...

VII. Breaking us in at Sennelager

VIII. Badgering the British Heroes at Mons

IX. The Persecution of the Priests .

X. Tying Prisoners to the Stake —
The Favourite Punishment

XI. The Reign of Terror ....

XII. The Reign of Terror — Continued .

XIII. " The Bloody Night of Sept. ii " .

XIV. The Guardian of the Camp .

XV. The Aftermath of the iith .


XVI. Free on " Pass " in Cologne .
XVII. Re-imprisoned at Klingelputz


XVIII. The Camp of Abandoned Hope
XIX. Organising the Communal City of Ruhle-

BEN .......

XX. How I Made Money in Ruhleben Camp .














The Author as he appeared on the Day of his Re-
lease from Ruhleben .... Frontispiece


" The Bloody Night of September II, 1914 " . . 198

The Aftermath of the " Bloody Night " . . 226

Facsimile of the Pass issued by the German authori-
ties to the Author on his leaving Sennelager for
C61n-on-Rhein ...... 238




" Start August First. Book tickets immediately."
Such were the instructions I received at Brighton

early in July, 1914, from Prince . A few days

previously I had spent considerable time with this
scion of the Russian nobility discussing the final
arrangements concerning my departure to his palace
in Russia, where I was to devote two months to a
special matter in which he was deeply interested, and
VN^hich involved the use of special and elaborate photo-
graphic apparatus, microscopes, optical lantern and
other accessories. I may mention that the mission
in question was purely of scientific import.

During the discussion of these final arrangements
a telegram was handed to the Prince. He scanned it
hurriedly, jumped up from his seat, and apologising
for his abruptness, explained that he had been suddenly
called home. He expressed the hope that he would
shortly see me in Russia, where I was promised a
fine time, but that he would instruct me the precise
date when to start. Meanwhile I was urged to complete
my purchases of the paraphernalia which we had
decided to be imperative for our purpose, and he
handed me sufficient funds to settle all the accounts
in connection therewith. That night the Prince bade
me farewell and hurried off to catch the boat train.


My next communication from him was the brief
instruction urging me to start on August i.^
1^ Shortly after his departure there were ominous
political rumblings, but I, in common with the great
majority, concluded that the storm would blow over
as it had done many times before. Moreover, I was
so pre-occupied with my coming task as to pay scanty
attention to the political barometer. I completed
the purchase of the apparatuses, packed them securely,
and arranged for their dispatch to meet me at the
train. Then I remained at home to await develop-
ments. I was ready to start at a moment's notice,
having secured my passport, on which I was described,
for want of a better term, as a " Tutor of Photography,"
and it was duly vised by the Russian Embassy.

Although the political sky grew more and more
ominous I paid but little attention to the black clouds.
The receipt of instructions to start at once galvanised
me into activity to the exclusion of all other thoughts.
I booked my passage right through to destination —
Warsaw — and upon making enquiries on July 31st
was assured that I should get through all right.

I left Brighton by the 5.10 train on Saturday after-
noon, August ist. There was one incident at the station
which, although it appeared to be trivial, proved sub-
sequently of far reaching significance. In addition to
many cameras of different types and sizes stowed in my
baggage I carried three small instruments in my pockets,
one being particularly small. I had always regarded
this instrument with a strange affection because, though
exceedingly small and shpping into a tiny space, it was
capable of excellent work. As the train was moving from
the station I took two parting snapshots of my wife and

> I have never heard since from the Prince. A day or two after
the outbreak of war, upon joining the Russian forces, he, with an
observer, ascended in an aeroplane — he was an enthusiastic and
skilled aviator — to conduct a reconnaissance over the German
hues. He was never seen nor heard of again. Searching enquiries
have been made without result, and now it is presumed that he was
lost or killed.— H. CM.


family waving me farewell. It was an insignificant
incident over which I merely smiled at the time, but
five days later I had every cause to bless those parting
maps. One often hears about life hanging by the pro-
verbial thread, but not many lives have hung upon two
snapshot photographs of all that is dearest to one, and
a few inches of photographic film. Yet it was so in my
case. But for those two tiny parting pictures and the
unexposed fraction of film I should have been propped
against the wall of a German prison to serve as a target
for Prussian rifles !

Upon reaching Victoria I found the evening boat-
train being awaited by a large crowd of enthusiastic
and war-fever stricken Germans anxious to get back
to their homeland. The fiat had gone forth that all
Germans of military age were to return at once and they
had rolled up en masse, many accompanied by their
wives, while there was a fair sprinkling of Russian ladies
also bent upon hurrying home. An hour before the
train was due the platform was packed with a dense
chattering, gesticulating, singing, and dancing crowd.
Many pictures have been painted of the British exodus
from Berlin upon the eve of war but few, if any, have
ever been drawn of the wild stampede from Britain to
Berlin which it was my lot to experience.

As the train backed into the station there was a wild
rush for seats. The excited Teutons grabbed at handles
— in fact at anything protruding from the carriages —
in a desperate endeavour to be first on the footboard.
Many were carried struggHng and kicking along the
platform. Women were bowled over pell-mell and their
shrieks and cries mingled with the hoarse, exuberant
howls of the war-fever stricken maniacs already tasting
the smell of powder and blood.

More by luck than judgment I obtained admission
to a saloon carriage to find myself the only Englishman
among a hysterical crowd of forty Germans. They
danced whistled, sang and joked as if bound on a
wayzegoose. Badinage was exchanged freely with


friends standing on the platform. Anticipating that
things would probabl}' grow lively during the journey,
I preserved a discreet silence, and my presence was

The whistle blew, the locomotive screeched, and the
next moment we were gliding out of the station to the
accompaniment of wild cheering, good wishes for a
safe journey and speedy return, and the strains of music
which presently swelled into a roar about " Wacht am
Rhein." The melody was 3'elled out with such gusto and
so repeatedly that I hoped I might ever be spared from
hearing its strains again. But at last Nature asserted
herself. The throats of the singers gxew hoarse and
tired, the song came to a welcome end, and music gave
way to vigorous and keen discussion upon the trend of
events, which was maintained, not only during the train
journey, but throughout the cross-Channel passage to
Flushing, which we reached at six o'clock the following

At the Dutch port the wild excitement and hubbub
broke out with increased virulence. The report was
circulated that the train now awaiting us would be the
last through express to Berlin. There was a frantic
rush for seats. Men, women, and children participated
in the wild melee. The brutal shouts of the men con-
trasted \dvidly with the high-pitched adjurations of the
women and the wails and cries of the terrified children.
Within a few minutes the train was packed to suffoca-
tion, not an inch of standing-room being left, while the
corridors were barricaded with the overflow of baggage
from the guards' vans.

For two hours we stood there scarcely able to breathe.
The heat of the waxing summer's day began to assert
itself, with the result that it was not long before the
women commenced to show signs of distress. Their
spirits revived, however, as the train commenced to
move. There was one solace — one and all were ad-
vancing towards home and the discomfort would not
last for long.


So keen was the desire to get to Berlin that the great
majority of the passengers had neglected to provide
themselves with any food, lest they should lose their
seats or miss the train. But they confidently expected
that the train would pull up at some station to enable
refreshments to be obtained. They were supported
in this belief by the withdrawal of the usual dining car
from the train. Those who trusted in luck, however,
were rudely disappointed. The train refused to stop
at an}^ station. Instead, it evinced a decided preference
for intermediate signal posts. It was described as an
express, but a tortoise's crawl would be a gallop in
comparison. It travelled at only a little more than a
walking pace and the stops were maddeningly frequent.

The women and children speedily betrayed painful
evidences of the suffering they were experiencing, which
became accentuated as we advanced. The close con-
finement rendered the atmosphere within the carriages
extremely oppressive. The weaker men and the women
commenced to faint but no assistance could be extended
to them. One could move barely an arm or leg. The
afflicted passengers simply went off where they were,
sitting or standing, as the case might be, and prevented
from falling by the closely packed passengers around
them, to come round as best they could when Nature felt
so disposed. The wails of the children were pitiful.
Many were crying from cramp and hunger, but nothing
could be done to satisfy them, and indeed the men took
little notice of them.

The arrival — in time — at the frontier station at Goch
somewhat revived the distressed and drooping. Every-
one seized the opportunity to stretch the limbs, to
inhale some fresh air, and to obtain some slight refresh-
ment. The Customs officials were unusually alert,
harrpng, and inflexible. There was the eternal wrang-
ling between the passengers and the officials over
articles liable to duty and it was somewhat amusing to
me, even with war beating the air, to follow the frantic
and useless efforts of old and experienced travellers


to smuggle this, that, or something else through the
fiscal barrier.

: The Customs were so far from being in a conciliatory
mood as to be absolutely deaf to entreaty, cajolery,
argument, explanation or threat. They cut the opera-
tions summarily short by confiscating everything liable
to duty. As may be imagined a rich harvest was
garnered at the expense of the luckless returning patriot.
While the Customs were busy the military officials, who
appeared to be swarming everywhere, were equally
exacting. They boarded the train and literally turned
it|inside out. Every man and woman and child was
subjected to a close personal investigation and cross-
examination. Foreigners were handled with even
greater stress and with less ceremony. I saw four fellow
passengers sorted out and rushed under a military escort
into the waiting room.

At last it was my turn for military inquisition. I
presented all my credentials, which were scanned from
end to end, turned over, and even held up to the light,
lest there should be something interwoven with the
watermark. I followed the operations with a quiet
amusement, confident in my security, but could not
resist remarking upon the thoroughness of the search
and the determination to leave nothing to chance. My
passport created the greatest interest. It was dated
July 7th, 1914. The official looked at me queerly in
silent interrogation as he placed his finger beneath the
date. I nodded and made no comment.

With a slight smile of self-satisfaction the officer
turned on his heel and beckoned me to follow him. At
the same moment two soldiers clicked their heels behind
me and I saw that I was already under severe military
suspicion. I was taken to a long-bearded individual
sitting in state on a pedestal. The officer handed to him
the papers he' had found upon me. There was a hurried
whispering, the superior individual eyeing me narrowly
meanwhile. They compared the date of the passport
with August 2nd, Sunday, the day on which I was travel-


ling, and also examined the vis6 of the Russian Embassy
in the corner.

Suddenly the long-bearded officer hurled a torrent
of questions at me and at such a velocity that I was quite
unable to follow him. Observing that his volcanic
interrogative eruption was non-productive he slowed
down and repeated the questions.

" Why are you travelling at this time ? "

" To take up an appointment in Russia. There is the
name — Prince "

" Ah ! " and his eyebrows were elevated so much as
to mingle almost with his hair.

" But why have you so much photographic
apparatus ? "

" It is necessary for the work I am taking up."

" Ah ! " once again the eyebrows vanished scalp-

" Have you a camera upon you ? "

" No ! "

" Ah 1 " another dance of the eyebrows.

He rapped out a short command and before I was
aware of the circumstance two pairs of hands were run-
ning rapidly over my body and in and out of my pockets
with the dexterity of men who had served a long
apprenticeship under an Artful Dodger. It proved a
blank search, I gave a sigh of relief, because had the
searchers run their hands over the lower part of my
person they would have come across two cameras,
and my treasured little companion, wrapped in his
leather jacket, alert and ready for silent service,
but concealed in a most unexpected corner. I could
scarcely repress a smile when I recognised that I was
immune from further search. Evidently the Pooh-bah
was somewhat disconcerted at the negative results
achieved, because, after firing one or two other desultory
questions at me, he handed back my passport and other
papers, and told me I could continue my journey.

Desiring to disarm suspicion completely I did not
hurry away but lingered around the little court and


even indulged in a short idle conversation with my
interlocutor, who, however, somewhat resented my
familiarity. I lounged back to the train, hugely
delighted with myself, more particularly as, quite un-
beknown to the fussy individual with the beard, I had
snapped a picture of his informal court with my little

The frontier formalities at last concluded, the train
resumed its crawl, ambling leisurely along for some two
hours, stopping now and then to draw into a siding.
On such occasions troop train after troop train crowded
with soldiers thundered by us en route to Berlin. The
sight of a troop train roused our passengers to frenzy.
They cheered madly, throwing their hats into the air.
The huzzas were returned by the soldiers hanging out of
the windows with all the exuberant enthusiasm of school
boys returning home at the end of the term.

But we were not destined to make a through run to
the capital. Suddenly the train was pulled up by a
military guard upon the line. We were turned out
pell-mell and our baggage was thrown on to the embank-
ment. This proceeding caused considerable uneasiness.
What had happened ? Where were we going ? and
other questions of a similar character were hurled at
the soldiers. But they merely shook their heads in a non-
committal manner. They either did not or would not
know. Our feelings were not improved when the empty
carriages were backed down the line, the engine changed
ends, and we saw the train steam off in another direction.
The hold-up of the train had taken place at a depress-
ing spot. We were completely stranded, without pro-
visions or any other necessities, and at an isolated spot
where it was impossible to obtain any supplies. The

Online LibraryHenry Charles MahoneySixteen months in four German prisons: Wesel, Sennelager, Klingelputz, Ruhleben → online text (page 1 of 25)