Nellie L. McClung.

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each day, so we could use the pockets to carry back our parcels
without detection. We were also careful to leave nothing in the cell
that would attract the attention of the guard, and Malvoisin and I
conserved matches by lighting one cigarette with the other one,
through the crack.

Bromley had no reading-crack in his room, but with a nail and string
soon made himself one.

Standing on the platform, I could open the reading-crack and get
several inches of light on my book. I read three or four books in
this way, too, making them last just as long as I could.

On the fourth day I had light in my cell. The two windows were opened
and the cell was aired. On the light day I got more to eat, too,
coffee in the morning, and soup in the evening. On that night I had
a mattress and blankets, too.

Toward the end of my two weeks I had hard luck. The cell next to
mine, on which I depended for the light to read by, was darkened. I
was right in the middle of "The Harvester." I tried it by the crack
between my cell and that of Malvoisin, but the light was too dim and
made my eyes ache. However, after two days a light-cell prisoner was
put in, and I was able to go on with my story.

Malvoisin did all he could to make my punishment endurable. On
account of his cell being lighted, he could tell, by the sunlight
on the wall, what time it was, and passed it on to me, and when I
couldn't read because the cell next to mine was dark, he entertained
me with the story of his adventures - and they were many!

His last escape had been a marvellous one - all but the end. When
outside of the grounds, on a digging party, he had entertained the
guards so well, by showing them fancy steps in dancing, that they had
not noticed that he was circling closer and closer to a wood. Then,
when he had made some grotesque movement, which sent the staid
German guards into paroxysms of laughter, he had made a dash for the
wood. The soldiers at once surrounded the place, but Malvoisin had
gone up a tree. The guards fired through the woods, calling on him
to surrender, while he sat safe and happy in one of the highest
branches, watching the search for him. The searching of the wood
continued for two days, but he remained in his nest in the tree,
coming down at night to get the food he had buried in the ground
while on the digging party.

They gave up the search then, and he started for Switzerland. He got
a suit of painter's clothes at one place - overalls and smock - by
going through a window where the painters had been working, and with
his knowledge of German was passing himself off for a painter, and
working toward home. But his description was in the newspapers, and
a reward offered for his capture. His brilliant black eyes and the
scar on his cheek gave him away, and one of his fellow-workmen became
suspicious, and for the sake of the reward notified the military.

But he said he would be sure to reach home next time!

He had a week longer punishment than we had, and so when our two
weeks were up we left him there.

When I said "Good-bye" to him through the crack, and tried to tell
him how much he had done for me, he laughed light-heartedly and
called back, "Good-bye, old man, I'll meet you in Paris - if not



When they took us to the Strafe-Barrack, the Company painter was
summoned and put on our rings, which stamped us as desperate
characters who would have to be watched. There was something to me
particularly distasteful about the rings, for I hated to have my
Canadian uniform plastered with these obnoxious symbols. But I did
not let the guards see that it bothered me at all, for we knew that
the object of all their punishment was to break our spirits.

The Strafe-Barrack was supposed to finish the work begun in the
cells. It followed up the weakening of our bodies and minds, caused
by the fourteen days' solitude and starvation, and was intended to
complete the job with its deadly monotony and inaction.

We got no parcels; so the joy of expectation was eliminated. We did
not know how long we were in for, so we could not even have the
satisfaction of seeing the days pass, and knowing we were nearing
the end! We had no books or papers; even the "Continental Times" was
denied us! We got the same food as they had in the prison-camp, and
we had a mattress to sleep on, and two blankets.

So far as physical needs were concerned, we were as well off as any
of the fellows, but the mental stagnation was calculated, with real
German scientific reasoning, to break us down to the place where we
could not think for ourselves. They would break down our initiative,
they thought, and then we should do as they told us. As usual in
dealing with spiritual forces, they were wrong!

In the morning we swept the floor of the hut, and spread up our
beds and had our breakfast. Then we sat on stools for an indefinite
period, during which time we were not supposed to speak or move. It
was the duty of the guards to see that we obeyed these rules. It is
a mean way to treat a human being, but it sent us straight back upon
our own mental resources, and I thought things out that I had never
thought about before. Little incidents of my childhood came back to
me with new significance and with a new meaning, and life grew richer
and sweeter to me, for I got a longer view of it.

It had never occurred to me, any more than it does to the average
Canadian boy, to be thankful for his heritage of liberty, of free
speech, of decency. It has all come easy to us, and we have taken all
the apples which Fortune has thrown into our laps, without thinking.

But in those long hours in the Strafe-Barrack I thought of these
things: I thought of my father and mother... of the good times we had
at home... of the sweet influences of a happy childhood, and the
inestimable joy of belonging to a country that stands for fair play
and fair dealing, where the coward and the bully are despised, and
the honest and brave and gentle are exalted.

I thought and thought and thought of these things, and my soul
overflowed with gratitude that I belonged to a decent country. What
matter if I never saw it again? It was mine, I was a part of it, and
nothing could ever take it from me!

Then I looked at the strutting, cruel-faced cut-throat who was our
guard, and who shoved his bayonet at us and shook his dirty fist in
our faces to try to frighten us. I looked at his stupid, leering face
and heavy jowl, and the sloped-back forehead which the iron heel had
flattened with its cruel touch. He could walk out of the door and out
of the camp, at will, while I must sit on a chair without moving, his

Bah! He, with the stupid, _verboten_ look in his face, was the
bondsman! I was free!

There were other guards, too, decent fellows who were glad to help
us all they dared. But the fear of detection held them to their
distasteful work. One of them, when left in charge of us as we
perched on our chairs, went noisily out, in order to let us know he
was going, so that we could get off and walk about and talk like
human beings, and when he came back - he had stayed out as long as
he dared - I think he rattled the door to warn us of his coming!

Then the head spy, the Belgian private, who had his headquarters in
the Strafe-Barrack, showed us many little kindnesses. He had as his
batman one of the prisoners whose term of punishment had expired,
and Bromley, who was always quick-witted and on the alert, offered
himself for the job, and was taken, and in that way various little
favors came to us that we should not otherwise have had.

Being ring-men, there were no concessions for us, and the full rigor
of the _strafe_ would have fallen on us - and did at first; but when
Bromley got to be batman, things began to loosen a little for us and
we began to get _part_ of our parcels.

The head spy claimed more than the usual agent's commission for all
these favors, but we did not complain, for according to the rules we
were not entitled to any.

The process regarding the parcels was quite simple. Spies in the
parcel party, working under the Belgian, brought our parcels to his
room at the end of the Strafe-Barrack. He opened them and selected
what he wanted for himself, giving Bromley what was left.

Sometimes, in his work of batman, Bromley got "tired," and wanted
help, suggesting that a friend of his be brought in to assist him.
I was the friend, and in this way I was allowed to go up to the
Belgians' room to sweep, or do something for them, and then got
a chance at our parcels. At night, too, when the guard had gone
and the lights were out, we got a chance to eat the things we had
secreted under the mattress; but generally we kept our supplies in
the Belgians' room, which was not in danger of being searched.

Bromley, as usual, made a great hit in his new position of batman.
He had a very smooth tongue, and, finding the British Sergeant
susceptible to flattery, gave him plenty of it, and when we got
together afterwards, many a laugh I had over his description of the
British Sergeant's concern for his appearance, and of how he sent
home to England for his dress uniform.

We got out together when we went back to our own Company to get extra
clothes. We stayed out about as long as we liked, too, and when we
came back, we had the Belgian with us, so nothing was said. The
strafe-barrack keepers, even the bayonet man, had a wholesome fear
of the Belgian.

This Belgian was always more or less of a mystery to us. He was
certainly a spy, but it was evident he took advantage of his position
to show many kindnesses to the other prisoners.

* * *

There was one book which we were allowed to read while in
Strafe-Barrack, and that was the Bible. There were no Bibles
provided, but if any prisoner had one, he might retain it. I don't
think the Germans have ever got past the Old Testament in their
reading, and when they read about the word of the Lord coming to some
one and telling him to rise up early and go out and wipe out an enemy
country - men, women, and children - they see themselves, loaded with
_Kultur_, stamping and hacking their way through Belgium.

I read the Books of the Kings and some other parts of the Old
Testament, with a growing resentment in my heart every time it said
the "Lord had commanded" somebody to slay and pillage and steal. I
knew how much of a command they got. They saw something they wanted,
a piece of ground, a city, perhaps a whole country. The king said,
"Get the people together; let's have a mass-meeting; I have a message
from God for the people!" When the people were assembled, the king
broke the news: "God wants us to wipe out the Amalekites!" The king
knew that the people were incurably religious. They would do anything
if it can be made to appear a religious duty. Then the people gave a
great shout and said: "The Lord reigneth. Let us at the Amalekites!
If you're waking, call me early" - and the show started.

The Lord has been blamed for nearly all the evil in the world, and
yet Christ's definition of God is love, and He goes on to say, "Love
worketh no ill to his neighbor."

I can quite understand the early books in the Bible being written by
men of the same cast of mind as the Kaiser, who solemnly and firmly
believed they were chosen of God to punish their fellow-men, and
incidentally achieve their ambitions.

But it has made it hard for religion. Fair-minded people will not
worship a God who plays favorites. I soon quit reading the Old
Testament. I was not interested in fights, intrigues, plots, and

But when I turned to the teachings of Christ, so fair and simple,
and reasonable and easy to understand, I knew that here we had the
solution of all our problems. Love is the only power that will
endure, and when I read again the story of the Crucifixion, and
Christ's prayer for mercy for his enemies because he knew they did
not understand, I knew that this was the principle which would bring
peace to the world. It is not force and killing and bloodshed and
prison-bars that will bring in the days of peace, but that Great
Understanding which only Love can bring.

I was thinking this, and had swung around on my chair, contrary to
rules, when the guard rushed up to me with his bayonet, which he
stuck under my nose, roaring at me in his horrible guttural tongue.

I looked down at the point of his bayonet, which was about a quarter
of an inch from my tunic, and let my eyes travel slowly along its
length, and then up his arm until they met his!

I thought of how the image of God had been defaced in this man, by
his training and education. It is a serious crime to destroy the
king's head on a piece of money; but what word is strong enough to
characterize the crime of taking away the image of God from a human

The veins of his neck were swollen with rage; his eyes were red like
a bull's, and he chewed his lips like a chained bulldog. But I was
sorry for him beyond words - he was such a pitiful, hate-cursed,
horrible, squirming worm, when he might have been a man. As I looked
at him with this thought in my mind the red went from his eyes, his
muscles relaxed, and he lowered his bayonet and growled something
about "Englishe schwein" and went away.

"Poor devil," I thought. I watched him, walking away.... "Poor
devil,... it is not his fault."...

Malvoisin came to the Strafe-Barrack a week after we did, and I could
see that the guards had special instructions to watch him.

None of the ring-men were allowed to go out on the digging parties
from the Strafe-Barrack, since Malvoisin had made his get-away in
front of the guards, and for that reason, during the whole month we
were there, we had no chance at all for exercise.

Malvoisin was thin and pale after his three weeks' confinement in
cells, but whenever I caught his eye he gave me a smile whose
radiance no prison-cell could dim. When he came into the room, every
one knew it. He had a presence which even the guards felt, I think.
We went out a week before him, and we smuggled out some post-cards
which he had written to his friends and got them posted, but whether
they got by the censor, I do not know. The last I saw of him was the
day he got out of Strafe-Barrack. He walked by our hut, on the way
to his Company. He was thinner and paler still, but he walked as
straight as ever, and his shoulders were thrown back and his head
was high! His French uniform was in tatters, and plastered with
the obnoxious rings. A guard walked on each side of him. But no
matter - he swung gaily along, singing "La Marseillaise."

I took my hat off as he went by, and stood uncovered until he
disappeared behind one of the huts, for I knew I was looking at
something more than a half-starved, pale, ragged little Frenchman.
It was not only little Malvoisin that had passed; it was the
unconquerable spirit of France!



After the monotony of the cells and the Strafe-Barrack, the camp
seemed something like getting home for Christmas. All the boys,
McKelvey, Keith, Clarke, Johnston, Graham, Walker, Smith, Reid,
Diplock, Palmer, Larkins, Gould, Salter, Mudge, and many others whom
I did not know so well, gathered around us and wanted to know how we
had fared, and the story of our attempt and subsequent punishment
formed the topic of conversation for days.

All the time we had been in retirement, we were not allowed to write
letters or cards, and I began to fear that my people would be very
anxious about me. I had given cards to returning "strafers" to post,
but I was not sure they had ever got out of Germany. Many parcels had
come for me from other friends, too, and the big problem before me
now was to find some way to acknowledge them. A card a week, and a
letter twice a month, does not permit of a very flourishing

A decent German guard consented to take Bromley and me to the
building where the parcels were kept for men who were in punishment,
and we, being strong in faith, took a wheelbarrow with us. Of course,
we had received a number of parcels through our friend the spy, but
we hoped there would be many more. However, I got only one, a good
one from G. D. Ellis, Weston, England, and that saved me from a hard
disappointment. I saw there, stacked up in a pile, numerous parcels
for Todd, Whittaker, Little Joe, and others, who were serving their
sentences at Butzbach. I reported this to our Sergeant Major, and the
parcels were opened. Some of the stuff was spoiled, but what was in
good condition was auctioned off among us and the money sent to them.

A letter came to me from my sister, Mrs. Ralph Brown, of Buchanan,
Saskatchewan, saying they were worried about me because they had not
heard from me, and were afraid I was not receiving my parcels. Then
I decided I would have to increase my supply of cards. The Russian
prisoners had the same number of cards we had, but seldom wrote any.
Poor fellows, they had nobody to write to, and many of them could not
write. So with the contents of my parcels I bought up a supply of
cards. I had, of course, to write them in a Russian's name, for if
two cards went into the censor's hands from M. C. Simmons, No. 69,
Barrack A, Company 6, something would happen.

So cards went to my friends from "Pte. Ivan Romanoff" or "Pte. Paul
Rogowski," saying he was quite well and had seen M. C. Simmons
to-day, who was grateful for parcel and had not been able to write
lately, but would soon. These rather mystified some of the people who
received them, who could not understand why I did not write directly.
My cousin, Mamie Simmons, and Mrs. Lackie, of Dereham Centre,
Ontario, wrote a letter back to the Russian whose card they had
received, much to his joy and surprise.

One of my great desires at this time was to have a compass, for
Bromley and I were determined to make another attempt at escape, just
as soon as we could, and many an hour I spent trying to find a way
to get the information out to my friends that I wanted a compass. At
last, after considerable thinking, I sent the following card to a
friend of mine with whom I had often worked out puzzles, and who I
felt would be as likely to see through this as any one I could think

This was the message:

DEAR JIM: - I send you this card along with another to come later,
which please pass on to Fred. In next parcel, send cheese, please.

Yours as ever


In the address I slipped in the words - "Seaforth Wds." This I hoped
the censor would take to mean - "Seaforth Woods"; and which I hoped my
friend would read to mean - "See fourth words"; and would proceed to
do so.

After I had sent this away, I began to fear it might miscarry and
resolved to try another one. I wrote a letter to my brother Flint,
at Tillsonburg, Ontario, in which I used these words, "I want you
to look into this for me"; later on in the letter, when speaking of
quite innocent matters which had nothing to do with "compasses," I
said, "Look into this for me and if you cannot manage it alone, get
Charley Bradburn to help you."

I took the envelope, which had a bluish tint inside and steamed it
open, both the ends and bottom flap, and when it was laid open, I
wrote in it in a very fine hand, these words: "I tried to escape, but
was caught and my compass taken away from me. Send me another; put it
in a cream cheese."

When the envelope was closed, this was almost impossible to see. I
knew it was risky, for if I had been found out, I would have been
"strafed" for this, just as hard as if I had tried to escape.
However, I posted my letter and heard nothing more about it.

I had, through the kindness of friends, received a number of books,
Mr. Brockington, of Koch Siding, British Columbia, and Miss Grey,
of Wimbledon, England, having been very good to me in this way;
and as many of the parcels of the other boys contained books, too,
we decided to put our books together, catalogue them, and have a
library. One of the older men became our librarian, and before we
left Giessen I think we had a hundred volumes.

The people who sent these books will never know the pleasure they
gave us! The games, too, which the Red Cross sent us were never idle,
and made many a happy evening for us.

At night we had concerts, and many good plays and tableaux put on by
the boys. There was a catchy French love song, "Marie," which was a
great favorite with the boys. From this we began to call the Kilties
"Marie," and there were several harmless fights which had this for a
beginning. The Kilties had a hard time of it, and had to get another
dress before they could be taken on a working party. The Germans did
not consider the kilt a "decent dress" for a man.

The parcels were an endless source of delight, and I was especially
fortunate in having friends who knew just what to send. Mrs. Palmer,
of Plymouth, sent me bacon; Mrs. Goodrich, my sister, and Mrs.
Goodrich, Sr., of Vancouver, sent fruit-cakes; Mrs. Hill, wife of
the British reservist who gave me my first drill in British Columbia,
sent oatmeal, and his sisters, Mrs. Adams and Mrs. Hamer, made candy.
Lee Davison, of Trail, whose brother is now a prisoner in Germany,
sent me tobacco, and so did Harold Andrews, of Trail, and Billy
Newell, of Koch Siding.

The distribution of the mails was a time of thrills. One of the
Sergeants called it out, while every one crowded eagerly around.

Poor Clarke, one of the brightest, merriest-hearted boys we had,
seldom got a letter, but he was right on hand every time, and when
there was no letter for him, would tear his hair dramatically and
cry, -

"Gott strafe England."

Clarke had the good gift of making everybody laugh. I remember once
seeing him patching his trousers with a Union Jack, and singing,
"We'll never let the Old Flag fall!"

* * *

The German respect for the military caste was well shown in the
punishment of a Russian officer who had offended them by something he
had done or had not done. He was sent to our hut - as a punishment. He
had a room to himself, a batman, the privilege of sending out to buy
food, as much as he liked. His punishment consisted in having to live
under the same roof and breathe the same air as common soldiers. He
was a very good fellow, and told us many things about his country.
Incidentally we found out that his wages as a Lieutenant in the
Russian Army were one hundred and fifty dollars a year!

* * *

Bromley and I had not worked at all since coming out of
Strafe-Barrack. Being ring-men gave us immunity from labor. They
would not let us outside of the compound. Even if we volunteered
for a parcel party, the guard would cry "Weg!" - which is to say,
"Go back."

This made all our time leisure time, and I put in many hours making
maps, being as careful as possible not to let the guards see me. I
got the maps in a variety of ways. Some of them had been smuggled in
in parcels, and some of the prisoners had brought them in when they

A Canadian soldier, who was a clever artist, and had a room to
himself where he painted pictures for some of the Germans, gave me
the best one, and from these I got to know quite a lot about the
country. From my last experience I knew how necessary it was to have
detailed knowledge of the country over which we must travel to reach
the border.

My interest in maps caused the boys to suspect that I was determined
to escape, and several broached the subject to me. However, I did not
wish to form an alliance with any one but Bromley. We considered two
was enough, and we were determined to go together.

* * *

One day, in the late fall, when the weather was getting cold, an
American, evidently connected with the Embassy, came to see us, and
asked us about our overcoats. The German officers in charge of the
camp treated him with scant courtesy, and evidently resented his
interference. But as a result of his visit every person who did not
already have a Red Cross or khaki coat got a German coat.

* * *

Just before Christmas Day we got overcoats from the Red Cross, dark
blue cloth, full length and well lined. They had previously sent each
of us a blanket.

The treatment of overcoats was to cut a piece right out of one
sleeve, and insert a piece of yellowish-brown stuff, such as is shown
in Bromley's photograph. We knew that coats were coming for us, and
were particularly anxious to get them before they were disfigured
with the rings which they would put on or with this band of cloth. If

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Online LibraryNellie L. McClungThree Times and Out → online text (page 6 of 14)