Major Bach may have wondered why the British civil prisoners did not reveal signs of semi-starvation so readily as those of other nationalities. But we had long since discovered that it was useless to go about the camp with long faces and the bearing of the “All-is-Lost Brigade.” We were almost entirely dependent upon our own ingenuity to keep ourselves alive, and we succeeded. The methods adopted may be criticised, but in accordance with the inexorable first law of Nature we concluded that the end justified any means.
THE REIGN OF TERROR—CONTINUED
While for the most part we had been compelled to labour upon sundry duties, we were not hard pushed, being somewhat in the position of the workmen toiling by the hour, except that our efforts went unrewarded in a financial sense. But this system did not coincide with the ideas of Major Bach.
He paraded us one morning and assuming his favourite attitude before us treated us to a little homily. It was a characteristic tirade delivered in the conventional Teuton gramophone manner. But it affected us materially.
Now we were to become slaves in very truth!
The Commandant informed us point-blank that he was extremely dissatisfied with our manner of working. We were too slow: we nursed our tasks. Did we think we were being kept at Sennelager for the benefit of our health or to make holiday? If so that was a fond delusion. Henceforth he was going to estimate a certain time for each task which would have to be completed within the period allowed, even if we had to work every hour God gave us and, if need be, on Sundays as well.
Major Bach never minced matters: he meant every word he said. So upon being dismissed we returned to our barracks looking decidedly glum. Pressure was being applied at every turn now, and it was becoming a pressure which could be felt.
We were soon notified as to the first task which we were to rush through on “contract” time. A big fence was required to enclose a certain area of the camp, and this was to be erected, together with the necessary gates and other details within fourteen days. If we could complete it within a shorter time no complaint would be raised. But he would not allow another day beyond his limit. Major Bach must have been a masterpiece in this particular phase of human endeavour, inasmuch as his anticipated period, as we learned, could not have been reduced by a single day.
The prisoners were divided into gangs, each of which was allotted to a definite operation. Although the erection of this fence constituted the hardest enterprise which we had ever taken in hand we did not flinch. Somehow or other we considered that Major Bach had given expression to an unwarrantable reflection upon our abilities. He practically considered us to be no more nor less than slackers. Well! We would show him what we could do, although prisoners, denied every possible comfort, and half-starved into the bargain. Every man undertook to exert himself to the utmost and to do his level best.