HOW I MADE MONEY IN RUHLEBEN CAMP
The aimless life, such as it was generally pursued in Ruhleben Camp, became exceedingly distasteful to me. It conduced to brooding and moping over things at home, to fretting and becoming anxious as to how one’s wife and family were faring? While recreation offered a certain amount of distraction, it speedily lost its novelty and began to pall. There were many of us who were by no means sufficiently flush in pocket to indulge wildly in amusements, and yet money was absolutely indispensable, because with the sinews of war we were able to secure supplementary food from the canteen.
Some of the methods which were practised to improve the shining hour were distinctly novel. There was a young Cockney who, upon his return home, will undoubtedly blossom into a money-making genius, that is if his achievements in Ruhleben offer any reliable index to his proclivities. He would gather a party of seventy or eighty prisoners round him. Then, producing a five-mark piece, he would offer to raffle it at ten pfennigs—one penny—apiece. The possibility of picking up five shillings for a penny made an irresistibly fascinating appeal. It struck the traditional sporting chord of the British character and a shower of pennies burst forth. The deal was soon completed, and everyone was content with the result. Someone bought the five-shilling piece for the nimble penny, while the Cockney chuckled with delight because he had raked in some seven shillings or so for his five mark piece!
When I decided to experiment in commerce I was in some doubt as to what would offer the most promising line. After due reflection I decided to start as a launderer, specialising in washing shirts at ten pfennigs, or one penny, apiece. A shirt dresser was certainly in request because the majority of the prisoners, possessing only a severely limited stock, were compelled to wear the one garment continuously for several weeks. At the end of that time it was generally discarded once and for all. But the shirts I found to be extremely soiled, and demanded such hard and prolonged scrubbing, in which operation an unconscionably large amount of soap was consumed, that I found the enterprise to be absolutely unprofitable, while I received little else than a stiff, sore back and soft hands. So this first venture, after bringing in a few hard-earned shillings, was abandoned.
Then I undertook to wash up the table utensils, charging a party twopence per meal. This would have brought me greater reward had I adhered to my original intention. But one day the member of a party genially suggested, “We’ll toss for it! Twopence or nothing!” I accepted the offer good-humouredly and—lost! By accepting this sporting recommendation I unfortunately established a ruinous precedent. The practice became general, and I, having a wretched run of bad luck, found that, all things considered, it would be better for my hands and pocket if I were to look farther afield for some other enterprise.