The dust screen saved us. It was so efficient that the furious guardian with the whip had to beat a hurried retreat.
One morning we were paraded at six o’clock as usual. The adjutant, another fierce-visaged Prussian, astride his horse, faced us. With assumed majesty he roared out an order. The guards closed in. What was going to happen now?
Amid a tense silence he shouted spluttering with rage:—
“You damned English swine! Yes! You English dogs! You are the cause of this war, and you will have to suffer for it. We could punish you severely. But that is not the German way. We could make you work. But the traditions of German honour forbid. Your Government has gouged out the eyes of German prisoners who have had the misfortune to fall into their hands. We don’t propose to take those measures. While your Government has stopped at nothing we are going to show you how Germany fulfils the traditions of her honour, and respects the laws to which all civilised nations have subscribed. But remember! We are going to bring England to her knees. Aren’t we, men?”
“Ja! Ja!” (Yes! Yes!) came the wild singing reply from the excited guards.
BREAKING US IN AT SENNELAGER
No doubt the pompous adjutant plumed himself upon his tirade and the impression it had created among the guards. But at the time it was as so much Greek to us. We wondered what it all meant and what had prompted his strange speech.
It was not until my return home that I was able to appreciate the reason. But the bitterness with which he delivered his harangue certainly proved that he believed the stories which had evidently been sedulously circulated throughout Germany relative to the alleged mal-treatment and torture of German military prisoners by the British. Unfortunately, no steps apparently were taken to disprove these deliberate lying statements for which we had to pay the penalty.
But I was not reassured by the Adjutant’s honeyed words concerning the example which Germany proposed to set to the British. I guessed that something which would not redound to our welfare and comfort was in the air. It is the German method to preach one thing and to practise something diametrically opposite. I had already learned this. Nor was I destined to be mistaken in my surmise.
A little later there was another parade. The officer roared,
“All those who are engineers step out!”
A number, including myself, although absolutely ignorant of the craft, stepped out, because here was the opportunity to secure some form of active employment.
“You are engineers?” he shouted.
We nodded assent.
“Can you build a drain?”
Again we nodded affirmatively.
We were marshalled, and one of us, Mr. C——, who was a civil engineer, was selected as leader. We were marched off and set to work to dig a drain for the camp.