The wretches who had to suffer this punishment carried traces of their experiences for weeks. I examined the wrists and ankles of the Russian Pole some hours after his final release. The limbs were highly inflamed, the flesh being puffed out on either side of the deep blue indents which had been cut by the tightened ropes. The slightest movement of the affected limbs produced a sharp spasm of pain and it was only with the greatest difficulty that the poor wretch was able to use his hands and feet for some hours after removal from the post. In the case of the Russian Pole many weeks elapsed before all traces of the terrible weals inflicted by the ropes had disappeared.
When we grasped the depths to which Prussian brutality was ready and willing to descend, we could not refrain from dwelling upon probable future tortures which were likely to be in store for us. We were positive in our own minds that Major Bach would seek other novel and more revolting and agonising methods to wreak his vengeance upon the British. We were not left for very long in this maddening uncertainty. Tying-to-the-stake was but a mild prelude to the “Reign of Terror” which the ferocious Commandant shortly afterwards inaugurated.
THE REIGN OF TERROR
Major Bach, in common with the average Prussian officer, who has suddenly become invested with a certain degree of authority, evinced a weird delight in emphasising his power at every opportunity. He was an unbending apostle of steel-bound discipline, such as is practised in Germany.
Until his arrival we were in the habit of parading once a day—at 6 a.m.—with evening parades, twelve hours later, upon occasion. But Major Bach introduced the third mid-day parade. A little later he suddenly thought that a fourth parade was necessary, the respective hours being six, twelve, two, and six. Even this programme did not satisfy his love of power and arrogance, because at frequent intervals he would suddenly summon two additional parades and for no ostensible reason, except to harass us.
Parade was probably the most irksome duty we had to fulfil inasmuch as we were then treated to insults of every description. The Commandant was a martinet of the worst type. We were supposed to trim ourselves up and to look as spick and span as we could under the circumstances. This was more particularly demanded when a notable visitor—visitors were few and far between—came to the camp to perform a perfunctory inspection to satisfy the authorities in Berlin that the prisoners of war were being well and kindly tended. But some of us were not disposed to bow meekly to the tyrant’s despotic orders. Instead of parading upon such occasions in the white convict-like suits, which by the way we were supposed and indeed asked to purchase, so that we might present a smart uniform appearance, we preferred to don our own clothes, although they were now showing sad signs of wear and tear. Naturally the immaculate Major resented our refusal to fulfil his bidding, thus producing vivid blemishes upon the prim appearance of the lines, but we always succeeded in producing an excuse which was so ostensibly reasonable as to escape his wrath and consignment to some punishment.