Debrief Statement of Prisoner of War – Bruce

Name, Rank and Regiment – Captain overt Tennant Bruce, R.A.M.C. 1st/2nd Highland Field Ambulance.

Home Address – Norfolk Lodge, Barnet, Hertfordshire.

Place and Date of Capture – Bois de Bourlon, Cambrai on November 22nd 1917.

Nature of Wound – Not wounded.

On 22nd November 1917, in the course of duty as bearer officer of the division, I set out early to make a round of the advanced regimental aid posts, with a view to supplying their wants as regards bearers and materials and satisfying myself that the wounded were being efficiently sent back to the proper dressing stations.  In doing so, came across a gap in our line, and before I knew where I was, came on to a German outpost, and I and the Reverend Grant, R.C., chaplain of the Highland division, who was with me at the time, were captured.  Previous to capture I saw no infringements of the ordinary laws of war; I was treated quite kindly. Whenever they found we were doctors and clergymen they became obviously more correct in their manner.  A couple of guards were placed over us, and we were taken to Bourlon village railway station, and interrogated there by a German officer on the platform.  We were placed in a motor lorry after this, and proceeded under escort on our way to Le Cateau.

After going some distance we were transferred into a staff motor car, and got to a village called Marquion. There we were separately examined by the staff; they were quite civil, took away our field glasses and a few private papers, which I never saw again; we kept our watches and money.  We stayed there till the evening, when we were given quite a decent meal and then marched 4 miles to Bouchain.(?) Captain Grant, who was with me all the time, will remember the names of the places better than me, as his notes of this journey were not removed from him, as far as I know – mine were.

Bouchain

At Bouchain, as we missed the train, we had to spend the night; we were housed in a police barracks with only bare boards without mattresses or bedclothes to lie on. I don’t blame them for this, as we were not meant to stay there. We were properly treated by the escort.

Le Cateau November 23-27, 1917

At Le Cateau we were put into a house used as a military prison. The accommodation was pretty good. We were strictly guarded, and couldn’t go outside the room without an escort.  Washing and sanitary arrangements very primitive. Food: Breakfast, coffee, margarine and bread. Dinner – Vegetable soup.  Supper, a bowl of sort of thin mealy porridge, and sometimes a bit of cheese. No facilities for exercise. We could smoke. We were allowed to  write a postcard, but this never arrived till long after I had notified my arrival at Karlsruhe. These letters and postcards from Le Cateau seemed to be deliberately held back: all the fellows that I know have always told me the same story.  We were questioned again here, and our badges and leather jerkins were removed. Le Cateau seems to be a collecting station behind the line. We remained about four or five days. We had good prison beds to lie on, and I have no complaint to make about our treatment.  There were eventually two other officers besides Grant and myself brought into our room – Captain Carr, Seaforths, and Lieutenant Davies, South Wales Borderers, I think.

Journey November 27-30, 1917

Towards the end of November, about 4am, we were roused, given breakfast, and marched to the railway station. We were a party of about 20. Given a ration of food for the journey, consisting of bread and a little assuage. On the way we picked up two wounded officers from a hospital nearby. We were kept eight hours at this station waiting for the train – at first on the platform, eventually in a waiting room; permission was given to a few of us to go to a neighbouring canteen and make purchases for the company. We procured sausages, wine, a cup of coffee and some cigars for the journey; the prices were exorbitant. In the evening we embarked on a military train for Karlsruhe, and I think, spent the night at Charlesville Station in a waiting room, unseated – a tiled floor and only one or two benches and a cleared bar for furniture. We were very cold as we had no great-coats, but here before night we were allowed to purchase some mixed salad and coffee. The railway carriages were bitterly cold, but they improved as we got further into Germany. We started at 7a.m. Next morning, spent that night in the train, and reached Karlsruhe via Metz in the afternoon. This would be, I think, 30th November.

Karlsruhe November 30 – December 28, 1917

We were first placed in a sort of quarantine hotel named the Europaischehof, and billeted in rooms, two to four in each, all officers. Every room was well warmed by radiators; the bed was comfortable; but the four or five days that we were there no opportunity was given for exercise. Our orderlies were Russian prisoners who couldn’t speak English.

Washing and sanitary arrangements decent. Our food consisted of two meals a day : first thing undrinkable coffee; midday, vegetable broth and a ration of bread which had to last till next day; supper, the usual skills. Occasionally a hard military biscuit besides. We stayed here four or five days. On the last day we had our clothes fumigated, and were given a hot spray bath.  We had no exercise, and were refused permission to look out of the window; otherwise not I’ll-treated in any way; the guards were quite civil. On 5th December we were marched half a mile to the camp proper.  It was a distributing camp; never fewer than 100 and sometimes 200 – all nationalities – about two-thirds British.  I don’t know the name of the Commandant; rather popular.  His assistant was of junior rank and not popular; he was pompous and sometimes over-bearing; I don’t know his name. There was no ill-treatment. We were in huts, single-storey wooden arrangements; eight in my room; not overcrowded – all British; ordinary cots, wood shaving mattresses, sufficient blankets, warmed by stove, plenty of fuel. The washing and sanitary arrangements were primitive, but quite sufficient.

All lights out at 9p.m.; two roll-calls, indoors, in a large barrack – one in the forenoon and one in the evening.  Food was much the same as in the quarantine, but the soup was better and more plentiful.  One day a week we were supposed to have meat, but we were lucky if we got any, and one day a coarse kind of fish; we got half a loaf of brown bread.  There was a canteen where you could buy sometimes cheese or biscuits, very indifferent.  If you liked to join a queue about 11 a.m., and pay 90 pfennigs, you could buy about five moderate-sized apples.  Occasionally there would be a distribution free unclaimed parcels which had been consigned to officers (British) for whom no owners could be found.  I never had an opportunity of discovering wo whom these parcels had been addresses, but believe the distribution was under the direction of a prisoners’ committee, composed of officers who had been there a long time.  Captain Sievking and Captain (?) Lunn, of Lunn’s Company, were among the committee.  We were permitted to write a postcard immediately on our arrival to the Red Cross at Geneva to notify our place of detention.

I did not get any parcels here.  I was not there long enough.  We were not supplied with any clothing by the Germans but on this occasion I was able to buy a pair of drawers.  I didn’t ask for any.  For exercise we could just walk about the camp.  We could play cards and smoke where we liked; it was never stopped.  There was no epidemic.  There was a hospital in the camp, but I was never in it.

There were religious services held by the chaplain for prisoners of war in a room set apart for it.  We were visited by Prince Max of Baden.  He just talked to us.  There were no improvements after his departure.  We could write four postcards a week and two letters a month.  They took about a month coming.  The postcard I sent from Le Cateau took six weeks to arrive, and the postmark was Limburger.  I have no complaints about the treatment.  There were no punishments.  The condition of those officers who had been there longest seemed good : no signs of emaciation, and their spirits fairly good.  Of course, they were receiving their parcels regularly; otherwise I don’t think they could have been healthy, as the absence of meat and fats must have told on them.  The Dutch Ambassador never came while I was there. I never saw any case of insanity among the prisoners.  There was no improvement during my detention in the treatment of the prisoners of war.  I have never heard of any camp in Germany where prisoners are not allowed to write or receive letters.

Journey, December 28 1917

On 28th December 1917 a batch of about 20 or more were sent for no reason to Heidelberg, a few hours’ journey, very comfortable, in a well-heated train.  There were about 400 officers here, French, Belgians and British; about 150 British.  I don’t know the names of commandant or second in command.  They were quite decent and popular.  The nationalities were not kept apart.  The camp consisted of a large stone building supplemented by huts.  The accommodation, as regards beds, washing and sanitary arrangements, were much the same as Karlsruhe; but on account of shortage of fuel the occupants of the huts were moved into the Kaserne, which made it rather crowded.

The food supplied by the Germans was much the same as before, except that the soup was less nutritious; but the bread ration was rather larger and of better quality, and we got a sugar ration of about three quarter pound brown per fortnight.  There were opportunities for playing hockey, and walks were provided once in 10 days or so in the country under escort.  Combatant officers signed a temporary parole for the walk, and medical officers were requested to fall in in rear, and had no parole to sign.

The country round was very pretty..  We were not allowed in the town.  There was a hospital.  I was never in it.  We were inoculated for typhoid, small-pox and cholera.  I got my first parcel on 2nd or 3rd February from home, but several from Copenhagen before that.  After this they came fairly regularly.  They were supposed to have been forwarded from Karlsruhe.  I don’t know the cause of delay.  The parcels were opened in our presence, and tins opened before us as we wanted them; the remainder stored for us.  They did not keep the tins.

The general treatment was fair and good, the only complaints being rather overcrowding and shortage of fuel.  There were no visits from the Dutch Ambassador.  When I first went we could get a warm spray bath twice a week, but later when the fuel ran short this was limited to twice a month.  There were opportunities for lectures.  Music, theatrical entertainments, billiards, cards, chess, two canteens dry and wet; prices very high.  As far as I know, none of the profits went to the benefit of the camp; they were managed by Germans.  There was no restriction on the sale of wines.  I only saw one case of actual drunkenness; it was by no means prevalent.

The rations issued during my detention did not vary very much, but I think the general level at Heidelberg was not quite up to the level of that at Karlsruhe.  The guards were old Landsturm and not fit for the front.  The orderlies were French and British prisoners of war, one orderly per room; my room held nine, viz., two French and seven British.  What little opportunity I had of gaining information of outside conditions.  I did not notice any privations on the part of civilians.  On one occasion I saw a party of school children; they looked all right.  I got no information from guards.  At Bouchain I heard of some of our men being employed behind the lines; they complained of being too near the firing line.  Captain Grant took the names of those he saw; these particular men did not seem in a particular bad way.  I don’t know of any prisoners of war who either assumed German nationality or otherwise gave evidence of German sympathies.

Journey – February 11 – 13, 1918

On 11th February I left Heidelberg for exchange, viz Darmstadt, Mainz, Coblenz.  Stopped one night in a police cell at Cologne.  I had to sit on my box with my head resting against the stone wall all night; there were two benches, but we couldn’t all sit on them; there were about 11 of us, otherwise the train was comfortable and we were given food.  The journey to Aachen lasted two days and the night in the cells.

Aachen. February 13 – 17, 1918

We were kept four nights at Aachen – excellent accommodation and food and treatment.  I got no parcels forwarded here, but I had arranged before leaving Heidelberg that my parcels should be given to the officers remaining behind.  I don’t think, though that anyone got any parcels.  On the fourth day before we were going to start, an order from Berlin came to say that one of the officers collected there from some other camp than Heidelberg was to be sent back to Germany, the reason given being that he had on some occasion spoken against the Germans; he himself could not recall the particulars.  I am sorry I did not get his name or regiment or camp.  He was young, in good health, and must have been a R.A.M.C. man.

He I believe he had been a long time a prisoner.  There were others from this camp who came home with us who would know his name; also I think Surgeon Curran, R.N., and Surgeon Probationer Joe, R.N., who came home with us, are pretty sure to know his name.  From Aachen we came straight home via Rotterdam.  During the journey from Heidelberg, looking out of the Windows, the only thing that struck me was the absence of traffic in the towns; it seemed like Sunday.  The country seemed cultivated; women working in the fields.  I saw no private motor cars or taxes.  At Aachen there were some cars with dreadful tyres that took us to the station, driven by women; they towed ambulance cars as well.had been two days on the journey to Aachen, and had to go back to answer the charge.

B.L. Anstruther, Colonel.   25th February 1918.

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