War time PGW Berlin Broadcasts
From official transcripts made by the German Foreign Office
and reproduced in Ian Sproat's Wodehouse at War
The First Berlin Broadcast
First broadcast on June 28, 1941
This is the German Shortwave Station. Here in our studio in
Berlin tonight is Mr. P. G. Wodehouse, the well known father [sic] of the
inimitable Jeeves, of Bertie Worcester [sic], Lord Emsworth, Mr. Mulliner,
and other delightful persons. Mr. Wodehouse has been in Germany for almost a
year since German troops occupied his residence in Northern France. During
that time he has finished a new novel which, I understand, is on its way to
the United States for publication, and started with another one. We felt
that his American readers might be interested to hear from Mr. Wodehouse, so
we have invited him to this microphone to tell you in his own words how it
It is just possible that my listeners may seem to detect in
this little talk of mine a slight goofiness, a certain disposition to ramble
in my remarks. If so, the matter, as Bertie Wooster would say, is
susceptible of a ready explanation. I have just emerged into the outer world
after forty-nine weeks of Civil Internment in a German internment camp and
the effects have not entirely worn off. I have not yet quite recovered that
perfect mental balance for which in the past I was so admired by one and
It's coming back, mind you. Look me up a couple of weeks from
now, and you'll be surprised. But just at the moment I feel slightly screwy
and inclined to pause at intervals in order to cut out paper dolls and stick
straws in my hair - or such of my hair as I still have.
This, no doubt, is always the effect of prolonged internment,
and since July the twenty-first, 1940, I have been spending my time in a
series of Ilags. An Ilag must not be confused with an Offlag or a Stalag. An
Offlag is where captured officers go. A stalag is reserved for the rank and
file. The Civil Internee gets the llag - and how he loves it!
Since I went into business for myself as an internee, I have
been in no fewer than four Ilags - some more Ilaggy than others, others less
Ilaggy than some. First, they put us in a prison, then in a barracks, then
in a fortress. Then they took a look at me and the rest of the boys on
parade one day, and got the right idea at last. They sent us off to the
local lunatic asylum at Tost in Upper Silesia, and there I have been for the
last forty-two weeks.
It has been in many ways quite an agreeable experience. There
is a good deal to be said for internment. It keeps you out of the saloons
and gives you time to catch up with your reading. You also get a lot of
sleep. The chief drawback is that it means your being away from home a good
deal. It is not pleasant to think that by the time I see my Pekinese again,
she will have completely forgotten me and will bite me to the bone - her
invariable practice with strangers. And I feel that when I rejoin my wife, I
had better take along a letter of introduction, just to be on the safe side.
Young men, starting out in life, have often asked me `How can
I become an Internee?' Well, there are several methods. My own was to buy a
villa in Le Touquet on the coast of France and stay there till the Germans
came along. This is probably the best and simplest system. You buy the
villa and the Germans do the rest.
At the time of their arrival, I would have been just as
pleased if they had not rolled up. But they did not see it that way, and on
May the twenty-second along they came, - some on motor cycles, some on foot,
but all evidently prepared to spend a long week-end.
The whole thing was very peaceful and orderly. Le Touquet has
the advantage of being a sort of backwater, off the line of march. Your
tendency, if you are an army making for the coast, is to carry on along the
main road to Boulogne, and not to take the first turning to the left when
you reach ‰taples. So the proceedings were not marred by any vulgar
brawling. All that happened, as far as I was concerned, was that I was
strolling on the lawn with my wife one morning, when she lowered her voice
and said "Don't look now, but there comes the German army". And there they
were, a fine body of men, rather prettily dressed in green, carrying machine
One's reactions on suddenly finding oneself surrounded by the
armed strength of a hostile power are rather interesting. There is a sense
of strain. The first time you see a German soldier over your garden fence,
your impulse is to jump ten feet straight up into the air, and you do
so. About a week later, you find that you are only jumping five feet. And
then, after you have been living with him in a small village for two months,
you inevitably begin to fraternize and to wish that you had learned German
at school instead of Latin and Greek. All the German I know is `Es ist
schænes Wetter', I was a spent force, and we used to take out the rest of
the interview in beaming at one another.
I had a great opportunity of brushing up my beaming during
those two months. My villa stands in the centre of a circle of houses, each
of which was occupied by German officers, who would come around at intervals
to take a look at things, and the garden next door was full of Labour Corps
boys. It was with these that one really got together. There was scarcely an
evening when two or three of them did not drop in for a bath at my house and
a beaming party on the porch afterwards.
And so, day by day, all through June and July, our quiet,
happy life continued, with not a jarring incident to mar the serenity. Well,
yes, perhaps one or two. One day, an official-looking gentleman with none of
the Labour Corps geniality came along and said he wanted my car. Also my
radio. And in addition my bicycle. That was what got under the skin. I could
do without the car, and I had never much liked the radio, but I loved
that bicycle. I looked him right in the eye and said `Es ist schænes
Wetter' - and I said it nastily. I meant it to sting. And what did he
say? He didn't say anything. What could we have said? P.S. He got the
But these were small things, scarcely causing a ripple on the
placid stream of life in the occupied areas. A perfect atmosphere of peace
and goodwill continued to prevail. Except for the fact that I was not
allowed out of my garden after nine at night, my movements were not
restricted. Quite soon I had become sufficiently nonchalant to resume the
writing of the novel which the arrival of the soldiery had interrupted. And
then the order went out that all British subjects had got to report each
morning at twelve o'clock at the Kommandantur down in Paris Plage.
As Paris Plage was three miles away, and they had pinched my
bicycle, this was a nuisance. But I should have had nothing to complain of,
if the thing had stopped there. But unfortunately it didn't. One lovely
Sunday morning, as I was rounding into the straight and heading for the door
of the Kommandantur, I saw one of our little group coming along with a
suitcase in his hand.
This didn't look so good. I was conscious of a nameless fear.
Wodehouse, old sport, I said to myself, this begins to look like a sticky
day. And a few moments later my apprehensions were fulfilled. Arriving at
the Kommandantur, I found everything in a state of bustle and excitement. I
said "Es ist schones wetter" once or twice, but nobody took any notice. And
presently the interpreter stepped forward and announced that we were all
going to be interned.
It was a pretty nasty shock, coming without warning out of a
blue sky like that, and it is not too much to say that for an instant the
old maestro shook like a badly set blancmange. Many years ago, at a party
which had started to get a bit rough, somebody once bit me on the bridge of
the nose with an order of planked steak. As I had felt then, so did I feel
now. That same sensation of standing in a rocking and disintegrating world.
I didn't realize at the time how much luckier I was than a
great many other victims of the drag-net. All over France during that
Sunday, British citizens were being picked up and taken away without being
given time to pack, and for a week those in Boulogne had been living in what
they stood up in at the Petit Vitesse railroad station. For some reason, Le
Touquet was given a substantial break. We were allowed to go home and put a
few things together, and as my home was three miles away, I was actually
sent there in a car.
The soldier who escorted me was unfortunately not one of those
leisurely souls who believe in taking time over one's packing. My idea had
been to have a cold bath and a change and a bite to eat, and then to light a
pipe and sit down and muse for a while, making notes of what to take with me
and what could be left behind. His seemed to be that five minutes was
ample. Eventually we compromised on ten.
I would like my biographers to make careful note of the fact
that the first thing that occurred to me was that here at last was my chance
to buckle down and read the complete works of William Shakespeare. It was a
thing I had been meaning to do any time these last forty years, but somehow,
as soon as I had got - say, Hamlet and Macbeth under my belt and was
preparing to read the stuffing out of Henry the Sixth, parts one, two and
three, something like the Murglow Manor Mystery would catch my eye and I
I didn't know what interment implied - it might be for years
or it might be for ever - or it might be a mere matter of weeks - but the
whole situation seemed to point to the complete works of William
Shakespeare, so in they went. I am happy to say that I am now crammed with
Shakespeare to the brim, so, whatever else internment has done for me, I am
at any rate that much ahead of the game.
It was a pang to leave my novel behind, I had only five more
chapters of it to do. But space, as Jeeves would have pointed out, was of
the essence, and it had to go, and is now somewhere in France. I am hoping
to run into it again one of these days, for it was a nice little novel and
we had some great times together.
I wonder what my listeners would have packed in my place -
always remembering that there was a German soldier standing behind me all
the time, shouting "Schnell" or words to that effect. I had to think quick.
Eventually what I crammed in were tobacco, pencils, scribbling blocks,
chocolate, biscuits, a pair of trousers, a pair of shoes, some shirts and
a sock or two. My wife wanted to add a pound of butter, but I fought her
off. There are practically no limits to what a pound of butter can do in
warm weather in a small suitcase. If I was going to read the complete works
of William Shakespeare, I preferred them unbuttered.
In the end, the only thing of importance I left behind was my
passport, which was the thing I ought to have packed first. The young
internee is always being asked for his passport, and if he hasn't got it,
the authorities tend to look squiggle-eyes and to ask nasty questions. I had
never fully realized what class distinctions were till I became an internee
without a passport, thus achieving a social position somewhere in between a
minor gangster and a wharf rat.
Having closed the suitcase and said goodbye to my wife and the
junior dog, and foiled the attempt of the senior dog to muscle into the car
and accompany me into captivity, I returned to the Kommandantur. And
presently, with the rest of the gang, numbering twelve in all, I drove in a
motor omnibus for an unknown destination.
That is one of the drawbacks to travelling, when you are an
internee. Your destination always is unknown. It is unsettling, when you
start out, not to be sure whether you are going half way across Europe or
just to the next town. Actually, we were headed for Loos, a suburb of Lille,
a distance of about a hundred miles. What with stopping at various points
along the road to pick up other foundation members, it took us eight hours.
An internee's enjoyment of such a journey depends very largely
on the mental attitude of the sergeant in charge. Ours turned out to be a
genial soul, who gave us cigarettes and let us get off and buy red wine at
all stops, infusing the whole thing [with] a pleasant atmosphere of the
school treat. This was increased by the fact that we all knew each other
pretty intimately and had hobnobbed on other occasions. Three of us were
from the golf club - Arthur Grant, the Pro., Jeff the starter, and Max the
caddie master. Algy, of Algy's bar in the Rue St. Jean, was there, and
Alfred, of Alfred's bar in the Rue de Paris. And the rest, like Charlie Webb
and Bill Illidge, who ran garages, were all well known Paris Plage
figures. The thing was, therefore, practically a feast of reason and a flow
Nevertheless as the evening shadows began to fall and the
effects of the red wine to wear off, we were conscious of a certain sinking
feeling. We felt very far from our snug homes and not at all sure that we
liked the shape of things to come.
As to what exactly was the shape of things to
come, nobody seemed to know. But the general sentiment that prevailed
was one of uneasiness. We feared the worst.
Nor were we greatly encouraged, when, having passed through
Lille, we turned down a side lane and came through pleasant fields and under
spreading trees to a forbidding-looking building which was only too
obviously the local hoose-gow or calaboose. A nasty-looking man in the
uniform of the French provincial police flung wide the gates and we rolled
Next week, - the Rover Boys in Loos Prison.
That was Mr. Wodehouse in the first broadcast of a series of
weekly talks which he will give from this station.
The Second Berlin Broadcast
First broadcast on July 9, 1941
I broke off my Odyssey of the internees of Le Touquet last
week, if you remember, with our little band of pilgrims entering Loos
Prison. Owing to having led a blameless life since infancy, I had never
seen the interior of a calaboose before, and directly I set eyes on the
official in the front office, I regretted that I was doing so now. There are
moments, as we pass through life, when we gaze into a stranger's face and
say to ourselves `I have met a friend'. This was not one of those
occasions. There is probably nobody in the world less elfin than a French
prison official, and the one now twirling a Grover Whalen moustache at me
looked like something out of a film about Devil's Island.
Still, an author never quite gives up hope, and I think there
was just a faint idea at the back of my mind that mine host, on hearing my
name, would start to his feet with a cry of `Quoi? Monsieur Vodeouse?
Embrassez-moi, maitre!' and offer me his bed for the night, adding that he
had long been one of my warmest admirers and would I give his little
daughter my autograph.
Nothing like that happened. He just twirled the moustache
again, entered my name in a large book, - or, rather, he put down `Widhorse',
the silly son of a bachelor, - and motioned to the bashi-bazouks to lead me
to my cell. Or, as it turned out, the communal cell of myself, Algy of
Algy's Bar and Mr. Cartmell, our courteous and popular piano-tuner. For in
those piping times of war - I don't know how it is on ordinary occasions -
Loos Prison was bedding out its guests three to the room.
It was now getting on for ten o'clock at night, and it was
this, I discovered later, that saved us a lot of unpleasantness. Round about
the hour of ten, the French prison official tends to slacken up a bit. He
likes to get into something loose and relax over a good book, and this makes
him go through the motions of housing a batch of prisoners quickly and
perfunctorily. When I got out into the exercise yard next morning, and met
some of the men who had been in the place for a week, I found that they, on
arrival, had been stood with their faces to the wall, stripped to their
B.V.D.s, deprived of all their belongings and generally made to feel like so
many imprisoned pieces of cheese. All they did to us was take away our
knives and money and leave us.
Cells in French prisons are built for privacy. Where in the
gaols of America there are bars, here you have only a wall with an
iron-studded door in it. You go in, and this door is slammed and locked
behind you, and you find yourself in a snug little apartment measuring about
twelve feet by eight. At the far end is a window and under it a
bed. Against the opposite wall to the bed there stands a small table and -
chained to it - a chair of the type designed for the use of Singer's
Midgets. In the corner by the door is a faucet with a basin beneath it, and
beyond this what Chic Sale would call a `family one-holer'. The only
pictures on the walls, which are of whitewashed stone, are those drawn from
time to time by French convicts - boldly executed pencil sketches very much
in the vein which you would expect from French convicts.
Cartmell being the senior member of our trio, we gave him the
bed, and Algy and I turned in on the floor. It was the first time I had
tried dossing on a thin mattress on a granite floor, but we Wodehouses are
tough stuff, and it was not long before the tired eyelids closed in
sleep. My last waking thought, I remember, was that, while this was a hell
of a thing to have happened to a respectable old gentleman in his declining
years, it was all pretty darned interesting and that I could hardly wait to
see what the morrow would bring forth.
What the morrow brought forth, at seven sharp, was a rattling
of keys and the opening of a small panel in the door, through which were
thrust three tin mugs containing a thin and lukewarm soup and three loaves
of bread, a dark sepia in color. This, one gathered, was breakfast, and the
problem arose of how to play our part in the festivities. The soup was all
right. One could manage that. You just took a swallow, and then another
swallow - to see if it had really tasted as bad as it had seemed to the
first time, and before you knew where you were, it had gone. But how, not
having knives, we were to deal with the bread presented a greater test of
our ingenuity. Biting bits off it was not a practical proposition for my
companions, whose teeth were not of the best: and it was no good hammering
it on the edge of the table, because it simply splintered the woodwork. But
there is always a way of getting around life's little difficulties, if you
give your mind to it. I became bread-biter to the community, and I think I
gave satisfaction. At any rate, I got the stuff apart.
At eight-thirty, the key rattled again, and we were let out
for air, recreation and exercise. That is to say, we were taken into an
enclosure with high brick walls, partially open to the sky, and allowed to
stand there for half an hour.
There was nothing much we could do except stand, for the
enclosure - constructed, apparently, by an architect who had seen the Black
Hole of Calcutta and admired it - was about twelve yards long, six yards
wide at the broad end, tapering off to two yards wide at the narrow end, and
we had to share it with the occupants of other cells. No chance, I mean, of
getting up an informal football game or a truck-meet or anything like that.
Having stood for thirty minutes, we returned to our cells,
greatly refreshed, and remained there for the next twenty-three and a half
hours. At twelve, we got some soup, and at five some more soup. Different
kinds of soup, of course. Into the twelve o'clock ration a cabbage had been
dipped - hastily, by a cook who didn't like getting his hands wet, and in
the other there was a bean, actually floating about, visible to the naked
Next day, the key rattled in the lock at seven, and we got
soup, and at eight-thirty our scamper in the great open spaces, followed by
soup at twelve and more soup at five. The day after than, the key rattled in
the lock at seven, and we ... But you get the idea. What you would call a
healthy, regular life, giving a man plenty of leisure for reading the
Complete Works of William Shakespeare - as, if you remember, I had resolved
Apart from Shakespeare, who is unquestionably a writer who
takes you away from it all, what made existence tolerable was the window. I
had always understood that prison cells had small windows of ground glass,
placed high up near the ceiling, but ours was a spacious affair of about
five feet by four, and you could open it wide and even, by standing on the
bed, get a glimpse from it of a vegetable garden and fields beyond. And the
air that came through it was invaluable in keeping our cell smell within
The cell smell is a great feature of all French prisons. Ours
in Number Forty-Four at Loos was one of those fine, broad-shouldered,
up-and-coming young smells which stand on both feet and look the world in
the eye. We became very fond and proud of it, championing it hotly against
other prisoners who claimed that theirs had more authority and bouquet, and
when the first German officer to enter our little sanctum rocked back on his
heels and staggered out backwards, we took it as almost a personal
compliment. It was like hearing a tribute paid to an old friend.
Nevertheless, in spite of the interest of hobnobbing with our
smell, we found time hang a little heavy on our hands. I was all right. I
had my Complete Works of William Shakespeare. But Algy had no drinks to mix,
and Cartmell no pianos to tune. And a piano-tuner suddenly deprived of
pianos is like a tiger whose medical adviser has put it on a vegetarian
diet. Cartmell used to talk to us of pianos he had tuned in the past, and
sometimes he would speak easily and well of pianos he hoped to tune in the
future, but it was not the same. You could see that what the man wanted was
a piano now. Either that, or something to take his mind off the thing.
It was on the fourth morning, accordingly, that we addressed a
petition to the German Kommandant, pointing out that, as we were civil
internees, not convicts, there was surely no need for all this Ballad of
Reading Gaol stuff, and asking if it would not be possible to inject a
little more variety into our lives.
This appeal to Caesar worked like magic. Apparently the
Kommandant, had not had a notion that we were being treated as we were - the
French had thought it up all by themselves - and he exploded like a bomb. We
could hear distant reverberations of his wrath echoing along the corridors,
and presently there came the old, familiar rattle of keys, and pallid
warders opened the doors and informed us that from now on we were at liberty
to roam about the prison at will.
Everything is relative - as somebody once said - probably
Shakespeare in his Complete Works - and I cannot remember when I have felt
such a glorious sense of freedom as when I strolled out of my cell, leaving
the door open behind me, and started to saunter up and down outside.
And, even if it shows a vindictive spirit, I must confess that
the pleasure was increased by the sight of the horror and anguish on the
faces of the prison personnel. If there is one man who is a stickler for
tradition and etiquette, for what is done and what is not done, it is the
French prison warder, and here were tradition and etiquette being chucked
straight into the ash-can, and nothing to be done about it. I suppose their
feelings were rather what those of a golf professional would be, if he had
to submit to seeing people dancing on his putting greens in high-heeled
In the end, we got quite sorry for the poor chaps, and
relented to the extent of allowing them to lock us in for the night. It
was pathetic to see how they brightened up at this concession. It paved
the way to an understanding, and before we left the place we had come to
be on quite friendly terms. One of them actually unbent to the extent
of showing us the condemned cell - much as the host at a country house
takes his guest round the stables.
Our great topic of conversation, as we strolled about the
corridors, was, of course, where we were going from here, and when. For we
could not believe that Loos Prison was anything but a temporary resting
place. And we were right. A week after we had arrived, we were told to line
up in the corridor, and presently the Kommandant appeared and informed us
that, after our papers had been examined, we were to pack and be ready to
Men of sixty and over, he added, would be released and sent
home, so these lucky stiffs went and stood to one side in a row, looking
like a beauty chorus. On the strength of being fifty-eight and three
quarters, I attempted to join them, but was headed back. Fifty-eight and
three-quarters was good, I was given to understand, but not good enough.
I did not brood about this much, however, for it has just
occurred to me that, having left my passport behind, I might quite easily
have to stay on after the others had gone wherever they were
going. Fortunately, I had twelve stout fellows from Le Touquet to testify to
my identity and respectability, and they all lined up beside me and did
their stuff. The Kommandant, was plainly staggered by this cloud of
witnesses, and in the end I just got under the wire.
This was on the Saturday evening, and far into the night the
place buzzed with speculation. I don't know who first started the rumor that
we were going to the barracks at Liége, but he turned out to be quite
right. That was where we were headed for, and at eleven o'clock next morning
we were given our mid-day soup and hustled out and dumped into vans and
driven to the station.
One would have supposed from the atmosphere of breathless
bustle that the train was scheduled to pull out at about eleven-thirty, but
this was not the case. Our Kommandant, was a careful man. I think he must
once have missed an important train, and it preyed on his mind. At any rate,
he got us there at eleven-forty a.m. and the journey actually started at
eight o'clock in the evening. I can picture the interview between him and
the sergeant when the latter returned. `Did those boys make that train?'
. . . `Yes, sir - by eight hours and twenty minutes.' . . . `Whew! Close
thing. Mustn't run it so fine another time.'
As a matter of fact, all through my period of internment I
noticed this tendency on the part of the Germans to start our little
expeditions off with a whoop and a rush and then sort of lose interest. It
reminded me of Hollywood. When you are engaged to work at Hollywood, you get
a cable saying that it is absolutely vital that you be there by ten o'clock
on the morning of June the first. Ten-five will be too late, and as for
getting there on June the second, that means ruin to the industry. So you
rush about and leap into aeroplanes, and at ten o'clock on June the first
you are at the studio, being told that you cannot see your employer now, as
he has gone to Palm Springs. Nothing happens after this till October the
twentieth, when you are given an assignment and told that every moment is
It is the same with the Germans in this matter of making
trains. They like to leave a margin.
Summing up my experience as a gaol-bird, I would say that a
prison is all right for a visit, but I wouldn't live there, if you gave me
the place. On my part, at any rate, there was no moaning at the bar when I
left Loos. I was glad to go. The last I saw of the old Alma Mater was the
warder closing the door of the van and standing back with the French
equivalent of `Right away'.
He said `Au revoir' to me - which I thought a little tactless.
The Third Berlin Broadcast
First broadcast on July 23, 1941
The last instalment of my serial narrative entitled `How To Be An Internee
And Like It' ended, you may remember, with our band of pilgrims catching the
train from Lille by the skin of our teeth - that is to say, with a bare
eight hours and twenty minutes to spare. The next thing that happened was
the journey to Liége.
One drawback to being an internee is that, when you move from spot to
spot, you have to do it in company with eight hundred other men. This
precludes anything in the nature of travel de luxe. We made the
twenty-four hour trip in a train consisting of those `Quarante Hommes,
Huit Chevaux' things - in other words, cattle trucks. I had sometimes
seen them on sidings on French railroads in times of peace, and had
wondered what it would be like to be one of the Quarante Hommes. I now
found out, and the answer is that it is pretty darned awful. Eight
horses might manage to make themselves fairly comfortable in one of
these cross-country loose-boxes, but forty men are cramped. Every time I
stretched my legs, I kicked a human soul. This would not have mattered
so much, but every time the human souls stretched their legs,
they kicked me. The only pleasant recollection I have of that
journey is the time when we were let out for ten minutes on the banks of
Arriving at Liége, and climbing the hill to the barracks, we found an
atmosphere of unpreparedness. Germany at that time was like the old woman
who lived in a shoe. She had so many adopted children that she didn't know
what to do with them. As regards our little lot, I had a feeling that she
did not really want us, but didn't like to throw us away.
The arrangements for our reception at Liége seemed incomplete. It was as if
one had got to a party much too early. Here, for instance, were eight
hundred men who were going to live mostly on soup - and though the
authorities knew where to lay their hands on some soup all right, nothing
had been provided to put it in.
And eight hundred internees can't just go to the cauldron and lap. For one
thing, they would burn their tongues, and for another the quick swallowers
would get more than their fair share. The situation was one that called for
quick thinking, and it was due to our own resourcefulness that the problem
was solved. At the back of the barrack yard there was an enormous rubbish
heap, into which Belgian soldiers through the ages had been dumping old mess
tins, old cans, cups with bits chipped off them, bottles, kettles and
containers for motor oil. We dug these out, gave them a wash and brush up,
and there we were. I had the good fortune to secure one of the motor oil
containers. It added to the taste of the soup just that little something
that the others hadn't got.
Liége bore the same resemblance to a regular prison camp, like the one we
were eventually to settle down in at Tost, which a rough scenario does to a
finished novel. There was a sort of rudimentary organization - that is to
say, we were divided into dormitories, each with a Room Warden - but when I
think of Tost, with its Camp Captain, Camp Adjutants, Camp Committees and so
on, Liége seems very primitive. It was also extraordinarily dirty, as are
most places which have recently been occupied by Belgian soldiers. A Belgian
soldier doesn't consider home is home, unless he can write his name in the
alluvial deposits on the floor.
We spent a week at Liége, and, looking back, I can hardly believe that our
stay there lasted only a mere seven days. This is probably due to the fact
that there was practically nothing to do but stand around. We shared the
barracks with a number of French military prisoners, and as we were not
allowed to mix with them, we had to confine ourselves to a smallish section
of the barrack yard. There was not room to do anything much except stand, so
we stood. I totted up one day the amount of standing I had done between
reveille and lights out - including parades and queuing up for meals - and
it amounted to nearly six hours. The only time we were not standing was when
we were lying on our beds in the afternoon. For we had beds at Liége, which
was about the only improvement on the dear old prison we had left.
Parades took place at eight in the morning and eight in the evening, and as
far as they were concerned I did not object to having to stand each time for
fifty minutes or so, for they provided solid entertainment for the
thoughtful mind. You might think that fifty minutes was a long time for
eight hundred men to get themselves counted, but you would have understood,
if you had seen us in action. I don't know why it was, but we could never
get the knack of parading. We meant well, but we just didn't seem able to
The proceedings would start with the Sergeant telling us to form fives. This
order having been passed along the line by the linguists who understood
German, we would nod intelligently and form fours, then threes, then
sixes. And when eventually, just in time to save the Sergeant from having a
nervous breakdown, we managed to get into fives, was this the end? No,
sir. It was not an end, but a beginning. What happened then was that Old
Bill in Row Forty-Two would catch sight of Old George in Row Twenty-Three
and shuffle across to have a chat with him, a cigarette hanging from his
Time marches on. Presently, Old Bill, having heard all Old George has
to say about the European situation, decides to shuffle back - only to
find that his place has been filled up, like a hole by the tide.
This puzzles him for a moment, but he soon sees what to do. He forms up as
the seventh man of a row, just behind Old Percy, who has been chatting with
Old Fred and has just come back and lined up as Number Six.
A Corporal with sheep-dog blood in him now comes into the picture. He cuts
Bill and Percy out of the flock and chivvies them around for a while, and
after a good deal of shouting the ranks are apparently in order once more.
But is this the end? Again no. The Sergeant, the Corporal, and
a French soldier interpreter now walk the length of the ranks,
counting. They then step aside and go into a sort of football huddle. A
long delay. Something is wrong. The word goes round that we are one
short, and the missing man is believed to be Old Joe. We discuss this
with growing interest. Has Old Joe escaped? Maybe the jailer's daughter
smuggled him in a file in a meat pie.
No. Here comes Old Joe, sauntering along with a pipe in his mouth and
eyeing us in an indulgent sort of way, as who should say `Hullo, boys.
Playing soldiers, eh? May I join in?' He is thoroughly cursed -
in German by the Sergeant, in French by the interpreter and in English
by us - and takes his place in the parade.
As practically the whole of the personnel has left the ranks to cluster
round and listen to the Sergeant talking to Old Joe, it is now necessary to
count us again. This is done, and there is another conference. This time, in
some mysterious way, we have become six short, and a discouraged feeling
grows among us. It looks as if we were losing ground.
A Priest now steps forward. He is a kind of liaison officer between us and
the Germans. He asks `Have the six men who came from Ghent registered at the
bureau?' But Lord Peter Wimsey is not going to solve the mystery as easily
as that. Apparently they have, and there follows another huddle. Then all
Room Wardens are invited to join the conference, and it is announced that we
are to return to our dormitories, where the Room Wardens will check up their
men and assemble them.
My dormitory - Fifty-Two B - goes to the length of getting a large sheet of
cardboard and writing on it in chalk the words `Zwansig Manner, Stimmt'-
which our linguist assures us means `Twenty Men, All Present', and when the
whistle blows again for the renewal of the parade, I hold this in front of
me like a London sandwich-man. It doesn't get a smile from Teacher, which is
disappointing, but this is perhaps not [to] be wondered at, for he is very
busy trying to count us again in our peculiar formation. For Old Bill has
once more strolled off to Old George and has got into an argument with him
about whether yesterday's coffee tasted more strongly of gasoline than
today's. Bill thinks Yes - George isn't so sure.
They are chased back by the Corporal, now baying like a bloodhound, and
there is another conference. We are now five short. The situation seems to
be at a deadlock, with no hope of ever finding a formula, when some bright
person - Monsieur Poirot, perhaps - says, `How about the men in the
hospital?' These prove to be five in number, and we are dismissed. We have
spent a pleasant and instructive fifty minutes, and learned much about our
Much the same thing happens when we line up at seven a.m. for breakfast, and
at eleven-thirty and seven p.m. for lunch and supper - except that here we
are in a movement, and so can express ourselves better. For if we are a
little weak on keeping the ranks when standing still, we go all haywire when
walking, and not many steps are required to turn us into something like a
mob charging out of a burning building.
Meals are served from large cauldrons outside the cookhouse door at the far
end of the barrack yard, and the Corporal, not with very much hope in his
voice, for he has already seen us in action, tells us to form fours. We do
so, and for a while it looks as if the thing were really going to be a
success this time. Then it suddenly occurs to Old Bill, Old George, Old Joe,
and Old Percy, together with perhaps a hundred and twenty of their fellow
internees, that by leaving their places at the tail of the procession and
running round and joining the front row, they will get theirs quicker. They
immediately proceed to do this, and are at once followed by about eighty
other rapid thinkers, who have divined their thought-processes and have come
to the conclusion that the idea is a good one. Twenty minutes later, a
white-haired Corporal with deep furrows in his forehead has restored the
formation into fours, and we start again.
On a good morning - I mean a morning when Old Bill and his associates were
in their best form - it would take three-quarters of an hour for the last in
line to reach the cookhouse, and one used to wonder what it would be like on
a rainy day.
Fortunately, the rainy day never came. The weather was still fine when, a
week from our arrival, we were loaded into vans and driven to the station,
our destination being the Citadel of Huy, about twenty-five miles away -
another Belgian army center.
If somebody were to ask me whose quarters I would prefer to take over -
those of French convicts or Belgian soldiers, I would find it hard to
say. French convicts draw pictures on the walls of their cells which bring
the blush of shame to the cheek of modesty, but they are fairly tidy in
their habits - whereas Belgian soldiers, as I have mentioned before, make
lots of work for their successors. Without wishing to be indelicate, I may
say that, until you have helped to clean out a Belgian soldiers' latrine,
you ain't seen nuttin'.
It was my stay at Liege, and subsequently at the Citadel of Huy, that gave
me that wholesome loathing for Belgians which is the hall-mark of the
discriminating man. If I never see anything Belgian again in this world, it
will be all right with me.
The Fourth Berlin Broadcast
First broadcast on July 30, 1941
Before beginning my talk tonight - the fourth of a series of five dealing
with the five phases of my internment - I should like to say another few
words on another subject.
The Press and Public of England seem to have jumped to the conclusion that I
have been in some way bribed or intimidated into making these
broadcasts. This is not the case.
I did not `make a bargain', as they put it, and buy my release by agreeing
to speak over the radio. I was released because I am sixty years old - or
shall be in October. The fact that I was free a few months before that date
was due to the efforts of my friends. As I pointed out in my second talk, if
I had been sixty when I was interned, I should have been released at the end
of the first week.
My reason for broadcasting was a simple one. In the course of my period of
internment I received hundreds of letters of sympathy from American readers
of my books, who were strangers to me, and I was naturally anxious to let
them know how I had got on.
Under existing conditions, it was impossible to answer these letters - and I
did not want to be so ungrateful and ungracious as to seem to be ignoring
them, and the radio suggested itself as a solution.
I will now go on to my experiences in the Citadel of Huy - the last of the
places where we were lodged before we finally settled at Tost, in Upper
In putting [together] these talks on How To Be An Internee Without Previous
Training, I find myself confronted by the difficulty of deciding what
aspects of my daily life, when in custody, will have entertainment value for
When the war is over and I have my grandchildren as an audience, this
problem, of course, will not arise. The unfortunate little blighters will
get the whole thing, night after night, without cuts. But now I feel that a
certain process of selection is necessary. A good deal that seems to an
internee thrilling and important is so only to himself. Would it interest
you, for instance, to hear that it took us four hours to do the twenty-five
mile journey from Liége to Huy, and that there were moments during the walk
up the mountain-side when the old boy thought he was going to expire? No, I
It is for this reason that I propose to pass fairly lightly over my five
weeks' stay at Huy. Don't let that name confuse you, by the way. It is
spelled H-u-y, and in any other country but Belgium would be pronounced
Hoo-ey. So remember that, when I say Huy, I don't mean `we'- I mean Huy.
The Citadel of Huy is one of those show places they charge you two
francs to go into in times of peace. I believe it was actually built in
the time of the Napoleonic wars, but its atmosphere is purely
mediaeval. It looks down on the River Meuse from the summit of a
mountain - the sort of mountain Gutzon Borglum would love to carve
pictures on - and it is one of those places where, once you're in,
you're in. Its walls are fourteen feet thick, and the corridors are
lighted by bays, in which are narrow slits of windows. It is through
these, if you are a married man with a wife living in Belgium, that you
shout to her when she comes to visit you. She stands on the slope below,
as high up as she can get, and shouts to you. Neither can see
the other, and the whole thing is like something out of Il Trovatore.
The only place in the building from which it is possible to get a view of
somebody down below is the window of what afterwards became the canteen
room. Men would rush in there and fling themselves through the window and
lie face down on the broad sill. It was startling till one got used to it,
and one never quite lost the fear that they would lose their heads and
jump. But this lying on sills was forbidden later, as were most things at
Huy, where the slogan seemed to be `Go and see what the internees are doing,
and tell them they mustn't'. I remember an extra parade being called, so
that we might be informed that stealing was forbidden. This hit us very
These extra parades were a great feature of life at Huy, for our Kommandant
seemed to have a passion for them.
Mind you, I can find excuses for him. If I had been in his place, I would
have ordered extra parades myself. His headquarters were down in the town,
and there was no road connecting the Citadel with the outer world - just a
steep, winding path. So that, when he came to visit us, he had to walk. He
was a fat, short-legged man in the middle sixties, and walking up steep,
winding paths does something to fat, short-legged men who are not as young
as they were. Duty called him now and then to march up the hill and to march
down again, but nothing was going to make him like it.
I picture him starting out, full of loving kindness - all sweetness and
light, as it were - and gradually becoming more and more soured as he
plodded along. So that when he eventually came to journey's end with a crick
in the back and the old dogs feeling as if they were about to burst like
shrapnel, and saw us loafing around at our ease, the sight was too much for
him and he just reached for his whistle and blew it for an extra parade.
Extra parades were also called two or three times a day by the Sergeant,
when there was any announcement to be made. At Tost we had a
noticeboard, on which camp orders were posted each day, but this
ingenious system had not occurred to anyone at Huy. The only way they
could think of there of establishing communication between the front
office and the internees was to call a parade. Three whistles would
blow, and we would assemble in the yard, and after a long interval
devoted to getting into some sort of formation we would be informed that
there was a parcel for Omer - or that we must shave daily - or that we
must not smoke on parade - or that we must not keep our hands in our
pockets on parade - or that we might buy playing cards - (and next day
that we might not buy playing cards) - or that boys must not
cluster round the guard-room trying to scrounge food from the soldiers -
or that there was a parcel for Omer.
I remember once, in the days when I used to write musical comedies, a chorus
girl complaining to me with some bitterness that if a carpenter had to drive
a nail into a flat, the management would be sure to call a chorus rehearsal
to watch him do it, and I could now understand just how she had felt. I
don't know anything that brings the grimness of life home to one more than
hearing three whistles blow just as you are in the middle of a bath - and
leaping into your clothes without drying - and lining up in the yard and
waiting twenty minutes at attention - and then being informed that there is
a parcel for Omer.
It was not that we had anything against Omer. We all liked him - and never
better than when he had just had a parcel, but what embittered us was that
there was never a parcel for anyone else. He happened to have been interned
right on the spot where all his friends and admirers lived, while the rest
of us were far from home and had not yet been able to get in touch with our
wives. It was that that made these first weeks of internment such a
nightmare. Not receiving parcels was merely a side-issue. It would have
been nice to have had some, but we could do without them. But we did wish
that we could have got some information as to how our wives were getting
on. It was only later at Tost, that we began to receive letters and to be
able to write them.
The few letters which did trickle in to Huy from time to time were regarded
by the authorities with strong suspicion. After a parade had been called,
for us to watch them given out, their recipients would be allowed a couple
of minutes to read them - then they would have to hand them back to the
Corporal, who tore them up. And when Omer got one of his parcels, its
contents would all be opened before he was permitted to take them away -
from the first can of sardines to the last bit of chocolate. I believe this
was due entirely to the men who, at the end of the last war, wrote books
telling how clever they had been at escaping from German prison camps by
means of codes sent by letter and compasses and so on enclosed in potted
meat. They meant no harm, but they certainly made it tough for us.
`Tough' is the adjective I would use to describe the whole of those five
weeks at Huy. The first novelty of internment had worn off, and we had
become acutely alive to the fact that we were in the soup and likely to stay
there for a considerable time. Also, tobacco was beginning to run short, and
our stomachs had not yet adjusted themselves to a system of
rationing, which, while quite good for a prison camp, was far from being
what we had been accustomed to at home. We were hearty feeders who had
suddenly been put on a diet, and our stomachs sat up on their hind
legs and made quite a fuss about it.
Rations consisted of bread, near-coffee, jam or grease, and soup. Sometimes,
instead of bread, we would get fifty small crackers apiece. When this
happened, a group of men would usually club together, each contributing
fifteen crackers, which would be mashed up and mixed with jam and taken to
the cookhouse to be baked into a cake. It was always a problem whether it
was worth sacrificing fifteen crackers to this end. The cake was always
wonderful, but one's portion just slid down one's throat and was
gone. Whereas one could chew a cracker.
People began to experiment with foods. One man found a bush in the corner of
the yard with berries on it, and ate those - a sound move, as it turned out,
for they happened by a fluke not to be poisonous. Another man used to save
some of his soup at mid-day, add jam and eat the result cold in the
evening. I myself got rather fond of wooden matches. You chew your match
between the front teeth, then champ it up into a pulp and
swallow. Shakespeare's Sonnets also make good eating, especially if you have
a little cheese to go with them. And when the canteen started, we could
generally get cheese.
Not much of it, of course. The way the canteen worked was that two men were
allowed to go to the town with a guard and bring back as much as they could
carry in a haversack apiece - the stuff being split eight hundred ways. It
generally worked out at a piece of cheese about two inches long and two wide
When the tobacco gave out, most of us smoked tea or straw. Tea-smokers were
unpopular with the rest of their dormitory, owing to the smell caused by
their activities - a sort of sweet, sickly smell which wraps itself round
the atmosphere and clings for hours. Tea-smoking has also the disadvantage
that it leads to a mild form of fits. It was quite usual to see men, puffing
away, suddenly pitch over sideways and have to be revived with first aid.
Another drawback to Huy was that it appeared to have been expecting us even
less than Liége had done. You may remember my telling you last week that our
arrival seemed to come upon Liége as a complete surprise, and that there was
nothing provided in the way of vessels to sip our soup out of. What Huy was
short on was bedding.
An internee does not demand much in the way of bedding - give him a wisp or
two of straw and he is satisfied - but at Huy it looked for a while as if
there would not even be straw. However, they eventually dug us out enough to
form a thin covering on the floors, but that was as far as they were able to
go. Of blankets there were enough for twenty men. I was not one of the
twenty. I don't know why it is, but I never am one of the twenty men who get
anything. For the first three weeks, all I had over me at night was a
raincoat, and one of these days I am hoping to meet Admiral Byrd and compare
notes with him.
Though I probably shan't let him get a word in edgeways. He will start off
on some anecdote about the winter evenings at the South Pole, and I shall
clip in and say, `Juss a minute, Byrd, jussaminute. Let me describe to you my
sensations at Huy from Aug. Three, nineteen-forty, till the day my dressing
gown arrived. Don't talk to me about the South Pole - it's like someone
telling Noah about a drizzle.'
Well, now you see what I meant when I said just now that what seems
important to an internee merely makes the general public yawn and switch off
the radio. From the rockbound coast of Maine to the Everglades of Florida, I
don't suppose there is a single soul who gives a hoot that, when I was at
Huy, ice formed on my upper slopes and my little pink toes dropped off one
by one with frost-bite. But, boy, wait till I meet my grandchildren!
However, as somebody once observed, it is always darkest before the
dawn. And, as Methusaleh said to the reporter who was interviewing him for
the local sheet and had asked what it felt like to live to nine hundred -
`The first five hundred years are hard, but after that it's pie'. It was the
same with us. The first seven weeks of our internment had been hard, but the
pie was waiting just around the corner. There was, in short, a good time
coming. On September the eighth, exactly five weeks from the day of our
arrival, we were paraded and this time informed - not that Omer had received
a parcel, but that we were to pack our belongings and proceed once more to
an unknown destination.
This proved to be the village of Tost in Upper Silesia.
The Fifth Berlin Broadcast
First broadcast on August 6, 1941
I broke off last week with our eight hundred internees setting out for the
village of Tost in Upper Silesia. I don't know how well acquainted my
listeners are with central European geography, so I will mention that Upper
Silesia is right at the end of Germany, and that Tost is right at the end of
Upper Silesia - in fact, another yard or two from where we eventually
fetched up, and we should have been in Poland.
We made the journey this time, not in cattle trucks but in a train divided
into small compartments, eight men to the compartment, and it took us three
days and three nights, during which time we did not stir from our cosy
little cubbyhole. On leaving Huy, we had been given half a loaf of bread
apiece and half a sausage, and after we had been thirty-two hours on the
train we got another half loaf and some soup. It was at night time that the
trip became rather unpleasant. One had the choice between trying to sleep
sitting upright, and leaning forward with one's elbows on one's knees, in
which case one bumped one's head against that of the man opposite. I had
never realized the full meaning of the expression `hardheaded Yorkshireman'
till my frontal bone kept colliding with that of Charlie Webb, who was born
and raised in that county.
As a result of this, and not being able to wash for three days, I was not at
my most dapper when we arrived at Tost Lunatic Asylum, which had been
converted into a camp for our reception. But in spite of looking like
something the carrion crow had brought in, I was far from being
downhearted. I could see at a glance that this was going to be a great
improvement on our previous resting places.
One thing that tended to raise the spirits was the discovery that Scabies
had been left behind. This was the affectionate name we had given to one of
our fellow-internees at Huy. He was a public menace and had given me many an
uneasy moment during the five weeks in which we had been in close
contact. His trouble was that he had not only got lice but had contracted a
particularly contagious form of skin disease, and in his lexicon there was
no such word as `isolation'. He was a friendly, gregarious soul, who used to
slink about like an alley cat, rubbing himself up against people. One time,
I found him helping to peel the potatoes. Nice chap - it was a relief to
find that he was no longer in our midst.
That was one thing that cheered me up on arrival at Tost. Another was that
it looked as if at last we were going to have elbow-room. An Associated
Press man, who came down to interview me later, wrote in his piece that Tost
Lunatic Asylum was no Blandings Castle. Well, it wasn't, of course, but
still it was roomy. If you had had a cat, and had wished to swing it, you
could have done so quite easily in our new surroundings.
The Upper Silesian loony-bin consisted of three buildings - one an
enormous edifice of red brick, capable of housing about thirteen
hundred; the other two smaller, but still quite spacious. We lived and
slept in the first-named, and took our meals in one of the others, where
the hospital was also situated. The third building, known as the White
House, stood at the bottom of the park, beyond the barbed wire, and for
the first month or two was used only as a sort of clearing-station for
new arrivals. Later, it was thrown open and became the center of Tost
life and thought - being the place where our musicians practised and
gave their concerts, where church services were held on Sundays, and
where - after I had been given a padded cell to myself for working
purposes - I eventually wrote a novel.
The park was a genuine park, full of trees, and somebody who measured it
found that it was exactly three hundred yards in circumference. After five
weeks at Huy, it looked like the Yellowstone. A high wall ran along one side
of it, but on the other you got a fine view of some picturesque old barbed
wire and a farm yard. There was a path running across its center which, when
our sailors had provided a ball by taking a nut and winding string round it,
we used in the summer as a cricket pitch.
The thing about Tost that particularly attracted me, that day of our
arrival, was that it was evidently a going concern. Through the barbed wire,
as we paraded in front of the White House, we could see human forms
strolling about, and their presence meant that we had not got to start
building our little nest from the bottom up, as had been the case at Liége
and Huy. For the first time, we were in a real camp, and not a makeshift.
This was brought home to us still more clearly by the fact that the
reception committee included several English-speaking interpreters. And
when, after we had had our baggage examined and had been given a bath, a
gentleman presented himself who said that he was the Camp Adjutant, we knew
that this was the real thing.
It may be of interest to my listeners to hear how a genuine civil internment
camp is run. You start off with a Kommandant, some Captains and
Oberleutnants and a couple of hundred soldiers, and you put them in barracks
outside the barbed wire. Pay no attention to these, for they do not enter
into the internee's life, and you never see anything of them except for the
few who come to relieve the sentries. The really important thing is the
inner camp - that is to say, the part where, instead of being outside,
looking in, you are inside, looking out.
This is presided over by a Lagerführer and four Corporals, one to each
floor, who are known as Company Commanders - in our case, Pluto, Rosebud,
Ginger and Donald Duck. Their job is to get you up in the morning, to see
that the counting of the internees on parade is completed before the
Lagerführer arrives to inspect, and to pop up unexpectedly at intervals and
catch you smoking in the corridor during prohibited hours.
Co-operating with these is the little group of Internee Officers - the Camp
Captain, the two Camp Adjutants, the Floor Wardens and the Room Wardens. The
Room Wardens ward the rooms, the Floor Wardens ward the floors, the
Adjutants bustle about, trying to look busy, and the Camp Captain keeps in
touch with the Lagerführer, going to see him in his office every Friday
morning with hard-luck stories gleaned from the rabble - that is to say, me
and the rest of the boys. If, for instance, the coffee is cold two days in
succession, the proletariat tells the Camp Captain, who tells the
Lagerführer who tells the Kommandant,
There is also another inner camp official whom I forgot to mention - the
Sonderführer. I suppose the best way to describe him is to say that he is a
Führer who sonders.
The great advantage of a real internment camp, like Tost, is that the
internee is left to himself all through the day. I was speaking last week of
the extra parades at Huy. In all my forty-two weeks at Tost, we had only
three extra parades. The authorities seemed to take the view that all they
wanted to know was that we were all present in the morning and also at
night, so we were counted at seven-thirty a.m. and again an hour before
lights-out. Except for that, we were left to ourselves.
Nor was there anything excessive in the way of discipline and
formalities. We were expected to salute officers, when we met them -
which we seldom did, and there was a camp order that ran `When internees
are standing in groups, the first to see an officer must shout
"Achtung"' - a pleasant variant on the old game of Beaver. `Whereat',
the order continues, `all face officer at attention, with hands on seam
of trousers' - the internees' trousers, of course - `and look at him,
assuming an erect bearing'. The only catch about this was that it gave
too much scope to our humorists. A man can have a lot of quiet fun by
shouting `Achtung' and watching his friends reach for the seams of their
trousers and assume an erect bearing, when there is not an officer
Life in an internment camp resembles life outside, in that it is what you
make it. Nothing can take away the unpleasant feeling of being a prisoner,
but you can make an effort and prevent it getting you down. And that is what
we did, and what I imagine all the other British prisoners in Germany
did. We at Tost were greatly helped by the fact that we had with us the
sailors from the Orama, who would have cheered anyone up, and the internees
Many of these were language teachers and musicians, and we had a great
organiser in Professor Doyle-Davidson of Breda University. This meant that
we were no longer restricted for intellectual entertainment to standing
about in groups or playing that old Army game known alternatively as `House'
or `Ousey Ousey'- where you pay ten Pfennigs for a paper with numbers on it
and the banker draws numbers out of a hat, and the first man to fill up his
paper scoops the pool.
Lectures and concerts were arranged, and we also had revues and a straight
comedy - which would have been an even bigger success than it was, but for
the fact of the ingenue getting two days in the cooler right in the middle
of the run.
It was also possible for us to learn French, German, Italian, Spanish,
first-aid and shorthand, and also to find out all there was to find out
about French and English literature. In fact, we were not so much internees
as a student body. Towards the end of my stay, we had our own paper - a
bright little sheet called The Tost Times, published twice a month.
One great improvement at Tost from my viewpoint, was that men of fifty and
over were not liable for fatigues - in other words, the dirty work. At
Liége and Huy, there had been no age limit. We had all pitched in together,
reverend elders and beardless boys alike - cleaning out latrines with one
hand and peeling potatoes with the other, so to speak. At Tost, the old
dodderers like myself lived the life of Riley. For us, the arduous side of
life was limited to making our beds, brushing the floor under and around
them, and washing our linen. When there was man's work to be done, like
hauling coal or shovelling snow, we just sat and looked on, swapping
reminiscences of the Victorian Age, while the younger set snapped into it.
There were certain fatigues, like acting as a server at meals and working in
the cookhouse, which were warmly competed for. For these, you got double
rations. But the only reward of the ordinary chore, like hauling coal, was
the joy of labor. I suppose a really altruistic young man after he had put
in an hour or two hauling coal, would have been all pepped up by the
thought that he had been promoting the happiness of the greatest number, but
I never heard one of our toilers talk along these lines. It was more usual
to hear them say, speaking with a good deal of feeling, that, next time
their turn came along, they were ruddy well going to sprain an ankle and
It is a curious experience being completely shut off from the outer world,
as one is in an internment camp. One lives principally on potatoes and
rumors. One of my friends used to keep a notebook, in which he would jot
down all the rumors that spread through the corridors, and they made amusing
reading after the lapse of a few weeks. To military prisoners, I believe,
camp rumors are known for some reason as `Blue Pigeons'. We used to call
them bedtime stories, and most dormitories would keep a corridor hound,
whose duty it was to go through the corridors before lights-out, collecting
the latest hot news.
These bedtime stories never turned out to be true, but a rumor a day kept
depression away, so they served their purpose. Certainly, whether owing to
bedtime stories or simply to the feeling, which I myself had, that, if one
was in, one was in and it was no use making heavy weather about it, the
morale of the men at Tost was wonderful. I never met a more cheerful crowd,
and I loved them like brothers.
With this talk, I bring to an end the story of my adventures as British
Civilian Prisoner Number 796, and before concluding I should like once
more to thank all the kind people in America who wrote me letters while
I was in camp. Nobody who has not been in a prison camp can realize what
letters, especially letters like those I received, mean to an
Copyright © Trustees of the P. G. Wodehouse Estate