Quotations from P G Wodehouse are copyright of, and reprinted by permission of, the Trustees of the Wodehouse Estate © 2019 The P G Wodehouse Society (UK)
Before beginning my talk tonight -
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 -
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, -
I will now go on to my experiences in the Citadel of Huy -
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 listeners.
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-
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-
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 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 hard.
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 -
I picture him starting out, full of loving kindness -
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 notice board, 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 -
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 -
It was not that we had anything against Omer. We all liked him -
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 -
"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-
People began to experiment with foods. One man found a bush in the corner of the yard with berries on it, and ate those -
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 -
When the tobacco gave out, most of us smoked tea or straw. Tea-
Another drawback to Huy was that it appeared to have been expecting us even less than Liege had done. You may remember my telling you last week that our arrival seemed to come upon Liege 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 -
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-
However, as somebody once observed, it is always darkest before the dawn. And, as Methuselah 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 -
This proved to be the village of Tost in Upper Silesia.
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