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)
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 -
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 cubby-
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-
That was one thing that cheered me upon arrival at Tost. Another was that it looked as if at last we were going to have elbow-
The Upper Silesian loony-
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 farmyard. There was a path running across its centre 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 Liege 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-
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 -
This is presided over by a Lagerführer and four Corporals, one to each floor, who are known as Company Commanders -
There is also another inner camp official whom I forgot to mention -
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-
Nor was there anything excessive in the way of discipline and formalities. We were expected to salute officers, when we met them -
Many of these were language teachers and musicians, and we had a great organiser in Professor Doyle-
Lectures and concerts were arranged, and we also had revues and a straight comedy -
It was also possible for us to learn French, German, Italian, Spanish, first-
One great improvement at Tost from my viewpoint, was that men of fifty and over were not liable for fatigues -
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 labour. 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 bear 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 report sick.
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 rumours. One of my friends used to keep a notebook, in which he would jot down all the rumours that spread through the corridors, and they made amusing reading after the lapse of a few weeks. To military prisoners, I believe, camp rumours 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-
These bedtime stories never turned out to be true, but a rumour 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 realise what letters, especially letters like those I received, mean to an internee.
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