Sunday, 9 December 2018

Civilian Prisoner Returns from Germany

Ruhleben Prison Camp, 1917
[Imperial War Museum ART 522 reproduced under IWM Non Commercial Licence]

Monday 9th December 1918: Cyril J. Hopkins, the son of Mr. J. B. Hopkins of Broad Oak Farm, Leighton Buzzard, has returned home after spending four years as a civilian prisoner at Ruhleben in Germany. When the War started Mr. Hopkins was working in Berlin for electrical engineers A.E.G.  Initially he was ordered to report to the city’s principal gaol every third day. This continued until the end of October when the head of A.E.G announced that he was receiving many anonymous letters complaining that British employees were taking the bread out of the mouths of Germans. The British workers were then dismissed without notice. On November 6th British people living in Germany were taken to the main prison at Alexander Platz, a move which was claimed to be in retaliation for the internment of Germans in Britain.

On the afternoon of the same day he was sent by train to Ruhleben, where the prisoners were kept in uncomfortable conditions in the racing stables. The beds were dirty, and some were without blankets for months. Six men were crowded into each horse box, but thanks to exchanges of prisoners with England this number eventually fell to four. Food was at first provided by a Jewish caterer with an allowance of 6½d per head, but this was soon reduced to a daily ration of one-fifth of a loaf of heavy war bread, coffee without sugar or milk for breakfast, and thin potato soup with a little meat in it for dinner. Sometimes there was also a piece of blood sausage. Fortunately these meagre rations were supplemented by food parcels from England. The camp was extremely cold, with poor heating only turned on for short periods. In winter it was necessary either to walk about or to stay in bed to keep warm.

English newspapers were smuggled into the camp, and German newspapers were also available, leaving the prisoners in a better position to judge the progress of the war than those at home. They realised that German power was weakening, and that the morale of German soldiers was low. Last winter the state of things in Germany became “almost intolerable”. After the Armistice the former prisoners were taken by a “very cold and dirty” train from Ruhleben to Sassnitz on the Baltic, where they were handed over to the Danish Red Cross and taken to Copenhagen. When they reached Leith in Scotland they were surprised by the “colossal” reception they received. Like all repatriated prisoners, Mr. Hopkins feels a little bewildered by the sudden change, and has no desire to see Germany again for a very long time!

Source: Leighton Buzzard Observer 10th December 1918

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