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A PRISONER OF WAR

Kildare Observer, February 15th 1919
 
 
A PRISONER OF WAR
 
A young soldier who was in the “Pals” Battalion, R.D.F. – a brother of Mr. P.J. Ginnane the Observer representative at Athy – has just arrived home from Russia where he was a prisoner of war with the Germans for the past nine months. Like thousands of other British prisoners, he was sent out to work in all weathers and although registered by the Huns as being interned in a German camp, he never saw the place, and consequently, never got a line or a parcel from home. The party traversed France, Alsace-Lorraine, Warsaw, and Russia, and large numbers of the stronger men succumbed for want of food and care. Relating some of his experience this youth writes home:-
“It may interest your readers to know how I fared after being captured last March. On the 21st March, about 6a.m. the German guns opened fire, sending over all kinds of shells, including gas shells. As this lasted for some hours, I had to take off my gas mask now and then in order to get some air. Of course, the attack was expected for some days before that, but as I had already done several days in the line without a change of clothes, etc., I was not altogether in a fit condition to stand much “strafing”.
However, I looked about for shelter but the best I could do was to get down where there were six or seven of my comrades lying behind a lump of rock. While I was there, there were two or three very badly wounded, but they had to remain as they were until the bombardment ceased, as the shrapnel was flying in all directions, and of course, it meant taking off the gas masks in order to move about, otherwise there was a danger of walking on some poor fellow who had been wounded or knocked out. Anyway, the Germans did not get into the trench where I was till about 6 p.m., and as I was not in touch then with the rest of my party, I had no option but to surrender. Of course, I was asked for information, but had none to give. I then went across “No Man’s Land” to the trenches occupied by the Germans and gave a hand with one or two of the wounded, who included a captain belonging to the Dublins. The next day my first job as a prisoner of war was to help to carry the wounded to the dressing station. After that I was attached to a big party, consisting of about three or four hundred other prisoners, and as the German sentries did not know the road, we were marching all day and night without food. Eventually we reached the cage, which consisted of a big field wired all round, and several sentries posted. We were left there for two days and nights, and as it was freezing very hard we had to keep moving all the time, having neither overcoats nor blankets. After two days we were brought to billets at Le Quesnoy, where we stayed for three or four weeks. This was a big sorting camp for making up working parties. The next place we went to was Fins. Here there was plenty of work, but very little food; in fact, the menu consisted chiefly of cabbage water and a small piece of bread, for the day, so that we were very glad to be able to get some horse flesh occasionally, also nettles, dandelion, etc., This lasted about three months after which time we went to Schumick, around Alsace Lorraine. We stopped here about two months, doing all kinds of work, such as sweeping roads etc. After that we went to Russia by train, and had doubts whether the old engine would stick together or not, but fortunately it did. I say “fortunately” , because three of four days is a long time to be in a horse box, and as there were about 40 of us in each box it meant standing up most of the time. After being in Russia for some time my health broke down, so that I had to go to the (Lazarette) hospital. Here I had to live on elderberry soup and cabbage water, but of course, most of the patients being Englishmen and accustomed to plenty of solid food, they were dying in large numbers for the want of decent food. It may interest your readers to know that I never had occasion to raise a fork while a prisoner of war, and of course, such things as knife, spoon, soap, tea, cocoa, coffee, white bread, milk or sugar were all things of the past, and I received no letters or parcels during my captivity. However, thanks to the Red Cross Societies and the Returned Prisoners of War Committee, Dublin, I am now home again, safe and sound, and hope soon to be in civvies again. On the way home I was detained for about a week at Copenhagen (Denmark), during which time several inquiries were put to me about Ireland and Home Rule, but having been out of the country for a long time, I was not able to say much on the subject”.

A young soldier from the "Pals" Battlion, R.D.F. recalls his experiences as a prisoner of war to the Kildare Observer of February 15th 1919.


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