Keswick Lad Returns from German Prison Camp


30 November 1918

The first Keswick lad to return from a prison camp of the enemy was lance Corporal Tom Telford, who was repatriated before the armistice, but on Tuesday there arrived at his home in Wordsworth Street, private John Holmes, Kings Liverpool Regiment, who was captured by the Germans on March 28th this year.

Being wounded in the leg and unable to walk private Holmes was taken first to the prison at Minden and after four months was transferred to the prison camp at Friedrichsfeld where he was made to work in the chemical  factory close to the camp, commencing work early in the morning , and though supposed to give over at six at night they were often worked for twenty four hours, then a little rest and back to work.

They were given a German mark a day , but as they were often " strafed " for small offences by having from two to five marks deducted they seldom had any money to spend. Even if they had Holmes says there was nothing in Germany they could buy.  The women he saw were wearing paper dresses and paper boots with wooden soles.  these boots cost from 80 to 150 marks a pair, English prisoners had their army boots taken from them and were given boots with wooden soles.

They were fed on saurkraut, mangolds, cabbage and occasionaly a potato, now and again a bit of horse-flesh, but depended chiefly on parcels sent by the regimental committee from England.  He brought home with him a sample of the German black bread and one of the biscuits supplied from England through Switzerland. He received his parcels and correspondence regularly.

Prisoners not seriously wounded were made to work behind the German lines, and in October about 3,000 were brought from the lines into Friedrichsfeld camp.  They were physical wrecks some having worked behind the lines for six or seven months.

Private Holmes says he never saw another Keswick lad from the time he was taken prisoner, but he saw the grave of private Butterworth whose home is also in Wordsworth Street, the grave was surmounted by a cross with his name, regiment and number inscribed. 

In camp there was no medical treatment beyond doses of iodine and paper bandages, the men slept on straw and when ill had three blankets and when well just two. They were clothed by the British red cross society, they were allowed to walk about the town and could tell the armistice was coming from glimpses in the German papers.

With about 150 others Holmes left Friedrichsfeld on Sunday the 17th of November, walked with his kit two and a half miles to the station and after a five hour ride reached Zevenear in Holland where they had a great reception.  About 1,000 other prisoners reached Zevenear the same day.  The next day they left for Rotterdam where they were re-clothed and on the Tuesday placed on the Portuguese ship " Porio " ( previously the German " Prince Heinrich " ) with 2,000 others, including civilians and officers.

The voyage across lasted from Tuesday to Friday, when they landed in Hull where another great reception was given them.  The soldiers were sent to Ripon Camp where Holmes was given two months leave.  Holmes has two wound stripes, being first hit in July 1917.  He is very cheerful after all he has been through: but he says he never wants to see Germany again as long as he lives.

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