Transcription of Document WO 161/97/39
This work is a transcription of the original document here.
Joe, Alexander, Surgeon Probationer, R.N.R.
Victoria Place, Brechin, Forfarshire.
Place and Date of Capture. Jutland. May 31st, 1916. Unwounded.
Jutland Battle - May 31st, 1916
Wilhelmshaven - June 1st - June 3rd.
Mainz - June 3rd - June 16th.
Friedberg - June 16th, 1916 - Mar. 30th., 1917.
Augustabad - April 2nd 1917 - Dec. 1917.
Holzminden - Dec. 1917 - Feb. 12th, 1918.
I was surgeon on board H.M.S. NESTOR, destroyer, 13th Flotilla, Commander Hon. Bingham, V.C.
During the Jutland battle of May 31st, 1916, and between 4 and 5 p.m., we had driven off the German torpedo attack and carried out a torpedo attack on the German cruisers. In the destroyer skirmish we sank two enemy destroyers, and in the attack on the German cruisers at least one torpedo was observed by the gunner to get home.
At this moment the enemy flotilla cruiser S.M.S. REGENSBERG appeared and engaged us, and the NESTOR received a hit in the engine-room. The REGENSBERG retired, but shortly afterwards the NESTOR came to a standstill.
We managed to steam on for about five miles further, then stopped dead, and lay for three-quarters of an hour.
Whilst we lay unable to proceed, the German High Sea Fleet passed, opened fire, and sank the NESTOR.
We abandoned the ship in the motor-boat and the Carley float, and I received orders to look after the wounded, who were put into the motor-boat.
I was taken on board torpedo boat S.16 with occupants of the motor-boat at 6 p.m. There were about one dozen wounded on the motor-boat, and these men were put in the ward room: Commander Bingham, the sub-lieutenant, the gunner, and myself were put in the captain's cabin, but I had access to the wounded in the ward room. The men were taken to the engine-room.
I saw no case of the infraction of the laws and usages of war, and we were well treated by the German sailors, who offered our men cigarettes; all the medical stores on board the S.16 were placed at my disposal. These, I may mention, appeared to me to be somewhat scanty.
We were given food and wine of good quality, and the wounded were served with the same food as the officers.
Between 8 and 9 p.m. the sub-lieutenant came below and announced that two men had been picked up, and I was sent on deck to look after them. They were taken below unconscious, but I rendered artificial respiration, and they both recovered.
The men said they were stokers on the INDEFATIGABLE, which had been blown up, but they remembered nothing of the circumstances, and I never saw them again.
When on deck I noticed that S.16 was, with other destroyers, escorting a very large disabled battleship which was steaming about 8 knots, and from my description of her Commander Bingham said she must have been either the DERFLLINGER or the SEIDLITZ.
The S.16 arrived  at Wilhelmshaven about 2 p.m. on June 1st, and at 4 o'clock we were taken on shore. When we landed, about 70 men from the NESTOR were drawn up on the quay: the wounded men had been left on board, and before I left S.16 I had been asked, and had told them, how many of the cases were stretcher cases. The captain of S.16 shook hands with the officers before they went on shore, and those of the men who had no boots were each given a pair of sabots.
The conduct of the officers to men on board S.16 and their treatment of use was correct in every respect.
When we landed, Commander Bingham asked the admiral who was on the quay, who turned out to be Admiral von Capelle, if he might speak to his men and wish them good-bye, but he was not allowed to do so.
We were marched at the head of the men to the naval barracks, and just before we entered the gate a crowd of sailors who were standing outside the door hissed us.
At the naval barracks we were joined by four officers of the NOMAD and by a midshipman from the QUEEN MARY; here we spent two nights. Ordinary rations were given us of soup, coffee and bread, which were quite sufficient in quantity, and we were able to send to the canteen for eggs and butter, buying these things with some of the very small sum of money I happened to have in my pockets.
On the morning of June 3rd, about 5 a.m., we left Wilhelmshaven for Mainz, a party of seven officers: the two gunners, who were warrant officers, were parted from us, and I do not know where they went.
The journey  about 14 hours, and it was fairly comfortable. No food was given us, but we took some with us. At Cologne, where we changed trains, a crowd of civilians gathered round us; they made remarks and some of the women shook their fists at us.
The naval lieutenant who commanded our escort, who was quite a good fellow, did what he could to get food for us at Cologne, and when the civilians and the women tried to make themselves disagreeable he got us into the train quickly and drew down the blinds
We reached Mainz at 6 p.m. on June 3rd, and we were taken direct to the prison, which is in the citadel.
A room was allocated to us. As soon as the British officers who were prisoners there heard of our arrival, they sent us food from their parcels.
The next day a German naval staff officer of the rank of commander came to the barracks to examine us. He spoke perfect English and was very polite. His examinations were continued for three days.
With me the officer did not talk about the navy or about the recent Jutland battle; but our conversations, which was a very long one, was confined principally to the political situation in England and to abstract questions.
The accommodation at Mainz was not good. Our quarters were in the old part of the citadel. Sanitary arrangements were bad, and the washing facilities limited.
Food was poor and scanty, but our fellow prisoners' parcels were a great help.
On the second day I was at Mainz a representative of the American Embassy paid a visit. Various complaints were made to him, but I knew nothing about them.
Shortly after this visit the camp was broken up, and all the English officers were sent to Friedberg.
As soon as we got to Mainz we wrote letters home. Mainz was a very large camp. I have no idea what the precise number of prisoners there was, but probably there were between 700 and 800 officers of all nationalities. I was there only 13 days.
On June 16th all the British officers at Mainz were entrained and sent to Friedberg. We started at 10 a.m. and reached out destination about 4 p.m.
The prison at Friedberg was an unfinished cavalry barrack. There were about 500 officers prisoners - 150 British, 150 French, and the rest were Russians. The number I mention is approximate only, of course.
I do not know the name of the commandant, for we never saw him. The officer really in charge was Hauptmann Sturt; he was of rather weak character, but we did not find him to be objectionable in any way.
The accommodation was bad and the rooms were overcrowded. I was put in a room with 13 other officers. Most of the rooms had eight beds in them. Field officers had rooms to themselves. The facilities for washing were good, but the sanitary arrangements were disgraceful, as only two w.c.'s were provided for 150 prisoners.
Food was bad; parcels came regularly, however, and we were never really short. Nothing to eat could be bought at the canteen: only wine and various odds and ends.
Each prisoner was allowed to go out walking for two hours twice a week on parole. If the weather was bad, or the officer who had to accompany us could not be spared, those walks did not always take place.
There was a gymnasium, where badminton was
played, and football in the courtyard, and we also had a theatre.
A German medical officer attended the camp every morning, and I was supposed to look after the British officers; but my treatment of the patients was supervised by the German doctor, and I was not allowed to undertake any responsibility; in fact, the only use made of me was to act as an interpreter.
A representative from the American Embassy used to come once in three months, and on each occasion I urged my claim to be exchanged: and Mr. Jackson always told me that no arrangements for exchange had been made.
There was no hospital in the camp, and I don't remember any cases of serious illness except that of Colonel Jackson, who had pneumonia.
Letters came and went very irregularly, and I calculated that in my case only about 60 per cent of them reached their destination.
The arrangements in connection with the parcels were satisfactory. After December 1916 they were very strictly censored, but we were not put to great inconvenience on the whole.
I tried to keep up my medical studies, and books were sent me from England: although I asked to be allowed to buy the current German medical periodicals I was not permitted to do so. I worked also at French and at German as well.
The senior officer held a service regularly on Sundays.
In February 1917 the field officers, of whom there must have been eight or ten, including two colonels, were turned out of their single rooms and they had to share rooms with the junior officers, seven or eight together; this was done as a reprisal, as it was alleged that German field officers who were prisoners in England had not been given rooms to themselves.
On March 20th the British officers were warned that they would be divided into two parties and moved from Friedberg.
One party was to include all the Irish officers and the younger men, who were to be sent to Augustabad, to which I was attached, and we left Friedberg March 30th.
General conditions at Friedberg were not bad, and Hauptmann Sturt did his best to make things comfortable. There is not any particular grievance to which I should like to draw attention, and I think we were treated well: a few more orderlies might have been given us, as there was a good deal for these men to do.
Our party for Augustabad left on March 30th, 1917. I do not know why the Irish officers were put together unless it was for the reason that they should have the most comfortable quarters.
The journey to Augustabad occupied two days. We travelled in the ordinary passenger train under a strong guard in second-class compartments; nothing to eat was given us on the road except occasional cups of coffee, and we took our own food with us.
The prisoners' quarters at Augustabad consist of an hotel comprising two buildings, Lager A and Lager B and I was put in Lager A; after our arrival there must have been about 140 prisoners altogether. The accommodation was good, but the rooms were overcrowded. In my room, which was the ordinary hotel single room, there were five beds; the facilities for washing wee bad and the sanitation was a scandal. The system should have taken the sewage first into a cesspool and then into a pond some way off, but the drains had gone wrong and the contents of the cesspool had to be frequently pumped into a cart. This caused an appalling smell, which continued for days after the pumping was over; also the w.c.'s in the building were always out of order. Complaints were made, but nothing was done.
The commandant, Graf von Kilmansegg, although rather ridiculous in his manner, was not badly disposed towards the prisoners, and Baron von Allendort, the second in command, really did all in his power to improve the arrangements in the camp and to oblige the prisoners.
The man who really ran the camp at Augustabad was a Sanitats Feldwebel Wendorf; he was rude, incompetent and dirty, and thoroughly disliked by all the prisoners.
The arrangements about food were quite satisfactory, for we ran our own mess and we were not obliged to
purchase rations of the things which we could not eat and did not want. The food we did buy, together with our parcels, was quite sufficient, and the messes went well.
The medical attendance was insufficient, for a medical officer came only three times a fortnight for 140 officers.
General punishment was given in consequence of attempted escapes made in May and June; walks out on parole were stopped and no football, tennis or swimming was allowed; our privation through want of exercise really was very great, as the space within the barbed-wire enclosure was very limited.
A representative of the Dutch Legation visited the camp.
The officers in Lager II. were awarded a long term of general punishment, as we all thought most unfairly. Captain Walker and Lieutenant Murray attempted to escape, and took the opportunity of screening themselves behind a bathing party out on parole which was passing. The bathing party, who knew nothing whatever of the matter and were not aware that these officers contemplated an attempt to escape, were accused of connivance, and the whole of Lager II. received this very severe punishment of confinement to the enclosure.
In December the prisoners were warned that they would have to leave Augustabad, as the lager was wanted for a large number of Italian senior officers who had been just captured, and all the officers who had been 18 months or more in Germany were sent to Holzminden, about 70 in number. The remainder went to Schweidnitz.
There were about 500 British officers at Holzminden,and it is by far the worst of the camps to which I was sent. The officers' prison consisted of two buildings, infantry barracks, and the accommodation ought to have been good, but the rooms were overcrowded. There were 11 officers in my room, which was the same size as the room at Friedberg, where we were seven. The beds were abominable; we had to lie on boards with a mattress stuffed with wood shavings, the pillows were also filled with shavings and we only had one dirty sheet with two filthy blankets apiece; water was laid on in each room, but only one bath per week was allowed us. The sanitary arrangements were fair.
The commandant, Hauptmann Niemeyer, was rude, disagreeable and offensive, and we could find no redeeming points in this character or in his behaviour towards the prisoners.
There were two junior officers acting under him, but I do not know their names.
The food given us, or, rather, the food which we had to buy, was very bad, and for some time we had to take all the rations whether we wanted them or not, instead of being allowed to make our mess arrangements as we did at Augustabad.
No eatables could be purchased at the canteen, only very bad wine at 11.50 marks the bottle.
During the whole time I was at Holzminden no opportunity was given either for exercise or recreation; the ground outside the barracks available for the 500 prisoners which was enclosed by barbed wire was only about 150 yards in length and 100 yards wide.
We could not take walks outside, because all the officers had declined to give their parole owing to the unfounded charges made by General Hänisch against British officers at Schwarmstedt, who, he alleged, had connived when out on parole to assist the escape of prisoners by hiding food in various places for men who attempted escape. General Hänisch had made a most offensive speech in September 1917 on this subject.
The barbed-wire enclosure might easily have been enlarged, and there was a gymnasium belonging to the barracks which could easily have been included also. The senior officer repeatedly asked that this should be done, but neither the commandant nor the 10th Army Corps authorities would entertain the proposal.
Our treatment all round was decidedly bad, the under-officers were very rude to us, and we took great objection to the guards being sent into our rooms every morning at 7.45 with fixed bayonets to chase us out of bed. On one occasion the commandant came
into my room and deliberately spat on the floor in our presence. Many of the prisoners complained that parcels were stolen, and in January a British orderly (whose name I cannot remember, but it is well known to some of the officers who are now interned in Holland) managed to get into the parcel room, and found there a large parcel addressed to a woman in the town which contained a quantity of things abstracted from our parcels.
Complaint was made by the senior British officer, and he was told by Niemeyer that the man implicated had been punished and was in prison, but on the same day this guard was seen in the camp.
This tampering with parcels happened several times, and cases of pilfering can be substantiated by Major Haig, K.O.S.B., and other officers who are probably now in Holland.
There was no illness whilst I was at Holzminden. I was told that if prisoners were sick they were sent either to the local hospital or to Hanover.
Lieutenant Meggitt, Welsh Regiment, R.F.C., went out of his mind before I left; the form of insanity was religious mania and. as far I know, had nothing to do with his imprisonment.
The arrangements about money were most unsatisfactory and peculiar to Holzminden. I thin all the prisoners were made to keep a balance of 100 marks, and a larger amount had to be spent by us for messing food, fuel, heating, hot water and the various compulsory charges than we received as pay.<br.
No representative from the Dutch Legation visited the camp whilst I was there.
On February 3rd an unter-offizier came to see me and announced that the three medical officers at Holzminden - Captain Logan, Captain Haig and myself - were to be repatriated unless we preferred to remain in Germany, and in a few days we were told we should have to be at Aachen on February 12th.
Whilst I was at Holzminden I heard that Surgeon Probationer Oswald, R.N.V.R., of the NOMAD destroyer, who was taken prisoner at the same time as myself, and I had last seen at Friedberg, was in the civilian camp at Holzminden; he and I managed to exchange letters by employing a Belgium prisoner who was at work on the land outside the barbed wire.<br.
Oswald told me in his letter that he was to be exchanged, and that we should probably be sent back to England together.
When I reached Aachen I inquired wether Oswald's name was on the list of those who were going to England, and I was told that it was, but he never appeared, and I think inquiry should be made about him.
I received a letter from him in October, written from Clausthal, in which he then told me that he was to be exchanged, and I heard from other prisoners that he had to borrow money from some of the civilians in the camp at Holzminden. I do not understand how he got into the civilian camp there.
On February 10th, at 4 p.m., Lieutenant Medlicot and another officer attempted to escape from the enclosure at Holzminden. These officers walked through the entrance of the barracks which was between the two buildings, and ran along the high road. At the time of their escape many of the prisoners were looking out of the windows of the barracks; they were ordered to withdraw their heads from the windows, as it was believed that they were watching Lieutenant Medlicot and his companion making their escape; this order was obeyed, and not a single officer appeared at the window, but nevertheless the guards proceeded to fire at the windows, and although no prisoner was wounded, many bullets were fired through the windows into rooms which were occupied at the time by prisoners.
Several officers declare that the order to fire was given by the Commandant Niemeyer, and that they saw him and heard him give the word of command. Medlicot was captured almost at once.
On February 12thCaptain Logan, Captain Haig, and I left Holzminden for Aachen. We were lodged in the hospital, where we were made very comfortable, and we went on to Holland with the repatriated prisoners.
 Probationer A. Joe seems to think that the firing by the guards at the windows of the barrack at Holzminden on February 10th was carried out under the order of the commandant, and that was quite unjustified under the circumstances. This incident is so recent that perhaps it would be well to remark upon it.
February 25th 1918.
- (original margin note) Wilhelmshaven. June 1-3, 1916.
- (original margin note) Journey. June 3, 1916.
- (original margin note) Mainz. June 3-16, 1916.
- (original margin note) Friedberg. June 16, 1916 - March 30, 1917.
- (original margin note) Journey. March 30 - April 1, 1917
- (original margin note) Augustabad. April 1-Dec. 1917.
- (original margin note) Holzminden. Dec. 1917-Feb. 12, 1918.
- (original margin note) Aachen. Feb. 1918.
- (original margin note) Note by Examiner