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Rushden Echo, 6th September 1918, transcribed by Kay Collins
Sergt. C. E. Allen

Home From Germany
An Amputated Leg – What the Huns did with his Boots
Germany’s Shortage of Food and Leather
Coloured Water as Soup – Burnt Barley as Coffee

The first Rushden prisoner of war to be released by the Germans under the recent ‘exchange’ arrangement completed between the British and German Governments arrived home on Wednesday in the person of Sergt. Chas. Edward Allen (Beds Regiment), second son of Mr. and Mrs. G. T. Allen, of 96 Queen-street, Rushden.

Sergt. Allen is 23 years of age, and up to the time of enlistment in August 1914, was employed by Mr. C. W. Horrell, boot manufacturer, Rushden. He proceeded to the Western front in November 1916, and has been thrice wounded, although his injuries were not considered sufficiently serious to warrant a visit to Blighty. On March 28th this year he was wounded in both legs and was captured on the same day by the Germans. On the legs being fractured, it became subsequently necessary to amputate this limb. For some time Sergt. Allen was in a German hospital in occupied territory in France, being subsequently removed to another hospital in Western Prussia, where he only stayed a fortnight before being “marked” for exchange. He has two brothers still serving with the Colours, viz., Corpl. F. S. Allen, of the Yeomanry, who is in Italy, and Pte. J. E. Allen, of the King’s Royal Rifles, who is in France.

Interviewed by a representative of the “Rushden Echo” Sergt. Allen said:-

“I am very glad to be back in England, as where I have come from—Czersk (West Prussia)—it was like hell on earth. On March 28th, when I was taken prisoner, we had received the order to retire, and whilst we were fighting a rearguard action I fell wounded in both legs, one of my legs being broken. One of the officers, Lieut. Bath, tried to get me away, but I was too heavy for him, and he was obliged to leave me. About ten minutes afterwards some German machine gunners approached me, bandaged my wounds, picked me up and placed me against a haystack, where I had to lie for about 17 hours. About 10a.m. the next day some men of the German infantry transport had come to the stack for some hay, and finding me there they fetched one of their wagons, and, placing me and two comrades on some straw, they conveyed us to their field dressing station, after having given us some coffee (burnt barley) and some black bread, which I could not eat. These fellows and the Red Cross men at the dressing station treated us all kindly and humanely and did all in their power to ease our sufferings.

“I remained at the dressing station two days, and was then put on the train at a station not far from Roye and taken to a hospital in France at a place the name of which my captors would not tell me. The hospital was in a big chateau, and I was well treated and had a comfortable bed. The food, of course, was of poor quality, but I was given the same as the other occupants, who were all German. I found I could not eat most of the food supplied, and I subsisted nearly entirely on rice, of which they seemed to have a little, but very little. Nobody could speak English, not even the doctors, so I could only make them understand what I wanted by signs. I remained at this place about six weeks, and during that time I noticed that my right foot was turning black, and although i drew attention to it no notice was taken until the disease spread to my ankle, when one of the orderlies made signs to me that my leg would have to be amputated, which news was somewhat of a relief to me, as I had been suffering a great deal of pain. I must say, however, that the doctors tried all they could to ease my pain by administering morphia, and the operation was skilfully carried out under an anaesthetic by two lady doctors and one man doctor.

"About a fortnight after the operation I was again put aboard the train and conveyed to a prisoner of war hospital at Trier, near Luxemburg. There I was not so well treated, the food being not nearly so good, although I was not subjected to any rough treatment. The food was very bad, consisting of barley, Swedes, cattle cabbages, etc., and no meat was supplied. Macaroni was served out twice a week, and that was about the only stuff we could eat. At this hospital I met some Englishmen, and we able to converse with each other, but no games of any sort were provided.

“After just over two months at this place, during which time I had heard nothing from home, I was removed to Czersk, in Wets Prussia, to another prisoners of war hospital. We were four days in the train on hard seats, and it was a terrible journey, as we could neither lie down nor sit through being so sore. Most of the occupants of the train were German wounded soldiers.

“Whilst I was in Germany I saw very few German civilians. At Czersk conditions again got worse, as there were 500 wounded prisoners in one big room in a dfisused picture frame factory. There was no proper ventilation, and the place was indescribably filthy, bugs and fleas roaming about in thousands. I have never before been in such a place, and hope I never may again. There were no towels provided, and I had no pillow on which to lay my head. Our food consisted of a third of a loaf of black bread per day, and the so-called soup was merely coloured water, and I couldn’t touch it. Burnt barley coffee was given us in the morning and again at 3p.m.

“When I had been there a fortnight the British Committee, which is composed of English soldier prisoners of war, came round the hospital and took the names of all the worst cases, with a view to their being sent home under the arrangement arrived at by the British and German Governments. To my joy I found I was included amongst the number to be repatriated, and three days later I commenced my journey home. We left the hospital on Wednesday, August 21st, at 10a.m. We were travelling from Wednesday to Saturday, when we arrived at a German place on the Dutch border. Here we had to sit at the street corner to wait whilst stretchers were fetched, and the German youngsters all crowded round us. None of them had any shoes or stockings on, so you can see what a state Germany is getting into, although the elder civilians seemed fairly well dressed. We were again put on a German Red Cross train, which was fitted up like a palace compared with the others we had been in, this evidently being intended to impress the Dutch with Germany’s good treatment of their prisoners. This train took us right through to Rotterdam, where we embarked for England.

“At Rotterdam we had the first good meal we had had for many weeks, being supplied with real coffee with milk and sugar, bread and cheese, and jam. The Dutch people gave us a good reception and treated us with every kindness. We sailed from Rotterdam on a Dutch boat, the S.S. Sindoro, and arrived at Boston at 10.30a.m. on Sunday, August 24th.

“There were thousands of people to meet us, and they gave us a good cheer as we disembarked. We were all given a good meal—as much as we could eat —and cigarettes were showered upon us. Equally enthusiastic was our reception at St. Pancras, brass bands awaiting our arrival. From there I was taken by motor car to the 1st London General Hospital, Camberwell, and on the following Friday I was granted furlough, pending admission to hospital for the fitting of an artificial leg. I lost no time in starting for home, and since Friday I have been staying with friends at Wellingborough, my parents paying me a visit on Saturday last.”

In reply to a question from our representative, Sergt. Allen said that whilst in Germany little information could be obtained about the fighting except from prisoners who were being brought in. They heard, however, when the Allied forces commenced to push back the Germans, and felt greatly cheered up by the news. He paid high tribute to the parcels which are being sent out to prisoners from England, although he personally did not receive one. The men, he says, get six parcels a month, containing good food, and they practically live on them, as the food supplied by the Germans is in the majority of cases not fit to eat.

Apropos of the shortage of leather in Germany, Sergt. Allen says that at the dressing station the Germans started trying on his boots before they dressed his leg. They kept his boots! He further states that the Germans will try to buy anything in the food or clothing line from British prisoners of war, and offer big prices too. They will pay 6s. or 7s. for a small piece of soap.

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