Three Years Out Of Civilization - A Rushden Soldier Fed on “Grass Soup”
Hungry to the Point of Starvation - Eating the Putrid Flesh of Horses Killed in Battle
A Malicious German Sentry Punished
British Soldiers Stripped Then Scalded To Death
Badly Wounded Prisoners Murdered - German Barbarians
The experience of living for three years amongst modern barbarians, of witnessing helplessly the undreamt of cruelties inflicted officially and unofficially, upon our prisoners of war in German hands, has been the lot of Pte. George Trussler, 7th Northants Regiment, son of Mr. and Mrs. Trussler, 109, Glassbrook-road, Rushden.
In less than a month of the outbreak of war, George Trussler was in the Army. Shortly afterwards he went to France, got badly wounded, suffered from frost-bite and many other hardships common to the soldier in the early days of the war. On November 29th 1915, he was with a large party in a German dug-out which had been captured, and the Bosche was shelling so severely that to remain looked like courting death and to move was certain death. About 100 Germans raided the place, and Pte. Trussler, with about 20 others, was captured. He was taken to Germany, but not compelled to work for some time. His fortunes were varying from the time he had to work near some mines, afterwards going to Essen and later to a farm, where his treatment was good.
He says the Germans were unnecessarily harsh in giving our men poor food in 1915. There was plenty in the country, and yet to enable them to work twelve hours a day, British Tommies were “fed” on soup made of grass, horse-chestnuts, the pods of peas, and other rubbish. Often there was little but discoloured water and black bread. Parcels from England were irregular in arriving, unequally distributed and did not often contain the most essential articles. While awaiting parcels (perhaps for weeks on end) our men would suffer hunger to the point of starvation. To try and exist on the stuff provided by the Germans was bad enough, but in doing so it was worse to get smitten with internal diseases, as happened sometimes.
Pte. Trussler says the parcels which reach the 1st & 2nd Northants in Germany were always of better quality food than was sent to the 6th & 7th Northants. The very things he needed most butter, dripping, jam, milk, etc. were rarely, if ever, received. He made several written complaints, but the promised improvement never came about. The little meat which the Germans gave our prisoners was the putrid flesh of horses that had been blown to pieces on the battlefield. This was collected and sent back to Germany for human consumption. Even this loathsome stuff could be obtained only in very small quantities.
Pte. Trussler gave a “Rushden Echo” representative some instances of cruelties to our men as yet scarcely heard of. When British prisoners, hard worked all day and ill-fed as well, returned to their barracks for a wash and rest, they never know what punishment awaited them for things they had never done. One particularly malicious German sentry had a nasty habit of rushing at them with his bayonet to enforce an order instead of shouting a warning “Light out” at night. After several had narrowly escaped very serious injuries from this Bosche, a number of the prisoners resolved to teach him better manners. A few got together in the corner of the barrack room and listened for the sound of the red-headed beast to come rushing upstairs. Up he came headlong, thinking he would catch our men again. Instead, as soon as he got within easy distance, all lights were extinguished and one Tommy planted his booted foot right in the Bosche’s mouth and others kicked him from the sides so that he went sprawling down to the bottom of the building knocked out. Nothing was done in the matter because it took place in the dark and nobody knew anything about it. However, woe betide the poor devil who struck a German sentry even in self defence for some cruelty he had never deserved. A good many German sentries seemed to think (probably they had definite instructions) they should ill treat the British as much as possible. They thought nothing of clubbing a Tommy with the butt end of a rifle. If the man hit the German back he would be arrested taken to the barrack room, stripped, and two or three Huns would kick his naked body until it was black and blue and covered with blood, leaving him more dead than alive. What could the poor chap’s pals do? Were they to attempt to redress the crime they to would suffer the same fate. We believe the following, which is vouched for as an absolute fact, has hitherto never been published in England. A party of British prisoners, who had been accused of some supposed crime or lack of discipline, were made to strip naked, put into a specially constructed air tight room and the door closed on them. Instead of a slow death of suffocation, the death meted out to them exceeded in cruelty anything believed possible. Through a devilish device, steam was turned into the room and this was increased in volume and heat until the poor chaps were scolded to death. Pte. Trussler to his great regret was never able to get the names of the Germans who were responsible for that terrible outrage.
Even when a British prisoner was at work, he never knew when he was safe. The Germans in charge - whether foreman or sentries - would never strike a man with their fists. They always picked up a piece of iron, went behind the man and struck him unawares and in such a way as to do him considerable injury. No matter how exhausted a prisoner might feel with the hard work and want of food, he must never relax his efforts even for one moment during work hours. If a prisoner, in being taken to Germany, was too badly wounded to march, he had only to say so and he would get a bullet though him. However, in all fairness to even the Hun, Pte. Trussler relates that on one occasion during the three years he spent in Germany a brutal sentry who shot a British Tommy dead for nothing at all, was himself shot dead by the German officer in charge.
Pte. Trussler speaks fairly fluent German, and was the more able to know what was going on around him. He tells how the Roman Catholic clergy regularly and systematically at services on Sundays made public announcements that amounted to commanding the people to live immoral lives. It was not allowed to matter how the Germans won the war or prepared for the next war-by morality or immorality-the latter for preference was to be the means.
Pte. Trussler was able to see the change in conditions in civil life in Germany during the years 1915 to 1918. at first the people, having a good time, were arrogant in their certainty of winning the war. As time went on, foodstuffs got fearfully short owing to the British Naval Blockade, and German newspapers had to “feed” the people on exaggerated accounts of the sinkings of British merchant vessels by U Boats. We never possessed as much tonnage as they claimed to have sunk. The truth was not let out until long after the Germans themselves knew they were hopelessly beaten. Long ago the people knocked the heads off the Kaiser in Cologne and replaced it with a metal plate bearing the word “Bread”. Pte. Trussler speaks of the Germans generally as a dirty lot of people who think of nothing but working hard to earn all the money they can, and when there is plenty of food, of eating to excess.
For a month or two, Pte. Trussler was fortunate enough to get on a private farm with some people who had their bread winners at the front. Here he had a comparatively good time. Food was not as scarce and work much easier than at other places where he had been. Just the opposite, were the conditions where a British Sergeant Major was placed in charge. The truth about the reprehensible conduct of certain British warrant officers and N.C.O’s to men under their charge in German prison camps is leaking out from several quarters, and Pte. Trussler was one who had the misfortune to get under the control of such.
We are pleased to say that now he has got home he is looking remarkably well.