[letterhead: “Offizier-Gefangenen-Lager, Holzminden”; (approximate translation from German: “Officer-Prison-Camp, Holzminden”)]
May 9th 1918.
My memory is very treacherous these days and I am not quite sure when I last wrote so don’t know where to begin. It might be well to start at this end and go backwards like a crab. Should I go over any of the ground covered in my last letter put it down to “Barbedwireitis” which all kriegsgefangeneners [translation: “prisoners of war”] contract after an eighteen months stay in an enemy’s country.
In one of your letters you expressed surprise at my being moved from Agustabad. I was a little surprised myself for I thought myself a fixture there; but it is the unexpected which always seems to happen so I try to take whatever comes for better or for worse and make the most of it.
Did I tell you that I was being sent to Holzminden a.d. Weser? Well here I am anyway. The last night on the way two of us managed to slip off the train and trekked across country for two weeks. On the second day out a snow storm scared us a bit, but after that the weather was quite seasonable plenty of rain but not too cold. Rations were somewhat short for we had no means of replenishing the stock which we carried. Our German would hardly pass as good even in the country. If you can picture me sitting in a ditch or on a log, in fact almost anywhere, with a bit of biscuit in one hand and meat (real old bully beef) in the other you have a picture of a man enjoying food. It was hard sometimes to hold ourselves down to the daily allowance. Still everything went more or less to schedule and as the days came and went and we neared the border I could almost taste the roast beef and potatoes which would be mine (so I thought) in a few days. The pipe dream faded on the fourteenth night about one o’clock when a couple of sentries took us in tow less than fifteen miles from the Dutch frontier. Three or four days saw us safely back here where I am now waiting trial. After that is over I shall have two sentences to serve one for my escape from Schweidnitz in March and another for the trip en route. What a merry life we lead! With any luck I should be finished my time before this reaches you. In the mean time, I hope to accomplish some reading and study which I have tried to do for a long time without much luck. Yesterday I managed to get in six hours.
While I was getting settled in my new quarters the orderly brought me three letters from you, one February and two March. In one there were a couple of snaps. They were most welcome just at that time for I was not exactly jubilant. I should have liked to be on hand for some of the music last winter. It is well over two years since I last heard anything good in the musical line I mustn’t kick it will be all the more enjoyable when I do get back again. How did the choral club pan out this winter? I don’t suppose you will do very much in that line for a few months now.
Was very glad to learn from your last letter that Irvine and the youngster were on the mend. I hope they are quite well again and none the worse for their experience.
The country is at its best just now and parts further west where it is flat reminded me a little of parts of Ontario except that there are no large orchards. Just a few fruit trees scattered here and there. Going through the outskirts of a town one evening we passed several fine residences set back from the road in large well laid out grounds. I remember one in particular which had a miniature lake with a stream running from it across which was a little stone bridge. What surprised me was that such fine places were near rather small towns. Along the particular road where I saw these house were many trees almost as large as our elms. Most of the trees, especially in the woods, are pines. I quite fell in love with the German forests those of Schlesien in particular. They are wonderful . It is not to be wondered at that so many men came to Germany to study forestry in the pre war times. If I could see the Black Forests and Rhine Valley I would be satisfied that I had seen enough of Germany to know something of it outside of the cities. I am not likely to see much of them in war time. On the way here, I saw the Leipzig station which is, so they tell me, one of the largest in the world. There are twenty-three tracks for trains to come in on. We, that is the party from Schweidnitz, had lunch there one noon. The evening before we had our evening meal at Dresden. Sounds quite like a Cook’s tour doesn’t it. I must say they did us well on the trip. On the way back here from our little side trip we spent three or four hours in a little place called Soest where we had a meal consisting of two plates of soup, potato salad, coffee and beer. Just what the soup would be called on a menu card it is hard to say but it was made of potato, peas and meat. With our unlimited supply of hunger sauce it was an A1 meal. There is little opportunity for the practice of the culinary art here though I made a hit (interpret that as you will) with pancakes a day or two ago. The boys outside send most of our food down to us already cooked. One or two of them have gone to no end of trouble in looking after us since we came back. There always seems to be someone ready to lend a helping hand. First, when I arrived at Stralsund minus grub, clothes or money all my needs were supplied by the British officers and now parcels and conserves are being drawn and cooking is done by others. The worst of it is it is almost impossible to get back at those who do so much and repay the kindness. In a measure, one can work it off on other unfortunates who roll up new to the country from time to time; but that is an indirect method of payment to say the least.
So far I have not seen much of this camp or its ways so shall have to leave most of its description for another time. From the little I have seen the buildings which seem quite new are large bright and clean. There is a foot-ball field and I think, though I am not sure, one or two tennis courts. While I am not and probably never shall be, an expert at that game I like it for it is good exercise and passes away a pleasant hour or two. There is swimming in the Weser and of course the walks so taking everything into consideration there should be enough to fill in the time and make the summer go quickly.
Your letter sound very busy and cheerful with the Choral Club tea parties and as you call them “chicken parties.” How did your trip to New York go? I should imagine that N.Y. is a gay place these days. It is one of the many places which I am still looking forward to seeing “when my ship comes in.”
Have you ever seen a real live prisoner of war? May be some member or members of the fraternity who were lucky enough to be exchanged have been in Toronto and you have seen him. Still in case you have not and are interested I am enclosing a picture taken at Schweidnitz two or three days before I left. We are not a cricket or foot-ball eleven though the Australian representative is some cricketer and the wild man from South Africa has no small reputation in school foot-ball circles. Brazil might suggest a debating society though in real life, at least until one knows him well, he would be more likely to give the impression that he belonged to a minstrel troop. We were taken together because we first saw the light of day in widely separated parts of this terrestrial sphere, are all British subjects and for a short time at least were living in the same camp. We represent, from left to right bottom row Wales, Australia, Brazil, Ireland, England and U.S.A.; top row New Zealand, South Africa, Canada, India and Scotland. The R.N.A.S. chap representing England was my mess mate while in Schweidnitz and for the last couple of weeks India was also in the mess. Both were real good fellows and I miss them here. Scotland was the camp artist and painted most of the scenery for the theatre. South Africa looked after costumes, Australia was for a while stage manager, England was electrician, Wales and U.S.A. took the parts of “Flick and Flack managers of the Flick, Flack family hotels of Asia, Africa and America,” India was a stage hand, the usher alias electrician’s cook you already know. I almost forgot to tell you “Flick and Flack” were characters in “The Girl from Oolong. The latter has taken parts both male and female in several shows. With the exceptions India and Australia we all came to this country via the air. It is a terror how groups of men are thrown together for a short time in army life and then split up in most cases never to meet again. With the exception of my stays at Agustabad and Schweidnitz I have not been in one place or with the same men for more than two or three months in the last three years. It is pleasant to move about and see new places but one does not make many real friends in such a life. Still I guess it is a good thing to make pleasant acquaintances. It is interesting to hear about the different countries of the world from men who have lived there and those whose lot it is to travel in the days after the war will not go far without seeing familiar faces.
Where I shall next hang up my hat no one knows. I have been here long enough to be on the list for exchange to Holland. Sometimes I look forward to the change for it would give me a much better opportunity to make good use of my time and also to get away once in a while where it was quiet. Time will tell. One thing is certain I am here now. Offizier-Gefangenenlager, Holzminden, Braunschweig, Germany and am likely to be here for at least another month so why worry.
Now I have exhausted my space, news and probably your patience so must say au revoir.
From Lieut. A.HM Copeland No. 1122
To Miss H.R. Lailey
26 Whitney Ave