A Prisoner in Cologne.
A military operation order is crystallised
commonsense. It is a wonderfully concise bunch
Our squadron commander read the latest
by lamplight over a spread map of the theatre of war.
The general situation of the campaign
explained that a Zeppelin raid on the east coast of
England had been made on the 19th of January, thirteen
Information had been received that
a new type of Zeppelin had been constructed, a “mother”
type, capable of carrying a number of aeroplanes.
The intention of the operation order
was to destroy all known Zeppelin sheds; each air
squadron supplying special officers for the purpose.
I well remember the particulars of
that order. They printed their details upon my
memory because I had been selected to destroy the sheds
at Saarbruck. I was to leave three hours before
the following dawn.
I remember Nap’s disappointment
that I was to go alone. He helped my machine
out without a word. He may have had a premonition
that I was not to return as I watched him silently
fixing the compass and map-roller, testing the spring
catch and guide of the bomb-dropper and packing into
it its heavy load of “cough-drops.”
Then he stood like a dumb figure waiting for my starting
“Buck up, Nap,” I ventured,
climbing into the seat. “One would think
this was a funeral. I must get a hustle on as
I’ve got to do 120 miles before I can get to
business, so if everything’s right, I’ll
Nap looked up.
“Fly high, and good luck,”
was all he said as he gripped my hand. Then I
pressed the starter, the propeller hummed and pulled
me into the star-specked sky.
I steered easterly, leaving on my
left the red fire-glow of Rheims and passing over
the sleepy lights of Valny. Within an hour I was
over the great black stretch of the Argonne Forest,
and crossing the Meuse, a long line of fog with Verdun
7000 feet below. The engine was working well,
throwing back the miles at about 60 per hour.
A glow of lights to the right showed Metz next to
a streak of grey, the Moselle River; and as the dawn-light
came into the sky, the Saar River came under me, covered
by a fog with a fringe that flapped over its right
bank and covered Saarbruck.
According to the sketch-map the Zeppelin
sheds were near the railway station. So I flew
low into the mist to get their correct position.
The noise of my engine brought a shot from an aerial
gun, but the fog saved me. A bunch of lights
brought the station into view with the unmistakable
long hangar of the Zeppelin adjacent to it.
I turned to get the sheds beneath
me, and three foot-treads sent as many bombs chasing
each other earthwards.
The first hit the ground near the
shed, exploding without doing any damage. The
second crashed through the roof of the hangar, its
explosion being almost coincident with a fearful crash;
the resulting air-rush almost overturning my ’plane.
The third bomb fell into the back end of the shed,
but I guessed it was not required.
My job was done, so I rose high above
the fog line to get a straight run for home.
Three Taubes were patrolling high, evidently on the
I saw they would have the drop on
me, so I sank back into the fog and under its cover
swooped across the river for home. I was over
the enemy’s country where I guessed I was being
searched for, so taking advantage of the fog I maintained
a 1000 feet level and made a bee-line for Epernay.
My job was done, and I remember I was particularly
I got a surprise near the Argonne
Forest, striking a breeze that suddenly came up from
the south, lifting the fog curtain and showing me
dangerously close to the earth.
I swiftly jerked the elevator for
a swoop up as a rifle cracked. I was spotted!
A volley of shots followed and I was winged.
I remember, like a hideous dream,
a long, evil-smelling shed in which I lay, a stiffly
stretched and bandaged figure on a straw-strewn floor.
I was afterwards told it was Mézières
Railway Station, and that I was one of many hundred
wounded being taken from the field hospitals to the
I need not detail my experiences for
the next six months. I was taken from the hospital
at Aix-la-Chapelle to Cologne to be attached to a gang
of prisoners for street cleaning.
I remember our daily march across
the Great Rhine Bridge with its wonderful arches at
its entrance, and the great bronze horses on its flanks.
I had occasion to remember that bridge, for there,
some time later, the sunshine was to come into my
For six months I had not heard much
of the war. My hospital friends had been wounded
about the same time as I. My street-gang mates, a Belgian
and a Frenchman, knew little except that up till June
the Ostend-Nancy fighting line was still held by both
armies. The lack of news did not worry me during
my days of pain, but as the strength came back to me
it brought a craving for news of the Great Game.
Where were the Allies? What of the North Sea
Fleet? How was Australia taking it? What
was Nap doing? were questions that chased each other
through my mind. Five Taubes had flown over us
the day before, going south, but what was
It was on the Cologne Bridge a week
later that a rather pretty girl, with an unmistakable
English face, stopped to converse with one of my guard.
At the same time she pointed to me: at which the
guard looked round, frowned and spat with contempt.
“Are you English?” she queried.
“Yes,” I replied, “I’m from
I had touched a sympathetic chord and she “sparked”
“Australia! Do you know Sydney?”
“I’m from Manly,” was all I replied.
Then she did what I thought was a
foolish thing she came over and nearly
shook my arm off!
The officer of the guard resented
it, but she jabbered at him and explained to me that
Australian prisoners were to have special treatment,
then glancing at my number she stepped out across the
I found she was correct. When
my gang returned to the barracks my number was called
and I was questioned by the officer in charge.
I was informed that Germany had no quarrel with Australia,
hence I was only to be a prisoner on parole, to report
myself twice a day and come and go as I pleased.
That is how I came to win great facts
regarding Germany and her ideals. That is how
I found out how it was that with Austria, Germany for
nine months could hold at bay the mighty armies of
the world’s three greatest Empires, British,
French and Russian, as well as the fighting cocks of
Belgium; and at the same time endeavor to knock into
some sort of fighting shape the crooked army of the
Turks; how three nations of 109,000,000 people could
defy for nine months the six greatest nations in the
world with a joint population of 622,200,000!
The facts are of striking import to-day
and should be understood by every man who is fighting
for the Allies on and in the land, sea and air.