Thursday, 11 February 2010

Arrival at the labour camp

Lieutenant Blanc endeavoured to remember the route taken to the camp but the only really memorable feature was the Inn “Der Alte Fritz” at the point where they turned east off the Hauptstrasse and plunged into a winding series of lanes enclosed by tight hedgerows.

At the end of the second day they emerged into a small valley with a number of timber huts enclosed by a stockade. The guards turned out as they approached and opened the gates to admit them. They were followed into the camp by the guards and an officer, all wearing a green uniform with black facings.

“Welcome to our humble camp” shouted the officer “I am Captain Von Luger, I have to warn you that any attempt at escape will be punished severely and could result in your death. However provided you live by the rules of the camp you will be treated well and hopefully once this war is over you will be able to return to your homes and families.”

“Now Captain Roux will explain the rules of the camp and how they are implemented”

A French officer emerged from the crowd of prisoners and addressed the new arrivals “Mes Amis, this is a labour camp but it is fairly run and you will get more than enough to eat if you participate. We make musket stocks, but we are paid for the work and we can spend the money how we wish within some quite obvious guidelines. We even have our own boulangerie as we have a baker and we can buy flour. A local doctor comes every two weeks to deal with any minor ailments; prisoners suffering anything worse are transferred to the main prison in Pappenheim. One word about the guards, they are all reformed criminals and therefore know about all the tricks that prisoners may try. Finally you are all still subject to French Military discipline; my sergeants will now allocate your accommodation.”

Blanc immediately walked forward to the captain and introduced himself, “Excellent, another officer, you can become my second in command, please join me for a glass of wine”

Over the glass of wine Roux explained how he was running the camp, which seemed run like any business with timber delivered and musket stocks despatched. “But what about our commitment to the Revolution?” asked Blanc.

“You think we haven’t considered escape” responded Roux “do you know exactly where we are, let me explain, We are somewhere in the Pidnem hills, if there is an escape then the local foresters and gamekeepers commonly known as Freishutze hunt them down and they get a bounty for doing so”

“Once a month the Commandant offers up to four men the chance to try and escape. If they make it to a Post and Customs office they are rewarded with a week’s wages. In the year I have been here, only one man has succeeded in achieving it. He was stone drunk when he returned and had revealed to the Freishutze how he had dodged them.

“But I need to get back to my Fiancée, how will she know I’m OK and how long will she wait?”

“Well on the first point I can help, there is a letter service organised with the Danes, who seem to be one of the few nations not at war with France, to communicate with those at home. It takes a couple of months each way, but it seems to work”

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