James McCracken from Perth was captured by the enemy
“There were no splints on the broken limbs, with the result that every jolt of the train and movement of the men, who were simply packed in like herring, caused them terrible pain.
“We started off, and the journey lasted three days and three nights!
“The only food besides a small portion of black bread which they had given us at Denain [in France] was an old Swiss milk tin full of very dirty soup, which was handed in at 4am, and another serving at 6pm.
“It was March, and the weather was bitterly cold, and sleep at nights quite impossible.
“The stench of the wounds and the fact that there was no sanitary assistance for the men who were unable to get up, were awful experiences.
“Some of that trainload of men, to my knowledge, were practically dead when carried out of the train when we arrived in Germany.
“All were agreed that it was the most terrible and trying experience that they had ever undergone during the war.”
Once he arrived at the POW camp, injured soldiers were given paper to cover their wounds and had to wait up to eight days to get more clean paper.
The camp saw prisoners divided into companies of French, Italian, Serbian, Romanian, Russian and British and prisoners were made to work on a nearby farm, in the camp itself, or as grave-diggers.
Up to 30 prisoners were needed every day to dig graves as so many from the camp were dying.
There was some censored entertainment on the camp, including weekend cinema nights and concerts given by the prisoners themselves, described by Private McCracken as “cinema pictures, representative of drama and comedy, according to the German idea”.
They also received parcels from home via the Red Cross, although added it would be months before they got a hold of what had been sent to them.
His article in the ‘peace edition’ of the PA also recounted the cruel punishments handed down at the camp he was in during his stay.
The paper said: “In the camp where Private McCracken was, there was an Englishman suffering from heart trouble.
“He was in a convalescent commando, where light work is given, such as cutting brooms, etc.
“He had not been working to the satisfaction of the German sentry, who knew he was suffering from heart trouble.
“With practically no warning, that he must work harder, he was shot at from what must have been about three yards’ distance and wounded.
“In another case a man came back to camp covered in marks, having been severely beaten with heavy sticks.
“He was bruised practically from head to feet.
“The man lying in the bed next to me, who had been a valet in civil life, was sent to a mine which was in a very bad condition, and was hit on the head with a fall of material.
“He was so changed in appearance when he came back after a fortnight away that I did not know him.” James McCracken was one of three brothers sent to fight during World War I.
His brother Alexander was in the Black Watch and at the time of the Armistice was wounded and recovering in a hospital in England.
And his other brother William was serving in the Royal Garrison Artillery in France at the time.
The PA had called Private McCracken’s story a “remarkable experience” and said the reporters had found it “of thrilling interest”.
Historic copies of the PA including Private McCracken’s interview in the ‘peace edition’ are housed in the local and family history department at AK Bell Library, Perth.
Some of that trainload of men, to my knowledge, were practically dead when carried out of the train when we arrived in Germany
Private McCracken described the hardships of being in a German POW camp during World War I