February 27th 1918
Arthur Cyril March, of the Princess Pat's, a prisoner of war in Switzerland, writes to his mother:
Hotel Eiger, Murren, Suisse,
Dec. 30, 1917.
DEAR MOTHER: Without doubt you have heard before this that I am in Switzerland, one of those interned - a new phase of the world's war, and believe me a very fortunate one for me. Naturally, captivity surrounded by barbed wire, seeing starving men around one everyday, and being unable to help them, living in a barrack with a couple of hundred others, many of whom are the most uncongenial of human beings - noisy, etc., types that are to be found I think only in the army or out of any regular employment. Such a life for one who likes to study, read, and to think, for one who has been used to the great broad sweeps of the prairies, and a position not of a subordinate nature, - such a life as was that one back in Germany, was not a life but a poor existence - with of course, because of some associates, not a few very pleasant and profitable hours. That is past, and owing to the food sent us by the Red Cross, and the constitution that was ours, we are still alive, and will be shortly quite well again.
Germany has been living on very little for a long time, and will, I believe, continue to do so. Their will and organization are wonderful - the people are making sacrifices that as yet possibly no other country has made. The treatment of prisoners varies. In some cases exceedingly kind, others, particularly in reprisals, and in mines, very brutal. However, at present the British, in comparison with the poor Russians and Italians are well treated. And their lot is good. They are respected, and in many cases, especially those from the British Isles, get along with the Germans (if they are working among the farmers,) even better than they do with the French.
Germany's soul is undergoing a change - recent prisoners from the front tell different stories from those which many had to tell, although at all times my treatment has been not unfair: - Hungry, yes, uncomfortable, yes, in a world's war things like that are to be expected.
My associates helped wonderfully to give many fine hours, better than which for men to have is impossible - hours with a couple of Frenchmen, and with the Russian Doctor, in reality a Pole, a Professor, and literary man, a mind as clear and keen as the best, a heart as large as the world. Then there were a few of the Canadian boys, Donald Chase and Bob Hare, a medical student and a prince, our Red Cross man, and the only one who knew anything about his work - the knowledge of many who serve in that capacity is apparently nil - but among all the Britishers, there was no other university graduate, possibly, that has been of use to me, inasmuch as I was obliged to get after French and Russian, to be able to speak freely with the best men in Camp. When I think of some of those fellows back there, in spite of the fact that I am practically free here, I feel that even yet while they are there, I am still in a degree a prisoner.
We always tried to make the best of a bad job. Last winter we had no coal, it was very difficult to get wood to cook with - Donald Chase and myself invented an electric stove in the office of the "Sans Fil." In two days after we started, we had it going full swing - the cost for the wire was about three cents per stove - the rest of the material we managed to get around camp - very simple - one would last about a week. We each had one, as then we did not mess together. They were certainly convenient, and used a great deal of electricity, but as there was only one meter for the whole camp, there was no check on the current. Had we been caught, of course, it would have meant a couple of months, perhaps, of arrest - but in War time, one takes chances. That served well until last August, when, owing to a rumor that a special party was coming to search, we got rid of it. The same applied to electric light - a good reading and studying lamp has always, not always, but since the first of the year, been at my service. To all appearances, it was an acetylene lamp - the wires were concealed and believe me they would take some finding. Such was my lot, mother - better indeed than many others.
I have never been in what they call the catagorie for hard work, my air of being rather weak was no doubt partly due to the fact that I had no desire and made no attempt to appear strong - and when German (ordinary camp) doctors have their inspections, they decide largely by a man's appearance, and what it seems to them that he has done. My ability to speak German, and the advice of the Russian doctor, no doubt, helped me whenever my case was in discussion, and I gave it the best representation possible - as you see - for I am in Switzerland now.
Oh! it is indeed beautiful here - the great mountains - today, the peaks which yesterday were quite visible are shut off by a snow storm.
(A sheet here has evidently been deleted by the Censor.).
When I say that it is one of Switzerland's best, then you know it is O.K. There are in all, a couple of hundred British interned - about forty in this hotel. I have a first class room, sharing it with another chap, also a Canadian - two beautiful beds, well furnished, and steam heated - a view that is quite poetic - already I have climbed up among the hills - soon I hope to skate, ski, etc. It seems that it is difficult to get money here - the last group of interned here, a great many old soldiers had a weakness for "Booze" and a poor sense of responsibility. They failed to remember that they were guests of one of the greatest little countries on the earth, so the British government, ashamed of their conduct, not only punished them, but took steps that would prevent in the future a similar type from having too much money. The amount now is sufficient for ordinary expenses, but if a person wishes to buy books to attempt to get as nearly as possible back to his civil mode of living, than it is insufficient, and some means will have to be taken to get a supplement. That will be arranged all right. When I feel real fit again, I hope to take up studies at the Swiss universities. Here French and German will be indispensable, while Russian, without doubt, will be of service too.
So it goes, mother, all fine and dandy.
The Swiss people gave us a lovely reception at one city at 11 p.m., another at 2 a.m., and now all their resources, resorts, climate, food, doctors, educational institutions are at the disposal of the interned to make them as well as possible in body and soul.
Trust this finds you all well. With love to you all and with best wishes for the coming year,
Your affect. Son,
A. CYRIL MARCH
L/C A CYRIL MARCH, M.G. 195,
British Interned Prisoner of War,