Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Part 2:Libau-Mitau- Kelsien 23rd-25th February 1917 Pte Joseph Driscoll 7314 1st Norfolk Regiment

"...about 6 p.m, we entrained 600 men. We did not know for what destination. The Germans at Libau packed our kits and said that they would send them on in a waggon behind us. We travelled in horse-boxes, clean but no straw. It was extremely cold. Travelled all night and reached Mitau about 4 p.m. on the 24th February 1917.

On arrival at Mitau we marched to a school on the other side of the town where there were a  number of Russians. They were in a terrible condition, starving and verminous, and during the night they raided many of our food boxes. The front was from 20 to 40 kilometres from us . It was rumoured we were to be sent to the trenches. At 10p.m. that night we were ordered to parade at 6 a.m. next morning. Nothing was said about destination.

The next morning, the 25th, we paraded and were given a drink of barley coffee and one loaf to four men, ie 250 grammes each. Old sentries were now changed and we were taken over by a squadron of German cavalry armed with lances. Then taken back to station for kits-only a few there, and only a few minutes allowed to get our own. Marched back through the streets , jeered at by German soldiers who shouted to our guards to sharpen our paces, Cavalry replied that they soon would do so and that their lances were sharp enough to do that.

Then we marches off and were forced to go at a rapid pace. I now saw several attempts  by the cavalry guards to pierce men's ears with their lances. Anyone who slipped or fell was continually hit hard with lances. No mercy shown! We were now marching on the banks of the river Aa which flows from Mitau to Riga, marching through the snow over our ankles. The guards also would push their horses into the sections of fours and scatter the men and then use their lances to force them together again. Complaints made to officers were laughed at. We marched thus till 12 o'clock, then we halted for 1/4 hour for the Germans to feed their horses, not us.  Then marched again for 2 1/2 hours-we recived no food at all. The men were dropping everything superfluous; the strain of marching was terrific.

At 3 p.m. we came to a Red Cross Station. Here a man fell insensible. A  German soldier seized him up by the forefinger and thumb and tried to raise him up at the same time using hand and boot. As he could not raise hime, he threw him face downwards in the snow. That was the last I saw of him but I heard he was picked up by a sleigh. He was a Coldstream Guardsman. We then marched through snow  above our knees. The suffering of the men was painful to witness; some hysterical, many bleeding badly. We marched through this deep snow about 5 or 6 kilom,. German cavalry using the same ill-treatment driving us. We then reached a rough road amd arrived at what was to be our camp about 4p.m., having marched about 37 kilometres since morning.

The camp was about a mile from Kelsien at a deserted Russian village called Latchen."
more to follow....

reference National Archives WO 161/100/361

I have tried to locate these  and other camp place names  on a current map of Latvia but without success. I am aware of the major places like  Liepaja and Jelgava (Libau and Mitau) but unless Kelsien could be  Kalnciems I am stuck. I wonder if there are any traces of these camps now around Jelgava and if the hospital still exist.

I'm  really only at the beginning of my "research" and would appreciate any help or information about Jelgava during WW1 and especially the treatment of the British, French or Russian Prisoners of War.