Saturday, January 01, 2011

Part 3: Conditions at Latchen camp, Feb 25-April 1917 as reported by Private Joseph Driscoll

"The camp was about a mile from Kelsien, at a deserted village called Latchen. Russians were shelling all around us . There was a marquee enclosed within barbed wire. The cavalry ten left us, and our late sentries who came in sledges, took us over. We were stood to attention for an hour before we went into the marquee. The cold was intense, and the men who had been sweating and bleeding so much had the blood frozen inside their boots. We then went into the tent. The camp was about 100 yards by 60, enclosed by barbed wire. The marquee had about two feet of snow and ice as floor. We had to lie in spruce or fir saplings laced together with wire, in layers. We were to be given shavings, but received enough for less than 100 men....about 300 men then got what Germans call dinners, the others had to go without. A great many men on the march had thrown away their blankets and they had to sleep in what they stood in. Inside the tent were some very small stoves, but no fuel was ever supplied, and we therefore could never use them. It was extremely slippery inthe tent because of the ice, the men continually fell and cut themselves. Average temperature was 36 centigrade of frost. The men were overwelmed by the severity of the march. In the morning we found that our boots were frozen into icicles, all shapes , and we had to use our wood shavings to burn  and thus thaw our boots. When we put them on, the ice formed between the sole of the boot and our feet. Barley coffee was supplied that morning but many had to go without. No work was done that day, but parties of 50 men each were employed putting up barbed wire round the camp. This wire was extended to 10 feet high all round"
Private Joseph Driscoll 7314 1st Norfolk Regiment

National Archives WO 161/100/361 page 3057

Joseph's report is one of many taken and recorded later, in Joseph's case the report is dated 18-20th July . The examiner, a JW Campbell of 28 Cavendish Square says of Joseph

"This man was intelligent but somewhat discursive and inclined to rhetoric. I saw no reason for not accepting his evidence

Another report of conditions by Company Seargent- Major A Gibb, 2nd Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders in WO 161/100/557 page 3388 supports Joseph's version of events and gives even more detail ( no smoking, washing or drinking water, rations just enough to keep them alive and punishment consisting of being tied up with field telegraph wire to a post.)

A fascinating if shocking report and I have many questions about this period and how some of the  men did manage to survive when so many other died of starvation and the cold. (I have read reports  elsewhere of Russian's  who were frozen)

I would also like to find out more about Lieutenant Prael, The German Commander of Latchen camp.