“Rumours of the war are good”

While prisoners held deep inside Germany may not have had any indication that the war was coming to an end, the Springhirsch men heard rumours regularly. Prisoner arrivals, visiting priests, newspapers stolen while on fatigues to the train station, and a friendly German guard all provided the men with scuttlebutt about the progress of the war.

When Andy Duncan arrived at Springhirsch in August 1918 new rumours were being whispered almost weekly.

By the start of October war news was coming in with increasing speed and accuracy. The men were trying not to get their hopes up.

We heard very good news today, if it’s all true. The Allies have captured the whole of the Belgian coast […] Germany has asked for an armistice as they are beaten.

Diary of Sergeant A.E. Mead. Extract of entry for 22 October 1918

On 1 November a German guard told the prisoners that the war would be over “for sure” within the month. It was not long before the prison guards formed a revolutionary Soldiers Council and assumed joint control of the camp with the commandant.

The Soldiers’ Council […] decreed that Warrant Officer Matz be given his walking papers, because, as we are informed, he had long been obnoxious to the men

Ferdinand Hansen An open letter to an English officer and incidentally to the English people

It is tempting to think that Warrant Officer Matz is the camp interpreter who was a key antagonist of the prisoners.

The signs were that the war would be over any day, but when would the news come, and how would the men get home?

Sources

NAA: B2455, DUNCAN, A.S. National Archives of Australia.

1918 157 Company Sergeant Major Andrew Steward Duncan 10th Battalion. Australian Red Cross Society Wounded and Missing, Enquiry Bureau files, 1914-18 War 1DRL/0428.

Hansen, F. 1921. An open letter to an English officer and incidentally to the English people. 4th ed. Hamburg, Germany: Overseas Publishing Co.

Mead, A.E. Private Papers of A E Mead Imperial War Museum collection 17232.

Van Emden, R. 2009. Prisoners of the Kaiser: The last POWs of the Great War. South Yorkshire, England: Pen & Sword Military.

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