Andy Duncan finally left Springhirsch POW camp on 15 December 1918. It had been five long weeks since the Armistice was signed.
The men paraded at 8:30am ready to march to the train station, but there was no move out due some difficulty with the train. They were told to parade again in the afternoon, that there might be a train at 5pm.
Marching orders came at 4pm and the men set out eagerly. A large crowd of local women and children had gathered at the camp gates, hoping for a farewell hand-out of biscuits and food parcels. The men obliged as best they could.
Arriving at the station they met further delay: there was no train. How did Andy feel, confronted with another day of false starts? How did he manage the anxious and desperate men in his charge?
The train finally arrived. At 7pm the ex-POWs were loaded onto trucks for an uncomfortable overnight trip to the port of Warnemünde on the Baltic Sea.
From Warnemünde they sailed for Aarhus in Denmark. It was a good voyage on calm seas, with plenty of food to eat.
On 17 December the men arrived in Aarhus to cheering and songs of welcome from the locals. As the ships for transport to England had not yet arrived, the men entrained and travelled to Viborg and the Hald lazaret (hospital camp). Ironically, after being freed from Springhirsch they were confined initially to the hospital, quarantined due to the 1918 influenza epidemic.
On arrival we were shown to our billets; nice rooms with beds and nice white sheets which looked too good for us in our state. After we went to dinner and had some kind of porridge and stew after it, with beer, very sweet. In the afternoon we had a nice bath, then tea and got to bed very soon after as we got very little sleep since leaving our prison camp
Diary of Sergeant A.E. Mead. Extract of entry for 17 December 1918
Andy stayed at Hald for 6 days. At about 7am on 23 December he left Hald and entrained again for the trip back to Aarhus. A large number of locals turned out at Viborg station to farewell the men, giving them cigarettes.
At Aarhus Andy boarded the S.S. Primula. Mid-morning the ship set sail for England, cautiously navigating its way through the Baltic Sea minefields. This time the sea was rough, and a number of men spent the voyage with their heads in buckets.
As the Primula passed the coast of Norway the men were given a medical inspection and clothes. Late on Christmas night the ship arrived at the Firth of Forth and the following morning Andy disembarked at Leith.
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.
‘Henry Thomas Fowler (1882-1947) – a Life’. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.thedanishscheme.co.uk [Accessed 06 April 2014].
Jones, M.A. 2009. The Danish Scheme: The repatriation of British Prisoners of War through Denmark at the end of the First World War. MA dissertation, University of Birmingham.
‘Marauders of the Sea, German Armed Merchant Raiders During World War I’. Ahoy – Mac’s Web Log [Accessed 09 June 2013].
Mead, A.E. Private Papers of A E Mead Imperial War Museum collection 17232.
‘POW’s and repatriation’. Great War Forum. [Accessed 09 June 2013].
Featured image: Returned prisoners of war on the boat at Hull, just prior to disembarkation c1919. Australian War Memorial collection D00178