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Escape from Germany


Courtney Reed
Courtney Reed

The brother of Launceston businessman Nathaniel Reed (Shucker and Reed), found himself and his family cut off in Germany as the hostilities broke out. Courtney Reed was staying at the Kaiserbord Hotel, Aachen and in the September 12th edition of the Cornish and Devon Post he retold his families story of how they escaped Germany.

We were staying at the Kaiserbord Hotel under treatment, said Mr. Reed, when the Kaiser started mobilising, on August 2nd, and we asked ourselves if we should clear out. We were almost the only ones left in the hotel, as our less intrepid countrymen had crossed to England while the storm was brewing. Wisely, too, we think, now.

We consulted the only friend we had in Aachen, and were advised to stay on, as the impending struggle was likely to be confined to the Continent, Old England being counted upon to remain neutral. We were naturally anxious to complete our visit, and in spite of tumult and demonstration, military foregathering and inner promptings, we decided to stay on as long as we comfortably could. Things, however, became daily uncomfortable for us at (censored), and on the morning of the 4th instant we were faced in the streets with telegrams reading “England has declared war with Germany.”


“We’d better git,” was the chorus, and making a hurried call upon the American consul (the nearest British consul was in Cologne) we were favoured with passports and a hint that perhaps we would be more comfortable out of Germany. We had no English newspaper since the 28th July, and no letters, and had to rely upon second and third rate information. Belgium was impossible. Rumours of horrible atrocities of war in Belgium had reached us, and, to put the lid on, the frontier was closed. Holland was reported neutral, so, hurriedly packing our trunks and leaving our hotels with promises to pay afterwards, we made our way to the railway station in a downpour of rain.


The writer has seen the paper currencies of different countries at a huge discount, but he was “flabbergasted” when his friend’s Bank of England “fiver” was returned to him with a cool remark that £2 10s. was the present value of the paper. The Kaiser must have “fixed the price” a few days earlier. Like a wise man my friend told his creditor to wait for payment. We were jolly glad to travel with Haxton, the American, who spoke German fluently. We had met him at (censored), and, had we not had him with us, we might have made a mess of our journey to the Holland frontier. Our destination was Cleve, a few miles from the Holland frontier, and we were booked to Krefeld, where we arrived 9 p.m. on the evening of the 5th instant.


At Krefeld station the examination of our passports and luggage was carefully carried out, and, after satisfying the officials, we went to the Hotel European for supper and a bed, our train for Cleve leaving at 4:30 next morning. Entrained for Cleve, we felt a little more comfortable, but our journey thither was none too pleasant. At side stations heads in helmets would pop in at windows, and ask if we had any bombs in our bags. Every question was put politely, of course, but we were beginning to feel “sandpapered.” At 8 a.m. on the 6th we reached Cleve, and there again our shirts and trousers and sponge bags were turned outside in for satisfaction of the officials. We went to the police station to have our passes vise’d; there we were courteously treated, and had our hearts lightened by a statement that the frontier was open, and that half an hour in the tram would take us to Nijmegen, in Dutch territory.


Breakfasting at the Maywald Hotel, where mine host was kind and helpful, we drove to the tram corner, glad to be able to shake the dust of Germany off our shoes. “You are not allowed on the tram,” said the conductor, and after some cross-questing we learned to our huge discomfort that only Dutchmen were being allowed over the borders. The crowd began to gather, and we decided to go back to the Maywald to wait events, but were very suspicious of that tram conductor. Constant telephonic communications with the police were kept up and promises to let us through were readily broken as they were given. Our hopes revived, however, when the manager of the hotel passed on the report that the frontier was open at Emmerich, so after a hearty supper and a refreshing sleep of eight hours we set out for the Emmerich tram, and, after satisfying the greedy officials that our passes had been vise’d, we journeyed to the banks of the Rhine, while it rained as uncle would say “cats and dogs.” Three minutes thirty three and a third seconds took us over the Rhine, and, on setting our feet on shore, we began to look for a conveyance to take us to Klten. We were interrupted by an officer (he had a dozen men behind him, too), who demanded to know our distination, our nationality, our pedigree, our past history, etc., but we eventually satisfied the police gentlemen in uniform that our passes were in good order, and that we were not spies.


He listened, as politely as he could in that deluge, to our tale, and assured us that we could get into Holland by simply walking to the station and getting into the train. A few urchins were luckily hanging around, and our bags were handed over to them, while we, escorted by two soldiers, marched to the station. We thought the two soldiers were sent with us to prevent our being pestered by naughty boys or thirsty villagers, but it is a moot point whether we were under arrest at that moment or not.


At the railway station the fun began, officers and more officers, passports, and shouts of “make them work,” but like the brave Englishmen were we faced the crowd with our backs to the walls and said “Do your worst.” They were undecided as to what our fate should be, until one officer suggested that we be put under arrest, and kept in the waiting room until instructions were telegraphed for. Wesel was apparently their headquarters, and a wire was despatched there, while we, after a cup of refreshing coffee, were gently but firmly escorted to the waiting room, where a most diligent search for bombs was made. A telegram at last; the soldier must have been illiterate or blinded by duty:- “To the police station,” he said, and we set out with our luggage for the bobbies’ home. We shall never forget that awful tramp. It was raining hard, and we could get no conveyance, nor boys to take our luggage. How we wished we had cut down our luggage; a mile and a half of a walk and our backs broken. We did it of course; we were English. “Haxton” was once more trotted out, and he saved his skin; he was vise’d and passed, and we said good bye to our American friend.


To Wezel on the morning” said the enemy, and visions of the prison cells at Wezel opened before us. The officials debated as to what to do with us overnight, and eventually, as no act of courtesy, or because there was no room in the police station, gave the option of sleeping in the Kaiserhof Hotel, the penalty if we wandered from our rooms to be death, and the bill to be met out of our own pockets. The glad tidings that on Monday morning we were to be released and allowed over the border reached us at night. Our luggage, too, was sent to us, and we all felt like schoolboys on the eve of vacation.


We were just enjoying the cool of our last evening in the Fatherland, when our host broke in upon us with a long face and the long tale that the authorities could not let us go until Tuesday. Stuart’s German was not good enough to ask the why and wherefore of the repeated change of arrangements, and we all felt pretty sick at having to spend another day and night in our rooms, which were becoming rather filthy. So black Monday arrived, and yet it was a weary day. The weather was glorious outside, but our rooms grew stuffy, and we almost lost patience with each other. We fell to discussing what was happening in Old England, but our guesses were wild; we were in a strange land, and the only news which had filtered through to us during the six days was the mobilisation of millions of Germans, atrocities of war in Belgium, the sinking of the Russian fleet.


By evening we were ready to disbelieve anything, and even the bravest of us could hardly muster a smile, when our keeper confirmed our departure at three of the afternoon of the following day. And we were almost down to our last penny. Cheques, bank notes, paper, were no good, and so we determined that if we did not really get away on Tuesday, the people responsible for our continual, and to us unreasonable detention, would have to pay for us. So there! A brave resolution, of course; we were really much more comfortable than we might have been. So Tuesday, the 11th, found us extremely pessimistic and ready to snarl, but we became lambs at the sight of our passports vise’d for departure from Germany, and as the sound of the officer’s voice telling us that the boat would arrive at 3 o’clock and we could go to Rotterdam, we sang “God save the King.” Instead of bringing the boat at three, they brought me news that it had been delayed and was not expected until six o’clock. A polite intimation by our keeper to the effect that it would now be quarter to seven before the boat could actually dock was silently hissed by us. Stuart, feeling secure with his passport in his pocket, thought he would like a toddle down the road. He had not gone far, however, when he was marked out by some of the spy-fever-mad inhabitants, and he was lucky in getting a policeman to escort him back to the hotel. Seven o’clock, eight o’clock, and no boat. “Give me your passports,” was the command from our keeper, and Hanbury looked daggers. I am sure Hanbury would have struck him, had he been a bigger man than the gentleman in blue and gold. We went to bed minus our passports, but with the report, which we instantly discredited that a passenger boat full of English people had arrived, and would leave at 4:45 next morning, and we, if we wished, could go on board. Having regained our passports, we saluted our chief of police on the pier and thanked him for his courtesy. We walked on board with our heads high up in the air, and the feeling as if we were wrapped up in Union Jacks. In a few hours we should reach Rotterdam, and then heigh ho! for Merrie England!


On his return, Courtney toured the recruitment meetings around the area, retelling his compelling story.

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