On 20th March 1917, Captain William MacLeod Campbell of 2nd Suffolk made a daring escape from amoving train as he was being transferred to yet another PoW camp in Germany.
Wounded and taken prisoner at Le Cateau in August 1914, he had been in a series of PoW camps, many of which he had already tried escaping from. In desperation, the Germans transferred him, and several other 'die hard' escapees from their camp at Friedberg, to another camp deeper in germany. Campbell would however not make it.
He recalled; "We got orders to move on 20th March, when Friedberg was abandoned as a camp for British prisoners though we were not told our destination, I had excellent maps to Switzerland and to the Dutch frontier. One had been sent to me at the bottom of a biscuit tin; the other I got from a Frenchman. I got an electric lamp by bribery, and packed enough food for 10 days into a little knapsack. I had a second knapsack with my other things in which I showed when we were searched in a feeble sort of way before leaving the camp. We were being sent in three parties, 80 to one camp, 30 to a second camp, and 7 to a third camp.
The first camp was Clausthal; what the other two were I do not know. The sentry who was in charge of us had been on duty for 26 hours taking Belgians up to Friedberg to take our place. We entrained at 8 o'clock. On entraining, the names of al those who had tried to escape were read out, excepting mine, and these men were put into a compartment by themselves, closely guarded. That included my Friend, but I knew two other officers who would attempt to get away should an opportunity present itself, so I climbed in with them. By 11 o'clock, two of the three guards were asleep. We were in third-class bogey carriages with corridors but without doors. It was a slow train. All lights had been extinguished in the small stations, and in some cases the personnel had been reduced to one on a station, usually a women. We passed several dark stations.
It was the intention of the three of us to get away. In one small station where we stopped we made our mind up to get out. I was rather clumsy getting out, and the train just started as the second man got out. We both tumbled over a rail and lay down until the train pulled out. When it did so we were in a bright white light, but the person in the station did not see us and went off to the signal box. We ran up a bank. I was deficient of my blanket, and Captain Godsal of his waterbottle. Captain Godsal was in full uniform, but he had a dark blanket which he threw over his shoulders, and I was in engineers' overalls, a green coat and mufti cap. We went off through side roads and a couple of villages, and made 10 miles through fairly deep snow. During the day we lay up in a barn, burying ourselves deep in the hay. It was very cold and the water in my water bottle froze.
We managed however to sleep for about five hours, then at dark off we went again, marching by compass bearing. We got into a forest where snow was in deep drifts. I drank some cold water and fainted. Godsal helped me and we got into a barn. My electric lamp gave out and in climbing into this barn, I was very weak and fell about 10 feet onto a chopper. However I managed to get up again and slept all right."
That night they duo would be off again...
Welcome to our online 'blog' charting the history of the many Battalions of the Suffolk Regiment and the part they played in the Great War.
Starting back in March 2014, we have recorded the events of 100 years ago on the centenary of their happening.
Keep checking back to see how the Great War is progressing for the men of the Suffolk Regiment.