zondag 12 oktober 2014

Charles Hennebois -- 13 oktober 1914

• Charles Hennebois was een Franse soldaat die in 1914 in Duitsland ernstig gewond raakte en in gevangenschap verpleegd werd. Zijn dagboek van die periode is gepubliceerd als In German hands. The diary of a severely wounded prisoner.

October 13. About jive o'clock. I was lying at this moment on the edge of the field of lucerne, somewhat hidden by the tall grass, and in the pale morning light, through the mists that were rising from the ground, I saw three German patrols moving over the ground.

Some of the wounded called out to them, begging for water. The Germans finished them off with the butt-ends of their rifles or their bayonets, and then robbed them. I saw this done a few yards from where I was. A group of seven or eight men were lying there, struck down by cross-fire from the machine- guns. Some of them were still alive, and spoke imploringly to the Germans. They were butchered as I say, robbed, and thrown in a heap.

I gathered from the cries that reached me from other parts of the field, from the laughter, followed by dull blows, and the subsequent silence, that other hapless creatures were sharing the same fate. I will not describe the anguish I endured. I thought my last hour was at hand, and if I lifted up my soul to God, it was less to ask Him to save me for I had so little hope for myself at that moment than to implore Him to soften and heal the grief of those dear to me. I prepared for death. Footsteps approached above me on the left. A minute before I had determined to die bravely, denouncing those who were outraging humanity by such deeds as cowards and murderers. Something stronger than myself made me close my eyes. I stiffened my body and lay motionless. The Germans thought I was dead. One of them turned me over with a violent kick, and greedy, brutal hands began to strip me of my possessions. I felt them taking the watch I was wearing on my wrist in a leather bracelet, my modest purse, containing a little gold, and a knife with several blades which I had bought at Toulouse the day before I left. My pocket-book, my pencil, and a notebook, which I had slipped between my shirt and my skin, escaped their search, and also my tobacco-pouch, my cigarette-papers, and my matches, which I had put into my right-hand pocket under my handkerchief.

The footsteps died away ; but I remained perfectly still. I gave myself up for lost. After this patrol another would pass. I thanked God for His intervention, and I awaited death, almost desiring to hasten the end of my tortures.

More than an hour passed in this manner. I had at last ventured to turn over by dint of agonized efforts and had got into a somewhat less painful position, when fresh footsteps drew near. I had neither the time nor the inclination to feign a second time, for bayonets were already at my breast. A last instinctive impulse, an effort of thought, nevertheless brought the words that were to save me to my lips. I know a little German, of the kind one learns at school. But I managed to elaborate the following sentence :

" Why," I asked, " do you want to kill me ? Is it thus you respect the lives of your fellow- creatures ? Can a disarmed man be an enemy ? "

I spare the reader the faults of syntax which no doubt graced it ; however, it was effectual. The two weapons were withdrawn at an authoritative gesture. " Germany is merciful. She does not kill the wounded," said a man, who, as I afterwards learned, was a Bavarian student.

Alas ! I knew the exact opposite ! I had seen it with my own eyes. But I refrained from saying so. It was hardly the moment for protest.

A fusillade began, distant and intermittent. The soldiers left me, but not till my protector had assured me that I need fear nothing. He was on duty in that sector, and would keep an eye on me till the stretcher-bearers could come and fetch me.

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