POW for four years arrives home

Pte Charles Odell, 6676, 3rd Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment, of 26 Langley Place, Luton, arrived home on leave for two months from Saturday, December 28, 1918, after being a prisoner of war in Germany since November 1914.

He had enlisted in 1910 and was in the Army when war was declared in 1914. He was sent the Front in the November and was captured at Ypres. He was sent to various camps and, like his comrades, went through a series of pitiful experiences in the hands of his captors. He was a victim of a typhus epidemic, his illness being complicated by double pneumonia. “His presence in Luton looking so well is a miracle,” said the Beds & Herts Saturday Telegraph.

Many died at the typhus-hit Wittenberg camp, for the Germans left them to manage as best they cou;ld. The officer with them. “The Germans fed us down a chute and nobody was allowed near us,” said Pte Odell. “I recovered, and six weeks afterwards I was made to work at the mines. The people greeted us by spitting at us and throwing stones.

“We refused to work one Sunday, and we were turned out by bayonets and rifles. I saw one man cut in four places on the head, and I myself was knocked out of a building with a rifle. A Russian's arm was slit right along with a bayonet.”

Asked about parcels from Luton, Pte Odell said he was grateful that they arrived regularly. “We were literally starving at times,” he said. “I have known the time when I have played with my mouthorgan at a Frenchman's concert for a piece of bread. I sold my overcoat and trousers to get bread from the Frenchmen. We were walking about with blankets round us, and we used to make slippers from the blankets.”

He added: “When the revolution occurred in Germany we heard little of it, but when the armistice was signed our captors told us we could go home as soon as was possible. They were then making raids on the food stores, and we were treated better afterwards.

“They tried, however, to compel us to work by keeping us in barracks for a week without fire and light. Later we left for Stettin, and we were the first to arrive in Sweden. There the people were very good to us, and gave us all the food they could spare.”

[Pte Odell was among the returned prisoners of war at a dinner in their honour in Luton in March 1919.]

[Beds & Herts Saturday Telegraph: January 2, 1919]