POW Sidney Perry recounts his nightmare

Pte Sidney Charles Perry, 27909, 1st Northants Regiment, had been captured as a prisoner of war at Nieuport in Flanders, but on December 19th was able to travel via Switzerland to get back home at 15a St Saviour's Crescent, Luton, on January 5th, 1919.

In the Tuesday Telegraph of January 14th, he told of some of the experiences he had undergone as a prisoner of the Germans, recalling that for eight weeks things had been very bad.

Describing his capture, he said; “The day on which I was taken seems absolutely like a nightmare to me now. We were cut off from everywhere. No reinforcements could reach us, and both naval and land batteries were trained on us for hours. You don't know how you live through these things, but you manage somehow.”

He and his comrades were interned at a prison barracks at Termonde in Belgium and were given only one meal every 24 hours. In the first eight weeks Pte Perry lost four stones in weight. They were then sent on to Dulmen in Germany, where the spent ten days and were vaccinated five times, and the on to Lechfeld - “a dirty, rotten place” - in Bavaria.

At Lechfeld the prisoners were employed on a dairy farm, but although the food was better than they had had previously, there was not much of it, as the people were absolutely starving. The work was not arduous but lasted from 5am until eight at night.

That was in the ordinary course of events, but in the haymaking season they were actually employed from three in the morning until nine at night. And this for the equivalent of 1s 3d a week. They had no shoes and were practically destitute of clothing and, said Pte Perry, had it not been for the parcels which reached them from England they would have starved. “It is thanks only to the parcels that I am alive to tell the tale,” he declared.

Describing the severe winters experienced in Bavaria, Pte Perry said that at that season the ground was continually covered with snow, generally two feet deep, and all traffic was done by means of sledges. Often a fall of snow would last three days continuously, and the ground would not be uncovered from October to the following April.

On Christmas Day 1917, in the depth of a terrible winter, Pte Perry tramped barefoot for two miles to obtain a pair of boots – the first since he had been captured.

Even in this weather they were allowed only 4lb of black bread every 14 days and nothing else but a little milk and “one pound of butter or cheese per head per month if you were lucky, and for the latter the price was half-a-crown”.

The treatment from the German guards was, as was usually the case, brutal. On one occasion they were scrambling about for some cigarettes which had been thrown to them by some Belgian women, when a body of Uhlans set upon them. One of these struck him violently in the face with the butt of a rifle, knocking out several teeth, and the others, on horseback, charged down on the Belgian women and children, and trampled them under the horses' hooves.

“He is a fine specimen of soldier is the Uhlan,” Pte Perry remarked, “but he is the dirtiest creature in creation.”

The following incident illustrated the contemptible way in which the Germans organised their evil propaganda. A body of British prisoners were assembled and marched through a town, cinematograph operators taking pictures all the time. When the column had reached the open country they were marched back to the town by another road and went right through its streets again.

This process was repeated several times, and when they had finished the cinematograph operators packed up their apparatus. Some time later a film was shown throughout Germany showing the “thousands of British prisoners” which the Huns had captured.

 

Sidney Charles Perry was born in Luton on October 30th, 1882, a son of Christopher and Martha Perry. He married Sarah Hannah Butterfield at St John's Church, Markyate, on Christmas Eve 1904, and the couple had two sons – Reginald Charles (born 1906) and Victor Ernest (1909). In the 1911 Census he was described as a straw hat warehouseman. He died at his then home in Russell Street, Luton, in December 1953 at the age of 71.