Great Escapes

The articles linked here concern many daring and dashing, and in some cases traumatic, escapes from continental Europe at the outbreak of World war 1.Hamburg in the 1900s

Escape on the last train from Hamburg

Event Start and End Date: 

31st July 1914 to 1st August 1914

Mr W.T. Lye, J.P., of Leagrave Hall and of the well-known Luton firm of bleachers and dyers, is to be congratulated on the fact that he and Mrs Lye, with their son and daughter, Mr Ernest B. Lye and Miss Lye, and an Irish lady friend, have been able to return to England from Germany.Princess Vicotira Louise Ship

They had a very narrow escape of being stranded in what is now an enemy's country. They got away by the last train which was allowed out of Hamburg, and reached Leagrave on Sunday morning.

The party had spent a very pleasant holiday cruising around the coast of Norway and beyond in the Victoria Luise, a German vessel which is the largest liner that is used for cruising.

Of the 526 passengers, about 450 were Germans and the remainder all Americans, with the exception of Mr Lye's party, who were the only English people, beyond an English tutor to a Russian family. There were to have been more English people on the second cruise.

Mr Lye's party left Leith, in Scotland, on July 7th (The Luton News then carried a lengthy report of the places they visited along the Norwegian coast).

"At Gudvangen, which is a town in one of the largest fiords, we heard that the German Emperor had left that morning on receipt of serious news. It was the first indication we had of the strained relations between the European Powers.

"Coming south, after visiting most of the fiords, we were continually receiving wireless messages. The German Ambassador to Roumania was on board, and that, of course, led to more messages than would otherwise be the case. He expected he would have to leave us at Bergen, but his Government informed him that he could wait and land at Hamburg.

"We arrived at that port last Thursday in a thunderstorm - an incident that seemed ominous to us. We found the town in a very excited state. It was exceedingly difficult to get a cab to the hotel.

"We were assured on our arrival that everything was in order for us to go to Southampton on the Imperator next day, so we felt somewhat at rest.

"At breakfast on Friday morning the news was sent to us by the company that it was not certain we should sail on the Imperator, but that we could wait without disquietude, and they would let us know definitely at four o'clock. At that time we learnt that martial law had been proclaimed, and the definite news we received was that the Government had stopped all steamers.

"Unfortunately, all out luggage was at Cuxhaven, 20 miles away. We made anxious enquiries about the possibilities of getting back to England some way or other and found that the only method would be to leave by the 11.30 express on Friday night - the last to take passengers out of Hamburg for Flushing,

"We had no luggage and we had to buy fresh tickets, the others being useless, but we were glad to get away under any circumstances. The train left three-quarters of an hour late in tremendous confusion, few people knowing where they were going and not caring greatly so long as they got away. The place was crammed, and it was only after a lot of struggling that we got into a carriage.

"The moment we started we were under military observation. Soldiers were on the platform of every station we passed through. Every bridge was guarded and mined. The big frontier viaduct across the Wesser was also mined, and soldiers were ready with electric fuses. It indicated to us just how quickly Germany had mobilised.

"The express was stopped at least six times for purpose of control by military, and at one place we were kept waiting an hour. They did not examine us individually.

"In Holland the railway was well guarded by Dutch soldiers. The express arrived at Flushing about four hours late. We then went aboard and ploughed through a calm sea, arriving at Queenborough on Saturday evening at 7.40, only about a quarter of an hour behind time.

"While on the boat we sent a wireless message to Leagrave, so that enabled everything to be ready for what would otherwise have been our unexpected return. We left St Pancras soon after 11pm.

"We were indeed fortunate in getting through, for some people had most unpleasant experiences."

Mr Lye and his party arrived in England with very little money and only the clothes which they wore. Mr Lye did not seem hopeful of recovering his luggage, but was very thankful to have got back.

As to the effect of the European war on local business, he said: "I think it will be very adversely affected until something very decisive has occurred. Fortunately for Luton the period at which this calamity has come is in the slack season."

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Thursday, August 6, 1914

Escape to Luton from occupied Brussels

Event Start and End Date: 

31st August 1914 to 5th September 1914

Mr Frederick Holland, a young nephew of Mrs Arthur Dimmock, has just arrived in Luton after an exciting escape from Brussels, where he was present during the German entry into the city. And his story, as told to one of our representatives yesterday, in some respects fully bears out the terrible details of sufferings caused to the people in Belgium by the German invasion.

Mr Holland is the only member of the family to get back to England. His father, who went to Brussels about nine years ago, is well known in Luton, where he was formerly engaged in the straw trade. He went to Belgium with his family to engage in the hat manufacturing business there, and is still there with two other sons and a daughter.

Mr Frederick Holland left Watermael-Boitsfort, a suburb of Brussels, on Monday of last week, the English Consul advising him that this was the last possible opportunity for English people to get home. The Germans had then been in possession of the city for about three weeks.

His home on the outskirts of the city was also on the main road by which the invaders entered, and the troops were passing by on their way into the capital for nine days. They had been marching 50 kilometres a day, and some were so tired that they simply dropped down in the street and went to sleep. People were frightened, and all along the route gave them all the food and refreshments they asked for.

One morning a German officer stopped Mr Holland and, pointing to a little flag he was wearing in his buttonhole, asked him whether he was English. This being admitted, the flag was torn from his coat and he was told that he could be arrested as a prisoner of war. The threat was not carried into effect, however, but Mr Holland had to help him find a place where some food was obtainable, and only escaped having him as a sleeping visitor on the ground that the house was too far away.

While at a cafe one day a German soldier bragged that by the New Year he would be having breakfast in Paris, dinner in Petrograd and supper in London. The walls bore placards stating that the British cavalry had been cut to pieces, that the French had been routed, and that the Russians had gone back to Petrograd (St Petersburg).

Commenting on some of the German atrocities, Mr Holland mentioned that one his chums who cycled from Boitsfort to Groenendael with a letter was shot and killed on the return journey, although he was a non-combatant. He also saw a young girl at a cafe who had lost one of her hands. She had been called to serve some Germans, and as she did so her hand was struck off with a sword. The murder of some priests was also referred to, and Mr Holland mentioned that at the sack of Louvain the flames could be seen from his home at Boitsfort.

German officers were said to go into shops in Brussels to get food, and instead of paying, to tender slips of paper stating that King Albert would pay after the war. Four German soldiers threw themselves into a canal and committed suicide in Brussels, leaving a note that they did so because they would not go on doing the kind of things they had been ordered to do, while another put his foot under the wheel of a heavy waggon so that he might be incapacitated and sent to hospital. Many said they could not go back to face their wives and children after what they had been doing.

Mr Holland left Brussels with three friends of Monday of last week. His father is lame and could not take a hurried journey, while a brother had a Belgian wife, and they could not escape.

As train communication had been cut, the four young men had to go by steam tram to Ninove. There the other three were stopped by German soldiers, but Mr Holland, who was having a lift in a baker's cart, was not questioned. Getting to Dendermonde by road, it was found possible to travel to Ghent by train. There Mr Holland and other refugees found an empty house in which they spent the night.

The next day they got to Ostend, and there they had to stay two days until they could get a boat for Folkestone. At Ostend they saw the British Marines and made their temporary home in one of the bathing machines on the beach.

The boat from Ostend coasted to Calais and then crossed to Folkestone, which Mr Holland reached on Saturday, having been six days on a journey which, in the normal way, would not occupy more than nine hours.

No news has since been received from other members of the family, who are under the protection of the American Consul, and news is now hardly expected until the war takes some decided turn.

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Thursday, September 10, 1914

Fight for the Ostend boats

Event Start and End Date: 

1st August 1914 to 4th August 1914

Mr William Weatherhead, an engineer of Dumfries Street, who, with Messrs R. Starke, W. Boyson and W. Breed, went to Ostend on Saturday, had an exciting experience. Rumours were current on Sunday that all English visitors would have to return on the Monday. Visitors arrived from all parts of the country and Switzerland to depart from Ostend for home on Monday.

On the quay, said Mr Weatherhead in the course of a chat with a (Luton) News representative, people were met who had been turned out of the hotels at Bruges at 2.30 in the morning. Two gentlemen from this place appeared in pyjamas and overcoats, whilst numerous other visitors were encountered who had left all their baggage at hotels.

"People literally fought for the boats, and many hundreds were left behind. Ladies' dresses and hats were torn and crushed in the rush for places. Many of the visitors came out on Steam Navigation Company's tickets, and as all the boats were withdrawn, they had to buy tickets from the Belgian State Railway Companies to travel on their boats. The offices were besieged on Monday and Tuesday.

Mr Weatherhead and his companions failed to get a boat on Monday, and in order to be certain of a boat on the Tuesday they arrived on the quay early in the morning. Mr Weatherhead had assured a lady visitor at the hotel that he would do his best to get her on the boat, and although the party fought hard from the first they were unsuccessful in getting on board.

With a hard fight they succeeded in catching the next, which left at 10.30. Although this boat was supposed to carry only 800 passengers, Mr Weatherhead was told that there were something like 1,200 on board. Even before the boat left the harbour all food, minerals and other beverages had been consumed, and not even water could be obtained. Many of the passengers had spent the night on the quay in order to catch the boat.

Everywhere mobilisation scenes were witnessed. The hotel keepers were in a panic because all their visitors had left and their staffs departed for active service. All visitors were informed that they would have to leave the country by the Prefect of Police through the English Consul.

Money could not be changed without the greatest difficulty, and only 20 francs instead of 25 could be obtained for an English sovereign. Paper money was absolutely useless.

When the boat arrived at Dover it was signalled not to land its passengers. It then proceeded to Folkestone and, after three-quarters of an hour, the passengers were able to land. Mr Weatherhead and his companions arrived in Luton late on Tuesday night.

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Thursday, August 6, 1914

Nurse's hazardous escape from Serbia


Among the countless stories of Bedfordshire heroism associated with the war, one that should thrill with pride the heart of every man, woman and child is that of the Luton nurse who has returned home after being compelled to face the trying ordeals of retreat across the mountains from her nobly borne work among the distressed and needy population of Serbia.

It is a thrilling story, and one worthy to be associated with the name of that immortal Bedfordshire worthy, John Bunyan, from whom the family of Miss Bessie Bunyan claims to be descended.

Miss Bunyan was born at Shefford, and her aged father has now lived for some four years in Wellington Street, Luton, while her sister, Mrs W. J. Fountain, is the wife of the licensee of the Wellington Arms, at the corner of Wellington and Stuart streets.

Trained as a nurse in the Uttoxeter Infirmary at Derby, she emigrated to Canada at the expiration of 12 months. She spent three years there, returning home a little more than a month before the terrible gas explosion which occurred at the home of her parents in Wellington Street three Christmas Eves ago. Her mother never really recovered from the shock of that explosion, and Miss Bunyan stayed at home to nurse her until her death on December 27th, 1914 - a year and two days after the explosion. After that she offered herself to the nursing service in connection with the war.

It seemed to Miss Bunyan at that time that there was an abundance of workers available for France, and on reading of the plight of the Serbians she came to the conclusion that this was a field of service in which she could be of most use, especially in view of the fact that during her stay in Canada she had spent about a year up country, and was therefore thoroughly accustomed to "roughing it".

Accordingly she sent up her name to the Serbian Relief Fund, and was referred to Miss Christitch, a Serbian lady resident in London whose father is a colonel in the Serbian Army and whose grandfather is the Prime Minister of Serbia. Miss Christitch's visit to Valjevo and consequent acquaintance with the terrible hardships of the population there had cause her to set up a Valjevo Relief Fund.

Nurse Bunyan before going to SerbiaNo one had been sent out to Valjevo on relief work until Miss Christitch took out a party last May, and three weeks later Miss Bunyan followed with six other trained nurses. Arriving at Valjevo on June 26th, Miss Bunyan became somewhat ill as the result of inoculation against cholera and did not proceed to the hospital work, but was retained at the Christitch depot until eh had fully recovered. The work there grew to such an extent that it became her permanent function until the evacuation of the town. This work was of a very varied character - cleansing and fitting out homeless and starving children, distributing clothing to refugees, the visitation of the houses of the people and the fitting up of the hospitals with clean necessities, and the distribution of comforts among the wounded and sick Serbian soldiers.

It was on October 10th that the party first heard rumours that they might have to leave Valjevo, and ten days later came definite orders that they were to clear out within 24 hours. Night and day they worked at the highest pitch to get packed up a few of the stores they had left, as tat that time they were in hopes of being able to set up a hospital lower down the country.

They were able to delay their departure until the last. A cattle truck was requisitioned for the party and their baggage and they steamed out of the place at midnight on Tuesday, 19th. It was the last Serbian train to leave Valjevo, for as it passed out of the station the railway lines behind were blown up, and for some distance the passengers as they travelled down could hear the sound of explosions in the direction they had left behind.

For 15 days after this Sister Bunyan and her companions were living in the cattle truck. When they left Valjevo they were expecting to settle at another place called Meladnovats, but when they arrived there at 10 o'clock the next morning they heard for the first time the distant boom of the guns, and were informed the town was to be evacuated almost immediately.

And so they went from place to place, always to hear the same story - that the town was expected to be shortly evacuated, and therefore they could not be permitted to stay. At one place they were allowed to stay for one whole day, and were given a building for the purpose of setting up a hospital, but the very next day they were told they could not have it and must move on.

All this time they were within the sound of gunfire, and were subject to air raids. At one of their halting places a bomb was dropped on the station while Sister Bunyan and some of her companions had gone for a walk, and it exploded only some 50 yards from where Miss Christitch was standing. The bomb killed a soldier and a civilian.

This state of affairs continued until November 3rd. At this time the party were making Craljevo [Kraljevo] their objective, but word was received that the train service was being stopped, as the fall of that place was thought to be imminent. Miss Christitch accordingly bade the members of the party to partake of as good a meal as they could off their not particularly luxuriant fare of bully beef and hot drinks, and then called them together and told them she was sorry that they would have to part.

Miss Christitch announced that she intended to stay on with a Norwegian nurse who, being a neutral, was safe from the enemy. Miss Bunyan and the other remaining members of the party were directed to pack up all their necessities and make their way to Alexandovats in two bullock wagons which had been secured for their use.

The arrangement made was that they were to stay at this place three days and, if Miss Christitch and her party did not arrive in that time they were to press on and try to make their way to Monastir, and join up under the care of Sir Ralph Paget. Miss Bunyan's party got to Alexandovats safely enough, but their three days' wait was in vain for, as is now well known, Miss Christitch and her mother fell into the hands of the enemy, and as news came along that the enemy were pressing they had to get on as quickly as ever they could.

There were four of them with an orderly, and at last they came up with Sir Ralph Paget, but they were three hours too late to join up with one party and, as the town was to be evacuated, they were advised to join up with the Stobart unit, who were then making their departure.

It was then that the weather broke, and in one day they had all kinds of weather - sunshine to start with, then wind and rain, and in turn hail, snow and ice. The blizzard itself was something terrible, and the experience was made all the more trying because of the distant boom of the guns and a warning that the Bulgars were pressing one way and the Germans and Austrians the other.

It was not expected they would get through the lines, and that night they rested for only three hours. Just before 11 o'clock terrific firing was experienced. The Bulgars had apparently seen the camp fire of the nursing sisters and taken it to be a Serbian soldiers' camp. The guns appeared to be no more than three-quarters of a mile distant, but they did not hit the little party. Coupling up their oxen, the little band set off in haste and continued their journey all through that night and the whole of the next day before they dare think of another rest.

Anyhow they got safely through to Ipex, and then came to the mountainous country with all its perils and rigours. The bullock wagons had to be left behind, and the party, now numbering eight, had to resume their retreat on foot with three pack-horses to carry their necessities, everything by eatables and blankets being left behind.

For the first three days the journey was accomplished amid snow and ice, and Miss Bunyan thinks the party must have perished with cold the first night but for the fact that some Serbian soldiers gave up to them a hut in which they were resting. During those first three days they were travelling in company with the Serbian Army, and Miss Bunyan says it was a wonderful sight to see the soldiers hauling the huge guns over the mountains.

Another sight which she is not anxious to keep in her memory was that of the poor men who had dropped out of the ranks. Harder still than the sight of men who were dead - and there were heaps of them - was the spectacle of those who were living and yet had to be left.

Food for four days had been taken by the party when they set out on their journey across the mountains, but it was not until midnight on the seventh day that they reached a place where they could get in fresh supplies, so it can be imagined how sparing they had to be with rations.

Next day they got a barge and crossed the lake to Scutari. This took another whole day, and leaving Scutari the following morning the party had another two days' walking to a coast town from which it was hoped to catch a boat of some description. When they arrived there they learned that during the week nine vessels had been sunk in the harbour by Austrian torpedoes or aeroplanes, but the Americans were going to bring a boat to fetch all the nursing sisters, and the Austrians had promised not to touch it.

For four days they waited for this boat, and during that time they were practically starving for lack of sufficient to eat. A slice of bread an a cup of tea was their day's ration during the journey over the mountains, and this was all they were having during their period of waiting until some of the sailors succeeded in getting out some rice from one of the sunken vessels in the harbour. It was soaked with sea water and was very salty, even after it had been boiled, but Miss Bunyan says that when she had a cup full of it she thought she had never tasted anything so beautiful.

Nurse Bunyan back from SerbiaThen, on the fifth day, an Italian vessel came in, and so anxious were the nurses to get away that Sir Ralph Paget asked the captain if he could take them. The reply of the captain was that he was willing to take the party, but they were to fully understand that they must take the risk of the consequences. It is a tribute to the courage of our British womanhood that without a moment's hesitation the whole part elected to take the risks in preference to waiting on for the safe American boat.

Crossing over during the night, they reached Brindisi on December 18th, only too thankful to feel that at last they were out of reach of the guns, bombs and torpedoes. On their arrival at Brindisi a meal was prepared for them, and Miss Bunyan says she does not know what the people there must have thought of them.

"We had not seen a clean cloth or anything decent for so long that I just sat and looked at the cloth. I could not even eat, so delighted was I to see a clean cloth and clean things," said Miss Bunyan.

Everyone was most kind to the refugees in Italy. They started off from Brindisi by train at five o'clock, and travelled all that day, having coffee and rolls brought at one station, and luch, which had been ordered in advance, later on in the journey.

Dinner had been prepared for them when they reached Milan late at night, but there was only ten minutes in which to eat it, and the ordinary customer gave up their seats, and every waiter - and the proprietor as well - devoted their whole energies to the serving of the lightning meal. Miss Bunyan says she never ate anything so quick in her life, for they got through nearly all the course, and the dessert was thrown on the train after them.

"Someone," says Miss Bunyan, "has asked if I didn't enjoy the Italian scenery. My answer was that I am afraid I can remember Italy for nothing else but the feeds I had."

After their short but exciting stay at Milan they party resumed their train journey, travelling night and day without a stop until they reached Paris on the morning of the 21st. At five o'clock they left for Havre and went on board a ship at midnight. When they got on board all the berths had been taken, but as soon as the officers and men were made aware who the party of ladies were they at once turned their berths over to them and slept on deck.

Immediately on arrival in England Miss Bunyan wired to her people the first news they had had as to her escape from Serbia, and her safe return. By about four o'clock on the 22nd [December] she was home again in Luton.

"We must have looked a queer collection of freaks," Miss Bunyan told a Luton Reporter representative. "Most of us were wearing jack-boots and short dresses. Some had hats and some had not, but had to be content with little scarves for headgear. We hadn't got anything to change into or any money to buy anything, and we were such a disreputable looking lot that when we went into a store in Paris we were followed! I think people really wondered who we could be because all of us were awfully thin and what clothes we had were nearly dropping off, but we didn't mind that a bit as long as we were on the way home."

Miss Bunyan herself arrived home with nothing but what she stood up in, her blankets and an Austrian haversack, the gift of an enemy soldier. One night in the course of their retreat across the mountains they party could not get to the village they had tried to reach as the horses would not go any further, and so they camped for the night by the side of a mountain.

Attracted by a camp fire they made their way to it, and found two Austrian prisoners. One of them was writhing in agony, and Sister Bunyan gave him some of the little medicine she had left in her possession. Next morning the Austrian showed his appreciation of this little kindness by giving the nurse all he had - his Austrian haversack - and firmly declined to take any payment for it, but Miss Bunyan induced him to accept in return the remains of her tin of milk.

"The Austrian prisoners were just as anxious to get away from the advancing enemy as we were, "said Miss Bunyan. "They didn't want to fight. On the mountains there were no guards, and they could have gone which ever way they chose, but they all made for the coast."

Another experience is related by Miss Bunyan under the description of "a great sport". One day the party were just about feeling they could not tramp any further when they were overtaken by a mounted guard preceding an empty carriage and pair. This was too good to be true. Instantly they sprang into the carriage and declared that it should not go on without them. The driver was furious, but seeing that the party were nursing sisters, suggested to them that they should wait while he went and spoke to one of the officers.

The officer readily acceded to the request for a lift, and at the end of about a seven-mile journey Miss Bunyan and her companions found they had had the privilege of riding in the carriage of the Prime Minister of Montenegro.

Since her return home Miss Bunyan says she has felt no ill effects as a result of her terrible experiences. Until they got clear of Serbia they were often well-nigh starving, and this made them awfully thin, but as soon as they began to feed they quickly picked up again.

Since she got back to Luton, Sister Bunyan has been in constant touch with the committee of the fund under whose auspices she served, and she is set upon returning to work in Serbia. "I would go back next week if they would send me," she said.

[The Luton Reporter: Monday, January 10th, 1916]


Scramble to leave Paris

Event Start and End Date: 

31st July 1914 to 2nd August 1914

Mr H. W. Kingston, a director of Messrs Carruthers Bros, manufacturers of Luton, had an unenviable time in getting back from Paris. He was on a continental business journey, and his first call was Paris.

"The city was very excited on Friday night, the night that M Jaures [Jean Jaures, French Socialist leader] was assassinated," he said, "and the boulevards around the offices of Le Matin were absolutely cleared by the authorities.

"I was staying at a German hotel, and when I got down on Saturday morning to breakfast, I found that nearly all the waiters, who were Germans, had fled in the night.

"My next move on my business journey was to go to Germany and, thinking that the trouble might blow over, I went to the station - the Gare du Nord - to make inquiries at the information office. They could tell me nothing beyond advising me to get away by the first train to either of the ports for England. So I rushed back to the hotel, packed my bag and returned to the station.

"There was only one ticket office for three countries - England, Holland and Switzerland - and there were quite 500 people waiting in a queue for tickets. Of course, it was impossible for them to get their tickets in time to catch the train.

"Seeing this, I took a local ticket and that enabled me to get through the barrier. The only drawback was that I had to leave my heavy luggage behind, as I had no ticket with which to register it for England, but other people who managed to get through tickets were apparently in the same plight, for there were enormous piles of luggage left behind. I left mine behind in the care of a man. Some day I may see it again, perhaps.

"Because of the crush, I had taken a first class ticket and was pushed into a train that was supposed to leave for Calais. It was crowded with people of all nationalities. There were a lot of Russians on board, and about a dozen blacks were standing up in the corridor with us.

"After we got in, the officials came along the platform and said that there would be another train put on to relieve this one, so we (Mr Kingston was accompanied by Mr W. Morgan, of the same firm) alighted and went to that.

"The journey was an exceedingly tedious business. Instead of getting to Boulogne in three hours it took seven. We stopped at every station. Military orders were being handed out and we kept picking up soldiers. A lot of the military got out at Amiens. The scenes between the wives and children and the soldiers as they left were most affecting.

"It was impossible to get any food on the journey because the stops at the station were brief. The result was that I had no food after breakfast until I got to Boulogne.

"There was a great scramble to get on the boat, and it brought across 1,200 people on that trip, and had to return again to fetch 500 who were left behind. We could not get to London in time for the last train to Luton, so we had to stay in London until Sunday."

Speaking of the relations between nationalities, Mr Kingston said that the French were exceedingly cordial towards the English, but he could say very little as regarded the Germans, for they nearly all went in the night. Some of the hotels and business houses were so depleted of their staffs by the recall of Germans that they had to close.

As far as his firm's continental business was concerned, it was absolutely at a standstill, as no correspondence could be got through.


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Thursday, August 6, 1914

Swiss roles in a journey to safety

Event Start and End Date: 

31st July 1914 to 8th August 1914

An entry into Switzerland riding on the step of a railway goods waggon is one of the Rev H. C. Mander's reminiscences of this summer's holidays. Mr Mander, who is a brother of Mr E. A. Mander, the Luton borough accountant, and also one of the Nonconformist ministers at Swansea, reached Luton with Mrs Mander, Mrs Hunt and Mr Clifford Hunt a few days ago, after a somewhat exciting and trying continental trip.

They were members of a party of 90 who left this country on July 31st under the auspices of the British and Continental Touring Club, and were one of the last two large parties to get through to Switzerland. While on the outward journey they had not proceeded far through France before the saw signs of great military activity. At Belfort they were turned out of the train and were informed that the Germans had cut the lines beyond Petit-Croix, but that a Swiss train would be made up the other side.

When they reached Delle they had to get out again, and the whole train was requisitioned by the military authorities. There was some Swiss rolling stock at Delle, and a small train was made up of one ordinary passenger coach and several goods waggons. The ladies had the use of the passenger coach, other passengers filled the waggons, and Mr Mander made a somewhat undignified but novel journey to his destination on the step of one of the waggons.

The party started the return journey on Wednesday. All had been provided with passports, but they had to stay at Berne for the night in order that their papers might be visé by the French Ambassador.

They learned on Thursday morning that the only possible route by which they could return to England was via Pontarlier, which was also the route nearest to the scene of active fighting. Although they had many difficulties to face, however, they experienced no danger, but they learned later that three spies had been removed from their train and one shot.

Thursday night was spent at Neuchatel and at 6 am on Friday they set out in the hope of reaching Pontarlier, but only to be hung up again at Verrieres. Here the assistance of a voluntary conductor began to prove very useful. At Neuchatel Mr Mander had got into conversation with a Roman Catholic priest who had been a professor at Paris University. He volunteered to help them get to Paris, and with his knowledge of general affairs and of the intricacies of martial law he was later of utmost assistance to the party, of whom he took complete charge from Verrieres. As they could not get away from this place until the evening, they spent the day in the hills, and their food supply came in very useful. The station master and everybody showed the greatest consideration, and villagers gave them milk and tea, refusing to take any payment.

It was necessary to get a safe conduct from the Mayor of Pontarlier to the Prefect of Police in Paris, and when the necessary formalities had been arranged by the priest-guide, the party went on to Dole. There they were again turned out of the train, and out of the station as well, for only the military were allowed to remain on the station, which was strongly guarded. When the Dijon train arrived things were so arranged by the guide that that the party were enabled to step in by an unofficial entrance and so were certain of getting accommodation.

At Dijon they had their worst experience. Part of the large waiting room had been converted into a temporary hospital for the reception of the wounded and the small part that was still left for the use of the public was crammed up with people of all nationalities. There they had to remain for the considerable time which elapsed before the Paris train was in the station.

At Paris the party were met by the British Relief Committee, which is splendidly organised, and were taken to the Gare du Nord, where food was supplied to many of them. Up to that point they had managed to travel in second class carriages, but on the journey from Paris to Boulogne, which took another six and a half hours, they were pretty well packed in third class compartments.

As they arrived at Boulogne they saw a big encampment on the hills, and as the familiar khaki was strongly in evidence they could see it was part of the British Expeditionary Force.

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Source Date: 

Thursday, September 3, 1914

Voyage into total darkness at a high rate of knots

Event Start and End Date: 

2nd August 1914 to 20th August 1914

Mr F. R. Cook, of 74 Ashburnham Road, Luton, has just arrived home after a most exciting voyage from Malta. Mr Cook, who is well known in Luton and St Albans, left for a business trip in the Mediterranean, and three weeks ago got back to Malta after visiting Egypt, Cyprus and various places in the Levant. When war was declared he was just about to return to England.

War was declared in England last on the Tuesday night, but for days before that it was evident at Malta that preparations were being made for hostilities, although it was not know what was to be expected. The harbour at Malta was closed with a boom, and the naval vessels were clearly preparing for active service. It was only thought, however, that they were taking precautionary measures, until it was known that the trouble was not be to confined to Servia (Serbia).

On the Sunday night before war was declared the boom was opened, the battleships went out into open water, and in a twinkling all lights were out, and they steamed away to some unknown destination.

On the Wednesday morning, when it was officially announced that war had been declared with Germany, there was tremendous excitement in the island. The fact was announced on great posters on the walls, and after the Governor of the Island had reviewed the troops he was met by massed bands which played "God Save the King" and "Marseillaise" and the Russian national anthem, amid a remarkable outburst of public feeling.

This was renewed within an hour or two when a German prize was brought in. The Goeben and Breslau had previously been seen and it was assumed that, although the British battleships left before war was declared, they were watching the German boats. Afterwards the situation became very tense, for all sorts of wild rumours were flying about and there was the possibility that Italy, which was not very far distant from Malta, might take a hand in the proceedings, and not in favour of England. When it became known that Italy was to remain neutral, the situation was very much relieved. The gravity of the international situation could not be lost sight of, however, and it was sternly impressed upon people when a German spy who was found tampering with the wireless station was shot.

The boat on which Mr Cook was to sail from Malta arrived a day late, and was then laid up. Eight or nine other boats were dealt with in the same way, and a P&O boat, on which Mr Cook afterwards booked a passage, was requisitioned by the authorities for use as a hospital ship. The passengers who were travelling by it were turned out and the cargo landed.

Hopes of getting away dwindled rapidly, but revived when it was stated that another P&O boat, the Persian, which was booked to travel direct from Port Said to Marseilles, would be stopped if possible. This boat did eventually arrived at Malta, and then Mr Cook was advised that he could get on board at once, though it could not be guaranteed the vessel would go any farther. With others anxious to get home, Mr Cook boarded the vessel, and then had a long wait, no-one being able to say what would happen. When the boom is in use at the harbour, vessels may only leave in daylight, and they waited all through the afternoon and evening and watched the sun set. Giving up hope of leaving that night, the passengers went down to dinner but had hardly done so when the boat began to move. Immediately afterwards all lights were extinguished, but they were under the glare of the Malta searchlights for a long time.

Then, travelling in darkness, they hugged the North African coast, and Mr Cook says the boat was pushed along at a speed she probably never attained before, until the engines broke down, causing the vessel to float idly while they were repaired. At Gibraltar they were admitted to a certain part of the harbour but were not allowed to land, nor was the boat allowed to proceed until it was dark.

Then they travelled without lights again, and kept close to the Spanish and Portuguese coast. Off Cape Ushant they experienced very dirty weather and a thick fog which lasted all the way across the Channel. The boat was brought through it at full tilt, all risks being taken, and when the fog lifted a bit one morning the passengers had the surprise of finding they were in the company of two cruisers and a torpedo boat. Plymouth was reached without any further excitement.


(The SS Persia with 500 passengers on board was sunk without warning off Crete by German U-boat U-38 on December 30th, 1915, while on a voyage to India)

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Source Date: 

Thursday, August 20, 1914