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Arthur Leggett

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Biography

Born in 1894 in Craghead, Arthur Leggett was living in Chester le Street and working as a fruiterer, when he joined "B" Company, 8th Battalion DLI before the Great War. On 25 April 1915, less than a week after arriving in Belgium, 8 DLI fought a desperate battle at Boetleer's, Farm, near Ypres. Private Leggett was wounded by shrapnel in the back and shot through the lungs and was taken prisoner. After five months in a hospital, he was sent to a Prisoner of War camp. On 3 April 1916, he escaped with another soldier from an outside working party and, after 8 days and many adventures, reached Holland, from where he was sent home. In 1920, he was awarded the Military Medal for his escape. Arthur Leggett died at Chester-le-Street in 1977.

After his escape and return to England, Arthur Leggett was interviewed on 6 May 1918 for the Committee on the Treatment of British Prisoners of War. About 3,000 of these reports have survived and are now held at The National Archives at Kew.

Report 1804.

Name, Rank, No and Regiment: Leggett, Arthur, Private, 1620, 8th Durham Light Infantry

Home Address: Broadwood Villas, Chester le Street, Durham

Present age. Occupation before War: 24, fruiterer

Place and Date Capture: 25 April 1915, Ypres

Nature of Wound, if any: Shrapnel in the back and shot through the lungs.

I was carried from the field to a dressing station, and then taken away on a stretcher to a field ambulance. At first we were rather neglected but I do not think they could help it as they had such a number of their own wounded, many of whom received no more attention than we did. I do not know where the hospital was, I was too ill really to find out. I was never dressed there, in fact received no attention.

After the third day they examined us, there were about 30, and all but three were sent to Roulers. We three were too ill to be moved. I think they kept us because they thought we should soon die. The other two did. I found that only those with a low temperature were allowed to be moved, so I faked my temperature chart each day and after being there from three weeks to a month eventually they sent me to Roulers.

I should say that the first hospital I was in was just behind the firing line. The food was very rough, just black bread and coffee substitute. I could not eat it.

Roulers, May - June 1915

The hospital at Roulers was very good and I received good medical treatment. I had an operation; they gave me no anaesthetic, but that was because I was too weak to stand it. There were Belgian and German sisters. I got good food, milk and eggs

Bielefeld, Reserve Hospital, June - July 1915

After about 10 days I was taken in a hospital train to Bielefeld in Westphalia and had a good journey. I was put in a reserve hospital for prisoners. I was operated on again here ¿ this time I had an anaesthetic ¿ by a Russian doctor, and there was also a French doctor.

After about a fortnight all but two serious cases, who followed later, were turned out of this hospital to make room for a great number of German wounded.

We were sent to Minden. This was in about July 1915.

Minden Hospital, July - September 1915

At first we were taken to the camp hospital at Minden and then the serious cases, I amongst them, were removed to the town hospital, where we were treated as well as we could expect, not so well as at Bielefeld. They were all men nurses here.

Sennelager, September 1915 - August 1916

In September 1915 I was sent to Sennelager, where I remained until August 1916. All that time there was very little doing; the Germans were not, requiring prisoners and they left us pretty well alone.

Ossendorf, August ¿ 15 November 1916

In August 1916 I was sent to Ossendorf, which is a farm kommando. There were ten English and eight French prisoners, and we slept in the village inn on palliasses in quite a decent room. I was fortunate in the farm I was sent to, did very little work and got good food. Some were not so fortunate.

Sennelager, November 1916

On 15 November 1916 I returned to the camp. The worst workers were sent back. I could have remained at the farm but I wanted to spend the winter in camp.

Staumuhle, November 1916 ¿ 7 January 1917

I was only in Senne a few days when I was sent to Staumuhle, which is a small camp attached to Senne. There were about 2.000 mixed nationalities. You were supposed to go out on working parties from this camp. In the six weeks I was here I never once went, we refused to go, so I was sent to Minden. We got our parcels at Staumuhle; they came from the station at Senne, and were censored in the camp when we received them.

Minden, 7 January - February 1917

It was about 7 January 1917 that I went to Minden, where I stayed for a few weeks, and about the middle of February went to Dankersen.

Dankersen, February ¿ April 1917

We lived in one of the rooms of a public-house. The work we had to do was draining the land. We got very little food from the Germans and very few our parcels arrived, so we refused to work because of the delay in getting them, and there were rows every day.

Minden, April 1917

After about six weeks, I was sent back to Minden for refusing to work.

Rheda, April 1917

After about a week the same party of us who had been at Dankersen were sent to a factory at Rheda, attached to Sennelager, as a punishment. We were told it was a factory for making: window frames and doors. The first morning we were put to work unloading wagons of coal and doing odd jobs in the factory yard. Soon after, one of our chaps went into the factory for something and saw shells. We asked to see the manager and asked him whether the place was a munition factory or a door and window frame factory. He told us the former, so we said then we would not work there and we were marched back to the barracks. I think they were expecting something of the kind. They put us on `stille standen¿ till 10 at night, and they took away our overcoats, gloves and mufflers, and our beds, and they put us in kind of stone staircase to sleep.

Next morning they took us out again and made us stand from 6 till 10 at night, and all the food they gave us was a slice of bread and one ladle of thin soup. We stuck this from the Monday till the Sunday. Our own chaps did not help us. They used to come out and cook their food in the yard we were in and talk about the food, but never give us a bite.

On the Sunday morning we gave in, deciding to begin work the next day and get away as best we could, either by escaping or reporting sick. I reported sick both the next days, intending to escape, and on the third day was sent back as unfit. .

At this time I was getting no parcels. In June of this year, I received parcels which had been sent off the previous December, they had gone from camp to camp.

Of the party who were with me at Rheda, I heard afterwards that several had escaped or were returned as sick. The accommodation at Rheda was very good. If we would only have worked we could have had anything we wished. The factory supply spring beds, blankets and sheets.

Dulmen, April ¿ 20 May 1917

I was three days at Sennelager this time and then about the middle of April 1917 was sent to Dulmen, where I stayed about a month. Nothing particular happened.

Mulheim, 20 ¿ 22 May 1917

On 20 May 1917 I was sent to Mulheim, attached to Friedrichsfeld. It is a quarry. It is between Oberhausen and Essen. We slept in a room over the engine house, it was quite small and there was a second small room where we had our meals. They were very dirty and smelt awful. When we had finished our work we were looked in and the door was only opened for a quarter of an hour at night, and we were kept in all Sunday. We were never allowed out for exercise and men working their never see outside the quarry year in year out

First Escape, 22 May 1917

I only worked here two days, and on Whit Monday I escaped with two others, but was caught on the Wednesday at dinner time.

Mulheim 24 May ¿ June 1917

We were taken back to the kommando and they did nothing to us. We were put to work on a brick oven with a sentry to guard us. The following day we reported sick. I would not say it was a very bad kommando.

Friedrichsfeld, June ¿ July 1917

At the beginning of June, I was sent to Friedrichsfeld, where I stayed two months. We were sent to prison for 21 days for escaping.

Mulheim, July ¿ August 1917

About the end of July I was returned to Mulheim, where I stayed nine days, and then was returned to Friedrichsfeld again, where I stayed some time, and again was sent to the quarry, this time only for six days.

Friedrichsfeld, August 1917 ¿ 28 February 28 1918

I spent the winter at Friedrichsfeld. The camp there is good. The trouble is being able to stop in it.

Wermelskirchen, 28 February ¿ 3 April 1918

I had managed to get my name off the Mulheim register, and on 28 February 1918 went to a kommando, Wermelskirchen. It was a mixed commando, some worked on farms, some at a factory, and some on corporation works. We were marked this time as `light workers¿ and put on the latter. Our work was cutting down trees for firewood, and as the ground was cleared replanting it. The billets were fairly decent in a public-house. The food was very poor. We got our parcels here. I had never received one at Mulheim.

Second Escape 3 April 1918

On 3 April 1918, I escaped with another, and after eight days we got into Holland.

At the end of January or early in February 1918, 1400 men came into Friedrichsfeld from working behind the German lines. I think they were E.K. 3 men. Some had been there 14 or 15 months and had never had a parcel or a letter. They were in a terrible state. The German doctor himself admitted he had never seen such men in such a condition. You could not recognise some of them as human beings. As soon as they arrived some of them had to he carried into the hospital, and some had collapsed before they reached the camp.

There were a lot or parcels waiting for these men in our camp and the camp officials, the English NCO's, distributed them. Some men were drawing from 10 to 12 parcels, and, being in such a weak state many of them collapsed from having too much to eat at once.

A lot of them had dysentery when they came in, and a few died. These did not seem to have boils. That is a very common thing to have in Germany. I do not think it comes entirely from the tinned food. These men were like skeletons and were very depressed. They said many of them had died.

I believe at the beginning of this year the men belonging to E.K. 1, 2 and 3 were all brought back to Germany because of pressure brought to bear by the English Government. Before this, men were only brought back, I heard, when they were unfit to work any more there.

When I was at Minden, I think it was about the end of March or beginning of April 1917, a party of these men arrived. There were 90 of them. They said they had been 250 strong when first they started working behind the lines, but some had died and others left in hospitals. This party was pretty bad too. I only know the name of one, Private E. Lowes, of the Durham Light Infantry. He came from where I live, so I talked a lot to him and could supply his address if necessary. He is still in Germany. He had been working at Lille and Cambrai, among other places, and had had a better job than some unloading food stores, and could sometimes steal some food. He was under shell fire.

These men told us some were killed for refusing to work, others for getting drunk, and they said half the men died from depression and exhaustion. They were really broken-hearted.

I never saw any men come who had come back from the Eastern Front.

I heard a lot about Wulfrath, which is attached to Friedrichsfeld. It is a punishment kommando for German sentries and others, and is an awful place. Each day you are set an almost inhuman task and have to work from 6 to 10. Each prisoner has to procure his stone, break it and load it on wagons, and he has to do so many wagons a day that it is almost impossible to do the appointed amount. Men in the camp will injure themselves and poison wounds so as to be unfit to be sent, they have such a dread of this place. I have known men keep wounds open for five or six months.

There is a Russian prisoner at Friedrichsfeld who makes an injection which he puts into a man's leg, and the following day the man has to be admitted into hospital with a poisoned leg, which means about three months. There was one man went into hospital like this just before we left the camp, and it was not quite certain if he would lose his leg or not. This injection is made of benzine mixed with something else. Men would also maim themselves at the quarry so as to he sent back to Friedrichsfeld, and many would come back with poisoned arms or legs. Some of these Iatter cases were from stone poisoning you get at the quarries. At least ten were returned from Mulheim with sores and boils.

A favourite trick with the Germans seems to be to take newly captured prisoners straight to these kommandos instead of bringing them to camps where old prisoners are. They get no parcels for a long time and get in a very weak state, and the Germans do just what they like with them, knock them about and make them work for long hours, and many a man dies from weakness. We used to hear this from men who were sent back to the camp with broken limbs and other serious things wrong with them.

For instance, about September 1917, two men came into Friedrichsfeld; we saw they were in a terribly weak condition and we helped them to the barrack. I asked one where be came from, and he answered, ¿I've just come from hell.¿ He collapsed before we got him into the barrack. These men had clogs on, worn through to the skin, and their clothes were in rags. We fed them well, but the man who said he had come from hell died that night. I cannot tell you his name, but they both belonged to the Lincolns. The place they came from was a zinc factory at Oberhausen.

They do not want these new prisoners to talk to the old prisoners. If one of the latter gets sent to a kommando where these new ones are, he has no difficulty in getting sent away if he makes a bit of a row about things.

At Friedrichsfeld there are masses of parcels and tons of bread waiting for men who have given that address and then been sent away. When the bread is too bad for human consumption the Germans take it away to feed their pigs on. Twenty or thirty sacks of bread addressed to individuals will be sent away a day in this way. Of course a man gives his change of address but letters take six weeks and even two months to get through.

Dulmen was bad because of the food. They send supplies of food to the Help Committees at Sennelager and Friedrichsfeld for prisoners who have to wait for their parcels after capture, but the new prisoners do not get sent much to those camps.

I think there is no doubt that there is a great deal of insanity among prisoners, especially among those who have been in captivity very long. We used to make a joke of it. They are childish and no longer men. It is the uncertainty of the thing that makes you feel so; whether it is ever going to end, and whether you will ever come out if it does.

In January 1918 a new order came out, and our tins were given to us unopened in the camps, but when we were on the working parties our tins were taken away, and we learnt it was to prevent us giving things as bribes to the Germans to get maps, compasses, etc.

I consider that a chap who will work cheerfully and do all that a German requires of him, say work from 6.30 to 9 at night, is not doing his duty to his country. There are lots doing this, and they get better treatment in consequence and a certain amount of freedom. On some farms you are entirely free if you get the people's confidence. If you escape they are fined.

Our prisoners are healthy looking compared to the Germans. There is no doubt they are suffering. The only conversation you hear is about food when you are going about.

Opinion at Examiner

I consider this man exceptionally intelligent and observant, and he seems a man with a peculiarly sane point of view.

T Byard, 6 May1918

Arthur Leggett