“With love these few lines trusting they find you in the pink”. So begins the third letter which we have which was written by my Grandad while a POW in Gustrow, Germany, in 1918. The previous one was written on 11th June, although the postmark was a month later on 10th July. This one was written on 29th Sept and again there was a month’s delay before the postmark of 30th October.
There may have been other letters written in July, but then a big gap, which Grandad explains: “Well Mum, I have not been able to write for the last 2 months as I have been in hospital and am pleased to say that I am much better now”. He gives no more details of the reason for his hospitalisation. It is possible that it was due to dysentery or a condition related to the general starvation of prisoners and the poor sanitation arrangements in captivity. Equally it could be that he contracted flu.
The so-called Spanish flu is widely known to have affected young adults more than the elderly or the young. With no reporting restrictions in neutral Spain, the spread of the epidemic was known about in that country, but in fact it was widespread. In Richard Van Emden’s book ‘Prisoners of the Kaiser’ he writes “the flu epidemic that was sweeping Europe was killing off prisoners at an alarming rate, as most were too weak or sick to put up any resistance”. Whether it was flu or not, Grandad was fortunate to make such a good recovery.
Now that he has the opportunity to write home again, Grandad wishes to remind his Mum to send the parcels of which he wrote in such great detail in his first letters, and he sends his love to all at home. His optimism at soon being home again (“cheer up, shall soon see you all again”) possibly indicates that he was aware of the regular rumours reaching the POW camps at around this time of the Allied advances. The knowledge that the Germans were definitely retreating by this stage must have given many of the prisoners the mental strength to hold out for an eventual release. Those last weeks must have been some of the toughest, though, with provisions at an all-time low and many food parcels never reaching their destinations. “It was just a matter of hanging on until peace was declared” writes Richard Van Emden.