An old soldier’s short war on the front and
3 years as a POW
This is taken from a handwritten account put
to paper by Uffz. Büschenfeld, who was a member of Trench Mortar Comp 41. I
know a lot can get lost in a translation but thought it may be of interest.
I was a former infantryman who at the age
of 39 and father of 4 children (sons 16, 11 and 2 years old and a daughter aged
8), was called up in January 1915.
As I’m a machine fitter, I was posted to a
unit with a new weapon; Trench Mortar Company 41. After training and a test of
our skills, we were sent to the Western Front.
We set both of our trench mortars up in the
position shown to us and then took over a dug out built by experienced sappers.
Opposite our position was the French firing range Schalom, this gave the French
the possibility of bombing us with heavy ship’s guns and mortars.
On the 25th September after a 36 hour
bombardment, the French made an advance of 5km, about 25000 of us were taken
In the following 3 years as a POW in camps between
the north and south of France,
I came to know just as many pleasant people as rascals, but don’t want to
mention any details. We had to fell a lot of trees, mostly quite a way from the
main roads and quite often we could hear a train roll by in the distance, or
engines whistling. Oh how we longed to go home and we could have escaped and
ran, in spite of all the dangers of working under armed guard.
Finally, after being a prisoner for 3 years
and 4 years of absence from my family, there was light at the end of the
tunnel. The joy of a prisoner exchange.
All fathers over 30 years of age with 3 or
more children are to be exchanged via Switzerland. I don’t know why, but
there seemed to be a delay in the news reaching our guards until suddenly, the
French couldn’t get rid of me quick enough. My friends helped me pack my few
belongings as quickly as possible.
At the same time, an old farmer and his
wife happened to be passing our accommodation with their horse and cart, when
the soldier in charge of the guards stopped him and summoned me. I didn’t use
the door of the hut which was in the opposite direction, instead, I left
through the window which of course was only 1.5 m from the ground. I then climbed
onto the farmer’s cart with one of the guards, the horse trotted off and with a
tally ho we left for the next town. Upon arrival, I said to the farmer “merci” from the bottom of my heart and
gave the horse a pat on the neck. Now to the train and the French/Swiss border.
Here our baggage was searched by 2
officers. One of them said I had stolen the wood he found in my bag and had to
leave it behind. After I explained I was given the wood, it wasn’t stolen, the
second officer said “take it.” Again,
one’s a bad person, the other is good.
After 3 days we were sent on the exchange
train from Geneva to Konstanz,
arriving in Konstanz
on 7th Nov. 1918 (my best friend Emil’s birthday), I found myself once again on
German soil. In stages (naturally by train) I neared my hometown of Bielefeld and was
eventually home with my family. The joy of seeing my wife and especially the 4
children quite fit and well after an absence of 4 years was the biggest of my
To my wife, who I can now only visit in the
Senne cemetery, I will be thankful till I die.