The testimonies of Wilhelm Lincke

Events at headquarters II./RIR212 after Major Lincke's left forearm is torn apart by a shrapnel, through the eyes of Oberltn. Lincke himself (regimental history RIR212, pp. 409-421):

[...] Only the quick intervention of the adjutant, Ltn. Bansee, and young man Simon Wege was able to tie off the arm, whose main artery had been ruptured.

Meanwhile, our own machine gun fire had stopped and suddenly the Tommies appeared, placing bayonets on the backs of Adjutant Ltn. Bansee and boy Wege, who knelt by the badly wounded commander.

Since they had both thrown their carbines on the ground the moment they jumped to the commander's aid, they could not reach their weapons. Literally "gnashing their teeth", they had to comply with the enemy's request and get up from the ground.

Both had to turn back immediately. However, at the commander's request, the boy was left with him, while Ltn. Bansee shook hands with his commander, who had seen many a difficult battle with him, and said, "Lord Major, those boys will not catch me, I am retreating behind our line anyway."

"Well then, report to the divisional commander that 212 has done his duty and salute his wife and children."

That was the farewell, then Ltn. Bansee. A few seconds later, an English machine gun began firing.

No doubt Ltn. Bansee kept his promise and made an attempt to break through to our line, because a few days later he was taken to the prisoners' hospital behind the English front with 14 shots and a gas injury. He died the next day. Honour the memory of this brave one!

But back to the battle report.

The Tommies of the first assault wave, after a brief looting of the badly wounded commander and the boy sitting with him - even an epaulette was cut with a quick knife cut and the cry "Souvenir" - had immediately moved behind their own covering fire [.... ], moving towards our rear position, a second and third wave quickly followed each other and the flat helmets of the Tommies appeared at the edge of the hill and both of us (the commander and the boy sitting with him) becoming visible to the Tommies, the shelling continued with light machine guns in the middle of the movement. Thank God without success!

At the third wave, the commander of the enemy company also appeared, wanting to inquire with the commander and specifically asking, "When will the counter-attack come?". Needless to say, any information was refused.

Terrifying hours passed in the persistent rain. From the amount of shells of all calibres that had been thrown in and their direction of fire, one could draw clear conclusions about the battle situation. If our fire struck, there was either a further advance by the English or a counterattack on our part. If English fire struck, it seemed that the English were preparing to attack or return.

Several requests during the day to the Tommies, who crawled towards us from the shell pit, to move back towards the English rear line, were refused because of the severity of the injury. This was done in the hope that a German counterattack would break through and bring salvation from the impending fate of captivity.

A touching sign of German loyalty is the behaviour of the boy Simon Wege. Two years of peace, including the last year as a stable boy, and three years of war united him with his commander. Now, unscathed, he stood by him faithfully, when no doubt he would have easily found cover. He also repeatedly and fervently refused to cut open the tie-off, which was to be done with the strap of the gas mask, of his upper arm, as the commander demanded.

Both were hoping, with dusk approaching, to still crawl towards the German lines, when suddenly in the darkness the aforementioned British company commander appeared with several men, including a medic, who, after checking the formation, pulled both Germans into their shell pit on the enemy slope.

Here a group with a machine gun was crouched on some steps that apparently led to an Unterstand. The Tommies' conversations revealed that the fringe line was now the front line of the British, that they themselves belonged to the 1st austr. div. and were very proud to have penetrated the Guards' position and Regt. 212, known as the Stoßregiment, to have overrun it.

Frankly, these stalwart Australians behaved in an extremely comradely manner. They offered delicious white bread, chocolate and preserves from their abundant supply, as well as cigarettes.

When we realised by the light of an electric torch that our hiding place was the entrance to the covered K.T.K., we even managed to get the coats from the front part of the room, as well as a cigar box and a bottle of cherry brandy, both of which were still unused on the table. This loot too was shared comradely, with the Australians not failing to pre-fill the empty cigar pouches of the commander and the boy.

Again and again, the company commander of the Australians appeared to check on his men. On this occasion, he again brought a medic to check the bandages.

He spoke briefly about the capture of the position near the K.T.K., near a large gravel pit, which had been his target for the day.

There, our heavy machine guns had put up desperate resistance, and he had lost many men. In the end, only one gun was fired, operated by an officer (Ltn. Arndt, 2nd M.G.K.). He eventually crawled from the side to this machine gun himself, gun in hand, and ordered the officer to hand it over.

Without ceasing fire, the officer shook his head with the words, "No surrender", whereupon he unfortunately had to shoot him through the head. He added: "A brave man. Nothing can honour the memory of our comrade, Ltn. Arndt, more honoured than this exclamation from the mouth of a distinguished opponent.

An Australian, slightly wounded on the foot, armed only with a hand grenade, the effect of which he explained with a smile, was ordered to bring me back with the boy.

Half carried, half drawn, we now wandered through our attack area, through the intervening field and finally through the English lines, always accompanied by the disturbing fire of the German artillery.

Interesting observations could be made on the activity in the enemy lines, even on the preparations for the attack, because with many interruptions due to exhaustion and blood loss, and with frequent taking cover from German artillery fire, the return journey was very, very slow.

The first thing we noticed was that the British had excellent telephone connections. In many cases we came across newly laid telephone cables, clearly identifiable as such with their red insulation, and laid at least twice if not three times for a connection.

As we passed our own front line, we also saw that from the English positions during preparations for the attack, white lines had been laid in many places, along which the English assault troops had made their way to their targets.

In the intermediate area, we passed an isolated block of concrete, where English shouts asked us to come closer. The accompanying Tommy also showed little inclination to comply with this request, which only delayed us unnecessarily. Eventually, however, we had to comply with these repeated determined requests.

We found ourselves in the troop room of the English assault battalion and were questioned by the curious staff doctor about the details of the battle. He was lucky if he did not believe everything we told him. In any case, this staff doctor (rank of captain) was well-informed and pleased with the wounded major, whose capture had already been reported.

The onward path through the enemy lines showed entrenched Englishmen everywhere. Behind the concrete blocks were horsemen and platoons equipped with flags and flashing lights.

After a short time we reached the first German line, which had been taken from the Guards in the previous battle. This consisted of concrete blocks set up on the marshy terrain, each accommodating a group, but apparently they had not all been completed.

When heavy shelling erupted again, we sought shelter in one of these concrete blocks. Here I saw the most gruesome sight of the war. Leaning against the concrete block was a whole row of poles, probably needed for construction, and atop these poles, which must have been four metres high, hung the corpse of a German soldier, upside down with no head and his upper body torn open. An enemy shell must have hurled him there.

In the shelter of the entrance lay a badly wounded 8th Company, one of the battalion's staff couriers, who along with the battalion's orderly, had been assigned to the right wing company to report with carrier pigeons during the storm. I knelt by the comrade who was clearly about to take his last breath and was begging for water. I will never forget his face beaming with joy.

Unfortunately, this brave man's name has escaped me. He believed we had won the battle after all when he saw his commander again. I gave him the last of my canteen to drink and was able to hold his hand as he stretched for his final rest after a few seconds.

As we entered the concrete block, room was willingly made for us in the terribly narrow space. Again, we were offered everything imaginable for refreshment and I could tell from the conversations of the ordinary Australian soldiers how surprised and moved they were by my behaviour towards this dying comrade, which was so obvious. Surely their own propaganda had given them a very different picture of the enemy officers.

The onward journey back proved somewhat easier, as English working columns were busy building a plank path that was already well advanced through the marshy terrain to the first position. Here we saw for the first time a field artillery ammunition column, using the raft path in rows, each with six shells forward on mules; similarly, infantry escort batteries were also brought to the front lines.

An enemy reserve battalion approaching us shortly afterwards forced us to step into the deep mud on the side of the raft path. Silently the column passed us by. We must have looked very dejected in our uniforms stained with excrements and blood, because the marching column half shouted aloud "Cheer up, Fritz!" (Cheer up, Fritz!). It was the only cry from the long column, and definitely well-meaning. As I later discovered, the British called all German soldiers "Fritz", in pleasant contrast to the French, who, as we know, called us "Boches" and still do.

A longer break had to be taken at an English dressing station, built in the style of an old German command post. Piles of blankets lay out in the open and hundreds and hundreds of wounded on stretchers. First an English medic in shirt sleeves appeared, who, instead of examining the unit, busied himself with ransacking us both. Nothing escaped his grasp, neither the compass that was still there, nor the wristwatch, nor the money from our wallets, even the buttons of our tunics fell prey to this monster, with no way for us to defend ourselves.

At least after some time, my energetic, loud protest in English brought the doctor to us, after which the medic disappeared as he approached. Although the doctor merely shrugged his shoulders at my complaint and said, "Souvenir", he made an earnest effort to help us and gave me a drink from his canteen that tasted strongly of camphor, which soon allowed me to resume my journey. Eventually we ended up again in front of a big old German command post, which, as it turned out later, was the command post of the division commander of the 1st austr. div.

In front of the dugout we were stopped by an orderly, who took care of my boy in a not too nice way and, despite all his pleas, ordered him to go back to the front to carry back the English wounded. I only saw Simon Wege again when he returned from captivity to his home in Lippe.

I myself was brought before the division commander, to whom I had already been announced. In front of me stood a young general, just over 30, speaking lively and impeccable German with a Berlin accent, who immediately wanted to start the interrogation. When I immediately explained to him that as a former soldier he could not ask me awkward questions, he said, "Fine, then I won't ask you anything you are not allowed to answer, but surely you will not refuse to talk about general matters".

A deep swoon deprived me of the answer. When I woke up, I found English officers struggling around me, mainly trying to pour whisky between my tightly closed teeth. When I got up, they offered me a cup of tea with a biscuit, which I gratefully accepted.

The conversation I then had with this senior officer for over an hour is one of the most interesting memories from the war for me. Its content, combined with what I had seen in and behind the English front and what I was yet to see, raised serious doubts in me for the first time as to whether we would be able to bring the war to a successful conclusion against this enormous expenditure of men, material and organisation.

During our conversation I had the opportunity to observe the entire communication of the division commander with his staff, sending and receiving messages and orders, and I must admit that the entire official communication, as far as I could observe and follow it, was carried out in an exemplary manner.

To my question, the division commander replied that he had studied in Heidelberg and Berlin and had learned his good German there. He was an Australian lawyer and had been a captain in the Australian militia before the war. At the outbreak of war, he had been in England and had initially enlisted in Kitchener's army, where he had made a fine advance that eventually led him to head the 1st and, as he proudly added, the best Australian division as commander.

He asked me how I had been treated by his men at the front. I could truthfully tell him some favourable things besides the looting, to which he again pointed out that his men were very rough as long as they fought, but on the other hand were also very good-natured when they encountered a brave opponent they could respect. He had no idea how we were supposed to win the war for all the human and non-human suffering the world suffered.

He expressed himself very drastically by saying, "The cannon fodder of the whole world is at our disposal", by which he probably meant that the enemy alliance had inexhaustible human reserves, while on the other hand, as he said and as the current battle had shown, that the emperor's best soldiers, be it through death, be it through injury or captivity, will continue the war. His question, "When will revolution break out in your country?" at the time, I could answer with justifiable pride by saying, "General, remember that we are Germans, not Russians."

Finally, after many things, we talked about yesterday's attack. He explained that after the lessons of the spring and summer battles, in which, as we know, our counterattack had yielded great successes, they had switched to an attack with limited targets. Basically, these targets were set as far as the covering fire of the light artillery could reach. Today, for example, they had captured the high ground near the intersection of Broodseinde and to the south. Their artillery, as I was likely to see on the way back, was in many links, wheel to wheel, and each gun had three barrels at its disposal, so that even if only one barrel failed, the battery commander could change twice. This was a painful realisation for me, as I knew the difficulties our artillery had even then to be able to fire precision shots.

Finally, at a table covered with maps, the divisional commander showed me the mutual position in the area of his and the neighbouring division, marked with coloured flags. He claimed that the English attack had been launched 30 English miles away, and I could see exactly from the course of the lines that where the attack of Regts. 212 had worked - which was directly opposite the 1st austr. div. - the enemy had penetrated the least deeply into our line.

Further evacuation to the rear then took place relatively quickly, first on a narrow-gauge railway and then by ambulance. As only my left arm was injured, I took my seat next to the driver and thus had the opportunity to observe the behaviour of the English supply columns during the night ride back to Ypres, where the journey was headed.

There were field police everywhere in the side streets, just like in London, and the driver also confirmed to me that most of London's traffic officers were simply dressed in uniform and deployed as field police. Each of these traffic officers carried an electrically lit command stick with which he gave light signals. The giant traffic operated silently, without any shouting or screaming. Both individual and whole units had to obey the field officers' orders just as well on their way to front or rear.

The first detailed medical examination took place in the field hospital in shelled Ypres. It was a complete mess, but the streets were perfectly clean, with long lines of ambulances everywhere in front of the basement entrances. In one of those underground field hospitals, my bandages were checked again and I was again given some tea and biscuits and, as in the German field hospital, the necessary written instructions attached to my tunic that I needed surgery.

Remarkably, the treatment here was done by a US Army staff doctor who spoke very good German. In answer to my question, he explained that the Americans had already posted US officers in all the services of the Allied armies, who had to learn warfare in practice as a kind of pre-commandos, and then share their knowledge with the arriving US troops.

By the morning of that long night, I ended up in an English officers' hospital, an immaculately clean and comfortably furnished barracks in which English wounded officers lay bed by bed.

As later everywhere, it turned out that part of the English, incited by the war propaganda, either did not take any notice of the Germans at all or attracted or treated them contemptuously. The other part, on the other hand, behaved very comradely and respected the wounded enemy as a brave adversary.

By morning, I was taken on my stretcher to the so-called preparation room, a large, long barrack in which probably 100 or more soldiers, both friend and foe, lay in a motley collection on the stretcher. Since initially only Englishmen were brought in for the operation, but the Germans present always stayed behind, I was given ample opportunity to learn about the dealings in this field hospital.

A supervising medical sergeant gave instructions to the stretcher bearers. Whenever they wanted to grab a stretcher with a German on it, intentionally or accidentally, he called them to him and ordered them to take Englishmen. Meanwhile, we Germans had been communicating with each other by shouting, and when an English doctor in an operation coat appeared in the doorway around noon, I asked him to come my to my stretcher and complained vigorously about the way we were being treated.

He called on the sergeant to transport the wounded to surgery after they were brought in, regardless of their nationality. But the sergeant resumed his old procedure before the staff doctor had turned his back on him. German soldiers with the heaviest gunshot wounds in the bone had been lying there since morning and I could not get them to transport them to the operation.

At about 4 o'clock, the staff doctor appeared again in the preparation room. This time my renewed complaint penetrated, the sergeant got a terrible "cigar" and the staff doctor stayed beside me until the last soldier and then myself had been taken to the operating room.

The operating theatre consisted of a huge barracks in which three rows of tables were set up. At each table, in the light of large acetylene lamps, worked the operating doctor with an assistant and a nurse. There was always an injured man lying on the operating table while the next one waited on his stretcher beside him. It was not a pretty sight. Between the sedated patients, who fantasised, screamed and sang in all the languages of the world, the doctors, nurses and paramedics were at work!

Finally, the space cleared for me and I was lifted from the stretcher onto the operating table. In between, the doctor quickly smoked a cigarette with his rubber gloves on, while the nurse prepared me for surgery. The gas mask was already on to sedate me when the doctor pulled it off and asked me in English, "Why are the German planes bombing the English field hospitals? My answer, an English army curse, caused the doctor to put the mask back on without saying anything.

When I woke up again, a cool, rainy evening air fell over me, and by the swaying back and forth I knew I was being carried in the dark. At my half-stuttering request for a cigarette, the stretcher was pulled down. A Tommy put a cigarette in my mouth and lit it. Then I was taken to a still completely empty tent and laid in a bed.

Again I fainted and awoke only when the burnt cigarette scorched my lips. I was all alone and no one appeared when I called out. During the night, several German officers were brought in. Only the next morning, when a doctor turned up, were we given maintenance and rations in response to our complaint.

That same day, I was taken to a prisoners' hospital. It was located near Poperinge in tents next to a castle-like building, enclosed by a wire fence and guarded by a sentry. This is where the division into the various tents took place, with the soldiers strictly separated from the officers, a principle the British understandably maintained strictly in their prison camps.

It would be going too far for me to go into detail about treatment in the field and home hospital, about transport by canal and rail. The same picture everywhere. The old serving soldiers, including those who had already fought at the front, behaved with dignity and decency towards us. They knew that the fate we had suffered could happen to them all tomorrow.

In contrast, young soldiers, whether officers or men, who were on post, were often treated spitefully and inappropriately. The influence of the enemy's atrocities and war propaganda was evident among them. I had the best opportunity to follow this because we were given as many English newspapers to read as we could afford.

The following is also noteworthy:

In the field hospital at Poperinge, a New Zealand, i.e. Australian nurse treated us captured officers particularly badly. She refused the slightest request, ripped the dried bandages from the wounds with a rough hand and showed in every way that she was only reluctantly serving us captured German officers. When I once asked her why she behaved so unseemly, she replied, "My brother is an English aviator in German captivity and is also treated so badly in Germany."

A fairly serious complaint by me to the British hospital commander, a senior staff doctor, brought change and the nurse was relieved. However, it should be pointed out that this field hospital had been bombed by German planes a few days earlier and several nurses had been killed and wounded. This fact was presented to us at every opportunity.

Fortunately, when I was cleaning the tent, and one of the tent walls was lifted up behind my head, I saw that we were right next to a railway line on which enemy ammunition trains were standing. The connection was immediately clear to me, and I did not fail to make it clear to the British officers and doctors that the German airmen had, of course, attacked the ammunition trains and unfortunately hit the hospital by mistake. It would be up to the British to remove the ammunition trains or move the hospital sideways from the railway.

A few weeks later, transport across the Channel took place on a steamer whose red crosses had been painted over with grey paint. The steamer was used for transporting wounded as well as troops, because when we landed in Dover, whole columns of holidaymakers were already waiting to embark at the station on the pier.

I had to spend a year in the various English prison hospitals, and another year in the prison camps. What has been said above about treatment applies here too. It was strictly correct, if not always strict, as long as the front soldiers were in command. It often left much to be desired and irregularities and harassment were the order of the day when new soldiers with no front experience held the key posts.

Medical care in the prison hospitals was often inadequate. However, my impression is that it was not a lack of good will, but rather a lag in medical science and organisation. After all, one should not forget that for Britain, the entire organisation, including the military-medical organisation, had to be built from scratch for a large national army at the beginning of the war.

Comparing stories of comrades from French captivity, one can generally say that the treatment of prisoners in France was much harsher and more agonising than in England. Of course, prisoners in English hands were not spared all the suffering in captivity.

Despite the utter hopelessness of the situation, escape attempts were repeatedly made in every camp. As far as I know, only very few, I think three or four Germans, made it from the English islands to home. Even if the escape from the camp was successful, escape from the island was not guaranteed. Whenever such attempts were made, it was with the express intention of detaining as many English troops as possible to guard the prisoners.

Conditions in the prison camps became very bad when, after the armistice, the flu epidemic took hold here too. Medical care was not even sufficient for the English population, let alone the prisoners of war!

Many hundreds of German comrades lost their lives in English military hospitals on this occasion and elsewhere due to illness and the effects of their injuries. We must not forget that behind enemy lines or on the other side of the Channel there are thousands and thousands of German comrades who paid for their loyalty with their lives.

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