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Oral history of a Royal Naval reservist who was taken POW at Antwerp and escaped from Doberitz
James Coull, an oral history
4 x Audio Files ; photographs ; rail ticket
Recordings of James Coull (made in about 1978), a fisherman and Royal Naval Reservist (RNR) in Fraserburgh, Scotland before the First World War. James recalls service in defence of Antwerp, and being taken prisoner, a POW in Doberitz (Döberitz) and coal mining in eastern Germany, finally escape by ship from Germany. Then his life as a fisherman, and lifeboatman, including the Second World War. First recording: About joining-up on the day war was declared. Training at Woolmer. Over to Belgium from Dover, going to Antwerp by train, marching through the streets, and to the trenches around Antwerp. "Never saw a Belgian soldier!" Only one night in the trenches, seeing the Germans in woods in front. Retiring behind a few hundred yards at night. Back to the streets and the dock area, and across the bridge of barges across the river at Antwerp. Marching to Sint-Niklaas towards Ostend, and catching a train full of refugees, then under fire at the railway side. "Lay down your arms!" so he surrenders, and he is taken prisoner of war by the Germans. Marched to a church (kirk) at 'Exardee', "marching" and "so fatigued from hunger and want of sleep". Hearing singing troop of German soldiers. All prisoners made to lie down and expecting to be killed. But later marched to a train, then 3 days on a train in box-cars with only one time for food. At Doberitz prisoner of war camp, near Berlin. Given a table spoon and a blanket and in a tent/hut for 100 men. His time as a POW for four years. Food, coffee, black bread, cabbage soup-stuff, clogs, working-parties. Winter in camp. Escape attempts. Second recording: Moved from Doberitz, to the coal fields in the east of German near the Czechoslovakian border. Their job coal miners in open cast mines. About comparison of earlier jobs with the mining, pay, chance of hearing rumours, boredom. Couple of years, "a horrible place to be in!" Chances of escape to the Baltic coast ("daydreams!"). Escaping through the barbed wire, and navigating by the North Star towards the Baltic Sea and to Sweden. Out for a about a week. Recaptured, to 'Codbers' prison camp, in a prison within a prison. Back to the coal mine. "Had anyone helped them escape?" Problem with teeth, and back to Doberitz. In Berlin in one of the largest gaols in the city. Back to Doberitz after two years and two months, remembering some of the men back there the second time. Collecting parcels from a train to the guard hut, looking for an escape route. Escape from Doberitz via the railway, buying tickets for Hamburg (or so he thought). Third recording: escape via the railway from Doberitz. On the river Elbe at Hamburg, hearing about a German ship at the dock "for England", "but didn't understand" how! Negotiating how to find the ship and board it. Hiding on board. Discovered and interviewed by the captain. 3 or 4 days sailing. Friendly German sailors. Meals and sleeping on board. Sailing into Scapa Flow. Writing a telegram to home. From Thurso to Ripon dispersal centre. A week or two on leave. Later life fishing after the war, coxswain of the lifeboat (skipper). Fourth recording: the lifeboat years. Including the Second World War, 1939-1945. Retired in 1956 as 65 years of age. Recording made aged 87 years old. And his later life after the First World War.