Swavesey and the Great War

John Symonds - Prisoner of War


The Swavesey roll of honour makes sad reading but it is important to remember that many local men who served in the war returned to tell of their experiences.One such man was John Symonds who was taken prisoner on the 22nd March 1918 whilst serving with the East Kent Regiment (The Buffs).

Symonds

Lance Cpl J.A. Symonds

The following account was published in the local newspaper on 27th December 1918.

Prisoner of War’s Experiences

Lance Corporal J.A. Symonds, The Buffs, whose repatriation from a German prison camp was briefly recorded last week, has furnished some interesting details of his capture and captivity. He was taken prisoner at Vandual, near St Quentin, at 7 a.m. on 22nd March last.

His platoon had been surrounded on the previous evening, and had taken refuge in a dug-out. About midnight the officer in command and Lance Corporal. Symonds left the dug-out to endeavour to find a way of escape. Passing along a neighbouring trench they saw Germans in a dug-out, but succeeded in passing by without attracting notice, and at length reached the cookhouse of their Battalion, a ruined building, but found it occupied as enemy headquarters. Realising that escape was impossible they returned to their comrades in the dug-out, and at 7 a.m. on the 22nd, surrendered.

After employment on ammunition dumps etc., Symonds reached Guise, where he met another Swavesey lad, Private Arthur Beaumont, Machine Gun Corps., who had also been captured on the 22nd March.

At Guise they witnessed a brutal incident. They were endeavouring to obtain food from a German cookhouse when they saw a little French boy offer bread to some French prisoners. A German sentry attempted to bayonet the little fellow, but failed. He then shot him in the head.

The two Swavesey lads kept together until they reached Giessen, where they were separated and sent away on different work. Symonds was employed in a stone quarry at Hahnstattin, Wiesbaden. He says that for about three months until the Red Cross parcels began to arrive he was in a state of semi-starvation.

The food, mainly vegetables, such as turnips, cabbage, etc., was utterly insufficient in quantity and unsuitable for keeping body and soul together. On one occasion water in which a German woman had poached eggs was given as a soup for supper.

Lance Corporal Symonds cannot adequately express his gratitude for the parcels of food supplied though the Red Cross Society. Without them he declares he would have starved.

On November 13th the prisoners learned that the Armistice had been signed, and that they were to be repatriated. Taking advantage of the absence of the sentry, who was busily engaged in conversation with the manager of the quarry, Symonds with some Englishmen and an American escaped after cutting the barbed wire.

After wandering for three days and nights, being guided by the American’s compass, they found Giessen, and at the beginning of December Symonds was sent by train to Metz. Here he had to go into hospital suffering from influenza and bronchitis, and after a few days was removed to another French hospital at Moulins, where he was detained for a week. Thence he came back to Blighty by way of Paris.

“I have had a rough time with the Bosches ... If ever there was a country beaten, Germany is that one. I am sorry to say that almost half of the prisoners of war are ill - French, Italians, Russians and English - it is a shame to see the poor fellows. Nobody knows what they have suffered, only those who have had some of it”.

John Symonds from Boxworth End, Swavesey had joined up on the 18th April 1917 and had travelled abroad just before Christmas of the same year.

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