World War I – Behind Enemy Lines.- The Drummond Sisters- 25.

The Drummond sisters were born and raised on the Clarence River in Australia.

Early in the 20th Century they lived in Berlin, Germany, and worked for the opera company there, for many years.

When war broke out in 1914, they were ‘trapped’ for some time – Behind Enemy Lines. This is their story, in their own words.

‘Lute’ continues the sisters’ story of their plight of being – Behind Enemy Lines.

Saved at Last

Wednesday, September 30

It is really ten days since I’ve opened my diary? I have read the last couple of pages and can’t believe that all this anxiety and worry, wonderment and uncertainty belonged to me. Just one week in London, and the very interest in the war has waned. No one speaks of it here. The work goes on as usual; the people don’t seem to realise that the British Empire may possibly be challenged. Curious how different to the German. He lives and breathes for nothing else but war news and victories.

I must try and think back to our memorable journey from Berlin, under the protection of the American Embassy.

It seems like in the history book. You know, the execution of Mary Queen of Scots, where we learnt by heart these mysterious lines:-

“On the dull grey of a February morning.” Well, on the eventful Monday, at 7 am, all the British females who were apportioned off by the first train assembled gladly on the charlottenburger station. The husbands and brothers (those who were not imprisoned) were there, too, to bid goodbye and God-speed to their loved ones; and very sad they did look as the train left the station, taking to England and safety their mothers, wives, sisters and children, while they were left behind, who knows, perhaps for months and years, to eat their hearts out in enemy’s country. It was very touching, more than one had a great lump in the throat. However, war is no respecter of feelings or ties, and now that I read here the tales of their brave brothers fighting at the front in those long wet trenches dug out along the banks of the Aisne, their lot is not so hard.

As we neared Doberitz , where the English prisoners were, they were all waiting far distant in their prison barracks to give us a parting hand wave. The Russians also on the other side frantically waved their caps in the air. And it was with a peculiar feeling that we fluttered our handkerchiefs, first to our own soldiers, and then to our Allies. One felt theatrical, like in a book, anything but real.

We had a pleasant journey, enlived by the conversation of the cleverest child whom I’ve ever met – a Russian from Baku. He spoke on Russian politics, their fleet, their army, their Grand Duke, and mentioned that it was stupidity on England’s part to observe the neutrality of either Holland or Denmark. It was astounding what he knew.

At Hanover the train was boarded by a staff of German officers, and each compartment was searched. Ladies were asked to remove their hats, and those who wore transformations had to take them off, too, as it was reported that a celebrated English male spy was trying to get off with us disguised as a woman.

Nothing more happened. We ate every five minutes until we reached Bentheim, the Dutch border. There was a long wait here, for the examination of luggage, but luckily our boxes were not opened, so we had no worry. At the next town the English colony there had prepared coffee and scones for the entire party, and our welcome both from the English and Dutch was a right royal one. As we crossed on to Dutch territory, Union Jacks were distributed, and proudly pinning on our little bit of colour, we cheered ourselves hoarse, to find ourselves outside the pale of German rule.

At Rotterdam the English Red Cross simply inundated us with kindness and gifts. A doctor was on the station, in case anyone was ill; each person was given a bottle of wholesome milk, chocolates, sandwiches, rolls, in fact, such patriotism and general good will was lavished on us that we felt quite privileged to be counted members of the great British race.

The Government provided us with telegram forms (the British Government I mean) and at Flushing, we were allowed to telegraph to our friends in England gratis. Our first foreign communication in English for seven long weeks.

We arrived at the Dutch port about 4 o’clock in the morning, tired out with no sleep and the long sitting. We had difficulty in getting a berth, but scrambled anywhere for Jean and I knew that we were in for a good time – sea-sickness.

The train journey had been too long for us. The British Government had again provided breakfast and lunch for us on the boat, but don’t mention food ever to us on the water. We were terribly ill, especially yours truly. And the voyage instead of taking five hours, lasted twelve. We had to go slowly on account of mines, and had to be piloted in. We arrived in Queensborough about six in the evening more dead than alive. Queensborough certainly looked business-like, ugly battleships, warships and odds and ends of the British Navy lying about. At the wharf were thousands of Kitchener’s army in the making, who received us with rousing cheers. The officiers carried our hand luggage for us, the soldiers served us with tea and sandwiches in the train, and after we had finished our refreshments, the bonny young recruits drew up in line and sang “It’s a long way to Tipperary,” with the sweetest voices that one could well imagine. The whole trip was like a triumph, and we wouldn’t have missed it for the world. On the way to London we were struck by the almost total darkness. We could distinguish nothing, not even an outline. We wondered why, and learnt afterwards that the top half of the lamps have been painted black in order to deceive the alert Zeppelins. At Victoria Station, the first person whom we saw, was Mr Kiley. He guessed that we would come, and had accordingly brought along his very best car, to aid the travellers. Miss Irving also found us in the throng, so did Mrs Hilda Davenport. Press reporters also bombarded us with questions, and next morning we were amused to see Jean’s interview in the “Daily Telegraph”. Miss Irving, keeping in mind the sad plight of the Belgian refugees, had thoughtfully brought to the hotel for us nighties, handkerchiefs, etc, but when we showed her our many boxes and trunks, she just said “the proverbial luck of the Drummonds.”

We are staying at the Wilton Hotel, quite close to the Victoria Station, and ever since our arrival, we’ve been more or less seeing London and its environs in Mr Kiley’s car. He took us down to Camberley to see the German prisoners, both soldiers and civilians. The former, whom we stared at over a line wire fence, looked a fine handsome lot. They were all a good six feet and broad-shouldered into the bargain. It looked so familiar to see their grey-green uniforms once again.

I forgot to say that on the night we arrived in England, the three cruisers, the Hogue, the Cressy, and the Aboukir were submarined by the enemy. The Emden had accounted for six vessels in the Bay of Bengal, and had set fire to the oil tanks at Madras. Now had we been in Berlin on receipt of this distressing news, we should have wept tears of chagrin, grief and woe, but in England people take things differently, and it was difficult to find anybody even half as miserable as I was myself over this loss.

Are they at war here, or are they not? Jean and I asked each other repeatedly. One sees the youths marching round the streets, uniformed and un-uniformed, save for rifle slung across shoulder. The parks look like gymnasium centres, but the average person apparently goes serenely onwards, “business as usual,” strolling to the Arches of an evening, and watching as an interested onlooker those great searchlights, which scour the evening skies in quest of the Zeppelin.

What a harvest a bomb would reap in London! The streets are packed with people, the houses are sequeezed together, the buses are full, inside and out, the motors just tear round; nobody seems to fear the raid of Germany’s trump card. I wonder will this trump turn out to be a joker! If so, can we throw him out of the pack, take the half-mourning from our street lamps, and bask once more in all the glory of a lighted London night life? I’m tired now. You know what a hotel writing-room is like. People talking on all topics, in all tones from pianissimo to f f . At a table is a French officer, conspicuous by his red trousers. His wife and daughter are with him. He is here on a commission, boots for the French Army. They are from Lille, and left as the Germans came in and took possession. We have fine English officers here too, looking business-like in their khaki suits. I think the English uniforms are the finest I have yet seen. Even the Germans envied them all their pockets. The breast pockets, and the large side ones. Very sensible, aren’t they? There’s also a large number of aged ladies discussing the intricacies of heels and toes in soldiers’ socks. Jean has retired ages ago. She is very prosaic. Loves her bed better than anything else. Goodnight- September was for us an uneventful month. Dare we hope for much in October?

To be continued

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