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Five Months on a German Raider - Being the Adventures of an Englishman Captured by the 'Wolf'
by Frederic George Trayes
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The same afternoon we walked back to the beach to see if we could go aboard the stranded ship to retrieve our luggage, but the sea was far too rough to allow of this, and the German and Spanish crew had not been taken off. While on the beach we saw two floating mines exploded by a Danish gunboat. We had not only had a narrow escape from the Germans, but also from the dangers of a minefield. The next day was also too rough for us to go aboard; in fact, it was so rough that the lifeboat went out and took everybody off the ship, both Spanish and German. The Spanish first mate was thus saved, and after all did not serve his sentence in Germany. We congratulated him once more on his lucky escape. He had escaped even more than we had. It was reported that a German submarine appeared to take off the German officers on this day, but as it was too rough to lower the boats this could not be contrived.

The Igotz Mendi was now deserted, but as the Danish authorities had adjudged her, twenty-four hours after her stranding, to be a Spanish ship, she had reverted to her original owners. Accordingly, before leaving her the Spanish Captain had hoisted the Spanish flag at her stern, the first time that or any other flag had appeared there since that November morning when the Germans had captured her far away in the Indian Ocean. She was no longer a German prize. She would have been the only one the Wolf had secured to take home—a neutral ship with only a few tons of coal on board, and a few married couples, and sick and elderly men as prisoners—not much to show for a fifteen months' cruise; and even that small prey was denied the Germans, though the Wolf had certainly carried home a valuable cargo and some hundreds of prisoners, besides doing considerable damage to the shipping of the Allies.

The position of the stranded ship was a unique one. She was a neutral ship, a German prize, stranded in neutral waters, with a crew composed of Germans and neutral prisoners, and carrying twenty passenger prisoners of many enemy nationalities—English, Australian, American, Japanese, Chinese, and Indian; of these fifteen were European, and in the company were nine women and two children.

Never was there a more dramatic turning of the tables; the Germans were now interned and we were free. The German officers were sent off under guard to an inland town, and the sailors sent to a camp in another part of Denmark. The sailors did not attempt to disguise their joy at the turn events had taken. On their return to Germany they would have had a few weeks' leave and then done duty in a submarine or at the front. Now, they were interned in a land where there was at least much more to eat than they could have hoped for in Germany, and their dangers were at an end till the war was over. They were marched under an armed guard of Danes up and down the village street several times on one of these days; they were all smiles, singing as they marched along.

The next day a hurricane was still blowing, and going aboard was still out of the question. The ship was blown farther in shore, and it began to look as if she would break up and we should see nothing of our personal belongings. The day after, however, was beautifully fine, and we left Skagen harbour in two motor barges, almost touching a floating mine on the way. It took more than an hour to get from the harbour to the ship, for we had to take a very circuitous route owing to the shallow water and many sandbanks. It was a bitterly cold trip, but at last we reached and with great difficulty—as no gangway was down and we had to climb a ladder projecting a few feet out from the ship's side—boarded the ship, which was in charge of the Danish authorities. After some difficulty, for the ship was in a state of great chaos, we secured from various parts of the ship all our baggage, which was landed that night at Skagen, much to our relief, as up to that time we had only what we stood up in at the time we landed from the lifeboat. So that, after all, we lost very little of our baggage, a most unexpected stroke of good luck. Some of us returned to the shore, only a short distance away, in the salvage tug's lifeboat, as we did not relish the long return trip in the motor barges, crammed as they would be with baggage. From there we walked to our hotel. The baggage was taken to the Custom House, and next day put on the train, so we were unable to open it till we arrived in Copenhagen, by which time we stood badly in need of it.

We had set foot on the Igotz Mendi for the last time. She had been our "home" for more than three months—never shall we forget her. I can picture every detail of her as I write, the tiny cabins, the miserable tiled floor saloon, and the wretched meals taken therein, the dirty condition of the whole ship, the iron decks—none of it will ever be forgotten by any one of her unwilling passengers.

The Igotz Mendi was some time afterwards towed off into deep water, and after repairs left Danish waters and proceeded to Spain, after loading up with a full cargo of coal at Newcastle. Wonderful to relate—for it is indeed a marvel that the Germans did not make a special and successful effort to sink her—she arrived at her home port, Bilbao, on June 21, 1918, with her whole ship's company complete. She had naturally a great reception, being welcomed with flags, bands, and fireworks. What an adventurous voyage she had had since she last left European waters! We owe a great deal to her genial Captain and all her officers and crew, who one and all did what they could for us and were invariably kind and sympathized with us in our misfortunes and rejoiced with us at our escape. It may even have been due to the gentle persuasion of her Spanish crew that the Igotz Mendi made such a thorough job of running aground at Skagen. The Spaniards naturally regarded their captors with no friendly eye, and were as anxious as we were that their ship should not get to Germany.

During the week we had to give evidence to the Danish authorities concerning our capture and treatment on board. We were overwhelmed with kindness by the Danes, who made no secret of their sympathies with the Allies; invitations to dinners and parties flowed in, and we could not have accepted them all if we had stayed as many weeks as we had days.

On Friday, March 1st, at 1 p.m., most of us left Skagen. The whole village turned out to give us a good send-off, and snapshots galore were taken—this, indeed, had been going on ever since we landed. The ladies among us were presented with flowers and chocolates, the men with smokes, and we left with the heartiest good wishes of our warm-hearted hosts. While in Denmark we read the German account of the Wolf's expedition and exploits. It was, of course, grossly exaggerated, and contained a fantastic account of the "action" between the Wolf and Hitachi. Rather a one-sided "action," as the Wolf did all the firing!

From Skagen our passage home was arranged by the British Consular authorities. The journey from Skagen to Copenhagen was rather trying, since we had to leave the too well-heated train during the night and embark on train ferries when crossing from mainland to island and from one island to another. It was bitterly cold. We made our first acquaintance with bread and butter tickets at Skagen, and found them also in use on the railways and train ferries in Denmark and Scandinavia.

We arrived at Copenhagen about 8.30 on the following morning. When at Skagen I had written to Sir Ralph Paget, K.C.M.G., His Britannic Majesty's Minister to Denmark—whom we had known some years before when filling a similar position in Siam—telling him of our rescue. Lady Paget and he were waiting at the station to meet us. They straightway took my wife and myself off to the British Legation in Copenhagen, and insisted on us remaining there as their guests during our stay in the Danish capital. They were the personification of kindness to us, and helped us in every possible way, and it would be quite impossible for us to express adequately our great indebtedness to them. We obtained fresh vises for our passports from the British, Swedish, and Norwegian Consulates, and my wife, who had been unable in Siam to obtain a passport to travel to England, was granted an "emergency passport," on which she was described as an "ex-prisoner." The Germans had, quite unintentionally, it is true, helped her to get to England when our own Government had forbidden it.

We left Copenhagen on the evening of March 4th, and once more during the night embarked in a train ferry to cross to Sweden at Helsingborg. The next morning found us at Goteborg. The old Mauritius woman and her grandchild had been accommodated in a sleeping carriage with two berths. Not being used to such luxuries and not knowing what to do in such surroundings, they had deposited their garments on the bunks and slept on the floor, which doubtless came more natural to them!

The same evening we arrived at Christiania; unfortunately we saw nothing of this capital, as we arrived late at night, crossed to a hotel near the railway station, and returned to the station to resume our journey on the next morning before it was fully light. The whole of the next day we were travelling through Norway in brilliant dazzling sunshine, over snowclad mountains—some so high that vegetation was absent—finally leaving Bergen in the late afternoon of March 7th on the S.S. Vulture. From the Wolf to the Vulture did not look very promising!

Before leaving Norway every article of our baggage was carefully searched before being put on the boat. I asked the Customs officer what he was particularly looking for. "Bombs," he replied. But there were no German diplomats or members of German Legation staffs amongst us!

The ship was very full, so much so that many first-class passengers were compelled to travel third class, and among us were many people and officials of Allied nationality escaping from the disorders in Russia. We travelled full speed all night, and the passage was far from comfortable. Daybreak showed us the coast of the Shetlands—our first sight of the British Isles—and a few fussy armed trawlers shepherded us into the harbour of Lerwick, where we remained at anchor till dusk. We then set off again at full speed, and sighted the coast of Scotland in the morning. But it was not till past 2 p.m. that we arrived at Aberdeen. No sooner had the boat berthed in dock there than a representative of the Admiralty told us that all the Igotz Mendi prisoners were to proceed to London forthwith to be interrogated by the Admiralty. We had intended to have a few days' rest at Aberdeen after our strenuous travelling, but this was not allowed, so, much to our disgust and very much under protest, we spent still one more night out of bed, and so to London, where we arrived in a characteristic pea-soup fog on the morning of March 10th, after incessant travelling by train and sea for a week. We had not relished another sea voyage—and one across the North Sea least of all—but there was no help for it. We feared that as we had escaped the Germans once, they might make a special effort to sink us crossing the North Sea. But fortunately the U boats left us alone, though few, if any of us, turned in during those last few nights, for we felt we must still hold ourselves ready for any emergency. Arrived in London we were taken forthwith to the Admiralty, and there interrogated by the authorities as to the Wolf's exploits. Our adventures were really at an end at last.



With what joyful and thankful hearts did we reach home, once more to be united with our relatives and friends, who had long mourned us as dead. The shipping company had long ago abandoned all hope, the Hitachi had been posted missing at Lloyd's, letters of condolence had been received by our relatives, and we had the, even now in these exciting times, still unusual experience of reading our own obituary notices. We shall have to live up to them now! We heard from the Nippon Yushen Kaisha in London that the Japanese authorities had sent an expedition to look for the Hitachi. The expedition called at the Maldives, and had there found, in the atoll where we had first anchored in the Wolf's company, a door from the Hitachi splintered by shell-fire and a case of cocoanut identified as having been put on board the Hitachi at Colombo. The natives on this atoll could have told the expedition that at any rate the Hitachi was not sunk there, as they saw the Wolf and her prize sail away at different times. The Hitachi's disappearance was attributed to a submarine, though it was not explained how one managed to operate in the Indian Ocean!

We also heard in London that the Captain of the Hitachi committed suicide before the Wolf arrived in Germany.

No comment need be made on the German procedure of dragging their prisoners month after month over the oceans. Such a thing had never been done before. The Germans had had opportunities to release us, but had taken none to do so, as they had evidently determined not to allow any account of the Wolf's cruise to be made known. They might have put the Hitachi prisoners on the Maldives and left them there to get to Colombo as best they could, the Germans taking the ship; they might have sent the prisoners on the Igotz Mendi to Colombo or Java after they had taken what coal they wanted. As the Spanish Captain said, they had a right to take his contraband, but not his ship. But a question of right did not bother the Germans. Many times they promised him to release his ship, never intending to do so. Whenever they were asked why they did not release us when we thought it possible, they always advanced "military reasons" as the excuse. "That," as I said to the Captain, "covers a multitude of sins." The Commander of the Wolf had personally assured the married couples on the Matunga that they would be kept no longer than two months. But they were kept nearly seven. Some men had been kept prisoners on the Wolf for more than a year.

It was hard enough on the men, but infinitely worse for the women. One had been eight months, one seven, and others five months in captivity on the high seas, often under the worst possible conditions. But they all played their part well, and kept cheerful throughout, even when it appeared they were certain to be taken with their husbands into Germany.

Every man is liable to think, under such conditions, that he is in a worse case than his fellow-captives, and there were certainly examples of very hard luck amongst us. Mention of a few cases might be of interest. The American Captain had abandoned his sea calling for six years, and decided, at his wife's request, to make one more trip and take her to see her relatives in Newcastle, N.S.W. They never got there, but had eight months' captivity and landed in Denmark instead. Many sailors had left the Atlantic trade after encounters with the U boats in that ocean, only to be caught by the Wolf in the Pacific. One of the members of the Spanish crew had been a toreador, but his mother considered that calling too dangerous and recommended the sea as safer. Her son now thinks otherwise; perhaps she does too!

The Captain of a small sailing ship from Mauritius to West Australia, in ballast to load timber, saw the Wolf when a day off his destination. Not knowing her, he unwisely ran up the Red Ensign—a red rag to a bull, indeed—and asked the Wolf to report him "all well" at the next port. The Wolf turned about and sunk his little ship. Although the Captain was at one time on the Wolf almost in sight of his home in Mauritius, his next port was Kiel, where it is to be feared that he, an old man of seventy, was the reverse of "all well."

One of our fellow-prisoners had been on the P. & O. Mongolia when she was sunk by one of the Wolf's mines off Bombay. Later on, on the Hitachi, he was caught by the mine-layer herself! But he defeated the enemy after all, as he escaped on the Igotz Mendi! One of the seafaring men with us had already been torpedoed by the Huns in the Channel. Within a fortnight he was at sea again. The next time he was caught and his ship sunk by the Wolf off New Zealand. He also escaped on the Igotz Mendi, and when last seen ashore was dying to get to sea again, in a warm corner, so he said, so that he could "strafe the Huns" once more. They had held him prisoner for eight months, and he had some leeway to make up.

There was, too, the case of the Australians taken prisoner on the S.S. Matunga. The women and military doctors had certainly escaped on the Igotz Mendi, but there were taken into Germany from the Matunga three military officers and three elderly married civilians over military age. They were going but a week's voyage from their homes (July 1917); but, torn from their homes and families, they were to languish for months in a German internment camp. Neither must be forgotten the old captains and mates and young boys—some of the latter making their first sea voyage—taken into captivity in Germany, where they have probably been exhibited as illustrating the straits to which the war, and especially the U boat part of it, has reduced the glorious British mercantile marine. Our young men friends on the Hitachi, and the hundreds of prisoners, some of them captured more than a year before from British ships, were all taken into Germany, there to remain in captivity till the war was over.

I thought, until our timely rescue came, that our own case was a fairly hard one. I had retired from Government service in Siam, after spending twenty years there, and we had decided to spend some months at least, possibly "the duration," or even longer, in South Africa before proceeding home. It seemed hard lines that after twenty years in the Far East we were to come to Europe only to be imprisoned in Germany! We have escaped that, but our plans have gone hopelessly astray, for which I will never forgive the Huns, and our health has not improved by the treatment on our long voyage. But although we took six months to get from Siam to London, the Germans have succeeded in getting us home much earlier than we, or they, anticipated. I had been shipwrecked on my first voyage out to Siam in 1897, and on my last voyage home, twenty years after, had been taken prisoner and again shipwrecked! So my account was nicely balanced! But the culminating touch of escaping imprisonment in Germany by shipwreck was indeed wonderful!

Fortunately, one usually forgets the miseries of sea travel soon after one gets ashore. But never, I think, will one of us forget our long captivity at sea with our enemies; neither shall we forget the details of our capture and imprisonment, the dreary days and still drearier nights on the Wolf and Igotz Mendi, especially those spent in the icy north. Every detail of it all and of our wonderful escape at the last moment stands out so vividly in our memories. And assuredly, not one of us will ever forget the canned crab, the bully beef, the beans, and the roll of the Igotz Mendi.



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Transcriber's Notes:

Chapter II, page 28: Original reads "she should nor present her broadside".

Chapter III, page 37: Original reads "ss. Matunga".

Chapter VIII, page 122: Original reads "approached her, spoke her, and released her." The word "to" was inserted.]

THE END

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