He embarked for New Zealand on the Athenic.
Amelia had to write to ask where to send mail to her husband.
TREATMENT IN HOSPITAL.
Interesting experiences of the life of a prisoner of war in Germany are related in letters received by Mrs. H. Oxley, of Norman Street, Rocky Nook, from her husband, Private Hubert Oxley, who, when his last letter was written, on January 19, was a patient in the Walton on Thames Hospital.
“Our battalion,” writes Private Oxley, raided their trenches, near Armentieres on February 21, 1917. It was a successful raid. About 50 prisoners were taken, and I saw many dead behind their lines later in the day. Our company had to go to their support. The German artillery plastered their front line as soon as our guns opened on to their trenches, so they must have known a raid was on. Just over their front trench I was badly hit. I got it in both arms, legs, back, and shoulder. When I came to my senses it was daylight. Half-a-dozen ‘Jerries’ were firing over the top of me, and then they took cover. Our artillery opened again, and I laid there, expecting to go up. and wondered how long 1 would have to wait.
“When tilings quietened I was taken away to a dressing-station behind their lines, and I remembered being put into a motor-ambulance. I think it must have been the following morning I found myself in a hospital bed. They gave me something to drink, then carried me to the operating room, and two officers plied me with questions, a third looked on and listened, whilst a fourth, a doctor, worked at my back. I heard something ring on the marble slab; it was a splinter, and of no small size. They gave me brandy, and dressed my wounds, and I was put in a ward near the operating theatre. They got no information from me other than my regiment and number. Two days later I was operated on, and a tube put through me to avoid the discharge going to the lung. I was well treated here. There were about 20 other New Zealanders wounded with me, but mine, being the worse case, I was watched and given special food to enable me to recover.
Thankful to Escape Alive.
I remained there eight weeks, then when the ridge push started they cleared the hospital, thinking no doubt Douai would be captured. We expected to see our troops come. Many shells fell around the place. Norman Faithful and I were sent into Germany to Julich. The rest of the fellows were sent to other places; some, who were well enough, to working camps. They carried us in stretchers to the ambulance cars, and the French people loaded us with cigarettes, bread, eggs, and underclothing. Some of the Germans were brutal keeping the crowd back, but they never interfered with anything that was given to me. We had a two days train journev to Julich. That was a hell. We were there five months, insufficient and bad food and dirt. I was thankful to escape alive from there. We were fed on two slices of black bread, some artificial coffee, and something they called soup each day. We went boxing on for three months like this; then I got my first parcel.
The wounds would not heal owing to the inferior food, and I developed a serious illness that pinned me down tighter to the bed. I lost power in my limbs; I could not see, could not speak. An Englishman used to feed me, and my wounds started discharging worse than ever. The two doctors there said I would live four weeks or five, but no longer. Then, as a last resource, they carried me out in the sun, and I lay in it nearly all day, my wounds being dressed in the evening. Old Sol closed the wounds up in just four weeks, and then I got more parcels, and began to improve, but I still couldn’t move my arms or legs, or see very well, so they sent me to a doctor in Aachen, for nerves, they said, was my trouble.
Very Few Parcels Received.
“Arrived at Aachen, I began to improve. The nurses were kind and attentive. and the doctors good, but there was a lack of food, and very few parcels found me, except one lot. However, I got electric massage and baths there, and by the time I was able to walk I was informed that I would be exchanged.”
In a letter written at sea, and dated January 4, 1918, Private Oxley relates further experiences.
“I am in perfect health now,” he says, “with the exception of my right arm, and that annoys me but I think I should be thankful because there are some terrible cases on the ship, and I have no pain to suffer. The doctor says it will get all right again, probably in 12 months, and I think I will have an operation in England.
“The Dutch people are all right; they have treated our party very kindly. It feels good to look around now and see kindly faces and hear of our mother tongue. The absence of the spiked helmet and the fixed bayonet is greatly appreciated.
Fare on Christmas Day.
“I have been six weeks on the go since first the Germans told me I was for exchange. I had just been two months at Aachen, where I had arrived from Julich Lazarette, after spending five months in the latter place-five months that are likely to live in my memory, for it was an awful place for lice, dirt, starvation, and death. I wrote to the High Commissioner from there, and so did Faithful. I think our letters must have got through to England, and he claimed us, because it was a great surprise to us when we were bundled off. The Germans had often told us we wouldn’t get exchanged. You know, I lived like a hot-house plant, indoors for months. I began getting my parcels in July, and in two weeks I was fat by just allowing myself a little of something good and refreshing each day.
I received only two of your parcels, but they were much appreciated. Great excitement reigned in my ward on November 25. “Oxley for exchange.” So started off from Aachen to Cologne, then a train ride to Coblenz, then to Mannheim internment camp, where I spent three months and two days, and I believe I’d have starved had I not dropped across one of the old prisoners who had been in Germany since Mons. He was getting his parcels, but he fed half a dozen of us there, so there was not much. Our parcels, of course, never followed us, and we were in hopes of getting away before Christmas, so we soon ran out of food, and began selling our shirts and socks to the French for biscuits. These also were not to be procured after a day or two, so there was nothing for it but to dine on some horse bean soup. On Christmas I Day it was flavoured with fishes’ roes.
“A big batch of Italians are in this camp, and it would make your heart ache to see them, they are just kept from starvation. The searching operations commenced, and lasted a day in this camp. The Germans went through all one possessed; searched the lining of our coats, etc.. and then we started on an all-night journey to Cologne, and my, didn’t it freeze in that train. Arrived at Cologne, we changed trains, and then were dumped once more in Aachen remained there three days, underwent another search we got good food and plenty of it here – and then put on a comfortable hospital train, and finally alighted in Rotterdam.
One of the first New Zealand soldiers to be released from captivity in Germany was Private Hubert Oxley, of the 2nd Auckland Battalion, who recently returned to the Dominion. He was severely wounded during a raid at Fleuxbaix in February, 1917, and was taken prisoner. Under the arrangements for the repatriation of disabled soldiers. Private Oxley was released at the end of last year, his right arm having been rendered virtually useless by the wounds he had received. His experience during the 11 months he spent as a prisoner of war have been related by the returned soldier.
Describing the raid, Private Oxley stated that he had just reached the German front line, or what remained of it after the preliminary bombardment when he was struck by a piece of shell and “knocked out.” Although he did not immediately lose consciousness, he was unable to move. “When the firing from our guns had quietened down,” Private Oxley continued, “about a dozen Germans emerged from their retirement and came straight towards me. Two of them came over, and, after relieving me of my bombs, half-dragged me to an advanced dressing station in their subsidiary line. There I was left lying outside for a good two hours, until the last of their own wounded had received attention.
WOUNDED OFFERED FOOD.
“It was while at this place that I learned that I was not the only New Zealander who had been unlucky enough to be taken prisoner. Eventually our turn came, and in the course of a hurried patching up I found I was badly hit in legs, arms, shoulder, and body.
After this I was wheeled in a truck for about two miles to a clearing station, where I lay for the remainder of the day. At this place ample evidence of the deadly effects of our morning’s work was to be seen in the crowds of wounded Germans. It was very cold, and I lay on my plank waiting and shivering. Several times Red Cross men offered me coffee and bread, but I refused, being too ill to eat. They covered me with blankets, and in due course my turn came to be dressed.
From then on I only seem to have a hazy recollection of occurrences. I remember a motor ambulance, and some of our fellows saying something to me—a great deal of bustle and excitement, and strange faces at another stage of the journey. Also, I remember calling for water, and a kind nurse’s face watching over me as she put the drink to my lips! Next I awoke in a comfortable bed, and a very tall man in white was looking intently at me. Again I was offered food and refused.
EXPERIENCE IN HOSPITAL.
“Later I was removed to the operating table, where two orderlies held me in a sitting posture while the surgeon proceeded to operate on my shoulder, and probe for pieces of shell. While this was in progress, three military officers appeared on the scene. Two of them plied me with questions, and the third—a good listener—said nothing, but kept his eyes full on mine. Upon receiving no satisfaction from their inquiries, one of them adopted a fierce expression and tried to bounce me into answering. His threats did not worry me, for I was thinking more about the pain the doctor was inflicting on my shoulder. Presently I heard something fall with a ring on the marble slab, and I knew I had been relieved of a piece of shell. I nearly fainted, and the doctor, after giving me some brandy, finished dressing my wounds, and I was carried into a ward near the operating room. Here I recognised Norman Faithfull, of my own company; Fred Kemp, whose leg had just been amputated; Frank Doyle, of the Haurakis; and Matthew Rasmussen, of the 101 Waikatos.
“A few days after, I underwent an operation. As I was the worst case among our boys I was given cocoa and one piece of white French bread and jam for breakfast, a good basin of minced meat and mashed potatoes for the midday meal, at 3 p.m., another slice of white bread and jam, and a cup of coffee (artificial), and at night a piece of bread, a basin of barley, macaroni, or vegetable soup, or perhaps gruel. The others received the same rations, but black bread, no cocoa, and at mid-day instead of meat and potatoes, they received a mug of soup.
“This was at Douai, France, where we remained for some weeks. I had eight wounds, and sometimes lay for seven days without having them dressed. We were visited by a German pastor, and occasionally by a Roman Catholic priest. Russian orderlies brought us water for washing, but there was no soap, and I had mud on my hands and face for many weeks. Every Sunday the French people of Douai sent us three cigarettes and somthing which tasted like plum pudding. It was just the length of one’s finger and coated with chocolate. We used to call it our Sunday tit-bit, and certainly it was very nice. There were funerals every day. The courtyard was just under our windows, we could hear the service being read in German, then the departure of the horses. The French populace always attended the funerals in large numbers.
ECHO OF BRITISH OFFENSIVE.
“At the end of the fifth week most of the New Zealanders had recovered, and were sent to different camps. About the end of the seventh week I noticed a change in the Germans about the place. They were very excited, and argumentive with one another, and from what I could gather the cause of this was fresh news from the battlefront. Also I noticed some British prisoners being brought in. An orderly told us that the British were near, and, taking them by surprise, had captured much ground. The Germans began to pack up and remove the prisoners into Germany. By the end of the eighth week we were awakened one morning by a terrific bombardment which shook every window in the place. This was the Vimy Ridge
affair. Our aeroplanes, too, had been busy, having destroyed part of the railway station and other points of importance. All the New Zealanders had now been removed, with the exception of Faithfull and myself.
“On April 18 we were carried to the railway station, the hospital by this time having been practically cleared. During our journey to the station we must have presented a curious sight to the French inhabitants, as our hair and whiskers had grown very long during our confinement. The French rushed us with gifts, giving to each one a bag containing shirts, socks, towel, soap, and cigarettes, and some of the Frenchmen in their enthusiasm tore off their hats and coats and gave them to us, as we were very poorly clad. They also gave us some bread, biscuits, and raw eggs, and one lady, seeing me in my helpless condition, removed her coat and wrapped it round me. The Germans did not interfere with these acts of kindness, but in some instances they showed great brutality in keeping the crowds back. Alas, these were the last good things we were to receive for some time.
TRANSFERRED TO GERMANY.
“After a journey of two days through France and Belgium, we arrived at Julich, 40 miles beyond Aix-la-Chappelle on April 20. On the journey our food consisted of grain, black bread and coffee. We were removed on stretchers from the train to the hospital, a distance of about a mile. The lateness of the hour—midnight—did not prevent a large crowd of German civilians from gathering around. There was no hostile demonstration—they merely looked on in silence. I was still shivering with the severe cold, and I indicated this to a German, who was helping to carry my stretcher, and he made it his business to procure a coat and wrap it round me. We arrived at last at the hospital, which, like the one at Douai, was for prisoners only. Here were congregated about 50 French and British and from 250 to 300 Russians, and I could not fail to be impressed with the way in which the Russians were utilised to do practically all the hospital work. There were no nurses. The British were distributed all over the place, and I found my bed situated between two Russians.
“And now for a few words about the food. I cannot speak of every hospital and camp where the Germans house their prisoners but I know of five hospitals and one camp, and they are all on a par.
When we opened our eyes in Julich, the first morning we were handed one slice of black bread. I would not like to guess its composition, but it constituted one’s breakfast, together with some vile, black coffee. What did we have for dinner? One day it would be a weak solution of macaroni, another day sauerkraut, or turnip tops. Preserved vegetables were also served out, and they were most objectionable. In the drying process they seemed to have been smothered with charcoal, or some such stuff, and these pieces were thickly scattered all through the food, and it was impossible to remove them.”
IMPRESSIONS OF GERMANS.
Towards the end of the summer Private Oxley had sufficiently recovered to be able to walk, and was then able to take more interest in his surroundings “Business seemed to be dead, traffic almost at a standstill, and the few motor cars I did see bore the Government crest. Old and young men alike were in uniform. Not once did I see a limbless soldier, for the Germans kept their maimed well out of sight. The men, women, and children looked pale and hollow-cheeked, although this part of the town was of the better class. It was no uncommon sight to see children begging from door to door. Before our capture we had often heard stories of the efficiency of German organisation. All I can say is that, so far as my observation went, this state of efficiency did not exist in the hospitals I have seen. At this place in particular the sanitation was disgraceful. There was vermin everywhere—in our beds, clothing, and even in the bandages covering my wounds. They were one Iong nightmare,’ and I shall never forget my feelings of relief when I was moved away. Geese and ducks were allowed to roam about the enclosure, which greatly added to the unhealthy state of the place. The Germans even used the dinner bowls from our wards to feed the poultry.”
Private Oxley again succumbed to illness, and until his recovery was attended with the most kindly care by a Scotch soldier. There was much sickness at the hospital, especially among the Russians, and many deaths occurred. ”In connection with any burials of our men, I would like to say that those of our fellows who were able were allowed to follow the remains, and were given any available khaki. To give the Germans their due, every cortege included a guard of honour and a military band, and they themselves always acted as pall-bearers.”
Hubert’s final discharge as permanently unfit was dated 20th of May 1919. He was awarded a war pension.
From 1928, he and Amelia were living in Richardson Road, Roskill, Auckland. Hubert was a gardener until 1954 he was listed as retired in the electoral roll.