Letter From a Rainham Prisoner of War in 1918
Private Frank Perry of the RAMC, Ist Northumberland Field Ambulance and son of Reverend F. E. Perry of Rainham Congregational Church had been missing in action for 11 weeks until he contacted his parents on June 12th 1918, informing them that he had been taken prisoner of war and sent to Gefangenan camp in Lamsdorf, Germany. He wrote a more comprehensive letter on November 30th 1918 that the East Kent Gazette published.
‘I was taken prisoner on May 27th and at that time was very concerned, and naturally am still, as to how things were going at home, seeing that three weeks had elapsed since last I received a letter from you. My last letter from home was posted on April 30th, and I received it in the village of Ventelay on Saturday May 5th. However, on May 22nd I received a parcel from you, and as this was addressed by you both and posted on May 16th. I take it that up to then you were alright, and trust that same still applies.
After five weeks work behind the lines, we entrained for Germany on Monday July 1st, and having completed three days in the train, arrived in this prisoner’s camp weary and hungry on Thursday evening the 4th. We were the first British and French prisoners to come to this camp, as until recently it had been composed of prisoners of other nationalities. You should see us, what a mixed assembly; men of at least 10 different nations, all jumbled up together. Attached to this camp is a very big hospital for prisoners and it is in this hospital that I am working. There are five nations represented in my barracks. – though we are mostly British and French. We are only two RAMC men here, both belonging to the same ambulance, though we didn’t know that the other was captured until we were behind the German lines. Although we have medical officer prisoners here, representing every one of the allied nations, up to now we have no British doctors. However, the Romanian doctor (who has the oversight of this barracks) speaks French and so I have been working as an interpreter between our men and the Medical Officer. By the way, Bulman is the name of our unit who is here with me; so you are waiting for Joe, who I hope is still safe and well, you might tell him that Bulman and I are both in the same camp.
We are rather unfortunate in the matter of comforts etc from the Red Cross Society, though we are hoping that emergency parcels as they are known announce the prisoners will soon be coming along. Seeing that we are only allowed to write a letter every second Sunday would you save me a letter by notifying the OC of my ambulance that I am safe and a prisoner? He knows where and under what circumstances I stayed though naturally he will not know what has become of me. You might also tell him that just after I was captured and immediately behind the dressing station, I came across a squad of four RAMC bearers, who, together with the wounded case they were carrying in, had all been killed, apparently by the same shell. I was only able to get one man’s particulars, though having his name they may be able to trace the other three. His name was Private W G Gibson, 1/3rd Northumbrian Field Ambulance. Our OC will then be able to communicate with the lad’s parents and the some anxious minds will be set at rest.
Now to my needs. Firstly, I am longing to know that you know that I am alright and after that – well, they are numerous. Let me explain. I was captured just as I stood with not an atom of kit beyond my steel helmet and gas mask, which, needless to say, were soon of no use to me. I have not even bare necessaries. I had to prowl about for a share as I’d a beard like my dad. I have to wash without soap which is unprocurable, and when you get it, it costs several shillings a tablet. I managed to get a towel on the second day of captivity out of the haversack of a poor ‘Tommy’ who will have no further need of it. I have no tobacco, which is exceptionally rare in this country; and to sum everything up I know what the word poverty means. But though I am minus so many things I am still rich. There is a sort of canteen in connection with the camp where certain things can be procured, but it needs money, and a lot. Can you let me have some, please?
I understand from the old prisoners that money can be sent through alright although I receive a parcel or so. I expect it’s little money I’ll want; still I’ll like to have some on me in case I should have need of it. Naturally, I need socks, a razor and shaving tackle, soap, tobacco etc. I was not conversant with regulations regarding parcels for prisoners of war, still you will be able to find out about this. Five kilos is the limit in weight, I believe. As for letters, you at home can write when you wish, whereas here we are allowed to write a card every Sunday and on alternate Sundays a letter. On the 28th I hope to write to Peggy and then on August 11th another letter to you. Well, now there are lots more I could say, but must stop. After my first one or two letters I guess I’ll have little to tell for it will be the same old thing day by day, still, cheerio! We’re not dead yet. A book would be a great distraction. I’d love to get one, a paper backed copy of ‘Adam Bede,’ for example. You will now be in chapel and I hope having a real good time; as for me, I am behind barbed wire, with nothing but a waste of shabby land I gaze upon. Still my heart is good and in spirit I’m with you all in the dear old country so cheer up and keep smiling – always looking forward – My kindest regards to all the good people at Rainham. Best love to you – Ever your loving son. Frank Perry.’
After his release Frank Perry returned to Rainham at the end of the war and was presented with the Military Medal because he had volunteered to stay with wounded comrades in the face of an enemy attack before being taken prisoner of war.