This is the transcript of the first in a two tape interview with Mr. R.E. Curtis (d. 1997) concerning his experiences in the military and the Northfield Military Psychiatric Hospital in England.
PETT reference: (T) CF124
Mr. R.E. Curtis [RC]
interviewed by Craig Fees [CF]
30 November 1994
Continued on (T) CF125
Note: Mr. Curtis gave his permission for non-profit reproduction of his interview. Copyright has been reserved.
RC Yes, and Mother used to get this newspaper issued by the Red Cross, and of course I had all the copies when I came home. And there was one survived, one copy survived, and the reason for its survival, and in fact I've been racking my brains as to where it can be now, because I know my sister had it, and I think I probably gave it back to her, I don't know. And in there it stated that this Arbeits Kommando 7006 had been done away with, it was so primitive*. And that's the only case that I've seen of a camp being that way. There were 82 of us in this particular place, and it involved a train journey from Magdeburg to this village in the Harz, and it took five days. And it was Christmas time of '43, so it's another horrendous month coming up. We pulled into Brunswick station, we're all wired up in cattle trucks of course, and this train halted over Christmas, for obvious reasons. They celebrated Christmas, the Germans, the same as we did. And we broke out of these trucks and raided the allotments, pinching cabbage and God knows what else, and someone knocked on a door and it was a German officer. Of course, obviously, he wanted to know what the hell was going on, and they rounded us all up, and we went to one of these Hermann Goering labour camps, had a bowl of soup, and back on the train. And then we eventually arrived at this particular place. It was quite horrendous, because it was quite a walk up the mountainside from the village to this quarry at the top, but of course you weren't aware of that at the time, that there was a quarry, or anything else. And we were put into an old house on the top of this quarry which we thought was a shooting lodge, and we didn't see our surroundings for about two weeks, because it was covered in mist, you see. And we didn't see the village at all, as I say, for a couple of weeks. And there were 82 of us in this house, part of which was segregated off for German guards, surrounded by barbed wire, obviously. And there were four or five rooms to, upstairs rooms to this place, and freezing to death. I think it was probably, I think '44 was probably the worst winter, but this was bad. There was no heating or anything like that, and there was a little fireplace in this house, and we stuffed the fireplace with grass and tried to set it alight to generate some heat, you know. And, you know, just filled the place out with smoke, of course. But I think probably the close proximity of 82 bodies in one house was enough to generate a bit of heat anyway**, but they had - they were going to send over a milk churn of swedes, you know, stewed swedes for a meal, and apparently nearby was another building that housed French Jews. And apparently one of them had upset our particular German guard, and he kicked the whole lot over, so we didn't - I don't know if I - The following day we were marched off down into this quarry and it was in - there were four faces, Sole Eins, Sole Zwei and Sole Drei, and the other one was Bamberg. Well, in German of course that would be Floor One, Floor Two and Floor Three, and we were assigned to Floor Three. And I've often thought that trudging down to that quarry, if you were adequately dressed it would be something, but of course we were totally inadequately dressed. I had an old French overcoat and an Italian hat, and I think I probably had German trousers. You had no socks, you had squares of cloth, toe rags. In fact I saw that in that book about this toe rag business. Boots of course were virtually non existent. We finished up with clogs eventually. And it always reminded me of reading about Napoleon's retreat from Moscow. And what a pathetic, what a pathetic memory it is! And we got into this quarry and there was a little black bastard, we used to call him - excuse the French - little man with his old peaked cap, and he was the master, he was the meister of the quarry. And the first thing was "vick mit der mantel", you know, take your overcoat off, and overcoats off - you know, we were horrified, you know, what the hell are we taking our overcoats off for? And then of course we were shown up to the quarry face, and we start breaking these rocks, you know, as the day's work, sort of business. Yes, it was bad. We would whistle. The governor used to come around and tell us to stop whistling, we've got nothing to whistle about. You have to bear in mind we were soldiers, actually. We weren't criminals, or, you know. It's the humiliation I think rather than the physical discomfort. Quite a proud regiment that I was in.
CF What was your regiment?
RC Hampshire Regiment. An outstanding chap was a chap by the name of Lilley from the Scots Guards. And that man at all times walked down to the quarry like a soldier, and he always marched back like a soldier. And if ever there was a man I would take my hat off to, it was Private Lilley. His hat was fore and aft as it should be, and straight back. He didn't communicate much. But that's not getting you round to Northfield, is it?
CF It's getting some sort of suggestion of what was behind it, though.
CF It's getting a suggestion of what was behind
RC Well, yes, I had - I was caught in North Africa, and I was caught under odd circumstances - I was a good soldier in that when the Jerries smacked us there - ours was a skirmish, you know. What I've read since and seen newsreelwise since - ours was a skirmish, you know. But if you're being fired at, whether it's a skirmish or whatever, it'll kill you, you know. I've seen the old red hot bits of mortar shrapnel going over my head, and you can see it in daylight, you know, it's that close. And so, you know, it doesn't matter whether it's a big battle or a small one, you're just as dead, you know, if it hits you sort of thing. There were eight of us - it went on for four days, and the company or what we believed to be certainly our entire platoon withdrew from this hilltop in the middle of the night. And one section of us of eight seemed to be still there, you know, and we lived in a haystack - there were two haystacks there, and we lived in one and ammunition and stores and this, that and the other was kept in the other. Now I know it sounds daft to live in a haystack, but you scoop a hole in the straw, put a gas cape over the front, and you even light your little lamps in the straw, would you believe, you know. And of course they set fire to these and the battle started, and the platoon sergeant came over to me on one occasion to go and get the binoculars out of the - his binoculars out of the haystack. And I got these binoculars, and I thought well, of course, binoculars in my circumstances were something out of outer space. You know, you don't - a lad of my age and in those circumstances wouldn't normally have access to things like binoculars. So I tried to focus these damned things down the road, which we could see winding away into the distance, and you know, eventually managed to focus on - and I'm seeing, looking at the whole bloody German army coming along the road, you see. Mark VI Tiger tanks, you name it, half tracks, the lot. Bloody hell sort of business, and took these back to the sergeant and whatnot. And then of course at that time the war started. And I was at our little hill. There was another ridge, and on that ridge we had an O.P. And there was an Arab driving his herd of either cows or goats, I don't know which, along this ridge. And suddenly shellbursts were going along behind him. And it seemed odd, but the faster he ran the faster the shellbursts came along behind him. And I personally thought - felt a little bit sorry for the poor Arab, and did he manage to get away, you know. Didn't give a clue as to whether our chaps in the O.P. had got away or not, but they smacked us, and this was on a farm, it was the surrounds of a farm, with a whacking great pigsty or pigsties rather, there must have been about a couple of hundred pigs there, I should think, on this farm. And every time you heard the crack of this tank in the valley, and waited for the shell to come over, which was like an express train going through a station, you know. And you'd get down, and as I say, you'd hear and see shrapnel going over the top of the trench. You couldn't dig very deep because it was all rock, you see. And as soon as the shell had burst you'd up and look. And there were pigs running around half, you know, half their heads blown off and whatnot, and of course we were frightened to death because on the top of the trench we had these little anti personnel mines that we put along the trench top. And you were scared to death that one of these pigs was going to come around and stand on a mine, you know. But however, eventually the second in command of the company was captured. We were virtually on our own, there were eight of us there, all in our little trenches. And this second in command of the company came across to us. We were under a corporal from Guernsey, a Corporal Freddy Smith, who I think if anyone should have had a decoration, he should. He sent this Lieutenant back. The Germans had sent him over to tell us to pack it up, and stop firing, and this, that and the other. And they sent this Lieutenant over to us to do this. And of course Freddy Smith, he tells him to buzz off, we're carrying on fighting, you see. And they were - at that instant, whereas before every shellburst you were in the bottom of the trench, where's it going to hurt, where's it going to hit you. Never, ever think of being caught. The last thing you think of, because you know you're going to - all sorts of thoughts go through your mind. I recall I was clearing out the backsight on my rifle when I was down in the trench. It was covered in clay and white mud, you know. And I was cleaning it up and whatnot. And all the time the fear is in your mind as to where it's going to hurt, and you can imagine yourself with your guts torn open and everything else. Now this is our first action, something you're not - had I been able to carry on, I would have probably have made a good soldier, I don't know. This was our sort of baptism. Well, they sent this Lieutenant over to us to pack it up, and Freddy Smith sends him off. And so we carry on firing away, and a friend of mine - a mate of mine, another Channel Islander with the name of Lemare - and I would dearly love to meet Lemare if he's still alive - he suddenly jumped up out of his trench, and he was behind me. "Oh, I've been hit," you see. And it was so funny, that I was laughing like a drain. And one of my colleagues said after, he said his last memory of me was firing my rifle away and laughing like an idiot, you see. And of course it was only because Lemare had been shot. So so much for all this business of looking after your mates and this, that and the other, you know, and whatnot - self preservation was the thing. And eventually they came back to us again, this Lieutenant, you know, the second in command of the company, to tell us to stop firing, by which time there are five of us now, fighting a war, three of the eight were trying to dig even deeper into the ground, which they're not going to be able to do. So I've never ever felt guilty about - I didn't run away, and - shows you how patriotic I was! And I think probably had I survived it I would have gone through the rest of the war, you know, God willing, with not too many problems. You know, I'd faced it and when people in charge of you say, "We're carrying on fighting," there's only one end, you see. Because you never, ever think of being caught. Of sticking your hands in the air and giving up. And the second time he came across, this Lieutenant came across to us, we gave up, Freddy Smith gave up, and that was it, our war was over. Threw your rifle away, hands on head, and that was it. Well now, an incident happened after that that has - I think I mentioned before - has dogged me all of - it's been with me all of my life. I did mention it this year to some colleague of the Association up in Aldershot, and I haven't heard from him since so I think it must have upset him, so - he wasn't a P.O.W. or anything else, but he runs - he's the secretary of the Regimental Association in Aldershot. And I don't think he thought too much of me, and we sort of lost communication. But that's as it is, and I'll accept it. But our company commander was killed and I was with him when he died. We were behind the German lines then. And the German officer there wanted us out of it. And there was Captain Butler, on a, on a groundsheet. Wanted volunteers to bury him - shot to pieces he was. And he said he wanted plenty of laughter, was his last words. And I said, "Let the bastard bury himself." And - that I live with, and, I don't want sympathy, I only want understanding.
CF Why did you find yourself saying that?
CF Why did you find yourself saying that?
RC I don't know. I think I'd had an altercation with him a few days earlier, and - I don't know, I don't know. I often wonder sometimes if I really did say it. But - funny, what you do. Bravado, or whatever - I don't know. I'm sorry about that Craig. But that was it. Do you want to terminate your interview?
CF Do you want me to?
RC Do you want me to?
RC I don't know, I don't know.
CF Can I just say this makes a lot of sense.
CF It makes a lot of sense.
CF That you would have said that.
RC I don't know. He was a good man. Only twenty three. I used to - always wanted to visit his family - I don't know whether he was married or not, but he lived near home, actually, had a farm near home, and I always wanted to - seeing as I was probably the last bloke to see him alive, or one at the most three, I should think. Then I thought, well, no, I haven't got the guts enough to face his family with it. So I haven't. Would have been better for me probably if I had, you know, but there you go.
CF Did they ship you off to a prison camp immediately?
RC Yes. That was horrendous, as well. We got strafed twice by Spitfires, which was quite an experience. And marching along the road, a friend of mine, again a friend - we sat alongside a - that night, the old haystacks burning away merrily in the night - we sat alongside the Mark VI Tiger Tank there, and it would seem one of my mates, who also lived near home, chap by the name of "Dogger" Knight, had a hand virtually blown off with a mortar bomb, a mortar bomb had dropped in their trench and virtually blew his hand away, or one hand away. And they wanted overcoats - going round for overcoats for him, because of this damn cold - it gets damn cold out there at night. And I refused to give mine up, I wanted it myself. So you can see how selfish human beings can be, and I tell you, my life is all guilt, guilt, guilt, all down the line. We went into Tunis, we were put in a disused factory there. Eventually on to a little old boat off of Cape Bon and down in the hold. And about ten days on that boat without it moving. First encounter with lice, and there was not space enough in this hold to sit down or lie down or stand up, really, and God knows how many of us were down in there. And they used to lower a bucket of water down on a rope, with the hatch covers removed, and had one biscuit a day. And that was your rations for that. At the top of the stairs of the hold was a bally great oil drum, overflowing with you know what, so you sort of lived in it, sloshed around in it and whatnot, and there were two occasions we were allowed out on deck for an hour, and that's when we first encountered the lice. And we went into Naples, put on the railway. It took three days to get from Naples to Capua, which is, I don't know, probably about twenty miles from Naples, but it took three days to get there. As I got off the boat in Naples harbour the Italian sentry on the - where we got off, standing on the boat, wanted my overcoat, and I swapped my overcoat for a piece of cheese. And we got on this train eventually - and when I say a piece of cheese, about the size of my fist. And spent three days on this boat - on this train. I had the piece of cheese in my hand all the time, and I daren't even show it. Couldn't even eat it, because fifty other people, or forty nine other people in the truck would have wanted my cheese. And so you couldn't eat it anyway, you know. And - oh, it's a funny old life. Finished up in this P.O.W. Camp in - Campo PG 66 at Capua. And spent a month or two there, and then transferred to another camp, up, near the Adriatic coast. And from there, September, when the Italians surrendered there, and finished up in Mooseburgh - Stalag 7A - horrendous place. Had a month or so there, and then out on this - another place - Altengrabow. From there we went to, as I say, over Christmas of '43 we were - and that took five days travelling, so I've done some railway travels of one sort and another. And I've survived rather well. But when I see what other people have put up with, I'm at peace with myself. I am now, this year. I've got a lot off of my chest, and - I don't think I was ever a bad - I was never a bad lad at all. But I made a few mistakes. And then I suppose Liberation came.
CF Where were you at the time of Liberation?
RC A little place called Derenburg, which was in the Eastern zone of Germany. We'd been on the road for a week, which again was quite another experience, I can tell you. No rations, no water, there were chaps there with me that had been on the road since January, and they'd been walking from Poland, and we met up with them at Gottingen, and - a pitiful sight. You can't - you can't really describe it. God knows how many miles they'd walked. We did - I don't know what mileage we put in, but something between 100 and 200 miles in a week. I mean we marched from daylight to dusk, and there were no rations of any sort. You slept out in the open, generally, and - if you could sleep at all - and the depths of degradation you go to is that I recall being in a barn one night and between the slats of the space - there was some movement outside, and I said to this chappy here, George Hayes, no that one there,
CF Oh, behind you?
RC Yes. That's George. Technically we escaped, there was three of us, and I've never seen them since. And we went out to investigate and the chaps were scrabbling through a mound, which turned out to be a dung heap, you see, compost heap, and someone had found some beans - like seed beans - in this dung heap, and were digging out the beans to eat, you know. I recall we - a horse and cart came along at one time, loaded with potatoes, down the column, which was ludicrous, because by the time he got to the end of the column he had no potatoes left. They were covered in what we thought at the time was lime - it couldn't have been lime, but I mean we ate them just as they were. The day I was liberated, technically we escaped, because the three of us - I'm digging peas that are just showing above the ground in the fields, and you dig down and there's the seed pea, you know, with the shoot just coming out. And we dug up these peas to eat and whatnot, and as the column approached this town, Derenburg, there were white sheets hanging in the trees, white sheets hanging at the windows, so we knew something was - peculiar was going on. I mean I've since known all about the white sheets. And the three of us, we edged our way back to the end of the column, got a rifle butt round the earhole to get back into the column, which we did, and - but we took off anyway, the three of us, and we crossed a river - there was a big black pipe went across this river, and we scurried across this pipe and into the town, and we'd pinched a tin of bully beef off of one of these guards - their bully beef was in round tins, and of course we had no means of opening this bully beef. We even asked a German soldier in this town to open this can of bully. Which he did, actually, and so we had our sort of first meal. But we went into a house, which fortunately held forced labour workers, civilian workers, and obviously by this time I'd got a beard, and in fact my hair was down to my shoulders, and moustache - just like yours. And I just got - was having a shave in this place, and had just got half of my face shaved and the war started in this town. And, you know, all around. And one of these Polish forced labour workers told us to go into the cellar. And we went down there, and of course you couldn't get in, it was packed. And so he said, "Well, up the garden, he said. "Hole up the garden." So we went up and jumped in this hole - quite a large hole - and it turned out to be the latrine. Open cesspit, you know. And we jumped in this hole, and stayed there for quite a while, actually. And eventually a lot of cheering going on and whatnot, and we scrabbled up the sides of this hole, and of course there was these American tanks - your General Patton, coming across the fields, you see. Now, we were then housed in a school. And it would seem the American troops there had raided the houses, all the mattresses and whatnot, and we had a mattress on the floor. That's when I first met concentration camp victims, that were in there as well - in this school as well. And I recall one old lady crying her eyes out on my shoulder. "Have you seen my son?" you know. It was quite, quite horrendous, the way the world's gone. It was a bad - a bad time. But I was never so more depressed when I - odd thing to say, you would think you would be exhilarated, sort of thing, or, you know, jumping for joy, and - probably we were at first. But I was never more fed up than when we were on the boat coming home from Ostend. And it was absolutely ridiculous. I think there was a question - I've always thought that it's being institutionalised. You now into an unknown world and, you know, how are you going to cope with it, and this, that and the other. You must bear in mind that you had absolutely nothing except what you stood up in. You had nothing. You can never imagine what having nothing really is. And all you've got is yourself and your own resources. And I survived. So. I've never talked like this to anyone. It must be your benign character, I think. Who could you talk to? But, there it is. I can't stand people. The hypocrisy and deceit that goes on, but I know different. But there you go. So. Northfield.
CF Would you like to stop for a moment, or -
RC Can I?
RC Can I have a cigarette?
END OF SIDE A
RC Now. Penn, the village of Penn is - I don't know - well, you don't know Penn, but if you know High Wycombe, then probably you would know Penn, but it's right in the middle of a wood, actually. Penn Wood, and our camp was in the middle of this wood. And I can't recall whether we were there on a regimental basis, which I think we were, I think it was the Hampshire Regiment. Obviously, because I would have been recalled - after leave I would have been recalled to it.
CF So you were liberated in Germany, and then repatriated to -
RC Yes. I went back to Horsham. Came into - had a big reception in Tilbury, at the docks, and all the usual business of party, you know, a party and whatnot - it was quite something I suppose. And then we went down to Horsham, and we were in a camp in Horsham - under canvas. And I think that was May, the middle of May I should think. I lived in Farnham, and Horsham was probably about twenty five miles away, I suppose. And I obviously - to me twenty five miles was down the road, you know. And I obviously wanted to get home. I spent a night at Horsham under canvas, issued with new uniform and medal ribbons, and the election was on, the 1945 election, and you had a vote - I think it was a proxy vote, I don't know. I can't recall the details. Labour government got in of course, poor old Churchill was kicked out. And I think all the shenanigans with Churchill - very devious and this, that and the other, particularly with Pearl Harbour - if you've ever read, probably you have, about the deviousness of Churchill on Pearl Harbour. Have you?
CF Yes, well he more or less knew about it, didn't he?
RC I think he engineered it, yes, yes. A put up job, I think, that. It was just propitious I think that the Japanese were holding oil talks, weren't they, in Washington or something? And they were still there when they struck Pearl Harbour? Yes. I am read, you know. And - but the British people thought a lot of Churchill, and they still do. I still feel - I can commiserate with Churchill, he was - whatever. But I won't hear anything said against him. If anyone can say it, I'm going to say it. Do you follow what I mean?
CF Mm hm.
RC I know all about his deviousness and everything else. But he still - he's still Churchill, and I think he's the greatest man this century. However, that's by the way. The following day I got leave to push off back home. I mean there was a lot of documentation and this that and the other, you know. But I went home on that Saturday, which was obvious - when I recall walking into the front room, and Mother there, Father there, who I didn't have much time for at the time, and I've been proved wrong since - and another guilt complex. You spend your life being guilty. I had a week or two at home. I was put on an egg custard and Guinness diet, because - it doesn't look it in that photograph, but I think my weight was something like about eight stone, and I was a twelve stone bloke, if you know what I mean.
RC And so I used to get drunk every day, rolling drunk, you know, in the pub on Guinness and whatnot. And eventually went back to this camp at Penn. And I think - I can't recall meeting other P.O.W's. I think - there must have been P.O.W's - but you wouldn't have had a regiment of P.O.W's, that's ridiculous! I can't really recall. However. I think probably there were a lot of P.O.W's there, and they couldn't do anything with us. Discipline virtually collapsed in that camp. We used to go out on the pubs every day, and - Amersham, High Wycombe, every pub you came in you had a pint, you know, and whatnot. And I recall one night they picked us up from Amersham - We were on the bowling green, apparently, drunk as lords. And this sergeant of the regimental police was there with his corporal, you know, to take us back to camp. We told him to bugger off, you know, and whatnot, and he did actually. So we had to walk from High Wycombe to Penn, and of course when I got to Penn the front of my trousers had been ripped straight out. We'd gone through a barbed wire fence or something, but don't ask me - I don't know. I do know that I was in a bit of a fix as to how I'm going to explain issuing new trousers from the quartermaster, you know, seen as wilful damage. But I - my second eldest brother was in the Air Force - was time serving in the Air Force. He was a Warrant Officer Class I, actually, and joined up in either '35 or '36. And he lived at the time at West Norwood, up in London, with his wife of course. I used to idolise Bert, actually. And he wrote to me asking if he could borrow 10 from me. Now 10 - you know, you pay that for coffee these days. But 10 then, when you're on fourteen bob a week, is a small fortune, you see. Well, of course we were still being paid all the while we were P.O.W, although you weren't getting - you know, it was going into your credits. So he wanted to buy an armchair, as I recall. I got my 10 about fifteen, twenty years later eventually, but never mind, he paid it back. Not that it was ever on my mind. But the company office was under canvas, and I went over to - with this chap in the middle. I can't think of his other name, but to me he was Butch. And we both went in the company office, saw the Company Sergeant Major, you know, smashing fellow! I think his name was Blackwood. But he was a smashing fellow, and I liked him, which is rare. If you like a sergeant major it's quite rare. But I liked that sergeant major. And I told him I wanted 10 out of my credit. And he said, "You'll have to wait till payday, son." I said, "I want that now!" I said, "It's my money," I said, "I want that 10 now." He said, "You'll have to wait," you see. Well, on his desk he had a three foot straight edge. And I picked this straight edge up, and got the front of his jacket, and of course that one, Butch, he pulled me off, you see, and probably the best thing he ever did, I don't know. It may be the worst thing he ever did. But he pulled me off, you see. And the next thing I'm in an ambulance, Birmingham Snowhill Station, and, ambulance comes out from Northfield, and I'm in Northfield Hospital.
CF So you actually went to Northfield by ambulance.
RC I can't recall. I should - I can't imagine going up to - I can't imagine going all that way in an ambulance. An ambulance came out from Northfield, because we told the girl, the ambulance driver to bugger off, didn't want to know, you know. And, oh, she was quite stroppy. "Get in." Yes, it was quite something. But no, I can't recall how we got to - I should imagine, if we went to Snowhill Station, we must have gone by train. Now whether we went under escort, which I don't think we did, actually. I can't honestly recall.
CF Now, you're saying, 'we', does that mean that Butch went along with you, or did you -
RC Well, there was someone with me. Now whether he was a kindred patient, or an escort, I don't know, I can't honestly recall. One day it might surface, but I'm a firm believer in the fact that you've got so many memories, and they're so deeply buried, that it would take a hypnotist, I should think, to get them out, if you follow my meaning. Well then, as I say, we finished up in that assembly hall, and I - you know, I'm quite, quite sure that that was the hall where we were assembled. And I think we were - I think - there was no - we didn't at that time go to a ward. We didn't even know what a ward looked like. I'm quite sure that we eventually - I suppose there must have been some documentation at the time. We went into - or at least I went into this Major. Very, very nice gent, very handsome and whatnot, and
CF He had a handlebar moustache, yes?
RC Yes. Very nice chap actually, very pleasant. And I sat in there, in his office. "Have you ever tried to commit suicide?" "Yes." I had. I had in this camp. To elaborate on that, it was the winter of '44/'45, which was quite a horrendous winter, actually. I mean we were way up the mountain there, and the snow's pretty deep, actually. And in fact - you've heard the expression of a 'white out' - well, we went through a white out in this quarry. And if you're - if you can't see for snow, and you're in a quarry, and the quarry is - what, I don't know, that particular floor perhaps 100 foot I suppose. You know, you could walk over it with no trouble at all, so all's you could do was to stand still, or sit still, or whatever. But however, that winter, right over my head in this quarry was a massive outcrop of rock, and there used to be a Frenchman and his - we had two horses originally, one died. Another one, the second one, walked over the edge of the quarry and it finished up that the only meat ration we ever got was little bits of horseflesh eventually, in with the swede. I've never knowingly eaten swede since. It's thick on the ground down here. I decided that that rock was going to end it all. It was a massive great - it was bigger than this room. You know, it stuck out like a bulge in the rock face. And I picked away - because we used to go over the top with a rope and a stanger, which is a long, steel pole with a bladed end, and you picked away. And this was going to come down on me, this rock. You know, the end of it all. I wasn't the only one, you know. And eventually this rock came down, and it hit the rails - do you know, I've never said this to anyone. Amazing, isn't it? It hit the rails, split in two, and one piece was straddling the rails. Now, self preservation is a funny thing, because if you're going to commit suicide, you are either earnest and you commit suicide, or you're crying for help. And I ran. So I was crying for help. But I ran backwards. And I watched this rock come tumbling towards me down these rails. And it just landed on my foot. And I've still got the scarred big toe to show for it. Yes. And it didn't hurt a bit. I mean it was freezing, you know, the weather. And I sat on the bumper of this truck and the Frenchman come over to me - he'd seen it happen - and told me to leave my boot on, but by which time I've got my boot off. Because he said, "You'll never get it back on again." And I just tipped the blood out of my boot, you see. But it got me two or three days off work. Well, longer than that, actually. So that was - however, that's diverging from
CF But that's what you told the Major when he asked you.
RC Yes, yes that's right. So, yes, I had. I suppose once or twice I've tried it since. In fact, as I say, it's never far from my mind. But it's got to be done. If it happened - sorry to talk like this, but it's a relaxed atmosphere and one can speak my mind. It would have to be done so that it didn't hurt anyone else. I just read today about old Buster Edwards hanging himself, and I commiserate with the man. You've got to be to some lengths to - so anyway, the Major then asks me if I'd object to injections, and I said I did. I'd had, as I said earlier, I'd had this experience in Italy - a camp in Italy with an Italian doctor. I think everyone was inoculated. You had your head shaved off and everything else. It was just another humiliation, you know. It's surprising. You think a lot of your hair, I think a lot of mine. When it's shorn it's something else again, you know. When it's deliberately shorn, for no reason. And I objected to this injection, and he said, "Well, take these capsules." And there was a waiting room beyond his office. There were seven of these capsules. I recall them clearly in shape. They were like the soluble outer - do you know what I mean? You know, they come apart.
RC And there were seven. And he said, "Take these. When you feel tired get into bed." I'm now talking for the tape. Now, the bed was shaped like a bath, of this close coiled wire mesh. And to get into bed you've got a set of two or three steps on the side of the bed, so that you can get in. And I sat on the top of these - or rather I sat in the waiting room for it seemed hours. And I never felt a bit tired. And I went into the ward and sat on the top of these steps. And I thought, well, I must be tired now, you know. And of course I recall no more until I woke up in a darkened ward on a mattress underneath a window shaking a blind that was - raining outside, and shaking the raindrops on me. Sitting by my side is a nurse. She can't understand what I'm saying because I'm talking German all the time, and I don't even know the German language, only smatterings, so - she tells me that it's a week hence from when I thought it was, and I'd been there for a week. And I do recall that in that sedation period I can remember being fed from a long spouted feeding mug. There are snatches of it. I know I insisted on going to the loo on my own two feet, which I did. And apparently - I don't know, but apparently I was too violent to go the full sedation course of two weeks. And I had a week. And it was probably unprecedented, I don't know. But I do recall that - going into this locked ward - locked room, mattress on the floor. Shall I repeat this?
CF Yes please. This is after you finished this week, that they shifted you into another ward.
RC That's right.
CF Can you remember - when you woke up with the raindrops, can you remember looking around the ward and what you saw?
RC Well, you didn't see anything, only this light in the middle of the - I couldn't even describe the ward, but there was a desk there. And I assume it was quite large, because this light seemed to be some way away. And it was obviously the nurse's desk, I don't know. I've said it's in the middle of the room. I mean it's daylight outside. So presumably it was a large room, you know. And there could have been other - but I've no recollection of beds or anything else. But I do recall, or had the impression, that it was a large room, and could only have been a ward. And I was, as I say, I was on this mattress, no blankets or anything like that. I may have had blankets, I don't know. But apparently I tore blankets up anyway, you know. And so probably this is - I don't know, I don't know. I know this - the front of my pyjamas was all ripped out. Either ripped out or wide open, as it were, and there's this nurse sitting beside of me. I wasn't all that conscious of it anyway, you know. I mean she could be doing what she wanted, you know, I don't know. But she was quite a pleasant character, I must say. But my whole experience there at Northfield, I can't understand - as I've said before, I can't understand that tape. On that tape I've heard no sort of horrendous happenings at Northfield, or anything, you know - because I would put the lie to it. That my recollections were only pleasant. And I do recall that in that closed, little closed ward of mine - big, brass doorlocks, solid wooden doors, I recall it clearly. And the parquet floor with the wood blocks coming up out of the floor and running round and round the bed. Now, it's quite a fantastic experience. And I always used to say that I've had the most gorgeous "up" - if you like, if you know what I mean. Because that is - probably, I don't know - probably as good a description of that little ward that one could have. I mean to see these blocks of wood come up absolutely symmetrically and go round the bed, run round the bed, and then come back - bearing in mind I'm on a mattress on the floor - and then going back into the floor, seeing these lovely oil paintings, or lovely paintings, on the ceiling, which was an ordinary whitewashed ceiling, nothing on it whatsoever, having someone pull your legs off, pull your head off, your body fold inwards and then outwards - it's indescribable - well, I can describe it, but you can't imagine it, you know.
CF No. Was it terrifying for you?
RC No. I was quite happy. Quite happy. As I recall, although there is a point - I don't know how many days I was in there, but I do recall that in August, when the Japanese surrendered, I know I was crying my eyes out, and the corporal from the medical corps was holding my hand and trying to reassure me. And I think really it was because you'd seen a lot of horrendous things, and the world had gone mad, and this business with Japan. And. So whether it was relief or - I don't know, but I know I was crying like a baby. It was quite odd, quite odd. I do recall there a chappie - sergeant, I think - there were some high fliers in that hospital. A sergeant driving around in an ambulance loaded with army blankets, and was picked up and he knew nothing about it. You know, broken out and - when I say broken out, there were two occasions when I was in there. One was in my little locked ward on my own.
CF So you were in a room all by yourself?
RC On my own. Yes, oh yes, on my own in this - where you had these hallucinations. But there was another large room - I suppose you'd call it the recreation room - where we moved freely, but the door was locked, you know. Which didn't badly come amiss at all, you know, but as for people working their tickets and this, that and the other, I never met any. You know, I never met any. In fact, I don't think I - there was a period when we were in a normal open ward. And if ever I've sung praises of nursing staff it's the QuAin's, the Queen Alexandras. They were absolutely first rate, you know, they were first rate to us. And in fact, as I recall, we had a damn good time. They were - we were adopted by Cadbury's across the road. We were adopted by Austin Motors, and I used to go for therapy to Austin Motors - or started to go to therapy to Austin Motors, and - a bit stupid really, because we'd never encountered neon - fluorescent lighting, which that workshop was. And it was a sort of a test - test beds for engines, if you can believe, and of course the racket was horrendous. And I stayed an hour, I couldn't stand more of it and gave it up. My favourite chocolate is Cadbury's and will always be. I would hold the torch for Cadbury's. You know, to us they were first rate. They kept us supplied - well supplied with cigarettes, everything you wanted.
CF While you were on therapy there?
RC While I was - yes, while we were on therapy in - not in Austins. No, we didn't do any therapy at Cadbury's.
CF So - I meant, sorry, while you were in Northfield itself.
RC While we were in Northfield.
CF They kept you supplied with all these things?
RC Oh yes.
CF Oh I see, Right.
RC Cans of peaches, and we used to throw peaches about the kitchen. You know, it - and of course the downgrading thing was our daily issue of pentathol - I think it was pentathol. Horrible smell.
CF That would be first thing in the morning they would
RC Probably yes, yes. Routine wise - it was such a long time ago. And of course, as I mentioned - And you see you were probably not au fait with everything that was going on around you anyway.
RC And this is why I can't understand these people in that tape who are so derogatory, you know. Because they wouldn't really - I don't know, they wouldn't really have an understanding of what's going on anyway. I wouldn't have thought. I don't know. But it wasn't my experience.
CF Did you have a particular therapist, someone who
RC I think that was the chappie there.
CF The fellow in the middle, yes, in the middle.
RC I'm pretty sure. I'm pretty sure. Dumpy man in glasses. But a very friendly character.
RC Yes. He used to give us talks on what goes on in the mind and this, that and the other.
CF Oh really?
CF What kind - well, I suppose the question is what kind of things did he actually do with you? Did you have one on one sessions, or did you have
RC No, little groups. This was - ours was a little group. Little group therapy sessions, yes.
CF Oh really?
RC Yes. It wasn't - I don't think it was - I can't recall being a one-to-one business at all. But I do recall, you know, the - I've got nothing to say against Northfield Hospital at all.
RC I've got far more to say against Brookwood Hospital.
RC I had this E.C.T. treatment. I think moves are afoot to - there were moves afoot to ban it, but there's the other side of the coin that doesn't want it, they think it should be carried on. You reach a point where you say to yourself, well - in fact, when I was in there... I slapped my wife's face at that time. And I got stuck in there for - I was violent. It seems odd to me - you can dismember somebody and do community service for doing it, do you know what I mean? And so I finished up in Brookwood. And a more horrendous experience - in fact the doctors apparently, when I came out, they said that I would be back. And of course I've steadfastly willed myself that there's no way am I going back there, or anywhere else, you know. I'm me, and I'm as good as the next man.
CF How would you contrast then, what your experience of Brookwood - just in terms of atmosphere, say - and Northfield? I mean how would you characterise Northfield?
RC Well, I think probably at Northfield - I'd recently gone through a longtime experience. I can't recall feeling that - if you break an arm, they stick it in plaster and that's it. Nothing else to say. If you try and come to terms with yourself at that age anyway, and after what's gone before, I don't really think you're going to come up with any answers, do you know what I mean? But Brookwood - you've got the added import as it were, of the previous experience at Northfield, which would probably reinforce your feelings of why you're now in Brookwood, if you follow. And you're able to make the distinction between why you're at Northfield and why you're at Brookwood, you see.
CF Does that mean you weren't entirely clear why you were at Northfield?
RC Not at the time, no. Not at the time. One didn't know - no-one knows off the cuff about psychiatry or anything else. I mean how would you encounter those conditions in a normal life, you know? There is - these days there's what I call - well, not only I but other people, call a growth industry of counselling.
RC And probably you are, I don't know, but it's a growth industry, isn't it?
CF It seems to be, yes.
RC Everybody gets counselling now. Instead of standing on their own bloody feet, you know, they get it for such stupid little things, you know. But I don't think - had I not gone to Northfield, I don't know what would have happened, I don't know. I often think that if it wasn't for old Butch there I might have been in a different situation, I don't even know about that. Because, as I've said earlier, I'm not a bad man. I mean I'm not a - I'm certainly not a violent man. I would walk the other way. But I am a man who believes that right is right and justice is justice, fairness is fair, which is sadly lacking now, you see. Because there's no justice now. And I don't really think...I would stick up for myself. I don't really think that had he not been there, probably I wouldn't have had the bravado to insist to the Company Sergeant Major that I wanted that money, do you follow me?
CF Yes, yes, yes.
RC If you've got no audience there's no act, is there. You know. So, do you think I'm a bit complex?
CF You seem to be a bit human.
RC Yes. I think I am. Yes, I think I am. Yes. I've got all the idiosyncrasies, and I've got all the fallibilities and whatnot of the human race, and just keep in control of them. And I control mine, because I'm able to control mine. I don't know what I would be like now - well, I wouldn't fit in actually, with normal sort of society. I'm not a society man, you know, I'm not a social man. As I've said, I've got some very, very good friends. But, you know, they're kept where they - I don't allow them to intrude. You can't intrude. The door's shut, and I keep the door shut. People like you come along and I open my heart, but there you go. No, I wish Northfield was presented in a better light actually, to what I heard there.
CF Well, I have no doubt that Dr. Harrison, he's going to be writing a book. I've no doubt that his book will present it in a much better light.
RC I hope so.
CF It'll be broader based. It'll have - well, it'll incorporate your experiences for example.
RC Yes, yes, yes, yes.
CF So I mean it's bound to be better from that sense. Can I put in another tape? Do you mind?
END OF TAPE
"the Red Cross had approached the Germans to have 7006 closed down as it was considered to be too primitive; it was never closed down of course." - Mr. Curtis, letter 5 June 1995.
* "concerning our 'shooting lodge', we did ourselves build a wooden barrack the following Spring to alleviate the over-crowding problem." - Mr. Curtis, letter 5 June 1995.