A fortnight after the article covering Mr and Mrs Chanter’s visit to their son in a Dutch internment camp was published, news of another interned Barumite was reprinted in the North Devon Herald. Francis Henry Gribble was born in Barnstaple in 1862, the son of Henry Gribble of the Old Bank. In 1887, after finishing his education, he moved to London where he started his career as a writer…
The following appeared in Tuesday’s “ Daily News and Leader.”
“The Flushing boat brought home yesterday afternoon Mr. Francis Henry Gribble, the author, and his wife after fifteen months exile. Mr. Gribble, who for about eleven months has been a prisoner at Ruhleben, near Berlin, declared he felt quite fit now, having had a little time in Holland to get Germany off his mind; but he admitted he could not tell what effect his experiences had had upon him till he settled down to work again. He reflected something of that ironic patience and quietness of superiority which the Germans at first found so horribly annoying in English prisoners, and now have learned to respect. But one felt, in listening to Mr. Gribble and his wife, that, though they never directly said so, they must have undergone a severe trial. As it was, the author, gazing over his home landscaps[sic] again from the train window yesterday, commented on the past with mild amusement.
That was no place for the delicate in the early months of the war. The prisoners slept in horse-boxes and the lofts. Those on the ground floor had nothing but loose straw between them and the concrete.
“It was pitiful,” said Mrs. Gribble, “to hear the coughing at night.”
The food, too, was abominable, hard bread and coffee (the latter probably of acorn flour) for breakfast, and soup for dinner, in which it was more than a puzzle to find the meat. Later, the American Ambassador secured much improvement, though even so Mr. Gribble said he does not know what would have happened to him if he had been without the means to procure tastier food at the canteen.
He said that some men there, who began with a little grey hair, have now white hair. One of them, he added, anxious not to alarm the home folk too much should he be released, got some German hair dye-more frightfulness-” and now it would be better if his relatives do not see him till his head is less of a vivid colour scheme.”
They were staying at Vianden (Luxemburg) in July, 1914, paying not much attention to the gathering uproar in Europe, when one Sunday morning (August 2nd) someone came flying down the street, while the author and his wife were in the verandah of their hotel, saying the Germans were in Luxemburg. Mr. Gribble knew a special train had been announced for arrival there. It turned out, however, to be an armoured train. They were caught.
At first they were merely kept under observation, being treated very leniently, no more than a fixed bayonet at the bedroom door keeping them reminded. Towards the end of October Mr. Gribble asked for a pass, which was refused by the Commandant, who sent them both to Coblentz.
Subsequently, while at Coblentz, an order was issued to arrest all men up to 35 years of age. Mr. Gribble was separated from his wife, who was allowed to stay at the Coblentz Hotel (and was, by the way, quite well treated there), and eventually found himself at Ruhleben Camp.
On the whole, Mr. Gribble fancies the Germans have changed some of their cherished convictions since the early days of the war. Their arrogance, seeing success is certainly far and indefinite, is fading. And there is no doubt they are running short of necessities.
“I venture it only as my opinion, but I imagine they may not be far from the breaking point. It is significant they should have called in army rejects for re-examination in order to secure no more than 200,000 men.”
Ruhleben was not without its humours. One day, when a company of prisoners was parading the street, a German reporter got mixed up with them, and not ali[sic] his wild protests would convince the German police that he was not a prisoner himself. Anyhow, they made him one, and he marched to some purpose back to the prison, where he stayed for a week. Many of the 4,500 British prisoners at the camp are coloured me, and one of them, a Liberian, was much hurt at being reckoned a British subject.
Several of the citizens of the Argentine Republic, too-that being a British colony according to some well informed German official (every British knows by now, from many of his newspapers, how well the Germans are educated)-were put to sleep on concrete. On the other hand, several Welshmen got off because they were not English.
Ultimately Mr. Gribble was “exchanged,” and went to Amsterdam, where he met his wife again.
After his release Francis Gribble went on to write about the war, his publications included In Luxembourgh in War Time (1916), Women and War (1916) and The History of Ruhleben (with Joseph Powell in 1919). He died in October 1946.
The transcript was taken from the North Devon Herald 30th September 1915 page 8 columns e.This just one of many articles about North Devon’s experiences during World War One published in the local newspapers. For more visit our North Devon War Items Album on our Facebook Page…Barum Athena