My dear Pal
Here I am at last! I can hardly realise it. I feel like a man in a dream, afraid of waking up and finding myself back in Hell. I mean Germany. Seven of us left Clausthal on Christmas afternoon at a few hours notice and arrived at Aachen at 11pm the next night when we were first told where we were going to. You can imagine how excited we were! We spent one day there and then started for Venloo, the Dutch frontier town. Knowing the Huns as we did we didn’t feel safe until the train had actually crossed the frontier. I cant tell you what it felt like to see a friendly face again after all these years. Here they had prepared a most magnificent reception. I should say we were 47 officers and about 200 N.C.Os. as others had joined us at Aachen. Sir J. Hanbury Williams read us a message from the King and Queen, all the foreign diplomats were present in full uniform, the British Minister Sir Walter Townley, Gen ? the Dutch General in charge of us and the Italian Minister as representing the diplomatic corps all made speeches and then we were given tea by a bevy of ladies. It was almost too much for most of us, I know I very nearly wept! The Hall was most beautifully decorated with lovely flowers, it was a scene that I shall never forget. Since everybody has been too kind, I have been out to lunch, tea or dinner every day, sometimes all three. We are in a big hotel which will hold 180 when full, the senior officers have small rooms to themselves, the others are 2 or 3 in bigger rooms. It wont be comfortable as there are only two small sitting rooms but we don’t care, we are free and that is everything. It will take a little while to find our feet as we have hardly got accustomed to things yet. Everything here is most expensive – a florin nominally 1/8 only has the purchasing power of 1/-. There are cards for most things, the population only get half an ounce of tea and ditto of coffee per fortnight and bread is only allowed at breakfast. Still as I say we don’t care, we’re free. I am in charge of the Hotel, sort of Mess Secretary and have been very busy naturally getting things straight. We are 20 minutes by train from the Hague where most people are busy getting rid of their money. Letters only go now and then when the convoy goes so correspondence will be rather spasmodic. Will write you again when I feel a little more settled down. At present there is no question of leave home or people coming out. I so long to have a chatter with you again. The best of luck to you and your man in the New Year. Yrs always, Phil
1. Philip Lyster was imprisoned at Clausthal-Zellerfeld, a small town in Lower Saxony, in the SW part of the Harz mountains. He was captured very early in the war, and you can read post cards from him in earlier sections of the diary. He was released into neutral territory as part of a negotiated deal. As you can read later this year, he actually managed to get married, but at this stage they were not allowed much freedom of manoeuvre.
2. Major General Sir John Hanbury Williams (1859-1946) had an interesting war, much of it in Russia, but from August 1917 – March he was in charge of prisoners of war at the Hague.
3. Sir Walter Beaupre Townley (1863-1945) was Minister Plenipotentiary to the Hague, 1917-1919.