Last week we brought you Walter Young’s recount of being taken prisoner by the Germans in the Battle of Crozat Canal during in March 1918.
Now, in the fifth extract from Wal’s War, the Great War soldier describes being sent down the Czech-Prussian II Coal Mine to work for them in July 1918.
‘We arrived on Friday and we started work the following morning and for the next four months I was a coal miner.
The coal, mostly in large lumps, came hurtling down a chute at the bottom of which was a large tank or container which held about three-quarters of a ton. Here I was stationed, guiding the coal into the tank and dodging pieces that came straight at me. Then I had to push the tank along a line until I came to a sort of lift.
In some way I suppose this was about the most miserable period of my life.
True life in the dirtiest and most dangerous trenches was worse while it lasted but there was always the relief to look forward to if one survived. The woes of the trenches were surprisingly soon forgotten once we were away from them.
But life for me at this mine seemed one long round of almost unbroken misery with hardly anything to relieve it...
For a long period I had nothing to read, no paper, no book, but I had the New Testament and also a prayer book.
There was a time when, seeing the men passing their time aimlessly away that the words ‘sheep without a shepherd’ came to me with much force and remained with me in a striking way. I resolved to have a Sunday evening service. I felt very incompetent and unworthy to attempt such a thing, but the words ‘sheep without a shepherd’ kept running through my mind.
The only place available was where we had our shower baths on coming up from the mine. This was a dim, dreary sort of place.
I wrote out a notice in pencil… got this officially franked and in fear and trembling put it on the notice board.
Sunday evening came round and I got very nervous as the time drew near and I could easily have gone and hid myself somewhere. But when we all started, I suppose we numbered about 40 all told.
A similar service was held for the next few Sundays. If anything was attempted with a feeling of unfitness and inadequacy surely it was these few services.
But possibly that very feeling of weakness was my greatest strength, for I could place no dependence on myself or on others’.