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Corporal William Dickson

HLI Roll Call drawing Jean-Pierre Laurens

Highland Light Infantry

Resided at 25 Baxter’s Wynd, Falkirk.

He was a regular solider, enlisting in 1908, an ‘Old Contemptible’ and arrived in France with his battalion from India in August 1914 and was taken prisoner at Festubert in December 1914. The prisoners were transported to Lille in cattle trucks with no food or water provided during their journey. Corporal Dickson described the scene when the train stopped at a station and the prisoners requested water from a Red Cross nurse which she brought in a large bucket and through it across the floor of the cattle truck stating: ‘There you are you dirty English swine! There’s drink for you!’ Food was eventually provided in the form of a thin soup however, no eating utensils were provided. From Lille the prisoners were taken to Wittenberg Camp.

It was located thirty-miles to the south-west of Berlin and in the winter of 1914-15 it was a place were men were beginning to die in their hundreds. The camp was built on a flat, sandy plain and covered an area of ten and a half acres and was surrounded by a double fence of barbed wire. The camp housed some sixteen thousand prisoners of war mainly Russians captured following the Battle of Tannenberg in August 1914. With the onset of the severe winter of 1914-15 a catastrophe was in the making. Corporal Dickson described the prisoner’s diet that consisted of one kilogram loaf of black bread between ten men, a thin soup made from potato flour and horse beans, and there was no meat. The huts were inadequate and were heated by small stoves that lacked fuel as this was in short supply. In January 1916, typhus broke out in the camp. It spread through the camp like wildfire the reaction of the Germans was to withdraw their medical orderlies and guards ‘according to plan’ as Corporal Dickson described. No attempt had been made to segregate the prisoners suffering from typhus from the other prisoners and those suffering from typhus were given, what the Germans described as a special diet, an extra slice of bread and a cup of milk. In February six captured British medical officers were sent to the camp to assist however, it took until May 1915 to bring the epidemic under control by which point sixteen hundred prisoners had died, seventy-two of them British and three of the British medical officers also succumbed. Corporal Dickson survived the typhus outbreak but was to spend one year in a German prison in Cologne for refusing to work.

Limburg Camp

In August 1917, he was transferred to Limburg Camp and in January 1918 he was repatriated to Holland.

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