ARCHIVES INDEX (new window)Memoirs of World War I
Richard Irving Dacre R.A.M.C.
 
Part 7 - A FEW NOTES ON BEING IN CHARGE OF THE CRIMINAL VENEREAL CAGE.

The war had many side lines and I think this was quite one of the worst that I had experienced. I was at No. 9 General Hospital at Wimereux after the Armistice and one of my jobs was to look after some British prisoners who had Venereal Disease. It is a well known fact that a soldier charged with a serious crime must be certified fit to stand his trial. These fellows were from all units and countries and they were the most awful set of blackguards that it was possible to imagine. There was a Marquee with floor boards and beds, a cook-house, a latrine and a shed for treatment purposes. The whole compound was surrounded by wire and there was a guard on it.

Whenever I went to see them it was necessary to go there with a sentry on either side of me with loaded rifle and fixed bayonet. Needless to say, I had the greatest difficulty in giving any treatment. They did not want to get well. The language was appalling and the utter filth these men lived in cannot possibly be described. They literally wallowed in their own faeces and urine. The stench was sickening. They endeavoured to give as much trouble as possible and they complained about everything.

There were two Australian soldiers there, who were to be tried for murder of a British R.A.M.C. officer and the wounding of another and with robbery of both. There was a Canadian soldier - a Red Indian - who was up for rape and robbery with violence of A. Canteen. He was the only man who seemed not to have lost caste. He kept himself to himself, was clean and polite and always came first for treatment. I think his mentality was higher than the others, which were abnormally low.

Some of their tricks were amusing. They would collect the string from their parcels and make a long rope to which a stone was attached. They then would throw the stone as far as they could over the wire and jerk it about, calling out all the time to an imaginary pal that the guard were turning out. As some of these desperate fellows did get out from time to time the guard used to be very jumpy and would not wait to challenge but would start easing off into the darkness in the direction of the slithering stone.

I was coming home from Boulogne once, late at night, and coming near to the cage, the guard opened fire. Shouting made it only worse, so I had to make a long detour to get back into the Hospital.

There was a fat Liverpool Roman Catholic Padre, a most jolly man, whose common remark was that he would like a drink 'just to keep body and soul together! The Lord save us all!' He asked me one day if he could go up to the Cage and see what it was like. I tried to dissuade him but he seemed determined so we went. That day was worse than usual. The language was terrible, the stench was worse than usual and they were more disinclined to do anything.

After the parade was over, the poor Padre never said a word but walked with his face very set. When we got into the Mess I said, "Well Padre, wasn't it awful?" He just burst into tears and said that he thought he had seen the worst in man at many times, but that he thought it was the most terrible experience a man could ever have.

One of these men I saw off to his execution and I can still see his face now with a bad-tempered sort of snarl. He was a short, dark, thick-set man - young - with a lot of dark curly hair and a thick curly moustache. I thought how awful it must be to shoot a man in cold blood but when I saw his charge sheet I changed my mind.

He had broken into an estaminet and tied to the bed a woman and her daughter. They had been murdered by a bayonet in the heart. He admitted that he went to steal the money, which was considerable, and while he was eating some food the mother made a noise so he killed her. He raped the girl and then killed her as well. The description of the trial was "beastly" and nauseating and if ever a man had a kind treatment that blighter did.

One is thrilled sometimes by seeing plays or reading books, but ye Gods, that fellow made me feel very ill. The others were all similar cases. I should say that they were all mentally deficient and if their family history had been gone into, it would have proved so.


The following communication was received from Julian Putkowski in England in August 2002 - reproduced here with his permission. Julian is an experienced writer and researcher with a number of film and documentary programmes to his credit. It should be noted, however, that Richard Dacre wrote this memoir with no particular design on publication nor desire for sensationalism and that there is no reason to suspect that he either embellished or falsified his material.

"With reference to the execution of a soldier that features in pt. 7 of the Dacre memoirs, there appears to be little contemporary evidence to substantiate the accuracy of his recollections about the condemned man. The date when Dacre was posted to the Detention Centre is not recorded but on the basis of the contents of WO71 series of courts martial proceedings at the Public Record Office, Kew, there are no individual cases involving murder that lend substance to his account.

The only individual murderer whose physical appearance may have approximated to the fellow described by Dacre is Pte. F. Alberts, 1st Cape Coloured Labour Corps - who was charged with killing four civilians and one fellow Labourer. He was convicted of killing two civilians (husband and wife) and another murderer, Pte. Stevens, Cape Coloured Labour Company - but Alberts did not rape any of his victims, nor did he use a bayonet to kill them - he and a brace of fellow killers shot their victims. Moreover, the doctor who attended his execution was Captain Lionel Gameson RAMC.

The only other individual who stabbed his civilian victims (a Belgian woman and her three young children) to death (though with a knife, not a bayonet) certainly did not resemble the man to whom Dacre refers - principally because the physical appearance of Chang Ju Chich (tried 12.5.19, escaped from prison 12.5.19, re-arrested 1.2.20, executed Calais 14.2.20) was, as may be inferred from his name, Chinese.

There is, of course, the possibility that I may have overlooked another capital case and should you be interested and if you could provide a more precise indication of when Dacre was serving at the (sic) cage, I'd be pleased to research this matter further."

Fraternally,
Julian Putkowski

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