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Address: 5 Rosslyn Terrace, Valley Road, Shipley
Occupation: fireclay miner
Rank: Pte
Rolls of Honour:
Regiment: KOYLI
John William Roper
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Amongst the English prisoners of war recently repatriated from Germany is Pte J W Roper, who has returned to his home at 5 Rosslyn Terrace, Valley Road, Shipley. Before the war he was employed as a fireclay miner by John R Fyfe & Co of The Shipley Firebrick Works. Being a reservist he was called up to his regiment, the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, on the outbreak of hostilities. Although he did not see a great deal of the fighting, he was engaged in some of the worst, for it was in the retirement from Mons that he was taken prisoner, on 26th August 1914. He was in the same company as Sgt Major William Booth, brother of Mr J J Booth and Mr T A Booth of Idle), who is still a prisoner of war in Germany. In the three years and more of his captivity he has been interned in some half-dozen different camps. He states that after their capture, the men were sent off in cattle trucks, fifty or more of the wounded soldiers being packed in a truck like sardines. He was himself fortunately not wounded but the wounded men, he says, received no medical attention until they arrived at the Doebritz Camp and many were not treated for their wounds for a day or two after that. At that anxious time there appears to have been a representative of practically every regiment of the British Army in the Doebritz Camp. One of the Hussars men died in the camp three days after arrival and it is suggested that his life might have been saved had he promptly received proper treatment. The accommodation at first
consisted mainly of horse tents into which the prisoners were huddled. The men were very verminous (our informant used a different word), having had no change of clothing for a considerable time. From Doebritz Pte Roper was sent to ‘Hungry Hill’ – an ominous name. half a loaf of bread, which he described as being ‘like putty,’ and some hot coffee, without sugar or milk, formed the morning ration, varied by rice or meal; sometimes it was only coffee and that, being made of acorns, was very bitter, with nothing to eat. Pte Roper says that in 1914 and 1915 the Germans had the food but they refused to give it to the prisoners. Eventually the prisoners were put on two meals a day, one taken at 6 o’clock in the morning and the other about 4 o’clock in the afternoon. He states that he often saw meat go into the kitchen but he never saw it
again. His presumption is that, after making the soup, the meat was divided between the Russian prisoners and the Germans themselves. About 2,000 Russian prisoners arrived at the end of October 1914. Had it not been for the parcels of food received from England, says Pte Roper, he and his fellow prisoners would not have been able to live. As it was he suffered seriously, became very much depressed and completely lost his health. “It is up to every working man or gentleman,” he observed with much feeling, “to help as much as possible to raise funds to provide food for my pals out there who are prisoners of war. “I am going to try to do the best I can for them now that I have got home.” Asked what kind of work the prisoners were put to, Pte Roper said at first it was mainly the
building of huts for the men to live in. Afterwards they were put on road making and tree felling. The working hours in winter were from 8 to 4 and I summer from 6 to 7. For the work inside the camp, no pay was received but when on land work, 3d a day was allowed. The men often objected to the work, of course, and when they protested they were punished by being tied by hands and feet to a pole for two hours at a stretch. In September 1915 Pte Roper was transferred to the camp at Dyrotz which he describes as the best camp he was ever in. Since then, however, they have all improved and are run on practically the same lines. The prisoners are now treated with less harshness in the camps than they were in 1914 but outside the camps the commanders are still often very severe. Other places in which our informant spent some time were the camp at Cottleus, in Brandenburg, and the Gordon Hospital in the same district. He was ill in hospital for five months and it was because his condition was so bad that he was included amongst the prisoners to be repatriated. They first went to Holland, he says, and were extremely well treated by the Dutch people during the five days they remained in that country. “I do not think our own people could have done more for us,” he remarked, “than the Dutch folk did.” The journey from Rotterdam to Boston and thence to Shipley proved uneventful. Shipley Times & Express 8-2-1918
John William Roper before and after being a prisoner