Our first glimpse of John’s war comes in an article in the Shipley Times & Express on 1 March 1918:Pte J W H Waite of Mount Pleasant, Lea Fleaks, Idle, who has been fighting for 12 months with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, has been home on leave.He says that the spy system of the enemy took some rooting out but that those who were discovered were hardly likely to play the trick twice.“There was a farmer behind us,” he adds, “who had two horses and one of htem was a brown-and-white. Whenever the soldiers guarding the
front line were to be changed, which of course occurred during the night, the farmer always used this brown-and-white horse.“The Germans in their observation balloons could easily make out this conspicuous object and every night following the appearance of this horse, the roads which our Tommies had to use were heavily shelled.“The day of changing and fighting men was altered and so was the horse and after such plain evidence, the farmer’s career ended very abruptly.”Pte Waite returned to his military duties yesterday.
Then on 8 November, we read:Pte J W H Waite of 47 Mount Pleasant, Ley Fleaks, who was reported missing on 19th September, is a prisoner of war in Germany.He enlisted in the South Staffordshire Regt but was transferred to the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. With the latter, he has been out almost two years.He was formerly a porter at Idle Station. His younger brother is a wireless operator with the Grand Fleet.
When John returned from captivity he told his story to the local paper, published on 10 January 1919:Pte John William H Waite, Royal Welsh Fusiliers, a repatriated prisoner of war, who lives with his parents, Mr and Mrs Abraham Waite of 47 Mount Pleasant, Ley Fleaks, Idle, returned home on December 18th on a two months’ leave.It was on the Somme at Gouzeaucourt that Waite lost his liberty. At two o’clock on the morning of 19th September, when he was in charge of a machine gun team of six men in a shell hole in No Man’s Land, they were surprised by the enemy.Shots were fired and the British gun party replied with hand grenades but the small number of British were hopelessly outnumbered and they surrendered. Luckily no lives were lost and everyone escaped without a wound.Walked 30 kilometresThe prisoners were taken to company headquarters which entailed a walk of thirty kilometres to Walincourt.A march next day brought Waite and his companions to Caudry, still in France, where a four or five days’ halt was made.Whilst at Caudry the British prisoners were subjected, with their captors, to a pretty warm air bombardment from British aeroplanes.The railway station was the airmen’s objective and the British prisoners were confined in a building close by. It almost seemed to Waite at that time as if he was going to meet his end at the hands of his own countrymen!He and his comrades were spared, however, but Waite recalls that it was really marvellous that their prison house was not hit for shells were falling on both sides.A lot of damage to German ammunition trains and stores was done but with rare good fortune, Waite kept his skin whole.
Leaving Caudry, a 24-kilometre march was undertaken to le Quesnoy where they stayed till 1st October.At Le Quesnoy they were badly treated as regards food and the living quarters were damp. There were no beds and the men had to sleep on the stone floor.Dozens diedDozens died daily of starvation, dead and dying being flung together into the dead cart.Then followed a seven-days’ train journey in ‘first class’ cattle trucks (as Waite describes the carriages), to Giessen, in Germany, passing through Valenciennes, Mons, Brussels, Louvain, Aachen and Aix-la-Chapelle.Giessen is about 100 miles within the borders of Germany and here the British prisoners stayed ten hours.The meals on the train journey averaged one meal in in twenty hours or thereabouts but instead of getting a good square meal at Giessen they were faced with the old familiar dish – cabbage water camouflaged as soup.The train journey was resumed to Cassel in a ‘pretty fast goods train,’ the time occupied on the way being nine hours.Three weeks’ quarantine was endured at Cassel ad then Doeberitz was reached within thirty kilometres of Berlin. A stay of three days was made here.At Doeberitz the men were stripped of khaki and given German civilian clothes. A stripe on the side of the trouser legs and a band on the coat sleeve distinguished them as prisoners.The next move was to Berlin or rather, a suburb of Berlin, Wilmersdorf. From here a good view
of Berlin was had, the Kaiser’s Palace, the scene of disorders at Christmas, being plainly seen.At Berlin, Waite and his fellow prisoners were set to work in a gasworks. He had to stoke fires for eight hours a day and had to work twelve hours at the weekends to make the turns run round. There was a weekend holiday every three weeks.Here again the Germans fed our men on vegetarian diet, cabbage water and turnips being the chief items on the bill of fare.Asked if there was any meat, eggs or milk, Waite shook his head and said, ‘No, not even for the Germans themselves; they were in a very poor way.’In celebration of the Armistice being signed, the prisoners were given passes to go out into the streets.The first time they went out their sense of freedom was difficult to realise. The civilians stared at them and most of all at the men’s boots, which by comparison with the German paper-made boots, raised envy in the civilian population.Captivity continued till 2nd December when Waite received word that he was going to be sent home.Danish kingUnder German guards, they reached Stettir on the German coast and a Danish boat took them the Copehagen.Ten days were passed in the capital of Denmark, during which time they received a visit from the Danish king. The Danes were very kindly disposed and gave them a hearty welcome.From Copenhagen they voyaged to Leith by the Liverpool steamer Ajax which had previously been torpedoed, mined and shelled in turn.Waite rejoins his unit at Wrexham on 18th February.