Escape from Germany

This article tells the story of a boy from Lance Cove who was a prisoner of war in Germany.  It might be more properly entitled "Escapes in Germany", for private Aeneas Rees, whose adventures are told here, made five attempts in all to escape from captivity.  He was taken prisoner in 1915 but did not make his final, and successful bid for liberty until the closing months of the war, crossing the border into Holland after the signing of the Armistice.

...Aeneas Rees was one of the soldiers from Bell Island who served with the Canadian forces during the war.  He was born and reared in Lance Cove, his father being descended from the mechanic who came out from the Old Country well over a century ago to work in the ship-building yard of the Pitts family who were turning out vessels for the foreign trade in the early years of the last century.

        On his mother's side, Aeneas was descended from a pioneer family of Bell Island, the Normores, his mother being the sister of Frank Normore.

        Mechanical skill has always been a hereditary trait of the Rees, and it is not surprising that he should follow in the footsteps of his forbears and take up shop work in the machine shop of the Scotia Company. From there he went to take marine engineering and for a time served as second engineer on the coastal steamer, Argile.  In 1913 he went to Montreal and was employed first with the Dominion Bridge Company and later with Vickers, a branch of the famous firm that turned out the Vickers-Vimy biplane in which Alcock and Brown made the first non-stop crossing of the Atlantic from St, John's in June, 1919.

        He was employed with the Vickers Company at the outbreak of the war, and on August 6, 1914, enlisted in the Royal Marine Regiment, which formed part of the first division  of the Canadian Army.

        Canada's First Division sailed for England at the end of September. They were joined off Cape Race on the first Monday of October by the Florizel, carrying the Blue Puttees of Newfoundland.  The convey of 33 ships then proceeded to their destination.

        After completion of training on Salisbury Plain, the Canadians crossed over to France in February, 1915.  Their ship was torpedoed in the channel but Aeneas Rees was amongst those who escaped and landed safely in France.  He saw service in several engagements and then had the misfortune to be wounded and captured in April at the Battle of Ypres in which he served as a machine-gunner.

        Taken first to hospital at Roulers, where his wounds were treated, he was later transferred to the prison camp at Giesen. On his return home after the war, Private Rees told a story of the brutal treatment and near starvation in the prison camps in Germany.  Nothing can be gained by repetition of the details at this time.  While at Giesen the prisoners experienced the results of a kindly act by the American ambassador, Mr. Gerard, the author of a book which was widely read during the war, "My Four Years in Germany." Mr. Gerard saw the prisoners working in the cold of winter without sufficient clothing and insisted that overcoats be issued to them.

        From the Giesen prison camp Rees was moved to Frankfurton-Main and then to Rolenheim, where he received four months of close confinement for not being able to work in the brick kiln to the satisfaction of his guards. He was then sent to Vehnemoor where each prison gang of eight men had to cut 30,000 blocks of peat a day.

        Private Rees made his first attempt to escape from the prison camp at Freistadt, being one of six prisoners who crawled through a hole under the wire fence and got as far as the River Ems near the Dutch border before they were captured. His second attempt was made alone but it had no better results.  He was recaptured when brought to bay by bloodhounds within sight of the frontier of Holland. For this he was put on public exhibition and sentenced to six weeks of close confinement.

       His third attempt to escape was made from a salt mine in Westphalla.  He had noticed that the last "trip" of loaded salt cars from the mine was not run inside the prison fence but was left on a siding outside until morning.  Some Italian prisoners buried him in the salt, placing boards over his head and using a piece of rubber hose to give him air. After dark he left the car and set of for Holland but was again captured.

        He was then moved deeper into Germany and set to work digging drains at a prison camp near the mouth of the Elbe.  Again he escaped but was recaptured. He was now a marked man and the Germans sent him to Berlin where he was tried for his life by a court martial conducted by the Kaiser's officers. He escaped shooting by showing the marks of the beatings he had received and was sentenced to solitary confinement.  This time his prison was a narrow cell, seven feet long by three and one half feet wide.  The floor was concrete and the door of solid plank strengthened with iron so that escape was impossible.  There he spent the last Christmas of the war, alone, far from home and loved ones.

        Transferred after several months to another cell, this one with an earthen floor, he dug his way out into the prison yard with his bare hands. A barbed wire fence with live wires now barred his way to freedom. Under cover of one of the heaviest downpours of rain he had ever experienced, he used a stone to dig a hole under the fence and so made his escape.

        Profiting from previous experiences, he walked in the opposite direction from the Dutch border. For 23 days he wandered on, gradually circling back in the direction of Holland.  It was the autumn of 1918 and the harvest of the fields and orchards supplied him food.  At last he sighted the boundary fence between the two countries. Carefully watching the movements of the sentries, he took advantage of a gap between them and slipped through.

        He had finally won his way to freedom, only to find the war was over.

                                          - The Daily News, November 1918

Photograph smuggled out of Germany of a German warplane
Aeneas Rees during World War I

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