Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Charlie Stirling - Prisoner of War

I do not always blog about Falkirk FC and this is the case for this post. Over the last couple of weeks in my spare time I have been reading quite a bit about "The Great War", and sometimes trying to research the role of some Falkirk players in that struggle.

In doing so I remembered from somewhere in the back of my mind reading about an East stirlingshire footballer's travails in a German POW Camp, so I had a rake through a big box of pages and pages of football-related stuff that I just can't throw away [for which I seriously need to take a week off to put in some kind of logical order]. Anyway I found the article, and since it was published in a now defunct paper which is not available online yet, I have decided [lazily as it means I do not have to write anything original] to reproduce it here.

It is a bit awkward reading the last paragraph, as it shows a definite level of ignorance in Britain of how football had been an international success since the late 19th Century; The Home Nations being amongst the least 'international' the Countries where football was established.

Falkirk Mail - Edition - 18th January 1919

“Pte. Charles Stirling , of the A. and S.H., who for a season or two played left half-back for the East Stirlingshire F.C., has just returned, after four years captivity in Germany, to his home in West Main Street, Stenhousemuir.
Interviewed by a 'Mail' reporter regarding his experiences in the enemy's hands, Pte. Stirling had much to tell of Hun brutality and coarseness.
Captured on 21st October 1914, he was first taken to Göttingen Camp, where he spent eight long months of torture and privations. The food, of course, was very poor, being merely black coffee, a little bread, and turnip water, or, as the Germans liked to term it, “soup”.
About the beginning of 1915 Pte. Stirling was an eye-witness of many horrible cruelties. A Glasgow man, the name of McEwan, who was in the Scots Guards, was one day going to see the doctor about an injured ankle at the same time as a party of 300 Englishmen were marching out of the camp to work. A sentry seeing McEwan thought he was a member of the work party, and had slipped out of the ranks in an attempt to evade the toil. He accordingly challenged the Glasgow man, who explained that he was on his way to see the doctor, at the same time showing his injured ankle.
The sentry refused to believe the explanation and lifting his rifle shot the man through the heart. It was deliberate murder, and when the rest of the Scots in the camp heard of it their rage knew no bounds, and many threatened to “do in” that sentry.
For three hours on end during three successive days Pte. Stirling was forced to stand at attention for attempting to evade work one day.
In the cook-house, where many stores were kept, only Belgians and French were allowed to work. The Germans were afraid that the Britishers would thieve too much foodstuffs, and so prevented them from coming near. Pte. Stirling, along with some others, donned a Belgian's cap and other uniform, and watching their chance, slipped in, grabbed as many potatoes and as much bread as they could safely stow away on their persons, and when an opportunity presented itself dodged out and away.
Many times prisoners were caught in the act by the Germans in charge, and were unmercifully beaten with large sticks before being sent to the cells to stay for five days on bread and water.
While at Beinrode Camp, near Brunswick, Pte. Stirling was forced to work in a salt mine about half a mile deep. The heat was dreadful, and the prisoners had to work clad only in their trousers and boots.
In this particular mine one German scientist was experimenting with the minerals and attempting to form poison gas for bombs out of the salt.
While at Celle Camp, where he was taken for refusing to work, Pte. Stirling organised a football team among the Scots, and on one memorable occasion defeated the English team by 4 goals to 3. The Belgians and the French took to the game like young ducks to water, and even the German soldiery evinced a keen interest, and played the game amongst themselves.
Pte. Stirling considers that when conditions have begun to settle the Belgians and French will run international matches on much the same lines as we do in this country.”
Note - The first Belgium v France International Football Match was played in Brussels on the 1st of May 1904, the two Countries played each other on an annual basis until the outbreak of the war....