Treachery under a white flag

A Luton soldier, who was back home at 61 Russell Street to nurse a hand wound sustained in the trenches near Ypres on October 29th, told of two incidents of German treachery he had personally encountered. One of them came under a white flag.

Pte Herbert Sibley, 5387, King's Royal Rifles, came across the first incident within 24 hours of his arrival in France, at Havre in August. A young man there seemed keen to make the English troops as comfortable as possible.

"He brought bread for us and did many little things which we accepted as a token of his good feeling," said Pte Sibley. "When orders were received to prepare for departure, he began to make inquiries of a corporal whose head was screwed on the right way.

"That worthy, scenting mischief, hauled him up before the colonel and, after unsatisfactory cross-examination, he was searched and documents of considerable importance found on him. He was forthwith handed over to the French military authorities."

It was after falling back to within 30 km of Paris and staging a fightback that the second, more serious, incident of treachery occurred, after crossing the River Aisne on September 13th.

"We were in action at close quarters and we lost all our officers, except the colonel and adjutant, and about half the battalion," said Pte Sibley. "We commenced fighting at 2.30 am and fired about 350 rounds of ammunition each men. When night fell we entrenched about 800 yards from the German trenches, and it was at this place that the Germans displayed their treachery.

"The Northampton relieved us in the advanced trenches at the end of about three days, and then a party of Germans showed the white flag. We were on a sort of ridge, and quite naturally the officer gave orders to his men to cease firing, and said, 'The Germans are surrendering in hundreds'.

"They went forward to meet the Germans, but those with the white flag and another mob behind shot them down without warning. The King's Royal Rifles and the Coldstreams came up just in time, and having a Maxim gun with us, we gave them something to surrender for. They were simply mowed down, until the few that were left were glad to surrender in reality, but there weren't many."

Continuing his story until his wounding, Pte Sibley said: "After three days here we were taken into a cave for a rest, but after we had been there a day we saw a 'Jack Johnson' knock a house down just opposite the cave, and we were not sorry we were ordered back to the trenches. We thought it was safer, but to get there we had to run about a mile and a half across the firing zone, and we lost a few men. But by the time we left there the trenches were like little forts, and it was pretty certain that the enemy would not get to Paris that way.

"We were relieved only to be brought to the coast, to frustrate the raid on Calais. We landed at Hazebrouck, and were afterwards billeted in a small village where we hoped to have a rest, but about half past eight at night we were called out and had to cross several bridges under fire.

"We eventually came to a wood where Germans were in evidence, and at daybreak we were ordered to drive them out. We managed to do so, and later in the day we came up with the main German force. We were ordered to charge, the party including the King's Royal Rifles, the Coldstreams, the Northamptons and the Seaforth Highlanders. We got to with 200 yards before they began to shoot us down almost in hundreds, but we got through and we carried those trenches.

"But they were not much use to us. They were full of dead and dying Germans, and we had to make new trenches alongside. We also took about 500 prisoners and a lot of baggage and ammunition.

"We were relieved next day and went to Ypres, where we had a bit of a rest. It was not for long, however, for we were soon at it again, and on October 29th I was wounded there. We got orders to prepare for the enemy and, as I was rising from the trench, a shell burst and a piece of shrapnel hit my hand. It was dressed a bit there, but I was afterwards sent back and have been in Gloucester Hospital for seven weeks."

Pte Sibley said he did not know if doctors would pass him fit to do so but he hoped to return to fight with Belgian soldiers against the Germans.

[Source: The Luton News, January 7th, 1915]