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Conrad Fulke O'Brien-ffrench. Artist and Spy.

Captivity Espionage and Escapes


Castle Toragau
The truth of the allied General Retreat revealed to Conrad

Coffee made of acorns

Next to him in the boxcar was a Lieutenant Stiven from the Royal Scots Regiment. Stiven presented a fearsome figure. With his red whiskers and monocle, he was every part the ''Unkultured" savage as portrayed in the German press, who used expanding bullets against the bloom of German youth. So much so, that at Aachen, where they were delayed for German troop movements – the first opportunity for any food or water for the prisoners – a young nurse on seeing him screamed and threw the precious water in his face and ran off screaming "Englischer Schweinhund". At Minden on the Weser, Conrad and Stiven were removed under heavy guard to a military hospital. They were visited by a doctor, who declared Conrad fit to proceed to prisoner of war camp. Stiven was told that if he could walk, he too would go as well. Defiantly, Stiven stood and tried to walk, but fell back to his bed .

Conrad was taken on to the Bismarckian fortress of Torgau. Up to this point, he had hoped the debacle suffered by his brigade had been limited to them alone. At Torgau, however, the truth of the general defeat of the Allied offensive struck home. On the parade ground he saw what seemed to be the whole British Expeditionary Force assembled. His disillusionment was complete. From there, Conrad was sent to Burg bei Magdeburg. A camp with a few British troops, it was mainly filled with Russians. Conrad made various attempts at escape but was always "checkmated", and soon his thoughts turned to the possibility of espionage. In Magdeburg, Conrad became friends with a Siberian called Docia Logwinoff. They taught each other their languages. Here Conrad learned to read and discuss Pushkin and Tolstoy in the original. In days not too far distant, it would be Lenin and Trotsky he would be discussing with Generals and with spies.

In the spring of 1915, Conrad found himself with a handful of other British prisoners being marched from the camp. Winston Churchill, when First Lord of the Admiralty, had gaoled 39 German submariners as pirates because of their attacks on neutral shipping. In reprisal, the Germans chose 39 POWs whose names were the same as known British generals or politicians. Conrad Ffrench was close enough to Sir John French, the British commander in chief. For nine weeks they were held in solitary confinement with only a dusty exercise yard where the group could walk in silence. Here a sympathetic guard provided Conrad with some coloured pencils and paper, and he filled his time sketching. Nine weeks later, Balfour, who had replaced Churchill, repealed the ruling. When Conrad returned to the camp, however, Docia was gone. He never saw him again. Soon after, because of Conrad’s involvement in further abortive escape attempts, he was moved with others to a newly established camp at Augustabad in the north of Germany.

The Burg from solitary confinement

Notation by FFrench on reverse of Burg drawing


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