As I am short on time right now, today’s post is just a story from Ernst Udet, showing the attitude toward the enemy among WWI airmen.
I think of our prisoner in Bernes. Lothar von Richthofen, the captain’s brother, has brought down another one. He’s an English major, and he came down just alongside our encampment. There is no infantry near, so we keep the prisoner with us.
At supper, he appears at the casino with Richthofen and is presented to everyone. He’s a long drink of water, a bit fancy, but sporting in appearance. He affects a courteous reserve; in short, a gentleman. We talk about horses, dogs, and airplanes. We don’t talk of the war. The Englishman is our guest, and we don’t want to give him the impression that he is being pumped for information.
In the middle of the conversation he whispers to his neighbor, then he rises and walks out.
Lothar looks after him, a bit worried.
“Where is he going?”
“’I beg your pardon, where is the W.C.?’ he asked,” replies Mousetooth.
For a moment there is an embarrassed silence. The little hut in question is almost three minutes distant at the end of the ravine, in which the camp is located. Beyond it are the woods. It will not be difficult for an athlete to reach freedom from there.
There are conflicting opinions. Maushacke [Mousetooth], the well-fed Brunswicker, is the most enterprising. He wants to go out and stand alongside the Englishman. This could be done without too much ado. But Lothar disagrees. “We have treated the man as a guest thus far and he has done nothing to cast doubt on his good manners.” But the tension remains. After all, we are to be responsible for the prisoner. If he gets away, there’ll be hell to pay.
Someone steps to the window to look after the Englishman. In seconds six or eight are grouped around him. I’m there too. The Englishman walks across the open ground in long strides. He stops, lights a cigarette, and looks around. All of us immediately sink into a deep knee bend. Our hospitality is sacred, and our suspicion might offend him.
He disappears behind the pineboards of the outhouse. The boards don’t reach to the ground, and we can see his brown boots. This is reassuring.
But Maushacke’s suspicions are awakened.
“Boys,” he yaps almost breathlessly, “he no longer stands in his boots. He has gone over the rear wall in his stocking feet and is off and gone. The boots couldn’t stand like this all, if…”
He demonstrates to how the boots should be deployed during this kind of business.
The Englishman reappears from behind the wall. Bent low, we creep back to our seats. As he re-enters, we talk of horses, dogs, and airplanes.
“I would never forgive myself for disappointing such hosts,” says the English major with a small smile around the corners of his mouth. We thank him seriously and ceremoniously.
Next morning, a short, bushy-bearded reservist calls for the prisoner, who turns around often to wave at us.
Five days later Meyer brings curious news from Ghent. An Englishman has overpowered his guard and escaped in a German uniform. From the toilet of a moving express train. His guard was found there, locked in.
“Was it a major?” asks Mousetooth excitedly.
“Are you clairvoyant?” asks Meyer. “It sure was, an Air Force major.”
“So, he used the W.C. after all,” shouts Mousetooth.
Meyer looks around in surprise. We all laugh until our jaws ache.
–Ernst Udet, The Ace of the Iron Cross, ed. Stanley M. Ulanoff, trans. Richard K. Riehn (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1970), 54-56