Mary’s Story

The War

Emil was conscripted into the German army. With Emil gone, I needed to fend for myself. Initially I lived with Emil’s family in a farmhouse near Insterburg, close to the Lithuanian border. Then the Russians approached, so I had to flee. I spent two days and nights in a cattle car train and eventually made my way to Berlin.

As Emil had been living in America, the German army was unable to give him arms and he was assigned as a stretcher-bearer with the Red Cross. He was posted to Belgium on the Western Front. His role during the war meant that he had to go where the fighting was so he could carry the wounded soldiers. I moved to Kiel so I could see Emil before he was posted and be near him during the war.

I lived with nice people near Kiel from 20th Nov 1914 to 14th Jan 1915. I intended to stay there during the war but became so sick with worry that I decided to move to Berlin, where I rented a room from a nice family. It was a small room on the 4th floor, but I had it all to myself and was able to cook my own food.

A letter I wrote on 29th July 1915 to one of my half-sisters, Cissie, tells of events at that time…

“… I think the last time I wrote to you was when I was living near Kiel Just before Emil was sent to Belgium on 20th November was the last time that I saw the poor fellow … and has been there ever since, almost every Day whenever he has the opportunity he writes to me whenever his Company is in a Battle he has no easy task, his duty is then to help carry the wounded out of the Battlefield and to bandage them temporarily until they receive further medical attention, he has wrote some very sympathetic letters, at one time he wrote how they had just carried some of the wounded from the Battlefield to the nearest temporary Hospital and they were on their way back to the field all of a sudden they received such dreadful fire,

the bullets kept whizzing in all directions, and the only thing that they could do for protection (Emil and his comrade) was dig a hole in the sand with their bare hands, and in that hole they both buried themselves and prayed and thank “God” their prayers was answered and they were released of the grave danger that they were in, the poor fellow has had some narrow escapes and cannot thank God enough for the way that he has so far protected us from all harm and danger, it is now one year ago since this dreadful War began and there is no end in sight, yet, it is simply heartbreaking.”

The family I lodged with in Berlin were very kind and sympathetic to me, particularly when I was in hospital with scarlet fever. I contracted the illness in June 1915. All the hospitals were overcrowded with wounded soldiers, so I was placed in the Barracks with children and young adults, and was quarantined because I was infectious.

“…this woman’s Husband is also in the War, he has 3 small children, her sister also stays with her, whenever I was in the Hospital they visited me regular but they were not allowed in the Ward that I was in on account of the Disease being Contagious. I could just see them and speak to them through a closed Window…”

I spent six weeks in hospital. Funnily enough, I came down with the scarlet fever and was admitted to hospital on 11th June 1915, exactly one year to the day that Emil and I had set sail for Germany and then Australia.

Many people died from scarlet fever at this time. The hospital looked after me so well.

“they done all they could to relieve ones suffering, and during the time that I was there I received almost regularly everyday mail from Emil, the Head Nurse often said to me that it was the reason that I got along so well as I did on account of Emil writing so often, I was living in hope that he might be able to come here for a few days…”

“…as you might know I have went through a lot the past year but am thankful that we are still both living…”

Once I was well again I worked different jobs until I found a good job at Sarotti’s Candy Factory, which employed 1,000 people. It was near the Templehof Airport on the outskirts of Berlin and it took an hour to get there, half an hour by streetcar, then half an hour’s walk.

“I do hope this War will soon be over and hope that I will soon get to see him again. 8 long months passed since we parted the last time at Kiel, and no matter where I am now I am living a lonely life without him but must keep up for his sake.”

My nephew, William Schwerkolt, had enlisted in the AIF in 1914. He survived Gallipoli and was then posted to France, on the other side of the Western Front. So I found myself with two family members on opposing sides of the war.

“Cissie I was awfully sorry to hear that Willie is also in the War, how is the poor fellow getting along. Charlie wrote me a few lines but he never mentioned a thing about his brother Willie being in the War.”

Gunner William Schwerkolt served some time maintaining communication lines at the front in France. William died with Sergeant Masters as they were trying to dig out a wounded man from a dugout.

They had almost got him out when a shell came over and burst right amongst the three men and they were killed instantly. We buried the men that night and it was a very sad service. One of our officers read the service by the light of a torch.

– written by Gunner Scott, 4th Battery 2nd F.A. Brigade, who had been sent out of the dugout by Sergeant Masters to get help just before the shell landed.

An account from the diary of Bombardier William George Hogg also tells of the event…
November 9th 1916.

We are heavily shelled one dugout blown in and a gunner buried… Sgt Masters and Gunner Schwerkolt who went to the rescue were blown to pieces, we buried them after sunset after the shelling had ceased, Sgt Masters left arm was all we could find of him and Schwerkolt had both his legs blown off, the Gunner who was buried was never found. The ground for yards around was strewn with human flesh, here it remained for days after. Our Lieutenant read the burial service.

William George Hogg served in the same unit as William Lionel Schwerkolt.

Somehow, Emil did end up surviving the War and returning to me. Poor Willie was not so fortunate. He was killed in France in November 1916.