A war casualty, Albert Knaggs left an important diary of events up until his death in October 1916. He filled a very small notebook with almost microscopic writing; its value lies in being a contemporary eyewitness record whereas most of the other diaries of AE2 men were written years after the war.
Knaggs was born in Bristol, England, on 12 August 1881. At the time he was selected for submarine service in 1912, on loan from the RN to the RAN, he was already an experienced able seaman who had seen service on at least a dozen RN ships.
Taken prisoner from the sinking AE2 on 30 April 1915, Knaggs’ diary entries show the treatment meted out to the ordinary enlisted men, Protestant and English. Of all the classifications, this grouping was treated the most harshly. In the almost 18 months of captivity before his death, Knaggs was shunted from camp to camp and, from his own account, always seemed to be allocated the heaviest and most difficult tasks.
Jailed first in Constantinople, the submariners found themselves, as Knaggs described: ‘Nearly eaten alive with bugs and lice before supplied with soldier suits, overcoats, slippers and red fezzes, marched through the streets of Constantinople to a prison and given food not fit for pigs … heads shaved like criminals.’ When the men arrived at the camp in Afion Kara Hissar, their problems continued: ‘Impossible to sleep at night with the cold and wind … packed 32 in a room which would accommodate 16 healthily.’
Knaggs was put to work building roads and breaking stones. Without proper clothing or protective footwear, conditions were tough. The men were on near-starvation rations and became progressively weakened. In July, Knaggs was given a second, similar assignment. He wrote: ‘All English left to work in the country, marching all day, before sleeping in the cold outdoors at night. Then began more roadwork, from sunrise to sunset, on bread and water.’ On 14 July he wrote, ominously: ‘We refused to work.’