THE HOME FRONT
Newspapers were pleased to report in January 1919 that in their localities there had been no new reports of the deaths of soldiers. There were, however, many memorial services for those killed earlier.
The Universities were starting to consider the return of those young men who had been on national service during the war. I am reminded however that there were many like the future Prime Minister Harold Macmillan who never returned to Oxford as he said, ‘there were too many ghosts’.
Another popular topic was the start of public discussions as to how to raise funds for appropriate memorials to the fallen. A letter to the Woking News and Mail expressed, I suspect, the views of many returning soldiers. He wrote, ‘After doing my bit in the Army, I read about the public meeting to provide a war memorial. I think the best we can have in Woking and the rest of Great Britain would be the provision of better housing. We must not continue to accept the dreadful conditions we have put up with for centuries’.
The National Library of Wales has located in its extensive archives the first ever election leaflet of the first woman to stand in a General Election in Wales. She was Millicent Mackenzie (nee Hughes) M A Wales. She hoped to use her experience of all aspects of education, and stressed the importance of the new opportunities offered to women. She was supported by the Labour Party and stressed that she would ‘give wholehearted support to the Government in securing lasting peace, full reparations for injuries inflicted by the war, and proper provision for those who have suffered in the defence of their country and the freedom of the world’.
I have spent some weeks attempting to put together the stories of some of the men who attempted to escape from German Prisoner of War Camps in Europe during World War 1. I had come across some of the stories when I first got interested in First World War prisoners in the 1970s. During that time I was in correspondence with two men who were involved in some of the most daring escape attempts and it was only some time later I realised that their stories were published in the 1940s to encourage men to escape and stiffen the morale of the public. If you would like to know more about their stories please come to this month’s meeting of The Birmingham Branch of the Western Front Association on 16th February, at The Bedford Suite, Sutton Coldfield Town Hall at 2.00pm. Why not bring a friend as well - as a Branch we really welcome visitors.
These are a few stories I have not included in my current talk. Major Crofton Bury Vandeleur was born in Indonesia in 1867 and following a family tradition he joined the 1st Battalion The Cameronians (Scottish Rifles). He was in action at Mons and on the Marne, but was captured and eventually arrived at Crefeld POW Camp. He had only been a prisoner for some six weeks, when he became the first British Officer to make a ‘home run’ from a POW Camp. He had ‘obtained’ a German Officer’s uniform and walked out through the main gate of the camp. He travelled by train towards the Dutch frontier, even sharing the compartment at one point with other German Officers. He was a fluent German speaker.
Major Vandeleur turned up at his Club in London still in his German uniform. He also highlighted the issues in 1914 relating to the transport of prisoners to Germany and also the conditions in the Camps. He was promoted to Lt Colonel in March 1915 with 2nd Battalion, The Cameronians, and was wounded at Festubert. It was a serious hip wound from which he never fully recovered. He was awarded a DSO on 5th May 1919.
His son Lt Colonel John Ormsby Vandeleur led the Irish Guards Group that began Operation Market Garden. In the film ‘A Bridge too Far’, he was played by Michael Caine.
Lieutenant Claude Frank Lethbridge Templer, Ist Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment was born in India to an Army family in 1895. He was captured while reconnoitring an enemy position near Givenchy in December 1914.
He attempted to escape from his first place of detention, a converted oil factory near Hanover. He went on to make another 11 attempts before he was successful on his 13th attempt. He attempted to escape from Torgau, Burg(2),Magdeburg, Augustabad, Burg Civil Prison(4), Wesel, and twice while travelling under escort.
While waiting under escort at a station in a quiet town in Germany for a train back to Magdeburg, he escaped from his guard, ran down the station platform and escaped down the road on a bicycle. After 15 miles of furious pedalling, he was in sight of the border, so he rests up in a copse to prepare for a night crossing. When he woke from his snooze he realised he had picked the wrong copse. He had chosen to rest where a Company of German Army soldiers were camped.
Templer’s final successful attempt was from Strohen with Captain Harrison and Lt Insall VC MC. They reached the Dutch border in ten days and would have learnt a great deal from their previous attempts. On this escape they took a saucepan and solid methylated spirits to cook vegetables.
On his return to England, Templer was presented to the King, and after much pressure on his part he was posted to D Company, 1st Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment. He was killed following a trench raid on enemy trenches west of Auchy on 4th June 1918.