As promised here as some of the readings/research made in West Norfolk for the Scars of War project in the autumn of 2018: The research for this piece was undertaken by Lindsey Bavin, manager at the True’s Yard Fisherfolk Museum.
The Prisoner of War
During the First World War, 8 million soldiers fighting on the front were taken prisoner and interned in camps for the duration of the war. Repatriation was rare, occasional prisoner exchanges were reserved for a lucky few – mostly the gravely injured.
We have the account Lance Corporal Charles Beales, from just up the road in Great Massingham who was one “of the few” who returned home through the prisoner exchange scheme. His release was just months before the end of the conflict and harrowing details of the four years he spent in captivity were reported in the Lynn News on September 21, 1918.
Here is his story:
Lance Corporal Charles Beales, the second son of Mrs Arthur Beales, had enlisted in 1912, at the age of 17, in the 1st Norfolks. He was among the first of the “Old Contemptibles” to land in France in August, 1914, and within days was badly wounded and taken prisoner during a battle at Mons.
He was taken by train to a hospital, travelling for four days in great discomfort, only receiving a little soup during the journey. At one station he asked for a drink of water and held out a mug to a German woman. She took some water to him and poured it outside the mug saying: “There, Englishman, drink that; the Kaiser will eat his Christmas dinner in London”.
On arriving at hospital, Charles developed tetanus and for three weeks he was close to death. When his wounds were operated on, no anaesthetic was administered and he was held down by seven soldiers. The dressing was then not changed for a fortnight.
After leaving hospital, with his wounds still unhealed, he was sent to a camp in the German town of Gottingen in Lower Saxony, where he was put to work helping to build barracks for the prisoners. Rations were meagre, comprising bread and thin coffee for breakfast, some weak soup for dinner, then a little bread and coffee for supper.
For trifling breaches of discipline prisoners were tied to poles or made to stand at attention for up to 12 hours at a time in the snow.
During one year of his captivity, Charles was employed sawing timber and had to march five miles from the camp to work and then to march back again at the end of the day. In their weak state and with insufficient food the prisoners found this very hard.
Charles told the newspaper he was then employed on a farm at nearby Cassel where the work was more congenial – but without the food from England he would have starved.
Eventually, in March, 1918, he was one of the prisoners sent to Holland in exchange, and stayed there for five months in hospital. He was discharged from hospital on September 9 and finally reached Great Massingham eight days later.
The Lynn News reported: “He looks very thin and worn and says that nothing but “hope” and the determination to make the best of things brought him through.”
One of those not so lucky was
7679A RNR Leading Seaman Ernest William Guy, DSM
Ernest Guy also known as Jock was 25 years of age and the eldest son of Mr and Mrs John Guy of Chapel Yard, St Ann’s Street. He was one of seven sons and had helped his father in the fishing business prior to joining the war.
He joined the RNR as a volunteer on 28th February 1915 and his service was mainly done during the Tigris operations in Mesopotamia. He was one of nine naval officers and men commended by Vice Admiral Peirse, as set forth in the despatch from General Sir John Dixon, published in May 1916. He was subsequently awarded the DSM.
As the only man who could “scull” he repeatedly ferried men between the Firefly and the beach at Tarsus, under heavy gunfire. Unfortunately, he was captured whilst doing this. He and other troops were taken prisoner and were marched across the desert.
British prisoners who had been in Kut and had been exchanged because of serious wounds had been able to say that as late as August 1916, Guy was “all right.” Turkish sources reported his death took place at Tarsus on 26th September 1916.
He lies buried in the Protestant cemetery at Tarsus and left a widow, Daisy, and one child. His name appears on a Baghdad memorial.