1918 March

Charles W Clements
German Prisoners of War in Ashwell, July 1919.

March 1918 was a month of lectures in Ashwell. The only event reported that was not related to the war and we have only the barest of details of it was the sudden death of Charles Wilsher on his 85th birthday. He had been living with Mr & Mrs Wilderspin at Northfields.

The first lecture mentioned was at the Bury VAD Hospital. The subject was the “House of Commons” by Mr Richard Turtle of the Sergeant at Arms Dept. Then came “With Fire and Sword in Asia Minor” and later “Wonders of the Animal Kingdom”. All this when during the month the Hospital had been closed for 2 weeks for spring cleaning and their annual report was also published.

The patients at the hospital interacted positively with the villagers and the help that was given to them was reciprocated when the talents of the men were used. An organ recital at St Mary’s by Mr & Miss Chote, the headmaster and his daughter, was enhanced by the participation of Mr Cartledge, a patient at the Bury. A collection of £2-10s-5d (£2.52p) was made which went towards organ repair.

A wider audience could go for a lecture to the Merchant Taylors School and hear “Homely Tuber”, a talk on the many uses for the potato. This was probably promoted by the county council to encourage better use of resources on the Home Front during the war.

The village was also active in their support of the soldiers overseas. There had been a scheme for sending abroad Christmas presents that comprised mainly of cigarettes and chocolates.

An Ashwell soldier in India, Private Charles William Clements, wished to thank the anonymous sender of a parcel. Charlie survived the war and died in Surrey in 1953. The attached photograph is of a man in Royal Army Medical Corps uniform although all the evidence points to Charlie serving with the Hampshire Regiment.

Another Xmas gift went out to France to find Private Alfred Skerman but finally caught up with him in Newcastle Hospital suffering from ‘trench foot’, a painful condition caused by long exposure to damp and cold without adequate footwear. He spent the remainder of the War working with salvage brigades based in depots in Ampthill and Felixstowe. He died on 15th December 1980 at Ashwell where he is buried in the St Mary’s Church cemetery.

The war was brought even closer to Ashwell in a completely different way when as part of a national scheme 40 German prisoners of war were sent to provide extra labour for the farms as all the workers were away at the front. The Maltings in Green Lane was converted into the camp for them with much barbed wire. The prisoners in their grey uniforms were marched out under guard each day to work on the farms often alongside the older schoolboys. Did the prisoners ever come into contact with the patients at the Bury Hospital and if so how did they get on? From the photograph, which we are lucky to have in the museum, the prisoners seem to be very young and don’t look much of a threat to the British Empire.

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