We learn about Harry Clarke

In our recent session we learned from Karen about her grandfather Harry Clarke. From an interview with the local paper in January 1919, we discovered that Harry had been taken prisoner on Christmas day in 1914. He had been one of a group of about 14 who had got cut off. From where they were, they could hear the German soldiers about 50 yards away. They used up all their food and water – and even picked up ice and sucked on it – and lay until they could bear it no longer and gave themselves up. The German officer who took them prisoner apparently handed round his water bottle and claimed that his soldiers had known they were there all along.

It was almost 6 months before Karen’s grandmother discovered what had happened to her husband. Prior to that, the last letter she received was dated 21st December 1914. This must have been the date Harry got cut off, or near to it.

Harry Clarke was initially in Wittenberg POW camp. At the end of 1914 and into 1915 there was a typhus outbreak in this camp. The camp was very overcrowded with about 15,000 prisoners in a 7.5 acre space. It was a cold winter and the prisoners had insufficient food and clothing. The rooms were unlit and there were no mattresses. The German guards moved outside the camp during the typhus outbreak as they did not want to catch it. They communicated by signals and pushed food into the camp so they could avoid direct contact. There were savage dogs around the camp, and locals apparently jeered the coffins leaving the camp.

While Harry was Wittenberg he was able to send cards to his wife. The cards issued had boxes to tick so there was no real opportunity for him to say anything negative about his treatment. He could, however, let his wife know that he was well. He was able to ask his wife to send him a weekly parcel and asked that she should send him ‘scap’. Karen doesn’t know what was meant by this.

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