Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Saturday, August 15, 2015

French Housewife, British Heroine

Trooper Fowler
During the August 1914 Battle of Le Cateau, Trooper Patrick Fowler of the 11th Hussars, Prince Albert's Own, was cut off from his regiment behind German lines. After hiding in the woods for months, the hungry, exhausted cavalryman was found by Louis Basquin and taken to the home of his mother-in-law, Madame Belmont-Gobert, in the village of Bertry. For the next four years, she successfully hid him, usually in her cupboard, despite being compelled to billet German troops.  Fowler had to spend nearly all his daylight hours sitting in the shelfless half of the cupboard with his knees tucked up. Only at night was he able to emerge with confidence. Madame's ingenuity led her to fill the shelves in the right-hand half of the cupboard with various articles of everyday use and to leave that door slightly open. This averted suspicion and allowed some air to get to the hidden man, as she had cut out a semicircular portion of the vertical partition. As Fowler himself said, "I was often in the wardrobe for four or five hours at a stretch, with the Germans sitting round the fire a few feet from me. If I had even coughed it would have been all up!" Corporal Hull of the same regiment was concealed in another house, but he was discovered in October 1915 and shot. Fowler's presence in the village was at the same time betrayed to the Germans, but an intensified search failed to discover him for he was hidden for a month in a hole in the floor of a barn. 

Madame Belmont-Gobert (center) with Patrick Fowler in London, 1927

At times German soldiers sat, ate, talked, and smoked just a few feet from where Fowler was hiding. Once Madame had a premonition that the cupboard would be searched, so she hid the hussar under a mattress. Indeed, the German inspectors that day — for the only time — opened the cupboard. Trooper Fowler was rescued by advancing British forces in October 1918, although he needed his former commander's testimony to avoid desertion charges. Madame was awarded the Order of the British Empire for her courage. The cupboard is now in the collection of the Imperial War Museum.
Details from British Newspapers and the Imperial War Museum

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