Spalding teacher witnesses war conditions in France

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Readers of these newspaper heard an account of life in France under war conditions when a Spalding resident managed to make it home in 1915.

Mrs Liela Harvey (nee Clark), a former teacher at the National schools, and daughter of Mr and Mrs Philip Clark, of Cowbit Road, had been living in France for seven years with her husband, Walter, and their two children, a baby girl and a six-year-old boy.

At Paris, the family had to go before the British Consul, and were told they would have to wait some days before being able to travel. When they protested that they could not wait with two small children, the Harveys were sent to the Commissioner of police, who eventually gave them permission to travel on the night train to Dieppe, and a six-hour crossing.

Asked about the effects of war in France, Leila said: “It was terrible! There was no trade at all. Fancy, all men from 17 to 48 gone, masters and men too. The yards are all shut up except those which had a little work for the soldiers. The women are getting the harvest in.

“On the day of mobilisation, the men were called from their work, and had to drop their tools and be off that night. Of the men in the works where my husband was employed, 150 went at the beginning, and they kept sending for others. Then the master himself had to go. All have to go, rich and poor alike.”

She added that from their little town alone, Issoudun, 230 men had been killed already “and heaps more wounded”.

She said it was a “pitiable sight” when refugees from the north of France came “flocking” into their town.

She said: “Old men wept to see the little children pattering along in their bare feet, crying for something to eat, and the women, many in slippers and any clothes they could lay their hands on, having to leave in such a hurry.”