Cupboard used by Trooper Patrick Fowler as refuge during the First World War

Catalogue number
  • EPH 4353
Department
Exhibits
Materials
  • whole: wood
  • whole: metal
Dimensions
  • whole: 183 cm high, 152 cm long, 61 cm deep
Alternative names
  • full name: Cupboard used by Trooper Patrick Fowler as refuge during the First World War
  • simple name: CLA
Category
souvenirs and ephemera

Label

From the original caption: 'Wardrobe which played a very large part in the successful concealment in occupied territory of Trooper Patrick Fowler of the 11th Hussars from 15th January 1915 to 10th October 1916. This wardrobe was purchased by Lord Wakefield of Hythe from Madame Belmont-Gobert, to whose house in the village of Bertry, near St Quentin, Trooper Fowler was brought on 15th January 1915, after being found in the neighbouring woods in which he had been in hiding since becoming cut off from his regiment after the Battle of Le Cateau, 26th August 1914. Knowing that the penalty, if discovered, was death, this heroic widow and her daughter agreed to conceal him and to share with him such slender rations as were issued to two poor people in occupied territory, and for three years and nine months the secret was kept from all, save a very few persons in the village whose help, from time to time, illness, shortage of food or an acute emergency, made necessary. As German soldiers were frequently billeted in the house and were at all times in the village and the house at intervals searched thoroughly in the course of 'requisitions' for various articles, 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 semi-circular 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. After eighteen months, the Germans took the whole of Madame's house as billets and she had to move to a small one-roomed cottage with a loft in which twenty-six German soldiers were permanently billeted. Fowler, despite his beard, was smuggled across during the night disguised as an old woman. This cottage was on the outskirts of the village and Fowler was able to get out into the fields at night for exercise. At last on 10th October 1918, the British entered Bertry and Fowler was at once arrested as a spy by a sergeant of the South African Scottish of the 66th Division, but on his way to headquarters under escort, he fortunately saw a staff-officer who had been in command of the outpost in which Fowler had been cut off by the advancing Germans. The officer certified his identity and Fowler was sent back to his unit, which he rejoined on 14th October. He was given a month's leave and returned to his regiment in Germany, where he received his discharge after 23 years service. The War Office paid to Madame Belmont-Gobert Fowler's messing allowance of 1.50 francs a day from 1st November 1915 to 8th October 1918. The widow was appointed an Honorary Officer, and her daughter an Honorary Member of the Order of the British Empire. Presentations were made to them by Fowler, his comrades and the officers of the 11th Hussars. In 1927, the widow was found by a correspondent of the 'Daily Telegraph' to be still living in Bertry but in very reduced circumstances. A sum of nearly £3,500 was raised by public subscription for her and her daughter and two other women of the village who had sheltered two other British soldiers in their homes at the constant peril of their lives and at the price of much suffering. Two of the women had been imprisoned in Germany, one of the soldiers shot and the other imprisoned. On April 8th certificates of annuities were presented to them at a public meeting at the Mansion House. A day or two afterwards, the four French heroines, together with Patrick Fowler, were received at Windsor Castle by the King and Queen. The wardrobe was presented by Lord Wakefield of Hythe.' The cupboard and its occupant was the subject of a play in 1987 by Anna Sewell entitled 'Why didn't they warn Williams?' The cupboard is currently on display at the King's Royal Hussars Museum in Winchester.

Physical description

1 wooden wardrobe/cupboard (H 183cm x W 152cm x 61cm deep).

History note

From the original caption: 'Wardrobe which played a very large part in the successful concealment in occupied territory of Trooper Patrick Fowler of the 11th Hussars from 15th January 1915 to 10th October 1916. This wardrobe was purchased by Lord Wakefield of Hythe from Madame Belmont-Gobert, to whose house in the village of Bertry, near St Quentin, Trooper Fowler was brought on 15th January 1915, after being found in the neighbouring woods in which he had been in hiding since becoming cut off from his regiment after the Battle of Le Cateau, 26th August 1914. Knowing that the penalty, if discovered, was death, this heroic widow and her daughter agreed to conceal him and to share with him such slender rations as were issued to two poor people in occupied territory, and for three years and nine months the secret was kept from all, save a very few persons in the village whose help, from time to time, illness, shortage of food or an acute emergency, made necessary. As German soldiers were frequently billeted in the house and were at all times in the village and the house at intervals searched thoroughly in the course of 'requisitions' for various articles, 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 semi-circular 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. After eighteen months, the Germans took the whole of Madame's house as billets and she had to move to a small one-roomed cottage with a loft in which twenty-six German soldiers were permanently billeted. Fowler, despite his beard, was smuggled across during the night disguised as an old woman. This cottage was on the outskirts of the village and Fowler was able to get out into the fields at night for exercise. At last on 10th October 1918, the British entered Bertry and Fowler was at once arrested as a spy by a sergeant of the South African Scottish of the 66th Division, but on his way to headquarters under escort, he fortunately saw a staff-officer who had been in command of the outpost in which Fowler had been cut off by the advancing Germans. The officer certified his identity and Fowler was sent back to his unit, which he rejoined on 14th October. He was given a month's leave and returned to his regiment in Germany, where he received his discharge after 23 years service. The War Office paid to Madame Belmont-Gobert Fowler's messing allowance of 1.50 francs a day from 1st November 1915 to 8th October 1918. The widow was appointed an Honorary Officer, and her daughter an Honorary Member of the Order of the British Empire. Presentations were made to them by Fowler, his comrades and the officers of the 11th Hussars. In 1927, the widow was found by a correspondent of the 'Daily Telegraph' to be still living in Bertry but in very reduced circumstances. A sum of nearly £3,500 was raised by public subscription for her and her daughter and two other women of the village who had sheltered two other British soldiers in their homes at the constant peril of their lives and at the price of much suffering. Two of the women had been imprisoned in Germany, one of the soldiers shot and the other imprisoned. On April 8th certificates of annuities were presented to them at a public meeting at the Mansion House. A day or two afterwards, the four French heroines, together with Patrick Fowler, were received at Windsor Castle by the King and Queen. The wardrobe was presented by Lord Wakefield of Hythe.' The cupboard and its occupant was the subject of a play in 1987 by Anna Sewell entitled 'Why didn't they warn Williams?' The cupboard is currently on display at the King's Royal Hussars Museum in Winchester.

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