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Tales from the WWI Woburn P.O.W. Camp
Milton Keynes Citizen, April 26, 2012

If you go down to the woods today you’re in for a big surprise.

Or at least you will be in a few months, for it seems that we’re going to have a Centre Parcs plonked in the local woodlands. Still, I suppose voluntary incarceration is better than the converse, which was the lot of German prisoners during World War One when, around August 1916, a P.O.W. camp was set up in Crawley Road, at or near Husborne Crawley, ‘outside the park.’

Under the control of a guard, from here the inmates were sent to work in the local woodlands felling and cutting timber which, drawn on small trolleys running on rails, was then taken to the engine shed and saw bench for cutting up.

Yet despite being out of the war some of the inmates tried to break out, and one day just before dusk it was found that two had escaped.

The guard was swiftly turned out and together with the special constables remained on duty all night and up to the following mid day, when a message arrived that the fugitives had been taken into custody at Luton.

Soon after their escape they had apparently been seen at Eversholt, and reached Luton after walking through the night.

Special constables were sent from Leighton Buzzard to relieve the tired Woburn men, but in the event they were not required. As for the recaptured prisoners, they were respectively sentenced to 129 days and 168 days, with their sentence to be served at Aldershot.

Not that this deterred others from trying, for halfway between Soulbury and Linslade an escaped inmate was apprehended whilst in conversation with a man travelling to work at Linslade.

In limited English he asked the way to another camp in Surrey and it was just his luck that he had stopped a special constable. At the subsequent arrival of Police Inspector Walker he meekly enquired “Are you police? I go quietly,” and was promptly handcuffed.

Following the arrival of a military escort from Woburn his adventure then came to an end with a brisk walk back to the camp. But the camp was not only associated with the conflict between nations but also between that of the sexes, in a case which involved a soldier who married a Woburn girl.

She was 18 and although after the marriage ceremony he went back to Woburn camp they later went to live with his parents in Birmingham, following his discharge from the Army on a pension.

However, it seemed he wouldn’t find work nor provide her with any money, and so the means for their rooms and keep had to be earned by the girl’s labours in a munitions factory.

Then she found a post card from another woman and when challenged he allegedly twisted and nearly broke her wrist. On another occasion violence was seemingly threatened if she didn’t keep quiet, with an emphasis that if she failed to leave the house he would ’stick her.’

Not surprisingly, having given a week’s notice at the factory she left him in July 1918, and went straight from night work by train to Woburn. Subsequently in a letter he said it was a pity that he hadn’t the money to divorce her, for “I should very much like £15 from someone to do so, instead, I am giving you your freedom.

You can from now consider yourself single and marry whoever you wish. In return, I want an agreement from you. No one need ever know you have been married. I will do the same, as it is impossible for us to agree and come together again.”

Following this the woman, who was now in domestic service, travelled to Birmingham and in consequence sent him a letter c/o ‘the other woman’ asking what amount of maintenance he was going to pay.

Now resident at 24, Bedford Street, Woburn, eventually she applied for an order under the Summary Jurisdiction (Married Women) Act but in court since the episode had happened some while ago, and there was no proof that he was still ‘carrying on,’ the Bench decided not to uphold the claim of desertion.

Not least since the woman had broken off the matrimonial relationship. Oh dear. And so for any sensible male, the moral of this article appears to be that in time of peace or war it’s always best not to mess around with guns or women.