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Thomas Fiddler was born in Preston in 1871 the son of Thomas and Margaret (nee McCagney). Thomas` father was born in the village of Longton near Preston and his mother hailed from Belfast, the couple married in the Parish Church of St. John in Preston on the 27th August 1859. The 1881 Census shows Thomas living at 7 Pink Court in Preston together with his parents and two sisters, Sarah (1865) and Margaret (1875), his father was employed in one of the local mills as a cotton weaver.

On the 12th November 1889 he joined the Militia at Preston, his home address at the time was 2 Back Hope Street and his occupation was a twine spinner. He was five feet five and a half inches tall and weighed 106lbs and had grey eyes and light brown hair. His service number was 1762. Thomas completed 52 days with the Militia and then on the 4th January 1890 he joined the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment as a regular soldier. Unfortunately there are no other surviving service papers for him but from later information we know that he went on to serve with the 1st Battalion LNL in the 2nd Boer War.

By 1902 Thomas was back in Preston and on the 26th June of that year he married a widow, Emma Hamer (nee Richard) at St. Mary`s Church in the town. Emma and her first husband had married in 1894 but sadly he died in 1899, the couple had two children together, John Ingham Hamer (1895) and James Hamer (1896). When the 1911 Census was recorded Thomas, Emma and the two sons` from her previous marriage were living at 7 Moore Street in Preston, Thomas was a labourer and Emma a weaver. Emma`s parents John and Agnes Richard were also present together with another lady named Charlotte Byrne and her 1 year old daughter Emily, the Census entry describing Charlotte as a sister in law.

Shortly after the outbreak of war 43 year old Thomas enlisted once again into the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, signing his papers on the 1st September 1914. Although his service papers no longer exist we know that he embarked for France on the 29th November 1915 with a large batch of reinforcements for the 1st Battalion LNL. Thomas and the rest of the reinforcements joined the Battalion in billets at Hazebrouck which is where they would remain until the 21st December 1914.

The Battalion then took part in an attack at Givenchy on the night of the 21st – 22nd December 1914. To read a full account of the action on 22nd December, click here….

After the attack the Battalion losses amounted to 6 Officers and 408 non-commissioned Officers and men killed, wounded or missing. Thomas Fiddler was one of the men declared missing and it later transpired that he had been taken prisoner and was also wounded. He was initially taken to a temporary prisoner of war camp before being detained in a Lazarette (hospital) at Griessen and from there on to a second Lazarette. In February 1915 he was transferred to Merseburg Prisoner of War Camp where he remained until being repatriated under a prisoner of war exchange scheme on the 1st October 1915.

Thomas arrived back home in Preston on the weekend of the 16th/17th October 1915 and the following week he was interviewed by a representative of the Preston Herald, the newspaper article dated 23rd October 1915;

“BACK FROM HUN LAND”

“PRESTON MAN`S TERRIBLE EXPERIENCE”  

 “HOW BRITISH PRISONERS ARE TREATED”

“Fed like pigs, served like dogs and insulted everywhere”

After ten months spent in Germany as a prisoner of war, Private Thomas Fiddler, of the 1st Loyal North Lancs., who resides at 7 Moore Street, Preston, returned home last weekend, having been previously discharged from the Army as unfit for further service. He has practically lost the use of his left arm owing to shrapnel wounds in the left shoulder, he walks with difficulty owing to shrapnel and bullet wounds in the right groin and leg, and the effects of frostbite. His hearing has also been affected.

Private Fiddler who went through the Boer War, re-enlisted in his old Regiment, the 1st Loyal North Lancashires, when the first call for men was raised after the war broke out, and he was drafted out to France in November, going right forward to Ypres. He was in the thick of the fighting from then until the 22nd December. On the night of December 21st he was in a night charge near La Bassee when, without a shot being fired, four German trenches were taken at the point of a bayonet, the scene being one he shudders to recall. It was following this charge that he got his wounds whilst on the parapet of a trench, and the Germans subsequently found him and two others, a Bolton man and a Blackpool man. The trench where he was communicated with the German trenches by devious ways, a fact which he discovered later, and at the extreme corner of it he estimates that forty of our men fell victim to the hand grenades etc. which came in showers.

PIG FOOD FOR THE PRISONERS

Fiddler was taken first to a temporary camp of prisoners, and then on to Merseburg. Describing his treatment here, he says that the British prisoners are treated abominably, but the French `can get anything they want`, the German and the French soldiers addressing one another as comrades. There were often fights in the camps between English and French soldiers owing to the way the latter`s way of addressing their guards. The food served out was nothing better than pig food, hash made up of apples (cut but not cleaned), potatoes (similarly treated), prunes, fat bacon and any scraps. The only warm drink they ever got was “coffee” made of burnt barley, without sugar, and about three times a week they got potatoes boiled in their jackets, half washed, and a raw herring. Sometimes they got a bit of Limberger cheese, the smell of which turned one`s stomach. They also got fish sausage – the queerest stuff he ever tasted for sausage. Four ounces of black bread per day was allowed.

As to the sleeping accommodation, there were 150 in his room, lying so close “you could not put a pin between them”. There were no utensils for cleaning purposes, and the inability to keep themselves clean was one of the worst trials the men had. Fiddler never had any clothing but that which he wore when wounded, until his release.

MEDICALLY NEGLECTED AND INSULTED

He describes the medical treatment as shocking. For himself, he was five days without attention after being wounded. The English soldiers were treated worse than dogs by the Doctors, as by everybody else in Germany. Many had died in the camps from pure neglect. When our wounded were being moved, even the Red Cross people would not give them a drink as they passed through the stations, while the German wounded were given burnt “barley coffee” and a lump of dry bread – but never a cheer. Our men were insulted right and left all the time. The civilians would spit in their faces and shout derisively “Englishman, Englishman”.

Some of our men were working for 20 pfennigs a day (about two and a half pennies) when they were far from fit to work. They were employed in coal pits and brickfields, and on the farms, in excavating work, on public buildings, and so on, German women working alongside them, with a guard on duty over them all the time. They were far worse off than convicts. The Germans tried to make Private Fiddler work, but he refused.

PARCELS FROM HOME

Pte. Fiddler complains of the non-receipt of many of the parcels sent from England, and says that although he was told in London that £70,000 had been sent out to the English prisoners of war, all that was received in his camp was one penny per man. The Russians, he says, are still worse off, for they get no parcels whatever from home. He brought home with him copies of “The Continental Times” – “a special war edition for the benefit of Americans in Europe”, which is a frightful caricature of a newspaper circulated amongst our men, apparently with the object of making them believe that England is at her last gasp. He also brought back other trophies, which include some black bread”.

Thomas was finally discharged from the Army due to `wounds` on the 26th November 1915. After the war he would take receipt of the 1914/15 Star, British War and Victory Medals to which he was entitled.

Thomas and his wife Emma both passed away in 1936, Emma`s death registered in the June quarter and Thomas` in the September quarter of that year, both aged 65 years old.

Janet Davis

Janet Davis

Janet Davis has been researching her family history for many years and through this she discovered many relatives who served in WW1. This interest then led Janet to do many walking the battlefield tours with her husband. In April 2013 she discovered this website and volunteered to help. Janet believes that there are lots of stories still to be told, most of them very sad but at the same time they are a fascinating insight into the men, their families, what they did and where they came from.
Janet Davis

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