A photograph on the flier for WCT’s production What They Left Behind is of Harry Crowther, a WW1 survivor and the grandfather of one of the actors, Clare Small. Clare played the part of Bessie Angell whose four eldest sons went off to fight in the First World War.
Through a strange symbiosis, two Harrys unknown to each other in 1916, meet in the making of community theatre performed by local people attempting to reflect on the lives of people living in Wimborne at that time.
Clare Small writes:
The face that looks out at you across a century is that of Harry Crowther. Harry was my Granddad. At the start of W.W.1. he was already in the army having joined, as a boy soldier at the age of sixteen, in 1912. Within days of embarkation Harry found himself camped with his regiment in the beautiful countryside near Ypres.
In those early days mechanization and mud-filled trenches were yet to come. Harry, a foot soldier, went into battle alongside of sabre-drawn horsemen charging through cornfields and woodland. The fighting was fierce and positions maintained at a great cost but eventually some were overrun. Harry was taken as a prisoner of war along with hundreds of others. They were marched away past the heaped bodies of hundreds of fallen German soldiers, discovering only then the might of their enemy. So ended The First Battle of Ypres.
Harry was lucky that day because as a prisoner he survived the war. When he was repatriated home in 1919 he weighed just over seven stone (43kg).
Clare’s story about her Grandparents:
The story that was told to us about Granny and Granddad was this:
Harry was Auntie Elsie’s boyfriend at the start of World War One. Ells was only sixteen and a bit “flighty.”
Ethel (granny) was older, eighteen, and we think that she had a boyfriend, Tom, at the start of the war who was killed early on.
Harry was taken prisoner we think at 1st Ypres Battle of la Bassee 1914
Ells confided in Ethel that she felt she could not keep writing to Harry because she wanted a boyfriend at home not shut away in Germany. Ethel insisted that she write to Harry with her feelings and took it upon herself to write to him for the rest of his time as a prisoner of war saying that she could not bear to think of him so far from home and with no special friend at home.
At some point in 1917 he escaped and was hidden by a German farmer and his family in their barn. Food was scarce and all Germany was hungry but he was better fed there than in the prison camp. He was cared for by two little girls, we cannot remember their names other than that they were typical German sounding names, like fairy story names. They would bring him his food each day and he would tell them about this life in England. He was repatriated at the end of the war in 1919.
In the early 1930’s he was working as a guard on the railways at Bournemouth Station when he heard his name being called. He turned to see two smart young women running down the platform arms out stretched, their faces wreathed in smiles. He did not know who they were to start with and was rather taken aback, but then he said that he could see that it was his two little angels all grown up. They said that they were on a holiday to visit.
“What They Left Behind” touches on the story of another Harry, Harry Angell from Hillbuts, (near modern day QE school) in Wimborne, his Mum and Dad, brothers and sisters, friends and neighbours, elders and betters. The people of Wimborne, one hundred years ago.