In Poole History Centre you can access the Poole and Dorset Herald for the war years- in fact you can access the newspaper from the 1840s- 1970s.
Local historian, Bryan Gambier, uncovered a fascinating First World War story when using the 1934 Herald for research. The story reads like an adventure novel but recounts the real life experience of Parkstone man- Ernest Fendley.
The Poole and Dorset Herald serialised Ernest’s story over a number of weeks in May 1934. The story begins:
Few experiences during the Great War can have been more amazing in their way than those of Mr Ernest Fendley, of “Coneyhurst”, Balston Road, Upper Parkstone. Taken prisoner at Mons, he escaped within a few hours and spent the whole of the war period in hiding and then openly posing as a Frenchman behind the German lines. Death would have been the penalty had he been caught by the invaders, but he was young, agile and quick witted, and managed time and time again to evade recapture by the proverbial “skin of his teeth”. Early in the war Mr Fendley had been reported killed, but within a fortnight of the Armistice he came home to his surprised parents, and today is a very popular bus driver in the employ of Bournemouth Corporation.
After escaping capture on the 24th August 1914, Ernest walked to try and rejoin British lines. He ended up in France in the town of St. Quentin but had to go into hiding as Germans had occupied the town.
Ernest was taken in by a Frenchman, M. Curley, and was in hiding in his family home for the next two years.
The Herald reports:
Eventually he was befriended by an old Frenchman whom he calls M. Curley, and in whose house he hid for two years […] Mr Fendley tells of the anxiety under which he lived for those two years, and how he had to make full use of his youthful wits and agility to escape the vigilance of the suspicious German police.
In January 1916 Ernest made his narrowest escape, he was sleeping in the family home when the Germans crashed through the front door at 7am. He had to run into the master bedroom and hide “up over the paper ceiling”. Although one of the Germans did thrust the blade of his sword up through the paper ceiling he missed Ernest and didn’t have time to continue the search. The Curleys were arrested but didn’t betray him. After this Ernest never slept in the house but in a nearby loft.
Towards the end of 1916 Ernest was becoming expert at French and he also learnt that someone in the village was against him “we get so many letters sent to The Herr Kommandant that you [M. Curley] are hiding an Englishman that we have to keep coming here.”
However, due to the military situation after the Battle of the Somme the Germans lost interest in the hiding place of one alleged Englishman.
On March 1st 1917 the whole of the civilian population of St. Quentin was to be evacuated to other towns further behind the lines. There were around 18 young Frenchmen without identification cards and Ernest joined this group. He successfully posed as Frenchman Francois Venet and eventually was posted to work in a slaughter house until March 1918.
Throughout the remainder of the war Ernest was moved around and it was a “terrible period of food shortage”. He and fellow prisoners would make dandelion stew to supplement their rations.
After the Armistice Ernest was able to travel back to England as an Englishman and enjoyed a happy reunion with his family on his return to Poole.
This is an incredible story, and is fully available in Poole History Centre if you want to read more. It shows the wealth of information available in newspaper archives and also highlights a very personal and unique wartime experience of a Parkstone man.