Stirring memories of a prisoner of war

Margaret Goulding with a picture of her late father Wilfred Callan.
Margaret Goulding with a picture of her late father Wilfred Callan.

IT was 1949 when Wilfred Crallan passed away, aged 52.

He never fully got over the effects of the First World War.

But before his passing, he had recorded as much as he could remember in pencil-written memoirs. His daughter Margaret Goulding decided to decipher them and the resultant record is astonishing.

It tells of a man who lied about his age in 1914 so he could fight for his country. He saw service in the battles of La Nassie and Givinchy but his war was temporarily halted when he was gassed on the battlefield at Hullack on June 2, 1917.

The effects on his health meant he spent the next four months in the London Hospital in City Road, but he recuperated sufficiently to return to the front, this time with the Machine Gun Corps 14th Division.

On December 4, 1917, he was back in France and yet, just three months later, he was taken prisoner on March 21, 1918. His ordeal in a German prison camp was horrendous and he recalled it in his memoirs.

He admitted it was awful and the prisoners were made to work in quarries for one slice of bread a day, said Margaret. And when the men tried to split the slice of bread in two - to have one half at breakfast and one for dinner - the Germans would not allow it.

Life was so hard and Wilfred said it was only God and providence which helped him to survive.

When he was finally freed along with a group of other men, they were merely shown to the prison gates and told to walk to their freedom.

They did this with German officers following them on horseback for the first two miles, but the men were exhausted both from the walk and from the treatment back in the prison camp.

Pals and long-time colleagues died on the long walk to freedom. Wilfred himself was in a bad way.

He described how he was “properly done in” and that it was only the help and support of a friend called Albert Vickers which saved him.

After five days of walking, and fearing he could “not go even a yard further”, they came across the house of a Frenchwoman.

He told how the kind acts of that woman and of others, saved him. The men pulled themselves together and set off on the rest of the trek the next day.

Finally, they reached an area where soldiers were marshalling. And after being searched and grilled, they were allowed to pass through to the checkpoint.

All of Wilfred’s story can be told thanks to his daughter Margaret Goulding, a nurse who was involved in midwifery and health visiting for 30 years before her own retirement.

She knew her father had the little notebook. After his passing, she and her husband deciphered every word.

Get in touch by contacting Chris Cordner on (01429) 239377, or emailing