Fred Pearson lived in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire. He was a private in the East Yorkshire Regiment. Private Pearson was at the Battle of Passchendaele Ridge where he was captured as a prisoner of war. He went back to Dickebusch after he had escaped. His job as a prisoner was unloading grains from the barges. During his time in the prison Pearson had written a story called ‘Prison Guard’s Helmet’.
Prison Guard’s Helmet
(Private 29070 Fred Pearson)
In 1917 Fred Pearson of 35 Cromwell Street, Gainsborough, Lincolnshire was a private in the East Yorkshire Regiment. He was involved in the Battle of Passchendaele Ridge and taken prisoner by the advancing Germans.
The advance was however short-lived and as the German Army retreated they took their prisoners with them to keep in loading stores and pushing handcarts of supplies.
One day whilst the prisoners were unloading a barge, Fred and his friend Harold Hayes tried to escape, but were caught and brought back. A Prussian Guard’s Officer, (nicknamed ‘Iron Cross’ because of the medal he wore on his uniform) beat Fred on the ribs with his cane, whilst forcing him to keep his hands raised. This angered Fred, and sometime later, as the troops and prisoners were entering a village where they were to camp for the night, Fred was able to exact his revenge.
The villagers, knowing that the Germans were facing defeat became more confident in expressing their sympathy for the British prisoners, and they brought new dustbins full of soup to give to them. However, the German soldiers tipped the contents down the drains and a great uproar ensued. The prisoners were told to stay put whilst the villagers were driven off. ‘Iron Cross’ removed the helmet and placed it on a handcart whilst he went to help to sort out the trouble.
Prussian guards were very proud of their distinctive helmets, particularly those which, like this one, were made of leather. Later issues were made of composite material. Fred, aware of the importance attached to the item by its owner quickly removed it from the hand cart and hid it beneath his greatcoat.
Later Fred and Harold, in fear of their lives, managed to make their escape over the wall of the churchyard where they had been billeted for the night.
Sheltered by a local family until the Germans left, they made their way back towards British lines. At a crossroads they split up. Fred made his way to Brussels, where he was sheltered by a school teacher in the school house, until eventually he got his prize back safely to Blighty.
This is the story as related by Fred Pearson – Bernard’s only son.
After the war, Fred struggled to find work so he went back into the army as a medical orderly at refugee camps.
Thank you to Bernard Pearson for submitting this wonderful story.