Documents discovered in Germany

August 2012: German Report of Forest Poet’s Capture from 1916 Discovered in Munich Archive

First World War historian Peter Barton well known for his studies and excavations on the Western Front has made an amazing discovery in an archive in Munich Germany. He has contacted the to tell us how, while researching a book about the Battle of Fromelles in 1916, he discovered a report written by a German Intelligence Officer describing the capture and interrogation of Lieutenant Frederick William Harvey of the Gloucestershire Regiment.

F.W. Harvey was captured on 17 August 1916 when he undertook a lone reconnaissance into No Man’s Land and slipped into a German trench. Will recounted the story of his capture many times on radio, in newspapers and in his biography Comrades in Captivity, believing he had been saved from being shot or bayoneted by his laughter at the sight of a German soldier who was the exact likeness of a labourer on his father’s farm at Minsterworth. He also went on to recount his interrogation by a German Intelligence officer, whom he described as an affable gentleman and seemed better informed about the allies disposition than him. He offered his regulation name, rank and serial number and lied in response to further questions. He was very impressed with the German ‘Secret Service’, their knowledge and command of English.

Peter Barton, responsible for the ongoing excavations at La Boiselle and researching a book about the Battle of Fromelles, where a new cemetery has been established for soldiers found in mass unmarked graves, went to the Munich Kriegsarchiv in Germany to look at German sources of information about the battle. He was directed to a file that contained intelligence reports and discovered the previously unseen report of the interrogation of Lieutenant Harvey by a German Major in the Intelligence Service, which begins: The prisoner is 28 years old and a lawyer by profession. He joined the army voluntarily as a common soldier on 8 August 1914 and says that he came to France with the I/V Gloucs Reg in March 1915. The report remarks: Concerning all other, purely military questions, the officer does not want to give any information. The report goes on to list the questions put to him and his rather obtuse replies. Peter Barton, recognising the significance of the report has contacted the Society, providing a translated transcription of the report and remarking on how ‘tight lipped’ Will Harvey had remained relative to other captives. However, in typical fashion, when asked when the War would end Lieutenant Harvey replied: The end of the war was likely in his opinion to come about only with the restoration of common sense in Europe.

Roger Deeks, Chair of the F.W. Harvey Society has said, ‘We are extremely grateful to Peter Barton for recognising the value of the report to the Society and for contacting us. The report has lain in a Munich Archive since the end of the War (94 years ago) and we think F.W. Harvey would have been amused to know what his ‘affable gentleman’ wrote about him. We have sent Peter a copy of Comrades in Captivity by way of thanks.’

F.W. Harvey observed that his antics on the Western Front were destined to either get him killed or win a medal, but he never anticipated capture. His confinement provided the opportunity to produce some of the most powerful poetry of the War remembering his beloved Gloucestershire.

See also this Wikipedia article.

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