THE true story of a Uttoxeter head teacher arrested as a suspected German spy during the First World War has inspired an author’s latest novel.
Mark Rowe’s new book, August 1914: England in Peace and War, follows the opening month of the Great War through diaries, letters and newspapers written at the time.
One character in the book, AT Daniel, head teacher of Uttoxeter Grammar School, was arrested on the French border during a lone cycling tour of Europe.
Mr Rowe researched Daniel’s story using documents he found in Uttoxeter Library.
He also writes about the town’s socio-economic struggle as the well-off panic-bought, which cleared out shops and raised prices, leaving countless families in poverty.
He said: “By cycling into eastern France he put himself into the border area, where the French army was massing to attack the Germans, and laid himself very much open to suspicion.
“Rather than turn back, he arrived at the town of St Mihiel, where he ate lunch in the Hotel de Cynge.
“Two gendarmes asked for his identity papers and arrested him because he did not have a passport.
“Daniel’s travel documents and his story convinced the magistrate so well that the man took him to a café and Daniel shook hands with nearly all the men left in the town, who toasted his ‘sang froid’.
“As Daniel admitted, he had cycled to within miles of the likely battle zone not out of bravery, but in ignorance.
Mr Rowe, 45, also tells the story of how suffragettes became the main suspects in the destruction of churches in Hoar Cross and Newborough.
The Burton resident said: “The likely source of the rumour was a midnight hay rick fire nearby, that firemen from Burton had to leave to burn for lack of water.
“While rumours are always hard to pin down, it sounds as if someone saw the fire and thought of suffragettes campaigning violently for the vote for women and put two and two together and made five.
“Daniel’s travels made him a rare witness to the high emotions of the start of the war and he described how French women expected never to see their men again. “It was understood among the men there must be no talk of the dangers before them as long as the women were there.”
Hoar Cross housed what was considered ‘one of the most magnificent parish churches in the country’ and employed a former special constable, Thomas Stanton, to guard it by night.
Newborough had a police station but the church kept closed and only parishioners were allowed the key.
Mr Rowe said: “It’s a sign of how villages only a few miles from towns felt cut off, as the main method of transport in villages was still the horse and cart, and your own feet. Women wanting the right to vote were dangerous strangers.”
The book can be purchased online at www.chaplinbooks.co.uk.