Private Edward Fairclough was one of several men from Adlington and district who were in the 1st Battalion, the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment and who went to France and were part of the retreat from Mons in the autumn of 1914. Private Fairclough and others were captured and held in the notorious Wittenberg prisoner of war camp.
At Wittenberg, there was no soap and two taps served 17,000 men. There was a cholera epidemic in the camp in December 1914, in which 30 prisoners died, but worse was to follow. The Germans forced Allied PoWs together; this was a death sentence for the British and French as the Russians carried the typhus bug. The inevitable happened: In the winter of 1915, a Fleck typhus epidemic broke out at Wittenberg.
The commandant’s response? He and his staff abandoned the wire-fenced camp and left the PoWs to die. Eventually, under international pressure, the German authorities allowed six British Royal Army Medical Corps doctors into Wittenberg. On arrival one doctor tried to brush dust from a patient’s clothes; the “dust” turned out to be a moving mass of lice. Stretchers were the tables men ate on.
In Wittenberg camp, 185 men died of typhus. Among them were three of the RAMC doctors and 10 volunteer helpers from among the men. Food rations were dire. A quarter of a kilo of black KK bread (principally sawdust and potato), a cup of acorn coffee and two bowls of soup was standard issue per day.
The soup never bore close scrutiny: when soldiers put the bones from their soup together they had the perfect skeleton of a dachshund. Men starved to death, or became wraith-like approximations of the human form. On capture, one soldier weighed 12st 6lbs; after four months of his PoW “diet” he was down to 8st.
Relatives had no news until April 1915, when the Red Cross was allowed to send in food parcels.
Edward was born in 1896, and in 1901 was living with his parents at 14 Chorley Road, Heath Charnock. However in 1911 he was a boarder in the household of Andrew Jephtha (or Jeptha) at 19 Chorley Road Adlington. On the census Andrew’s occupation was ‘professional athlete’, and his birth place is South Africa. Research shows that he was a boxer, and that he was the first black boxer to win a British title, the welterweight title in 1907. He had married an Adlington girl, Abby Mitchell, who parents ran the Cardwell Arms. He lost the title five months later, and eventually had to retire due to damage sustained to his eyesight.
Edward died in 1952, aged 56.