independent

Saturday 19 April 2014

WWI film to tell how Irish soldier spent four years in cupboard

THE extraordinary story of an Irishman who spent most of World War I hiding from German soldiers in a French farmhouse is to begin filming in the...

THE extraordinary story of an Irishman who spent most of World War I hiding from German soldiers in a French farmhouse is to begin filming in the autumn.

Scottish actor Robert Carlyle, who starred in Angela's Ashes, is being tipped to play the role of Dublin-born Patrick Fowler who hid in a cupboard for almost four years.

He became separated from his British army regiment after a battle in 1914. He survived in the woods for several months near the town of Cambrai, beside the Belgian border, before being found by a man who took him to his mother-in-law's home nearby.

Pte Fowler spent almost four years huddled motionless in the cupboard off a sitting room in the farmhouse, his eyes fixed on the German officers who had commandeered the property.

Only at night while the Germans slept upstairs could he move from his cramped hiding place to eat with Angele Belmont Gobert and her daughter who were helping him.

The Irish soldier's tale first came to light 1927, after two investigators travelled to the village of Bertry in northern France on the advice of Brig Gen Edward Spears, commanding officer of the 11th Hussars, the light cavalry regiment to which Pte Fowler belonged.

His granddaughter Edith Cook (55), of Forres in northern Scotland, is delighted the story is to be filmed. ``My grandfather's experience, coupled with the bravery and selflessness of the two French women, makes for a wonderful story,'' she said.

``As a child, my late mother Norah would often tell me about how grandad had to hide in the cupboard, but it was when I was older and saw the actual cupboard at the regimental museum in Hampshire that the full extent of his situation really hit home to me.

``It was a lot smaller than I had imagined. He would have had to bunch his knees up to his chest and remain like that for hours on end,'' she added.

Just before the German defeat, news spread around the village that another hidden soldier had been found and shot, so the widow and her daughter decided to move Pte Fowler to a safer place.

Under cover of darkness and disguised as a woman, he was taken to a hole under a barn, where he was to remain for the next month, until finally being freed by British troops who liberated the village on October 10, 1918.

Producer Bill Shepherd is the man behind the £3m project which will be shot at Shepperton Studios in Middlesex and on location in France.

After the war, Patrick Fowler took up a post on the 8,400-acre Glenernie Estate, 30 miles east of Inverness, in the Scottish Highlands where he lived with his wife and three daughters.

He died in 1964, aged 90.

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