Friday 23 March 2018

Dunleer woman held as spy at start of WWI

Soldiers at St Mihiel during its liberation. Alice Henry from Dunleer was one of those rescued 100 years ago
Soldiers at St Mihiel during its liberation. Alice Henry from Dunleer was one of those rescued 100 years ago

Hubert Murphy

A DUNLEER woman was held captive by the Germans during WWI on suspicion of being a spy after being trapped in France following the outbreak of war.

The amazing story of Alice Erita Henry reads like a real-life war-time drama, only for her it was a nightmare.

The story, exactly 100 years old, began in her family home at Toberdony House near Dromin.

She was the daughter of John and Mary Florence Henry, her dad local, her mum a native of Dublin.

There was six in the family, Alice, Annie, Olive, Frank, Caroline and Doris. Well to do, they had three servants and a governess, Lilli Goltz, ironically, a German native.

John Henry was listed as just one of 85 people in Louth to own a car in the first decade of the 1900s.

At the age of 20, Alice, determined to improve her French, set out in June 1914 for the town of St Mihiel in Lorraine, in the North East of France.

Her uncle was a major in the French army and she was to live with him.

But when the war broke out, within two months of her arrival, her uncle went to his regiment. Soon after that, she would see German soldiers enter the town. Life would change forever.

She was initially taken to jail on suspicion of being a spy and held for three weeks before being released.

'We got very little to eat and were forced to find shelter in a cave when the shelling began around us,' she stated after her rescue. 'Those that worked for the Germans in the fields or washing clothes were paid in paper money. Those that went to the fields were held under military escort.'

'Our greatest trouble was getting food, clothes and news from the outside world. Every day we went out to get food from the supplies that the American Relief Commission sent through Belgium but there was not a lot of bread. The Germans had emptied the shops when they came,' she told an Australian newspaper after the war.

The odd Red Cross message did get through, Alice writing to her father a number of times.

Their only newspaper was 'Gazette des Ardennes' - a French paper, produced by the Germans and telling one side of the conflict.

When the town was freed after the Battle of St Mihiel in September 1918, the townsfolk were amazed to hear stories of the battles elsewhere.

It was signifcant in that it was the first independent battle fought by American forces during the war and George Patten and Douglas MacArthur met on the first day, both later famed leaders during WWII.

Do the Henry family still hold Alice's records all these years later I wonder?

Drogheda Independent