Lost in Downham Market - a French POW

Downham heritage ANL-150501-114759001
Downham heritage ANL-150501-114759001
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There exists an account, supposedly by an anonymous Frenchman (although doubts have been cast on its authorship), of his captivity in England during the Napoleonic Wars.

Although a civilian, he claims he was taken by a British warship while sailing from Marseilles to Nice in 1809.

Having been put ashore at King’s Lynn, he was conveyed by river to the prison camp at Norman Cross in Huntingdonshire.

Rather improbably, he says he still had some gold coins that were on him when captured, and was therefore able, over time, to assemble an escape kit which included a rope with a hook on the end for climbing walls and a detailed map and instructions on how to reach the Norfolk coast.

In February 1811 he took advantage of a violent storm, when the sentries were taking shelter, to get through a hole he had made in the wooden wall of his barracks, climbing over a fence and scaling the outer wall.

Travelling on foot through Peterborough and Wisbech, he arrived one night at Downham Market, where, his instructions told him, he should take the road to Swaffham and Fakenham, and then on to the coast.

Passing through the winding streets of the town, he took what he thought to be the Swaffham road, but when dawn came, he found himself outside Lynn.

He hid throughout the day and entered Lynn at night, where he had the misfortune to be taken up by the press gang, but was able to escape, he says, through the window of the room in which he had been placed.

After hiding out for several days, he made again for the coast, where he bribed a Dutch smuggler to secure a passage home.