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The French Prisoners of Norman Cross A Tale   By:

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Transcribed from the [1895] Hodder Brothers edition by David Price, email

{Yaxley Church from the S.E. From photo. by Rev. E. H. Brown: p0.jpg}

" Weep sore for him that goeth away : for he shall return no more , nor see his native country ."

THE French Prisoners OF Norman Cross.


BY THE REV. ARTHUR BROWN, Rector of Catfield , Norfolk .




The tramp of feet was heard one afternoon late in the Autumn of 1808, on the road that leads from Peterborough to Yaxley. A body of men, four abreast, and for the most part in the garb and with the bearing of soldiers, was marching along. But the sight was not exhilarating. The swing and springy step of soldiers on the march is always a pleasant sight; but there was a downcast look on most of these men's faces, and a general shabbiness of appearance that was not attractive. And no wonder: for they had come from the battlefield, and crossed the sea in crowded ships, not too comfortable; and were drawing near, as prisoners of war, to the dreary limbo which, unless they chanced to die, was to be their abode for they knew not how long. To be prisoners of war is an honourable estate, almost the only captivity to which no shame attaches: yet this is but cold comfort to compensate for loss of freedom.

All down the column and on each side of it marched a file of red coated militia men with guns loaded and bayonets fixed, not as a complimentary escort, but a stern necessity, a fact that had been proved not an hour before, when some desperate fellow had broken through the guard, and flung himself from the parapet of the bridge over the Nene at Peterborough, and was shot the moment he rose to the surface of the water. Alas! for him, poor fellow, they could aim well in those days with even the old "Brown Bess."

Many a sad procession of unfortunates like these had travelled the same road before, during the last five years, but they had consisted for the most part of prisoners taken in naval engagements, such as the seamen and marines captured from the four Spanish frigates, with a million sterling on board; and the men brought to England from both French and Spanish possessions in the West Indies, besides crews of privateers, floating "Caves of Adullam," where everyone that was in distress, or in debt, or discontented, were gathered together, along with many who had taken to that wild life to escape political troubles. Perhaps, also, there had been some of those twelve thousand prisoners who had been sent after Trafalgar's fight was over in 1805.

It was now, as we have said, the year 1808. The Peninsular war had begun, and the prisoners we are describing were some of those brave Frenchmen who had fought against us in one of the first engagements, the short but incisive battle of Vimiero.

"Why, Tournier, my friend," cried a young fellow, marching with the officers at the head of the column, "how miserable you look! Who would think you were almost at the end of your journey, and about to find repose in the hotel the English have provided for us? I have not seen a smile on your face since the day you left Portugal. Courage, man, or we shall all have the blue devils!"

Those who heard him seemed amused, but Tournier did not deign to notice the raillery, though it was not meant ill naturedly.

An English officer, riding at the side a little in advance, and overheard what was said, looked round on Tournier, and, struck with his soldierly figure, said quietly, "Let us hope it will not be for long."

"Long, sir?" exclaimed the other; "long as the grave: we are marching there."

"Mercy on us!" cried the lively Frenchman, "that's a pleasant idea! We are going to that 'undiscovered country,' as your Shakspeare says, 'from whose bourn no traveller returns.' Bah! let us change the subject, and hope for another 'Peace of Amiens,' and as short a one... Continue reading book >>

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