Day 13: 17th April 2014: Collecting oral testimony
Today I went to visit Mr Falle, the man credited with burning down three barrack blocks of Lager Wick, with his cousin, when he was 7 years old. I had been hoping to meet him for a while, so it was good to collect his story. Of course, my first question was to ask why he did it. He said that it was an act of anti-German resistance! He told me how he went into his aunt’s store (which sold petrol and paraffin) and into the back room, where she had a tank of paraffin. He and his cousin soaked a couple of rags in the paraffin and then ran along the road and sneaked under the barbed wire of the camp. Mr Falle remembered that the huts were on stilts, and he and his cousin were able to crawl underneath them, strike a match, see that it caught fire, and then beat a hasty retreat down the road.
I was particularly pleased to hear his memory of the barrack huts being on stilts, as this accorded with the archaeological evidence. As the aerial photos showed no concrete hut foundations, I didn’t know whether the wooden barrack blocks would have been placed on the soil (which seems rather unwise from the point of view of getting damp and rotten, especially as the site is marshland), or whether they were on stilts, which would fit in with what we have found in the excavations.
While Mr Falle said that he remembers seeing the barrack burn down, and remembers seeing the smoking embers, there is a problem with this. He came to visit us on site later in the day and pointed out where the barrack block was. It was in a very different part of the camp than the aerial photos and historical record suggest the burning took place. So the question is: is Mr Falle’s memory faulty about his childhood mischief-making after 70 years, or were there two fires? Did the fire he set actually consume the building, or did he crawl under the barbed wire in a different spot? Or do the aerial photos not tell the whole story – could one barrack block have burnt down and been replaced in the period of time between my sequence of photos?
A number of other people have contacted me with their stories, so I shall look forward to collecting those and building up a bigger picture of Lager Wick to add to the archaeological excavation.