Norman St. Barbe Sladen was a young man, who, despite all the carnage of the Great War, was still desperately keen to join the Army. He had had a serious nervous breakdown several years earlier, but was on the road to recovery. The odds were stacked against him. A medical report conducted in December 1917 reported,
‘He has lateral curvature of the spine. Complains of pain in active exertion. Especially in lifting weights.’
Sladen did have one trump card up his sleeve and that was his exceptional skill at speaking French and German. After passing a medical examination, he was able to join the British Army as an Interpreter and to hold the rank of 2nd Lieutenant. He was transferred to Skipton in North Yorkshire in January 1918 when a prisoner-of-war camp for German officers opened there. Unfortunately he suffered from an attack of appendicitis shortly afterwards. Sladen was admitted to 2nd Northern General Hospital, Beckett Park in June that year. He was considered to be unfit for future service and resigned his commission as an officer.
Sladen went on to have quite a long and fulfilling life. He married two years later, and proceeded to write a number of books as an author and translator. Perhaps Sladen’s best known work is his book The Real Le Queux. This was a biography of William le Queux, a writer of spy stories and adventures who was popular in the years before and after the Great War. One of le Queux’s most popular works, the Invasion of 1910 written in 1906 predicted a German invasion of Britain
St. Barbe Sladen became a Freeman of the City of London and later still a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. His portrait is included in the National Portrait Gallery collection as part of a series of photographs of eminent Britons. The cost of the war had been heavy, and there was a severe shortage of labour. Sladen had wanted to use his skills as a linguist in the service of his country, but his own health problems were eventually to put pay to that.
German officer prisoners could not be forced to work, but it was different for the enlisted men who acted as their servants. It was therefore ironic that some of the German enlisted men, who were imprisoned during Sladen’s time at Skipton, were able to help by working in quarries, on farms or in maintaining the roads and railways. They did however receive extra rations as a result.
We can now see 2nd Northern General Hospital at Beckett Park as more than just a hospital for soldiers wounded in battle. It had a wider role providing medical care and facilities to those officers and men in need of them.
Alan's previous guest blog can be viewed here.