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How soldier married nurse who thought he was a spy

Captain Henry Oldham.

Captain Henry Oldham.

WHEN First World War officer Harry Oldham was found injured and muttering in German a nurse who treated him believed he was a spy and said he should not be allowed to live.

Fortunately for him this advice was ignored and just two years later the pair were married.

The story of Captain Harry Oldham has been uncovered by five students at Leeds University.

Mr Oldham’s own account of the war was found in Leeds University’s Liddle Collection of war papers. After he was badly wounded in the Third Battle of Ypres in 1917,he ended up on an operating table in a York military hospital, muttering in German.

Giving an account in 1969, Mr Oldham describes how “a young Irish nurse, announced that here clearly was a German spy, who should not be allowed to live – advice fortunately ignored.”

The ex Leeds Grammar school pupil, then writes: “A few months ago, that seemingly murderous-minded young Irish nurse and I celebrated our Golden Wedding.” He married the nurse Heather Orloff in 1919 and the couple had three children. They emigrated to Canada,. He died in 1973. His account reveals how he used his ability to speak German to save the life of a wounded enemy soldier, and was in turn spared by German soldiers himself just months later.

Mr Oldham was wounded in October 1917. He received a serious wound to the abdomen. When a group of German soldiers found him one was about to bayonet Mr Oldham when he was stopped by a superior.

Dominic Smithers, a fourth year history student, said: “What’s amazing is that in an earlier incident that almost mirrors what happened to him in that shell hole – he prevented his company sergeant major from bayoneting a gravely wounded 17-year-old German they came across after heavy fighting on the Ancre.”

The Leeds University students’ project – Home and Away; Expectations and Realities – focuses on the difference between soldiers’ experiences on the front and how their loved ones at home viewed the war.

Harry Oldham’s bleak recollections of his war, 50 years on, are very different to the letters he sent home at the time.

His letters home appear designed to ease worry among his family.

The research has been done by five Leeds University students: Dominic Smithers, Bryony Evans, Emma Wray, Alex Key and Noga Hill.

STUDENT RESEARCH

THE students’ project – Home and Away; Expectations and Realities – focuses on the difference between soldiers’ experiences on the front and how their loved ones at home viewed the war.

Harry Oldham’s bleak recollections of his war, 50 years on, are very different to the letters he sent home at the time.

His letters home appear designed to ease worry among his family.

The research has been done by five Leeds University students: Dominic Smithers, Bryony Evans, Emma Wray, Alex Key and Noga Hill.

 

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