Suspicions of German spies abounded from the moment war was declared and many innocent people fell victim to accusations of being German sympathizers. In October 1914, Miss Lillian Tart, the headteacher at the National School in Dudleston, near Ellesmere was called to account. PC Pilsbury went to investigate gossip circulating in the village that she was of ‘dubious nationality’. Statements taken from five boys said that she had told the class the Germans were winning and would be here in a week ‘and that will sharpen the English up.’ One boy said they had to learn a poem called ‘The Soldier’s Dream’ and Miss Tart had told them ‘When the German win they will want to hear all this.’ Another claimed she had said ‘I am glad the Germans are winning.’

Miss Tart's letter

Miss Tart’s first letter

On the morning of 17th October Miss Tart wrote to the local vicar, chairman of the governors, telling him that ‘the children must have misconstrued my words’. Her correspondence has survived and is kept within the parish collection at Shropshire Archives. The records show that the pressure was such that later the same day she was forced to write another letter offering her resignation.

Letter of resignation

Letter of resignation

Miss Tart would have had an accent the locals may have thought foreign: she came from Manchester, but had taught at Dudleston School for several years. Before that she had been an assistant teacher in her home town where she lived with her parents. Although she was Lancashire born and bred, her father had in fact originated from Shropshire.

By Ina Taylor