David Cruickshank

A Cameronian's Adventures in the Great War

As we arrived at the centre of Etaples on a dull August morning, we were excited with the anticipation of the great hunt. This French town on the Channel coast, which had accommodated thousands of soldiers during the Great War, was today in carnival mood. The brocante filled the streets surrounding the town square. Stall after stall of old and interesting bric-a-brac, antiques and general second hand goods of a bewildering variety. The French recycle second hand goods with flair, and enjoy explaining in detail, the provenance of anything in which one may have expressed an interest. Still in darkness and with storm clouds gathering, we had dragged ourselves out of the sleeping bags in our caravan at 4.30am. 4.30am! I had not realised there were two 4.30s on the clock until we had discovered the joy of brocantes. Canny folk the French, advertised start time 8am, get there for 7.45 and you're two hours behind the dealers. We were there at 6am and some of the stallholders were still setting up. We have a system. Quick whiz around, looking at the larger and more obvious items on offer, then a more thorough sortie checking out the boxes and cases. It was towards the end of our first whiz that she spoke. "Go and have a look at that, it's got The Daily Telegraph written on it". Dutifully, I threaded my way through and over the array of goods on offer, strategically placed to make it impossible to reach the object of your interest. I read it, argued about the price, and bought it. The dealer was kind enough to place it in a large plastic bin liner, and then the heavens opened. It was only, much later, when we returned to the security of our tourer that we fully realised what it was we had bought, and how close it had come to being soaked and destroyed by the deluge.

Scotland, February 1914

It would have been a walk of about 12 ½ miles, not very far for a fit young Scots lad. David Waddell Cruickshank was striding with purpose, and walking into one of the most amazing and moving stories of the Great War. It is not known why young David decided to enlist in the Army at this time but having completed his walk from Glasgow to the Cameronians barracks at Hamilton, enlist he did into the 1st Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) on 2nd February 1914. Six months and two days later, Great Britain declared war on Germany. David, along with his battalion, was recalled from manoeuvres in the Highlands to prepare for war, and only ten days later, they boarded the S.S. Caledonia at Southampton en-route to France, with the British Expeditionary Force, (BEF). The first encounter between the BEF and the advancing German Army was at the Battle of Mons. There are several very good books written on this historic confrontation. It is not the purpose of this piece to cover the military details of this battle. Suffice to say that the British troops held up the great mass of the German advance but were eventually overwhelmed.

The Cameronians (1st Scottish Rifles) war diary states;

24th August 1914. 2am, received orders to retire at once. Very lucky to get out of this position as to do so had to march 1 mile and ½ along the enemy's front. Moved off at dawn successfully. ----- eventually retired to Jenlan. N.C.O's. and men turning very footsore and tired.

For the next two days and nights the men of the BEF fought a tactical retreat, there was little time for food or sleep. They were footsore and weary, with many stragglers becoming separated from, and desperately trying to catch up with their comrades.

The war diary continues;

25th August 1914.Came under shrapnel fire for the first time. Retired to Le Cateau and went into billets at the goods yard.

26th August 1914. Moved off. Food scarce. Shortly after leaving the town the Battle commenced.

There was at least one Cameronian who did not leave Le Cateau with his battalion, we do not know why or when David had become separated from them but this 19 year old with only six months training found himself alone with the might of the German army entering the town. Without the guidance of his N.C.O.s and amid the din of battle and the whistling of bullets, he did the one thing that was to save his life. Throwing himself to the ground, he feigned death hoping that the enemy soldiers would have more to do than check the bodies scattered in the street in the confusion of that morning. As the Germans advanced and passed through the street in which he lay, he took his chance to seek shelter. Seeing a French woman at the door of a house, he raced across to her. This woman was Julie-Celestine Baudhuin. In an interview after the war, Julie-Celestine tells us,

…… he called to me waving madly shouting moi tue, moi tue! Mamam Soleil! Mamam Soleil!" (sic). "He was in a sorry state and almost mad … he was only a boy - 17 or 18 years of age only, and oh, he was little, too - tout petit.

The battle had left him wounded and isolated, Mme Baudhuin continues,

… I did not know which Saint to trust in …

Julie-Celestine was a wife and mother. Her husband and eldest son were enlisted in the French army and her first instinct was to protect this young boy, thinking of how his mother would be so worried about him, and hoping that some other mother would offer refuge for her own son and husband if they too came into danger. (Madam Baudhuin's husband was shortly after taken prisoner and remained incarcerated until the war ended. Her eldest son Jules was killed on 6th September 1914).

Rue Louis Carlier, where David met Julie-Celestine,
as it is today

Although Julie-Celestine was worried a neighbour should see her take him in her motherly instincts were too strong to ignore, she could not deny this boy shelter. She ushered David through the house to a shed at the end of the garden where she made a hiding place, (cachette) for him. It was in this cachette that she gave him food and drink. After a while, he spoke to her, "Ecossaise", (Scottish). In David's own biographical account in 1922, he said that he could speak fluent French when he was taken in, though where or how he had the opportunity to study the language is unknown.

Julie-Celestine was 38 years old and had her two younger children living at home, Leon who was 17 years old, and Marie, who was then 12.

The Germans occupied Le Cateau together with the surrounding area, and many homes became billets to German soldiers. Although there were no soldiers living in the Baudhuin household there were unannounced visits by them as they searched for spare food or household goods. Initially David spent most of his time in the shelter of his hideout but as time went by and he regained his strength he spent more time in the living quarters of the family. On one such occasion German soldiers presented themselves so quickly that David had no time to reach his hideout and Julie-Celestine pushed him into the laundry basket, which she stood in front of throughout the search. During his stay in the house in the rue Louis Carlier, he had to hide in the laundry basket on several occasions.

After three months, the young soldier had more or less completely recovered from his wounds and began to make plans that involved more that staying confined to the house or shed.

Julie-Celestine's first attempt at a disguise for "Avid" as she now called him, was to dye his khaki uniform black and wearing this he ventured out at night with Leon.

However, David was not satisfied with these circumstances and soon after, a providential meeting occurred which would permit him to pull a memorable trick on the Germans, and have a huge effect on the rest of his life.

N.B. (David had many adventures under the noses of the enemy whilst evading capture and it is my intention that the fully researched story may be published in due course.)

Briefly, the story is;

David remained in the home of the Baudhuin family and shortly after Julie-Celestine took him in he met Aimee Olivier who lived nearby and had been trusted with the secret. Aimee visited David often, sometimes bringing him tobacco and they became firm friends. It is not known who originally came up with the idea, but a plan evolved that David should be disguised as a woman. At only 19 years old and by his own admission, in a 1919 interview he said he was, "fresh faced and with no facial hair to speak of".

Could he pull it off?

A nephew of Julie-Celestine was a hairdresser and with his help, they secured a wig. The rest of David's female attire was fairly easy to provide between close friends and family who had been trusted with the secret. Aimee spent a lot of time with David and helped him to achieve a more feminine guise in both his mannerisms and movements.

One difficulty was the length of his stride, far too long for a French Mademoiselle. David, dressed in his female disguise, and in the relative safety of the home, paraded in front of the family and although they all agreed that he looked like a woman, he moved like a young man. Aimee helped to groom him in posture and at some point, it was suggested he should tie a length of string to his ankles to shorten his stride. This was done, and after a lot of practice, David was able to effect the movements of a demure female. David grew in confidence and was at last able to leave the Baudhuin home during the day, and, posing as a cousin of the family, Mademoiselle Louise was born.

This disguise allowed David to merge into the community and there were several occasions when he found himself in the presence of German soldiers. He recorded in 1919 that;

I would give them an enchanting smile" ---- and ---"they were delighted that a young French lady looked so friendly towards them.

David and Aimee drew closer as they spent time perfecting his new persona. Knowing the terrifying penalties that would be brought upon them, and the Baudhuin family, should David be caught or betrayed made every day together precious, and in this highly charged atmosphere, it is perhaps not surprising they fell deeply in love and secretly agreed they would be married once this terrible war was over.

It was disguised as Mademoiselle Louise that David blended into the daily life of the occupied town, but one day he was approached by a lady we know only as Madam D. Madam D came to David and told him she knew he was a British soldier.

From David's own account in 1919 he remembered;

--- on the day of the Battle of Le Cateau I was sheltering in a doorway where there was a lady with a bucket --- a bullet meant for me went through the bucket and grazed the woman's leg ---. For a moment we looked at each other and my face must have been graved on her memory.

It was on one of these infrequent and unwanted meetings with Madam D that she began to show an interest in forming a relationship with him, but David was in love with Aimee and so rejected her advances. At some stage, Madam D indicated to David that he would be sorry for these rejections and all but threatened to denounce him to the occupying forces. This troubled David but all he could do was continue his deception and hope she would not carry out her threat. Indeed, David had many adventures as Mademoiselle Louise but in September 1916, his luck ran out.

Julie-Celestine recalled the night of 10th September in a 1927 interview;

At about midnight on 10th September 1916 a number of German soldiers came to the house and demanded entrance. David, having given up his cachette, was asleep, sharing a bed with Leon. There was no time to conceal David in his old hiding place. As soon as they entered the house, the Germans went straight to the bed in which the two men lay. I was terrified knowing fully what was likely to happen if David was discovered. Pointing to Leon, they asked 'who is this?' 'My son Leon', I replied. I was trembling and could see that they had noticed. David had concealed himself under the bedclothes, but, the Boches had evidently been well informed for to my horror, they pulled back the bedclothes and said, "and who is this?!  "A cousin,'"I told them knowing they knew they had their British soldier.

The Germans arrested not only David, but also Julie-Celestine and her son Leon. Madam Baudhuin tried to touch their hearts by pleading with them not to take this mother away from her young daughter with no one to care for her but, her appeal was in vain and all three were marched off to captivity.

They were kept in very poor conditions until October 16th 1916 when they were brought before a German military court. Julie-Celestine was sentenced to 10 years in prison, Leon to hard labour in a work camp, and David, was ordered to be shot. It seemed that his fate was sealed.

The former convent where David and the Baudhuins
were held awaiting trial

It was now that Julie-Celestine, in what must have been one of the most touching and passionate acts of the Great War appealed to the Court for clemency on behalf of the British soldier. Giving full rein to all the warmth of her great motherly heart she dwelt eloquently on his youth, then with uncontrolled emotion, she spoke of the loss of her son Jules on the battlefield and the adoption of the young Cameronian.

This war has taken my son; God has sent me another in his place.

The officers sitting in judgement must have been moved by the power of the plea made by this brave French woman and wonderful mother for, miraculously David's death sentence was commuted and he was given a twenty-year prison term in its place.

David and Julie-Celestine spent the rest of the war in prison, Leon in a work camp. All three suffered badly at the hands of their captors.

Marie was left to fend largely for herself, and Aimee waited for her Cameronian. Their stories during this period will be told later.

The end of the war

In a 1922 interview David recalled;

At last the Armistice came and I was released from prison on 2nd December 1918.

David then showed what an extraordinary man he was, for, after reaching the home of his father in Scotland, via Cologne, he somehow managed to obtain permission to return to Le Cateau and on 12th February 1919, less than two months after his release from prison, he and Aimee were married.

Rue Louis Carlier - modern garages occupy the site of the Baudhuin house

Julie-Celestine, her son Leon and her husband were reunited and settled down to rebuild their lived in the war-ravaged town. All had suffered. Marie had had some help from the good people of Le Cateau and she also survived the war but suffered ill health for many years afterwards.

Madam D. was arrested for collaboration and sentenced to death; however, the sentence was not carried out.


Major General Sir Edward Spears, on a post war visit to the battlefields of the Great War, discovered the story of the Heroines of Le Cateau-Cambresis, for Julie-Celestine Baudhuin was not the only courageous French woman to put her life in peril by giving succour to a stranded British soldier.

Madam Belmont-Gobert and her daughter Angele Lesur managed to hide Trooper Fowler safely in a wardrobe for four years and Madam Louise Cardon hid and protected Corporal Hull until he was arrested and executed, with dire results for her family. He brought their great stories to the attention of the proprietor of The Daily Telegraph who published them and set up an annuity fund. The response of the readers was tremendous and it culminated in the four women being brought to London where they were feted and presented with illuminated testimonials by the Lord Mayor of London at the prestigious Mansion House. It was the original testimonial, presented to Madam Julie-Celestine Baudhuin that we had bought on that wet overcast Sunday morning in Etaples.

This Testimonial
was presented to
Madam Julie Celestine Baudhuin

by the Lord Mayor of London at the Mansion House, on April 8, 1927 on behalf of a large number of readers of The Daily Telegraph who deeply stirred by the story of the superb courage with which she succoured a British soldier at the risk of her own life in the Great War, subscribed for the purchase of annuity as a token of the honour due from the British people to a brave Frenchwoman. Disdaining danger Madam Baudhuin provided food and shelter for a prolonged period to a soldier cut off in the enemy lines, and suffered a cruel punishment from the invader for her courage and self-sacrifice.

Wherever the wonderful story has been told it has excited the deepest and the purest emotions, and the subscribers to the annuity have been spontaneously moved to offer with their thanks and their admiration this testimonial of their earnest desire for her well-being and of their pride at being able to shew their appreciation of her rare magnanimity, her unflinching bravery during the years that the invader remained on her hearth, and her womanly loving-kindness to one whom her devotion saved.

1914 The Great War 1918

After almost four years of researching this story, I received an exciting e-mail providing me with more information on David and his beloved Aimee and their lives after the war. A shiver ran down my spine when I saw the name at the bottom of the e-mail. It was from Glen Cruickshank, grandson of David and Aimee. Glen sent me his phone number, I rang him and we spent about an hour talking about the exploits of his grand parents. I think it was an emotional call for us both for David, like so many of his comrades of the Great War had spoken little of his days as Mademoiselle Louise or his time in prison.

There is so much more of this story to tell. David and Aimee's adventures after the war, David, Julie-Celestine and Leon and their time as prisoners, the amazing story of the Heroines of Le Cateau-Cambresis and their trip to London. I hope to use this as the basis for the full story and get it written in due course, however, after hitting so many brick walls in my research it now seems that everywhere I turn there is a new twist and more characters emerging. One day, perhaps the story in full may be published. I think it deserves to be told.

My thanks go to my wife Kathleen for all of her encouragement when I was hitting the brick walls, and for pointing out the testimonial without which this story may never have been told, Mme Rebecca Prisette for translation of original French documents.

And to Glen Cruickshank for additional family information.

For a direct link to the author of this article, email John Anderson

Copyright © John Anderson,  August, 2008.

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