A hoary old chestnut was revived this week with the reappearance in some newspapers (who had no real stories to tell) of the story of how plucky Ilfracombe lad Alfred Price fought (and by implication) defeated Kaiser Wilhelm on the beach at Rapparee and, by those actions, produced reasons for the subsequent outbreak of war in 1914. It depends how you tell the story, of course, but there are some versions that lay all the blame for the Great War on Alfred Price and there are other versions that turn Alfred Price (who was just 14 at the time the incident occurred) into a great patriotic hero.
Early in 1914, when it looked as though war was going to be inevitable, a local "poet" got to grips with the story and produced a pamphlet which was sold all over Devon to raise money for comforts for the troops. The poem is quoted below so put on your best Devonshire accent and read it through to yourself: ( Airly = early; Dap is a sound effect; Blid = blood; The Kaiser had a deformed left arm so could only use his right arm. and finally Drashed = thrashed)
When Kaiser Will'um was a y'uth
He com'd to Combe one day,
And at the big hotel out there
He stopped on holiday:
Young Kaiser Billy airly show'd
A liking for the sea,
So ev'ry morning for a dip
He went t'Rapparee.
One morning after Master Bill
Had had his morning swill,
He started chucking stones about
(He never could keep still.)
The bathing boxes catched his eye
"Ah! Ah!" he said with glee,
"The painted numbers on the doors
Mine target now shall be!"
He found the range, and blazed away'
Delighted wi' his skill
( He always was a decent shot
Was lordly Kaiser Bill.)
Now Philip Price the boxes keep'd
Upon this shingly shore,
A sturdy chap of Devon breed
Was Phil, no less, no more.
Now Philip's son was on the beach.
Alfie that yu'ngster's name.
And when the paint begin'd to fly,
He shouted "What's yer game?"
With flashing eyes and haughty mien
The Kaiser faced the lad,
"Do you know who I am, " he cried
And my! He looked some mad.
Bur boldly answered little Alf,
"I don't care who you be,
I'll let 'ee know you don't command
Down yur on Rapparee."
The Kaiser up and landed Alf
A clout beside the jaw,
It knocked poor Alfie right down dap,
So sudden was the blaw.
But up he got and went for Bill
Just like a Devon bull,
I'm 'fraid he didn't stop to think
'Bout any Golden Rule:
He knacked the Kaiser on the nose
And tapp'd the royal blid
And then 'ee bashed 'un in his eye,
Upon my word, he did!
The Kaiser was a strapping chap,
Older than Alfie, too,
And though he couldn't use his left
His right was straight and true.
For he had learned the boxing art,
('Mongst Princes 'twas the rule)
While all the science Alfie knew
Was learned at Lower School.
Now up, now down this bathing cove
They punched, they clinched, they fall'd
I s'pose it was a dreadful sight
The way they chaps was maul'd.
Our Phil looked down from top the steps
And rubb'd his hands with glee,
To see Bill Kaiser's claret tapped
Down there on Rapparee!
Bill's tutor and attendants all
Had gone off 'round the rocks.
So when they comed upon the scene
It gived 'em all gurt shocks!
They runn'd between young Alf and Bill
And stopped their little game,
The Tutor turned to Bill and said:
"Your Highness ! Fie! For shame!
Low'ring y'ur dignity like this
Fighting a peasant lad!
Whatever will yu'r mother say?
Twill make her feel quite bad."
Then Kaiser turned to Alf and said:
"Mine friend! You'll rue this day,
For what you've done t'mine poor nose,
Mine word! I'll make you pay!,
I'll build big ships and gurt big guns
Then one day I will come
And blow this place to smithereens,
And you - t'kingdom come!"
The germ of hate once planted
In this gentle Germhun's breast,
The "Kultur" grow'd and spread apace,
He know'd no peace nor rest;
He builded Dreadnoughts and big guns,
And gurt big airships too
And teached his soldiers the goosey step,
An impressive sight I trow.
Then gazing on his handiwork
He said "Nigh is The day
When I will cross the rolling deep
And make those English pay
For what that y'ungster did to me
When I was over there;
Mine nose have never been the same
He bent it - I declare."
Bill's tutor 'fore he left the beach
Beg'd silence 'bout the job
And just to keep 'is mouth shut tight
Gived Alfie thirty bob.
My tale is told, and Germhun hate
'Tis very plain to see
Was caused - because young Alf drashed Bill,
Way down on Rapparee.