Wilfred Picard

(1914 - 2007) - Front-line child

At the outbreak of war, an infant Wilfred was taken by his mother, a nurse, to the Red Cross hospitals in France. He recalled hearing the cannons from the front line and watching sick soldiers returning to England. Picard moved to Cornwall in his 30s and trained as a potter with Bernard Leach.

Credit: Archives and Cornish Studies Service

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In ‘My Story’, written by Wilfred Bede Picard when he was just 9 years old, he recalled how he had been born on July 28th 1914, just eight days before the outbreak of war. His father, a Camborne School of Mines lecturer, was away in South America while his heavily pregnant mother stayed behind.

Initially, they lived in London. Upon his return his father, who was in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve service, was called up as he could fly a plane. Wilfred and his mother didn’t see him for three years. Wilfred’s mother wanted to contribute to the war effort so went to France as a Red Cross nurse, taking her baby son with her. They lived with her parents – a Red Cross captain and a nurse - in Boulogne and Wilfred was looked after by a nanny to free his mother up to care for wounded soldiers. In his childhood autobiography he describes seeing the soldiers marching and sick men heading back to England. He recorded, ‘Mama says it was too cruel to see and I was too little to know about it’. Wilfred remembered the cannons firing at night as they were so near to the Front, and a big bang when a bomb fell on a hospital ship in the harbour. So many people were wounded or killed then that his mother worked for three days straight trying to care for them.

Wilfred’s father’s plane was shot down and crashed into the sea; he was rescued but became ill with tuberculosis and was hospitalised in Egypt. He returned to London where he was joined by Wilfred and his mother. Wilfred recalled witnessing zeppelin raids over the capital. Eventually the family left London and moved to South America to improve his father’s health. En-route they stayed in Spain awaiting a ship and met many Russians escaping the 1917 revolution. The voyage was dangerous and the ship sailed at night around the Mediterranean to avoid U-boats. After six weeks they arrived in Rio and travelled on to Chile where they spent the rest of the war.

Picard’s later life was no less adventurous as his uncatalogued archive collection demonstrates. His diaries cover the Spanish civil war, Second World War army exploits – including his 1940 evacuation from St Nazaire - as well as trips to Africa. He started a pottery and shop in Mousehole in 1954 as well as a Buddhist group. 

Key words: children

Credit: Archives and Cornish Studies Service