RECENTLY, I watched the TV programme ‘Road of Bones’ alluding to a very long highway built in the frozen wastes of Siberia in the 1930’s.
It is a notoriously infamous
road built by prisoners of war, political prisoners and civilians mainly during the dictatorship of Joseph Stalin.
The stark freezing conditions and debilitating workload killed no less that 1,000,000 men and they were conveniently buried beneath the surface of the road, hence it was named Road of Bones.
A parallel exists in the Fens where, in the 1650’s, prisoners of war taken by Cromwell’s Parliamentary troops were set to work cutting the Forty Foot, the new Bedford, Sixteen Foot and Twenty Foot main drains and several lesser waterways, sluices, wind engines and access roads.
These men, Dutch sailors and members of the Northern Foot, a Scottish regiment, were marched to the Fens where they were generally reasonably fed and given warm woollen clothes.
Unused to the rigours of malaria and related marsh diseases, hundreds died as we say “in harness”.
To save the expenses they were buried in the river banks serving also as roads which they themselves have raised.
The Fen people refused them the dignity of being interred in local church yards, the prisoners considered as enemies and the church yards reserved for parishioners only.
We living in the Fens remain greatly indebted to the captives and also to the immigrant Huguenot and Walloon refugees persecuted to the point of death for their differing faith in foreign lands and who, centuries ago, were forced or voluntarily laboured to give us outstandingly prolific fields as well as a superb drainage systems envied by many and hardly equalled in these times when distressing floods are being experienced in many parts of the country.
We, the Fen people, are very fortunate.