The Gentlemen Danes – the story of POWs in Reading in the Napoleonic era

Speaker: John Nixon

Tue, 6 Feb 2024

About the lecture:

The Gentlemen Danes is the previously untold story of the near 600 Danish and Norwegian prisoners of war, who lived in the market town of Reading, Berkshire, between 1807-1814, as parole prisoners, meaning that they lived as private citizens in the town.

The prisoners were nearly all merchant seamen – men and ship’s boys caught up in a part of the Napoleonic Wars, called the Gunboat War. The story is built around the memoirs of naval lieutenant Hans Birch Dahlerup, who was captured in battle and came to Reading a full three times – becoming an Anglophile in the process.

John has translated the memoirs from the original Danish, and Dalhlerup’s wonderful observations can now be enjoyed by an English-speaking readership. From them, we learn how prisoners roamed freely in the neighbouring countryside without any fear of local people reporting them for being outside of the town limits, (and thereby breaking the terms of their parole), and how a group of young prisoners formed a dancing club in a cellar with their washerwomen’s daughters, for example!

Our lecturer: John Nixon

John Nixon lives locally but has lived and worked in Denmark where he developed his interest in the Danish side of our shared, if not always friendly(!) history. Much of the Danish side of the story is rarely published in English. He has translated the memoirs of Hans Birch Dahlerup who was held as a prisoner of war in Reading and published a book telling the story.

Copies of the book will be available following the lecture. ISBN 9781838266400