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Forgotten war

02 August 2013

ON THIS side of the Atlantic, it is almost forgotten that the United States declared war on Britain in 1812. Probably not many people in the UK could say what it was about, but we were being reluctant to give up our hold on our former colony, and the Americans were chafing at our trade restrictions, and our insistence that the British were the British, whether they considered them themselves naturalised Americans or not, and could therefore be pressed into service in the Royal Navy.

The war lasted two and a half years, and no boundaries changed hands. The Americans tried to invade Canada; we burned down the White House; but the Americans finally and overwhelmingly defeated us at the Battle of New Orleans, in January 1815.

Meanwhile, we brought 6500 US prisoners to Plymouth, and marched them to Dartmoor Prison, in Exeter diocese, where they joined French prisoners who had been fighting under Napoleon. While there, they spent two years working on St Michael and All Angels, Princetown.

Most of the US prisoners eventually returned home, but about 250 died while in captivity. They were buried in the church's graveyard, and were remembered in the east window donated in 1910 by the US Daughters of 1812.

St Michael's is now in the hands of the Churches Conservation Trust (CCT), which is currently overseeing the conservation of the window. Children from the local primary school are also taking part in the window project by designing and decorating a temporary replacement window in Perspex, while the original is being worked on. And, a short while ago, members of the CCT staff joined representatives of the French government, the Royal Navy, the British Legion, and HM Prison Dartmoor, at St Michael's, to honour the French and American prisoners-of-war who built the church.

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