The tale of how an Ilfracombe teen ‘drash’d’ a Prussian prince and helped ‘touch off the First World War’ makes national headlines during WWI centenary year.
THE story of how an Ilfracombe teen punched a young Kaiser Wilhelm on the nose has hit the national headlines in the run up to a new exhibition at the town museum.
Local legend has it that in 1878, Alfie Price bloodied the nose of the then Prince Frederick William of Prussia at Rapparee beach – and instilled a hatred of the British that helped set off the First World War.
The 16-year-old beach attendant was looking after huts run by his father, and when the bored royal visitor decided to throw stones at them, the youngster stepped in and told him to stop.
When the prince said ‘Do you know who I am?’, Alf told him he didn’t care and the enraged Prussian knocked him down, whereupon the Ilfracombe boy sprang back up and bloodied the Kaiser’s nose for him.
It is said the pair went at it ‘hammer and tongs’ for 20 minutes, with young Alf getting the better of the bargain.
The prince and his family were staying at the Ilfracombe Hotel and the tale is well known in the town – it was gleefully reported for the first time at the outbreak of war in 1914.
But staff at the museum were unprepared when the national press seized on it last Wednesday and the phone became a hotline.
It featured in several national newspapers, as well as television and radio. Museum manager Sara Hodson said she and volunteer Jane Dendle had been contacted by BBC Radio 4, news agencies, interviewed at length and hosted an ITN News crew.
“It was crazy, I couldn’t deal with that every day, it was quite exhausting,” said Sara.
“When I knew it was going to be like that I called Jane, who rushed down and was here all day. ITN did a great deal of filming but in the end didn’t run it because Bob Hoskins had died.”
The pictures, articles and letters relating to the ‘first skirmish’ of the Great War have been in the museum archive for a long time and will form part of an exhibition set to open in July.
It is said to have been hushed up at the time, with Alf paid ‘30 bob’ to keep quiet, but whether it happened as reported, the wartime propaganda machine seized on the tale and recounted it from 1914.
A humorous poem, Tapping the War Lord’s Claret and speaking of how ‘young Alf drash’d Bill’, was written by Ilfracombe shop owner Will Coates and published in 1916, and a booklet was even sent to troops at the front.
Alf Price took over the Rapparee huts from his father and also ran the restaurant down there, as well as the Capstone Restaurant on the seafront. He died in 1923 aged 59 and is buried at Holy Trinity Church.
How much truth there is in the story, none can say, but museum manager Sara said Alf reported in 1914 that he’d been ‘paid to keep quiet’.
“The newspapers referred to the Prussian visit in 1878, so we know the prince visited,” she said.
“The royal family came back in 1895 and he didn’t come. Mr Coates also wrote a note saying a lady he knew at the Ilfracombe Hotel remembered the prince coming in one morning ‘holding his poor nose’.”