Kaiser Bill was often a target for satire and caricature by artists and publishers during the First World War. Not everyone is aware, however, that Kaiser Bill (Kaiser William II) visited Ilfracombe as a boy and had a bit of a set-to with local lad, Alf Price. During the First World War, a poem about the scuffle was sent to troops on the front line, a copy of which can be seen in Ilfracombe Museum. Rosanna Rothery finds out more.
What is the truth behind the poem?
ACCORDING to a report in the Ilfracombe Chronicle of September 12, 1914, when 19-year-old Prince Frederic William of Prussia (later Kaiser Bill) was on holiday in Ilfracombe in August 1878, he enjoyed a daily dip at Rapparee beach.
One day, though, feeling a bit bored after his swim, he looked around for something else to do. The prince picked up a stone and hurled it at one of the numbers adorning a row of changing booths. Finding this a fun way to pass the time, he continued to chuck stones at the huts.
Worried about the abuse of his father's property, the beach attendant's son, Alf Price, decided to go and sort the visitor out.
Apparently, when Alf told the future Kaiser to stop throwing stones, the regal visitor retorted: "Do you know who I am?"
Alf obviously didn't. Or he decided to take the risk of saying he didn't care who the stone thrower was. The young prince then landed Alf a hard blow on the right jaw. The punch caught Alf by surprise and he fell on to the sands.
Alf, 16, then got up and started to fight the prince. The brawl, apparently, lasted around 20 minutes with Alf's father Philip Price and his brother-in-law Tom Gibbs watching the action from above the cove.
The prince's tutor and entourage, who had been exploring the neighbourhood, returned and were horrified by the sight of the two lads going at each other hammer and tongs. The tutor pulled them apart.
At the time the incident was hushed up but, during the First World War, a poem written by W H Coates about the incident was sent to North Devon lads fighting at the front. Money raised from the sale of the poem locally went to war charities. A copy of the poem can be seen at Ilfracombe Museum. Opening hours: daily 10am to 5pm. Details: 01271 863541.