This hand-carved children’s toy consists of a monkey balancing delicately on a three-legged stool. It was made by Lieutenant Walter White of the 11th (North Devonshire) Regiment of Foot who was held as a prisoner of war at Valenciennes, France, from 1811 until 1814. Many thousands of British soldiers were imprisoned in France during the long Napoleonic Wars.

Toys such as this were manufactured by prisoners to occupy their time. They were then sold to the local people to raise money so that the prisoners could improve their living conditions. This toy is made of wood and cane.

The French held their British prisoners of war in the eastern border fortresses. By 1814 Valenciennes held 2,000 prisoners. Many of these prisoners were allowed to go into the town each day to find work, and some even lodged with French families. Other prison depots included Arras, Auxone, Besançon, Bitche, Briançon, Cambrai, Givet, Longwy, Sarrelibre, Sedan and Verdun.

From 1803 until Napoleon’s abdication in 1814 there were 20,000 British prisoners of war held in France. Many were seamen taken in minor naval actions or captured when shipwrecked along the European coastline. Other were soldiers taken prisoner in the Peninsular War in Spain, from 1808 to 1814.

The French treated their British prisoners of war better than they treated Spanish and Germans, as they hoped to exchange Britons for the larger number of Frenchmen held in England. Few British and French prisoners of war were exchanged during 1803-14, as neither side could agree on details of the exchange. The final failed attempt at arranging an exchange occurred in 1812. As a result most prisoners had to wait until the end of the war before returning home.

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This object is in the collection of National Army Museum