29 September – 5 October 1914: Relief Fund payments

Applicants details, September 1914

Applicants details, September 1914

Over the last few weeks there have been a lot of mentions of the Prince of Wales National Relief Fund and the local Relief Funds. Each borough set up committees as part of the national effort, which co-ordinated local collection and distribution of relief, or money to help relieve hardship caused by the war. Wandsworth Heritage Service only holds one local committee book, for the Putney Ward, and so far committee meetings had been very much administration and fundraising related. The Putney Committee met in Putney Library and was chaired by Alderman Lindsey, with members including Eileen Lecky (see here for more about her and her work), the local councillors and Rev Canon Rivington, vicar of St Mary’s Putney. A register of assistance had been prepared and enquiries made round all the charitable organisations in the area to gather more information. In order to deal with applications for employment the committee had started to use the windows of the Board Room in the Library to advertise vacancies for temporary servants and charwomen.

The local committee met on October 1st and the minute book records the first applicants and the decisions made. There were 45 applicants, six of whom had their applications turned down as their case was not due to the war. A further six were declined as “undeserving”, and one case was considered both undeserving and not war-related. Fifteen were placed on the unemployment register to help them find work – three of those were given some money in the interim, and in one case it was actually the applicant’s mother who went on the register, whilst in other’s both husband and wife were placed on the register. Some applicants had already found work and their applications were withdrawn. Eight applications were referred to the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Family Association (who still exist today, see www.ssafa.org ), one to the Putney St Mary’s Relief Fund and one awaited a decision from the Putney Benevolent Society. That left five applications, two of which were adjourned for further investigations and one of which has the intriguing entry of “Chairman to see Borough Engineer and endeavour to get husband reinstated on the Wandsworth Borough Council staff”.

Of the 45 applications only two were granted financial help without also having to find work. Gertrude Hannah Brookes was to be allowed 5s per week temporarily and her child was to be fed at school – a somewhat mysterious entry in a few weeks refers to contacting the “Roumanian minister” with reference to her case. Alice Barham was granted 5s for one week and her sons in Canada were to be contacted to see if they could assist. A labourer would have averaged from 14s to 22s a week in 1914, so the amounts being given out were not large, and the fact only five people were awarded any relief at this point shows that it was not an easy process. Less than two months into the war the effects on ordinary people were starting to show, particularly with the amounts of people who were out of work.

Putney Ward Local Relief minutes, ref: MBW/2/32/3

22-28 September 1914: Meetings of the local Councils

September 23rd saw meetings of both Battersea and Wandsworth Borough Councils.

Local fundraising efforts for various Relief Funds were clearly well underway, Battersea granted use of the Grand Hall for a concert in aid of the Mayor’s fund and an entertainment for the Prince of Wales National Relief Fund as well as allowing the Lower Hall to be used for a concert for the Belgian Relief Fund, for swearing in Special Constables, as a space to mobilise the Boy Scouts and as a depot for the benefit of the war Distress Fund. Hiring the Grand Hall was £2 5s, the Lower Hall was 15s, although the Boy Scouts got it free. Free use of the Baths in the borough was granted to Territorials either resident in Battersea or whose HQ was in Battersea, and also to any Belgian refugee boys.

Battersea also agreed to bear the expenses of the Committee set up to administer the Distress Fund in the borough, and turned to the more complex question of how to deal with staff who had joined the Forces. Information on service pay and allowances was proving difficult to get hold of, but the Town Clerk was assured it would be available soon. The Council decided to pay their staff full pay up until 24th September, then to pay the difference between service and Council pay. Staff joining up not only caused discussions over pay, but how to fill their vacancies – Deputy Town Clerk Edwin Austin was called up for service with the Territorials, and the appointment of a temporary replacement was agreed. [Edwin Austin later became Town Clerk and was known for his fondness for cycling]. The Medical Officer of Health was also off to join the Forces, having been offered a position with the Royal Army Medical Corps. There were also administrative issues raised by the War, a number of councillors expressed concern over the use of firms with German sounding names, and a resolution was passed that any payment made to those firms would have to be referred to the Finance Committee. The South Western Star reported that enquiries were to be made, and that disagreements arose over whether Ferranti Ltd was Italian or possibly German – they were actually a British firm.

Meanwhile, about a mile and a half West, Wandsworth Borough Council were dealing with many of the same issues. They too decided to pay their staff the difference between Forces and Council pay, and guaranteed them a return to their old job when the War was over, with no loss of position or benefits. The Mayor and Town Clerk were given responsibility for taking decisions on how to handle the issue of vacancies. The Finance Committee agreed to fund offices and staff for the Borough War Relief committee, premises were provided in a building on the corner of Huguenot Place and Melody Road. The premises were meant to be leased for a year, with a secretary provided for six months. They also had to deal with the prospect of an increase in the local rate – the Board of Guardians had increased the amount required, which some councillors blamed on the Metropolitan Asylums Board and called for an increase in directly elected membership of the board to curb spending. Other councillors were concerned by the effect of the war on people if it went on for months, would an increase in the rate be too hard for them? The necessity of finding more money prevailed, however, and the rate was increased to 4s. Permission was granted for local rifle ranges to open until dusk on Sundays for the duration of the war, so that those who wished to join the Forces could practice drilling and shooting. This was also reported in the Wandsworth Borough News and the next column reported the results of the Novices’ Competition at Wandsworth Rifle Club – noting that membership was increasing every day due to the War, which explains the application for longer opening hours.

Battersea Borough Council Minutes, 1914-15, ref: MBB/1/15

Wandsworth Borough Council inutes, 1914, ref: MBW/1/14

South Western Star, Wandsworth Borough News available on microfilm

15-21 September 1914: The 3rd London General Hospital

The meeting of the Board of Guardians on 17 September noted that 37 of their staff had joined up so far. Those who had joined up were mostly going to the Royal Army Medical Corps or Nursing, with some others joining the TA, Army, Marines and Navy. Generally when thinking of the staff employed by the Board of Guardians you might think of those who ran the Swaffield Road Institution (formerly known as the workhouse), but the Wandsworth and Clapham Union also ran hospitals – St James Infirmary in Balham, St Johns Infirmary on St Johns Hill and the Tooting Home on Church Lane. Staff volunteering for nursing and the RAMC means we can divert slightly away from precisely what was happening in the borough this week and look at an institution that had been developing since the outbreak of war – the 3rd London General Hospital.3rd London General Hospital

The 3rd London was based in what had been the Royal Victoria Patriotic Asylum, a school for the orphaned daughters of servicemen on Wandsworth Common. When war broke out the building was requisitioned and work began to transform it into a hospital. From 1915 the Hospital began publishing a magazine, and both the Commanding Officer (CO) and the Assistant Matron wrote about their experience in setting it up. Four General Hospitals were to be set up in London and officers involved came from the staff of other London hospitals – for the 3rd London, they came from the Middlesex, St Mary’s and University College Hospitals. The CO writes in 1915 that when the order to mobilise came very little was known and “the only safe course appeared to be to act first and to get authority afterwards”. The school had to be emptied and equipment acquired, including getting the only X-ray machine on the market in London – normally these came from Germany but this was obviously impossible and it would be some time before they could get them from America. Much of the equipment ordered was for a Field Hospital and the 3rd London had different requirements so supplies were starting to run short. The CO describes being given 150 beds, which turned out to be bunks for temporary use in times of strike and not suitable for a hospital. By ten days after the mobilisation order 520 beds were ready – 350 of which were actual beds and the rest mattresses on the floor. Operating theatres were ready and most of the staff were there.

The staff coming to the hospital also had to ensure that the school was fully moved out. The chapel was turned into a store-house, and lockers cleared out into carefully bags to ensure that children’s toys were not lost. Huts were built to act as additional wards, and after eight weeks of work there was space for 520 actual beds. The staff came from a wide range of professions – teachers, actors, dentists, a retired professional boxer, painters, a theatre carpenter – and were all either unfit for active combatant service or were over the age of enlistment. Nurses were found local accommodation, with the help of Captain Dodson, who had formerly been the doctor for the Patriotic School.

The first patients arrived on 25 September 1914, so in this week in Wandsworth the 3rd London General Hospital was very much still preparing for what was to come.

Copies of the 3rd London Hospital Gazette ar at Wandsworth Heritage Service.

8-14 September: Battersea Borough Council responds to the outbreak of war

Battersea Borough Council held their first meeting since the outbreak of war on 9th September. In fact, two special meetings were convened for that evening, the first was to deal with reports from the Committees and the second to consider the war. The Committees were largely reporting on schemes of works to do with the Central (Unemployed) Body, which was a London wide body set up to help create jobs – work on the Latchmere Estate was done using labour via the Central (Unemployed) Body, and one of the schemes agreed at this meeting was to finish laying out the Latchmere recreation ground. Another scheme agreed was the building of a Municipal Rifle Range – why or where is not given.

Letter calling a Town Meeting on the War, signed by Mayor John Archer

Letter calling a Town Meeting on the War, signed by Mayor John Archer

The Mayor reported that he had been asked by the Lord Mayor of London to call a Town’s Meeting on the events leading to the war and to urge recruitment, he had also been approached by the Colonel-Commandant of the 23rd County of London Battalion to help in assisting recruits.  The day after the Council meeting that Town Meeting was called for 18th September, the Council having agreed to grant the free use of the Town Hall for it.

Several Council employees had obviously already been called up, as it was also discussed how they ought to be paid whilst on active service. The Council agreed that every facility should be given to those who wished to join, and that they ought to be paid the difference between their Forces salary and their Council salary, with the job kept open for them to return.

The second Council meeting of the evening duly considered their position on the war, and referred all matters to the relevant Committees. The minutes do not go into detail about their considerations, but fortunately the South Western Star was present at the meeting and can supply more information! Thirty-eight Council employees had either been called up or enlisted, and several Councillors expressed the hope that more would volunteer. Another Councillor took this to mean that the Council should not employ any able-bodied men young enough for active service, and argued strongly against that position and in favour of ensuring that no soldier’s family would have financial difficulties. There was a lot of concern about the National Relief Fund and especially over the fact it did not benefit civilians – a local scheme ought to benefit all those locally in distress. Councillor Raynor said that all money given was for the relief of all distress, and that any employer saying to an unmarried man “if you don’t enlist I’ll sack you” was contemptible, then asked why it was that only workmen’s sons were forced into the army. That comment, not recorded in the minutes, caused outcry amongst members and the gallery, and another Councillor accused him of raving. The Council then referred the matter of paying any of their employees who joined the Forces to the Finance Committee. How best to pay Council staff will be discussed a lot in future.

Battersea Borough Council minutes, 1914-1915, ref: MBB/1/15

South Western Star, 11 September 1914

1-7 September 1914: Belgian Refugees in Balham

On 4th September, the South Western Star reported on the receiving depot for Belgian refugees at St Luke’s, Ramsden Road. On the Monday of that week twenty-seven refugees had arrived, nine more came on Tuesday and a further seven on Wednesday. Tents were set up in the church grounds to provide shelter for women and children during the day, and the newspaper reports that many curious locals had come to have a look at the refugees and to offer sweets and fruit to the children. The reporter from the Star was unable to get a great deal of information, as the local Red Cross had been instructed not to discuss the situation. Some of the refugees were from Louvain “the flourishing city which German barbarism has reduced to ruins” and those who had escaped were “thankful to be with the good English”. Nuns from the local convent were allowed in to take some of the women and children out for the afternoon, and the article finishes by commenting on how they were probably instructed to keep them from talking to strangers.

Elsewhere in the paper life in the area seemed to be carrying on much as before the war. The magistrate’s courts were busy with the usual mix of drunkenness, petty crime and assault, with one major difference being that some of those sentenced were not fined or imprisoned but instructed to join the army. One man who should have appeared on a charge of being drunk and disorderly was unable to attend court as he had enlisted, and it was claimed that “after his enlistment he had a drop too much” – the charge was withdrawn. Another man was arrested for brandishing a revolver whilst drunk to “celebrate the victories at the war”.

The Star also reports on the more conventional methods the borough used to mark the outbreak of war by describing a recruiting meeting at Wandsworth Town Hall. As well as a number of men enlisting, the meeting also passed a resolution to say “that those present pledge themselves to enlist, or, if unable to enlist, to do all in their power to help recruiting”. Elsewhere it was reported that a number of pupils from Wandsworth Technical Institute had safely returned from a trip to Switzerland where they had been when war broke out. They were not alone in the borough in finding themselves stuck in Europe, the Board of Guardians recorded the safe return of their Chair, Canon Curtis, to England at their meeting on 3rd September, and two of the teachers in Holy Trinity School, Upper Tooting had a delayed start to the term as they had problems returning from Switzerland. The newspaper does not record quite why so many people from Wandsworth were in Switzerland!

The South Western Star and other local papers are available on microfilm at Wandsworth Heritage Service.