27 October – 2 November 1914: Workers and Refugees

Battersea Borough Council met on 28th October. The question of managing Council staff serving in the Forces was raised, as the Committee of Management of the Employees Sick and Accident Society asked that their members should not be required to pay their weekly contributions whilst serving with the Forces. National Insurance was still a new idea in 1914 and there was no Welfare State, so being unable to work was a big risk for many people, the Society aimed to provide for employees who were off due to illness or accident. Seven of their members were serving by now, and the Council agreed to pay contributions for them.

The Council also faced a request from the snappily titled National Amalgamated Society of Operative House and Ship Painters and Decorators (Battersea Branch) that they spread the work available over a double staff. Work was obviously starting to run short during the war, and Battersea decided that the best way to deal with this was to reduce the number of hours worked by their painters from 48 to 30 per week and then employ more men to cover all the hours. The decision to promote Roadman F Bench to Cleansing Inspector was also signed off, as the previous inspector, E Hawke, had re-joined the 23rd County of London Territorial Regiment.

There had been an outbreak of scarlet fever in the borough, and Councillor Watts wished to know what the Council were doing to help. Health Committee Chair reported that the Asylums Board – who were responsible for Fever Hospitals as well as psychiatric care – lacked accommodation and that some of that was due to Belgian refugees, who were being accommodated in Asylum Board buildings. On the same page the South Western Star of 30 October reported other arrangements being made for Belgian refugees. The Welsh Calvinistic Methodist Church on Beauchamp Road had undertaken to support two refugee families as long as the war lasted, renting a property near Lavender Hill for six months to house the families. The paper reports that the Church was prepared to retain the house for longer if required. Other properties in the area had been given over to house refugees, a meeting in Clapham was also reported where it was announced that “Hollinghurst”, Clapham Common North Side and 9 Cedars Road had been given up for 30 wounded Belgian soldiers and 24 refugees respectively. Carlyle College, Clapham Common North Side was to be formally opened as a home for refugees on October 31st. Estimates of the number of Belgian refugees in Britain during the war vary between 225,000 and 265,000, and it is clear that a number of them found their way to Wandsworth and Battersea.

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

South Western Star available on microfilm

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20-26 October 1914: Absent Teachers

Entry in Upper Tooting Holy Trinity School log book

Entry in Upper Tooting Holy Trinity School log book

Amongst other details about the life of the school, log books list the absences of teachers for any reason. 23rd October 1914 saw D J Davies, assistant master, called up to join the London Welsh Regiment. Other war related absences in the log book for Holy Trinity School, Upper Tooting, includes the absence of B C Moore on the outbreak of the war, as he was detained in Switzerland and on 1st September the log book records the absence of T Moody, who had gone to Malta with his Territorial Company. Sadly he never returned to his post at Holy Trinity, as he was killed in July 1916 – he is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.

Two temporary teachers had to be brought in, Annie Elizabeth Nelson had been there for a month by this week – she started on 19th September, presumably to cover Mr Moody – and on 23rd November Maud Alice McNeil joined the school to fill Davies’ post. Both these teachers were married, and it had been usual for women teachers to give up work on getting married so it may have been the war having an impact on the availability of male teachers that meant they got the posts.

Davies had been at the school since 1910 and returned to work in February 1919. After he returned the next absence recorded for him is a day “attending King’s investiture to get his Military Cross” in June 1920, a distinction that had earned the whole school a holiday on 12 July 1918 when they heard about it. As he was a David J Davies it is difficult to precisely pin down his war record. There were two David Davies gazetted with a Military Cross for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty at the same time in 1918. One was a Lieutenant David Davies of the London Regiment, and the other was a temporary 2nd Lieutenant with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, either of whom could be the same David Davies who taught in Upper Tooting.

This was only one small entry in the records for this week in Wandsworth, but the results show the impact the war could have on the borough – more women in work, and occasional celebratory moments even during the war.

Holy Trinity, Upper Tooting log book, Boys, 1913-1930 – ref: S12/2/4

The London Gazette can be searched online. For more advice about finding out about soldiers awarded medals read The National Archives guide.

13-19 October 1914: Small Changes

Battersea Borough Council met on 14th October. One of the many items reported to the Council was that there had been 76 entries to the Battersea & Chrysanthemum Society in connection with the Garden Competitions on the Council’s housing estates, so life in many ways continued as normal around the borough. The war was having an influence on the matters considered by the Council though, the membership of the local relief committee was discussed, as was the need to employ temporary staff in place of those who had joined up. Other areas were affected as well – Messrs Ernst & Co were struggling to fulfil their contract to remove ashes from the Electricity Generating Station due to the war – exactly how the war had caused this is not specified. The meeting also agreed Morden Cemetery getting a new horse to replace one recently commandeered by the Army, so perhaps businesses were experiencing the same sort of problems.

Slightly less obvious ways that the war was having an impact on Council business included the free uses of rooms in Council buildings. Rooms at Nine Elms and Latchmere Baths were used as workrooms for unemployed female works in connection with the Queen Mary’s Work for Women Fund, on request of the Mayoress. A room at the Central Library (Battersea Library on Lavender Hill) was given to the Battersea Battalion of the National Reserve for use as an office – the minutes do not specify which room but it must either have been in the basement or the office space on the second floor – now both used for storage. According to the South Western Star, most debate time was spent on the Highways Committee report, including the restricted lighting regulations brought in by the Home Office and the vexed question of whether or not Shirley Grove ought to be tarmacked.

The paper also prints a letter from a sailor whose friend had been wounded when HMS Pathfinder was torpedoed and was home on leave. The sailor was out in Battersea wearing civilian clothes to avoid being “gaped at by everyone” when he was given a white feather by a young woman in the street, implying he was too much of a coward to sign up. The writer of the letter refers to this as “both silly and childish. No doubt it is well meant, but it often goes home to the wrong man”. The original recipient of the letter had contacted the Home Secretary to see if anything could be done about stopping the white feather campaign. The campaign was popular, but intensely disliked by some and both the campaign and the debate over it carried on.

Battrsea Borough Council minutes, 1914 – ref: MBB/1/15

South Western Star available on microfilm

6-12 October 1914: Rifle Ranges and Recruits

Wandsworth Borough Council met on 7 October. It was recorded that sixty-six members of Council staff had either joined up or been called up, and the Council confirmed the decision made in September to grant all those men a leave of absence and to make up the difference in their salaries so they were not out of pocket.

At a previous meeting the Council had decided to allow the Wandsworth Rifle club to open their ranges on Sundays. At this meeting the Club had applied for permission to drill at Garratt Park, where the range was, for about an hour on Sunday mornings and permission was duly granted. Other Rifle Clubs were following suit – Streatham Rifle Club asked for permission to set up a range on Lonesome Shoot, Greyhound Lane to open between 9am and 11.30pm. Again, permission was granted on the condition that firing ceased at 11pm. Balham and Southern Rifle Club granted permission to the Balham and Wandsworth Branch of the Home Defence League to use their range at the Borough Engineer’s office on Balham High Road and the Council agreed to keep the range open for the same hours as Lonesome Shoot.

Other institutions in the borough were also losing staff to the Forces – several members of Battersea Grammar School staff had joined up, as had over 90 Old Boys by the time the Michaelmas term magazine was written. Several of those pupils were named in the write up of each house, although perhaps L Backlake would prefer not to have been immortalised in his school magazine as a “bit of a slacker at times” who had joined the Queen’s Westminster. Of the ninety plus former pupils in the Forces, ten were in the 23rd County of London, based just down the hill from Battersea Grammar School and the territorial force mentioned a few weeks ago. A School Cadet Corps had been formed and encouraged all pupils to join up, the magazine points out that many boys were almost old enough to join the Territorial force of the New Army and that others would also be before the war was over. Presumably by the time the magazine was published they had realised it wouldn’t “be over by Christmas”.

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

Battersea Grammar School magazine, ref: S21/2/12/5