24-30 November 1914: Battersea Council Staff Casualties

Battersea Borough Council met on 25 November. Amongst the reports presented to the council was a list of free uses of the Grand Hall in the Town Hall, two of the four were in aid of Belgian refugees – a dance and whist drive and a concert. Another concert was in aid of the Mayor’s Local Fund, so both causes continued to attract attention and funds from the local population.

The meeting also saw the first official reports of Council staff killed in action. At this point 58 men were serving in some way, 30 of those in the Army and Navy and the rest in the Territorial Force or the National Reserve, leading to 18 temporary appointments having been made across the Council. The first death to occur had actually taken place on 18th September. Arthur Ernest Finchley was 26 and lived with his family on Cabul Road. He was one of 8 children and the 1911 census lists him as an Army Private, although he was working for the Council as a labourer in the works department in 1914. In 1911 one brother was a Navy stoker and another was an Army driver, while two of his sisters and another brother worked in a Card Box Factory – possibly the Corruganza in Garratt Lane. His father John was a night watchman for the Council.

The other reported death was that of Able Seaman Arthur Charles Powell, who was a jointer’s mate at the Electricity Generating Station and was killed on HMS Aboukir.  At the time his family were living in Vauxhall, according to the 1911 census he had a wife and two young daughters.

The Council decided that a Roll of Honour should be prepared and exhibited in the Entrance Hall of the Municipal Buildings.  This is currently in storage and will be restored to the former Town Hall, now Battersea Arts Centre, when their capital works project is completed in 2016.

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

Commonwealth War Graves Commission: www.cwgc.com

1911 census available on Ancestry

19 November 1914 – Guest Post: She married an alien….

Of all the Wandsworth families shattered by war, there was one group which could expect little sympathy from their neighbours. These were the British wives and children of German husbands arrested and interned for the duration.

When war broke out there was a thriving German community in London. The 1911 census records 53,324 Germans in England and Wales, and about half of these were living in London[1]. Wandsworth was not by any means the largest centre of German settlement – in the East End and around Tottenham Court Road there were enough Germans to have established their own clubs, churches and even a German Hospital at Dalston – but here too there were Germans living in every part of the borough.

On 5 August 1914 the Aliens Restrictions Act was introduced in a single day. This required all German nationals to register immediately, usually at the nearest police station, and shortly thereafter the government started to round up German males of military age. German women were able to return home via a neutral country, but many German nationals had British-born wives and children, who had no wish to be sent to a hostile country. Technically the wives had become German nationals the moment they married, even when their husbands had arrived in England as infants, and themselves spoke little German.

The earliest date of internment recorded for a Wandsworth man is for Thomas Jacob Diener. By 8 August 1914 he had been picked up from his job as a waiter at the Waldorf Hotel Aldwych, leaving his 22 year old wife Lily and their baby daughter Margaret in Sheepcote Lane Battersea with no means of support.

Reciprocal arrangements between the combatant countries were reached to make provision for these families when the breadwinner was interned, and in the UK these were administered through the local Boards of Guardians who administered the Poor Law.

Wandsworth Board of Guardians received a letter dated 19 November 1914 letter from HC Monro, the Secretary of the Local Government Board (LGB) :

“The German and Austrian embassies are said to have placed funds at the disposal of the American embassy for the benefit of their distressed nationals, but they have said it cannot be used for British-born wives of interned persons and their children. The Government has decided that the Boards of Guardians should administer the Funds for these people, but from a special LGB fund.

It is only payable if

–           the husband is an interned alien

–           the wife is of British birth

–           the wife has insufficient resources

A uniform rate of 10s a week should be paid per woman, with 1s 6d for each dependent child, regardless of the husband’s former earnings. This is the London rate, a lesser amount being paid outside London.

The women are to be informed that this is not Poor Law relief.

It should be recorded separately and submitted to the LGB for the Treasury to reimburse the LGB. The register should include the name and address of the wife, names and ages of the children, maiden name of wife, place and date of internment of the husband, and his last address. The Boards should also seek reimbursement for any additional costs, eg if anyone is placed in an institution. The police should provide details, but if in doubt refer to the Prisoners of War Information Bureau, 49, Wellington St, Strand.”[2]

Wandsworth Board of Guardians then maintained a register of all those who applied for help. They received 182 applications from families who had no means of support because the husband had been interned, living all over the boroughs of Wandsworth and Battersea.

How Lily managed to keep herself and her baby until the support arrangements came into effect in November remains a mystery. While the relief fund kept her going through the war, Thomas disappears from UK records after the war. Like 84% of German internees still interned at the Armistice, he will have been repatriated at the end of the war, never to see his family again.[3] Lily remarried in 1940.[4]

Only six other families applied for funds in 1914, but as the war intensifies in 1915 we will see that the pressure to intern more aliens becomes irresistible.

[1] Quoted in “The Enemy in Our Midst : Germans in Britain during the First World War” Panikos Panayi, Oxford, 1991, p.10

[2] WABG/207/01, Wandsworth Board of Guardians Aliens Relief Register, held at the LMA.

[3] Cf Panakos Panayi, “Prisoners of Britain : German combatant and civilian internees during the First World War, p 279

[4] Births, Marriages and Deaths Index, Jul-Aug-Sep 1940, Registration district:Kensington

Volume Number:1a, Page Number:481


Ann Stephenson

17-23 November 1914: Expansion of the Projectile Engineering Company

Wandsworth Borough Council met on 18 November. Most of their business was routine, although there were some war related items on the agenda. A resolution had been received from Hammersmith Borough Council to urge the London County Council to discontinue teaching enemy aliens and their children at evening continuation classes at the expense of the ratepayers. Wandsworth concurred with the resolution and a report later in the meeting made clear that the LCC’s Education Committee had already given instructions for teaching to stop. This was just part of the general concern over aliens (ie all non-British people), see last week’s blog for more anti-German feeling.

A much smaller note in the Council minutes is in the report from the Highways Committee, which lists approved building applications. Amongst the applications for new sheds and re-doing the drainage of properties was an application for a new factory on Stewarts Road, which was in the Clapham North part of the borough, from the Projectile Engineering Company Limited.

The Projectile Engineering Company was tucked in the land behind the houses on Stewarts Lane, underneath what is now Carey Gardens. It had opened in 1890 and doubled in size during the war, this application was for a small new building, which appears from maps to have been a replacement for an existing building. In January 1915 an application was submitted for a much bigger building, which involved taking over some of the neighbouring streets and the site of which is the southern building that can be seen on this 1930s map.

There is not a huge amount of information available about the Projectile Engineering Company. It was a munitions factory which was a leading supplier of shells during the Boer War and was obviously doing a lot of business during the First World War. During the Second World War the firm hired women to work in the factory – possibly they did the same in the First World War. The firm was bought by GKN Sankey Ltd in the 1960s and the factory ceased production in 1965, some records of the company are with the Sankey records in Wolverhampton. A painting of the outside of the site in 1938 by the artist Clive Branson is at the Tate Gallery.

If anyone does have more detailed information about the company then please do let us know. We have a partial copy of the company history “Fifty Years of Achievement”, but would like to have a copy of the full version.

Drainage plans: CNW 4, no. 241 and 250

Guest Post: Researching William Mills: librarian, soldier, airman

Earlier this year Putney Library ran a series of behind-the-scenes tours in response to a request from our Friends’ group. In preparation for these I visited Wandsworth Heritage Service, hoping to draw on the wealth of archive material there to add a historical dimension to the tours. It was a chance sighting in one of the archive items – the library’s salaries book for the 1910s – which set me on the trail of William John Mills.

The salaries book [1] is a handwritten week-by-week record of the payments made to each staff member, signed to confirm receipt. W.J. Mills appears in the very first entry in the book, in April 1910. Then aged fifteen, and employed as a junior assistant, he was paid 9s 6d per week. By the summer of 1914 he was earning 17s 3d, but from September onwards he is recorded as being paid 10s 3d, with the added note “whole pay less army pay while on military service.” His mother, Ada, signed on his behalf. (As noted in a previous blog post [2], the Council had resolved to make up the difference in salaries of those staff serving with the military.)

Entry in the Putney Library Salaries book

Entry in the Putney Library Salaries book

This pattern continued through to 2nd June 1917, when Mills’s name is crossed through in red, and payments ceased. Fearing the worst, I asked the heritage staff if they could find any record of his death. The result was rather surprising, as the following entry was found in the Council minutes [3] over a year later, on 16 October 1918:

Death of Lieut W J Mills, Northumberland Fusiliers, attached RAF on 3rd September, former junior assistant Putney Library – shot while flying on Western Front.

I was able to locate Mills’s RAF service record [4], which had been digitised and was available for download from the National Archives. His more substantial army record [5] was not, but unlike many it had survived in hard-copy and I was able to view it at Kew. From these records we now know the following of the life and career of William Mills:

He was born on 6th October 1894, the eldest son of John and Ada Mills. In 1914 the family was living at 59 Mexfield Road, East Putney [6]. On 3rd September 1914, just a month after the outbreak of war, William enlisted as a rifleman – service no. 2648 – in the18th Battalion, London Regiment (London Irish Rifles). A territorial force, his unit was garrisoned in the UK throughout 1914 & 1915, but in April 1916 they embarked to Le Havre to join the British Expeditionary Force in France. William’s casualty record reports that in May he was hospitalised with measles. Then, on 28th June he was wounded in action: a gunshot wound to the forehead, but he recovered to return to his unit on 16th July.

On 28th October he was promoted to Lance Corporal, and just weeks later, in December 1916, he returned from France to take up place at officer cadet school (at Fermoy in Ireland), which led on 26th April 1917 to his appointment as Temporary 2nd Lieutenant with 20th Bn. Northumberland Fusiliers (1st Tyneside Scottish) [7]. As an officer, his service pay now exceeded his former council wage, hence the cancelled entry in the salaries book.

Mills spent the remainder of 1917 as an infantry officer, with his unit again garrisoned in the UK. Then, in early 1918, he was attached to the fledgling Royal Air Force. He trained as an observer and gunner before returning to France in April 1918 to join No. 10 Squadron, RAF. It was there that he was wounded on 3rd September (four years to the day after he enlisted), and he died from his wounds the following day. His death was recorded in the minutes of the Putney Library sub-committee [8]:

Putney Library Sub-Committee minute book

Putney Library Sub-Committee minute book

Death of Lieut. W.J. Mills

The Librarian reported that Mr. W.J. Mills was a junior

assistant in the Library until September 3rd 1914 when he joined His Majesty’s forces as a private in the London Irish Regiment [sic] later obtaining a commission in the Northumberland Fusiliers. On September 3rd 1918 while attached to the Royal Air Force as an observer he was shot while flying behind the German lines and died from wounds on September 4th 1918.

Resolved that the Committee received the sad information with deepest regret and that the Librarian be instructed to report the matter to the Libraries’ Committee. [8]

This in turn led to the Council minute noted earlier. Mills is buried at the British military cemetery at Esquelbecq in northern France [9].

The Mills family remained in Mexfield Road: the electoral register lists Ada at the address until 1947. William’s youngest brother Frank appears in the last register before the outbreak of war in 1939 but does not return afterwards, although Ancestry [10] records that he died in 1995 at the age of 93.

In 1923 the Library Association commissioned a roll of honour in memory of the British librarians – over 80 in all – lost during the Great War. This memorial is now located at the British Library, as are a number of photographs of those recorded on it, including William Mills [11].

Terry Day, Putney Library


[1] MBW/5/6/16

[2] https://ww1wandsworth.wordpress.com/2014/10/06/6-12-october-1914-rifle-ranges-and-recruits/

[3] MBW/1

[4] National Archives AIR/76/349

[5] National Archives WO 339/82293

[6] The 1911 Census records that the Mills family then lived at an address in Stanbridge Road.

[7] Army List, December 1917, 944f.

[8] MBW/5/6/11

[9] http://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/25340/MILLS,%20WILLIAM%20JOHN A photograph of the gravestone can be viewed at http://twgpp.org/information.php?id=3064762 Puzzlingly, both sites list his unit as 20 Squadron RAF although his service record clearly shows 10 Squadron.

[10] http://search.ancestrylibrary.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?new=1&gsfn=frank+brigginshaw&gsln=mills&rank=1&gss=angs-g&mswpn__ftp=&msbdy=1902&pcat=ROOT_CATEGORY&h=832229&db=ONSDeath93&indiv=1&ml_rpos=1

[11] https://m.facebook.com/britishlibrary/photos/a.10150448376867139.414095.8579062138/10150471969397139/?type=3&theater

Guest Post: Remembering the lost generation: Battersea Polytechnic 1914-18

A little bit of history

Battersea Polytechnic, the forerunner of the University, was founded in 1891 on a site at Battersea Park Road and opened its doors to students on 6 January 1894. Its origins lie in the Polytechnic Movement at the end of the nineteenth century which set out ‘to promote the education of the poorer inhabitants of the Metropolis by technical instruction, secondary education, art education, evening lectures, or otherwise and generally to improve their physical, social and moral condition.’ It remained in Battersea for the next seventy years or so, growing in size, spreading to incorporate a number of different sites in the area and becoming one of the new Colleges of Advanced Technology in 1956.

Over the years it underwent a transformation in educational provision offering the young people who flocked through its doors the chance to study for degrees in a host of subjects from Chemistry, Physics and Engineering through to Hotel and Catering Management and Economics. By the early 1960s, thanks to the growth in the number of students and staff, the sites in Battersea, which included an old furniture repository, a primary school and further afield, in Putney, a former swimming baths, had become unsustainable and the decision was taken to look for a new home. On 9 September 1966, Her Majesty the Queen granted a Royal Charter for the founding of a new University in Surrey and over the next four years, staff and students made the move to the green-field site at Stag Hill in Guildford.

Remembering Battersea

Earlier this year, the University of Surrey launched an exciting new heritage project, ‘Remembering Battersea – Help us build our history’. The project aims to celebrate the legacy of Battersea Polytechnic and the foundations on which the University is built by recording former students’ memories, inviting donations of Battersea memorabilia and seeking the help of Battersea volunteers to identify and catalogue existing items in the University’s archives.

A key part of the ‘Remembering Battersea’ project is the ‘My Battersea Story’ oral history initiative which is working to capture the individual memories and experiences of the Battersea alumni who are still with us, before that opportunity is lost for good.

The ‘lost generation’

Sadly it is now too late to do the same for the students who studied at Battersea in the early years of the last century. And of course, many of the voices of those students and members of staff who fought in the First World War were brutally and prematurely silenced when they met their deaths during the fateful years between 1914 and 1918.

Thankfully though, a number of the stories of this generation have been preserved both in the photographs and letters which have been lovingly treasured and passed on by their families and friends and in records kept by the Polytechnic itself. This means that we are nevertheless able to form some impression of what kind of men these students and staff of Battersea were.

An invaluable source for the period is Students at War: the lost generation of Battersea Polytechnic 1914-18 by Jean Shail with Maureen Shettle which combines material from the University of Surrey’s own archives with records from the National Archives and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to build a picture of the men and women who went to war during those dark years.

Signing up

The first list of Battersea students and staff who signed up as volunteers to join the armed forces in 1914 was published in the Polytechnic magazine and featured two members of the Governing Body, ten members of staff and 203 students. Throughout the war these lists continued to be published and give the names of 650 men in total who fought on land, at sea or in the air for their country. From 1915 advertisements began to appear in the Polytechnic calendar encouraging students to enrol in the Officers’ Training Corps, ‘not only for their own good but for the great service which their doing so renders the community.’ A Polytechnic platoon was attached to the University of London Officers’ Training Corps and regular drills were held both at the University’s headquarters and also at the Polytechnic.

Dr Sidney Rawson, Principal of Battersea Polytechnic from 1907 to 1915, encouraged the students who were going off to war to keep in touch and to write and send photographs and it is for this reason, according to Jean Shail, that so many of the records from the first two years of the war survive.

A soldier’s life

The letters from these students provide a fascinating picture of the training regime they went through in the camps before departing for France with references to having to do patrol or guard duty at 2 and 3 in the morning, sleeping on a hard floor under a blanket or greatcoat and being set to building bridges, trenches and piers.

There are also letters from the Front including one from a young Frenchman, Lucien Bollack, who had studied engineering at the Polytechnic and who recounts his experiences as a motor-cyclist in the French army, ‘half dressed in military, half civilian clothes’ and of being arrested as a spy ‘owing to my suspicious looking outfit.’

Another Battersea student, Sapper Sidney Burt of the 2nd London Royal Engineers, wrote of his time spent in at the Front in France building dug-outs, draining trenches and bricking the bottom of them with bricks from houses ruined by German shell-fire. He also recounts how these trenches were named after London streets – ‘We have got Oxford Street, Berkeley Street, Curzon Street, St James’s Street…and hosts of others, the idea being to prevent confusion in finding certain trenches.’

Meanwhile the memoirs of Private George Wilson of the London Scottish provide more insights into the life of the ordinary soldier from his mobilisation in August 1914, through his arrival in France and movement from one front line to another, to his account of being shot in the eye and taken to hospital on a cart round Ypres. Having lost the sight in his eye, he was finally sent home to Scotland in mid November 1914.

Lucia Creighton and Monica Stanley, two former female students in the Domestic Training Science Department signed up to work for the Red Cross in Serbia during the war. And Gladys Victoria King, another former Domestic Science student, was awarded the Military Cross for devotion to duty under shellfire while working at a hospital in France.

Battersea heroes

Tragically, 78 of the Battersea students and staff who went to war never returned. Nearly all of them served with the Army.

Jean Shail recounts many of the stories relating to their deaths in her book. Reading through them you are left with a strong impression of the many personal acts of courage and bravery and an overwhelming sense of the tragic loss of young men who had showed such promise in their studies and for whom the future had looked so bright.

There is unfortunately not the space to include details of their exploits here, but the story of Frederick Henry Johnson, an engineering student who went on to win the Victoria Cross might serve as a fitting way to remember them all. Born in Streatham, Johnson entered Battersea’s Engineering Department as a day student in 1911. He went on to become Chairman of the Day Students’ Representative Council and editor of the Polytechnic magazine. He was awarded a first class honours degree in 1914 and at the outbreak of war, applied for a commission becoming Second Lieutenant in the Royal Engineers. After training in Bordon, Hampshire he left for France to join the British Expeditionary Force. He gained the Victoria Cross during the Battle of Loos when he took part in an attack on an enemy redoubt on 25th September, 1915 and continued on in spite of being wounded in the leg to lead several charges.Frederick Johnson VC

He was repatriated to London for hospital treatment and received his medal from the King on 22nd December 1915. It was the first Victoria Cross to be awarded to a member of any of the Polytechnics. A separate presentation was organised the following year by the Polytechnic at which Lieutenant Johnson was given a portrait of himself which had been paid for by subscriptions collected from staff and students.

Sadly Frederick Johnson did not survive the war. After returning to the Front and being promoted to the rank of Captain then Major, he was killed in action on 28th November 1917 having gone back to search for a comrade who had gone missing at the Battle of Cambrai. He has no known grave but is remembered on the Cambrai Memorial at Louveral in France.

A fitting tribute

The names of all the students and members of staff who lost their lives during the Great War are inscribed on the Battersea Polytechnic War Memorial which the Polytechnic commissioned with funds raised by the staff and students themselves. Originally unveiled at the Polytechnic in July 1921, it was subsequently moved to the University of Surrey and unveiled in its new location by the University’s Chancellor, HRH the Duke of Kent in November 1989 – a fitting tribute to Battersea Polytechnic’s ‘lost generation’.

For more information about the ‘Remembering Battersea: Help us build our history project’ visit https://alumni.surrey.ac.uk/battersea-new—help-us-build-our-history

To view items from the Battersea Polytechnic archives please contact archives@surrey.ac.uk or call 01483 689631.

Alison Burt – Project Manager, ‘My Battersea Story’ oral history project

Guest Post: Emanuel School at War

The First World War is not just history it is a living history. I have discovered that fact in the last 5 years in meeting hundreds of families connected to Emanuel School boys who served in the First World War. One story in particular I have been researching for a number of years. It took many years to complete the full picture and even three months before the Emanuel School at War Exhibition I received a photo album from the family.

Cecil and Ronald Grundy attended Emanuel School prior to the First World War and their younger brothers attended during the war years. The family lived in St. James’s Road, now Drive adjacent to Wandsworth Common Station. 

As war clouds approached in July 1914, Cecil, the eldest Grundy boy was working for Burberry in their Argentinian branch. He returned to England a few months after war broke out and enlisted, receiving a Commission in The Middlesex Regiment. Ronald Grundy also enlisted and served with The Middlesex Regiment.

Cecil Grundy Ronald Grundy

Exclusively for the Wandsworth WW1 Blog you can read their story. It is a story that it would not have been possible to tell without archives, from private archives to the Emanuel School archive and the family. Each household holds its own archive telling the story of their family through the generations.

The Grundy story is now published in a new history ‘Emanuel School at War’ and also features on the BBC World War One at Home Series. Wandsworth Heritage Service was integral to uncovering the story of Emanuel boys’s experiences in both world wars and I would encourage people to explore it and immerse themselves in their wonderful collections.

Daniel Kirmatzis (Historian and Researcher) @emanuelatwar

Please click here to read the Grundy Brothers Extract

Mr Grundy Nephew of Cecil and Ronald

Guest Post: The Society of the Sacred Heart War Memorial

The Digby Stuart College campus, University of Roehampton, was, until 1947, the site of a Community and school for the Society of the Sacred Heart. In 1883 the nuns built their Calvary on the West side of the grounds, near the boundary fence. It became the ideal location for a War Memorial to all the relatives of the nuns and pupils of the convent killed in the war. Documents in the Societies archives record that the Memorial was dedicated on 24 May 1918 by the Revered W Roche SJ.

Image with kind permission of the Society of the Sacred Heart archives

Image with kind permission of the Society of the Sacred Heart archives


Initially for the fallen of the WWI the memorial commemorates 1 from the Boer War, 275 from WWI, 11 from WWII and 1 from the Korean War.

There is no set pattern for the inscriptions; families were left free to compose their own. Officers and other ranks were generally separated, but not always. The plaques are marble with lead letters attached to a Portland stone background.

In 1972 the Memorial had to be moved to make room for the expansion of Digby Stuart College. Initially J. Whitehead & Sons Ltd, Kennington, London were engaged to carry out the work but then there were delays, for various reasons, and in October 1973 the completion of the Memorial was given over to a Mr Baker (there are no noted details of who he was) – a handwritten note states, ‘Finished by Mr Baker in June 1974’. Additional work was carried out in 1980.

In its current location it measures 1.9 metres high by 11.3 metres wide and in 2000 it was described as ‘a magnificent war memorial, absolutely unique’ by a representative of The National Inventory of War Memorials, Imperial War Museum.

Image with kind permission of the Society of the Sacred Heart Archives

Image with kind permission of the Society of the Sacred Heart Archives

This year, the University in collaboration with the Society’s archive,s have undertaken to trace relatives of those honoured on the Memorial in order to find the stories of those fallen so that they won’t be forgotten. It is hoped to that these accounts will be published in 2018 to mark the centenary of the Memorial.

War Memorial

For more information please contact Gilly King, History and Heritage Advisor, University of Roehampton gilly.king@roehampton.ac.uk

10-16 November 1916: the Garratt Lane German Baker

The South Western Star of 13 November reports on the case of a baker charged with wilfully breaking the window of the German baker, Bernard Borghorst, 860 Garratt Lane. Patrick Cronin was witnessed breaking the window by the police and claimed it was due to the insult he had received from Borghorst. Borghorst had dismissed him “on account of slackness, business having fallen off ‘owing to this trouble’”. Cronin claimed that he had been brooding over the insult and had he been a bigger man he would have pushed Borghorst in the oven “pretty quick”. Leaving aside the rather Hansel and Gretel like threat, the magistrate, Mr de Grey, supposed that Cronin did not like Germans, prompting the reply of “Of course I don’t, do you?”. de Grey responded that breaking windows was a bad example that encouraged Germans in their abominable behaviour abroad and that Cronin would be better off enlisting and fighting them like a man. He was then discharged from the court on the condition that he enlist.

The unfortunate Bernard Borghorst appears to have gone out of business in Garratt Lane, the bakery stops being listed in trade directories in 1915 and the property is unlisted until 1922 when another baker takes it over. Borghorst died at the German Hospital in Hackney in December 1922, aged 48, having moved to Hornsey.

The same edition of the newspaper reports a change in Mayor in Battersea. John Archer had come to the end of his term and was replaced by Thomas Simmons. The vote was straightforward enough, but the nomination by Mr Willis involved an altercation with Mr Watts, who had responded to a comment on “freedom and oppression side by side” in Belgium by saying there was “a lot of oppression about here”. Mr Watts had an ongoing disagreement with his party about committees, which presumably led to the reported comments – there was a further dispute with Mr Willis later in the evening. The article ends with the simple line: “Mr Watts was not elected on any committees”. Disagreements obviously continued, despite the desire of all present that the new mayor would preside over a meeting celebrating a declaration of peace.

Guest Post: Bringing a War Memorial to Life

A few weeks ago I was in St Mary’s Church showing someone the war memorial around which the Summerstown182 project is based. I was full of stories about the individuals on it, where they lived, where they were buried, whose relative had been on one of our walks. It suddenly dawned on me that in a little under a year, what was a wall of unknown names is slowly coming spectacularly to life. The two soldiers buried in Jerusalem. The three brothers from Thurso Street killed in successive years. The young man who was lost in the North Sea on a submarine. The brothers who died of tuberculosis and are buried in unmarked graves in Streatham Cemetery. The jilted soldier who threw himself under a tram in Garratt Lane. We know something now about 174 of the names, only eight can’t so far be connected with this area.

It surprised and saddened me that very little seemed to be known about the men on the war memorial. The blog which I started has evolved into a collection of stories about them. Each post is centred around one of the individuals using information from the parish magazines of the period and Commonwealth War Graves Commission database. This is blended together with census records and other material which local enthusiasts keen to get involved in the project have kindly provided. Without their help this project just wouldn’t be possible. Now relatives are slowly coming forward, providing photographs and nuggets of precious detail to add to the stories. We have established connections with descendants in Taunton, Tamworth, Cambridge, Luton and as faraway as Melbourne, Australia.

Closely related to the stories of the soldiers themselves has been a developing desire to understand the world which they inhabited. Local newspapers from the time, available for study through Wandsworth Heritage Service at Battersea Library, have been invaluable for providing an impression, though it has amazed me that there seemed sometimes more concern with ‘interesting local weddings’ than what was happening across the Channel. Lists of names which followed the immense 1915 losses at the battles of Festubert and Loos soon trickled away, undoubtedly to preserve morale. What is of more interest to me is the conditions at home that the war created. How a German baker in Tooting had his premises repeatedly trashed, despite the fact his son was serving in the British army. How a soldier’s impoverished wife was imprisoned for being unable to care for her starving children. Undeniably the conditions for people living around here were difficult in the extreme. Occasionally I recognise names, an inquest into the soldier who walked out of the Fountain pub and under a tram, the young lad who a few months before joining the Welsh Fusiliers was arrested in Khartoum Road for playing ‘pitch-and-toss’. The barmaid who got into hot water for serving a wounded soldier in The Castle. There are many more to discover. I’ve just pricked the surface. What a wonderful resource we have there.

If you would like to hear more about the project or the guided walks which have been developed to promote it, please come along to hear me talk about it at the next meeting of Tooting History Group. This is in the United Reformed Church, Rookstone Road, Tooting on Tuesday 11th November at 730pm.The next guided walk will be on Saturday 6th December.

Geoff Simmons, @summerstown182







3-9 November 1914: Sir Walter St John’s School

November saw the publication of the first edition of Sir Walter St John’s school magazine since the outbreak of war. Much of the magazine included the usual reports of passed exams and cricket matches, but a member of Form IVA had been in Paris at the outbreak of war and wrote it up for the magazine. The outbreak of war had not been the immediate signal for him to return home and, with the exception of a difficult journey, his experiences were rather uneventful – especially in comparison to Wandsworth residents who were in Switzerland when war broke out (see this post).

The magazine also features lists of old boys and staff who had already joined up and were on active service. Like their sister institution, Battersea Grammar School, a number of them were with the local territorial 23rd County of London regiment, who were based on St Johns Hill, so had perhaps gone from being in the school cadet force to the TA. The school rifle range was being made available for members of the Old Boys Association on Saturday afternoons from November 7th – although they were expected to bring their own ammunition. Quite how many rifle ranges existed in the borough at the time is difficult to establish, Sinjuns clearly had one and there were at least three in Wandsworth (for more on rifle ranges see here).

Four members of staff had been called up for service. Gymnasium instructor W S Broadbent had gone to the 4th London Infantry Brigade and been temporarily replaced by a Sergeant Williams, and A R McIvor had received a Captain’s Commission in the 9th Battalion, Royal Sussex Regiment and been replaced by H Cooper. Caretaker William Lewis was a Petty Officer, 1st class, on board the HM Trawler Bellona, which was on mine-sweeping duty in the North Sea. An edited version of the letter appears in the magazine, describing his work and the hazards at sea – which include one of the crew capsizing ink all over the table and a lamp nearly setting fire to the cabin, let alone the mines they were responsible for clearing.

Finally, for anyone considering attending a fireworks display this week, you wouldn’t have been able to do that in 1914 – the headmaster refers to “darkened streets and forbidden fireworks”.


Sir Walter St John’s School magazine, ref: S17/2/5