26 January – 1 February 1915: Losing the Medical Officer of Health to the Armed Forces

The minutes of the meeting of Batttersea Borough Council on 27 January state that the Medical Officer of Health – Dr G Q Lennane – had been gazetted as a lieutenant and therefore would be required to give his full service to the Forces in the near future. It was then referred to the Health Committee to appoint a locum to fill his post, a decision which was an amendment and had to be voted on. The Council also agreed to pay him the difference between his salary and the salary awarded by the Army, a proposal which the South Western Star reports caused much debate. The chair of the Health Committee, Cllr Willis, formally disagreed with the proposal and a lengthy debate followed over whether or not the Council should allow Dr Lennane to go.

Medical Officers of Health had wide-ranging responsibilities for the health of the borough. They provided statistics on birth, deaths and infectious disease – which was part of a responsibility to contain it rather than merely to take notes. This extended to duties including inspecting housing which could be unfit for human habitation, checking on sanitation and considering provision for maternity and child welfare. The 1913 Annual Report also shows that he was responsible for the protection of the food supply and for enforcing the 1901 Factories and Workshops Act. Dr Lennane was a senior member of staff with a Public Health department working for him, so he was not solely responsible for this, but it was an important job in the borough.

The Councillors who objected to his going made clear that they were non un-patriotic, but that they had the interests of the borough at the forefront of their minds. Others argued that duty was to the country first, then to the borough – one councillor who was also a local employer said that 40 of his men had enlisted and had not asked his permission first – and that a good senior member of staff would have his department working in such a way that he could go for a time. Eventually the Council agreed to let Dr Lennane go when necessary and for the committee to look into a locum, a debate which the minutes do not reflect. Dr Lennane went to France as a Captain with the Royal Army Medical Corps later in 1915, he returned after the war and remained with the Council until 1932.

Less contentious was the decision to set aside a section of Morden Cemetery for the graves of servicemen, at the lowest possible cost. There are over 70 burials from the First World War in Morden Cemetery listed on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission site, although they are in several areas of the Cemetery. The full list can be found here and includes burials from both wars.

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

South Western Star, 1915, available on microfilm

Medical Officer of Health reports are available online from the Wellcome Institute, or in hard copy at the Heritage Service.

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19-25 January 1915: Contact from Prisoners of War

The South Western Star of 22 January 1915 carried two letters from Battersea men who had been at the front and were now prisoners of war. The first letter came from Private J H Gardiner, of Hut 32A, Gottinggen, Hanover and was dated 15 December, although it did not reach the offices of the Star until the beginning of the week it was published. He encourages everyone at home to carry on doing all they can for soldiers at the front, including noting how welcome parcels containing warm clothing are – proof that the girls of Upper Tooting School were right to be knitting socks.

…I am sorry to say that those who have had the misfortune to be taken prisoners often get forgotten. A lot of the soldiers here are receiving parcels from friends, which are very welcome – such as warm clothing and parcels of eatables. We are always on the look-out for parcels of eatables. We have here several Battersea men who are not so fortunate as others and are unable to get parcels sent them, and it adds to the hardships to see other men receiving parcels when we are unable to have them sent. It is on account of these men of Battersea that I am writing to ask you if you could use your influence to get some Battersea people to send parcels of eatables and clothing to their townsfolk out here. Parcels of eatables and clothing we are allowed to receive and anything such as cake, biscuits, tarts, pies, jam, potted meat etc are very welcome…

The second letter came from a group of Battersea men who were held elsewhere, as they note that “we are the only Battersea men here”. They wrote to ask for “a change of underclothing, also a parcel of provisions and tobacco and a pipe each”. In response to this being published they all promised to “call at the South Western Star offices the first day we reach Battersea”. It was signed from E Locke, T Walsh, G Dyer and B Golder and each man had included his number and regiment.

The Red Cross has records relating to Prisoners of War and these can be searched online. An initial search has discovered that Private Golder was Benjamin Golder, the information beside is name is “La Bassee”, which is presumably where he was captured. This information was supplied to the Red Cross in 1916 and the digitised records are available online here. The site can be difficult to use – the only other record found easily was that of George Dyer, who was held near Munster – and the original lists of prisoners have all the information bar the names and regiments in German.

The South Western Star is available on microfilm

12-18 January 1915: Putney Relief Fund

At the end of September, the Putney Relief Fund made its first payment, (see this post for details). Since then the numbers applying had dropped, the meeting on 14th January 1915 had 9 applications to deal with – considerably less than when the Fund first opened. One of the names was still the same, Alice Barham had originally been given some money until her sons in Canada could be contacted, but at the end of October she had to apply again and was being granted 2/6 per week. The Committee recommended that she contact her son at Salisbury but had been granting her a weekly allowance ever since. On 21st January this was suspended for the time being, her name does not re-appear in 1915 and there is no record as to why they stopped the allowance. Hopefully one of her family was able to help her or she managed to obtain work.

Other applicants had to find work, Mary Brown’s case had been adjourned from the previous week until the Committee heard from her employers – presumably to ensure that her hardship was due to the war. A workroom had been set up at the Wesleyan Central Hall in Tooting and employment was to be obtained for her there. One case, that of Mrs Featherstonehaugh, was eventually referred to the Central Committee for the borough and then to the Committee at Assington. Assington was presumably where the headquarters of the Prince of Wales Relief Fund was based. Interestingly, unlike all the other applicants, Mrs Featherstonehaugh is only ever referred to as such – all other applicants are referred to using both names – and she received more support than the majority, getting £1 a week whilst the most received by another applicant this week was 13s. Her full name was Emily Featherstonehaugh, she lived in Warwick Mansions on Lower Richmond Road and her husband Thomas was a commercial agent for silk. Full case details are not given in the minutes, so it is impossible to tell what caused difficulties for any of the applicants – it could be that business dried up due to the war, or that men who joined the Army were not able to send pay home immediately. The Committee was very clear that distress which was not caused by the war was not their responsibility, any applications which they deemed to fall in to that category were turned down.

The Putney Committee also reported on matters decided on by the Borough Executive Sub-Committee with other issues relating to who received money. The question over how to deal with men who had served for a short time then discharged from the Army as unfit was reported as having been referred up to the Central Committee for a decision. If applications from men who had been employed in hut building were received by the Ward Committees then they were recommended to refer the men to the Distress Committee as relief works were being opened. The minutes do not say what the “hut building” was, nor do the minutes of the Executive Committee – although there were earlier notes of men being given work to do in clearing vacant land for cultivation. It is possible that the huts were for the 3rd London General Hospital, but there is no evidence to back that up.

Minutes of the Putney Ward Relief Fund, ref: MBW/2/32/3

Minutes of the Relief Fund Committee, ref: MBW/2/32/2

5-11 January 1915: News of the Christmas Truce

Although Christmas is over, news of Christmas from the trenches was still filtering back to those at home in Wandsworth. Arguably the Christmas Truce is one of the best known events of the war in 1914, and the Tooting and Balham Gazette carries a copy of a letter from Tooting solider Harold Macbeth, who was somewhere in France with the Queen’s Westminster Rifles. Macbeth was born in Tooting in 1890, the youngest of John and Annie Macbeth’s five children and in the 1911 census gave his occupation as an insurance clerk. He wrote to Annie on 29th December 1914:

My Dear Mother

I am snatching an opportunity to thank you for your last two letters, both of which I received in due time. We were again unexpectedly relieved on Boxing Day, when we were afoot by 5am. Such a Christmas Day! We were on top of the trenches in front of the barbed wire fraternising with the enemy, a Saxon regiment, quite a decent lot I should think but nothing like the Queen’s Westminster Rifles physically. Cigars and sweets were exchanged and I conversed with one in “Pidgin” French for quite a long time. He gave me quite a good cigar and I returned with compliment with a Woodbine (Ikey) and some few of the caramels you sent. They hoped with us that the war would soon be finished but, of course, we didn’t talk shop. We are boarded in a big store, and there is no room to write properly, and too much noise to concentrate attention. I am hopelessly behind with correspondence, having had no chance to acknowledge the various parcels and letters received at Christmas time. I helped Walkington from the firing line. It was a bullet wound, not shrapnel as in paper. Glad you heard from Wilson, whom I also helped. Please explain and apologise to any friends you may meet about unanswered letters. Hoping you are all well. With love, from your affectionate son,

Harold

The newspaper comment that “Tootingites were ever in the forward line when fighting – whether politically, municipally, or Imperially – was afoot”.

The same issue also reports on the first private to be awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal – Private Frederick William Joynt, who was 20 years old and had already been in the Army for four years. A fellow Tooting man told his parents that the last he remembered seeing of Joynt was of him running out under heavy fire to bring in a wounded lieutenant. The newspaper has actually reported Joynt’s name wrongly, his middle name was Arthur and it is possible to find his medal card showing his DCM award and that he served with the King’s Royal Rifle Corps on the Ancestry website, as well as to establish that he survived the war and was listed on the absent voters register for Bickley Street in Tooting in 1919. Sadly Harold Macbeth did not survive, he was killed in September 1916 and is buried in Caterpillar Valley Cemetery, Longueval.

Tooting and Balham Gazette available on microfilm in the Heritage searchroom

Access to www.ancestrylibrary.com is available on all library computers