25-30 May 1915: Battersea Recruitment Concerns

This week’s edition of the South Western Star carries a letter from the Mayor of Battersea – T W Simmons – that plans to raise a field battery had been dropped in the light of the War Office’s request for the borough to raise an infantry battalion.  The paper had yet to make a comment on this, but a meeting of the Lavender Hill branch of the Clapham Conservative Association was reported as having met the previous week and discussed it.

One member felt that it was rather late in the day for the Mayor to be raising a battalion and that they might as well “go the whole hog and bring about conscription”.  The Chair proposed a resolution, which was not put to the vote in the end as they decided to wait for their parliamentary candidate’s opinion, that conscription should be introduced as he felt the authorities were trying to shame men into enlisting and in some cases shaming the wrong men.  Another member said that teenagers who looked older were being pestered in the streets to join up, and that one 14 year old who had been turned down as a cadet was now in the 23rd County of London Regiment.  It was suggested that there were plenty of men in Battersea who were deaf to all appeals being made to them, and that compulsory military training should be introduced.

Public pressure to enlist was also behind another story in the paper this week, reporting the inquest into the suicide of 23 year old Samuel Charles Seymour.  He was a milk roundsman, and had been coming under pressure from customers as to why he had not joined up.  His family stated at the inquest that he had been keen to make sure the family was properly settled before joining up, as he was their only son, but that the “chipping” from customers had been making him very withdrawn over the last few days.  The verdict was “Suicide During Temporary Insanity”, and in summing up the coroner:

No young man can feel comfortable in these days if he is in London, and not at the front, or preparing to go.  Many of us are hoping the time is shortly coming when all young men of military age will either be at the front, or preparing to go; making munitions of war, or wearing badges showing they have offered their services, and then if anyone looks askance at a yong man, he has only to point to his badge to show he has tried to serve his country.  Perhaps that time will come very soon.

South Western Star available on microfilm.

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18-24 May 1915: Formation of the Wandsworth Battalion

20th May 1915 saw the first meeting of the Wandsworth Battalion recruitment committee, held in the Town Hall.  The request from the Army Council and Lord Kitchener to raise a battalion was reported at the Council meeting on 5th May, and this was the first meeting about doing so. The first decision taken by the meeting was to form a Committee, in fact to form two Committees – both a General and an Executive Committee.  It was also considered important to establish that the name of Wandsworth would be attached to the battalion if they raised, say, less than 1000 men.  Councillor Prince also suggested that the various wards of the borough should be identified with the battalion by name, this was to receive consideration rather than being automatically approved, presumably due to the earlier concerns over numbers, and in the end only the borough name was recorded.  Officers of the Battalion were to be Wandsworth men only, this was clearly felt to be important to maintain a properly local battalion and also to encourage local men to join up and to be supportive of the endeavour.  A recruiting officer had already been found, and the Mayor (Archibald Dawnay) was sure than in a large borough like Wandsworth 150 men could be found from each ward.  There had already been a hundred applications to join the battalion and when it reported the meeting, the Wandsworth Borough News further encouraged all man of military age resident in the borough to join up. The same day also saw the regular meeting of the Putney Relief Fund Committee. Numbers applying to the Fund for help had reduced considerably since the early days of the war and only 5 applications were being considered at this meeting.  Four of them had applied at least once before, although one of them was turned down on this occasion as her distress was held not to be caused by the war.  That applicant returned in subsequent occasions and was granted relief, all the way through to July 1916 when the minutes stop, and two other applicants this week also continued to rely on the committee.  They were Harriet Andrew, Marie Gibson and Margaret Kelly. Harriet Andrew is probably the same one who lived at 125 Lower Richmond Road in 1911, she was a widowed needleworker who was living with another, older, woman and very probably would have suffered in the reduction of available work – laundries in Battersea also reported a downturn in business as a result of the war.  The other two applicants have proved difficult to find more information on, as the minutes don’t give addresses.  The other applicant who received a positive outcome this week was Elizabeth Pigott, enquiries were to be made about her circumstances by Miss Kitson and Miss Lecky (of the Eileen Lecky Clinic) and if those proved favourable was to receive an emergency payment.  She was eventually granted 13s a week for two weeks and referred to the Fulham committee instead. For earlier meetings of the Relief Fund committee, see this post. Wandsworth Battalion minute book, ref: MBW/2/25/1 Putney Relief Fund minute book, ref: MBW/2/32/3 Wandsworth Borough News available on microfilm

11-17 May 1915: Anti-German Riots and Zeppelin Drills

On Friday 7 May 1915, the RMS Lusitania was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-Boat.  This caused outrage across Britain, according to the South Western Star of the following week:

The most atrocious of the German outrages…has in Battersea and Wandsworth, as in every other civilised locality, occasioned intense indignation.  Murmurs of resentment were heard on Saturday, and the resentment gradually shaped itself into a keen desire for reprisals.

On the Monday night two shops had their windows smashed – Hamperl’s the butcher, 277 Garratt Lane, and Bleines and Son at 307 Garratt Lane.  Alois Hamperl had been a naturalised British subject since 1907 and had been married to his London-born wife for over 20 years, but half a brick and a stone were thrown through his windows.  Another stone had been thrown through the window of Peter Bleines, who was a baker and had become a British subject in 1900 – all 14 of his living children had been born in the area and he had been there for over 20 years.

What the newspaper refers to as “serious disorder” did not break out until the Wednesday night, when large crowds gathered in Wandsworth Road, Garratt Lane and Tooting High Street.  Eight arrests were made and all prisoners were charged and fined at the police court the following day.  The shop of Peter Jung at 48 Tooting High Street was wrecked, causing an estimated £200 worth of damage.  Jung was also a naturalised subject who had been living in the area for some years, as a German baker in Tooting it is very likely that he was one of the bakers who had offered to make bread for the local relief fund for free, but this did not stop his shop from being a target.  A large crowd gathered outside his premises – one policeman said it was 300, another 600 – from around half past seven and did not disperse until the combination of mounted police and rain cleared them away at 11pm.  The Jungs pulled down the blinds around 9pm, which prompted a “shower of bricks…completely smashing the shop windows”.

Peter Jung's Bakery, Tooting High Street

Peter Jung’s Bakery, Tooting High Street

On the same evening a crowd smashed windows on Stockdale Road, and on Thursday evening there were crowds on Battersea Bridge Road who then moved to Latchmere, but no damage was done.  The majority of arrests made were for obstructing the police and drunkenness, the newspaper does not record anyone who was charged with the damage caused.

The same page of the newspaper also reports the first Zeppelin raids on the UK, on Southend.  The proprietor of a Lavender Hill business had his home in Southend, which was untouched, although perhaps the raid was what prompted St Mary’s School Battersea to hold their first and only Zeppelin drill on 14th May.  The school log book records the drill at 1pm, but gives no further details (although an earlier entry records the school fire drill as clearing the whole school in 1 ½ minutes), and they didn’t record holding any more Zeppelin drills.

South Western Star available on microfilm.

St Mary’s Battersea school log book, ref: S7/2/1

4-10 May 1915: Belgian Refugees and the beginnings of the Wandsworth Battalion

St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church of England on Battersea Rise produced a monthly magazine known as the “St Andrew’s Review”.  The May 1915 edition contains the first in a series of columns headed Belgian Notes, giving news on the Belgian Hostel at 83 Clapham Common West Side.

83 Clapham Common West Side had been a private school before the war, although a small one with eight boarding pupils recorded on the 1911 census.  It was run by a Harriet Bridgeman, but from 26 October 1914 the rate books record it as occupied by Belgian refugees.  A further note also specifies that the property was not to be charged rates, as per a letter from the Town Clerk.  There is a gap in the rate books between 1915 and 1922, by the later date the property was back in private hands and it is not clear who actually owned it when it was being used as a home for refugees.

The first mention of the hostel is in the December 1914 edition of the St Andrew’s Review.  An article written by one of the refugees, John Carnas, gives an account of being called up by the Belgian army, being injured and invalided out, then having to leave Antwerp as the Germans had started to bombard the city.  He initially went to Paris but was unable to find work, then went to Calais where the refugees were not allowed to spend longer than 24 hours, at which point they decided to cross the Channel and came to London, “where we had a reception fit for a king… Here we are now in our comfortable resting place at 83 West Side, Clapham Common, where the ladies and gentlemen of the Committee do everything possible to make us happy”.

The next update is in this month’s Review.  A recent concert had raised just over £30, but the cost of maintenance worked out at a little over 6/- a head (although for how long is not given), with 40 guests in the hostel at the time of writing and as many as 47 in the past.  Due to the “increased cost of commodities” an increase in income was also required, and the Committee were hoping that local residents might be able to start regular door to door collections in their own roads.

A group of refugees at the hostel

A group of refugees at the hostel

Taking place this week was also the regular meeting of Wandsworth Council, where it was reported that the Mayor had been asked by the War Office to oversee the raising of a local battalion for the regular forces (as opposed to the Territorials).  Offices for recruiting were to be set up at the Town Hall and 380 Streatham High Road.  This was what became the 13th (Wandsworth) Battalion of the East Surrey Regiment and we’ll be coming back to it in upcoming blogs.