27 July – 2 August 1915: Patriotism and Can They Believe It’s Not Butter?

The meeting of Wandsworth Borough Council on 28th July was a largely uncontroversial affair, with the reports in the Wandsworth Borough News mainly covering Council decisions without any debate. Economy was driving many of the decisions made by the Council, as well as patriotism, with a decision to dispense with all members of temporary staff who were eligible to serve with the Armed Forces. An appeal by the Central Charities Committee of the Social Welfare Association for London to consider filling temporary posts with Belgian employees was met with a decision to do so only when the Belgians were not eligible to serve with the Belgian Army.

The decisions were partly fuelled by the need to save money but presumably also the enthusiasm for the local battalion, the newspaper reported that after 4 weeks nearly 900 men were wearing the uniform of the new battalion and it was expected to reach full strength in the next few days. Young’s had placed the Ram Brewery yard at the disposal of the regiment as a parade ground and Council support for the battalion included free use of the baths, as well as offices and support for the recruiting staff. A recruiting rally at King’s Hall, Tooting had produced 30 new recruits, all of whom were given a half-sovereign by the proprietor as a “reward for valour”.

A desire to help the troops was also behind another appeal in the Borough News, that of a Mr R Stanley Grint, Ilminster Gardens. Mr Grint was appealing for any bowls which were no longer required, or for funds to purchase new bowls, which could be given to the “Tommies” at the 3rd London General Hospital on Wandsworth Common. The hospital is perhaps the source of this advert in the paper:

Intelligent young men wanted age 17 and under 19 to serve for duration of War at a Military Hospital as Hospital Orderlies. Home Service. Pay 8s 2d per week, all found. Address: Sergt Major, Borough News, Wandsworth.

Finally, the paper did have one controversy to report on – the decision of the Wandsworth Board of Guardians to stop using butter and start using margarine instead. This a “war measure”, prompted by economy, but led to much argument over the merits of both substances. Miss Hill had been very against margarine, but had recently tried “Maypole” and claimed her family did not know the difference, whilst Mr W H Smith said that margarine was often supplied instead of butter in the best restaurants and he saw no objections to it. Other board members argued about the nutritional value, and if all officials should have the same restriction or merely the inmates and patients. Mr Couzens refuted the argument that some prefer margarine by stating he had tasted it last Tuesday and should certainly not prefer it to butter. Eventually the arguments for either, and the claims not to know the difference, resulted in the decision to use margarine.

Wandsworth Council minutes, ref: MBW/1/15

Wandsworth Board of Guardians minutes, ref: WCU

Wandsworth Borough Newa available on microfilm

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20-26 July 1915: Poetry written whilst waiting in Balham

Last week’s blog post mentioned the letter from Edward Thomas to his friend Eleanor Farjeon about coming to London to be attested.  This week’s post looks at the letters he wrote a few days after he joined up, again to Eleanor.

On Tuesday 20th July, Edward wrote from his parents’ house in Rusham Road, Balham, that “yesterday I was attested”.  Attestation was the start of the process of joining up when the recruit completed the attestation forms.  He also wrote that he had been having trouble with his feet and was due to visit the doctor, apologising for delay in writing:

Otherwise I should wait longer until I had seen the doctor.  I only hope he won’t give me leisure to think why I joined.  Several people have asked me; but I could not answer yet. 

The following day he writes again, also from Balham, having had to be signed off by the doctor until the tendons in his foot had recovered.

Letter to Eleanor Farjeon

Letter to Eleanor Farjeon

This letter finishes with him requesting “don’t tell anybody I aren’t a soldier yet, tho I am in uniform”, presumably in relation to being signed off, but the bulk of it refers to the poetry he has been writing whilst in Balham waiting:

…six hours over ten lines which perhaps are not right yet.  But if you would type them for me could see them better.  They are

What matter makes my spade for tears or mirth

Letting down two old pipes into the earth?

The one I smoked, the other a soldier

Of Blenheim, Ramillies, & Malplaquet

Perhaps.  The dead man’s immortality

Lies lightly represented with my own,

A yard or two nearer the air of day

Than bones of ancients who, amazed to see

Almighty God erect the mastodon,

One laughed or wept at what earth had to bear

Detail of "Digging"

Detail of “Digging”

The finished version of the poem can be seen here.  Prior to the war Thomas had mainly written criticism, rather than poetry, the outbreak of the war and the influence of his friend Robert Frost meant that he began writing poems in autumn 1914. He often sent drafts or material for typing to Eleanor, getting her to comment on it as well as to type it up – the commentary was a service he provided for her as well.  Drafts of his poems within the collection include “Lob” and “Lights Out”, the latter we’ll come to in a future blog.

Letters to Eleanor Farjeon, 1915, ref: D112/1/3

Letters quoted are numbers 114 &115 and available on microfilm in the first instance.

 

13th – 19th July 1915: Battersea Council controversy and Edward Thomas plans to join up

The minutes of the Battersea Borough Council meeting of 14 July 1915 do not give much hint of a controversial meeting.  Amidst the usual business, four members of staff from the Highways department were given permission to join the Forces (W Franklin, labourer; J Connolly, roadman; R G Vollar, pavior; G W Sinden, labourer), as were W J Kelly, a second class clerk with the Borough Surveyor’s department and J Lee, whose permission came from the Baths and Washhouses Committee but doesn’t record his occupation.  There was also a decision not to pay an additional War Bonus requested by the London, Erith and Southall District Allied Engineering Trades Joint Committee.

The controversy, well reported by the South Western Star but only hinted at in the minutes, was over the reduction in labour required by the Highways Department.  The recommendation was for the Council to approve the road cleansing section going from 142 workmen to 100, pensioning 30 of the men and saving £1784 18s a year (roughly £76,857 in today’s money).  Mr Willis stood down as leader of the Progressives on Battersea Council, because they had wanted to refer all the reductions back to the Finance Committee and raise the money to keep the posts by further appealing to the ratepayers.  The Star refers to this as a “noble stand”.  After much discussion over whether other Committees were also cutting back, and if it was right to cut jobs – with one councillor protesting that it was taking bread out of the mouths of the poor and he could not agree as he was a “trade union leader” – the decision eventually went to a vote.  33 members of the Council voted in favour, and 22 against.  This caused uproar in the gallery, with people calling Mr Willis a traitor and a turncoat – although the Star acknowledged that Mr Willis was clearly affected by emotion during the proceedings.

Elsewhere the paper reports on the ongoing recruitment drive, saying that there were now 100 men in the Battersea battalion.  It also records that Wandsworth had instituted a “corps of lady recruiters… Battersea will go one better, it always does when in competition with Wandsworth.  Wait a little while and we shall have a recruiting procession in Battersea that will make Wandsworth despair”.

The recruitment drive across the country was clearly having an effect, as on 15th July the writer and critic Edward Thomas wrote to his friend, Eleanor Farjeon:

My mystery was this.  I have just seen the doctor and been passed by him + am coming up to town again on Monday to join the Artists Rifles…

Wandsworth Heritage Service holds Thomas’s letters to Eleanor Farjeon and we’ll be coming back to what he writes about his experiences in future weeks.

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

Edward Thomas correspondence, ref: D112/1/3

South Western Star available on microfilm

6th-13th July 1915: Recruitment, No Holidays for Staff and Tooting Library clock

Recruitment continued across the borough this week, the Tooting & Balham Gazette carried an advert encouraging the men of Wandsworth to “Enlist at Once” and “Don’t Delay”.  Cautiously, it was advertised as being for Three Years or Duration of the War.  The paper also reported several successful recruiting meetings being held, including on both Tooting and Wandsworth Commons.  The Tooting Common meeting was due to have been addressed by Corporal Dwyer, the youngest VC in London, but the large crowds were disappointed as he was recalled to his depot the morning of the meeting and not granted permission to attend. Such meetings were not the only methods being employed to encourage recruitment, a meeting of ladies resident in the Borough had been held at Wandsworth Town Hall to organise women to encourage eligible men to join up.  The meeting was attended by the Mayor and Mayoress, with Lt Col Burton there to explain the scheme.

The effects of recruitment were clearly being felt across the borough, according to the other stories reported in the paper.  Staff employed by Wandsworth Borough Council were being told that the depletion of staff meant that no holidays were to be granted this year.  Instead, men were to be paid extra wages.  The Wandsworth Officers and Servants Committee, which took care of staffing matters, does not refer to this in its minutes for June and July 1915, being more taken up with temporary appointments and how to deal with the pension contributions of employees killed in action.  Presumably an action such as refusing holiday and increasing pay instead would have been decided by the Committee or the Council, so perhaps the newspaper was mis-reporting the decision not to give holiday pay to employees on active service.

This week also marks the centenary of the unveiling of the clock at Tooting Library and the memorial plaque to Rev J H Anderson.  Rev Anderson had been rector of St Nicholas Tooting and a local councillor, including having been Mayor of Wandsworth in 1904.  He died in 1913 and it was felt that he had made such a contribution to the area that there ought to be a permanent memorial to him – public subscriptions were collected and the clock made by Gillett & Johnston of Croydon, to a design by W & E Hunt, architects.  The clock and tablet were unveiled by Sir William Lancaster, the donor of the library and also a former Wandsworth mayor, with speeches from Councillor A J Hurley (also the proprietor of the Tooting and Balham Gazette, and perhaps the reason why the unveiling is so well covered), the current Mayor Archibald Dawnay and Rev Anderson’s son.  The clock is clearly visible in this 1960s image of Tooting Library.

Tooting Library 1968

Tooting and Balham Gazette available on microfilm

Officers and Servants Committee minutes, ref: MBW/2/9/2