28 September-5 October 1915: Edward Thomas at Camp

Edward Thomas often did not date his letters, other than writing the day of the week at the top of the page.  He is far from the only person to have done this, the Wandsworth archive collections are full of correspondence which is not well dated and for which other information has to be used to establish when it were written.  For two letters written to Eleanor Farjeon in late September/early October 1915, one has a postmark which dates it to this week and the other has no clue at all – the envelope has been lost and all that Edward Thomas wrote on it by way of date was “Wednesday”.

ET Oct 1915The letter with the postmark was postmarked Loughton, 9.30pm, 30 September 1915.  Thomas gives no address, but the later letter was written from Hut 23, Harehall Camp, Gidea Park. Romford South, so it seems reasonable to assume that the earlier letter was as well.  Thomas had joined the Artists’ Rifles, more information about them in Harehall Camp can be found here and here, and Havering Museum have photographs of the Camp and local area here.

Thomas’s opinion of the camp was that: “It is not so bad, but now that the rain has come it is worse.  There is no comfort after wking + it is dark.  The canteen is the only place, noisy, draughty and ugly.  Everything is badly arranged, ugly and dirty.  But one has an appetite and can satisfy it, and the country is beautiful, and for a week the weather was perfect.”

He was writing in response to a letter from Eleanor, which presumably asked after his own reading or writing:

“No.  Books are all off except a 6d one on Company Training, which I must learn by heart…I find I can learn some things yet, and I am just curious what I shall be able to do with a pen if and when I take to it again”

His other letter from this period, undated, but place in the sequence of letters as if written the following week,  also refers to writing: “We are having too easy a time, so that again I have reverted and written some verses, I am afraid they aren’t finished.  I never have any time really to myself and have continually to be putting my paper away..I will copy out the verses as they exist now + if you like them will you make a copy or two of them?”

The verses in question are a draft of the poem, There’s Nothing Like the Sun:

There’s nothing like the sun as the year dies

Kind as it can be, this world being so,

To stones and men and beasts and beer and flies,

To all things that it tricks except snow

Whether on mountainside or street of town

The south wall warms me.  November has begun.

Yet never shone the sun as fair as now

While the sweet last-left damsons from the bough

With spangles of the morning’s storm drop down

Because the starling shakes it whistling what

Once swallows sang.  Yet I can forget not

That there is nothing, too, like March’s sun,

Like April’s, or July’s, or June’s, or May’s,

Or January’s, or February’s, great days:

August, September, October and December

Have equal days, all different from November.

No day of any month but I have said –

Or if I could live long enough should say –

There’s nothing like the sun shining today –

There’s nothing like the sun till a man’s dead.

ET October 1915 2

Edward Thomas letters to Eleanor Farjeon, 123 &124, ref: D112/1/3

21-27 September 1915: The Battersea Milk Depot

Amongst the items of business discussed at the Battersea Borough Council meeting of 22nd September 1915 were Council prosecutions.  These included two prosecutions for the management of brothels (one on Lavender Road and one on Middleton Road [now Buckmaster Road], see this post for how this sort of offence was handled), a prosecution for selling sausages mixed with boric acid and one for selling watered down milk.  A look through the prosecutions brought by the Council in 1915 shows that the majority related to food and drink, and especially to the watering down of milk.  In June alone four shopkeepers were prosecuted for it and of the 15 prosecutions brought since April 1915, 9 were for watering down milk, 2 for selling margarine wrongly labelled, 3 for brothel keeping and one for adulterated food – the sausages mentioned above.

The standards for food, and especially milk, were a particular concern of the Council because of their impact on public health.  The Health Committee were responsible for the maintenance of the Council’s Milk Depot at 28 York Road, as well as for the prosecutions, and in the same meeting were reporting on the expenditure of the Depot.

Milk depot – we are aware that the expenditure on the Milk Depot has exceeded the income for several years past.  The depot, however, was not established with the object of making a profit but primarily for the purpose of reducing the infant mortality, and there can be no doubt that the depot has been a great success from a health standpoint.  We do not consider that it is possible to reduce to cost of production of sterilised milk or to increase the income from the sale thereof, without impairing the value of the work for which the depot was instituted.  We, however, think that it is possible that a saving might be effected by the sale of dried milk as supplied at the Infants’ Milk Depots in Leicester and Sheffield in partial substitution for sterilised milk and we recommend:

That the Council try, as an experiment, the sale of dried milk for the feeding of a certain number of infants

The Depot opened in June 1902, following the model of similar depots in France.  The first such depot in the UK opened in 1899 in St Helens, followed by Liverpool, Ashton under Lyne and Dukinfield in 1901 and then Battersea, with others to follow.  All the depots were municipal, run by local councils to deal with public health issues in their areas.  The aim was to provide safe milk, which could be used for babies and young children when breast feeding was not possible – a 1910 publication on Infant Mortality, written by the former Medical Officer of Health for Battersea, was very clear that breast feeding was considered the best option for ensuring the good health of infants.  Milk was bought from approved farms, mixed with water, cream, sugar and salt and then sterilised before it was issued in varying amounts depending on the age of the child in need of it. Older babies were given unmodified milk, which was also sterilised.

The Milk Depot 1910The Battersea depot had a daily output of 1421 bottles for 211 customers in September 1915.  A 1910 report on Infant Mortality (available here, via the Wellcome Library) showed that the mortality rate for infants using the Depot was lower than the mortality rate for the rest of the borough, this was referenced in the recommendation put to the Council above.  The Depot was gone by the 1930s, but the Council’s responsibility for public health continued, the Heritage Service has photographs of the Borough milk inspector in the 1950s and the Council still have duties today.


Battersea Borough Council minutes, 1915: MBB/1/16

Guest post: WW1-Letters.com

Ramsden Rd 15.09.15 letterOn 15th September 1915 David Henry Taylor wrote to his sister Ethel (aka Ginger) Linn. David lived with their mother, Fanny, at 56 Ramsden Rd in Balham and his sister lived in New Jersey USA. David’s letter described the Zeppelin damage in London:

“I have just returned from viewing the damage done by the Zeppelins last week….Just around the corner from Upcot Street a house was smashed, and some of our people were out in the street in their night clothes, but luckily nothing was done to our places….I first went to Farringdon Road, opposite the Goods Station one house had been gutted, the front wall of the two top stories blown into the street, and the two houses on either side considerably damaged and of course the windows for some distance either way and opposite were smashed….In Leather Lane, the L.C.C. buildings in which Beatie Bulford lives (only a block at the back of hers) a bomb stripped the roof, blew part of the front wall into the street, tore out the windows bodily, the bedding is hanging down the front of the building, (some of it in the street) and of course the windows and shop fronts up and down the street are all gone. In this case the explosion had a most curious effect, the two windows immediately below the damaged wall are still perfect the glass not being even cracked whilst those opposite and on either side are smashed to atoms….A Public House in Red Lion Street, (just at the back of Bedford Road) looks for all the world as though somebody has lifted it bodily and dropped it again, it has that crumpled appearance and the Penny Bank next door has no windows left and the shop fronts all round are gone. Wood Street (which you remember was burnt a few years back) and Aldermanbury the darlings sprinkled with incendiary bombs setting fire to several large buildings. It was here that the most damage was done as 5 or 6 large blocks of offices and warehouses were gutted.”

David joined the Kings Royal Rifles under the Lord Derby scheme and served in France and Belgium before he was wounded and taken prisoner in July 1917 and spent the rest of the war at Holzminden PoW Camp. The archive is an amazing story of two London families: David’s and his fiancée’s, May Muggridge, who lived in Beckenham and was the most senior woman working at Northern Assurance in Moorgate. May frequently visited Fanny in Balham and her many letters to David described the women’s emotions, leisure activities and practical aspects of their lives. The letters are well written, often humorous, and give amazing detail (although heavily censored) of life as a soldier and life at home. It is a war story, a love story, a true story of WW1.

book cover WW1 memoirsThere are over 400 personal letters covering the period September 1915 to March 1919 in the family archive that is now being made available on-line on www.ww1-letters.com.


14-20 September 1915: Gifford House

(c) Surrey Flying Service

(c) Surrey Flying Service

The Wandsworth Borough News of 17 September reports on 70 wounded soldiers being entertained at Winchester House, which was the Putney Constitutional Club.  The soldiers came from Gifford House, which was being used as an auxiliary hospital from King George’s Hospital at Waterloo.  Entertainment included tobacco or cigarettes on arrival, followed by bowls or billiards.  Prizes were pipes and tobacco and there was then a concert, including singing, “humorous sketches were immensely enjoyed”, recitals and “exceedingly clever ventriloquist sketches”.  When the soldiers reached their transport, more cigarettes were apparently showered on them, having been bought specially by club members.

Gifford House was a mansion on Putney Heath, the site is now part of the Ashburton Estate, bordered by Innes Gardens, Tildesley Road and Putney Heath.  The house was originally built around 1760 and had a range of occupiers, including James MacPherson and Baron Charles Joachim Hambro, before being purchased by the Charrington brewing family in 1892.  The Charringtons carried out extensive remodelling of the house, including adding the ballroom for 120 people, but moved to Ashburton House around 1910.  The Duchess of Westminster occupied briefly around 1913, but the house appears to have been empty when it was offered up as a location for a hospital.

Patients in the hospital were expected to follow military rules for discipline and routine.  According to Cpl William Lunn, whose reminiscences are included in the book “The Queen Alexandra Hospital Home: A History”, the patients all wore uniform and provided their own cutlery, as it was part of their kit.  Patients who were able to regularly headed for London after breakfast, as they were usually allowed to travel for free, but they had to be back in good time.  “We had to be back by 1900 hours.  Many who were late climbed in over the fence – legless or not… I was caught more than once – and sent back to Roehampton [Queen Mary’s Hospital] as punishment, but they did not have room for me and so I returned to Gifford House.”

Gifford House continued to be a hospital until 1919, when it became the Queen Alexandra Hospital and Home for Discharged Soldiers In memory of Lady Ripon”. It formally opened under this name on 9 July 1919 and stayed until 1933, when it moved to Worthing – where it remains.  Many of the QAHH’s old photographs are available online here.

Wandsworth Borough News available on microfilm.

Queen Alexandra Hospital Home: A History available for reference use in the Heritage Service

7-13 September 1915: Balham’s VC

The title of this post is slightly misleading, as Corporal Issy Smith was not from Balham.  He is a fascinating character though, and when he was awarded the Victoria Cross in September 1915 the Tooting and Balham Gazette reported the news under the headline “Balham’s Gallant V.C.”.  At one stage he had lived in Chestnut Grove, although trying to establish precisely when he lived there has proved difficult.  The newspaper certainly claimed him as Balham’s own.

Issy Smith was born Ishroulch Shmeilowitz in Alexandria, Egypt in 1890, stowing away to come to London when he was 11.  He then attended school in Berner Street in the East End – the newspaper reports his visit there the previous week to be presented with a gold watch and chain by the Mayor of Stepney.  In 1904 he joined the Manchester Regiment, claiming to be 18 and to have been born in St Georges in the East parish – both of which were untrue.  His Army pension records are available on Ancestry, and also show that he was twice on a charge for using insubordinate language, as well as noting that he had a tattoo of clasped hands and flags on his right forearm.  He transferred to the Army Reserves in 1912, which is perhaps when he became resident in Chestnut Grove –although evidence of him living there is hard to find, he doesn’t appear in the electoral registers as even if he had met the property qualification for voting he would have been under 21. Corporal Smith was the first non-commissioned Jewish officer to receive the award, and only the second Jewish recipient.

The incident which earned Corporal Smith his VC had another local connection.  Smith had gone to assist a severely wounded man, carrying him to safety under heavy machine-gun and rifle fire and had then continued to bring in more wounded men throughout the day, “with the greatest devotion to duty regardless of personal risk”.  An additional connection to the area was that the officer he rescued was Second Lieutenant A H Robinson, who was from Marius Road in Tooting. Since then Lieutenant Robinson had been reported wounded and missing, believed to be a prisoner of war in Germany – there is a record card for him with the International Committee of the Red Cross, proving this theory to be correct.

Issy Smith later moved to Australia and died there in 1940.  More information about his life, and photographs of him, can be found here.

Tooting and Balham Gazette available on microfilm