26 October – 1 November 1915: Recruiting Women

On 26th October, local Councils were sent a memo from the Local Government Board, relating to recruiting and local committees. This was proposing the creation of “starred” men, who would be considered exempt from military service, and a mechanism for ensuring that men who were not in essential occupations, but might otherwise be unable to serve, would be able to gain exemption. Further proposed was the creation of Local Tribunals for the area covered by each Council, these were made up of a group of local Councillors who could allow or deny applications for exemption – the Heritage Service holds records for both the Battersea and Wandsworth Local Tribunals so we will come back to these in future weeks.

The memorandum also encouraged local authorities to support recruitment as far as possible “by stimulating local enthusiasm, by lending accommodation, by facilitating the employment of women in place of men who enlist and in other ways”. Both local borough councils had already provided accommodation for recruitment and for local troops – as well as trying to provide benefits for serving soldiers such as discounts at the local baths.

This was not the first time employing women had been proposed, the Board of Guardians for the Wandsworth and Clapham Union meeting of 11 March 1915 reported on a circular received which said: “There are some posts in which the employment temporarily of women in place of men may be practicable”. At their meeting of 28th October they approved the appointment of a set of Female Relieving Officers, although it is not clear if this was an innovation or not. Wandsworth Borough Council minutes of 16th June record an earlier recommendation to avoid making new appointments during the War, and to try to hire staff who were retired or ineligible for active service. In fact, the Council had already been doing so and authorised heads of Council Departments to fill vacancies by temporarily hiring women.

Clapham Library c1910It is quite hard to trace where the plan to hire women to fill Council posts is recorded – Council and Committee minutes only name senior staff, most of whom were ineligible for active service anyway, and few wages books which might record staff survive. The ones which do survive are both for libraries, Putney Library and Clapham Library. Putney’s wages book does give insight in to the story of Lieut Mills, but it is not obvious if they were hiring women to fill vacancies – they do not appear to have taken on any extra staff at all. The Clapham Library wages book gives slightly more information. The permanent staff were all men, but from the week ending 22nd May 1915 to the week ending 23rd October 1915 a Miss H M Inkster was employed as a temporary assistant. She returned for a further 6 months between November 1916 and May 1917, and has been rather difficult to trace further information about, despite the relatively uncommon surname – she does not appear to be related to the Inkster who was Librarian of Battersea (and who had instigated a policy of hiring women when the library opened in 1890) and the records do not note her first name. Another temporary assistant, Miss F R Richards, was taken on the week ending 5th June and stayed until the week ending 30th October 1915. Both Miss Inkster and Miss Richards were being paid 18s per week, it’s hard to establish if this was more or less than a mal equivalent, as the Clapham Librarian was on £2 1s 4d a week and the various staff listed were all on less than 18s per week – perhaps due to a different rate of pay for temporary staff, the wages book does not say. A junior assistant, Miss C K Wray, is taken on in November earning 9s a week, 2s a week less than A R Browne, who was also working at the Library. A second new junior assistant was taken on in May 1917, a Miss J M Wilkinson – presumably continuing the policy of hiring women.

Elsewhere in the borough, the libraries were coming in for criticism for a different policy – that of refusing to lend fiction. The Wandsworth Borough News devotes half a column to this, referring to it as “Bumbledom in Excelsis” – although the column also refers to being served by a “pert young lady librarian”, so the hiring policy was clearly being implemented across the borough. The fiction ban was in place as an economy measure, and the Borough News recommended all those who would like to see if over-turned to make representations to the Council as soon as possible. The ban, despite deputations, remained in place until 1918.

Clapham Library Wages book, ref: MBW/5/6/17

Putney Library Wages book, ref: MBW/5/6/16

Local Government Board circular, in Battersea Battalion Recruitment file, ref: MBB/8/2/15

Wandsworth Borough News, 29 October 1915, available on microfilm

Guest Post: Emily Cameron -Widowhood in Wandsworth in 1915

Thomas in Royal Marine uniform

Thomas in Royal Marine uniform

My grandparents and their four sons (one of whom was my dad John) lived in Atheldene Road in Wandsworth at the start of WW1. My grandfather Thomas had been a Royal Marine for 12 years, leaving in 1905 to marry Emily Potter. He worked at Nine Elms and Clapham Junction and had just been promoted to a signal man in 1914, his pay increasing to 26/- a week. Things were on the up. However, as a member of the Royal Marine Reserve Brigade, Thomas was quickly called up and sent to France. He took part in the defence of Antwerp during which, he went out on patrol and was shot in the head. He survived and was brought back to England but died on his 40th birthday on October 20th 1914. Tragically, Thomas would never have been called up had he not been in the reserve; he was too old.

His widow, Emily was born on February 2nd 1877 in Lambeth, London. She was born into a poor family and her father’s occupation was described variously as general labourer, green grocer, costermonger and hawker of fish at different points in time.

Shortly after Thomas had died, Emily received a letter that Thomas had written whilst in hospital. Receiving the letter must have been particularly heartbreaking as Thomas had written that he believed he would soon be transferred nearer to home. I also have a copy of the letter of condolence written by his CO, surely the first of many he would go on to write. He had served with Thomas before the war, knew him well and said “he was the finest of many good men, was brave under fire and generally played the game” – this is touching – Thomas was indeed a keen sportsman and this comment is so very “Edwardian” and of its time.

Thomas’s funeral was covered by the local papers as the deaths of soldiers were still deemed newsworthy at this early stage of the war and he had a full military funeral.  See here for an extract of his obituary.

Waterloo memorialThe family were so poor that when I tried to find his grave in the 1990s, I discovered that there was no headstone. I contacted the Commonwealth War Grave Commission, who arranged for a headstone to be made and erected on his grave – I was so thrilled that he at last had his own memorial – he is remembered on a memorial at Waterloo Station along with other colleagues who worked for the same rail company and who also perished in the war.

The year following Thomas’s death must have been a terrible struggle. On the first anniversary of his death – 20 October 1915, 100 years ago, Emily was looking after their four sons, the eldest of whom was 8, the youngest 5. She took a job in a laundry and set about raising her sons as a single mother, a daunting prospect for any woman in 1914 with no welfare state or National Health Service for support. She would work in the laundry by day and briefly return home to feed her boys before going back out to scrub floors by night. Emily’s frantic schedule meant that she would often put the boys to bed in their school uniforms as she would not be there to prepare them for school.

Emily and her four sons, Thomas, John, Richard and James

Emily and her four sons, Thomas, John, Richard and James

I find the thought of her day to day struggles unutterably sad. Thomas was a really loving husband and father – you can see this in his postcards and letters to his wife and boys; he had been on the way up in his employment with the railway and Emily had such a wonderful future to look forward with him. He had even bought the boys musical instruments to play as he wanted them to get as much culture as possible. All that changed. The instruments were sold. The lads had to work as well when possible – though one son – James –got a scholarship to Emmanuel College in London. How did she manage it?! The four boys were devoted and looked after her when they were young men. They all played a lot of sport, read and got on as best they could. They were all a credit to her, having families, doing well in relatively low paid, but secure jobs – sadly James died at El Alamein,  a fact  that was kept from Emily just before she died.

The four boys as young men – happy and well!

The four boys as young men – happy and well!

There were no medals or citations for Emily but she was a truly wonderful, remarkable, uneducated but lovely lady. Thank you to the grandmother I never met, but whose hard work helped me become who I am today and of whom I am indescribably proud.

Debbie Cameron – daughter of John Cameron, Emily’s son, born 1908

19-25 October 1915: Battersea Grammar School

October saw the publication of the Michaelmas Term edition of the Battersea Grammar School magazine. The magazine contains the usual mix of school and Old Boy news, demonstrating that some aspects of life carried on unchanged by the war, whilst others were more affected.

The Headmaster’s notes make clear some of the things which had changed:

…a large proportion of our Sixth Form boys, instead of spending about two years longer with us, have either joined the army, or taken up work in which their scientific and other knowledge could be turned to immediate use. We congratulate them on their patriotism, and are thankful that, notwithstanding this depletion, the total number of boys in the School has been well-maintained.

He also refers to a former Captain of the school who had recently obtained a commission in the Second 5th Yorkshires and to a large number of others who had joined the army – there were plans to publish a list in the next edition. A former master – A C Martin – had also gained a commission in the Royal Field Artillery.

The House Notes section of the magazine shows areas which were less affected – mainly the reports of sporting achievement. Bolingbroke house felt that they’d had a good cricket season, despite their Juniors losing all their matches, as the Senior team beat both St John’s and Trinity. St John’s did not feel they’d done so well in the cricket, although did note that they had been Champion House at the athletic sports this year and that they had put forward the largest number of entries in the Swimming Sports. It had obviously been a good year for Spencer – they did not lose a match in either cricket or football all year, and came top in the Swimming Sports as well. Trinity house had unexpectedly lost both their Captain and Vice-Captain at the time of the magazine, presumably some of those who had joined up rather than stay on at school, as the report refers to their late Captain, W G Game, having got his commission in the Yorkshire Regiment following training in the London University Officers Training Corps. The losses made it difficult for them to record how cricket and football had gone, but they could report on reasonable success in Swimming, coming second in the team race.

W Game makes a further appearance later in the magazine, writing about his experiences of an OTC training camp with the London University OTC. It’s a fairly light-hearted account, including reference to making “the acquaintance of a few interesting NCO’s who, among other things, will introduce you to a new feature of military life, viz, its phraseology” and an account of the perils of kit inspection and the difficulties of getting buttons to shine as they should. His is not the only account of life in the Forces, two other old Boys had also written back to the school to update them on their experiences. Captain Henry Inman had spent some years with the Civil Service on leaving school, then returned to the UK and immediately joined up, his letters refer to his experiences in the Dardanelles – although by the time the magazine was published he had been invalided home, possibly suffering from shell-shock. There were also extracts from letters written by Robert H Maddocks, in France with the 15th London Regiment, including notes on using a table found in a ruined house and finishing “our rum, into which I put some café au lait”.


Battersea Grammar School magazines, ref: S21/2/12/5

12-18 October 1915: Battersea Battalion Recruitment

Although the Wandsworth and Battersea battalions began formation at the same time, the Wandsworth Battalion was already formed and sent off by October 1915, whilst Battersea had yet to fully form. This was raising some concerns in Battersea Town Hall, and on 12th October (and not for the first time) the Town Clerk wrote to “My Lord”, presumably the War Office, to share these concerns. Much of the concern was over the perception of Battersea due to the slow recruitment:

There seems to be a feeling (whether it is justified or not) that the impression outside Battersea is that Battersea is not doing all that it ought to do to aid the Empire, and the council, who in common with all their countrymen are anxious to help in every way, deplore, or perhaps it would be more correct to say, resent this.

The letter goes on to note that a recent recruiting column did not follow the streets advertised, which meant that some papers reported it having a cool reception in Battersea. In fact, residents were waiting in the streets which had been advertised, and so the reception was the fault of the organisers. Some local competition was also a factor, the Council did not “want it said that Wandsworth was more patriotic than Battersea”.

A letter written by the Mayor and dated 28th September raised the same issue at length, which gives some of the background to the recruiting problem in Battersea. The Council was asked to raise a battalion on 21st April, and on 1st May the Recruiting Committee had written to say that they may not meet with much success, as many local men had joined the Camberwell Battalion and the 23rd County of London regiment had raised a second battalion and were in the process of raising a third – as this was based on St John’s Hill, many local men joined there. A letter from the War Office on 19th May referred to Lord Kitchener’s appeal for 300,000 more recruits, and the Mayor assumed that this superseded the appeal for a local battalion and that new recruits were to be used to fill gaps in existing battalions instead. He was anxious to do what was best for the Country, and sought guidance as to whether they should continue to try to raise a local battalion. The recruiting office in Battersea Town Hall was a general one, rather than solely for the Battersea Battalion, since June 1056 men had been examined by the Medical Officer, 647 of those were pronounced fit to serve but only 191 joined the Battersea Battalion – the remainder went to other regiments.

The Town Clerk’s letter proposed a solution to the problem. Wandsworth had no General Recruiting Office, so Wandsworth officers dealt with local recruits directly, while Battersea found it harder to have them directed to the local battalion. The Recruiting Committee were still keen to raise a local battalion, so suggested that the General Recruiting Office should be closed in order for the Battersea Battalion to have a “better prospect of securing Battersea men who desire to enlist”. The letter also asked about the possibility of a grant to help with recruiting – an answering letter from the War Office declined the grant, as local recruitment should come from local funds, and there does not appear to be an answer to the question of the Recruiting Office.

Battersea Recruitment correspondence, ref: MBB/8/2/15

5-11 October 1915: the First Edition of the 3rd London General Hospital Gazette

The first edition of the Gazette of the 3rd London General Hospital was published this month in 1915. We’ve already used some of the articles in it on blog posts on the opening of the hospital and a royal visit.

Contributions to the Gazette came from both staff and patients at the hospital. The editorial comments that they “little guessed, when we advertised for contributions, how prompt would be the response from the poets”. Not all submissions were considered suitable for publication – the second letter opened contained a series of poems dedicated to encouraging the “slacker” to enlist, which the editors decided was laudable “but here singularly unnecessary”.

Futurist view of 3rdLGHIllustrations were provided by several of members of the Chelsea Arts Club, including C R W Nevinson – who provided a Futurist view of the Hospital grounds – and Stephen Baghot de la Bere contributed a series of cartoons. These were described as having “characteristics already familiar to many of our readers through the public press”, although additional information about his career is slightly more difficult to find. Some of his paintings are in galleries around the country, see here for more information. The cartoons covered the reactions across the hospital to the rumour that a lowly nursing orderly might be promoted.

Only a Rumour 3rdLGH cartoon

According to the CO in a later Gazette, the majority of the orderlies to begin with were young men recruited from Messrs Hitchcock and Williams (which seems to have been a drapers). After the hospital was set up, orderlies were given the chance to transfer abroad if they were deemed fit enough, so that by the time the Gazette was produced all of the orderlies were either over 38 or under 19. At least two artists were orderlies, as mentioned above, but they were joined by an ARA, an ARSA and members of the International Society of Painters, Sculptors and Engravers, the Royal Institute of Oil Painters and the Société Nationale des Beaux Arts. There were also teachers, actors, a retired professional boxer, a piano tuner, a “character vocalist”, dentists, a stage carpenter and a cinema pianist, amongst others.

The Gazette gives some statistics on how the hospital was staffed, as well as details on where the staff came from. There were 42 officers and 204 NCOs and men and 114 Territorial Force sisters and nurses. VADs were called Probationers, there were 134 of them. A hospital extension was due to be completed, meaning that figures would only go up, but staff also included Engineer’s staff, laundry staff, tailoresses, officers’ and nurses’ servants – plus 25 Lady helpers from the Red Cross Society and Labour Exchange.

You can read more about the 3rd LGH here: http://thirdlondongeneral.blogspot.co.uk/

The Gazette is available in the Heritage Service.