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War Office on 19th May referred to Lord Kitchener’s appeal for 300,000 more recruits, and the Mayor assumed that this superseded the appeal for a local battalion and that new recruits were to be used to fill gaps in existing battalions instead.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

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