30 May – 5 June 1916: Sir Walter St John’s School Magazine

The June edition of the Sir Walter St John’s School Magazine brought several updates about Old Boys who were serving with the Armed Forces, and also some obituaries. Updates included congratulations to Harold Eastman for his promotion to 1st Lieutenant with the 2nd Canadian Contingent – although he was wounded in three places a fortnight after his promotion.  The Roll of Honour had three names on it, those of James Higgins, Reginald Spring and Frederick Keene, along with some additional information about Harvey Haysom, whose death was reported in the previous magazine.

James Higgins had left school in 1910 and gone to work for the Gas Light and Coke Company, joining the 12th London Regiment before the war in April 1914.  He was wounded at Zonnibeke in May 1915 and during his convalescence visited the school in July that year, but died of blood poisoning in October 1915 in Calais.  Reginald Spring was baldy wounded by a piece of shell in France in May 1916, dying the next day and the magazine says he was buried in the British Cemetery at Noyelles.

The lengthiest entry in the roll of honour was for Frederick Keene. He had not actually been with the Armed Forces, although the school felt that he merited inclusion as he had been leader of a troop of Boy Scouts who had volunteered for coastal patrol duty.  Throughout the winter of 1914-15, Keene had camped with them and cycled to and from his daily work through all weathers, which led to his health failing and the illness of which he later died.  His name was included as having given his life for King and Country “as truly as those who have fallen in the trenches or perished at sea!”.

The magazine also features the usual extracts from Old Boys letters, including one from A L Finding, stationed in Egypt “just by the Pyramids”, and referencing being at Gallipoli, another old boy, O D Anderson had also been in Egypt, although was writing having gone from there to Salonika. S T Rogers described having been in a sap which was only 25 yards from the Germans, and occasionally talking to them, including the Germans throwing over a letter from a French prisoner to send to his wife, and two German officers who wanted to know if “any of us had come from Cardiff, as they had been in business there for ten years”.  Others seemed more focused on the weather in France, and the negotiations required for billets and food!

Sir Walter St John’s School Magazine, June 1916, ref: S17/2/6

23-29 May 1916: The Price of Milk

Home supplies were raised at the meeting of Wandsworth Borough Council on 24th May 1916.  A letter from Lady Denman suggesting that restrictions on keeping chickens and other fowl should be lifted for the duration of the war to encourage people to keep their own was met with the response that no such restrictions currently existed, before the meeting moved on to the price of milk.

A letter had been received from Acton Urban District council, forwarding a resolution which they intended to pass to the Local Government Board:

That in the interest of Public Health and Child Welfare, this Council view with grave concern an increase in the price of milk, particularly at a time when Local Authorities are being urged by the Government to exercise every precaution in the care of infants, and respectfully urges the Government to take such steps as may be necessary to control the price of milk in the interests of the children of the nation.

The Public Health Committee recommended that no action be taken, and the Council agreed with them – although Councillor Hurley did say he did not see why milk should be 6d a quart and that the Council ought to concur with the resolution. Ironically, several of the adverts on the page reporting the meeting in the Wandsworth Borough News were for local dairies, Morgan & Sons of East Hill and C H Cookson of Creswick Dairy Farm, Earlsfield Road among them.  Cookson’s claimed to be the only dairy farm in Earlsfield where cows are kept on the premises.

The Council also raised strong objections to the suggestion that Conscientious Objectors could work for them in posts vacated by men serving with the Armed Forces. The Committee on work of National Importance had suggested it as a possibility for Tribunals to determine what work COs could take, and had supplied a list of potential posts.  They hoped that the Council would employ people who had gained exemption based on getting a job considered of national importance – a suggestion to which the Council “strongly protested”.

Wandsworth Council minutes, ref: MBW/1/16

Wandsworth Borough News available on microfilm.

16-22 May 1915: Guest Post – The Real Winslow Boy



On the Society of the Sacred Heart War Memorial at the University of Roehampton is the following inscription:

George Archer-Shee

Lieut. S. Staff. Regt.

1st Batt.S.R.

Killed near Ypres


Aged 19.

George Archer Shee

George Archer-Shee (6 May 1895 – 31 October 1914) was a young Royal Navy cadet whose case of whether he stole a five shilling postal order ended up being decided in London’s High Court in 1910. The trial, which became a British cause célèbre, was the inspiration for the play The Winslow Boy by Terence Rattigan. Archer-Shee was successfully defended against the charges by the notable barrister, judge and politician from Ireland, Sir Edward Carson. Following the acquittal, the boy’s family were paid compensation in July 1911. Archer-Shee was commissioned in the British Army in 1913, and killed aged 19, at the First Battle of Ypres in October 1914.

The full story of George’s acquittal can be found here.  But how did he come to be on the memorial, as he has no obvious connection to Roehampton?

George is honoured on the Society of the sacred Heart War Memorial as his half-sister, Winifrede Archer-Shee was at school at Roehampton, becoming a novice in 1908 and ultimately Mother Superior at Roehampton. In her memoirs, held in the Society’s archives, she is quoted as saying “This place [Roehampton] has always meant more to me than any other place”.

Winslow 1.0

With thanks to Gilly King, University of Roehampton, who provided the information and photographs in this post.

Copies of The Winslow Boy play text and on CD are available through Wandsworth Libraries.


9-15 May 1916: The Medical Officers of Health

Every fortnight the Medical Officer of Health prepared a report on the health of the borough. This included summaries of births and deaths, causes of death and dealing with insanitary conditions across the borough.  It also gives a good idea of what concerns there were about the public health of the borough and sometimes an insight into the conditions people lived and worked in.

In the two weeks covered by the report, 264 houses had to be disinfected by the Council, with a further 52 having their drains flushed with disinfectants following infectious disease and 93 having disinfectant supplied. 78 cases of infectious disease were reported and 1815 items were disinfected.  This may seem somewhat over the top, but this was before antibiotics and vaccines so many infectious diseases were fatal.  21 people died of measles in this period, all were under the age of 15 – and only 2 were over 5.  The report made to the Council includes an instruction from the Board of Education that children under 5 should be excluded from public elementary school and that if children had siblings under 5 then they should be excluded from classes infected with measles.  In order to try and combat the heavy mortality associated with measles, the Council was to seek permission from the Local Government Board to employ an additional female sanitary inspector and health visitor.

Anyone suffering from particular infectious diseases had to notify the Council, presumably so that disinfection could take place. Scarlet fever was the most common notifiable disease with 24 notifications, followed by chicken pox, both mainly in children and all over the borough.  The statistics given also include “Infectious Diseases Contacts at the Reception Shelter” (14 for the fortnight), which presumably was how the Medical Officers team were notified.

Library bye-laws stated that anyone who had a library book and came into contact with infectious disease had to notify the library. This meant that in the May 1916 accounts, there as a charge of £3 and 4s for books destroyed after cases of infectious disease – charged to the Health Committee.  The Health Committee also spent 17s on disinfectant from Sanitas Co Ltd and £96 14s and 5d on disinfectant from Newton, Chambers & Co.

Medical Officers of Health annual reports for across London are available via the Wellcome Library – the Heritage Service has the reports for Wandsworth and Battersea but as neither produced annual reports during the war years, these can only be traced through the Council minutes.  They are a fantastic resource for information about life in the borough and challenges faced by those who lived here.

2-8 May 1916: The Wandle Heroics

Wandsworth Gas Company, based by the river on what is now the site of the recycling centre, owned a coal ship named the Wandle, which was the centre of much celebration in Wandsworth this week in 1916. A few days earlier the ship had left Newcastle with a shipment of coal, heading for London, when she was fired upon by a submarine.  The decision was made to return fire, and shots were exchanged for about half an hour before the submarine vanished.  It was believed that the submarine was sunk by the Wandle, although this is difficult to prove (see here), and the arrival of the crew back in London was greeted with much celebration.


The SS Wandle Crew arrive at Wandsworth

The SS Wandle Crew arrive at Wandsworth

We have a series of scrapbooks called “Wandsworth Notes”, which contain newspaper clippings, magazine articles and photographs about Wandsworth events and history, put together (we think) by one of the early borough librarians of Wandsworth Cecil T Davis. Davis certainly wrote a lot about Wandsworth history, so it seems reasonable to assume that Wandsworth Notes is his work.  Seven pages are dedicated to the reception of the Wandle as she returned to Wandsworth, including pictures.

As the Wandle came up the Thames, there were crowds on the riverbanks and bridges to cheer her – the captain was from Greenwich and according to the South Western Star “all Greenwich cheered as his ship as she passed”.  The Daily Chronicle reported a huge cheer from Tower Bridge, and thousands of people at Blackfriars and all along Victoria and Albert Embankments.  MPs paid their respects from the Westminster terraces, and nurses and patients at St Thomas’s Hospital waved little flags.  Wandsworth Bridge was “almost dangerously crowded” as the Wandle reached home territory, flags flew from the gasometers and the crowds were singing, when the Captain actually reached shore he was carried shoulder high by the crowds.  The photographs show the gunner being carried in as well, although the papers give more credit to the Captain, and the Mayor announced his intention to grant the Captain a silver medal on behalf of the borough.  There is a photograph of the presentation of the medal in Wandsworth Notes – although it isn’t dated and the Council minutes for 1916 do not refer to it, so we can’t be sure when it was taken.

Wandle Captain

SS Wandle's Gunner

SS Wandle’s Gunner

Wandsworth Notes, v4

South Western Star available on microfilm