27 June – 3 July 1916: The South London Press try to find the bright side

A look at the edition of the South London Press on 30th June 1916 reveals the local papers trying to cling on to a vestige of hope as the war reaches nearly two years’ duration. As its name implies, the South London Press covers a broader area that just Wandsworth (it seems particularly keen on Southwark) and at Wandsworth Heritage Service we hold more relevant local newspapers from this period to this borough. However, as the WW1 centenary approached and we began to notice an increase in visitors wanting to consult the local papers for reports of war casualties, it was a struggle to find any. A glance through the Tooting & Balham Gazette or the South Western Star during 1916 found it was business as usual, with lengthy descriptions of ‘pretty weddings’ and detailed reports of sporting events, but barely a mention of the ‘war to end all wars.’

By May of 1916 the South London Press who had been up to this point reporting on their front page any officers killed during warfare in a column entitled ‘In Memorium,’ decided to step up and list local people serving in the war of all ranks, reported dead or wounded. This is made possible by the Press Bureau’s identification of the area that the casualties’ next of kin belong to. In issuing this first list of local casualties the newspaper managed to find an optimistic point of view, which in hindsight is quite sobering in its naivety.

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In the edition of 30th June 2016 the regular column ‘In Memorium’ includes a short biography of the recently killed Lieutenant Henry Cyril Dixon Kimber of the Royal Field Artillery. Born in Streatham he was the grandson of a former M.P. for Wandsworth, Sir Henry Kimber, and a fairly lengthy paragraph describes his family, University education and war record, including his part in the battle of Loos.

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Compare this fitting tribute on page 3 of the newspaper with what is described as ‘detailed lists of South Londoners killed and wounded’ on page 5. Not even a full name is given in this ‘detailed list’, and the brevity of the individual entries feels familiar to us reading them now, accustomed as we are to the crowded lists of names on First World War memorials.

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Indeed, the habit of only listing casualties’ initials and surnames has led to great difficulty in recent times when communities have tried to research the people listed on their local war memorials. An unusual surname can help with identification, but an E. Brown and E.L. Smith have so far eluded the Summerstown182 team.

Two things strike me when looking at this list of war casualties in the South London Press. Firstly, the reporter continues to try and comfort the contemporary reader and allay their alarm at the sight of such a list of names, as can be seen in their introduction to the column below.

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I’m not sure the phrase ‘upwards of 60 per cent of those wounded are able to resume their places in the firing line’ was very comforting to those invalided out.

Secondly the juxtaposition of the war casualties with a column entitled: ‘Accidents and Fires in South London’ is interesting. This heralds the solemn reporting of a bizarre range of incidents described as ‘Many Happenings in Few Lines.’ These include a joiner, Alfred Palmer being knocked off his cycle outside Nine Elms station and a domestic servant named Annie Clarke being struck by a cricket ball near Clapham Common. The ‘Few Lines’ that describe these accidents are in fact more numerous and detailed than the supposed ‘detailed lists’ of war casualties alongside them. These unfortunate victims of local calamities are given their full name, age, address and occupation as well as details of the hospital they were taken to for treatment. The reader can probably picture and therefore empathise with the victims of these misfortunes much more easily than with the brief snapshot beside it of an unimaginable horror of war.

Further local reporting of war related matters reveals a faintly jolly sounding timetable for the 5th Battalion Wandsworth Volunteers (Headquarters: 123 Trinity Road, Upper Tooting). Regular battalion drills on Heathfield Ground and ‘trench work’ are very much the order of the day, but on Wednesday they get a break from drilling and are required to attend a fete and gala at Springfield War Hospital from 2pm til 9pm. The note at the end of the schedule reminding them of a camp that is to be arranged for three weeks in July and August completes the impression of activities more suited to boy scout troops.

A small paragraph at the bottom of page 3 really represents the local paper’s overall mission to inspire the local people with ideas of how they can help the war effort in their own way. The fact that the owner of the celebrated garden is not named nor the specific address given, leads one to wonder if it actually existed. If it did, I do hope they enjoyed eating their beans and didn’t miss their flowers too much.

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The South London Press, Tooting & Balham Gazette & South Western Star are all available on microfilm (Wandsworth Heritage Service)

Commonwealth War Graves Commission have a record of Lieutenant Kimber here.

Picture of Sir Henry Kimber from Wandsworth Notes, vol. 2 (Wandsworth Heritage Service)

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20-26 June 1916: James Bartaby, underage soldier

The Wandsworth Borough News of 23rd June carried the story ofJames Bartaby of Bedford Hill, with the headline “Balham Youth’s Heroism”.  He was 15, but at 13 and 7 months he had enlisted in the 7th East Surrey Regiment and reached the trenches before he was 14.  Three months of training in England had not shown up that he was underage, and he spent nine months in the trenches before he was wounded by shrapnel.  In hospital they realised that he was underage and sent him home.

This did not put James Bartaby off his desire to join up. He ran away and joined the 3rd East Surrey Regiment, and had nearly finished his training before his mother discovered where he was and alerted the authorities.  A letter from her reached Dover as he was starting for France and he was once again sent home.

A medal card for him shows that he was discharged on 18 November 1915, having entered France on 1st June 1915.  Trying to find out more about him is difficult, as the only James Bartaby coming up on the 1911 census is from Doncaster, the 8 year old son of Walter and Jane – a Walter Bartaby is listed at Cavendish Road in the 1915 Kelly’s directory, but his census entry shows that he and his wife only had daughters living.

James’s army pension form is available on Ancestry, showing that he claimed he was 18 (and 2 months) and a plumber. He appears to have made several attempts to join up – some of the details are from 1917 – so having been brought home this week in 1916, and injured in 1915, obviously didn’t put him off trying to serve.James Bartaby medal card James Bartaby pension

Wandsworth Borough News available on microfilm

Ancestry Library available through all Wandsworth Libraries

13-19 June 1916: Coping with a husband in the Forces

The Batstone family, as mentioned in this post, kept the majority of their letters and many diaries, which give a great insight into how one family dealt with the war. They had two young children when Walter was called up, and in this week in June 1916 he was away training whilst Maree tried to handle things at home.

Maree Batstone only wrote one diary entry this week, which started with her receiving two letters from her husband Walter in the morning and afternoon posts. Walter was training in Edinburgh, based in Bruntsfield School, and in his letter explained that he had “been re-drafted + Am now in the 9th draft (when last I sw you I was in the 7th).  Dye & I & abot 12 men are on the board tonight as drafted with the 9th draft, isn’t it amusing.  I am afraid I have this job at any rate tomorrow – I shall be glad when it is over”.

According to Maree’s diary, the “job” was that of Orderly Corporal – meaning long days, Walter even includes a schedule of his day for her, starting at 4.45am. At 5.30am he had to do the rounds to ask is anyone was going sick and take details, at 6am they had to attend at Gillespie School with a list of defaulters (this is James Gillespie’s School, which is 5- 10 minutes walk away).  By 7am he was making out sick reports in triplicate and breakfast was at 7.45am.  Lights out were at 10.15pm, after a day of sorting mail and other duties – “you are always on duty and liable to provide men for any emergency – today, two men to fetch beer for the sergeants mess”.

His second latter was dealing more with family business and answering questions she had sent him, including whether or not he required his birth certificate. There was also a complicated answer to a question about the family account with the piano tuner, where it was not clear if the account had been paid – something that became more complex due to all discussions having to be done by post.  Maree appeared to be struggling slightly with their daughter Molly, who was a toddler, Walter’s response was hopefully lighthearted: “Am so very sorry you are having such a beast of a time with Molly – she is a naughty little swab-hound and ought to be spanked, can you pack her off (as a boarder) to Em’s School?”

The rest of Maree’s day revolved around cycling into town to get Devonshire cream for her Aunt Emily’s birthday, shopping for her mother, and trying to put the children to bed early – slightly disturbed by a visitor coming after they had been bathed.

Letters from Walter Batstone to Maree, ref: D211/2/1/16

Maree Batstone’s diary, ref: D211/18/2/14

6-12 June 1916: Battersea Council Exemptions

c 1914 (C) Wandsworth Heritage Service

c 1914
(C) Wandsworth Heritage Service

The Battersea Borough Council meeting of 7 June started by acknowledging the death of Lord Kitchener, and expressed their sorrow at his loss by all standing as a mark of respect. The meeting then moved on to discuss the Council and Military Service, and how to deal with potential exemptions from military service.

Three clerks of military age in the Council had received complete exemption from military service, on account of being indispensable. Overall there were 28 officers and clerks of military age working at the municipal buildings (Battersea Town Hall), 17 of whom were permanent and had occupation based exemption.  Three temporary clerks were medically unfit to service, and one had actually been discharged as medically unfit.  There were 5 who were not yet called up – either due to only just being 18 or to being in later groups under the Derby scheme.  It was argued that there was a great deal of extra work in the Council due to pressures from government and that there was no doubt that all the men who had obtained exemptions could not be spared.  Eight of the permanent staff in the borough accountant’s office had joined the army, and six from the Town Clerk’s department, with six exemptions granted across both offices.  Exemption certificates had been obtained directly from the recruiting officer, rather than going before a tribunal – a fact which caused some controversy as the Councillors (9 of whom also made up the tribunal members) felt that exemption was a personal matter which should be dealt with by each man individually and they did not wish the employees of the Council to receive special privilege.

The Council had already decided that employees who wished to serve should gain the permission of the Council to do so, and at this meeting they granted that permission to E T Taylor, a temporary clerk in the Town Clerk’s office, and W Worrell, a sewer flusher. Presumably the loss of the clerk made it even more important that they were able to keep the remaining staff in order to carry out the work of the Council.

The Tribunals this week, as reported in the South Western Star, appear to have been granting more exemptions than usual – although the corresponding minutes show that this was not the case and the majority of cases were disallowed.  W J Baldwin of Rollo Street was a widower with one child, who claimed he would have to sell his home to ensure they were looked after – and that he objected to vaccination.  The Tribunal said that his child would be cared for by the country if he went and disallowed his claim, the Star headlined this with “The Poor Law for a Soldier’s Child”.

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

Battersea Military Service Tribunal minutes, ref: MBB/2/25/2

South Western Star available on microfilm