Tooting’s Boy Soldier sent home – September 1916

Last Saturday afternoon there was quite a crowd gathered around an ordinary looking terraced house on Garratt Lane in Tooting. Passengers on passing buses stared out of the windows to try and work out what all the fuss was about.

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The fuss was no greater around this house than it would have been 100 years ago when a 13 year old boy returned there to his family after having fought on the Somme front for six weeks. The boy was Sidney Lewis, tall for his age maybe, but surely not tall enough to pass for the 19 years old he claimed to be upon enrolling with the East Surrey regiment in August 1915. However, he did join up and only much much later did his mother submit his birth certificate to the War Office to prove that he was in fact extremely underage, whereupon he was brought back to England and discharged from service. The Daily Mirror picked up the story and published it along with a photo of the boy soldier in September 1916. 100 years later we all stood outside Sidney’s former house to witness a commemorative plaque being unveiled, funded by public subscription and brought to fruition by the laudable efforts of the Summerstown 182 project.

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Sidney’s son Colin unveiled the plaque and his grandson scattered confetti from an upstairs window where a violin played. Colin has said that his father used to talk about having served in World War One but it was thought to be a tall tale as he wouldn’t have been old enough at the time to have served.

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A small paragraph in the Wandsworth Borough News on 22nd September 1916 reveals that Sidney’s brother had enlisted in the same regiment at the outbreak of war in 1914, so it is clear that Sidney wanted to follow in his brother’s footsteps. In the latter part of 1915 conscription was yet to be introduced, so the army was desperate for volunteers. Serving on the front line seemingly didn’t deter Sidney from further active service though, as he joined the army again in 1918 and later served in the police force.

 

Read more of Sidney Lewis’s story here: Surrey in the Great War: A County Remembers

Find out more about the Summerstown 182 project here

Wandsworth Borough News is available on microfilm at Wandsworth Heritage Service

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

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

29 February-6 March 1916: Sir Walter St John’s School Magazine – News from Old Boys

The March issue of the Sir Walter St John’s School Magazine was a Special War Number. This stemmed from the boys in the school attempting to get in touch with all the old doys on active service so that they could send them a Christmas greeting and some cigarettes, resulting in a selection of the letters home in response being selected for publication.

The cigarettes were gratefully received, one old boy writing that they “arrived at an opportune moment. I was in the trenches and had run out of tobacco – a greater calamity than an attack”.  Several of the old boys had come across each other in neighbouring battalions, although some had more unusual meetings:

One night, on sentry duty, outside a war-demolished mansion, I discovered a garden filled with choicest fruit. Against the rules, I ventured in and by the light of a match filled by pockets, when I was surprised by a slight rustle.  A German! I thought at once; or perhaps a rat.  To be astonishment, however, it turned out to be one of my old Sir Walter St John’s School friends…

Several described life in the trenches, including the phrase “We sit in mud, sleep in mud, and eat mud”, whilst others were currently billeted behind the lines, or elsewhere round the world:

As I pencil this note I am smoking one of the cigarettes in my billet, within sound of the guns…

 

We have just come out of the trenches for a fortnight’s rest in a small village not more than three miles from the line. Unlike most villages round here it has not suffered in any way from bombardment, but jogs its way along seemly oblivious of the ruins all around.  The women here especially are very active, nearly all the farm work being in their hands… The slightest noise from the lines can be heard distinctly.  We heard a bugle band recently that was playing three or four miles behind the Huns’ lines…

 

Your kind packet was forwarded me from Fort William, where we were stationed for 13 months. I cannot say how long we shall be at Lucknow, but expect before very long to go to the Gulf, where things are pretty lively.

The magazine also contains as full a list as the school could manage of old boys and staff who were on active service. It lists their rank and regiment, and carries an update to the school’s Roll of Honour, listing 4 old boys killed and giving details of what happened to them as far as possible.  Harvey Haysom only has “killed in France”, whilst Herbert Bonnell, G E Kosmann and Harold Wilsher all have more detailed accounts.

SWSJ Roll of Honour SWSJ Roll of Honour - the dead

Elsewhere in the magazine, news of everyday school life continued. Meetings of the Debating Society were reported, as were football, fives and cricket scores.  The Speech Day prize list was published, as were the names of the four best boys in each form following the Christmas exams.  The Christmas collection subscription list and where the funds went was listed, as well as the cigarette purchase, money was donated to Queen Mary’s Hospital or Soldiers and Sailors who have lost limbs and the Wandsworth Schools Motor Ambulance, in addition to other local, non-war-related causes.

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

18-24 January 1916: The Military Service Tribunals and Tooting

The Tooting and Balham Gazette of 22nd January 1916 carried several columns by the owner/editor of the paper, A J Hurley, on the lack of a Tooting representative on the Wandsworth Military Tribunal.  Hurley was one of the councillors for Tooting, and last year was vocal about the levels of pay in the Tooting workrooms in the paper, so often used it as an extra platform to promote his area with the Council.  The Prime Minister and the President of the Local Government Board had given assurances that the Tribunals would be made up of men with local knowledge – but there was no representative for Tooting on the Wandsworth Tribunal, although Hurley described it as “that densely populated portion of the borough which has given such a huge proportion of its male population to the service of the country”.

Appeals to the Tribunal made from Tooting men had been rejected “by men who possess no local knowledge of Tooting” – although as this post on the Battersea Tribunal shows, many appeals were rejected by that Tribunal.  Representations were made to the Local Government Board and the Tooting Recruiting Committee unanimously agreed that Alderman Mellhuish should represent the ward.  The Mayor interviewed the Alderman and obtained his consent to serve, but the Council’s General Purposes Committee rejected it.  TheGazette also objected to the timing of the Tribunals – they were held during the day, usually in the mornings – as it was bad for workers and for employers, suggesting that members of the Tribunal “were only prepared to meet at times convenient to themselves” and that they should be prepared to make a sacrifice for the war effort and meet at other times of day.  Cllr Hurley also said that if he were Mayor, “my resignation…would have been both prompt and emphatic”.  At a Special Meeting of the Council on 9th February, Alderman Mellhuish and Cllr Garrett – one of the Balham Ward councillors – were added to the members of the Tribunal, so the Gazette’s campaign was a successful one.

Elsewhere in the local papers, the main Tooting-related story this week was the story of Robert Lubbock – reported in the Wandsworth Borough News. Robert was 17 and ineligible for military service due to poor eyesight so was the mess-room steward on a Government employed ship, currently moored in a semi-tropical harbour.  One of the fire-men fell overboard into shark infested waters, Robert and one of the ship’s apprentices dived in to try and save him.  According to the paper “The Fireman was unfortunately killed by a shark, but happily both boys got back to the ship unharmed”, and the paper was clearly proud of the local boy’s efforts.

Tooting and Balham Gazette and Wandsworth Borough News both available on microfilm.

Minutes of the Wandsworth Military Service Tribunal, ref: MBW/2/30/1

4-10 January 1916: Battersea Battalion send-off

Letter from War OFfice Dec 15On 29th December 1915, the Mayor of Battersea was informed that the time for the Battersea Battalion to be mobilised was likely to be early January, and on 3rd January it was confirmed by telegram that the Battalion would move to Aldershot on the 6th.  The 10th (Service) Battersea Royal West Surrey Battalion was to leave from Waterloo along with the 11th Battalion.

 

 

 

Battalion telegram Jan 16The telegram, a copy of which is in the Battersea Battalion file, gave the details of the mobilisation. A battalion consisted of up to 1000 men, so arrangements were detailed.  3 troop trains were to leave from platform 11, at 1.20pm, 2.30pm and 3.10pm going to the Aldershot Government siding (more information about the sidings can be found here – search the page for “Aldershot”, as there is a lot of other information there too).  The first train was to carry 14 officers, 500 men, 4 horses, 6 four-wheeled vehicles and 12 tons of baggage.  A further 16 tons of baggage belonging to the 10th battalion went on the second train, with 5 officers, 105 men, 5 four-wheeled vehicles and 1 two-wheeled vehicle, plus 7 officers and 395 men of the 11th Battalion.  The final train carried 28 officers and 505 men of the 11th Battalion, along with 22 tons of baggage and 6 horses.  The parties who were loading the train were expected to be there an hour beforehand, and all other personnel half an hour beforehand.

Battalion Parade Jan 16Letters were sent out so that local Battersea residents could give the Battalion a send off, the South Western Star reports it as “All the borough seemed to have assembled in the neighbourhood of the Municipal Buildings to wish them godspeed”.  The battalion depot was the Lower Ground Hall of the Town Hall, and lots of final packing had been done that morning, with the battalion itself due to depart at 10.30am.  Enough people had come out to cheer the battalion on that the footpaths were lined all the way to Wandsworth Road, with the balconies and windows of the Town Hall packed with spectators. The procession was led by a band, then the battalion mascot – a sheepdog gifted by Dr Oakman of The Priory, Battersea High Street – before the officers (on horseback) and the men on foot.  The Mayor spoke words of encouragement, and then the men marched to Waterloo, cheered along the way by the crowds, on their way to Aldershot – where they were to stay until May.

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

South Western Star available on microfilm

7-13 December 1915: Battersea Polytechnic

The December issue of the Battersea Polytechnic magazine includes an update on students and staff who were serving with the Armed Forces. An entire page and a photograph are devoted to Lieutenant F H Johnson, who recently visited the college whilst home on sick leave, mentioning that he had received a “slight leg wound in the Hill 70 action”. Lieutenant Johnson was covered in more depth in this post from the University of Surrey, he also won the VC at Hill 70 – something he didn’t tell the Polytechnic when he visited. The magazine also contains photographs and information about former students who had been killed in action, including Private Albert Alder, Sergeant S G Eaton, Private F N Dexter and Sergeant E T Croager.

Several accounts of life at the front had been received from former students, including an account of nursing in Serbia by Monica Stanley, who had been a member of staff at the Serbian Relief Fund Hospital in Kragujevacs (sic), and was a former Polytechnic student. She had previously been in Antwerp and France, and her experience in Serbia started with an epidemic of typhus. The hospital was lost to Bulgarian forces with the city, including an arsenal. Miss Stanley refers o having to spend much of her journey back to London in a cattle truck, but also refers to others who were travelling: “At the railway stations I witnessed the tragic flight of the refugees. All they had ben able to take with them they had wrapped up in large counterpanes or some sort of bed coverings, and the children looked very pitiful. They were all moving on, but where they were going to eventually nobody seemed to know. They appeared to rely upon the Allies.”

Battersea Poly munitions class, Dec 15The magazine also contains two images of munitions classes at the Polytechnic, with only a short paragraph to explain these further. Two members of staff, Mr Shaw and Mr Tottle, were congratulated on the work being done in the Engineering Workshops. They were training men in munitions work, but also hoped to have delivered 400 anti-aircraft shells before Christmas in addition to other work for the War Office. The shells in questions were apparently one of the “most difficult to manufacture”. The Engineering department had also lost their Instructor in Motor Engineering to the Admiralty, although he was not permitted to tell them what he was working on.

Current students were raising money for the Polytechnics War Fund, including the making of shirts which were sent to English, Belgian and Serbian Forces – so far over 1783 had been made and sent out. The War Fund report also listed the total numbers from the Polytechnic who had volunteered, two Governors, eighteen members of staff and three hundred and eighty four students up to December 1915. The Domestic Science students were raising money by producing “Polytechnic Plum Puddings” and other festive treats for sale, which the magazine urged reders to purchase as soon as possible due to limited supply.