31 August – 6 September 1915: Royal Visit to the 3rd London General Hospital

The first edition of the Gazette of the 3rd London General Hospital was published in October 1915, and included a report on the visit of the King and Queen to the hospital on 1st September.  Understandably, this was also reported by the Wandsworth Borough News and between the two publications we can get a good idea of the scale of the visit.

According to the paper, the Royal party visited with only a few minutes notice, having driven up from Windsor, but when they arrived around 200 patients were “drawn up in double file.  They were all in the now familiar blue uniform”.  The Hospital Gazette phrases it slightly differently, saying that it was as nearly a surprise as was reasonably practicable and that no preparations were made aside from lining up the chairs outside for the patients.  The party arrived, went inside for introductions then returned to go up and down the lines of patients, accompanied by the CO, the Matrons and Sir Alfred Pearce-Gould.

The Borough News reported on exchanges between the royal visitors and the patients, including one patient who asked if he could have a job in the royal stables.  Another said that they were fed like cattle, to which the King replied: “You don’t mean they fed you on hay” – apparently this “caused many smiles”.  The King and Queen subsequently passed the kitchens as orderlies were fetching food for patients (the Gazette reports that apart from the patients outside, everything else carried on as usual), and paused to inspect the food, perhaps spurred on by the conversation.

Third London General Hospital PCWC109The visit lasted two and a half hours, during which the King and Queen visited almost every ward.  The Borough News notes that the wards have passages over a mile long, and there were additional wards built to the side of the Royal Victoria Patriotic building as well (forming what was known as “C block”).

The visit was summed up by the Gazette as:

The King and Queen had come down to Wandsworth, really, to say just two words to each of those blue-clad men.  And the words are: “Thank you”.

The Gazette of the 3rd London General Hospital is available on request

Wandsworth Borough News available on microfilm

For details of a nurse at the 3rd London General Hospital: http://www.schoolsofnursing.co.uk/Collections1/Collections18.htm

6-12 April 1915: The Board of Guardians and War issues, and local football

This week’s South Western Star carries a report on the fortnightly meeting of the Battersea and Wandsworth Board of Guardians.  Many of the issues the Board had to discuss arose out of the war – either directly or indirectly.  A large number of staff had applied for increased pay as a result of the increased cost of living (a problem shared by the local councils as well), although as it was not all staff an amendment to grant the requests was not passed.  Staff also caused concern when Mr Rees questioned the age of a man hired on a temporary basis – on hearing that he was 27 the response was to ask why he was not in the Army, and on discovering that he was from Alsace one member commented that he was from the Blue Alsatian Mountains (a song, the words can be found here) and Mr Rees commented that he ought to be “over the water”.  Mr Rees was clearly a keen supporter of the war, as he also moved that 120 beds at the Swaffield Road institution should be offered to the War Office for wounded soldiers.  The beds in question were currently allocated to the elderly and the proposal was to transfer them to the main building, as there were 300 spare beds there and it would then be possible to create a separate entrance for ambulances – there were already wounded soldiers at St James Hospital, who had been admitted in March.  Both this and another motion by Mr Rees were passed, the second motion proposed creating a return which would show how many people of military age were currently employed by the Guardians.  This motion proved slightly more controversial, as both Mr Winfield and Mr Archer thought it was akin to conscription and forcing men to go to the Front.  Mr Winfield would prefer the Government to be responsible for conscription, whilst the Guardians could hold men’s jobs.

The South London Press demonstrates that other aspects of life carried on much as usual – the end of the football season was drawing close and the paper was somewhat disparaging about the South London amateur leagues:

The homeless West Norwood team may fulfil their remaining Metropolitan League fixtures, but as nobody, player or otherwise, takes any interest in the games, it does not matter… the group of clubs forming [the League] have no trophy, no medals, no subscriptions, indeed nothing but a private arrangement for matches among themselves.

Perhaps the only positive in this report was for the Tooting club, who beat Croydon by 4 goals to 1, three of those goals being scored by Honor.

South London Press and South Western Star available on microfilm

Wandsworth Board of Guardians full records are at London Metropolitan Archives, copies of the 1915 minutes are at the Heritage Service, ref: WCU/1/23

24-30 November 1914: Battersea Council Staff Casualties

Battersea Borough Council met on 25 November. Amongst the reports presented to the council was a list of free uses of the Grand Hall in the Town Hall, two of the four were in aid of Belgian refugees – a dance and whist drive and a concert. Another concert was in aid of the Mayor’s Local Fund, so both causes continued to attract attention and funds from the local population.

The meeting also saw the first official reports of Council staff killed in action. At this point 58 men were serving in some way, 30 of those in the Army and Navy and the rest in the Territorial Force or the National Reserve, leading to 18 temporary appointments having been made across the Council. The first death to occur had actually taken place on 18th September. Arthur Ernest Finchley was 26 and lived with his family on Cabul Road. He was one of 8 children and the 1911 census lists him as an Army Private, although he was working for the Council as a labourer in the works department in 1914. In 1911 one brother was a Navy stoker and another was an Army driver, while two of his sisters and another brother worked in a Card Box Factory – possibly the Corruganza in Garratt Lane. His father John was a night watchman for the Council.

The other reported death was that of Able Seaman Arthur Charles Powell, who was a jointer’s mate at the Electricity Generating Station and was killed on HMS Aboukir.  At the time his family were living in Vauxhall, according to the 1911 census he had a wife and two young daughters.

The Council decided that a Roll of Honour should be prepared and exhibited in the Entrance Hall of the Municipal Buildings.  This is currently in storage and will be restored to the former Town Hall, now Battersea Arts Centre, when their capital works project is completed in 2016.

Battersea Borough Council minutes, ref: MBB/1/15

Commonwealth War Graves Commission: www.cwgc.com

1911 census available on Ancestry

Guest Post: Researching William Mills: librarian, soldier, airman

Earlier this year Putney Library ran a series of behind-the-scenes tours in response to a request from our Friends’ group. In preparation for these I visited Wandsworth Heritage Service, hoping to draw on the wealth of archive material there to add a historical dimension to the tours. It was a chance sighting in one of the archive items – the library’s salaries book for the 1910s – which set me on the trail of William John Mills.

The salaries book [1] is a handwritten week-by-week record of the payments made to each staff member, signed to confirm receipt. W.J. Mills appears in the very first entry in the book, in April 1910. Then aged fifteen, and employed as a junior assistant, he was paid 9s 6d per week. By the summer of 1914 he was earning 17s 3d, but from September onwards he is recorded as being paid 10s 3d, with the added note “whole pay less army pay while on military service.” His mother, Ada, signed on his behalf. (As noted in a previous blog post [2], the Council had resolved to make up the difference in salaries of those staff serving with the military.)

Entry in the Putney Library Salaries book

Entry in the Putney Library Salaries book

This pattern continued through to 2nd June 1917, when Mills’s name is crossed through in red, and payments ceased. Fearing the worst, I asked the heritage staff if they could find any record of his death. The result was rather surprising, as the following entry was found in the Council minutes [3] over a year later, on 16 October 1918:

Death of Lieut W J Mills, Northumberland Fusiliers, attached RAF on 3rd September, former junior assistant Putney Library – shot while flying on Western Front.

I was able to locate Mills’s RAF service record [4], which had been digitised and was available for download from the National Archives. His more substantial army record [5] was not, but unlike many it had survived in hard-copy and I was able to view it at Kew. From these records we now know the following of the life and career of William Mills:

He was born on 6th October 1894, the eldest son of John and Ada Mills. In 1914 the family was living at 59 Mexfield Road, East Putney [6]. On 3rd September 1914, just a month after the outbreak of war, William enlisted as a rifleman – service no. 2648 – in the18th Battalion, London Regiment (London Irish Rifles). A territorial force, his unit was garrisoned in the UK throughout 1914 & 1915, but in April 1916 they embarked to Le Havre to join the British Expeditionary Force in France. William’s casualty record reports that in May he was hospitalised with measles. Then, on 28th June he was wounded in action: a gunshot wound to the forehead, but he recovered to return to his unit on 16th July.

On 28th October he was promoted to Lance Corporal, and just weeks later, in December 1916, he returned from France to take up place at officer cadet school (at Fermoy in Ireland), which led on 26th April 1917 to his appointment as Temporary 2nd Lieutenant with 20th Bn. Northumberland Fusiliers (1st Tyneside Scottish) [7]. As an officer, his service pay now exceeded his former council wage, hence the cancelled entry in the salaries book.

Mills spent the remainder of 1917 as an infantry officer, with his unit again garrisoned in the UK. Then, in early 1918, he was attached to the fledgling Royal Air Force. He trained as an observer and gunner before returning to France in April 1918 to join No. 10 Squadron, RAF. It was there that he was wounded on 3rd September (four years to the day after he enlisted), and he died from his wounds the following day. His death was recorded in the minutes of the Putney Library sub-committee [8]:

Putney Library Sub-Committee minute book

Putney Library Sub-Committee minute book

Death of Lieut. W.J. Mills

The Librarian reported that Mr. W.J. Mills was a junior

assistant in the Library until September 3rd 1914 when he joined His Majesty’s forces as a private in the London Irish Regiment [sic] later obtaining a commission in the Northumberland Fusiliers. On September 3rd 1918 while attached to the Royal Air Force as an observer he was shot while flying behind the German lines and died from wounds on September 4th 1918.

Resolved that the Committee received the sad information with deepest regret and that the Librarian be instructed to report the matter to the Libraries’ Committee. [8]

This in turn led to the Council minute noted earlier. Mills is buried at the British military cemetery at Esquelbecq in northern France [9].

The Mills family remained in Mexfield Road: the electoral register lists Ada at the address until 1947. William’s youngest brother Frank appears in the last register before the outbreak of war in 1939 but does not return afterwards, although Ancestry [10] records that he died in 1995 at the age of 93.

In 1923 the Library Association commissioned a roll of honour in memory of the British librarians – over 80 in all – lost during the Great War. This memorial is now located at the British Library, as are a number of photographs of those recorded on it, including William Mills [11].

Terry Day, Putney Library


[1] MBW/5/6/16

[2] https://ww1wandsworth.wordpress.com/2014/10/06/6-12-october-1914-rifle-ranges-and-recruits/

[3] MBW/1

[4] National Archives AIR/76/349

[5] National Archives WO 339/82293

[6] The 1911 Census records that the Mills family then lived at an address in Stanbridge Road.

[7] Army List, December 1917, 944f.

[8] MBW/5/6/11

[9] http://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/25340/MILLS,%20WILLIAM%20JOHN A photograph of the gravestone can be viewed at http://twgpp.org/information.php?id=3064762 Puzzlingly, both sites list his unit as 20 Squadron RAF although his service record clearly shows 10 Squadron.

[10] http://search.ancestrylibrary.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?new=1&gsfn=frank+brigginshaw&gsln=mills&rank=1&gss=angs-g&mswpn__ftp=&msbdy=1902&pcat=ROOT_CATEGORY&h=832229&db=ONSDeath93&indiv=1&ml_rpos=1

[11] https://m.facebook.com/britishlibrary/photos/a.10150448376867139.414095.8579062138/10150471969397139/?type=3&theater

Guest Post: The Society of the Sacred Heart War Memorial

The Digby Stuart College campus, University of Roehampton, was, until 1947, the site of a Community and school for the Society of the Sacred Heart. In 1883 the nuns built their Calvary on the West side of the grounds, near the boundary fence. It became the ideal location for a War Memorial to all the relatives of the nuns and pupils of the convent killed in the war. Documents in the Societies archives record that the Memorial was dedicated on 24 May 1918 by the Revered W Roche SJ.

Image with kind permission of the Society of the Sacred Heart archives

Image with kind permission of the Society of the Sacred Heart archives


Initially for the fallen of the WWI the memorial commemorates 1 from the Boer War, 275 from WWI, 11 from WWII and 1 from the Korean War.

There is no set pattern for the inscriptions; families were left free to compose their own. Officers and other ranks were generally separated, but not always. The plaques are marble with lead letters attached to a Portland stone background.

In 1972 the Memorial had to be moved to make room for the expansion of Digby Stuart College. Initially J. Whitehead & Sons Ltd, Kennington, London were engaged to carry out the work but then there were delays, for various reasons, and in October 1973 the completion of the Memorial was given over to a Mr Baker (there are no noted details of who he was) – a handwritten note states, ‘Finished by Mr Baker in June 1974’. Additional work was carried out in 1980.

In its current location it measures 1.9 metres high by 11.3 metres wide and in 2000 it was described as ‘a magnificent war memorial, absolutely unique’ by a representative of The National Inventory of War Memorials, Imperial War Museum.

Image with kind permission of the Society of the Sacred Heart Archives

Image with kind permission of the Society of the Sacred Heart Archives

This year, the University in collaboration with the Society’s archive,s have undertaken to trace relatives of those honoured on the Memorial in order to find the stories of those fallen so that they won’t be forgotten. It is hoped to that these accounts will be published in 2018 to mark the centenary of the Memorial.

War Memorial

For more information please contact Gilly King, History and Heritage Advisor, University of Roehampton gilly.king@roehampton.ac.uk

Guest Post: Bringing a War Memorial to Life

A few weeks ago I was in St Mary’s Church showing someone the war memorial around which the Summerstown182 project is based. I was full of stories about the individuals on it, where they lived, where they were buried, whose relative had been on one of our walks. It suddenly dawned on me that in a little under a year, what was a wall of unknown names is slowly coming spectacularly to life. The two soldiers buried in Jerusalem. The three brothers from Thurso Street killed in successive years. The young man who was lost in the North Sea on a submarine. The brothers who died of tuberculosis and are buried in unmarked graves in Streatham Cemetery. The jilted soldier who threw himself under a tram in Garratt Lane. We know something now about 174 of the names, only eight can’t so far be connected with this area.

It surprised and saddened me that very little seemed to be known about the men on the war memorial. The blog which I started has evolved into a collection of stories about them. Each post is centred around one of the individuals using information from the parish magazines of the period and Commonwealth War Graves Commission database. This is blended together with census records and other material which local enthusiasts keen to get involved in the project have kindly provided. Without their help this project just wouldn’t be possible. Now relatives are slowly coming forward, providing photographs and nuggets of precious detail to add to the stories. We have established connections with descendants in Taunton, Tamworth, Cambridge, Luton and as faraway as Melbourne, Australia.

Closely related to the stories of the soldiers themselves has been a developing desire to understand the world which they inhabited. Local newspapers from the time, available for study through Wandsworth Heritage Service at Battersea Library, have been invaluable for providing an impression, though it has amazed me that there seemed sometimes more concern with ‘interesting local weddings’ than what was happening across the Channel. Lists of names which followed the immense 1915 losses at the battles of Festubert and Loos soon trickled away, undoubtedly to preserve morale. What is of more interest to me is the conditions at home that the war created. How a German baker in Tooting had his premises repeatedly trashed, despite the fact his son was serving in the British army. How a soldier’s impoverished wife was imprisoned for being unable to care for her starving children. Undeniably the conditions for people living around here were difficult in the extreme. Occasionally I recognise names, an inquest into the soldier who walked out of the Fountain pub and under a tram, the young lad who a few months before joining the Welsh Fusiliers was arrested in Khartoum Road for playing ‘pitch-and-toss’. The barmaid who got into hot water for serving a wounded soldier in The Castle. There are many more to discover. I’ve just pricked the surface. What a wonderful resource we have there.

If you would like to hear more about the project or the guided walks which have been developed to promote it, please come along to hear me talk about it at the next meeting of Tooting History Group. This is in the United Reformed Church, Rookstone Road, Tooting on Tuesday 11th November at 730pm.The next guided walk will be on Saturday 6th December.

Geoff Simmons, @summerstown182