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

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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

28 March–3 April 1916: COs at the Battersea Tribunal

The Battersea Military Service Tribunals meeting on 28th March was one of several – they met on Thursday, Saturday and Tuesday.  The Tribunal seemed to be in reasonably sympathetic form, going by the reports in the South Western Star, but that did not make them any more likely to allow a claim for exemption.  The grounds for application for exemption were normally classed by a letter, which would denote which type of application it was i.e workplace or health, but occasionally a longer explanation is added.

G H Jarratt of Eversleigh Road applied for exemption as “E & Conscientious” [E was “ill health and infirmity”] – a claim which was disallowed. Unusually, the South Western Star, doesn’t mention him in its coverage of the tribunals, and it also ignores Frank Newnham, whose grounds are “objection to killing”, but it does mention J H Hollowell of Stewarts Road, whose application came under “religious”.

James Henry Hollowell was a dispenser’s assistant (described as a “pill maker” with the British Drug House in the 1911 census), and lived with his parents, three siblings and grandmother. According to the report in the Star, he objected to the killing of mankind, but was willing to undertake RAMC or sanitary work.  The Tribunal objected to this, saying that a conscientious objection could not be considered if the man was already attested.  Hollowell was then praised for being “reasonable”, as he had tried and failed to get in to the RAMC and “didn’t want to trouble you if I could possibly avoid it”.  Impressed with this, the Tribunal then promised to recommend him for the RAMC, whilst disallowing his claim for exemption.

This recommendation did not get him very far, as his army medal card shows that he served in the Rifle Brigade and the Kings Own Royal Rifle Corps – although details of what he was doing are not specified. He survived the war, however, marrying in St George’s Battersea in August 1918 his occupation is described as “soldier”, and he lived to be 71.

The coverage of the Tribunal also includes a note that Mr Tennant is “inquiring into the allegation” that one of the military representatives had referred to the Non-Combatant Corps as the “No Courage Corps”. This was not an unusual attitude, as this article explains.  It’s not clear who Mr Tennant was, he was not a member of the Tribunal and the newspaper does not give any further information – presumably, everyone at the time knew!

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

South Western Star available on microfilm

More about Military Service Tribunals can be found here.

22-28 February 1916: Tales from the Battersea Tribunal

After the controversy over the No Conscription Fellowship having their hall booking cancelled a couple of weeks ago, and the introduction of the Military Service Act on 27 January, it might be expected that the Tribunal meetings this week would be particularly keen to disallow claims. Conscription did not actually start until March, so all those coming before the Tribunal were still coming through the Derby Scheme.

Neither the meeting of 22nd January or that of the 24th granted full exemption to any of the applicants.  The write up of the Tribunal in the South Western Star does not supply the names of the majority of claimants, but it gives enough information that the details in the minutes can be matched up and a fuller picture can be put together of the men before the Tribunal.

Cases before the Tribunal included that of Arthur Bridge, a Battersea alderman, who was applying on behalf of his son, Arthur Stanley (known as Stanley). Bridge was a coal merchant who supplied Morgan Crucible’s Battersea works – which were engaged on munitions work.  He said that they were so short-staffed that they did not have enough men for their craft, his son had been apprenticed and was able to be second hand on a barge or tug.  In the 1911 census Stanley is listed as  clerk at the coal merchants, so had obviously had to do extra duties due to the war, the Tribunal minutes list him as a “manager” and his solicitor claims that he manages the transport.  His claim was disallowed and went to the appeal, reported back on at the Tribunal of 18th March.  The appeal only gained him three months, presumably as this was considered enough time for someone else to be trained in the work.

Several of the cases before the Tribunal were ones in which employing women instead was suggested. Dr Pearson of Bolingbroke Grove applied for exemption for his chauffeur, John Hayler, as he needed him for business and his “wife objects to a lady”.  The newspaper reports that the Tribunal were unsympathetic to this claim and laughed at the objection, saying that the country needed his man – the claim was disallowed.  John Hayler’s military service record survives, showing that he was married and had three children, which should have allowed him to go into a later Group.  A man seeking exemption for his son, who was a driver, said that “women are not a success as drivers of motor cars”, which was not queried by the Tribunal, instead they pointed out that his son had papers stating him to be medically unfit and therefore the matter was already taken care of.  The Tribunal also suggested that A I Biscuits should hire women in the factory when they refused exemptions for a mixer and a brakesman – although the firm’s owner, Mr Dunmore, argued that women were not able to do the work as it involved bags of flour weighing two cwt.  Price’s Candle Factory argued that their export ledger keeper could be replaced by a woman but it would take two years to train and that there was no-one else suitable for the role, the firm was carrying out important contracts for the Government but the application for exemption was disallowed.

 

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

8-14 February 1916: Conscription and Free Speech in Battersea

The Battersea Council meeting of 9th February 1916 contains the information that the Battersea Trades and Labour Council made representations to protest that their meeting in Latchmere Baths was cancelled by the Baths Committee. No explanation is given in the minutes as to why the meeting was cancelled – the report submitted to the meeting by the Baths and Wash-houses Committee refers only to their spending and not to any decisions they might have made. The South Western Star, reporting on the Council meeting, had a rather fuller version of events – as is often the case – referring to it as a “noisy demand for ‘free speech’”, which took up two hours of the meeting.

An unusually large number of persons, several being women, were in the gallery. Mr Grundy, leaning over the rail, was prominent. The explanation of this is that an unpatriotic movement was suspected.

The meeting had been to consider action to repeal the Military Service Bill, passed on 27th January, which brought in conscription. It appeared that the hall had been hired by the Battersea Trades and Labour Council, but was in fact hired by the local branch of the No Conscription Fellowship, according to the paper. The letter from the Trades and Labour Council stated that they had “decided to enter an emphatic protest at such action in attempting to stifle free criticism of the measure” – hence their deputation and the rather more lively meeting described by the Star. The fact that the hall had been hired by the No Conscription Fellowship lead to accusations of duplicity, as the Trades and Labour Council did not have a direct interest in the matter. The leader of the deputation, Mr Carmichael, claimed to be astounded that the cancellation had taken place in Battersea, a borough noted for its free speech, especially during the Boer War – there was an active Stop the War Committee during the Boer War – and with an MP who had done six weeks in prison for free speech thirty years ago. Comments on “where John Burns was now” came from the gallery, as his opposition to the war was well known, although Mr Carmichael pointed out that Burns had voted against the Military Service Bill. He also pointed out that Trade Unions had assisted with recruitment because they thought it would keep away conscription and that the Trade and Labour Council had held a practically unanimous vote to affirm their own opposition to conscription.

The clerk who booked the hall had been under the impression that it was for a Trade and Labour Council meeting, and when the Committee realised that it was not they had held long discussions over what to do. A small majority had concluded that the best decision was to cancel the meeting, a decision upheld by their chair, Mr Simmonds, who thought that “in the present circumstances…the committee were justified”. Mr Bigden argued that it was “most monstrous that the Council should allow the use of the hall” for a No Conscription meeting, and other members argued that the Council should not be the arbiter of patriotism in the borough. This was followed by Mr Brogan launching what the Star called “a tremendous onslaught on rebels and labour, and unpatriotism”, an accusation which caused Carmichael to shout that he was a liar, resulting in him being removed from the chamber whilst Mr Brogan continued that “conscription has come, partly as a result of their apathy in regard to recruiting…Now they had conscription he felt it was his duty to loyally accept it”. The paper records insults to the No Conscription Fellowship and arguments about past bad behaviour at meetings and if that would be comparable to holding a No Conscription meeting, before eventually the Council decided not to refer the matter back to Committee and to carry on with the rest of the business of the day.

Very little of the debate is reflected in the minutes, even though it took up two hours of the Council meeting and showed that the matter of conscription was a controversial one. Many members of the No Conscription Fellowship ended up before the Military Service Tribunals, including Clifford Allen, who write extensively for Fellowship’s news-sheet, The Tribunal, which we will be coming back to in future posts.

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

South Western Star available on microfilm

11-17 January 1916: The First Military Service Tribunal

On 11 January 1916 the Battersea Local Tribunal met to consider cases for the first time. Present at the meeting were the Mayor, W J Moore, who was chairing, W Hammond, H G White, W Watts and A Winfield, as well as military representative Captain Briggs and his deputy Lieutenant Jones.

37 men who had attested (meaning they had an obligation to come if called at a later date) were applying to be placed in a later group or were in a reserved occupation. Call up was done in groups, with the lowest numbered groups being called up first, so being placed in a later group gave more time to make arrangements at home if required.  There were then 46 more claims which the Military Representative objected to for some reason.

Of those 46 claims, the Tribunal agreed to defer 9. One claim was withdrawn, that of Fred Fordy.  He was a greengrocer’s assistant at S J Smith, 158 Battersea Park Road – the application to the Tribunal was actually made by his employer.  Fordy was 18 and had been working for Smith since he was 14, possibly earlier, as he is listed as a greengrocer’s assistant on the 1911 census.  He was killed in May 1917 and is recorded on the Arras memorial.

George S Parry of Broomwood Road was one of those deferred to a later group, possibly because of his occupation – which is listed as a Cadet with the Officers Training Corps. He was put into Group 10, which was mobilised on 29 Febuary 1916 – in his case, as part of the local 23rd County of London regiment.  Sadly he was killed in September 1916, just a few months after mobilisation.

Tribunal decision column 14 JanOf the four cases adjourned for a later decision, three claims were placed in later Groups the following week, and the fourth case a week after that. None of the claims were successful, and the Tribunal passed un-reported in the local newspapers (although later Tribunals are reported in detail, and we will come back to the Tribunal in future weeks).  As is clear from this the majority of the appeals were “disallowed”, a pattern which is maintained throughout all the Tribunals.  There did not seem to be any difference between the 18 men whose employers had made the application and those who made it themselves – they were just as likely to be unsuccessful.

Several of the men came from outside Battersea, including one from Hammersmith, one from Hounslow and one from Croydon. All of them worked for Battersea employers, F J Maidment was a Railway Despatch Clerk for Aplin & Barrett Ltd (a dairy on Parkgate Road, then known as Park Road), but resident in Hammersmith.  S J Finch was a butcher from Hounslow, who worked for F North on St Johns Hill and L J J Wright came from Albert Road, Croydon every day to work as a clerk for CGT Butler’s insurance brokers on Northcote Road.  All of them appear to have survived the war, as it has not been possible to match them to records on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission site.  The Tribunal does not record their full names, and none of them are easy to trace on the 1911 census either.

Tribunal page 14 Jan

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

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