25-31 January 1916: The Wandsworth Fiction Ban

On 26th January, the meeting of Wandsworth Borough Council received a deputation from the Clapham and District Fabian Society and the Clapham branch of the Women’s Freedom League.  The reason behind this was the ongoing ban on lending fiction and juvenile [by which they meant children’s] literature from Wandsworth Libraries.

The head of the deputation, Frederick Kettle, presumed that the ban was in order to save money, “something like £5000 a year”. In his view, this saving was being used to fund lower rates, and the money would have been better invested in a War Bond and the rates kept at previous levels.  Savings in rates did no good to renters, as the landlord paid the rates but kept the rent at previous levels – and was unlikely to invest the difference in a War Bond.  The main issue was not whether or not rates were raised or lowered, however, it was the effects of the lack of fiction – “the closing of the fiction departments was a serious thing for the working man in a district like Clapham”.  The principle was wrong:

Poor people had husbands or sons at the front and they got solace of mind by reading novels, instead of continually thinking about the hazards of the war. Young girls, further, were deprived of getting books and were tempted to buy penny novelettes and cheap melodramas…  He was an educationalist…  He had examined the papers of school children and there was an evidence that the children were unfamiliar with the use of a library

Mrs Corner, representing the Women’s Freedom League, also spoke in support of the re-introduction of lending fiction, “from a woman’s view”. She backed up Mr Kettle’s point about what young women were reading, and said that “they were at an age when what they read mattered much” – reading cheap novels meant they were “developing a taste for bad literature just at a time when they should be developing a high standard of morality”. She clearly felt that women were particularly at a disadvantage due to the ban, as she further pointed out that “The novel to a woman was what a pipe was to a man” and that the ban was not currently necessary – “if the time should come when it was absolutely necessary for them to be deprived of it [fiction], they would not make any protest”.

The Council agreed to look again at the ban, and at their next meeting decided to keep it in place.  They had saved £572 from the book buying fund in the year ending March 1916, as well as £190 on bookbinding and £168 on staff costs, so in the interests of economy the ban was maintained.  Further representations were made in June by the Putney Municipal Alliance – only to be declined again.  Fortunately, fiction became available again after the war.

Wandsworth Borough Council minutes, ref: MBW/1/16

Wandsworth Borough News available on microfilm

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21-27 December 1915: Christmas at the 3rd London General Hospital

The December edition of the 3rd London General Hospital Gazette was produced with some Christmas cheer in mind, as it includes a poem “For a War Christmas” and a Timetable of the 25th.  A full report of Christmas at the hospital does not appear until February, as both the December and January editions were sent to the printers before Christmas.

The February edition even carries an explanation of why the January one did not have an account of Christmas

…a cautious scribe is shy of effervescing over events which, at the moment of writing, have not yet taken place… It would have been sae enough to compose an “intelligent anticipation” in the past tense, asserting that Yuletide had been a stunning success – and the risk of fire, earthquake, or Zep bombs preventing the consummation of the prophecy was one which would have deterred no modern journalist from so congenial an exercise of smartness.

It also has a write up from the Matron, describing Christmas at the hospital. On Christmas Eve, all the nurses went round all the wards with Chinese lanterns, singing Christmas carols.  The Ladies’ Committee of the hospital had spent the weeks beforehand gathering presents to make Christmas stockings for all the men, which the nurses put on the ends of their beds for the morning and had what the Matron describes as “the greatest joy at Christmas… watching the men wake up and find them in the morning.”  Buttonholes were given out on Christmas day by Matron and Mrs Bruce Porter, the Australian men got wattle (better known as acacia) in theirs.  Dinner was served in each ward, with turkey, plum pudding and crackers.  Queen Amelie of Portugal, who was a nurse, came in specially to have dinner with her patients – even getting a special cheer at the concert party which was given later.  HRH Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll, attended the afternoon tea part of the day with a special message from the King to the men – conveying his pride in them and wishes for a speedy recovery.  Afternoon tea also included a cinema showing, as it had been recently gifted by a Mr Nichols, an American who was a friend of the Commanding Officer.  It was all very different from the timetable of the 25th in a German Military Hospital which appeared in December’s Gazette, written up in sarcastic fashion by a returned Prisoner of War.Timetable of the 25th POW Hospital

The other reference to Christmas in December’s Gazette was a poem by H M Nightingale, “For a War Christmas”. Helen Nightingale appears to have been a nurse at the hospital, she frequently wrote poetry which appeared in the Gazette referring to nursing and caring for the men, as well as on the war in general:

For a War Christmas poem 1915

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.

16-22 November 1915: 3rd London General Hospital – women, supplies and transport

The November edition of the 3rd London General Hospital Gazette includes an editorial on “Our New Orderlies”, a long-talked of experiment which had been introduced a few days before publication, and which had met with “a certain amount of criticism and even covert hostility”. This experiment was the introduction of female orderlies, previously considered a male job and one which some were obviously reluctant to see taken over by women. The Hospital had been one of the first to foresee an upcoming shortage of both RAMC men and trained nurses, so had encouraged the recruitment of VADs when other institutions were less keen. The article praises VADs for freeing up specialist nurses to go elsewhere, and now for doing the same for orderlies. Some of the men who were under 19 when they first enlisted had been freed up to join the hospital ships, which were apparently coveted posts. Some were referring to the new orderlies as “the orderlettes”, with a cartoon in a later edition of the Gazette showing “Orderlettes” and “Orderlims”, but overall the work was appreciated.

The Gazette also contains hospital statistics, including from the kitchen and the linen stores. This was the main kitchen, there was also an officers’ ward kitchen, an infirmary kitchen, the nurses’ kitchen and kitchens for the orderlies and sergeants’ messes. The main kitchen cooked for the patients, for two diets – Special and Ordinary. Patients on an Ordinary Diet got meat such as roast beef, mutton, boiled beef and stewed steak. Special included roast and boiled chicken, fish, beef tea and chicken or mutton broths. In one day, the hospital got through 700lb of meat for ordinary diets, 100lb of fish, 100 chickens, 600lb of potatoes, 350lb of cabbage, 100lb carrots, 100lb turnips and 50lb of onions. On average, 50 gallons of milk were used each day. The Stewards’ Store issued still more food – 1000lb of bread passed through every day, as well as 100lb of oatmeal and 23lb of tea, and in a week they distributed 2 tons of potatoes and 400 siphons of soda water and lemonade. The article goes on to give details of the supplies that the laundry and other departments responsible for cleaning got through, and finishes with a check on the consumption of tobacco. In an average morning, 5500 cigarettes were given out and 92oz of pipe tobacco – the write wondered if this was enough to roll into “one fabulous fag [to] stretch from here to the trenches at the Front”, and hoped a reader might let him know.

3rd LGH - Night Arrival of Wounded Nov 1915One of the illustrations, by C R W Nevinson, shows the Night Arrival of Wounded, and is above an article on the homecoming of Prisoners of War to the hospital on October 7th. Patients came in through Clapham Junction and were transferred over to the hospital by car or ambulance, and on this occasion each of the men arrived was given a rose and helped in to one of the waiting cars. The giver of the rose was a Mrs Dent, with her husband Lancelot she had started a volunteer transport between the station and the hospital – covered by another article in the same Gazette. Stretcher bearers included men who had to stay at home for various reasons, and would now leave work to come and help with the unloading. In a year, the volunteers had moved 45,715 men – 13,452 of them on stretchers.

3rd London General Hospital Gazette available in the Heritage Service

26 October – 1 November 1915: Recruiting Women

On 26th October, local Councils were sent a memo from the Local Government Board, relating to recruiting and local committees. This was proposing the creation of “starred” men, who would be considered exempt from military service, and a mechanism for ensuring that men who were not in essential occupations, but might otherwise be unable to serve, would be able to gain exemption. Further proposed was the creation of Local Tribunals for the area covered by each Council, these were made up of a group of local Councillors who could allow or deny applications for exemption – the Heritage Service holds records for both the Battersea and Wandsworth Local Tribunals so we will come back to these in future weeks.

The memorandum also encouraged local authorities to support recruitment as far as possible “by stimulating local enthusiasm, by lending accommodation, by facilitating the employment of women in place of men who enlist and in other ways”. Both local borough councils had already provided accommodation for recruitment and for local troops – as well as trying to provide benefits for serving soldiers such as discounts at the local baths.

This was not the first time employing women had been proposed, the Board of Guardians for the Wandsworth and Clapham Union meeting of 11 March 1915 reported on a circular received which said: “There are some posts in which the employment temporarily of women in place of men may be practicable”. At their meeting of 28th October they approved the appointment of a set of Female Relieving Officers, although it is not clear if this was an innovation or not. Wandsworth Borough Council minutes of 16th June record an earlier recommendation to avoid making new appointments during the War, and to try to hire staff who were retired or ineligible for active service. In fact, the Council had already been doing so and authorised heads of Council Departments to fill vacancies by temporarily hiring women.

Clapham Library c1910It is quite hard to trace where the plan to hire women to fill Council posts is recorded – Council and Committee minutes only name senior staff, most of whom were ineligible for active service anyway, and few wages books which might record staff survive. The ones which do survive are both for libraries, Putney Library and Clapham Library. Putney’s wages book does give insight in to the story of Lieut Mills, but it is not obvious if they were hiring women to fill vacancies – they do not appear to have taken on any extra staff at all. The Clapham Library wages book gives slightly more information. The permanent staff were all men, but from the week ending 22nd May 1915 to the week ending 23rd October 1915 a Miss H M Inkster was employed as a temporary assistant. She returned for a further 6 months between November 1916 and May 1917, and has been rather difficult to trace further information about, despite the relatively uncommon surname – she does not appear to be related to the Inkster who was Librarian of Battersea (and who had instigated a policy of hiring women when the library opened in 1890) and the records do not note her first name. Another temporary assistant, Miss F R Richards, was taken on the week ending 5th June and stayed until the week ending 30th October 1915. Both Miss Inkster and Miss Richards were being paid 18s per week, it’s hard to establish if this was more or less than a mal equivalent, as the Clapham Librarian was on £2 1s 4d a week and the various staff listed were all on less than 18s per week – perhaps due to a different rate of pay for temporary staff, the wages book does not say. A junior assistant, Miss C K Wray, is taken on in November earning 9s a week, 2s a week less than A R Browne, who was also working at the Library. A second new junior assistant was taken on in May 1917, a Miss J M Wilkinson – presumably continuing the policy of hiring women.

Elsewhere in the borough, the libraries were coming in for criticism for a different policy – that of refusing to lend fiction. The Wandsworth Borough News devotes half a column to this, referring to it as “Bumbledom in Excelsis” – although the column also refers to being served by a “pert young lady librarian”, so the hiring policy was clearly being implemented across the borough. The fiction ban was in place as an economy measure, and the Borough News recommended all those who would like to see if over-turned to make representations to the Council as soon as possible. The ban, despite deputations, remained in place until 1918.

Clapham Library Wages book, ref: MBW/5/6/17

Putney Library Wages book, ref: MBW/5/6/16

Local Government Board circular, in Battersea Battalion Recruitment file, ref: MBB/8/2/15

Wandsworth Borough News, 29 October 1915, available on microfilm

Guest Post: Emily Cameron -Widowhood in Wandsworth in 1915

Thomas in Royal Marine uniform

Thomas in Royal Marine uniform

My grandparents and their four sons (one of whom was my dad John) lived in Atheldene Road in Wandsworth at the start of WW1. My grandfather Thomas had been a Royal Marine for 12 years, leaving in 1905 to marry Emily Potter. He worked at Nine Elms and Clapham Junction and had just been promoted to a signal man in 1914, his pay increasing to 26/- a week. Things were on the up. However, as a member of the Royal Marine Reserve Brigade, Thomas was quickly called up and sent to France. He took part in the defence of Antwerp during which, he went out on patrol and was shot in the head. He survived and was brought back to England but died on his 40th birthday on October 20th 1914. Tragically, Thomas would never have been called up had he not been in the reserve; he was too old.

His widow, Emily was born on February 2nd 1877 in Lambeth, London. She was born into a poor family and her father’s occupation was described variously as general labourer, green grocer, costermonger and hawker of fish at different points in time.

Shortly after Thomas had died, Emily received a letter that Thomas had written whilst in hospital. Receiving the letter must have been particularly heartbreaking as Thomas had written that he believed he would soon be transferred nearer to home. I also have a copy of the letter of condolence written by his CO, surely the first of many he would go on to write. He had served with Thomas before the war, knew him well and said “he was the finest of many good men, was brave under fire and generally played the game” – this is touching – Thomas was indeed a keen sportsman and this comment is so very “Edwardian” and of its time.

Thomas’s funeral was covered by the local papers as the deaths of soldiers were still deemed newsworthy at this early stage of the war and he had a full military funeral.  See here for an extract of his obituary.

Waterloo memorialThe family were so poor that when I tried to find his grave in the 1990s, I discovered that there was no headstone. I contacted the Commonwealth War Grave Commission, who arranged for a headstone to be made and erected on his grave – I was so thrilled that he at last had his own memorial – he is remembered on a memorial at Waterloo Station along with other colleagues who worked for the same rail company and who also perished in the war.

The year following Thomas’s death must have been a terrible struggle. On the first anniversary of his death – 20 October 1915, 100 years ago, Emily was looking after their four sons, the eldest of whom was 8, the youngest 5. She took a job in a laundry and set about raising her sons as a single mother, a daunting prospect for any woman in 1914 with no welfare state or National Health Service for support. She would work in the laundry by day and briefly return home to feed her boys before going back out to scrub floors by night. Emily’s frantic schedule meant that she would often put the boys to bed in their school uniforms as she would not be there to prepare them for school.

Emily and her four sons, Thomas, John, Richard and James

Emily and her four sons, Thomas, John, Richard and James

I find the thought of her day to day struggles unutterably sad. Thomas was a really loving husband and father – you can see this in his postcards and letters to his wife and boys; he had been on the way up in his employment with the railway and Emily had such a wonderful future to look forward with him. He had even bought the boys musical instruments to play as he wanted them to get as much culture as possible. All that changed. The instruments were sold. The lads had to work as well when possible – though one son – James –got a scholarship to Emmanuel College in London. How did she manage it?! The four boys were devoted and looked after her when they were young men. They all played a lot of sport, read and got on as best they could. They were all a credit to her, having families, doing well in relatively low paid, but secure jobs – sadly James died at El Alamein,  a fact  that was kept from Emily just before she died.

The four boys as young men – happy and well!

The four boys as young men – happy and well!

There were no medals or citations for Emily but she was a truly wonderful, remarkable, uneducated but lovely lady. Thank you to the grandmother I never met, but whose hard work helped me become who I am today and of whom I am indescribably proud.

Debbie Cameron – daughter of John Cameron, Emily’s son, born 1908

Guest post: WW1-Letters.com

Ramsden Rd 15.09.15 letterOn 15th September 1915 David Henry Taylor wrote to his sister Ethel (aka Ginger) Linn. David lived with their mother, Fanny, at 56 Ramsden Rd in Balham and his sister lived in New Jersey USA. David’s letter described the Zeppelin damage in London:

“I have just returned from viewing the damage done by the Zeppelins last week….Just around the corner from Upcot Street a house was smashed, and some of our people were out in the street in their night clothes, but luckily nothing was done to our places….I first went to Farringdon Road, opposite the Goods Station one house had been gutted, the front wall of the two top stories blown into the street, and the two houses on either side considerably damaged and of course the windows for some distance either way and opposite were smashed….In Leather Lane, the L.C.C. buildings in which Beatie Bulford lives (only a block at the back of hers) a bomb stripped the roof, blew part of the front wall into the street, tore out the windows bodily, the bedding is hanging down the front of the building, (some of it in the street) and of course the windows and shop fronts up and down the street are all gone. In this case the explosion had a most curious effect, the two windows immediately below the damaged wall are still perfect the glass not being even cracked whilst those opposite and on either side are smashed to atoms….A Public House in Red Lion Street, (just at the back of Bedford Road) looks for all the world as though somebody has lifted it bodily and dropped it again, it has that crumpled appearance and the Penny Bank next door has no windows left and the shop fronts all round are gone. Wood Street (which you remember was burnt a few years back) and Aldermanbury the darlings sprinkled with incendiary bombs setting fire to several large buildings. It was here that the most damage was done as 5 or 6 large blocks of offices and warehouses were gutted.”

David joined the Kings Royal Rifles under the Lord Derby scheme and served in France and Belgium before he was wounded and taken prisoner in July 1917 and spent the rest of the war at Holzminden PoW Camp. The archive is an amazing story of two London families: David’s and his fiancée’s, May Muggridge, who lived in Beckenham and was the most senior woman working at Northern Assurance in Moorgate. May frequently visited Fanny in Balham and her many letters to David described the women’s emotions, leisure activities and practical aspects of their lives. The letters are well written, often humorous, and give amazing detail (although heavily censored) of life as a soldier and life at home. It is a war story, a love story, a true story of WW1.

book cover WW1 memoirsThere are over 400 personal letters covering the period September 1915 to March 1919 in the family archive that is now being made available on-line on www.ww1-letters.com.