22-28 June 1915: Battersea Battalion’s “Tickets to Berlin”

Battersea Borough Council met on 23rd June 1915, and like their neighbours in Wandsworth were starting to record members of staff who had been killed in action.  The death of Benjamin Henry Bourne, a third class clerk in the Accountant’s Department, on 26 May was reported, he had been in France with the 23rd County of London regiment.  He was 21, the son of Benjamin and Caroline Bourne and from Hillier Road, Wandsworth Common.  This was not the only staff related matter which the Council had to consider.  As well as their regular meeting they held a special meeting, where the agenda related to pay for members of staff who joined the Forces.  In September the Council had agreed to pay staff the difference between their Forces wage and their Council one, to ensure that the men were not out of pocket by joining up.  About 102 of the Council’s staff were now receiving these payments, and the meeting’s eventual decision was that only those who obtained permission to join the Forces should receive it.  A proposed amendment that permission should be refused to those involved in munitions work was voted against.

Recruitment for the new planned Battersea Battalion was also raised at the meeting, two councillors were already members of it and came to the meeting in uniform – according to the South Western Star they “were an ornament to the Council Chamber, to which they lent an appearance of smartness and efficiency that is not generally perceivable there”.  The minutes of the meeting record that it was to be known as the 10th (Service) Battalion, the Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment.  Already 50 men had joined up and were being drilled at Latchmere baths, and recruiting had not yet begun in earnest.  According to the paper, recruits were being offered a free (first class) ticket to Berlin, and the printed offers of tickets were being given out by young women in restaurants and shops “who think the local youth ought to be doing something better than making eyes over the counter”.

The urge to join up had caused a rumour to circulate round the Council that staff had been told they had a fortnight to join or be discharged.  Councillor Raynor, chair of the Highways Committee, said that no such statement had been made, no-one had the authority to make it and that any men who had been discharged had been due to the “exigencies of work”.  The Council were also having to deal with cost-cutting measures, including the proposed closure of Latchmere Recreation Ground, Vicarage Road Recreation Ground and Christ Church Gardens from November to February.  Other matters acknowledged included the new purchase of a horse for Morden Cemetery to replace the one requisitioned in October and the receipt of a case of stuffed birds by the Plough Road museum.

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

South Western Star available on microfilm

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8-14 June 1915: The Wandsworth Recruiting Committee and the beginnings of the Battersea Battalion

The meeting of the Executive Sub-Committee for the Wandsworth Battalion took place on 14th June 1915, held at the Town Hall in Wandsworth.  This was the third meeting which had taken place, but the first for this particular sub-committee.  One of the first matters for discussion on their agenda was the appointment of a Colonel for the battalion, and they had two possible candidates.

The first candidate was Captain Burton, a 47 year old bachelor who was currently a non-gazetted Major.  Since the outbreak of war he had spent nine months in the Paymasters Office and had then been appointed second in command of the 12th Battalion of the East Surrey Regiment (Rotherhithe).  He was currently residing in the Charing Cross Hotel but would qualify for the position by living in Wandsworth.  Captain Gethen was 64 and had lived in Tooting Bec Gardens for twenty years.  He was a retired stockbroker, having also organised and recruited an 85 strong Mounted Detachment in the Boer War and was currently in charge of the Clapham Volunteers and an experienced Quartermaster.  The post went to Captain Burton, at which point the minutes begin to refer to him as Major Burton instead.  This was subject to confirmation by the War Office and the Major taking up residence in the borough.

Major Burton was to be present when officers were interviewed for the battalion, and several candidates were present at the meeting, including one for a captaincy and five for lieutenants and second lieutenants.  The candidates were interviewed, but no decisions were to be made for the present (further interviews take place next week).  The candidate for Captaincy was a Captain Hallett, who had lived in Clapham for twenty years and was 54, having retired from the Royal West Sussex Regiment in 1892 after 11 years as an officer.  The applicants for Lieutenants included:

  • Second-Lieutenant Hoare, of Nicosia Road, aged 30 ¾, who had previously been in the ranks of the Seaforth Highlanders and was now in the 4th Royal Irish.
  • R H Harker, Haldon Road, who was 28, married with two children and was sub-commandant of the Wandsworth and Earlsfield Athletic Volunteer Force. He had been recommended by Lieut-Colonel Haskett Smith as knowing the 1914 drill and having drilled a full company on several ocacsions.
  • Mr Courtenay Bishop, a 36 year old widower with one child who was resident in Victoria Road, Clapham. He was an engineer with the 1st Battalion Surrey Volunteer Force.
  • Second Lieutenant Greene, currently held an appointment with the 7th Dorsets but had been on active service in Northern France with the 15th County of London Regiment (Civil Service Rifles). He was 22, spoke French and had previously been a civil servant.
  • Mr GW Buchanan was the director of a building contractor who lived in Trinity Road. He was 31 and an instructor for the Signalling Company of the 1st Wandsworth Battalion Home Defence Corps, who had also previously spent 7 years with the London Scottish.

This was a busy week across what is now Wandsworth as the regular meeting of Battersea Borough Council took place, with the first reference in the minutes to the borough also being asked to recruit a battalion.  The Mayor was authorised to raise a local unit of infantry and the Recruiting Officer was requesting offices in the Lower Hall of Battersea Town Hall to use as offices and a store.  It may sound as if Wandsworth had been asked to recruit a battalion before Battersea, but this was the first Battersea Council meeting since 12 May, whereas Wandsworth’s Council meeting was on 19th May so the Council were able to authorise arrangements faster – the request to Battersea had already been in the local paper.  Battersea’s connections with the Forces also included the headquarters of the 23rd County of London regiment on St John’s Hill, a connection marked in the meeting’s minutes by an invitation to all members and staff of the Council to a memorial service for the fallen of the 23rd in St Mary’s Church, Battersea, to be held on 12th June.

Wandsworth Recruitment Committee minutes, ref: MBW/2/31/1

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

27 April – 3 May 1915: Council Prosecutions

Amongst the usual business of the Battersea Council meeting on 28 April 1915 were two uses of the Grand Hall  for recruiting meetings – one for the Voluntary Training Corps (see here for more on them) and the other for the London Irish Rifles.  Most meetings involved approving the decisions of the Finance Committee to grant use of the Grand Hall, either free or for a reduced fee, and recruitment meetings were regular – there had been one in Earlsfield earlier in the month.  The lets of the Grand Hall were not usually for such similar events so close together, the VTC meeting had been on 21st April and the London Irish Rifles on the 25th, and the minutes don’t record how successful either of them were.

The Council also had a report from their Law and General Purposes Committee on the outcome of several cases where they were prosecuting people in the borough.  The majority of these related to the sale of food which had been adulterated in some way, including butter which was “70% foreign fat” and milk that was “8.5% extraneous water”.  The shopkeepers responsible were fined accordingly.  There was one slightly more unusual prosecution under the Criminal Law Amendment Act, that of Mary Susan Davison as the occupier/person in charge of 5 Usk Road, for knowingly permitting it to be used for habitual prostitution and for acting in management of a brothel.  The South Western Star refers to the case as “Usk Road disorderly house” and gives details of the prosecution, which actually took place a couple of weeks earlier.  Mrs Davison appears to have recently moved to Lavender Road, and when she was arrested said that “We’ve only been here a few days and the other women don’t come here” – a man who was present when the police arrived ran away.  According to the police who had been watching the Usk Road property there had been a number of male visitors to the house accompanied by one or other of Mrs Davison’s lodgers, women described by the police as “of bad character” – two of whom were known to the police from a previous incident.  Mrs Davison claimed to have thrown one of the women out when she was told that she was bringing men to the house, and denied all knowledge of the other two.  The magistrate said that it was a “perfectly clear case” and sentenced Mrs Davison to six weeks hard labour, a sentence probably extended because she had a prior conviction for a similar offence.

Finding more information about Mary Susan Davison is actually quite difficult.  She obviously moved from one short-term let to another, so does not appear in the electoral registers for either Usk Road or Lavender Road (the last electoral register produced during the First World War was collated in October 1914) and the account of the court case suggests she was in Tooting before that – she doesn’t show up in a search of the electoral registers on Ancestry.  There is no obvious match to her in the borough in the 1911 census, and although she claimed to be a widow of ten years standing there is no Samuel Davison (the name she gave for her husband, claming he’d been dead for ten years) who died around 1905 in London on the General Register Office index of deaths.  She doesn’t appear under this name either, so perhaps it was a false one or she changed it later.  There is something of a mystery about it, but the case shows that borough councils didn’t just have to deal with war-time issues, they carried on having what was considered some level of responsibility for local society.

Battersea Borough Council minutes: MBB/1/15

South Western Star available on microfilm

Ancestry Library edition available in all Wandsworth libraries

23 February-1 March 1915: Wages arguments

Following his concerns in last week’s Tooting and Balham Gazette, the Wandsworth Borough News reported on 26 February that Councillor Hurley had been the subject of a letter of complaint to the Relief Committee.  The full Relief Committee met a few days after the paper was printed and the Mayor read aloud a letter from the secretaries of the Women’s sub-committee.  The letter accused Cllr Hurley of disturbing the workers and “assuming an offensive tone towards the supervisor”, and said that the women who were cleaning the floor had volunteered to do so and had not done the full working day.  Cllr Hurley did not take kindly to the suggestions that he was stirring up trouble in the workroom, particularly when the vice-chair of the Workroom Committee assured the Committee that the women had volunteered and there was no hardship, visitors to the workroom were welcome as long as they “behaved in a proper way…it would be very difficult to manage over a hundred women if people come in saying they ought to revolt”.  The Mayor told him off for interrupting to declare that this was not true.  Eventually, after a lot of arguing, the matter was referred back to the Women’s Employment sub-committee.

The argument over pay was not reserved to the Women’s Workroom in Tooting – Battersea Borough Council were also considering it at their meeting on 24th February, as reported in the South Western Star.  A letter from the Battersea Trades and Union Council had been received by the Highways and Works Committee, asking that labourers should receive an increase of one half-penny per hour (approximately 10p today).  The Committee had referred it up to Council without comment, and many of the Councillors argued that it should go back to Committee in order for them to fully discuss the reasons behind a proposed wage rise.  Councillor Lane pointed out that the Council had not given a payrise when the London master builders had done so in 1913 and that there was likely to be a slump after the war “the moneyed classes were reaping huge profits from the swollen prices of commodities and the working classes were entitled to their share of the profits, they being the people who suffered most”.  Councillor Mutter noted that Silkstone, a more expensive type of coal, had gone up in price by 4s a ton, while the cheaper type had gone up by 10s a ton, meaning that poorer people had a larger price hike to deal with.  His knowledge of Silkstone apparently caused much amusement in the chamber, but he made clear that he felt the wage rise should be considered.  The decision was referred back, whilst the same Committee’s decision to grant a payrise requested by the London District Committee of the Associated Blacksmiths’ and Ironworkers’ Society was agreed.  It didn’t go through smoothly, as some councillors felt that the timing was not right and that it should also be referred back to the Highways and Works Committee, but it was adopted.

The rise in the cost of fuel was not only used as a justification for a payrise, it was also causing budgetary problems for the Baths and Washhouses Committee.  Free entry to Council baths had been granted to members of the Territorial Forces, which now had to be withdrawn and replaced with half-price entry as the cost of fuel had increased.

South Western Star and Wandsworth Borough News available on microfilm.

26 January – 1 February 1915: Losing the Medical Officer of Health to the Armed Forces

The minutes of the meeting of Batttersea Borough Council on 27 January state that the Medical Officer of Health – Dr G Q Lennane – had been gazetted as a lieutenant and therefore would be required to give his full service to the Forces in the near future. It was then referred to the Health Committee to appoint a locum to fill his post, a decision which was an amendment and had to be voted on. The Council also agreed to pay him the difference between his salary and the salary awarded by the Army, a proposal which the South Western Star reports caused much debate. The chair of the Health Committee, Cllr Willis, formally disagreed with the proposal and a lengthy debate followed over whether or not the Council should allow Dr Lennane to go.

Medical Officers of Health had wide-ranging responsibilities for the health of the borough. They provided statistics on birth, deaths and infectious disease – which was part of a responsibility to contain it rather than merely to take notes. This extended to duties including inspecting housing which could be unfit for human habitation, checking on sanitation and considering provision for maternity and child welfare. The 1913 Annual Report also shows that he was responsible for the protection of the food supply and for enforcing the 1901 Factories and Workshops Act. Dr Lennane was a senior member of staff with a Public Health department working for him, so he was not solely responsible for this, but it was an important job in the borough.

The Councillors who objected to his going made clear that they were non un-patriotic, but that they had the interests of the borough at the forefront of their minds. Others argued that duty was to the country first, then to the borough – one councillor who was also a local employer said that 40 of his men had enlisted and had not asked his permission first – and that a good senior member of staff would have his department working in such a way that he could go for a time. Eventually the Council agreed to let Dr Lennane go when necessary and for the committee to look into a locum, a debate which the minutes do not reflect. Dr Lennane went to France as a Captain with the Royal Army Medical Corps later in 1915, he returned after the war and remained with the Council until 1932.

Less contentious was the decision to set aside a section of Morden Cemetery for the graves of servicemen, at the lowest possible cost. There are over 70 burials from the First World War in Morden Cemetery listed on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission site, although they are in several areas of the Cemetery. The full list can be found here and includes burials from both wars.

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

South Western Star, 1915, available on microfilm

Medical Officer of Health reports are available online from the Wellcome Institute, or in hard copy at the Heritage Service.

15-21 December 1914: First meeting of the Battersea Recruitment Committee

The first meeting of the Battersea Recruitment Committee took place on Wednesday 16th December. The formation of the committee had been a little controversial when discussed in Council the previous week, and one of the first things the committee did was to define their object so that their purpose was clear to the public (in many ways, committees have not really changed).

The Committee decided it was not their job to force men to join the army and that they would nto approve of any employer discharging staff for that purpose – this seemed to be due to the fact that a recruit joining in this manner would “not be worth his salt”. What they did want to do was encourage the young men of the borough to remember that they were members of a “nation of freedom and liberty” and it was their duty to defend these things, this would prove that conscription was not necessary. The Committee were also anxious to ensure that dependents left behind did not suffer, this was to be done in as personal a manner as possible – as opposed to official – so that they would feel pride in the sacrifice their young men were making. With this in mind, the Committee planned to lobby the Government to give proper compensation to dependents of those killed or injured in the war. In a time before social security and a free NHS, the risks of losing the main wage-earner in a household still included ending up in the workhouse, so this could be a major concern.

The Committee also hoped to arrange recruiting marches in the borough, and planned to get local organisations involved in helping with recruitment. There were no plans for recruiting a local battalion yet, this not happen until spring 1915 so we will be coming back to the Recruitment Committee at a later date.

Elsewhere, the Town Clerk was writing to the Central (Unemployed) Committee to say they had posters about opportunities for women’s emigration but none of the application forms. F W Farmiloe Ltd, a paint & varnish manufacturers in Nine Elms Lane reported that business had decreased 40% and that 67 of their men had joined the Army, although they had also made 16 dismissals. Mr Holliday, a pawnbroker on Battersea Park Road, reported regularly that business was down, whereas for many of the manufacturing companies in the area – particularly engineering or chemical works, as noted last week – the reports stated that business was up and extra hands had been engaged.

Battersea Borough Council minutes, 1914-1915, ref: MBB/1/15

Central (Unemployed) Committee letter book, 1913-1915, ref: MBB/8/3/3

8-14 December 1914: the Board of Guardians meeting and Battersea businesses

The Wandsworth and Clapham Union Board of Guardians met on 10 December. The Board of Guardians were responsible for the management of the Union workhouse and infirmary, as well as an Old People’s Home at Tooting and a school. Much of the business of their meeting was taken up with the accounts, which were lengthy, including as they did payments to staff, suppliers, contractors, central funds and the poor themselves.

Staffing issues came up repeatedly, Ward Sister Williams was reported as having left for service with the Army Nursing Reserve. Two new probationary nurses were appointed subject to the approval of the Local Government Board. Presumably to help, rather than to take her place. Five new temporary clerks were taken on in place of those who had joined the Forces and, as with the Borough Councils, concerns over how to deal with the salaries of those who had joined the Forces were raised. The Local Government Board had written to the Board of Guardians to say that staff must be paid, and the Board decided that all staff who were serving before instruction was received from the Local Government Board would be paid half-pay. This would ensure that the difference between Army pay and their normal salary was made up. To attempt to minimise the risk of having a lot of staff on half-pay whilst replacements were having to be found, the Board also decided that any further staff who wished to join up must seek permission from the Board.

The Guardian for one of the Southfields wards, Mrs Margery Corbett Ashby, was absent from the meeting as her husband had joined the Forces. This was approved by her fellow Guardians until the termination of the War or until she was again able to take up her residence. Margery Corbett Ashby married Brian Ashby in 1910 and they had one son, born in 1914. On the 1911 census she listed her occupation as a lecturer in Suffrage and Politics, she had achieved a degree in Classics at Newnham College , Cambridge, which had not been granted as women were not permitted to receive degrees from Cambridge until 1948. She had been secretary to the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies and was involved with the International Woman Suffrage Alliance. For more information about her see here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margery_Corbett_Ashby

The Board of Guardians was not the only organisation available to help those who fell upon harder times. The Central (Unemployed) Committee was a London wide committee which sought to find work for men and women in need, including offering them a chance to go to a work camp in Hollesley Bay and sometimes opportunities to emigrate. The Battersea Town Clerk wrote to the Committee with recommendations, requests and local information and some of his letter books survive. On 11 December 1914 he reported on the business of several Nine Elms firms, which the Committee used to find work for men and women in the borough. The figures show that in Mark Mayhew’s Flour Mills trade had improved and all staff were full-time with no dismissals. Dorman Long Engineers reported that all staff were full-time and they were very busy. Crosse & Blackwell had men on ¾ time, as did the London Provincial Laundry Company. Spiers Pond Laundry reported a decrease in business, although all staff were full-time.  Engineering was obviously a growth industry at the time, as was bread production, whilst other industries started to drop off.

Full papers of the Wandsworth and Clapham Union are available at London Metropolitan Archives.  Copies of minutes are also held at the Heritage Service, for 1914 ref: WCU/1/22  The Wandsworth Borough News is available on microfilm.

Central (Unemployed) Committee letter book, 1913-1915, ref: MBB/8/3/3