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

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30 May – 5 June 1916: Sir Walter St John’s School Magazine

The June edition of the Sir Walter St John’s School Magazine brought several updates about Old Boys who were serving with the Armed Forces, and also some obituaries. Updates included congratulations to Harold Eastman for his promotion to 1st Lieutenant with the 2nd Canadian Contingent – although he was wounded in three places a fortnight after his promotion.  The Roll of Honour had three names on it, those of James Higgins, Reginald Spring and Frederick Keene, along with some additional information about Harvey Haysom, whose death was reported in the previous magazine.

James Higgins had left school in 1910 and gone to work for the Gas Light and Coke Company, joining the 12th London Regiment before the war in April 1914.  He was wounded at Zonnibeke in May 1915 and during his convalescence visited the school in July that year, but died of blood poisoning in October 1915 in Calais.  Reginald Spring was baldy wounded by a piece of shell in France in May 1916, dying the next day and the magazine says he was buried in the British Cemetery at Noyelles.

The lengthiest entry in the roll of honour was for Frederick Keene. He had not actually been with the Armed Forces, although the school felt that he merited inclusion as he had been leader of a troop of Boy Scouts who had volunteered for coastal patrol duty.  Throughout the winter of 1914-15, Keene had camped with them and cycled to and from his daily work through all weathers, which led to his health failing and the illness of which he later died.  His name was included as having given his life for King and Country “as truly as those who have fallen in the trenches or perished at sea!”.

The magazine also features the usual extracts from Old Boys letters, including one from A L Finding, stationed in Egypt “just by the Pyramids”, and referencing being at Gallipoli, another old boy, O D Anderson had also been in Egypt, although was writing having gone from there to Salonika. S T Rogers described having been in a sap which was only 25 yards from the Germans, and occasionally talking to them, including the Germans throwing over a letter from a French prisoner to send to his wife, and two German officers who wanted to know if “any of us had come from Cardiff, as they had been in business there for ten years”.  Others seemed more focused on the weather in France, and the negotiations required for billets and food!

Sir Walter St John’s School Magazine, June 1916, ref: S17/2/6

9-15 May 1916: The Medical Officers of Health

Every fortnight the Medical Officer of Health prepared a report on the health of the borough. This included summaries of births and deaths, causes of death and dealing with insanitary conditions across the borough.  It also gives a good idea of what concerns there were about the public health of the borough and sometimes an insight into the conditions people lived and worked in.

In the two weeks covered by the report, 264 houses had to be disinfected by the Council, with a further 52 having their drains flushed with disinfectants following infectious disease and 93 having disinfectant supplied. 78 cases of infectious disease were reported and 1815 items were disinfected.  This may seem somewhat over the top, but this was before antibiotics and vaccines so many infectious diseases were fatal.  21 people died of measles in this period, all were under the age of 15 – and only 2 were over 5.  The report made to the Council includes an instruction from the Board of Education that children under 5 should be excluded from public elementary school and that if children had siblings under 5 then they should be excluded from classes infected with measles.  In order to try and combat the heavy mortality associated with measles, the Council was to seek permission from the Local Government Board to employ an additional female sanitary inspector and health visitor.

Anyone suffering from particular infectious diseases had to notify the Council, presumably so that disinfection could take place. Scarlet fever was the most common notifiable disease with 24 notifications, followed by chicken pox, both mainly in children and all over the borough.  The statistics given also include “Infectious Diseases Contacts at the Reception Shelter” (14 for the fortnight), which presumably was how the Medical Officers team were notified.

Library bye-laws stated that anyone who had a library book and came into contact with infectious disease had to notify the library. This meant that in the May 1916 accounts, there as a charge of £3 and 4s for books destroyed after cases of infectious disease – charged to the Health Committee.  The Health Committee also spent 17s on disinfectant from Sanitas Co Ltd and £96 14s and 5d on disinfectant from Newton, Chambers & Co.

Medical Officers of Health annual reports for across London are available via the Wellcome Library – the Heritage Service has the reports for Wandsworth and Battersea but as neither produced annual reports during the war years, these can only be traced through the Council minutes.  They are a fantastic resource for information about life in the borough and challenges faced by those who lived here.

25 April – 1 May 1916: Lights Out

Zeppelin raids over Britain, although they had not yet touched Wandsworth, were having effects, with a large increase this week in reported prosecutions for having bright lighting. The last time a Zeppelin had successfully attacked London was October 1915, but in March and April there had been several unsuccessful attacks – unable to reach London, Zeppelins had bombed other parts of the country instead.  The Defence of the Realm Act 1916 had brought in powers to restrict lighting, amongst other things, and over the last few months the local councils had dealt with issues relating to the restrictions.  This included considering whether or not kerbs should be whitened to make them easier to see (Wandsworth Council, April 1915), and carrying out works to comply with the new regulations (Battersea Council, October 1915).

The local papers usually report one or two prosecutions, but the South Western Star of 28 April had almost half a page with details of them all.

James Collins was prosecuted for failing to shade a light from his kitchen window in Sheepcote Lane. When spoken to, he said he “was just doing a bit of reading” – the window was at the back and perhaps, like Henrietta Swash of Haldon Road, he hadn’t realised he was meant to shade back lights.  Both were fined 20 shillings.

Several people blamed others for the light. William Hampton, of Railway Wharf, said that his clerk had forgotten to draw the blinds on the office window and a motor shed.  Arthur Whitney of Bridge Wharf, Wellington Road, said that the office boy had forgotten to draw the blinds on his office.  Whitney was fined 10s but Hampton was fined 40, presumably because more lights were visible in his case.  Fanny Self, who ran a boarding school on Nightingale Lane, was also fined 10s after the children had gone into a room and switched the lights on without drawing the blind.

It seemed that many people blamed their servants for the lights showing, to the extent that magistrate Mr Garrett suggested that “In many cases I find the person really to blame is a servant. In these cases, I think the police should summon the person really responsible”.  Despite that, Mr Gamble was fined 10s.  Given that a maid’s wages (from the Situations Vacant column of the paper) were advertised as £18-20 a year, or sometimes 5s shillings a week, it was probably just as well for the maid that it was her employer who was fined.

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.

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

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