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

1-7 February 1916: Voluntary War Workers

In October 1915, a circular letter went to local authorities on the subject of Voluntary Organisations which resulted in the formation of county, city and borough Voluntary War Workers Associations. The minutes of the Wandsworth Association refer to a scheme for “co-ordinating and regulating voluntary work organisations throughout the United Kingdom”, with a Director General of Voluntary Organisations who would officially recognise groups who were working for Soldiers and Sailors requirements. The Director General’s main role was to organise donations gathered for troops and military hospitals, this article contains more information on charities during the war.

Both Battersea and Wandsworth formed Associations, with the first meeting of the Battersea one on 31st January.  Wandsworth’s first meeting was in December 1915 and by this week they had got beyond the initial set up and decisions on committee members and had responses from local charity groups to the Voluntary Organisations scheme.  Most of these charities do not have surviving records themselves, some of the groups are mentioned in the local papers but the Association minutes show all the different groups at work in the borough.  The minutes for this week also show how much work has been done so far by the groups who had responded – although presumably there were others at work who had not yet done so.

The Clapham Women’s Liberal Association had been working since August 1914 and had dispatched 1000 articles to Queen Mary’s Guild and a further 400 to Lady Smith Dorrien.  The Putney and Roehampton habitation of the Primrose League had three working parties and sent all completed work up to Primrose League headquarters.  Several of the local churches had working parties, including St Mary Magdalene Wandsworth Common, St Margaret’s Streatham, St Stephens and the Church of the Holy Spirit, as well as there being a Parochial war work party in Clapham.  Many of the church based groups were doing work for the Red Cross and Hospitals – the Clapham group had a depot at 43 The Chase, which worked in connection with the Red Cross working part of the Church of the Holy Spirit.  Other depots were to be found in Streatham and Battersea, St Mary Magdalene, which parish was in both Wandsworth and Battersea boroughs, had a number of ladies who were working with those depots as well as having 4 working parties making items required for the 3rd London General Hospital.  St Margaret’s Church was working with the Red Cross and the St John’s Ambulance Society.

Not all the working parties in Wandsworth supplied information about their activities, the Magdalen Hospital Working Party in Streatham was registered with the Central Workrooms of the Red Cross and St Stephen’s Church working party was listed without any further details. The Association decided that the Director General of Voluntary Organisations should be approached to find what was required at present and then the local organisations were to be asked if they could provide the same, as well as how much they could produce in the next four weeks.

Battersea’s meeting on 31st January had looked at the local depots, presumably with a view to organising them further.  The hall at St Luke’s church was to be known as the Broomwood Ward Depot, St Luke’s Hall” and recognised as the only depot in the ward, and investigations were to be made to see if the Stormont Hall depot could be officially recognised as the only depot in the Bolingbroke Ward.  The finance committee recorded that £34 8s 4d had been paid out to the Mayoress which had been used to purchase wool and needles to make mittens for the Battersea Battalion.

Wandsworth Voluntary War Workers Association minutes, ref: MBNW/2/32/1

Battersea Voluntary War Workers Association minutes, ref: MBB/2/35/1

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

30 November – 6 December 1915: Military Service Tribunals

6 December saw the first meeting of the Battersea Local Tribunal, also known as a Military Service Tribunal. This was just a meeting of the Tribunal members, with no cases to hear as yet, but would act for the next almost three years – deciding whether or not applications to defer or be excused from military service would be permitted or not. The same week, on 1st December, Wandsworth Borough Council agreed a committee to act as the Local Tribunal – after some debate within the Council, it had been agreed that one of the members of the tribunal would be a shop-keeper who would understand the needs of small businesses. The minutes do not record which of the members that was.

The Battersea meeting agreed that the Tribunal would be formed of those present, the Mayor [William Moore], W Hammond JP, A Winfield, H G White and W Watts, with a quorum of 3 people – meaning the tribunal could not act unless at least three of them were present. Present at the first meeting was also Lieutenant Gost, who was the recruiting officer for Battersea and was later replaced by a military representative, Captain Briggs, to argue the case for the Armed Forces.

Tribunals were set up after the National Registration Act, which was passed in July 1915 – partially to boost recruitment but also as a way of establishing how many men were in each occupation. Certain occupations were exempt from being called upon for military service, as they were deemed of national importance themselves. Following on from Registration, the Group Scheme of recruitment was devised, where men were encouraged to sign up and be placed into a particular group, which would mark when they were to be called up for service. A much more detailed explanation of the scheme can be found here, with links to articles on how to research this further for particular soldiers.

After the war, the records of the Military Service tribunals were supposed to be destroyed, with only the Middlesex Appeals Tribunal being kept officially for England, and the Edinburgh and Peebles Tribunals kept for Scotland (see here for more information). Several of the local ones survive however, with both Battersea and Wandsworth having kept their minutes. The Wandsworth minutes are largely just minutes, with the names of the men who came before the tribunal having been kept in a separate register – which has not survived. The Battersea minutes do list the cases heard, and we will be coming back to the registers in future weeks.

Battersea Military Service Tribunals, 1915-1918, ref: MBB/2/25/2-4

Wandsworth Military Service Tribunals, 1915-1918, ref: MBW/2/30

23-29 November 1915: Putney St Mary’s School

The log book of the boys school at Putney St Mary’s School is divided into several sections, each recording different aspects of school life that the standardised book thought were important. Some of these are in the miscellaneous section and details visits to the school, school holidays and other special occasions. For November 1915, the only two events recorded in this section were a visit from the Nurse to examine all the boys and a visit from Dr Verdon Roe to carry out a medical inspection.

Other sections give more insight into the life of the school – the recorded absences for teachers this week notes that Albert Hyslop and A H Rood were absent for half a day as they were “at recruiting office – attempting to enlist”. This was obviously not a successful attempt, as on 7th December Albert Hyslop was again absent, having “Gone to Manchester to try to enlist”. A H Rood continued at the school throughout the war, but Albert Hyslop’s trip to Manchester was a success – his marked absence and recorded last day as staff on 10th December carry the note “Enlisted + gone to Dublin”. It is possible that A H Rood was ineligible for service due to health reasons, in March 1916 he was absent as having been called up for a medical exam by the military but as he wasn’t subsequently called up to service we could guess that he failed it.Logbook - half page

Logbook - gone to ManchesterHyslop’s absence meant that the Head Teacher was “obliged to take charge” of his class. Another part of the log book records how often the Head Teacher taught, and through December and January he is noted as frequently in charge of a class through the absence of a teacher, as well as being in “constantly in charge” of the whole school. Eventually a new teacher was transferred to the school from Brandlehow School for the duration of the war – Mrs Evelyn Faulkner.

Logbook - Head teacher

Elsewhere in the borough, a meeting was held of Battersea Borough Council. They too were dealing with issues around staff joining the Forces, a new Group system of recruitment was coming in (the Derby Scheme) which meant they had to consider if staff joining up through that should receive the same benefits as those who had joined up earlier. The recommendation was that they should, if they joined up before 4th December. Staff now had to be given permission to join up, and at the meeting three men were granted it – W Marsh, public lighting attendant, A J Spriggs, coal trimmer, and G Wright, groundman, Morden cemetery. The Derby Scheme recruitment will feature more next week, and in weeks to come, as we look at the Military Service tribunal records.

Putney St Mary’s school log-book, ref: S11/3/3

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

9-15 November 1915: John Burns and Recruitment

The correspondence file relating to the Battersea Battalion contains a letter addressed to the Director-General of Volunteer Recruiting, forwarding a copy of a resolution made by Battersea Borough Council at their meeting of 9th November. The resolution ran as follows:

That this Council having approached Mr Joh Burns, M.P. in order to induce him to use his great influence in Battersea to encourage recruiting within the Borough, and Mr Burns having refused to receive a deputation from this Council on the matter and having refused in any way to assist recruiting, the Council’s disappointment with, and disapproval of, Mr Burns’ attitude towards recruiting be placed upon the public records of this Council.

Further, that copies of this Resolution be sent to Mr John Burns MP, the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for War and the Director-General of Volunteer Recruiting.

On 22nd October the Mayor, T W Simmons, had written to all members of the Council to inform them that the Borough Recruiting Committee were carrying out Lord Derby’s scheme for recruiting, which included a personal canvas of every eligible man in Battersea. Political Agents were to be involved in arranging this, hence the desirability of securing the support of the local MP, but on top of that it was felt that the scheme was of national importance and “no step should be left untaken to secure its success”. The Recruiting Committee hoped that the public support of John Burns would lead to more men enlisting, and proposed to send a deputation to see him to secure his co-operation. A public meeting was also to be held to discuss the Derby Scheme, and the correspondence file also contains letters sent to local ministers to make announcements at Sunday services and encourage the congregations to attend, and to volunteer as canvassers as well. The file also contains both fliers and posters for the public meeting.

John Burns resolution

John BurnsJohn Burns responded to the request for a meeting with a letter on 2nd November, quoted in the Council minutes – the original is not in the Battalion file. His response was that “as no public advantage can result from complying with the application, he respectfully declines the request”. Acknowledgment letters of the resolution are in the file, none have additional comment beyond receipt of it. Burns was opposed to the war, appointed as President of the Board of Trade in February 1914, he had resigned from the Cabinet two days after war broke out. His son, John Edgar Burns, volunteered soon after the outbreak of war and saw action in what is now Israel, as well as Egypt, before being invalided home with shell-shock.  He then decided to work to commemorate those who had died fighting and worked for the British Graves Commission in France (now the Commonwealth War Graves Commission) and died in 1922, due to long-lasting effects of his war-time experiences.

More information on John Burns can be found here or on the Dictionary of National Biography (Library card log-in required – type Wandsworth followed by library card number).

Battersea Battalion correspondence file, ref: MBB/8/2/15