2-8 February 1915: Tooting Relief Fund and the Home Defence League

The Wandsworth Borough News of 5 February carried several stories relating to the effect of the war on the borough. The Tooting Relief Fund Committee, had an argumentative start to their work at a public meeting over the make up of the committee back in September 1914, and more than once feature in the local press with debates over their ongoing duties. The meeting reported in the Borough News included a local vicar expressing disappointment that the committee’s work appeared to be mainly giving out “doles” [money], as he felt they should be devising schemes to provide work instead. He approved of the workroom for women which had been set up at the Wesleyan Hall in Tooting, and claimed that it was Socialists on the committee who were doing nothing but give out money. That last remark caused protests that “if the Borough Council was composed of socialists then they would move Heaven and earth to provide work”. Another committee member asked if they were to allow people to starve if they could not find work? Official figures apparently showed unemployment in Tooting to be low, and reliable figures were needed to prove that unemployment work schemes were successful. Reverend French agreed that if work could not be found then the only way to help was by making payments, but if that was the case his time was more usefully spent elsewhere and he resigned from the committee, as did Reverend Bevill Allen, Mr Cooper Rawson and Mr W J Mellhuish.

The other slight controversy of the meeting was the receipt of a large quantity of flour from Canada, to be distributed among the poor. Two Tooting bakers had, at the request of Mr Shepherd, offered to make this into bread free of charge, but the committee objected to this offer as both the bakers were German. Councillor A J Hurley acknowledged that it was kind of them to offer to do it, but felt that there were plenty of English bakers who would have been equally kind had they been asked. He also wondered what the Canadians would think if they knew their flour was being baked by Germans? The matter was then dropped, with no record of which bakers eventually made the bread.

The newspaper also reports on the various home defence forces that had been set up around the borough. These were localised versions of what was the Home Guard in World War Two, and reports of their activities included the Athlete’s Volunteer Force: Wandsworth and Southfields division, the Southfields Defence Force and the Home Defence League, South West London division. The report for the Athlete’s Volunteer Force referred to the donation of 6 rifles to the Wandsworth Rifle Club by Sir Henry Kimber and to plans for divisions to be founded in Tooting and Roehampton. The headquarters of the Athlete’s Volunteer Force was Wandsworth Rifle Club, so presumably the two were closely linked. Southfields Defence Force was based at the London, County and Westminster Bank, Southfields Station. The paper carried their orders for February, including parades, exercises and recruitment – they were keen for existing members to encourage others to “be prepared to take their place to defend their hearths and homes against a ruthless enemy” and wanted to keep numbers at around 800 men. The Home Defence League was based at Trinity Road and had the same commanding officer as the Wandsworth Regiment of the Volunteer Training Corps, so presumably it was formalised later. It was divided into several platoons which each had instructions in different areas of the borough for drills, with the whole regiment due to parade for General Sir O’Moore Creagh on the upcoming Saturday.

Wandsworth Borough News available on microfilm in the searchroom

1-7 December 1914: The Home Defence League, absent Councillors and the Cinema

On 2nd December Wandsworth Borough Council had their regular meeting – not quite the last of the year as they met fortnightly and therefore held another on the 16th. The meeting included the first leave of absence of a Councillor being agreed by the Council, Councillor James Allsop was granted two months owing to his absence on His Majesty’s Service at Pembroke Dock. The length of time granted was presumably an indication that the general feeling was still that the war would not last much longer.

An application from the Home Defence League gave a slightly different picture. The Balham and Wandsworth Branch applied to the Council for the loan of six of the Council’s picks and spades for trench digging on weekends. After some debate, the Borough Engineer was authorised to lend the League as many as could be spared and might be required. The minutes do not record where the trenches were to be dug, or why. The Tooting and Balham Gazette report that the discussion on the loan was a high point of a meeting otherwise described as “dull and uninteresting”. The Gazette was also keen that the League received more publicity and that efforts were being made to get the Government to recognise such voluntary organisations. The local branch of the League had some 2000 members by December 1914, the newspaper comment wished to know how many of those members were actually eligible for active service and if they were being encouraged to join up.

The Armed Forces were also a focal point of the upcoming films at the Tooting Pavilion on Mitcham Road. For the first part of the week the film was “The Three Musketeers” but it was to be followed by a special exclusive called “The German Spy Peril”, dealing with the ways and means of acquiring useful information for Germany. Apparently this was a popular theme, as there was also a reference to the Scala Theatre, London, showing a series on the “Fighting Forces of Europe”.

1914 Wandworth Borough Council minutes, ref: MBW/1/14

Tooting and Balham Gazette available on microfilm