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