18-24 May 1915: Formation of the Wandsworth Battalion

20th May 1915 saw the first meeting of the Wandsworth Battalion recruitment committee, held in the Town Hall.  The request from the Army Council and Lord Kitchener to raise a battalion was reported at the Council meeting on 5th May, and this was the first meeting about doing so. The first decision taken by the meeting was to form a Committee, in fact to form two Committees – both a General and an Executive Committee.  It was also considered important to establish that the name of Wandsworth would be attached to the battalion if they raised, say, less than 1000 men.  Councillor Prince also suggested that the various wards of the borough should be identified with the battalion by name, this was to receive consideration rather than being automatically approved, presumably due to the earlier concerns over numbers, and in the end only the borough name was recorded.  Officers of the Battalion were to be Wandsworth men only, this was clearly felt to be important to maintain a properly local battalion and also to encourage local men to join up and to be supportive of the endeavour.  A recruiting officer had already been found, and the Mayor (Archibald Dawnay) was sure than in a large borough like Wandsworth 150 men could be found from each ward.  There had already been a hundred applications to join the battalion and when it reported the meeting, the Wandsworth Borough News further encouraged all man of military age resident in the borough to join up. The same day also saw the regular meeting of the Putney Relief Fund Committee. Numbers applying to the Fund for help had reduced considerably since the early days of the war and only 5 applications were being considered at this meeting.  Four of them had applied at least once before, although one of them was turned down on this occasion as her distress was held not to be caused by the war.  That applicant returned in subsequent occasions and was granted relief, all the way through to July 1916 when the minutes stop, and two other applicants this week also continued to rely on the committee.  They were Harriet Andrew, Marie Gibson and Margaret Kelly. Harriet Andrew is probably the same one who lived at 125 Lower Richmond Road in 1911, she was a widowed needleworker who was living with another, older, woman and very probably would have suffered in the reduction of available work – laundries in Battersea also reported a downturn in business as a result of the war.  The other two applicants have proved difficult to find more information on, as the minutes don’t give addresses.  The other applicant who received a positive outcome this week was Elizabeth Pigott, enquiries were to be made about her circumstances by Miss Kitson and Miss Lecky (of the Eileen Lecky Clinic) and if those proved favourable was to receive an emergency payment.  She was eventually granted 13s a week for two weeks and referred to the Fulham committee instead. For earlier meetings of the Relief Fund committee, see this post. Wandsworth Battalion minute book, ref: MBW/2/25/1 Putney Relief Fund minute book, ref: MBW/2/32/3 Wandsworth Borough News available on microfilm

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

12-18 January 1915: Putney Relief Fund

At the end of September, the Putney Relief Fund made its first payment, (see this post for details). Since then the numbers applying had dropped, the meeting on 14th January 1915 had 9 applications to deal with – considerably less than when the Fund first opened. One of the names was still the same, Alice Barham had originally been given some money until her sons in Canada could be contacted, but at the end of October she had to apply again and was being granted 2/6 per week. The Committee recommended that she contact her son at Salisbury but had been granting her a weekly allowance ever since. On 21st January this was suspended for the time being, her name does not re-appear in 1915 and there is no record as to why they stopped the allowance. Hopefully one of her family was able to help her or she managed to obtain work.

Other applicants had to find work, Mary Brown’s case had been adjourned from the previous week until the Committee heard from her employers – presumably to ensure that her hardship was due to the war. A workroom had been set up at the Wesleyan Central Hall in Tooting and employment was to be obtained for her there. One case, that of Mrs Featherstonehaugh, was eventually referred to the Central Committee for the borough and then to the Committee at Assington. Assington was presumably where the headquarters of the Prince of Wales Relief Fund was based. Interestingly, unlike all the other applicants, Mrs Featherstonehaugh is only ever referred to as such – all other applicants are referred to using both names – and she received more support than the majority, getting £1 a week whilst the most received by another applicant this week was 13s. Her full name was Emily Featherstonehaugh, she lived in Warwick Mansions on Lower Richmond Road and her husband Thomas was a commercial agent for silk. Full case details are not given in the minutes, so it is impossible to tell what caused difficulties for any of the applicants – it could be that business dried up due to the war, or that men who joined the Army were not able to send pay home immediately. The Committee was very clear that distress which was not caused by the war was not their responsibility, any applications which they deemed to fall in to that category were turned down.

The Putney Committee also reported on matters decided on by the Borough Executive Sub-Committee with other issues relating to who received money. The question over how to deal with men who had served for a short time then discharged from the Army as unfit was reported as having been referred up to the Central Committee for a decision. If applications from men who had been employed in hut building were received by the Ward Committees then they were recommended to refer the men to the Distress Committee as relief works were being opened. The minutes do not say what the “hut building” was, nor do the minutes of the Executive Committee – although there were earlier notes of men being given work to do in clearing vacant land for cultivation. It is possible that the huts were for the 3rd London General Hospital, but there is no evidence to back that up.

Minutes of the Putney Ward Relief Fund, ref: MBW/2/32/3

Minutes of the Relief Fund Committee, ref: MBW/2/32/2

29 September – 5 October 1914: Relief Fund payments

Applicants details, September 1914

Applicants details, September 1914

Over the last few weeks there have been a lot of mentions of the Prince of Wales National Relief Fund and the local Relief Funds. Each borough set up committees as part of the national effort, which co-ordinated local collection and distribution of relief, or money to help relieve hardship caused by the war. Wandsworth Heritage Service only holds one local committee book, for the Putney Ward, and so far committee meetings had been very much administration and fundraising related. The Putney Committee met in Putney Library and was chaired by Alderman Lindsey, with members including Eileen Lecky (see here for more about her and her work), the local councillors and Rev Canon Rivington, vicar of St Mary’s Putney. A register of assistance had been prepared and enquiries made round all the charitable organisations in the area to gather more information. In order to deal with applications for employment the committee had started to use the windows of the Board Room in the Library to advertise vacancies for temporary servants and charwomen.

The local committee met on October 1st and the minute book records the first applicants and the decisions made. There were 45 applicants, six of whom had their applications turned down as their case was not due to the war. A further six were declined as “undeserving”, and one case was considered both undeserving and not war-related. Fifteen were placed on the unemployment register to help them find work – three of those were given some money in the interim, and in one case it was actually the applicant’s mother who went on the register, whilst in other’s both husband and wife were placed on the register. Some applicants had already found work and their applications were withdrawn. Eight applications were referred to the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Family Association (who still exist today, see www.ssafa.org ), one to the Putney St Mary’s Relief Fund and one awaited a decision from the Putney Benevolent Society. That left five applications, two of which were adjourned for further investigations and one of which has the intriguing entry of “Chairman to see Borough Engineer and endeavour to get husband reinstated on the Wandsworth Borough Council staff”.

Of the 45 applications only two were granted financial help without also having to find work. Gertrude Hannah Brookes was to be allowed 5s per week temporarily and her child was to be fed at school – a somewhat mysterious entry in a few weeks refers to contacting the “Roumanian minister” with reference to her case. Alice Barham was granted 5s for one week and her sons in Canada were to be contacted to see if they could assist. A labourer would have averaged from 14s to 22s a week in 1914, so the amounts being given out were not large, and the fact only five people were awarded any relief at this point shows that it was not an easy process. Less than two months into the war the effects on ordinary people were starting to show, particularly with the amounts of people who were out of work.

Putney Ward Local Relief minutes, ref: MBW/2/32/3

8-14 September: Battersea Borough Council responds to the outbreak of war

Battersea Borough Council held their first meeting since the outbreak of war on 9th September. In fact, two special meetings were convened for that evening, the first was to deal with reports from the Committees and the second to consider the war. The Committees were largely reporting on schemes of works to do with the Central (Unemployed) Body, which was a London wide body set up to help create jobs – work on the Latchmere Estate was done using labour via the Central (Unemployed) Body, and one of the schemes agreed at this meeting was to finish laying out the Latchmere recreation ground. Another scheme agreed was the building of a Municipal Rifle Range – why or where is not given.

Letter calling a Town Meeting on the War, signed by Mayor John Archer

Letter calling a Town Meeting on the War, signed by Mayor John Archer

The Mayor reported that he had been asked by the Lord Mayor of London to call a Town’s Meeting on the events leading to the war and to urge recruitment, he had also been approached by the Colonel-Commandant of the 23rd County of London Battalion to help in assisting recruits.  The day after the Council meeting that Town Meeting was called for 18th September, the Council having agreed to grant the free use of the Town Hall for it.

Several Council employees had obviously already been called up, as it was also discussed how they ought to be paid whilst on active service. The Council agreed that every facility should be given to those who wished to join, and that they ought to be paid the difference between their Forces salary and their Council salary, with the job kept open for them to return.

The second Council meeting of the evening duly considered their position on the war, and referred all matters to the relevant Committees. The minutes do not go into detail about their considerations, but fortunately the South Western Star was present at the meeting and can supply more information! Thirty-eight Council employees had either been called up or enlisted, and several Councillors expressed the hope that more would volunteer. Another Councillor took this to mean that the Council should not employ any able-bodied men young enough for active service, and argued strongly against that position and in favour of ensuring that no soldier’s family would have financial difficulties. There was a lot of concern about the National Relief Fund and especially over the fact it did not benefit civilians – a local scheme ought to benefit all those locally in distress. Councillor Raynor said that all money given was for the relief of all distress, and that any employer saying to an unmarried man “if you don’t enlist I’ll sack you” was contemptible, then asked why it was that only workmen’s sons were forced into the army. That comment, not recorded in the minutes, caused outcry amongst members and the gallery, and another Councillor accused him of raving. The Council then referred the matter of paying any of their employees who joined the Forces to the Finance Committee. How best to pay Council staff will be discussed a lot in future.

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

South Western Star, 11 September 1914

18-24 August 1914: The Board of Guardians meeting and the Local Relief Committee

Wandsworth Union workhouse J119

The Board of Guardians for the Poor were the management committee of the Wandsworth and Clapham union and its various institutions – also known as the workhouse. They were an elected body who met regularly to discuss management issues, including how their work was affected by the war and considering how to alleviate distress caused by the war. Their meeting of 20 August refers to the Local Committees being set up to deal with distress caused by the war.

This meeting was the first ordinary meeting of the Board to take place since war had broken out. So immediate were some of the potential effects of the war that the Board had held two Extraordinary Meetings in the past two weeks. They had concerns over whether or not they ought to stockpile food on 6th August, while several of their suppliers asked to be released from their contracts owing to foreseen difficulties in fulfilling them (all but the fishmonger were refused and were to be reconsidered). The second Extraordinary Meeting, on 13th August, again decided not to release suppliers from contracts so long as goods were reasonably available, and put up notices to remind everyone in their institutions to practice economy.

The meeting had a lot to consider – there was an argument over a mother’s complaint about the treatment of a child at St James’ Infirmary, which was extensively reported on by the Wandsworth Borough News. The News did not report any of the other discussions held by the Board, but their minutes had several updates following their Extraordinary Meetings. As with the Extraordinary Meeting, a big issue was how to deal with financial distress. Staff who dealt with Outdoor Relief (payments to those not in the workhouse, or Wandsworth Institution as it was then known) were recalled from holiday and they decided to co-ordinate with the local committees which councils were setting up to make sure that people were not receiving two sets of payments.

The Board meeting took place the day after the Wandsworth Committee was formed to administer the Prince of Wales National Relief Fund. That meeting was so well attended that the list of those present covers two pages of the minutes. Letters from the Local Government Board encouraging the temporary filling of vacancies were circulated to help prevent local financial hardship. A 45 person strong Grand Committee was formed, with sub-committees for each ward. The Putney ward committee alone had 40 members appointed. Each committee agreed to find volunteers for administration, with one secretary appointed by the Council, and were to have their first meeting on 27 August. It’s hard to know if the incredibly high attendance at this meeting was concern for the cause, interest in a high profile fund or enthusiasm for doing their bit for the war. Certainly attendance at the next Executive Committee meeting in September was not quite so high!

Photo – J119, Wandsworth Union, Swaffield Road

Minutes of the Wandsworth and Clapham Union Board of Guardians – full records of the Union are held by London Metropolitan Archives, copies of the minutes can also be found at Wandsworth Heritage Service

Minutes of the Wandsworth Local Relief Committee, ref: MBW/2/32/2