26 October – 1 November 1915: Recruiting Women

On 26th October, local Councils were sent a memo from the Local Government Board, relating to recruiting and local committees. This was proposing the creation of “starred” men, who would be considered exempt from military service, and a mechanism for ensuring that men who were not in essential occupations, but might otherwise be unable to serve, would be able to gain exemption. Further proposed was the creation of Local Tribunals for the area covered by each Council, these were made up of a group of local Councillors who could allow or deny applications for exemption – the Heritage Service holds records for both the Battersea and Wandsworth Local Tribunals so we will come back to these in future weeks.

The memorandum also encouraged local authorities to support recruitment as far as possible “by stimulating local enthusiasm, by lending accommodation, by facilitating the employment of women in place of men who enlist and in other ways”. Both local borough councils had already provided accommodation for recruitment and for local troops – as well as trying to provide benefits for serving soldiers such as discounts at the local baths.

This was not the first time employing women had been proposed, the Board of Guardians for the Wandsworth and Clapham Union meeting of 11 March 1915 reported on a circular received which said: “There are some posts in which the employment temporarily of women in place of men may be practicable”. At their meeting of 28th October they approved the appointment of a set of Female Relieving Officers, although it is not clear if this was an innovation or not. Wandsworth Borough Council minutes of 16th June record an earlier recommendation to avoid making new appointments during the War, and to try to hire staff who were retired or ineligible for active service. In fact, the Council had already been doing so and authorised heads of Council Departments to fill vacancies by temporarily hiring women.

Clapham Library c1910It is quite hard to trace where the plan to hire women to fill Council posts is recorded – Council and Committee minutes only name senior staff, most of whom were ineligible for active service anyway, and few wages books which might record staff survive. The ones which do survive are both for libraries, Putney Library and Clapham Library. Putney’s wages book does give insight in to the story of Lieut Mills, but it is not obvious if they were hiring women to fill vacancies – they do not appear to have taken on any extra staff at all. The Clapham Library wages book gives slightly more information. The permanent staff were all men, but from the week ending 22nd May 1915 to the week ending 23rd October 1915 a Miss H M Inkster was employed as a temporary assistant. She returned for a further 6 months between November 1916 and May 1917, and has been rather difficult to trace further information about, despite the relatively uncommon surname – she does not appear to be related to the Inkster who was Librarian of Battersea (and who had instigated a policy of hiring women when the library opened in 1890) and the records do not note her first name. Another temporary assistant, Miss F R Richards, was taken on the week ending 5th June and stayed until the week ending 30th October 1915. Both Miss Inkster and Miss Richards were being paid 18s per week, it’s hard to establish if this was more or less than a mal equivalent, as the Clapham Librarian was on £2 1s 4d a week and the various staff listed were all on less than 18s per week – perhaps due to a different rate of pay for temporary staff, the wages book does not say. A junior assistant, Miss C K Wray, is taken on in November earning 9s a week, 2s a week less than A R Browne, who was also working at the Library. A second new junior assistant was taken on in May 1917, a Miss J M Wilkinson – presumably continuing the policy of hiring women.

Elsewhere in the borough, the libraries were coming in for criticism for a different policy – that of refusing to lend fiction. The Wandsworth Borough News devotes half a column to this, referring to it as “Bumbledom in Excelsis” – although the column also refers to being served by a “pert young lady librarian”, so the hiring policy was clearly being implemented across the borough. The fiction ban was in place as an economy measure, and the Borough News recommended all those who would like to see if over-turned to make representations to the Council as soon as possible. The ban, despite deputations, remained in place until 1918.

Clapham Library Wages book, ref: MBW/5/6/17

Putney Library Wages book, ref: MBW/5/6/16

Local Government Board circular, in Battersea Battalion Recruitment file, ref: MBB/8/2/15

Wandsworth Borough News, 29 October 1915, available on microfilm

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Guest Post: Researching William Mills: librarian, soldier, airman

Earlier this year Putney Library ran a series of behind-the-scenes tours in response to a request from our Friends’ group. In preparation for these I visited Wandsworth Heritage Service, hoping to draw on the wealth of archive material there to add a historical dimension to the tours. It was a chance sighting in one of the archive items – the library’s salaries book for the 1910s – which set me on the trail of William John Mills.

The salaries book [1] is a handwritten week-by-week record of the payments made to each staff member, signed to confirm receipt. W.J. Mills appears in the very first entry in the book, in April 1910. Then aged fifteen, and employed as a junior assistant, he was paid 9s 6d per week. By the summer of 1914 he was earning 17s 3d, but from September onwards he is recorded as being paid 10s 3d, with the added note “whole pay less army pay while on military service.” His mother, Ada, signed on his behalf. (As noted in a previous blog post [2], the Council had resolved to make up the difference in salaries of those staff serving with the military.)

Entry in the Putney Library Salaries book

Entry in the Putney Library Salaries book

This pattern continued through to 2nd June 1917, when Mills’s name is crossed through in red, and payments ceased. Fearing the worst, I asked the heritage staff if they could find any record of his death. The result was rather surprising, as the following entry was found in the Council minutes [3] over a year later, on 16 October 1918:

Death of Lieut W J Mills, Northumberland Fusiliers, attached RAF on 3rd September, former junior assistant Putney Library – shot while flying on Western Front.

I was able to locate Mills’s RAF service record [4], which had been digitised and was available for download from the National Archives. His more substantial army record [5] was not, but unlike many it had survived in hard-copy and I was able to view it at Kew. From these records we now know the following of the life and career of William Mills:

He was born on 6th October 1894, the eldest son of John and Ada Mills. In 1914 the family was living at 59 Mexfield Road, East Putney [6]. On 3rd September 1914, just a month after the outbreak of war, William enlisted as a rifleman – service no. 2648 – in the18th Battalion, London Regiment (London Irish Rifles). A territorial force, his unit was garrisoned in the UK throughout 1914 & 1915, but in April 1916 they embarked to Le Havre to join the British Expeditionary Force in France. William’s casualty record reports that in May he was hospitalised with measles. Then, on 28th June he was wounded in action: a gunshot wound to the forehead, but he recovered to return to his unit on 16th July.

On 28th October he was promoted to Lance Corporal, and just weeks later, in December 1916, he returned from France to take up place at officer cadet school (at Fermoy in Ireland), which led on 26th April 1917 to his appointment as Temporary 2nd Lieutenant with 20th Bn. Northumberland Fusiliers (1st Tyneside Scottish) [7]. As an officer, his service pay now exceeded his former council wage, hence the cancelled entry in the salaries book.

Mills spent the remainder of 1917 as an infantry officer, with his unit again garrisoned in the UK. Then, in early 1918, he was attached to the fledgling Royal Air Force. He trained as an observer and gunner before returning to France in April 1918 to join No. 10 Squadron, RAF. It was there that he was wounded on 3rd September (four years to the day after he enlisted), and he died from his wounds the following day. His death was recorded in the minutes of the Putney Library sub-committee [8]:

Putney Library Sub-Committee minute book

Putney Library Sub-Committee minute book

Death of Lieut. W.J. Mills

The Librarian reported that Mr. W.J. Mills was a junior

assistant in the Library until September 3rd 1914 when he joined His Majesty’s forces as a private in the London Irish Regiment [sic] later obtaining a commission in the Northumberland Fusiliers. On September 3rd 1918 while attached to the Royal Air Force as an observer he was shot while flying behind the German lines and died from wounds on September 4th 1918.

Resolved that the Committee received the sad information with deepest regret and that the Librarian be instructed to report the matter to the Libraries’ Committee. [8]

This in turn led to the Council minute noted earlier. Mills is buried at the British military cemetery at Esquelbecq in northern France [9].

The Mills family remained in Mexfield Road: the electoral register lists Ada at the address until 1947. William’s youngest brother Frank appears in the last register before the outbreak of war in 1939 but does not return afterwards, although Ancestry [10] records that he died in 1995 at the age of 93.

In 1923 the Library Association commissioned a roll of honour in memory of the British librarians – over 80 in all – lost during the Great War. This memorial is now located at the British Library, as are a number of photographs of those recorded on it, including William Mills [11].

Terry Day, Putney Library

References:

[1] MBW/5/6/16

[2] https://ww1wandsworth.wordpress.com/2014/10/06/6-12-october-1914-rifle-ranges-and-recruits/

[3] MBW/1

[4] National Archives AIR/76/349

[5] National Archives WO 339/82293

[6] The 1911 Census records that the Mills family then lived at an address in Stanbridge Road.

[7] Army List, December 1917, 944f.

[8] MBW/5/6/11

[9] http://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/25340/MILLS,%20WILLIAM%20JOHN A photograph of the gravestone can be viewed at http://twgpp.org/information.php?id=3064762 Puzzlingly, both sites list his unit as 20 Squadron RAF although his service record clearly shows 10 Squadron.

[10] http://search.ancestrylibrary.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?new=1&gsfn=frank+brigginshaw&gsln=mills&rank=1&gss=angs-g&mswpn__ftp=&msbdy=1902&pcat=ROOT_CATEGORY&h=832229&db=ONSDeath93&indiv=1&ml_rpos=1

[11] https://m.facebook.com/britishlibrary/photos/a.10150448376867139.414095.8579062138/10150471969397139/?type=3&theater