22-28 June 1915: Battersea Battalion’s “Tickets to Berlin”

Battersea Borough Council met on 23rd June 1915, and like their neighbours in Wandsworth were starting to record members of staff who had been killed in action.  The death of Benjamin Henry Bourne, a third class clerk in the Accountant’s Department, on 26 May was reported, he had been in France with the 23rd County of London regiment.  He was 21, the son of Benjamin and Caroline Bourne and from Hillier Road, Wandsworth Common.  This was not the only staff related matter which the Council had to consider.  As well as their regular meeting they held a special meeting, where the agenda related to pay for members of staff who joined the Forces.  In September the Council had agreed to pay staff the difference between their Forces wage and their Council one, to ensure that the men were not out of pocket by joining up.  About 102 of the Council’s staff were now receiving these payments, and the meeting’s eventual decision was that only those who obtained permission to join the Forces should receive it.  A proposed amendment that permission should be refused to those involved in munitions work was voted against.

Recruitment for the new planned Battersea Battalion was also raised at the meeting, two councillors were already members of it and came to the meeting in uniform – according to the South Western Star they “were an ornament to the Council Chamber, to which they lent an appearance of smartness and efficiency that is not generally perceivable there”.  The minutes of the meeting record that it was to be known as the 10th (Service) Battalion, the Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment.  Already 50 men had joined up and were being drilled at Latchmere baths, and recruiting had not yet begun in earnest.  According to the paper, recruits were being offered a free (first class) ticket to Berlin, and the printed offers of tickets were being given out by young women in restaurants and shops “who think the local youth ought to be doing something better than making eyes over the counter”.

The urge to join up had caused a rumour to circulate round the Council that staff had been told they had a fortnight to join or be discharged.  Councillor Raynor, chair of the Highways Committee, said that no such statement had been made, no-one had the authority to make it and that any men who had been discharged had been due to the “exigencies of work”.  The Council were also having to deal with cost-cutting measures, including the proposed closure of Latchmere Recreation Ground, Vicarage Road Recreation Ground and Christ Church Gardens from November to February.  Other matters acknowledged included the new purchase of a horse for Morden Cemetery to replace the one requisitioned in October and the receipt of a case of stuffed birds by the Plough Road museum.

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

South Western Star available on microfilm

15-21 June 1915: Deaths of Council Staff and a Putney Teacher Joins Up

The meeting of Wandsworth Borough Council on the evening of 16th June had to deal with what course of action to take in the event of staff being killed whilst on active service.  Three deaths had been officially reported to them so far, these were listed as Private William George Daborn (2nd class clerk, Rating Department), Sergeant F Beard (store-keeper, Tooting Depot) and E Smith AB (road sweeper).  Sergeant Frederick Beard was with the 24th County of London Regiment, Private Daborn with the 23rd County of London Regiment and E Smith was an Able Seaman.  With a name like Smith it’s obviously difficult to find more information about him, but he may well have been this man as the date of his death fits.  The Council decided that on the notification of each death they would pass a resolution of Condolence to the families and appreciation of the service of the men.  It was also decided that dependants of employees killed whilst on active service would continue to receive allowances from the Council for 26 weeks.

Advice received from the Local Government Board and discussed at the meeting was that the Council should avoid appointing new members of staff whilst the war was ongoing.  Instead they should try to re-employ retired staff, or those who weren’t eligible to join the Army.  The meeting noted that Wandsworth Council was already doing this, and further recommended that heads of departments should be given the authority to fill vacancies by hiring women.  Concerns over how to fill vacancies presumably tied in to the fact that the Council was very much encouraging local recruitment, the battalion correspondence file contains a list – produced on 21st June – of staff in the Borough Engineer’s department who were apparently eligible for military service.  One hundred members of staff were listed, with approximate age and how they were employed, with notes including whether or not they had already been rejected for military service or not – see the images below.

 List of WBC staffList of WBC staff detail

Elsewhere in the borough, an entry in the school log book for Putney St Mary’s school on 15th June records that Frank Jefcoate, a student teacher who had been absent at teacher training college, would not be returning to school as he had recently gained a commission.  Jefcoate later transferred to the Royal Air Force and was killed in a flying accident in Egypt in February 1919 (the log book also records this), having been mentioned in Dispatches and awarded an MBE.

25-30 May 1915: Battersea Recruitment Concerns

This week’s edition of the South Western Star carries a letter from the Mayor of Battersea – T W Simmons – that plans to raise a field battery had been dropped in the light of the War Office’s request for the borough to raise an infantry battalion.  The paper had yet to make a comment on this, but a meeting of the Lavender Hill branch of the Clapham Conservative Association was reported as having met the previous week and discussed it.

One member felt that it was rather late in the day for the Mayor to be raising a battalion and that they might as well “go the whole hog and bring about conscription”.  The Chair proposed a resolution, which was not put to the vote in the end as they decided to wait for their parliamentary candidate’s opinion, that conscription should be introduced as he felt the authorities were trying to shame men into enlisting and in some cases shaming the wrong men.  Another member said that teenagers who looked older were being pestered in the streets to join up, and that one 14 year old who had been turned down as a cadet was now in the 23rd County of London Regiment.  It was suggested that there were plenty of men in Battersea who were deaf to all appeals being made to them, and that compulsory military training should be introduced.

Public pressure to enlist was also behind another story in the paper this week, reporting the inquest into the suicide of 23 year old Samuel Charles Seymour.  He was a milk roundsman, and had been coming under pressure from customers as to why he had not joined up.  His family stated at the inquest that he had been keen to make sure the family was properly settled before joining up, as he was their only son, but that the “chipping” from customers had been making him very withdrawn over the last few days.  The verdict was “Suicide During Temporary Insanity”, and in summing up the coroner:

No young man can feel comfortable in these days if he is in London, and not at the front, or preparing to go.  Many of us are hoping the time is shortly coming when all young men of military age will either be at the front, or preparing to go; making munitions of war, or wearing badges showing they have offered their services, and then if anyone looks askance at a yong man, he has only to point to his badge to show he has tried to serve his country.  Perhaps that time will come very soon.

South Western Star available on microfilm.

4-10 May 1915: Belgian Refugees and the beginnings of the Wandsworth Battalion

St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church of England on Battersea Rise produced a monthly magazine known as the “St Andrew’s Review”.  The May 1915 edition contains the first in a series of columns headed Belgian Notes, giving news on the Belgian Hostel at 83 Clapham Common West Side.

83 Clapham Common West Side had been a private school before the war, although a small one with eight boarding pupils recorded on the 1911 census.  It was run by a Harriet Bridgeman, but from 26 October 1914 the rate books record it as occupied by Belgian refugees.  A further note also specifies that the property was not to be charged rates, as per a letter from the Town Clerk.  There is a gap in the rate books between 1915 and 1922, by the later date the property was back in private hands and it is not clear who actually owned it when it was being used as a home for refugees.

The first mention of the hostel is in the December 1914 edition of the St Andrew’s Review.  An article written by one of the refugees, John Carnas, gives an account of being called up by the Belgian army, being injured and invalided out, then having to leave Antwerp as the Germans had started to bombard the city.  He initially went to Paris but was unable to find work, then went to Calais where the refugees were not allowed to spend longer than 24 hours, at which point they decided to cross the Channel and came to London, “where we had a reception fit for a king… Here we are now in our comfortable resting place at 83 West Side, Clapham Common, where the ladies and gentlemen of the Committee do everything possible to make us happy”.

The next update is in this month’s Review.  A recent concert had raised just over £30, but the cost of maintenance worked out at a little over 6/- a head (although for how long is not given), with 40 guests in the hostel at the time of writing and as many as 47 in the past.  Due to the “increased cost of commodities” an increase in income was also required, and the Committee were hoping that local residents might be able to start regular door to door collections in their own roads.

A group of refugees at the hostel

A group of refugees at the hostel

Taking place this week was also the regular meeting of Wandsworth Council, where it was reported that the Mayor had been asked by the War Office to oversee the raising of a local battalion for the regular forces (as opposed to the Territorials).  Offices for recruiting were to be set up at the Town Hall and 380 Streatham High Road.  This was what became the 13th (Wandsworth) Battalion of the East Surrey Regiment and we’ll be coming back to it in upcoming blogs.

6-12 April 1915: The Board of Guardians and War issues, and local football

This week’s South Western Star carries a report on the fortnightly meeting of the Battersea and Wandsworth Board of Guardians.  Many of the issues the Board had to discuss arose out of the war – either directly or indirectly.  A large number of staff had applied for increased pay as a result of the increased cost of living (a problem shared by the local councils as well), although as it was not all staff an amendment to grant the requests was not passed.  Staff also caused concern when Mr Rees questioned the age of a man hired on a temporary basis – on hearing that he was 27 the response was to ask why he was not in the Army, and on discovering that he was from Alsace one member commented that he was from the Blue Alsatian Mountains (a song, the words can be found here) and Mr Rees commented that he ought to be “over the water”.  Mr Rees was clearly a keen supporter of the war, as he also moved that 120 beds at the Swaffield Road institution should be offered to the War Office for wounded soldiers.  The beds in question were currently allocated to the elderly and the proposal was to transfer them to the main building, as there were 300 spare beds there and it would then be possible to create a separate entrance for ambulances – there were already wounded soldiers at St James Hospital, who had been admitted in March.  Both this and another motion by Mr Rees were passed, the second motion proposed creating a return which would show how many people of military age were currently employed by the Guardians.  This motion proved slightly more controversial, as both Mr Winfield and Mr Archer thought it was akin to conscription and forcing men to go to the Front.  Mr Winfield would prefer the Government to be responsible for conscription, whilst the Guardians could hold men’s jobs.

The South London Press demonstrates that other aspects of life carried on much as usual – the end of the football season was drawing close and the paper was somewhat disparaging about the South London amateur leagues:

The homeless West Norwood team may fulfil their remaining Metropolitan League fixtures, but as nobody, player or otherwise, takes any interest in the games, it does not matter… the group of clubs forming [the League] have no trophy, no medals, no subscriptions, indeed nothing but a private arrangement for matches among themselves.

Perhaps the only positive in this report was for the Tooting club, who beat Croydon by 4 goals to 1, three of those goals being scored by Honor.

South London Press and South Western Star available on microfilm

Wandsworth Board of Guardians full records are at London Metropolitan Archives, copies of the 1915 minutes are at the Heritage Service, ref: WCU/1/23

15-21 December 1914: First meeting of the Battersea Recruitment Committee

The first meeting of the Battersea Recruitment Committee took place on Wednesday 16th December. The formation of the committee had been a little controversial when discussed in Council the previous week, and one of the first things the committee did was to define their object so that their purpose was clear to the public (in many ways, committees have not really changed).

The Committee decided it was not their job to force men to join the army and that they would nto approve of any employer discharging staff for that purpose – this seemed to be due to the fact that a recruit joining in this manner would “not be worth his salt”. What they did want to do was encourage the young men of the borough to remember that they were members of a “nation of freedom and liberty” and it was their duty to defend these things, this would prove that conscription was not necessary. The Committee were also anxious to ensure that dependents left behind did not suffer, this was to be done in as personal a manner as possible – as opposed to official – so that they would feel pride in the sacrifice their young men were making. With this in mind, the Committee planned to lobby the Government to give proper compensation to dependents of those killed or injured in the war. In a time before social security and a free NHS, the risks of losing the main wage-earner in a household still included ending up in the workhouse, so this could be a major concern.

The Committee also hoped to arrange recruiting marches in the borough, and planned to get local organisations involved in helping with recruitment. There were no plans for recruiting a local battalion yet, this not happen until spring 1915 so we will be coming back to the Recruitment Committee at a later date.

Elsewhere, the Town Clerk was writing to the Central (Unemployed) Committee to say they had posters about opportunities for women’s emigration but none of the application forms. F W Farmiloe Ltd, a paint & varnish manufacturers in Nine Elms Lane reported that business had decreased 40% and that 67 of their men had joined the Army, although they had also made 16 dismissals. Mr Holliday, a pawnbroker on Battersea Park Road, reported regularly that business was down, whereas for many of the manufacturing companies in the area – particularly engineering or chemical works, as noted last week – the reports stated that business was up and extra hands had been engaged.

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

Central (Unemployed) Committee letter book, 1913-1915, ref: MBB/8/3/3

6-12 October 1914: Rifle Ranges and Recruits

Wandsworth Borough Council met on 7 October. It was recorded that sixty-six members of Council staff had either joined up or been called up, and the Council confirmed the decision made in September to grant all those men a leave of absence and to make up the difference in their salaries so they were not out of pocket.

At a previous meeting the Council had decided to allow the Wandsworth Rifle club to open their ranges on Sundays. At this meeting the Club had applied for permission to drill at Garratt Park, where the range was, for about an hour on Sunday mornings and permission was duly granted. Other Rifle Clubs were following suit – Streatham Rifle Club asked for permission to set up a range on Lonesome Shoot, Greyhound Lane to open between 9am and 11.30pm. Again, permission was granted on the condition that firing ceased at 11pm. Balham and Southern Rifle Club granted permission to the Balham and Wandsworth Branch of the Home Defence League to use their range at the Borough Engineer’s office on Balham High Road and the Council agreed to keep the range open for the same hours as Lonesome Shoot.

Other institutions in the borough were also losing staff to the Forces – several members of Battersea Grammar School staff had joined up, as had over 90 Old Boys by the time the Michaelmas term magazine was written. Several of those pupils were named in the write up of each house, although perhaps L Backlake would prefer not to have been immortalised in his school magazine as a “bit of a slacker at times” who had joined the Queen’s Westminster. Of the ninety plus former pupils in the Forces, ten were in the 23rd County of London, based just down the hill from Battersea Grammar School and the territorial force mentioned a few weeks ago. A School Cadet Corps had been formed and encouraged all pupils to join up, the magazine points out that many boys were almost old enough to join the Territorial force of the New Army and that others would also be before the war was over. Presumably by the time the magazine was published they had realised it wouldn’t “be over by Christmas”.

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

Battersea Grammar School magazine, ref: S21/2/12/5

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