17-24th August 1915: Wandsworth Battalion Send Off

The Wandsworth Recruitment Committee met on 20th August, to a report from the Mayor that the Battalion would, in all probability, be taken over by the War Office in the next day or two.  The War Office did not provide for the provision of bands for Service Battalions, so the Mayor has purchased the necessary instruments and the musicians in the regiment had undertaken the relevant duties, turning out a very successful band.  At the previous meeting the Mayor had reported on attempts to get the War Office to agree to a modified Cap Badge design, he had now had these authorised and would be able to supply them shortly.

Wandsworth Battalion Cap BadgeThe standard badge of the East Surrey regiment had the coat of arms of Guildford on it, Mayor Dawnay’s proposed version had the Wandsworth coat of arms and the borough motto “We Serve”.

Wandsworth Battalion send offFarewell Route Marches had already taken place, with Putney and District on 18th August, Clapham and Balham on the 19th, Streatham and Tooting on the 20th and Wandsworth still to come on Saturday 21st.  The Wandsworth Route March was to include a Tea and Send-Off before the march, which would go from the Drill Ground, Buckhold Road, past the Town Hall, Wandsworth High Street, Broomhill Road, Merton Road, Penwith Road, Earlsfield Road, Windmill Road, Trinity Road, Huguenot Place, East Hill, High Street and Buckhold Road to the Drill Ground.  The public were invited to the Drill Ground and handbills had been circulated by the boy Scouts along the route.  One of these handbills is in the Battalion correspondence file, asking residents to put up decorations and give the Battalion a resounding send-off.

As the Battalion was recruited and ready to do, this was the final meeting of the Battalion recruiting Committee and there are various summaries and accounts pasted in to the volume.  A list of subscriptions given for the Battalion includes a lists of names and amounts given, with “List 5” stating the total donated by local people as £862 16s 5d.  Amounts range from Sir William Lancaster giving £10 10s (his second donation) to a Mrs Hatfield giving 2s6d.  By List 6 the total was £1224 16s 11d and by List 7 it had reached £1251 9s 3d, including the Mayor having given a second donation of £200 and a third of a further £100.  The summary states that the War Office authorised the Mayor to raise a Battalion 1350 men and 36 officers, all Wandsworth men, in May and recruiting had commenced on 28th June.  10 recruiting offices had opened, with the very first recruit being an employee of the Council.  An additional company had been raised for Depot purposes, bringing the full strength of the Battalion up to 1600 men.  57 of the 230 applications for commission were nominated and 32 approved and gazetted by the War Office.  The correspondence file includes some details of those who applied, although only the first twenty or so rather than the whole 230.  The summary in the minutes finishes by noting that 113 Battalions had been authorised by the War Office to be raised by individuals and organisations, but Wandsworth held the record in completing a Battalion in such a short time.

Battalion Correspondence, ref: MBW/2/31/2

Battalion Minute Book, ref: MBW/2/31/1

A full history of the Wandsworth and Battersea battalions, written by Paul McCue, is available for loan from Wandsworth Libraries.

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13th – 19th July 1915: Battersea Council controversy and Edward Thomas plans to join up

The minutes of the Battersea Borough Council meeting of 14 July 1915 do not give much hint of a controversial meeting.  Amidst the usual business, four members of staff from the Highways department were given permission to join the Forces (W Franklin, labourer; J Connolly, roadman; R G Vollar, pavior; G W Sinden, labourer), as were W J Kelly, a second class clerk with the Borough Surveyor’s department and J Lee, whose permission came from the Baths and Washhouses Committee but doesn’t record his occupation.  There was also a decision not to pay an additional War Bonus requested by the London, Erith and Southall District Allied Engineering Trades Joint Committee.

The controversy, well reported by the South Western Star but only hinted at in the minutes, was over the reduction in labour required by the Highways Department.  The recommendation was for the Council to approve the road cleansing section going from 142 workmen to 100, pensioning 30 of the men and saving £1784 18s a year (roughly £76,857 in today’s money).  Mr Willis stood down as leader of the Progressives on Battersea Council, because they had wanted to refer all the reductions back to the Finance Committee and raise the money to keep the posts by further appealing to the ratepayers.  The Star refers to this as a “noble stand”.  After much discussion over whether other Committees were also cutting back, and if it was right to cut jobs – with one councillor protesting that it was taking bread out of the mouths of the poor and he could not agree as he was a “trade union leader” – the decision eventually went to a vote.  33 members of the Council voted in favour, and 22 against.  This caused uproar in the gallery, with people calling Mr Willis a traitor and a turncoat – although the Star acknowledged that Mr Willis was clearly affected by emotion during the proceedings.

Elsewhere the paper reports on the ongoing recruitment drive, saying that there were now 100 men in the Battersea battalion.  It also records that Wandsworth had instituted a “corps of lady recruiters… Battersea will go one better, it always does when in competition with Wandsworth.  Wait a little while and we shall have a recruiting procession in Battersea that will make Wandsworth despair”.

The recruitment drive across the country was clearly having an effect, as on 15th July the writer and critic Edward Thomas wrote to his friend, Eleanor Farjeon:

My mystery was this.  I have just seen the doctor and been passed by him + am coming up to town again on Monday to join the Artists Rifles…

Wandsworth Heritage Service holds Thomas’s letters to Eleanor Farjeon and we’ll be coming back to what he writes about his experiences in future weeks.

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

Edward Thomas correspondence, ref: D112/1/3

South Western Star available on microfilm

6th-13th July 1915: Recruitment, No Holidays for Staff and Tooting Library clock

Recruitment continued across the borough this week, the Tooting & Balham Gazette carried an advert encouraging the men of Wandsworth to “Enlist at Once” and “Don’t Delay”.  Cautiously, it was advertised as being for Three Years or Duration of the War.  The paper also reported several successful recruiting meetings being held, including on both Tooting and Wandsworth Commons.  The Tooting Common meeting was due to have been addressed by Corporal Dwyer, the youngest VC in London, but the large crowds were disappointed as he was recalled to his depot the morning of the meeting and not granted permission to attend. Such meetings were not the only methods being employed to encourage recruitment, a meeting of ladies resident in the Borough had been held at Wandsworth Town Hall to organise women to encourage eligible men to join up.  The meeting was attended by the Mayor and Mayoress, with Lt Col Burton there to explain the scheme.

The effects of recruitment were clearly being felt across the borough, according to the other stories reported in the paper.  Staff employed by Wandsworth Borough Council were being told that the depletion of staff meant that no holidays were to be granted this year.  Instead, men were to be paid extra wages.  The Wandsworth Officers and Servants Committee, which took care of staffing matters, does not refer to this in its minutes for June and July 1915, being more taken up with temporary appointments and how to deal with the pension contributions of employees killed in action.  Presumably an action such as refusing holiday and increasing pay instead would have been decided by the Committee or the Council, so perhaps the newspaper was mis-reporting the decision not to give holiday pay to employees on active service.

This week also marks the centenary of the unveiling of the clock at Tooting Library and the memorial plaque to Rev J H Anderson.  Rev Anderson had been rector of St Nicholas Tooting and a local councillor, including having been Mayor of Wandsworth in 1904.  He died in 1913 and it was felt that he had made such a contribution to the area that there ought to be a permanent memorial to him – public subscriptions were collected and the clock made by Gillett & Johnston of Croydon, to a design by W & E Hunt, architects.  The clock and tablet were unveiled by Sir William Lancaster, the donor of the library and also a former Wandsworth mayor, with speeches from Councillor A J Hurley (also the proprietor of the Tooting and Balham Gazette, and perhaps the reason why the unveiling is so well covered), the current Mayor Archibald Dawnay and Rev Anderson’s son.  The clock is clearly visible in this 1960s image of Tooting Library.

Tooting Library 1968

Tooting and Balham Gazette available on microfilm

Officers and Servants Committee minutes, ref: MBW/2/9/2

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.