1-7 February 1916: Voluntary War Workers

In October 1915, a circular letter went to local authorities on the subject of Voluntary Organisations which resulted in the formation of county, city and borough Voluntary War Workers Associations. The minutes of the Wandsworth Association refer to a scheme for “co-ordinating and regulating voluntary work organisations throughout the United Kingdom”, with a Director General of Voluntary Organisations who would officially recognise groups who were working for Soldiers and Sailors requirements. The Director General’s main role was to organise donations gathered for troops and military hospitals, this article contains more information on charities during the war.

Both Battersea and Wandsworth formed Associations, with the first meeting of the Battersea one on 31st January.  Wandsworth’s first meeting was in December 1915 and by this week they had got beyond the initial set up and decisions on committee members and had responses from local charity groups to the Voluntary Organisations scheme.  Most of these charities do not have surviving records themselves, some of the groups are mentioned in the local papers but the Association minutes show all the different groups at work in the borough.  The minutes for this week also show how much work has been done so far by the groups who had responded – although presumably there were others at work who had not yet done so.

The Clapham Women’s Liberal Association had been working since August 1914 and had dispatched 1000 articles to Queen Mary’s Guild and a further 400 to Lady Smith Dorrien.  The Putney and Roehampton habitation of the Primrose League had three working parties and sent all completed work up to Primrose League headquarters.  Several of the local churches had working parties, including St Mary Magdalene Wandsworth Common, St Margaret’s Streatham, St Stephens and the Church of the Holy Spirit, as well as there being a Parochial war work party in Clapham.  Many of the church based groups were doing work for the Red Cross and Hospitals – the Clapham group had a depot at 43 The Chase, which worked in connection with the Red Cross working part of the Church of the Holy Spirit.  Other depots were to be found in Streatham and Battersea, St Mary Magdalene, which parish was in both Wandsworth and Battersea boroughs, had a number of ladies who were working with those depots as well as having 4 working parties making items required for the 3rd London General Hospital.  St Margaret’s Church was working with the Red Cross and the St John’s Ambulance Society.

Not all the working parties in Wandsworth supplied information about their activities, the Magdalen Hospital Working Party in Streatham was registered with the Central Workrooms of the Red Cross and St Stephen’s Church working party was listed without any further details. The Association decided that the Director General of Voluntary Organisations should be approached to find what was required at present and then the local organisations were to be asked if they could provide the same, as well as how much they could produce in the next four weeks.

Battersea’s meeting on 31st January had looked at the local depots, presumably with a view to organising them further.  The hall at St Luke’s church was to be known as the Broomwood Ward Depot, St Luke’s Hall” and recognised as the only depot in the ward, and investigations were to be made to see if the Stormont Hall depot could be officially recognised as the only depot in the Bolingbroke Ward.  The finance committee recorded that £34 8s 4d had been paid out to the Mayoress which had been used to purchase wool and needles to make mittens for the Battersea Battalion.

Wandsworth Voluntary War Workers Association minutes, ref: MBNW/2/32/1

Battersea Voluntary War Workers Association minutes, ref: MBB/2/35/1

16-22 March 1915: Battersea Polytechnic

The March edition of the Battersea Polytechnic student magazine updated the Roll of Honour and also provided several pages of images of former students who were now serving with the Forces in some respect.

The update to the Roll of Honour was a report of the death of James George Alexander Johnson, of Queenhithe.  After leaving school – including some time in a German gymnasium – he had joined the paper makers Grosvenor, Chater & Co, and therefore did some of the Polytechnic’s courses in paper-making in 1912 and 1913.  At the outbreak of war he joined the London Scottish regiment, and was killed near Ypres November 13th, 1914.  His photograph is included in this issue of the magazine, alongside other students and former students who had joined up.

The Polytechnic War Fund Committee had an update in the magazine, as reported here they were employing local women to make flannel shirts for soldiers.  Subscriptions were dropping, as students were faced with increasing expense due to the war, and the shirt-making was currently costing more than the income of the fund.  Despite this, the magazine reported that it was to continue until the end of February (the magazine coming out somewhat behind the times) and then the level of production was to drop to four shirts a week per woman rather than eight.  This decision was partly motivated by the likelihood of more women needing additional work during the winter.  The Committee also decided to stop supplying tobacco, as re ports suggested that men at the front were well supplied.  A suggestion to supply chocolate instead was deferred until the next meeting.

Regular events continued at the Polytechnic, with several pages of the magazine taken up with the report on the Annual Conversazione.  This was a chance for students to display their work and for others to have a look round what had been happening across the Polytechnic.  The report on the engineering workshops noted that “The work exhibited showed a high detail of accuracy, and much of it was done by students who are now serving in some capacity of other in His Majesty’s Forces, where we feel sure the same skill and thoroughness will be manifest in their military operations for the benefit of their King and Country”.  The Physics department were demonstrating X-rays: “Many thought that the pale green fluorescence of the bulb was ‘the Rays’, although it was not produced by the ‘X’ Rays, but by reflected cathode rays.  Our enquirer was quite disappointed when told that the X-Rays were not even visible”.

The Domestic Science department was adapting to the war in its demonstrations – a number of the dishes represented were deliberately prepared without meat, and some of the cakes had been made without eggs.  Methods of cooking whilst economising on fuel and utensils were also on display: “a complex dinner was cooked in a four-tiered steamer over one gas ring and another simple and economical meal was steamed entirely in jam jars which wer2 fitted into one large saucepan”.  A Hay Box cooker was also being demonstrated, attracting a lot of attention.

Domestic Science students were also mentioned in the magazine for their part in the war effort.  Lucia Creighton was in Serbia, managing all the cookery at a Red Cross hospital with a staff of 26 people.  It was noted this involved all the practical work as well as the management, her Red Cross details can be found online – although these are for later work.  Monica Stanley had been with the Red Cross since the outbreak of war, first at Antwerp then Cherbourg.  She was sailing for Serbia as well, where she was to be in charge of the catering at another Red Cross hospital.

The magazine also carries the first instalment of Private George Wilson’s mobilisation diary, from 5th August to 14th October 1914.  He was in the London Scottish regiment, and the diary was written up after he returned home wounded – although details of that are in the June issue of the magazine, so we’ll come back to his diary at a later date.

Battersea Polytechnic magazine, ref: S15/5/8

19-25 January 1915: Contact from Prisoners of War

The South Western Star of 22 January 1915 carried two letters from Battersea men who had been at the front and were now prisoners of war. The first letter came from Private J H Gardiner, of Hut 32A, Gottinggen, Hanover and was dated 15 December, although it did not reach the offices of the Star until the beginning of the week it was published. He encourages everyone at home to carry on doing all they can for soldiers at the front, including noting how welcome parcels containing warm clothing are – proof that the girls of Upper Tooting School were right to be knitting socks.

…I am sorry to say that those who have had the misfortune to be taken prisoners often get forgotten. A lot of the soldiers here are receiving parcels from friends, which are very welcome – such as warm clothing and parcels of eatables. We are always on the look-out for parcels of eatables. We have here several Battersea men who are not so fortunate as others and are unable to get parcels sent them, and it adds to the hardships to see other men receiving parcels when we are unable to have them sent. It is on account of these men of Battersea that I am writing to ask you if you could use your influence to get some Battersea people to send parcels of eatables and clothing to their townsfolk out here. Parcels of eatables and clothing we are allowed to receive and anything such as cake, biscuits, tarts, pies, jam, potted meat etc are very welcome…

The second letter came from a group of Battersea men who were held elsewhere, as they note that “we are the only Battersea men here”. They wrote to ask for “a change of underclothing, also a parcel of provisions and tobacco and a pipe each”. In response to this being published they all promised to “call at the South Western Star offices the first day we reach Battersea”. It was signed from E Locke, T Walsh, G Dyer and B Golder and each man had included his number and regiment.

The Red Cross has records relating to Prisoners of War and these can be searched online. An initial search has discovered that Private Golder was Benjamin Golder, the information beside is name is “La Bassee”, which is presumably where he was captured. This information was supplied to the Red Cross in 1916 and the digitised records are available online here. The site can be difficult to use – the only other record found easily was that of George Dyer, who was held near Munster – and the original lists of prisoners have all the information bar the names and regiments in German.

The South Western Star is available on microfilm