30 May – 5 June 1916: Sir Walter St John’s School Magazine

The June edition of the Sir Walter St John’s School Magazine brought several updates about Old Boys who were serving with the Armed Forces, and also some obituaries. Updates included congratulations to Harold Eastman for his promotion to 1st Lieutenant with the 2nd Canadian Contingent – although he was wounded in three places a fortnight after his promotion.  The Roll of Honour had three names on it, those of James Higgins, Reginald Spring and Frederick Keene, along with some additional information about Harvey Haysom, whose death was reported in the previous magazine.

James Higgins had left school in 1910 and gone to work for the Gas Light and Coke Company, joining the 12th London Regiment before the war in April 1914.  He was wounded at Zonnibeke in May 1915 and during his convalescence visited the school in July that year, but died of blood poisoning in October 1915 in Calais.  Reginald Spring was baldy wounded by a piece of shell in France in May 1916, dying the next day and the magazine says he was buried in the British Cemetery at Noyelles.

The lengthiest entry in the roll of honour was for Frederick Keene. He had not actually been with the Armed Forces, although the school felt that he merited inclusion as he had been leader of a troop of Boy Scouts who had volunteered for coastal patrol duty.  Throughout the winter of 1914-15, Keene had camped with them and cycled to and from his daily work through all weathers, which led to his health failing and the illness of which he later died.  His name was included as having given his life for King and Country “as truly as those who have fallen in the trenches or perished at sea!”.

The magazine also features the usual extracts from Old Boys letters, including one from A L Finding, stationed in Egypt “just by the Pyramids”, and referencing being at Gallipoli, another old boy, O D Anderson had also been in Egypt, although was writing having gone from there to Salonika. S T Rogers described having been in a sap which was only 25 yards from the Germans, and occasionally talking to them, including the Germans throwing over a letter from a French prisoner to send to his wife, and two German officers who wanted to know if “any of us had come from Cardiff, as they had been in business there for ten years”.  Others seemed more focused on the weather in France, and the negotiations required for billets and food!

Sir Walter St John’s School Magazine, June 1916, ref: S17/2/6

11-17 April: Holy Trinity School, Ambulances and Shakespeare

Holy Trinity School in Upper Tooting, was last mentioned on the blog with regard to the pupils knitting socks for soldiers in August 1914 – an endeavour which presumably continued but unfortunately isn’t regularly noted in the school log books.  The school was affected by the war in other ways, one of their teachers – D J Davies – was called up to the London Welsh Regiment in October 1914 and did not return to the school until February 1919, by which time he had been awarded a Military Cross.  He took a day off to formally receive it in June 1920.  Another teacher, John Moody left to go to Malta in September 1914 with the territorial army, he was killed on 1 July 1916 (the first day of the Battle of the Somme) and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.  Assistant A C Swain was called up in June 1916, returning to school in March 1919, and another assistant, B C Moore, went for medical examinations but was presumably found unfit to serve, as he remained the school for the rest of the war.

The pupils also continued to contribute to the war effort, including being part of the fundraising across Wandsworth Schools for an ambulance. On 17th April, the ambulance visited the school so that “the boys might see it and its arrangements before going to France”.

Ambulance S12-2-4


The Wandsworth Borough News referred to it as a “splendidly equipped ambulance”, having followed the progress of its fundraising in previous weeks. It was to be presented to the “Mayor’s battalion” and visited all the schools across Wandsworth.  The Mayor himself was unable to go with it, being occupied with the Tribunals, but Alderman Cresswell and Miss Edwards, who had organised the fundraising, went round the schools instead.

The ambulance wasn’t the only disruption to the timetable that morning. 2016 marks the four hundredth anniversary of the death of Shakespeare, and you would be forgiven for assuming that the tercentenary in 1916 was over-shadowed by the war and perhaps not marked.  In Holy Trinity School, however, it was marked with Shakespeare songs and recitations, and on the same day as the ambulance visited the last two lessons of the morning were cancelled for standards 1, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 in favour of a combined practice of the Shakespeare songs for the tercentenary.

Practice Shakespeare S12-2-4

Holy Trinity School, Upper Tooting, logbook, ref: S12/2/4

23-29 November 1915: Putney St Mary’s School

The log book of the boys school at Putney St Mary’s School is divided into several sections, each recording different aspects of school life that the standardised book thought were important. Some of these are in the miscellaneous section and details visits to the school, school holidays and other special occasions. For November 1915, the only two events recorded in this section were a visit from the Nurse to examine all the boys and a visit from Dr Verdon Roe to carry out a medical inspection.

Other sections give more insight into the life of the school – the recorded absences for teachers this week notes that Albert Hyslop and A H Rood were absent for half a day as they were “at recruiting office – attempting to enlist”. This was obviously not a successful attempt, as on 7th December Albert Hyslop was again absent, having “Gone to Manchester to try to enlist”. A H Rood continued at the school throughout the war, but Albert Hyslop’s trip to Manchester was a success – his marked absence and recorded last day as staff on 10th December carry the note “Enlisted + gone to Dublin”. It is possible that A H Rood was ineligible for service due to health reasons, in March 1916 he was absent as having been called up for a medical exam by the military but as he wasn’t subsequently called up to service we could guess that he failed it.Logbook - half page

Logbook - gone to ManchesterHyslop’s absence meant that the Head Teacher was “obliged to take charge” of his class. Another part of the log book records how often the Head Teacher taught, and through December and January he is noted as frequently in charge of a class through the absence of a teacher, as well as being in “constantly in charge” of the whole school. Eventually a new teacher was transferred to the school from Brandlehow School for the duration of the war – Mrs Evelyn Faulkner.

Logbook - Head teacher

Elsewhere in the borough, a meeting was held of Battersea Borough Council. They too were dealing with issues around staff joining the Forces, a new Group system of recruitment was coming in (the Derby Scheme) which meant they had to consider if staff joining up through that should receive the same benefits as those who had joined up earlier. The recommendation was that they should, if they joined up before 4th December. Staff now had to be given permission to join up, and at the meeting three men were granted it – W Marsh, public lighting attendant, A J Spriggs, coal trimmer, and G Wright, groundman, Morden cemetery. The Derby Scheme recruitment will feature more next week, and in weeks to come, as we look at the Military Service tribunal records.

Putney St Mary’s school log-book, ref: S11/3/3

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

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.

9-15 February 1915: Correspondence from an Under-Age Soldier

The February edition of the Sir Walter St Johns School magazine contains several stories relating to the war – including one about a debate on whether or not professional football should still be played whilst there was a war. The overwhelming majority of the vote went against the motion, with only 5 people thinking football should stop, and arguments including that many of the spectators at football matches were dock and arsenal workers who were not allowed to join the Army, and that those in the Forces enjoyed football as well.

The magazine lists former pupils who have joined up and the regiments to which they are attached, as well as giving details of the staff who have joined and publishing correspondence from any old boys who have written to the school. Three letters were published in February 1915, one from Lance-Corporal A L Finding of the City of London Yeomanry, who was still in Norfolk, and the other two from old boys in the Queen Victoria Rifles – H Bischiné and J W Mahony. Mahony reports that the regiment have been in the firing line “a number of times; also under shell-fire and I can assure you that is nothing to wish for… On January 5th we were shelled in our billets…Although we are Territorials we are thought a lot of by the regular regiments in our Brigade, and have been complimented by the Officer commanding the Division, several times. We have just done 72 hours in the trenches, without relief, sometimes waist-deep in water, and how have 6 days rest”.

Bischiné was not able to write of his experience in the same way, as he was under-age and was not allowed to go to the front line. He had experienced the shelling: “we were at a small village just behind the firing-line when we got shelled by the Germans. I was peeling potatoes at the time and heard a familiar whiz, and then a terrific bang, so guessed what was happening. We got the inhabitants into their cellars, and then followed them, for there was nothing else to do.”

Harold George Alois Bischiné was born in March 1898, his father was from the Alsace region of Germany and became a naturalised citizen when Harold was 3 months old. His service record is one of the ones which survived the damage of the Second World War, and it shows that he joined the Territorial Forces in December 1913, when he was 15 years old. On the form, he writes that he is an articled pupil with Messrs Harris and Cullow and that he is 18 years and 6 months of age – clearly a lie. The medical inspection record has a section for “apparent age” where the medical officer has written “17”, although it is clear they didn’t look too closely into his age. He was not discharged from the Territorial Forces until November 1917, when he was commissioned in the London Regiment, having spent from November 1914 to June 1916 in France, then on home duties from 1916 to the date of his commission. At no point does his Army Service record reveal that he was under 18 for almost the whole of his service in France.

Bischiné served through the whole of the war, married in 1921 and emigrated to Canada, working in the Civil Service in Quebec. His army service record, marriage index entry and appearance in passenger lists from the 1950s are all available via Ancestry, meaning it’s possible to find out what happened to him after the war – not always a straightforward task. However, if it weren’t for his letter to his school magazine it would look like a mismatch of dates somewhere – the magazine makes it clear he was there under-age and with the knowledge of his superiors.

Sir Walter St John’s School magazine, February 1915, ref: S17/2/5

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3-9 November 1914: Sir Walter St John’s School

November saw the publication of the first edition of Sir Walter St John’s school magazine since the outbreak of war. Much of the magazine included the usual reports of passed exams and cricket matches, but a member of Form IVA had been in Paris at the outbreak of war and wrote it up for the magazine. The outbreak of war had not been the immediate signal for him to return home and, with the exception of a difficult journey, his experiences were rather uneventful – especially in comparison to Wandsworth residents who were in Switzerland when war broke out (see this post).

The magazine also features lists of old boys and staff who had already joined up and were on active service. Like their sister institution, Battersea Grammar School, a number of them were with the local territorial 23rd County of London regiment, who were based on St Johns Hill, so had perhaps gone from being in the school cadet force to the TA. The school rifle range was being made available for members of the Old Boys Association on Saturday afternoons from November 7th – although they were expected to bring their own ammunition. Quite how many rifle ranges existed in the borough at the time is difficult to establish, Sinjuns clearly had one and there were at least three in Wandsworth (for more on rifle ranges see here).

Four members of staff had been called up for service. Gymnasium instructor W S Broadbent had gone to the 4th London Infantry Brigade and been temporarily replaced by a Sergeant Williams, and A R McIvor had received a Captain’s Commission in the 9th Battalion, Royal Sussex Regiment and been replaced by H Cooper. Caretaker William Lewis was a Petty Officer, 1st class, on board the HM Trawler Bellona, which was on mine-sweeping duty in the North Sea. An edited version of the letter appears in the magazine, describing his work and the hazards at sea – which include one of the crew capsizing ink all over the table and a lamp nearly setting fire to the cabin, let alone the mines they were responsible for clearing.

Finally, for anyone considering attending a fireworks display this week, you wouldn’t have been able to do that in 1914 – the headmaster refers to “darkened streets and forbidden fireworks”.


Sir Walter St John’s School magazine, ref: S17/2/5

20-26 October 1914: Absent Teachers

Entry in Upper Tooting Holy Trinity School log book

Entry in Upper Tooting Holy Trinity School log book

Amongst other details about the life of the school, log books list the absences of teachers for any reason. 23rd October 1914 saw D J Davies, assistant master, called up to join the London Welsh Regiment. Other war related absences in the log book for Holy Trinity School, Upper Tooting, includes the absence of B C Moore on the outbreak of the war, as he was detained in Switzerland and on 1st September the log book records the absence of T Moody, who had gone to Malta with his Territorial Company. Sadly he never returned to his post at Holy Trinity, as he was killed in July 1916 – he is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.

Two temporary teachers had to be brought in, Annie Elizabeth Nelson had been there for a month by this week – she started on 19th September, presumably to cover Mr Moody – and on 23rd November Maud Alice McNeil joined the school to fill Davies’ post. Both these teachers were married, and it had been usual for women teachers to give up work on getting married so it may have been the war having an impact on the availability of male teachers that meant they got the posts.

Davies had been at the school since 1910 and returned to work in February 1919. After he returned the next absence recorded for him is a day “attending King’s investiture to get his Military Cross” in June 1920, a distinction that had earned the whole school a holiday on 12 July 1918 when they heard about it. As he was a David J Davies it is difficult to precisely pin down his war record. There were two David Davies gazetted with a Military Cross for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty at the same time in 1918. One was a Lieutenant David Davies of the London Regiment, and the other was a temporary 2nd Lieutenant with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, either of whom could be the same David Davies who taught in Upper Tooting.

This was only one small entry in the records for this week in Wandsworth, but the results show the impact the war could have on the borough – more women in work, and occasional celebratory moments even during the war.

Holy Trinity, Upper Tooting log book, Boys, 1913-1930 – ref: S12/2/4

The London Gazette can be searched online. For more advice about finding out about soldiers awarded medals read The National Archives guide.

21 August 1914: Knitting Socks for Soldiers in School

On 21st August the school log book for Holy Trinity School in Upper Tooting records that the older girls in the school had been allowed to continue knitting socks for those at the Front instead of taking part in the General Knowledge lesson.  Presumably this was part of encouraging everyone to be a part of the war effort – the older girls in the school were Standard 6 and 7, meaning they were aged 11 or 12.  School was actually supposed to start back this week – term was meant to begin on the 24th but the London County Council brought the start of term forward to the 12th due to the outbreak of war.  The log book for the 12th records that several of the older girls had started to knit, and a few weeks later on 9th October records that most girls were still knitting and up to present had knitted 32 pairs of socks and 15 pairs of bedsocks.  Sadly the log book does not give any more figures on socks after that, so the total of socks knitted by the girls of Holy Trinity School during the war is unknown.

Holy Trinity School log book, reference: S12/2/5   School log books are like diaries of what was happening in the school.  We hold school records for Church of England schools in the borough, London School Board records can usually be found at London Metropolitan Archives.

Patterns for First World War era socks seem to be widely available online, for anyone who would like to try knitting some!

The Borough in 1914

Between 1900 and 1965, the area now in the borough of Wandsworth was made up of two separate, and quite different, boroughs – Battersea and Wandsworth.  Wandsworth encompassed Putney, Wandsworth, Tooting, Balham, Clapham and Streatham, and the borough of Battersea went from Nine Elms through Clapham Junction and the area between the commons as far down as Nightingale Lane.  At the outbreak of war, the Mayor of Wandsworth was Archibald Dawnay, who had been mayor since 1908 and was to continue in post until 1919.  He was a civil engineer who ran a successful firm of constructional engineers, including a large steelworks at Battersea.  Battersea’s mayor was John Archer, elected in November 1913 he was London’s first black mayor and outside of the Council ran a photographic studio in Battersea Park Road.  Archer was a member of the Progressive Alliance, many of whom would later be part of the Labour Party and Dawnay was a Conservative.

Both boroughs were part of the Wandsworth and Clapham Union, which ran the workhouse – known as the Swaffield Road Institution – and the free hospitals in the borough, including St John’s and St James’ Hospitals.  There was no National Health Service and National Insurance and pensions were still very recent, having been introduced in the wake of the 1909 budget – sometimes called the “People’s Budget”.

Education was only compulsory for primary school, although there were several grammar and other schools providing secondary education in the borough, including Sir Walter St Johns School and Battersea Grammar School.  Battersea Polytechnic opened on Battersea Park Road in 1891 providing higher education within the borough – it later became the foundation of the University of Surrey.

Both Wandsworth and Battersea contained numerous industrial sites along the river and throughout the boroughs, which were major local employers.  These included breweries, steel works, biscuit factories and bakers as well as railway works.

Many properties were owned by private landlords and rented out, several families could be sharing one house and the Councils inspected these to check for any problems, although this would largely have been in response to complaints.  Often houses would have been small and little better than slums.

Voting in parliamentary elections was restricted to men, usually the head of the household, and paying a certain amount of rent each year.  Poor men and all women were unable to vote for parliament, although they could vote in some local elections.  Restrictions on voting had not changed since 1884, despite well-publicised campaigns.

Battersea was the smaller of the two boroughs, with a population in 1914 of 167,338.  According to the 1911 census Wandsworth had a population of 311,360, which was almost double the size of Battersea and bigger than the 2012 borough, which had a population of 308,310.  Wandsworth did include areas that it doesn’t today, which is one of the reasons it was larger.

This is only a very brief overview of the borough, for more information please do contact the Heritage Service – we hold books, maps and archives which will give much more detail than could fit in a blog post!