Tooting’s Boy Soldier sent home – September 1916

Last Saturday afternoon there was quite a crowd gathered around an ordinary looking terraced house on Garratt Lane in Tooting. Passengers on passing buses stared out of the windows to try and work out what all the fuss was about.

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The fuss was no greater around this house than it would have been 100 years ago when a 13 year old boy returned there to his family after having fought on the Somme front for six weeks. The boy was Sidney Lewis, tall for his age maybe, but surely not tall enough to pass for the 19 years old he claimed to be upon enrolling with the East Surrey regiment in August 1915. However, he did join up and only much much later did his mother submit his birth certificate to the War Office to prove that he was in fact extremely underage, whereupon he was brought back to England and discharged from service. The Daily Mirror picked up the story and published it along with a photo of the boy soldier in September 1916. 100 years later we all stood outside Sidney’s former house to witness a commemorative plaque being unveiled, funded by public subscription and brought to fruition by the laudable efforts of the Summerstown 182 project.

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Sidney’s son Colin unveiled the plaque and his grandson scattered confetti from an upstairs window where a violin played. Colin has said that his father used to talk about having served in World War One but it was thought to be a tall tale as he wouldn’t have been old enough at the time to have served.

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A small paragraph in the Wandsworth Borough News on 22nd September 1916 reveals that Sidney’s brother had enlisted in the same regiment at the outbreak of war in 1914, so it is clear that Sidney wanted to follow in his brother’s footsteps. In the latter part of 1915 conscription was yet to be introduced, so the army was desperate for volunteers. Serving on the front line seemingly didn’t deter Sidney from further active service though, as he joined the army again in 1918 and later served in the police force.

 

Read more of Sidney Lewis’s story here: Surrey in the Great War: A County Remembers

Find out more about the Summerstown 182 project here

Wandsworth Borough News is available on microfilm at Wandsworth Heritage Service

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

18-24 January 1916: The Military Service Tribunals and Tooting

The Tooting and Balham Gazette of 22nd January 1916 carried several columns by the owner/editor of the paper, A J Hurley, on the lack of a Tooting representative on the Wandsworth Military Tribunal.  Hurley was one of the councillors for Tooting, and last year was vocal about the levels of pay in the Tooting workrooms in the paper, so often used it as an extra platform to promote his area with the Council.  The Prime Minister and the President of the Local Government Board had given assurances that the Tribunals would be made up of men with local knowledge – but there was no representative for Tooting on the Wandsworth Tribunal, although Hurley described it as “that densely populated portion of the borough which has given such a huge proportion of its male population to the service of the country”.

Appeals to the Tribunal made from Tooting men had been rejected “by men who possess no local knowledge of Tooting” – although as this post on the Battersea Tribunal shows, many appeals were rejected by that Tribunal.  Representations were made to the Local Government Board and the Tooting Recruiting Committee unanimously agreed that Alderman Mellhuish should represent the ward.  The Mayor interviewed the Alderman and obtained his consent to serve, but the Council’s General Purposes Committee rejected it.  TheGazette also objected to the timing of the Tribunals – they were held during the day, usually in the mornings – as it was bad for workers and for employers, suggesting that members of the Tribunal “were only prepared to meet at times convenient to themselves” and that they should be prepared to make a sacrifice for the war effort and meet at other times of day.  Cllr Hurley also said that if he were Mayor, “my resignation…would have been both prompt and emphatic”.  At a Special Meeting of the Council on 9th February, Alderman Mellhuish and Cllr Garrett – one of the Balham Ward councillors – were added to the members of the Tribunal, so the Gazette’s campaign was a successful one.

Elsewhere in the local papers, the main Tooting-related story this week was the story of Robert Lubbock – reported in the Wandsworth Borough News. Robert was 17 and ineligible for military service due to poor eyesight so was the mess-room steward on a Government employed ship, currently moored in a semi-tropical harbour.  One of the fire-men fell overboard into shark infested waters, Robert and one of the ship’s apprentices dived in to try and save him.  According to the paper “The Fireman was unfortunately killed by a shark, but happily both boys got back to the ship unharmed”, and the paper was clearly proud of the local boy’s efforts.

Tooting and Balham Gazette and Wandsworth Borough News both available on microfilm.

Minutes of the Wandsworth Military Service Tribunal, ref: MBW/2/30/1

2-8 November 1915: Tooting Military Hospital

The Tooting and Balham Gazette of 6 November carried several notes relating to the Tooting Military Hospital, including notes on the entertainment of the troops there by two groups of local pupils. The first group were pupils of the Misses M Pinnell, the Red House, Burntwood Lane and the second were pupils of Miss Emily Clifton, Garratt Lane. Miss Clifton’s group also distributed over 900 cigarettes and ten pounds of chocolate, bought with money raised by the pupils and the girls of Mrs Piper’s laundry.

Tooting Military Hospital had originally been the Tooting Home for the Aged and Infirm, and was on Church Lane. On 27 May 1915 the minutes of the Wandsworth and Clapham Union Board of Guardians record that the Military were to take over the building from 1st June that year. The existing patients were to be transferred to Mitcham Workhouse, Swaffield Road institution or St John’s Hill Infirmary, and some of the staff were also to transfer to Swaffield Road. It would appear that the Board actually offered the building up, as the Local Government Board wrote to them on 17 May to express their appreciation of the patriotic action.

St Benedict's Hospital, 1930s - the former Tooting Military Hospital

St Benedict’s Hospital, 1930s – the former Tooting Military Hospital

After the war, the hospital was taken over by the Department of Pensions, and in 1931 re-opened as St Benedict’s Hospital, run by the London County Council. It’s difficult to find much more detail about military hospitals (this post on the Scarletfinders website explains why) – a search on the National Archives catalogue for “Tooting Military Hospital” comes up with three records relating specifically to it, one a medal card and the other two relating to the Committee on the Treatment of British Prisoners of War (see here and here for details).

Silver War Badge medal card for A M Hallen

Silver War Badge medal card for A M Hallen

The medal card is for Agnes Hallen, who seems to be also listed as having received a Silver War Badge, the card for which is available via AncestryLibrary and says she was a Sister in Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service – her other medal card says she was “Nurse and Sister-in-Charge” at Tooting Military Hospital. At the time she received the Silver War Badge, she is listed as living at 8 Montserrat Road in Putney – although no other record of her at that address survives and further details about her are difficult to trace. The Silver War Badge was designed to honour those who had been discharged because of wounds or illness, so that former military personnel could wear it to deflect criticism for not being in uniform. Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service still exists, although it is now known as Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps (QARANC).

Tooting and Balham Gazette available on microfilm

All Wandsworth Libraries have access to AncestryLibrary.com which includes medal cards

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

11-17 May 1915: Anti-German Riots and Zeppelin Drills

On Friday 7 May 1915, the RMS Lusitania was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-Boat.  This caused outrage across Britain, according to the South Western Star of the following week:

The most atrocious of the German outrages…has in Battersea and Wandsworth, as in every other civilised locality, occasioned intense indignation.  Murmurs of resentment were heard on Saturday, and the resentment gradually shaped itself into a keen desire for reprisals.

On the Monday night two shops had their windows smashed – Hamperl’s the butcher, 277 Garratt Lane, and Bleines and Son at 307 Garratt Lane.  Alois Hamperl had been a naturalised British subject since 1907 and had been married to his London-born wife for over 20 years, but half a brick and a stone were thrown through his windows.  Another stone had been thrown through the window of Peter Bleines, who was a baker and had become a British subject in 1900 – all 14 of his living children had been born in the area and he had been there for over 20 years.

What the newspaper refers to as “serious disorder” did not break out until the Wednesday night, when large crowds gathered in Wandsworth Road, Garratt Lane and Tooting High Street.  Eight arrests were made and all prisoners were charged and fined at the police court the following day.  The shop of Peter Jung at 48 Tooting High Street was wrecked, causing an estimated £200 worth of damage.  Jung was also a naturalised subject who had been living in the area for some years, as a German baker in Tooting it is very likely that he was one of the bakers who had offered to make bread for the local relief fund for free, but this did not stop his shop from being a target.  A large crowd gathered outside his premises – one policeman said it was 300, another 600 – from around half past seven and did not disperse until the combination of mounted police and rain cleared them away at 11pm.  The Jungs pulled down the blinds around 9pm, which prompted a “shower of bricks…completely smashing the shop windows”.

Peter Jung's Bakery, Tooting High Street

Peter Jung’s Bakery, Tooting High Street

On the same evening a crowd smashed windows on Stockdale Road, and on Thursday evening there were crowds on Battersea Bridge Road who then moved to Latchmere, but no damage was done.  The majority of arrests made were for obstructing the police and drunkenness, the newspaper does not record anyone who was charged with the damage caused.

The same page of the newspaper also reports the first Zeppelin raids on the UK, on Southend.  The proprietor of a Lavender Hill business had his home in Southend, which was untouched, although perhaps the raid was what prompted St Mary’s School Battersea to hold their first and only Zeppelin drill on 14th May.  The school log book records the drill at 1pm, but gives no further details (although an earlier entry records the school fire drill as clearing the whole school in 1 ½ minutes), and they didn’t record holding any more Zeppelin drills.

South Western Star available on microfilm.

St Mary’s Battersea school log book, ref: S7/2/1

13-19 April 1915: Sober Tooting

The Tooting & Balham Gazette reports this week on the recent meeting of the Tooting Ratepayer’s Association.  The meeting started off with some discussion on the increased cost of living, raised by Councillor Cusden (who owned grocery stores, see here for more information), he pointed out that provisions and foodstuffs had risen in price by 20 to 25 per cent but wages had not.  The overall feel of the meeting seemed to be that the competition between firms was keeping costs lower and it was the small traders who were doing worst out of the situation.

The chief item on the agenda was more controversial, as it was the proposed closing of public houses until the termination of the war.  Councillor Hurley, honorary secretary of the association, had placed it on the agenda as it seemed to be a burning issue of the time.  Councillor Cusden felt that total prohibition was out of the question.  A small section of the community should not be allowed to dictate to everyone else and “a man was a much entitled to have a glass of beer as another man was to have a cup of tea” – he quote a figure that £160 million a year was wasted on drink and expressed the opinion that it was no more wasted than on tobacco, there should not be any more slur on beer than on tea or cocoa.  Crime had reduced and the best thing that had happened was the reduction of pubs’ opening hours.  The Chairman of the Association – W H Smith (not he newsagent) argued that the Chairman of the Middlesex Sessions had said the drop in crime was remarkable and could only be put down to a reduction in drunkenness, and he claimed that 80% of those in workhouses and infirmaries were there due to drink.  If 60,000 people a year died of fever, steps would be taken to stamp it out and as a teetotaller he clearly felt that steps should be taken to reduce the amount of alcohol consumed. Councillor Hurley pointed out that drink problems were decreasing, he had never seen such a sober crowd as that on Easter Monday and only saw one drunk person in Tooting.  Mr Edwards, though himself teetotal, felt that the licenses of many of the local public houses were amongst the most respected men in Tooting, and involved in the well-being of the community.  In the past, according to Councillor Hurley, the area had been known as “drunken Tooting” which he considered a gross slander.  Councillor Cusden said that it was “sober Tooting” today and that those who were drunk were visitors from other areas.  A resolution was eventually passed that the Ratepayers Association did not support prohibition but were in favour of the continuation of reduced opening hours.

The issue must have been of some concern to the community, as there was a lengthy letter in the paper from an M Arran of Coteford Street relating to “The War and Drink”, which picked up on allegations that drunkenness was impeding the supply of munitions due to the condition of some of the workers.  The letter suggests that the Government ought to have foreseen the shortage of munitions and that the workers are not to blame, even if there was a small minority who over-indulged in alcohol.  His proposal was that spirits should be prohibited, except for medical purposes and that wine should be duty free as it was of great value.  Beer, however, “is a matter requiring much more drastic and revolutionary action”.  This action was to take the form of the nation becoming its own brewer, so that a purer beer could be brewed, which could then be available in improved pubs.  Those pubs would be “light, airy, comfortably and beautifully appointed, where a man can take his wife and children, where he may drink beer, wine, tea, or anything else he likes…Given these conditions and drunkenness would disappear”.

The reduction in pub opening hours had come in under the Defence of the Realm Act, pubs were only allowed to open from noon–2pm and 6:30pm–9:30pm.  You can find out more about the reduction in openings hours and the Carlisle experiment of government owned pubs in this National Archives blog post.

Balham & Tooting Gazette available on microfilm in the searchroom.