13-19 June 1916: Coping with a husband in the Forces

The Batstone family, as mentioned in this post, kept the majority of their letters and many diaries, which give a great insight into how one family dealt with the war. They had two young children when Walter was called up, and in this week in June 1916 he was away training whilst Maree tried to handle things at home.

Maree Batstone only wrote one diary entry this week, which started with her receiving two letters from her husband Walter in the morning and afternoon posts. Walter was training in Edinburgh, based in Bruntsfield School, and in his letter explained that he had “been re-drafted + Am now in the 9th draft (when last I sw you I was in the 7th).  Dye & I & abot 12 men are on the board tonight as drafted with the 9th draft, isn’t it amusing.  I am afraid I have this job at any rate tomorrow – I shall be glad when it is over”.

According to Maree’s diary, the “job” was that of Orderly Corporal – meaning long days, Walter even includes a schedule of his day for her, starting at 4.45am. At 5.30am he had to do the rounds to ask is anyone was going sick and take details, at 6am they had to attend at Gillespie School with a list of defaulters (this is James Gillespie’s School, which is 5- 10 minutes walk away).  By 7am he was making out sick reports in triplicate and breakfast was at 7.45am.  Lights out were at 10.15pm, after a day of sorting mail and other duties – “you are always on duty and liable to provide men for any emergency – today, two men to fetch beer for the sergeants mess”.

His second latter was dealing more with family business and answering questions she had sent him, including whether or not he required his birth certificate. There was also a complicated answer to a question about the family account with the piano tuner, where it was not clear if the account had been paid – something that became more complex due to all discussions having to be done by post.  Maree appeared to be struggling slightly with their daughter Molly, who was a toddler, Walter’s response was hopefully lighthearted: “Am so very sorry you are having such a beast of a time with Molly – she is a naughty little swab-hound and ought to be spanked, can you pack her off (as a boarder) to Em’s School?”

The rest of Maree’s day revolved around cycling into town to get Devonshire cream for her Aunt Emily’s birthday, shopping for her mother, and trying to put the children to bed early – slightly disturbed by a visitor coming after they had been bathed.

Letters from Walter Batstone to Maree, ref: D211/2/1/16

Maree Batstone’s diary, ref: D211/18/2/14

18-24 April 1916: The Voelker/Volker Gas Mantle Works

We recently discovered a poster in our collections for the Volker Gas Mantle Works. It doesn’t date from this week in 1916, instead it is probably from earlier in the year or possibly even 1915, but as it was a recent find and this week was otherwise fairly quiet in the borough, we thought we would look at this company and what we can find about them.

Volker Mantles Poster

The Voelker Lighting Corporation opened a factory on Garratt Lane in 1895, making incandescent mantles.  Records at the National Archives suggest that the firm was dissolved before 1916, although this presumably just refers to the change of name.  Volker are listed in the street directories until 1925, then became Lighting Trades Ltd – although still gas mantle manufacturers.  The name change took place between the 1914/15 and the 1916/17 directories.

In search of more information about the company, we checked our drainage plans for their building at 57 Garratt Lane and found one from September 1914, where issues over their German name had clearly already arisen as there is a note – presumably requested during the application process, as it is dated October 1914 – at the end of the plans listing shareholders. It lists the directors, (Messrs: Asten of Surbiton; Mardon of Shaftesbury Avenue; Bowden of 121 The Grove, Wandsworth; Garland of 93 Pulborough Road, Wandsworth), and goes on to be explicit that all bar one of the shareholders are residents of the UK.  The only one who wasn’t was an American lawyer called Kellogg, who owned 7000 shares.  At the bottom of the document is a list of German sounding names who were on the list of shareholders when Voelker Lighting Corporation Ltd took over from Voelker Mantle Co in 1905, and an assurance none of them are currently on the shareholders list.

Fairfield 3 214 note

When was the name changed? An article in the Wandsworth Historian from 2006 suggests it was early 1916, a view backed up by the rate books.  Below are three entries in the Wandsworth rate books, the first is for the six month period ending March 1916, where the company appears as “Voelker”.  The next entry is September 1916, and if you look carefully then you can see that the “E” has been scored out.  By the March 1917 book, “Volker” is used.

Voelker - March 1916 rate book

March 1916 rate book

September 1916 rate book

September 1916 rate book

March 1917 rate book

March 1917 rate book

The rate books point to the name being changed as early 1916, and further evidence is found in the Wandsworth Borough News of January 14, 1916, where the works are advertising for staff.  Many of the staff were female, as the image from the book Wandsworth Past at the end of the blog shows, and the ad is for “Girls Wanted” at the Volker works.  This suggests that our newly found poster might be from the end of 1915, as by 1916 adverts were out with the Volker name on them – and rate books, maps (the 1916 OS map shows “Voelker”), and Kelly’s directories just took some time to catch up.

14 January 1914, Wandsworth Borough News

14 January 1914, Wandsworth Borough News

Rate books, refs: MBW/3/2/98, MBW/3/2/114 MBW/3/2/130

Drainage plans, ref: Fairfield 3, 214

Kelly’s directories

Wandsworth Borough News (available on microfilm)

1916 Ordnance Survey map

Wandsworth Past, Dorian Gerhold, 1998

1916 OS map showing the works (c) Crown

1916 OS map showing the works (c) Crown

Volker Works from Wandsworth Past

Volker Works from Wandsworth Past

4-10 April 1916: 3rd London General Hospital

April’s edition of the Gazette of the 3rd London General Hospital covers the usual wide range of subjects, including noting that the magazine was now six months old and talking about its success.  Some rivalry creeps in here, as it refers to one of their artists being sent there and “not to one of the other hospitals with whose magazines ours is in such pleasant rivalry”.  The Gazette benefitted from a group of artists who had joined up as hospital orderlies – some of whom this blog has covered before, such as C RW Nevinson, but for this issue also included Australian artist Private Vernon Lorimer, who was a patient.  The editors were pleased to have reached six months, as a voluntary endeavour often dried up after the first two or three, and felt that the Gazette “was never more alive than it is to-day” – although they did hope for the end of the Gazette when the war itself ended.

There were several articles about the nursing staff, as there often were, this edition including a photograph of Queen Amelie of Portugal, who was one of the nurses.  Although she mainly lived in France after Portugal became a republic, she came to the 3rd London General Hospital to help with the wounded, “performing the ordinary duties of a probationer, going to her ward on arrival, and leaving when her duties were finished”.  Few photographs of her at work existed, as she preferred to focus on what she was doing and not the press – the photographs in the Gazette were presumably taken purely because it was the hospital’s own magazine.

Nursing staff contributed their own articles to the magazine, including one about the first Zeppelin raid. It’s not clear if it refers to the first ever Zeppelin raid over London, or the first one which crossed over the hospital, but it does include an anecdote about a sister who sprang out of bed, dressed in perfect uniform at speed and disappeared to the wards, muttering: “let me die with my men”.

The nurses and artists were also the subject of an illustration by Corporal Irving, showing one nurse in the style of the various artists. Left to right, those are: Stephen de la Bere; C R W Nevinson; Miss VAD Collins; patient Captain Tomkin McRoberts; “as she really looks to the average human eye”.

Nurses and Artists' Styles

21-27 March 1916: A Wandsworth Family

Maree Batstone’s diary entry for 23rd March 1916 begins: “Very cold, wet day, snow fell often”, and continues on to record various domestic concerns and the health of her two daughters.  Her husband Walter came home at “8.30, he had been enquiring about joining a regiment, he will probably be called up on Sat or Mon and will then not be able perhaps to choose a regiment, so he had been to Scotland Yd recruiting office and another, heard that Royal Garrison Artillery men are beasts, went to Kingston to be medically ex’d but too late, talked to a sergeant there.  Wonders if he will join Queen’s Westminster or London Rifle Brigade”.

Maree and Walter were living in Croydon at the time, but Walter grew up in Baskerville Road, Wandsworth Common, and the family later moved back there, which is why they’re featured this week. The couple married in 1907, after a four year engagement, when Maree was 23 and Walter 26.  By 1916 Walter was 35, Maree was 32 and they had two daughters, Frances and Mollie, born in 1909 and 1915.  Walter was a chartered surveyor in the family firm, Batstone Bros, based in the City.

In many ways, the Batstones are an ordinary family, but from the point of view of our blog they are of huge interest as they kept all their letters and diaries. Wandsworth Heritage Service has family letters for their parents, aunts, uncles and children, from the 1840s to the 1960s, including most of the letters written between Walter and Maree – first during their engagement and then whilst Walter was training and subsequently in the trenches in France.

Walter went to Oxford on 31st March with the 29th Royal Fusiliers, writing: “There are 6 of us here and so far they seem very nice men.  We are I believe all te tees one I imagine is a married man but am not sure.  I have got bad news – we are supposed to be moving from here to Edinborough in a few days time”.  In his later letters, he goes to talk more about his fellow soldiers (and to spell his location correctly), and we’ll be coming back to those and to Maree’s letters to him in future weeks.

Walter, Maree Batstone and children, c1917

Maree Batstone’s diary, 1916, ref: D211/1812/14

Walter’s letters to Maree, 1916, ref: D211/2/1/16

7-13 March 1916: Battersea Polytechnic’s Women Students

The March edition of the Battersea Polytechnic Magazine carries updates from students and former students, including the seventh edition of the Roll of Distinction of those serving. There is also an update of the roll of honour, giving details of two former students who had been killed – Victor Haskins and Thomas Turland.

Part of the Polytechnic was the Training Department of Domestic Science, who had been actively involved in the earlier campaign to make shirts for soldiers and many of whom were now working as VADs, nurses, or in other war occupations.  The magazine has a list of what former Domestic Science students were doing, it includes two who were working as “Instructresses in His Majesty’s Commisariat Department” (this seems to have been part of the Army Service Corps) and several who were working as VADs in various hospitals around the country.

One of the hospitals listed was the VAD Hospital, Clapham Common. There does not appear to be a great deal of information about the hospital, it as at 9 Cedars Road but is not listed in any directories at the time.  The Imperial War Museum holds a souvenir embroidery from the hospital, which is referred to as the 3rd London Red Cross Auxiliary Hospital.  The Red Cross has lists of their hospitals from the war, and the Cedars Road hospital is referred to as having been accepted by the War Office through the Red Cross.  More information on Red Cross hospitals can be found here.

Photographs of the hospital and nurses are at Lambeth Archives and can be found on their photo page, where it is referred to as Battersea Auxiliary Hospital – showing that the name was a bit variable!

The student who was based there was called M Holman.  The Red Cross have lists of VADs online, including several M Holmans, but we haven’t been able to match their records to a VAD who was at Cedars Road.  Several others were at the First London General Hospital in Camberwell, which is also where Vera Brittain served initially so for an account of life as a VAD in London you might want to consider reading Testament of Youth.

Battersea Polytechnic Magazine, ref: S14/5/9

22-28 February 1916: Tales from the Battersea Tribunal

After the controversy over the No Conscription Fellowship having their hall booking cancelled a couple of weeks ago, and the introduction of the Military Service Act on 27 January, it might be expected that the Tribunal meetings this week would be particularly keen to disallow claims. Conscription did not actually start until March, so all those coming before the Tribunal were still coming through the Derby Scheme.

Neither the meeting of 22nd January or that of the 24th granted full exemption to any of the applicants.  The write up of the Tribunal in the South Western Star does not supply the names of the majority of claimants, but it gives enough information that the details in the minutes can be matched up and a fuller picture can be put together of the men before the Tribunal.

Cases before the Tribunal included that of Arthur Bridge, a Battersea alderman, who was applying on behalf of his son, Arthur Stanley (known as Stanley). Bridge was a coal merchant who supplied Morgan Crucible’s Battersea works – which were engaged on munitions work.  He said that they were so short-staffed that they did not have enough men for their craft, his son had been apprenticed and was able to be second hand on a barge or tug.  In the 1911 census Stanley is listed as  clerk at the coal merchants, so had obviously had to do extra duties due to the war, the Tribunal minutes list him as a “manager” and his solicitor claims that he manages the transport.  His claim was disallowed and went to the appeal, reported back on at the Tribunal of 18th March.  The appeal only gained him three months, presumably as this was considered enough time for someone else to be trained in the work.

Several of the cases before the Tribunal were ones in which employing women instead was suggested. Dr Pearson of Bolingbroke Grove applied for exemption for his chauffeur, John Hayler, as he needed him for business and his “wife objects to a lady”.  The newspaper reports that the Tribunal were unsympathetic to this claim and laughed at the objection, saying that the country needed his man – the claim was disallowed.  John Hayler’s military service record survives, showing that he was married and had three children, which should have allowed him to go into a later Group.  A man seeking exemption for his son, who was a driver, said that “women are not a success as drivers of motor cars”, which was not queried by the Tribunal, instead they pointed out that his son had papers stating him to be medically unfit and therefore the matter was already taken care of.  The Tribunal also suggested that A I Biscuits should hire women in the factory when they refused exemptions for a mixer and a brakesman – although the firm’s owner, Mr Dunmore, argued that women were not able to do the work as it involved bags of flour weighing two cwt.  Price’s Candle Factory argued that their export ledger keeper could be replaced by a woman but it would take two years to train and that there was no-one else suitable for the role, the firm was carrying out important contracts for the Government but the application for exemption was disallowed.

 

Battersea Tribunal minutes, ref: MBB/2/25/2

25-31 January 1916: The Wandsworth Fiction Ban

On 26th January, the meeting of Wandsworth Borough Council received a deputation from the Clapham and District Fabian Society and the Clapham branch of the Women’s Freedom League.  The reason behind this was the ongoing ban on lending fiction and juvenile [by which they meant children’s] literature from Wandsworth Libraries.

The head of the deputation, Frederick Kettle, presumed that the ban was in order to save money, “something like £5000 a year”. In his view, this saving was being used to fund lower rates, and the money would have been better invested in a War Bond and the rates kept at previous levels.  Savings in rates did no good to renters, as the landlord paid the rates but kept the rent at previous levels – and was unlikely to invest the difference in a War Bond.  The main issue was not whether or not rates were raised or lowered, however, it was the effects of the lack of fiction – “the closing of the fiction departments was a serious thing for the working man in a district like Clapham”.  The principle was wrong:

Poor people had husbands or sons at the front and they got solace of mind by reading novels, instead of continually thinking about the hazards of the war. Young girls, further, were deprived of getting books and were tempted to buy penny novelettes and cheap melodramas…  He was an educationalist…  He had examined the papers of school children and there was an evidence that the children were unfamiliar with the use of a library

Mrs Corner, representing the Women’s Freedom League, also spoke in support of the re-introduction of lending fiction, “from a woman’s view”. She backed up Mr Kettle’s point about what young women were reading, and said that “they were at an age when what they read mattered much” – reading cheap novels meant they were “developing a taste for bad literature just at a time when they should be developing a high standard of morality”. She clearly felt that women were particularly at a disadvantage due to the ban, as she further pointed out that “The novel to a woman was what a pipe was to a man” and that the ban was not currently necessary – “if the time should come when it was absolutely necessary for them to be deprived of it [fiction], they would not make any protest”.

The Council agreed to look again at the ban, and at their next meeting decided to keep it in place.  They had saved £572 from the book buying fund in the year ending March 1916, as well as £190 on bookbinding and £168 on staff costs, so in the interests of economy the ban was maintained.  Further representations were made in June by the Putney Municipal Alliance – only to be declined again.  Fortunately, fiction became available again after the war.

Wandsworth Borough Council minutes, ref: MBW/1/16

Wandsworth Borough News available on microfilm