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The National Register: the beginning of the end of voluntary recruitment

August 1915 brought Britain a “Registration Day”, an extraordinary census on 15 August recording information about every man and woman between 15 and 65 for a new National Register. Its purpose was to find out how many men of military age were still civilians, how many could be spared for war work and, more pressingly, how many could join the armed forces.

During the first year of the war two million men had joined Britain’s army and navy (the air force was not formed until 1918). Hundreds of thousands were also serving as regulars, reservists or territorial force men, having joined up before August 1914. By February 1915, 15% of London’s male industrial workforce, and probably more of its service sector employees, were serving. (This was roughly in line with the national picture for industrial employees, but London’s large service sector bumped up London’s level of war service).

By early 1915, the numbers joining up each month had levelled out at around 110,000 and the authorities were worried that not enough men were coming forward to build up an army (and replace its casualties) to win the war. The Government wanted to know how many eligible men were still available. The National Registration Act 1915 was passed by Parliament on 15 July 1915, paving the way for the creation of the register a month later on August 15th. While the register did not in itself make men liable to serve, the responsible minister (Walter Long) said that ‘it will compel them to declare that they are doing nothing to help their country in her hour of crisis.’

Preamble and first clause of the National Registration Act 1915 (from legislation.gov.uk)

Preamble and first clause of the National Registration Act 1915 (from legislation.gov.uk)

The Derby Scheme website summarises the process of building the register well:

“The registration was to undertaken in a similar way to a census however, unlike a census, the head of household was not responsible for completing the form and instead each person who came under the act would complete their own form. Some 29 million forms were issued across England, Scotland and Wales.

Men were required to complete a granite blue form and women a white form.

“The returned forms were collected shortly after 15 August 1915 and compiled by the local authority. A summary of the register was passed to the Registrar General who compiled statistics however the actual forms were retained at a local level.”

Registering in a common boarding house from Trevor Wilson, Myriad Faces of War

Registering in a common boarding house from Trevor Wilson, Myriad Faces of War

It was a major undertaking and required a huge amount of work to complete. In England it was organised by local authorities (in Scotland it was centralised), and conducted with the help of a large number of volunteers. In St Marylebone, the council’s general purposes committee noted on 7 October that,

“The Town Clerk has reported to us on the steps taken for compiling and maintaining the Borough’s portion of the National Register. The work has engaged a very considerable number of voluntary helpers and a large number of the staff since the beginning of August. The invitations of the President of the Local Government Board and the Registrar General for capable voluntary helpers from among the professional and official classes did not meet with a very large response, although several barristers, members of the Council, and leading residents kindly offered their services; but at the last moment a number of church workers, workers from the Women’s Emergency Corps, the Women’s Service League, and others, came forward, and a sufficient number of enumerators undertook the difficult task of the distribution and collection of the Registration forms.

“Owing to the large number of foreign residents in the Borough it was also necessary to secure interpreters, and several residents volunteered for this work.”

The register of men in St Marylebone had been completed by 7 September but the register of women was still being worked on. Nearly 100,000 forms had to be dealt with and over 70,000 certificates completed and sent out.

The information on the forms was sent to the Local Government Board, who transferred the details of men of military age (i.e. 18-41 years old) onto pink forms that listed their employment and family details. If they employed in war work (for example, coal mining, munitions work, railways and some agricultural work) their pink forms were marked with a black star – leading to the term ‘starred’ meaning that someone had an essential war role.

Article on the pink form, Daily Express 18 August 1915.

Article on the pink form, Daily Express 18 August 1915.

 

People who were registered were sent a registration card:

National Registration card

National Registration card

As you will see, this one – for Thomas Gorman of 28 Farmilo Road, Leyton, records his name, address and occupation. It also carried the mark of the next step in the process – the Derby Scheme: Thomas Gorman ‘attested his willingness to serve’ in December 1915.

Nationally, the 1915 register showed that over 5 million men were not in the forces, of whom 2.18 million were single and 2.83 million were married. Of those single men (the first to be conscripted in 1916), 690,138 were in ‘starred’ roles meaning that nearly 1.5 million were potentially available for military service.

The National Register was a major waypoint in the move from the voluntary recruitment of 1914 to the conscription system introduced in 1916. It gave the Government a statistical breakdown of how many single and married men, of what ages, remained in the civilian population – and it gave them those men’s names and addresses. After those men were asked to enlist or attest in the Derby Scheme at the end of 1915, the Military Service Acts of 1916 introduced compulsory military service for all men of military age (unless they could get an exemption).

Sources:

  • Trevor Wilson, The Myriad Faces of War
  • Derby Scheme Website
  • Peter Simkins, Kitchener’s Army
 
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Posted by on 25 August 2015 in Recruitment

 

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Gibb Mapplebeck: early aviator and escaper

The war experiences of ‘Gibb’ Mapplebeck sound more like something from a Biggles-type adventure novel than a year in the life of a young man from Liverpool. By the end of August 1915, he was buried in Streatham churchyard, but he had already been injured in aerial combat, carried out the RFC’s first battlefield reconnaissance and escaped capture behind enemy lines.

Gilbert William Mapplebeck was born in Liverpool on 26 August 1892 and joined the Special Reserve of the King’s (Liverpool) Regiment as an officer in 1912. That year applied to transfer to the newly-formed Royal Flying Corps, to which he was attached (officially remaining a Liverpool Regiment officer). In January 1913, he qualified as a pilot at Hendon, earning Royal Aero Club Certificate number 386.

G.W. Mapplebeck's Royal Aero Club Certificate photo

G.W. Mapplebeck’s Royal Aero Club Certificate photo 

A few months later, this young pilot – apparently a bit of a daredevil, prone to stunt flying – suffered his first flying injury. In June 1913, he was thrown from an aeroplane (presumably while landing or taking off) at Upavon in Wiltshire and fractured his skull. He recovered, though: by October was fit to return to duty and in December he was appointed as a Flying Officer.

In August 1914, he was mobilised, with the rest of the armed forces, for the war in Europe. His first months at war were certainly incident-filled.

On 19 August, Mapplebeck and Philip Joubert carried out the first aerial reconnaissance ever by RFC airmen. Michael O’Connor quotes Mapplebeck’s account of the flight in his book Airfields and Airmen – Cambrai:

At 8 o’clock on the morning of the 19th Aug, I and my machine were both ready. At 8.15 Joubert (who was going in the Bleriot) and I were sent for by General Henderson, who told us each our particular jobs. Joubert was to go straight to Brain l’Allend(sic) via Nivelles, I was to go to Gembloux near Namur. He was to be over friendly territory and look out for Belgians, and I was to look for advanced German cavalry. […]

Using large scale map, followed Bleriot.. I did not pick up my position on the map, so I depended on Bleriot’s pilot for correct route, intending to branch off on arriving at Nivelles. Missed Nivelles, arrived at a large town (I was at 3,000 feet & in clouds) but could not place it on map. (on my return I discovered this had been Brussels.) I flew to the other side of the town, turned round and steered S.S.E. I then took out the small scale map and picked up my position at OTTIGNIES and soon found GEMBLOUX. After being in cloud I made a wide circle round it, being in clouds part of the time, but only saw a small body of cavalry about a mile in length moving faster than a walk in a south easterly direction. At this time I was at 3,400 [feet] and was just turning a little further south when I was enveloped in clouds. I flew on for about 5 miles, and then descended about 300 feet out of the clouds and saw Namur. I then turned west and passed CHARLEROI, & altered my course a little south. I missed MAUBEUGE, flew on for about 15 miles after realizing that I had missed it and landed at WASSIGNY (near Le Cateau) at 11.30 am, and flew back, landing at MAUBERGE at 12.0”

If Mapplebeck’s journey sounds haphazard, so too was Joubert’s. He got lost near Mons, landed and was fed by a local functionary at Tournai, then ran out of fuel and landed near Courtrai. There the locals were less hospitable and he was unable to identify himself as an ally until a Belfast linen manufacturer came to his rescue and confirmed that he was English. Eventually, he too got back to Maubeuge and the two officers gave their reports to General Henderson, the commander of the RFC, who personally delivered them to General Headquarters. (Some pages from Mapplebeck’s account appear on the RAF Museum’s blog, here).

BE2a (Bleriot) aeroplane of the type flown by Joubert and Mapplebeck in August 1914 (note Union Flag on the tail rather than the tricolour used later)

BE2a (Bleriot) aeroplane of the type flown by Joubert in August 1914 (note Union Flag on the tail rather than the tricolour used later)

During the battle of Mons a few days later, Mapplebeck was again in action, flying over Belgium trying to keep track of where the British front line was. And on 25 August, he dropped a hand-grenade onto a German aircraft as it was landing – although he wasn’t able to tell whether he had done much damage (the machine overturned, but that may have because of the bad ground it was landing on)

A month later, Mapplebeck found himself in combat. On 22 September, he returned from combat with a German two-seater having been hit in the thighs, groin and stomach by gunfire while flying at 6,000 feet. His local newspaper, the Liverpool Echo, reported that he still “managed to reach the British lines, being unconscious when he landed and his machine being filled with his blood”. Joshua Levine notes one aspect of his injury: “Unfortunately, he happened to be carrying loose change in his pocket and the force of the bullet drove a twenty-five cent piece into his groin, slicing away the tip of his penis”. His comrades found this wound rather entertaining; it’s probably safe to say that Mapplebeck did not.

Copies of telegrams sent to his mother in Mapplebeck’s army service record show that he was sent to a hospital in Braisne by 8 October and then on to the Astoria Hospital in Paris a few days later. By late November, his condition was said to be improving and on 11 December he was transferred to a Red Cross Convalescent Hospital for officers. After a stay in another such home, he was discharged on 2 February 1915. By this date, Mapplebeck had been awarded the Distinguished Service Order (gazetted 18 February 1915); he had also been promoted to Lieutenant (back-dated to October) and was mentioned in despatches in October 1914.

Within weeks of leaving hospital, he was back in action again. On March 11th he took part in what was apparently in the first ever night-time aeroplane raid. Along with Captain Barton and Lieutenant Warrand (each in separate aircraft), he set out to bomb a German wireless station at Lille. Mapplebeck and Warrand were both shot down behind enemy lines. The Liverpool Echo reported that, after destroying his aeroplane, which the Germans soon found:

“Captain Mapplebeck lay for three days in a wood, living only on chocolate which he had carried, and then found shelter for a day in an empty house. Later, he made friends with some strangers and afterwards, steadily steered a course for Holland, it being impossible to get to our own lines in France. He loitered in Lille, only to tear down the proclamation which the German commandant had posted respecting himself and a comrade. He won through to Dutch territory and, still passing himself off as a French peasant, got to London on April 4, reporting himself to Farnborough on the same day.”

One particular ‘friend’ known to have helped Mapplebeck to escape was Camille Eugene Jacquet, a tradesman from Lille. Later that year, the German Governor of Lille posted a notice that Jacquet and three others were to be shot on 22 September “for having hidden the English aviator who came down at Wattignies on March 11th last; for having lodged him, and for having made his passage through France easy, so that he was able to rejoin the enemy’s lines; for having kept and helped members of the enemy’s armies, and who after their stay in Lille or suburbs, got them away into France.”

According to a website about a road named after Jacquet, a (or the) pilot that he and his daughter helped to escape in March 1915 flew over Lille a few months later and dropped an insulting message for the governor, which probably didn’t help matters for the captured escape committee! (At least that’s what google translate seems to say that the website says)

On 15 January 1916, General Joffre, the French commander-in-chief, issued an Order of the Day honouring Jacquet for his work in concealing French soldiers and helping them to escape. (Flight magazine, 1916)

Mapplebeck, however, did not make it to September 1915. In June, he was posted to No 2 Reserve Air Squadron and in August he was at Joyce Green, near Dartford, carrying out flight tests. On 24 August – just over a year after his first wartime escapades – Mapplebeck was flying a Morane aeroplane at Joyce Green – after taking off he climbed to 80 feet and then entered a sharp right-hand turn. The aeroplane stalled and spun ground into the ground. Mapplebeck was killed. Like Perry and Parfitt’s deaths in 1914, this crash was highlighted by Noel Pemberton-Billing in Parliament and investigated in 1916. Billing claimed that the pilot was killed in an aeroplane condemned by the French air force and due to some problem with the safety belt. The investigation concluded that the type of machine had indeed largely been taken out of use by the French. It would have been negligent to put an inexperienced pilot in such a machine, they said, but Mapplebeck was an ‘expert’ so it was not negligent; the crash was, they concluded, caused by ‘an unfortunate error of judgment on the pilot’s part’.

And so ended a colourful, early-war flying career. He may not have achieved the aerial victories and public plaudits of a James McCudden or Albert Ball, but Mapplebeck was one of the exciting characters who made up the early Royal Flying Corps.

Other sources:

 
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Posted by on 18 August 2015 in Award-winners

 

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Lewis Havens’s voice: lost on the Somme, found in Hampstead

Delving into London and the Great War throws up many extraordinary stories, some of which happy endings. Lewis Havens’s story is one of those – seeing him lose his voice in the horror of Delville Wood but recover it three years later.

Lewis Havens was a handyman living at 163 Newport Buildings, Shaftesbury Avenue, and working at the London Hippodrome.  He had married Minnie Gertrude Light in July 1912. Havens attested under the Derby Scheme in November 1915, approaching his 25th birthday, and was called up for service in the Rifle Brigade in April 1916.

Lewis Havens in uniform (image uploaded to Lives of the First World War by Milford Harrison)

Lewis Havens in uniform (image uploaded to Lives of the First World War by Milford Harrison)

Havens’s military career was short but eventful. After a few months of training, he was sent to the 8th Battalion in France on 24 August 1916 and joined the battalion on 8 September and went into Delville Wood.

Delville Wood was the scene of great carnage in 1916. From July to the start of September, British and South African troops wrested control of the wood from the Germans as part of the Battle of the Somme. The Battle itself ended before Havens arrived, but it was far from safe: the 8th Rifle Brigade lost 100 men killed on 15 September alone – many more must have been wounded.

 

 View from within Delville Wood, 20 September 1916 - just after Havens was wounded there. © IWM (Q 1156)


View from within Delville Wood, 20 September 1916 – just after Havens was wounded there. © IWM (Q 1156)

 

Havens was one of those wounded in the wood that week. His medical record notes:

“When in trenches was blown up twice and gassed on Sept 14 and 15. Came to himself in Rouen Base Camp where he was for 3 days. Has been dumb ever since. Was deaf at first (3 months)”

He was immediately sent back to England, diagnosed with shell shock (neurasthenia) and was discharged in March 1917. He then returned to work at the London Hippodrome.

According to the medical board Lewis Havens could hear perfectly well but was unable to speak. They noted that he had previously become mute 5 years earlier for two years following a fall through a trap door on a stage.

The Hippodrome employed Havens as a “greencoat”. As the Milwaukee Journal explained “he attends to raising and lowering the front curtain and to placing, at the sides of the proscenium, the cards which bear the names of the next performers.” Able to hear but not speak, Havens adopted a whistling response to questions: once for “yes”, twice for “no”.

In 1919, a performer named Mrs Wanda Lyon paid for Havens to see a masseur called Frank Horler, working at Sir Frederick Milner’s hostel for shell shock suffers in Hampstead.

According to the Milwaukee Journal: “Intense was the astonishment of all on stage within hearing of Havens when he announced, just as he had before he went to the front: ‘All’s ready to begin’.” Understandably, Horler was not so surprised by the recovery, but he did express surprise at its speed: “I tried massage and electrical treatment for four days. On the fourth evening I saw him, and he surprised me by saying in a low voice, ‘I congratulate you.’”

Another person who was pleasantly surprised was Havens’s young daughter, who was able to hear her father’s voice for the first time.

Havens and his daughter, from Daily Mirror 16 August 1919

Havens and his daughter, from Daily Mirror 16 August 1919

Sources:

 

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on 21 July 2015 in Ordinary Londoners

 

Capture the flag

In the newspapers a hundred years ago today were the exploits of young Londoner Ernest Norman Lawrie, who had gone out into no-man’s land to capture a German flag.

Lawrie and the German flag, Daily Mirror 9 June 1915

Lawrie and the German flag, Daily Mirror 9 June 1915

Ernest Norman Lawrie was born in West Hampstead in April 1893 and grew up in Kew Gardens. He was the son of John and Elizabeth Lawrie; John was the manging director of Whiteley’s department store in Kensington. After being educated at Haberdasher’s School in Cricklewood, young Lawrie (who appears to have been known as Norman) started working at Elkington and Co plate silver makers of Regent Street in 1912.

Norman Lawrie was among the first wave of volunteers for war service after the Britain declared war in 1914. On August 10th, he joined the Kensington Battalion, the 13th Londons. Two and a half months later, he and his comrades went to the Western Front. Lawrie saw action at Neuve Chapelle in early 1915 and was commissioned as an officer in the battalion on 3 April 1915.

In a letter home he describes his efforts to win glory among the officers and men of the battalion soon after he was made an officer himself:

“The first time I went into the trenches as an officer I had rather an exciting experience.

“It had been a very dark night, and I kept on telling the sentries to keep a good lookout.

“In the morning we were surprised to see, midway between our lines and the German lines, a little German flag flapping in the wind. Underneath was a board with some writing on it, and all this stuck on to a post.

“It had been put there by some German patrol, who had the cheek to come thus far and stick it in the ground.

“Great excitement reigned all day, and our fellows potted at the post ‘like mad’ to knock it down, and the Boches potted at our fellows to do likewise, but neither side succeeded.

“During the evening I heard a group of about ten officers talking about it, and each saying he was going out when it was dark to bring it in.

“Well, to cut a long story short, I didn’t wait till it was dark but at dusk I strolled out, revolver in hand (loaded in all six chambers), with a corporal, in case I should get potted.

“After passing the word along our sentries, ‘Cease fire, patrol going out in front,’ the corporal and I started on our journey.

“We first of all had to climb over our own entanglements – that is one of the reasons why I went out before it was quite dark, as you get torn to pieces by the barbed wire in the dark; and reason number two, I wanted to get there before our other officers; and number three, because I didn’t want to meet a German patrol, which always comes out in front of their wire in the dark.

“Having safely climbed our wire, we crawled along and found to our dismay a ditch 5ft across and with 7ft of water in front of us.

“I had a pretty long journey. Well, we got there all right, and I gripped the post, when a sudden fear seized me.

“Here was I isolated between the two trenches, and suppose a wire was attached to the post from the trench and when I pulled it they would open a machine gun on me.

“Well, I felt carefully all over it, but ah! no wire. So I tore it out of the ground and – good heavens! A star shell went up and dropped within 5 ft of the corporal and I.

“You know what a white flare is like at a firework display, which shows up everybody all round. Well, both sides use these as rockets to show up the ground between the trenches at night, and this was one of them.

“Of course, the Boches spotted the flag was gone, and then spotted two black forms lying flat on the ground.

“My word, it was hot for a moment! The bullets fairly scraped us as they whizzed past. Well, we waited till the flare died down, and, picking up the flag, we ran to a hole in the ground made by a shell and dropped into this. And once more a star-light went up, but we were hidden this time.

“At last the star-lights stopped, and we hurried back to our trench, and huge cheers greeting me hugging the flag like a baby.”

 

The Daily Mirror described the incident as showing “better than anything the spirit of our men at the front” and revealing “once again the British soldier’s utter contempt for death”. Viewed another way, it was a reckless gamble with two men’s lives over a simple flag. Either way, it certainly shows how important such symbols as the flag were in the contest over no-man’s land.

From de Ruvigny's 'Roll of Honour'

From de Ruvigny’s ‘Roll of Honour’

Norman Lawrie was killed in action a few weeks later. I don’t know how he died, but his commander’s letter says that “He met his death leading his men in the true British way, and under circumstances as exacting as any that troops could be called upon to face”, so it doesn’t seem to have been in another wild venture out into no-man’s land.

Sources:

  • de Ruvigny’s Roll of Honour
  • Daily Mirror 9/6/1915
 
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Posted by on 9 June 2015 in Events, War Dead

 

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Bombs begin to fall on London, 31 May 1915

A hundred years ago today, 31 May 1915, the much-feared aerial attack on London began. The Zeppelins, whose visits to England had begun earlier in the year with bombs dropped over East Anglia, visited the East End of the capital – their first bomb was dropped on a house in Alkham Road, Stoke Newington.

Here is a map of all the bomb damage sites across London in 1914-1918:

Where the bombs fell in London, 1914-1918

Where the bombs fell in London, 1914-1918

This week, the London Borough of Hackney unveiled a plaque on the house where that first bomb fell. This interesting modern commemoration echoes a plan in the City of Westminster (see my blog post on it here) to mark the sites where bombs fell, initially every site and later just the first and last. The Westminster plan did not receive any support after the war among the other boroughs where bombs had fallen; it was shelved in 1920.

 
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Posted by on 31 May 2015 in Air Raid, War memorials

 

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WG Heighton, shooting down a German aeroplane

We have heard stories about pilots who were shot down, like Sidney Herbert Quicke shot down by the Red Baron, or John Young and Cyril Taylor, who died fighting bombers over London. Others showed bravery in the air and survived, like CRL Falcy. This week, the story of a man who shot down a German aeroplane from the ground: William George Heighton.

William George Heighton was born in 1887 in Sussex. By the time of the Great War he was married and living in London; he and his wife Eva Amy (nee Collyer) lived in West Hampstead and had no children. Heighton worked as a policeman.

When the Derby Scheme came along in late 1915 as a way of prompting men to join up by asking them to volunteer to be conscripted, Heighton was one of many who signed up – putting pen to paper on 16 November in Hampstead. He was called up over a year and a half later, in July 1917, joining the Royal Garrison Artillery. After a stint in hospital, he was sent to the Western Front in December.

By mid-February 1918, Heighton was a gunner in 163 Siege Battery, RGA. This was armed with 6-inch howitzers, but Heighton was no ordinary gunner – he was a Lewis Gunner. Instead of firing the looping shells of a howitzer on to German trenches and defences, his role was to protect his battery and their comrades from attack by enemy aircraft.

An RGA Lewis Gunner at Monchy-le-Preux, 18 March 1918. Is it Gunner Heighton? Image© IWM (Q 10748)

An RGA Lewis Gunner at Monchy-le-Preux, 18 March 1918. Is it Gunner Heighton? Image© IWM (Q 10748)

In March 1918, the Germans launched their Spring Offensive, their last attempt to break the Allies in the West before American reinforcements could arrive in large numbers. The initial attack was stunningly successful.

A few days later, a flight of German aeroplanes British troops around 163 Siege Battery. Heighton’s account says that five or six aeroplanes were using their machine guns to attack the British reserve trenches when he fired on those aeroplanes. He brought one of them down and the others fled back over the German lines. Heighton was applauded as a hero. His commanding officer, Major McWatt, told him that he should be commended for his bravery and a few infantry officer wtinesses shook his hand to congratulate him for his actions.

Before Heighton could hear any more about any commendation, though, he was taken prisoner. As the German advance continued, he was captured at Monchy-le-Preux on 29 March. He had clearly been an attentive letter-writer, because his wife wrote to the War Office looking for information on 15 April, saying, “Could you please send me any news of my husband I have now heard from him since the 26th Match – until this date I have always heard so frequently – but have not even had a field card.”

A month later, Eva had heard from her husband, who had written to her that he was being held in Cassell in Germany. She continued to write to the War Office for more information, though, so obviously she did not hear much from him. It seems as though he was ill during the last months of the war, when he was held in Limburg. He was quickly repatriated after the war, arriving in Hull on the first day of 1919.

Back in civilian life, Heighton wondered whether anything had come of the promise of a commendation. In fact, he hadn’t even received his service medals, let alone anything in recognition of shooting down that aeroplane.

In September 1921, he wrote off to the officer responsible for RGA records, but they could not find any record of the incident. The National Archives only holds 163 Siege Battery’s war diary to up February 1918, so perhaps the March record was lost during the German attacks in which Heighton was captured. In December, Heighton acknowledged receipt of his campaign medals: the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.

It doesn’t look as though William George Heighton was ever rewarded officially for shooting down a German aeroplane, but doing so was quite an achievement – and driving away the remaining aircraft attacking British forces must have been a relief to his comrades.

 
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Posted by on 10 April 2015 in Ordinary Londoners

 

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Patience Huthwaite and Reginald

War can break families apart, it can disrupt the normal patterns of family life through absence or death on war service. Patience Huthwaite suffered just this problem when her boyfriend Reggie Bryant was sent to serve in Iraq in 1916 and was reported missing in action.

Patience Huthwaite was born in London, daughter of house decorator Henry Huthwaite and his wife Patience. In 1901, she was seven and living with her parents and three brothers (Henry junior, James and George) at 40 Euston Road.  In 1911, though, she was living in an “Industrial School” in Blackburn Lancashire, doing laundry work

In August 1915, she was living in central Colchester. We know this because she was receiving letters from Reginald Bryant, a young man from Diss (apparently also a decorator) who was in training in Colchester as part of the Norfolk Regiment. These letters are available on the Great War Archive. It is not clear whether Patience was already in Colchester and met Bryant there, or moved to Colchester to be near him – something a number of girlfriends and wives did during the war.

Reginald Bryant, Norfolk Regiment (image from Great War Archive ©University of Oxford) - sadly there are no photos of Patience

Reginald Bryant, Norfolk Regiment (image from Great War Archive ©University of Oxford) – sadly there are no photos of Patience available

Sometime in early 1916, Reggie was sent overseas. Unfortunately for Patience he was sent to Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq), meaning that he was unlikely to be able to come back on leave – which men serving on the Western Front could about once a year (or more often for officers).

Reggie being away was a particular problem because Patience was pregnant. Worse was to come, though, when Reggie was reported missing in action. He was with his unit at Kut-al-Amara when the garrison there was besieged and defeated by the Turkish Army. The garrison fell at the end of April and a large number of Reginald’s comrades were taken prisoner (and treated terribly by their captors). Reggie Bryant was not among those prisoners, however – he was reported missing a week before Kut fell.

Letter to Patience confirming that Reginald was missing in action (from Great War Archive ©University of Oxford

Letter to Patience confirming that Reginald was missing in action (from Great War Archive ©University of Oxford

Patience gave birth to a son in September 1916, whom she named Reginald Bryant Huthwaite. As the letter above shows, when Regginald junior was born it was still not confirmed whether his father was alive or dead – Patience was writing to the War Office in December 1916 to try to find out. The advice sent to her was probably that she should write to the Red Cross office that dealt with inquiries about missing servicemen.

Contrary to what is often thought, pre-marital sex was not so uncommon in the first half of the twentieth century. In some ways the change from the 1970 was more in how people responded to pregnancies, with unmarried parenthood becoming more acceptable.

As Pat Thane put it in a report for the British Academy:

“Until the 1970s, illegitimate and legitimate birth rates followed similar trajectories: they rose and fell together, both rising between c.1750 and 1850 and falling from the later nineteenth century to the 1930s, suggesting that they were influenced by similar factors. In 1846-50, 67 in every 1000 live births were illegitimate. The figure fell steadily to 40 in 1906-10. During World War One it rose to 53.9 in 1916-20. This was probably due to marriages being prevented or delayed due to the absence or death of men at war rather than, as was assumed at the time, to licentious behaviour by young people liberated by wartime conditions.”

At the time of the Second World War (in advance of which illegitimacy rates were similar to before 1914), the moral panic about illegitimacy that had occurred in the Great War re-emerged. The Registrar General’s pre-war statistics showed that pre-marital pregnancies (i.e. illegitimate births and those within marriage that occurred significantly less than nine months after the wedding) accounted for 14.6% of all births, and more among younger mothers. This figure decreased as illegitimate births increased during the war. He felt that the explanation for the increase in illegitimacy was

“almost unquestionably to be found in the enforced degree of physical separation of the sexes imposed by the progressive recruitment of young males into the Armed Forces and their transfers to war stations at home and abroad, rendering immediate marriage with their home brides increasingly difficult – and, in the case of many – quite impossible”

It seems more than likely that Reginald Huthwaite was one of those children whose parents would have married had they had the chance. Eventually, the authorities decided that Reggie Bryant had died (usually this was after about a year with no news). This left young Reginald without a father of course. He soon acquired one, though, when Patience married Reggie’s brother Clarence (also a veteran of the Norfolk Regiment in the Great War: the Commonwealth War Graves Commission page for Reggie says he was one of six brothers who served). According to the family’s account (on the Great War Archive), Reginald Huthwaite was brought up by his maternal grandmother, Patience senior, in London. He remained a Huthwaite for the rest of his life and died in 1999.

The Great War affected families in many ways. The lives of Reggie Bryant, Patience Huthwaite and their son show just one of those stories.

 
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Posted by on 24 March 2015 in War Dead, Women

 

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