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Monthly Archives: September 2012

Czechs in Great War London

London in 1914 was home to thousands of people from around the world. While not as diverse as it is today, there were people from dozens of nations in Britain’s capital. One of these minority communities was made up of Czechs.

In 1911 there were around 8,700 people living in London who were citizens of Austria-Hungary or had come from that Empire and become naturalised as British citizens. Czechs were not enumerated separately at that point as they were part of Austria-Hungary’s enormous population, but in 1921 there were 984 Czechoslovak residents in London (of whom around 700 were Czechoslovak citizens).

When the Great War began, Czech men – and other Austro-Hungarian citizens in Britain – became ‘alien enemies’. Keen to show their loyalty to their new country or to strike out for independence for the Czechs (or both) – many Czech men joined the British Army.

Czech soldiers in the British Army (Illustrated London News, 10/1/1917): “Practically all the Czechs of military age resident in Great Britain have volunteered for the Army or are engaged in war-work.”

Others agitated for Czech independence from Austria-Hungary through the Czech National Alliance, such as their secretary Francis Kopecký. In January 1917, the Alliance opened new offices near Piccadilly Circus, in which they displayed a roll of honour of Czech soldiers in the British Army. From their office, the Alliance distributed their propaganda “explaining the problem of the Czechs and their aspiration for independence from Austria, and also why they have the cause of the Allies at heart” (as the Times described it).

One of the Czech men who served in the British Army was Joseph Kořinek, whose family lived in Carlton Road, Kentish Town, having left Austria in the first decade of the twentieth century; by 1911 he was working (aged 15) as an electrical engineering apprentice. He joined the army in the Great War and served as a signaller in “A” Battery, 91st Brigade, Royal Field Artillery, part of the 20th (Light) Division. Sadly Joseph died (aged 21) just before the Armistice – on 5 November 1918 – probably in either number 30 or number 22 casualty clearing station near Cambrai. Whether he was one of the men in the photo, we will probably never know.

The Korinek family’s entry in the 1911 census – then living at 30 Rochford Street, NW.

Sources:

Times 10/1/17

Catalogue of material relating to Czechoslovakia

Illustrated War News, 10/1/1917

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Update:

Topfoto have this wonderful photo from Trafalgar Day celebrations in London in 1916. In the background is a banner carrying the words: “London Czechs salute the heroic British Navy and the glorious memory of Nelson”

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Posted by on 29 September 2012 in Ordinary Londoners, War Dead

 

Gallant nurses

In Summer 1916, the first Military Medals were awarded for gallantry under fire. Thousands of MMs were awarded during the war, including over a hundred to nurses. One of the first nurses to be decorated was a Londoner: Beatrice Allsop.

The Military Medal was introduced in March 1916 as an other ranks gallantry award, matching the officers-only Military Cross (established in 1914). In June 1916 the first men to be awarded the MM were announced – at the same time, it was extended to be awarded to women as well.  The first list of female recipients was announced in early September 1916:

The Lady Dorothie Mary Evelyn Feilding (Monro Motor Ambulance).
Matron Miss Mabel Mary Tunley, R.R.C., Q.A.I.M.N.S.
Sister Miss Beatrice Alice Allsop, Q.A.I.M.N.S. (R.).
Sister Miss Norah Easeby, Q.A.I.M.N.S. (R.).
Staff Nurse Miss Ethel Hutchinson, Q.A.I.M.N.S. (R.).
Staff Nurse Miss Jean Strachan Whyte, T.F., N.S.

The five Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS) nurses were all decorated for their bravery when their casualty clearing station was shelled by the Germans.

Beatrice Alice Allsop

Beatrice Alice Allsop was born in Wandsworth in 1882 and trained at the Nightingale Training School at St Thomas’s Hospital from 1906 to 1910. She then became a Sister at the Seamen’s Hospital in Greenwich, and returned to St Thomas’s as a Charge Nurse in November 1913. She went out to France as part of the QAIMNS in August 1914, with No. 7 General Hospital.

In August 1916, Nurse Allsop was serving at No 33 casualty clearing station at Bethune. On 7 August it was hit by a German 15-inch shell. Several of the nurses were injured: Allsop was wounded while in the operating theatre, while Easeby and Whyte were hit by flying glass and splinters and Hutchinson was knocked to the floor. Nonetheless, the nurses successfully moved the 260 patients in the station to safety in the cellars and continued their work through hours of shelling.

The war diary of the matron-in-chief of the British Expeditionary Force for 9 August records her visit to the CCS:

Left at 8am for the Front. Arrived at St. Omer, where I went to Mess to see Miss Tunley and the Sisters who had been shelled out of Bethune. They apparently behaved with conspicuous bravery. 204 patients were carried to the cellars. 2 operations were done under the bombardment, which had begun. Shelling continued for 3 hours, shells falling into the town at intervals of 10 minutes. 2 of the Sisters were slightly wounded from broken glass from windows. Most of the Chapel in the courtyard was absolutely destroyed, and many lorries and their drivers blown to atoms. The Surgeon-General said no praise was great enough for anyone of them, that men and women worked alike in a calm manner, and there was no confusion.

The nurses were then decorated with the ribbons of their medals on 17 August, as the matron-in-chief recorded:

Left early for 1st Army. I went to HQ, saw General Pike. Learnt that 5 of the Nurses from Bethune were to get the Military Medal, and that the GOC was going to present the ribbon to them. […] On to Bethune with the General, where I saw the damage that had been done. The whole of the East end of the Church had been destroyed, and over 2000 window panes broken in the schools where the CCS is established. Seven of the Nursing Staff had returned, it being considered safe. They are accommodated in a solid stone building with a large cellar. All repairs had been completed, and the rooms had been repainted. When I looked at this enormous building with the narrow winding stairs, it seemed remarkable how the patients had been carried to the cellars.

Beatrice Allsop and her fellow nurses acted with great bravery on that August day in Bethune. The experience of shelling must have been terrifying, but they calmly got on with their jobs. These nurses were worthy first female recipients of the Military Medal.

A Great War-era Military Medal

(The MM was discontinued in 1993, since when officers and other ranks have been eligible for the Military Cross. The first woman to be awarded the MC was a medical orderly from the West Midlands: Michelle Norris in 2007)

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Sources:

Scarlet Finders (and excellent resource on nurses in the Great War)

Royal College of Nursing archives

QARANC Military Medals website

 
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Posted by on 26 September 2012 in Award-winners, Women

 

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Housing the war workers, Woolwich 1915

Wars are inherently destructive. At the same, they can bring construction – army camps and airfields being the most obvious examples. Near Woolwich in 1915, though, it was housing for munitions workers that was needed – and the resulting development became known as the Progress Estate.

A street being constructed for Woolwich arsenal workers (War Illustrated, vol 3)

The Woolwich arsenal grew enormously from the start of the Great War. Housing was needed for thousands of new workers there and the Government set about building it near to Well Hall Station (now Eltham Station). The houses were built, according to the War Illustrated, with the intention that they be good quality housing for the post-war era.

The Hidden London website describes the estate

Following the outbreak of the First World War, the government acquired 96 acres of farmland on either side of Well Hall Road to build an estate for munitions workers at Woolwich. Construction workers were drafted in from all parts of London to build 1,300 homes on ‘garden city’ lines and the project was completed by December 1915. Despite the urgency, the Ministry of Works team, led by Francis Baines, achieved high archi­tectural standards, especially in terms of stylistic variation. Many of the three miles of roads curved with the contours of the land and field boundary trees were retained where possible.

Houses being constructed at Well Hall.

It was renamed the Progress estate in 1925 and the Ideal Homes website has a nice gallery of post-war photos of the area.

Sadly, the area became famous again in 1993 when 18-year-old sixth-form student Stephen Lawrence from Eltham was murdered by a racist gang on Well Hall Road.

 
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Posted by on 21 September 2012 in Ordinary Londoners, Places

 

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The Kaiser’s Dream of Peace

Kaiser Wilhelm II was the subject of many cartoons in Britain during the Great War (along with his son, dubbed “Little Willy”).  One cartoon showed him as an overlord in Westminster with the title ‘The Kaiser’s Dream of Peace’.

The cartoon was originally published in the New York Herald and was reprinted in the Daily Express in March 1915.  It shows the Kaiser with a death’s-head helmet and enormous sword, lounging on the Palace of Westminster.

Notable features include:

  • Big Ben (or rather the Clock Tower) renamed as ‘Big Bill’.
  • The ‘House of Parliament’, rather than plural Houses (although this may be an error).
  • An armoured, spiky Zeppelin overhead.
  • The figures of the King, Lloyd George, Sir Edward Grey and (I think) prime minister H.H. Asquith, prostrate on the floor in front of the conquering emperor.

Not a realistic image at all – the Kaiser was nowhere near that large, for a start! – but a reminder of the perceived threat of invasion and the image that Britons, and many Americans, had of the Germans and a ‘German peace’ in the First World War.

 
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Posted by on 15 September 2012 in Famous People, Places

 

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AJ Duddridge: death in the Adriatic

We tend to think of the men listed on the war memorials in our towns and cities lying in some corner of a field in France or Belgium, or perhaps on the Gallipoli peninsula or in Iraq. Some were lost on more obscure fronts, or moving between them. One such man was Londoner A.J. Duddridge

Albert John Duddridge was born in 1887 and grew up in Islington. he worked as a coach body maker before enlisting on 1 August 1915.  He was a private in the Mechanical Transport branch of the Army Service Corps in 605th M.T. Coy. He embarked from Brindisi on the Citta de Palermo on 8 January 1916, as part of the British Adriatic Mission, heading for Valona – now Vlorë in Albania.

Two hours after their departure, 6 miles north-east of Brindisi, the ship struck a mine and capsized. Of the 200 on board, about half were saved including 84 of the 143 British troops.  AJ Duddridge was not among them and his body was not recovered. He is commemorated, along with his lost shipmates and nearly 1,990 other non-sailors lost at sea, on the Hollybrook Memorial in Southampton.

The Adriatic Mission was an attempt to help the over 100,000 Serbian troops who had been driven to the Adriatic Coast by the advancing Austro-Hungarian  army when Serbia was invaded. The Allies provided these men with supplies and helped them to evacuate the area, the Serbian troops later being moved to the Salonika Front. The retreat from Serbia was costly for the Serbs and the Adriatic Mission also cost the lives of men from the Allied nations, men serving far from their homes – like Albert John Duddridge.

Sources:

de Ruvigny’s Roll of Honour vol 3 (p83)

World-war.co.uk

Great War Forum

Salonika Campaign Society

 
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Posted by on 7 September 2012 in Ordinary Londoners

 

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