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Monthly Archives: January 2013

Len Smith, war artist

It was impossible for any man enlisting as a soldier in the Great War to imagine what experiences he was to have. Not just in terms of the horrors that many of them witnessed – or suffered – at the front, but also in the wide array of things that servicemen did in the war. An example of both is Londoner Len Smith, artist, infantryman, sniper, and camouflage designer.

Private Len Smith (image from his diary)

Private Len Smith (image from his diary)

Arthur Leonard Smith was born in 1892 and grew up in Walthamstow. On 19 September 1914, during the ‘rush to the colours’ following the news of the Retreat from Mons, he joined the London Regiment – in the ‘Shiny Seventh’ battalion. After the war, he wrote his fascinating experiences up in a book, based on his wartime diaries, accompanied by wonderful little illustrations.

Len’s wartime experiences were basically divided into three blocks.

One of Nobby Clark's letters: "Dear Mum, please send me a cake, ten bob and a Christmas Herald. p.s. don't forget the Christmas Herald." - one of Smith's wonderful little illustrations

One of Nobby Clark’s letters: “Dear Mum, please send me a cake, ten bob and a Christmas Herald. p.s. don’t forget the Christmas Herald.” – one of Smith’s wonderful little illustrations

From his arrival in France in March 1915, Smith served as an ordinary infantryman in the 7th Londons. He fought through Festubert and Loos in 1915, the latter being a particularly harrowing experience and a fatal one for many in the Shiny Seventh. He describes the scenes simply, not hiding the horror of the scene but sometimes using understated language, he tries to keep a sense of the narrative of the events. At the slag heaps at Loos:

“They [the Germans} put up a really murderous machine gun barrage – it sounded like very heavy rain on a window – and their shelling was lively and accurate. The distance to our objective was quite 600 yards – and it is extraordinary what drill and discipline can make of men. Although without the slightest means of cover, we got over the ground as if at drill. Men were toppling over on either hand riddled with bullets – yet none wavered or dreamed of hanging back – but kept on steadily until the enemy’s barbed wire was reached. This was unhappily not sufficiently well smashed by our guns, and caused a hold up – the high coal crassiers were lined along the top with snipers and so they had us just where they wanted us – and it was only by sheer luck that any of us got down into the German trench; it was slow, perilous work gingerly picking one’s way through the mesh of wire and then there came the short rush with the bayonet. This is just where everyone who is left finds himself fogged in trying to recollect exactly what did happen in that first mad minute.”

In 1916, he became a sniper for his Brigade, and an official front-line war artist and observer. He made drawings and maps of enemy positions from carefully-chosen vantage-points in no-man’s land (although he was never – as a bizarre claim on the book’s sleeve, from a Telegraph article, claims – working ‘behind enemy lines’).

Len’s sketch of Vimy Ridge in 1916 (from the Telegraph article on his book)

"Advanced Dressing Station. Manned by heroic doctors and nurses" - another of Smith's wonderful illustrations

“Advanced Dressing Station. Manned by heroic doctors and nurses” – another of Smith’s wonderful illustrations

Following an illness in 1917, he ended as one of a small number of British soldiers directing French women working in the construction of camouflage to disguise all sorts of installations – such as artillery batteries – hiding them from the view of German observers and aviators. Although generally a cushy job, he still had to go and visit the units and hardware he was disguising, which could be a dangerous-enough job (hence the need for camouflage!). He was also in charge of groups of Chinese labourers – about whom he is not wholly complimentary.

In late 1918, he entered newly-liberated Lille and helped the Belgians to erect new roadsigns, replacing the German wartime ones. He also saw women who had consorted with the enemy being punished by their compatriots, a scene that would be repeated across Western Europe in 1945.

Smith’s book is a fascinating read, I thoroughly recommend it – it is available for download online, or as a published book entitled ‘Drawing Fire’. It neither avoids nor dwells on the horrors of war and it shows the sheer variety of experiences that an individual – albeit a lucky individual to survive virtually unscathed at the front from 1915 to 1917 – could have in the British Army on the Western Front.

 
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Posted by on 25 January 2013 in Ordinary Londoners

 

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The Kaiser’s Own

In previous posts we have seen how some ‘alien enemies’ were attacked by their fellow Londoners, and how others joined up to fight for Britain. Others, naturalised citizens or British-born with parents who were aliens ended up as labourers in the Middlesex Regiment’s Alien Labour units.

In 1916, Army Orders established two new battalions in the Middlesex Regiment. These would contain recruits who were British citizens but the children of immigrants from nations with whom Britain was at war; the men were promised that they would not have to bear arms against the enemy. The units were named the 30th and 31st battalions and they served only in the UK. Some additional similar Labour Companies were also formed in 1917 and served in France. The units were known (rather cruelly) by some as “The Kaiser’s Own”.

Crest of the Middlesex Regiment

Several Londoners served in the 31st Battalion – which ended the war based in Croydon.

Hugo Max Norman Hotopf was born in Northumberland in 1881, the son of Hugo and Johanna who were German immigrants naturalised as British citizens in 1895. By the start of the Great War he was married, living in Lewisham, and had a son – William Hugh Norman Hotopf, born June 1914. Norman was working as a dye expert for the rather Germanic-sounding Badische Company in Brunswick Place near Old Street.

In 1916 he appealed for exemption from military service at the Shoreditch Military Service Tribunal, explaining that he was a chemical expert whose work was helping the British war effort. The Daily Mirror (19/8/1916) picked up on the story after Hotopf recounted his time before the war (in 1905-13) working at the chemical works at Ludwighafen, which the British had bombed in 1915.  The fate of that appeal is not reported, but he was eventually conscripted into the 31st Middlesex.

Hotopf’s appeal reported in the Daily Mirror, 19/8/1916

After the war, the Hotopfs continued to live in Lewisham, adding a daughter (Ruth) to the family in 1919. They retained links with Germany, though, with Norman junior spending part of his youth there before going to Cambridge University. In March 1938, Norman senior and his wife (then living in Forest Hill) attended a farewell dinner held for German ambassador Herr von Ribbentrop in London. They also went to Germany, where Norman senior died in April – in Bühlerhöhe, Baden-Baden. Norman junior became a prestigious professor of psychology.

Oddly, a neighbour of Hotopf’s  in Queensthorpe Road, Sydenham was also in the Battalion. Walter R Kinge lived at number 20, a few doors down from Hotopf at number 14, and served in the 31st Middlesex.

Alois Frederick Pfeiffer was born in around 1889 in Bermondsey, son of Alois Pfeiffer from Bavaria and his English-born wife Emma (technically, she became German when she married Alois). Alois senior and Emma were licenced victualler’s assistants in 1901 – they worked in a pub – and at some point after her husband’s death in 1905, Emma became the landlady of the Leather Exchange Tavern in Bermondsey.

When the Great War came along, two of Emma’s sons served in the British Army. Frederick Charles Pfeiffer served in the 2nd/4th London Regiment, which went out to Egypt in August 1915 and on to Gallipoli in October. Frederick died there in November aged 24. His elder brother Alois junior ended up in B Company of the 31st Battalion, Middlesex Regiment.

In February 1919, Alois junior was still in the unit and his mother made an appeal for his release on compassionate grounds. Frustrated by slow progress, Emma Pfeiffer went to her MP – Harold Glanville – who brought up the case in parliament. Eventually, Alois F Pfeiffer returned to Bermondsey and lived in London for several more decades.

Unlike Hotopf and Pfeiffer, Edward Kehlstadt was actually born in Germany, in the town of Gebweiler, Alsace (now in France). When he became liable for service in the British armed forces in 1916, he was a stockbroker’s clerk living with his English-born wife Blanche in (aptly, or unfortunately) in Berlin Road, Catford – renamed Canadian Avenue in 1918. Edward Kehlstadt joined the 31st Middlesex in March 1917. After training, he joined the 3rd Infantry Labour Company in France in June 1917; he served with them for more than a year. Following a spell of leave back in the UK in the summer of 1918, he went back out to France, but only until September 1918.

Edward Kehlstadt’s record of service

After being admitted to hospital with boils, Edward Kehlstadt was sent back to England at the end of September and back to the 31st Battalion. A few weeks later, he died in Cavendish Bridge Voluntary Aid Detatchment (VAD) Hospital in Shardlow, Derbyshire, on 21 October 1918. A few days later, he was buried in Ladywell cemetery.

Blanche Kehlstadt wrote to the War Office requesting a badge of the Middlesex Regiment as a memento of her husband’s service with the unit. Edward’s name appears on the war memorial at St Mary’s Church, Lewisham, where he and Blanche had married in 1909.

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These three men, two English with German parents, one German-born but naturalised as a British citzen, were all Londoner’s who served in ‘The Kaiser’s Own’. It is impossible to know, but interesting to ponder what their feelings were about serving in an army that was fighting their – or their family’s – homeland. Did Hotopf’s links to Germany make him reluctant to join up? Did Kehlstadt the Alsatian-Londoner feel German, English, or even French when he served in the Labour Company in France? Wars hold millions of stories about millions of men, women and children. These three men and their families had a different war from those around them, with closer ties to the enemy than most had they were not trusted to (or were sympathetically allowed not to) fight at the front, but still served their country.

 
 

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A year of Great War London

This blog has now been going for a year. At the risk of being a little self-congratulatory, I thought it would be good to look back over some of the people, places and events that we have seen in the posts.

Return to the Front: Victoria Railway Station, by Richard Jack.

Return to the Front: Victoria Railway Station, by Richard Jack.

We have met Londoners who performed great acts of heroism, like Revd Noel Mellish, Arthur Feldwick and CLR Falcy. There was also James Collis, who had been stripped of his Victoria Cross but had it restored after his death in the Great War. Lancelot Dickinson Chapmen pretended to have earned the VC.

We also met the Slatter brothers, Reginald Savory (who, contrary to reports, did not die in the war) CO Oglethorpe (who was not a spy), burns victim HR Lumley, war artist Eric Kennington, drowned soldier AJ Duddeidge, propaganda speakers Thomas Harper and the Bishop of London, musician Percy Gayer, youngster H.J. Bryant, and Henry Allingham – who outlived all other British Great War veterans.

Sportsmen played their part in the war, men like Harry Lee, Bob Whiting and Reggie Schwarz.  So too did the Golliwog.

Men from London’s ethnic minorities served in the British army, including young Czech men and the Jewish battalion of the Royal Fusiliers. G.E.K. Bemand and Walter Tull, two of the British army’s first black officers also left the capital to serve in the war.

We also met Hilda Hewlett, an aviator pioneer; Edie Bennett, longing for her soldier husband; hero’s widow Gertrude Jarratt; and brave women like Mary Bushby Stubbs, Sara Bonnell and nurse Beatrice Allsop.

Other soldiers committed crimes like Henry Canham, who murdered his cheating wife, or WJ Woolner the underage soldier who went on the run from the army.

People found out about the war through the Field Service Postcards, letters (read by censors like Martin Hardie) and through films like The Battle of the Somme, the most successful British film of the age.

Familiar London sites and objects took on a different look or role in the war: St James’s Park hosted Government departments, a factory in Silvertown was destroyed in a huge explosion, the London bus went to war, war-workers’ housing was erected in Woolwich, an ice-rink held stores for the Red Cross, town halls played host to Military Service Tribunals, the British Museum was locked up for the duration, a German submarine arrived in the Thames, and the American YMCA ‘Eagle Hut’ opened in Aldwych.

Germans have appeared in London in the form of civilians interned at Stratford, air raiders (who damaged Cleopatra’s Needle), victims of rioting, and the British Royal Family. They also met with Londoners in the British Army in the 1914 Christmas truce. Meanwhile, a mock Iron Hindenburg appeared in Stepney.

And finally, we have seen the first London war memorials of the Great War and the Royal Naval Division’s memorial, and met one of the men depicted on the Royal Artillery memorial. We have seen the arrival of the Unknown Warrior, a protest at the Cenotaph, and seen its Hyde Park predecessor.

 

Mary Bushby Stubbs, saving French lives

British women played an increasing part in the war effort as the Great War went on. It was not just British forces that benefitted from their contribution. Mary Bushby Stubbs served with the British and the French, and was decorated by both for her bravery in the field.

Mary Bushby Stubbs MM (image from the IWM Women at War archive)

In her book, Within The Year After, Betty Adler recounts Stubbs’s story:

I want to tell you about these English Fany girls for they are one of the joys of my motoring in Belgium. F. A. N. Y. stands for First Aid Nursing Yeomanry, an organization of English war workers, that saw some of the foremost of the women’s service in the war. There is Mary Bushby Stubbs, such a pretty, blue-eyed Irish girl, whose home is in London, and she drove the car to Louvain. She had enlisted in the beginning of the war as a Red Cross Nursing Aid, but contracted a septic throat from nursing poisonous wounds — some of the wounded had gone for five days before they could reach the hospitals, she told me. Forbidden to nurse, she entered the Yeomanry motor car driving service and was sent to Chalons sur Marne in February, 1917. She drove an ambulance during the battle on the Chemin du Dames, was in the drive of Chalons and at Epernay. She has the Croix de Guerre, has one citation from the Chemin du Dames and one for the time they bombed the hospital at Chalons.

“We lived on the rations of the French soldiers and often we were hungry,” she told me, once. “Their rations were black bread, black coffee, horse meat and beans.” She was one of the motor girls chosen to run the cars that brought the prisoners back from Germany after the armistice and had many thrilling mo-
ments.

Stubbs was awarded the Military Medal for her gallantry. The citation (London Gazette 19/10/18) is vague about exactly when the events took place but presumably it was for the air raid on Chalon, to which Adler referred:

For gallantry and devotion to duty during an enemy air raid. Miss Stubbs was detailed to evacuate a hospital. While her car was waiting to be loaded a bomb dropped within 30 yards. The stretcher-bearers, who had been loading a car immediately in front, ran for protection to dug-outs, calling to Miss Stubbs to do the same. She, however, regardless of her own safety, stayed in the open with two wounded and helpless patients to help and reassure them. She finally got them unloaded and to a place of safety. During the unloading a second bomb fell on the hospital.

 
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Posted by on 10 January 2013 in Award-winners, Women

 

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Too young to fight: Herbert J Bryant

Many young men and boys tried to enlist in the armed forces underage in 1914 and 1915. Some did so repeatedly. Herbert James Bryant was one of them, briefly joining two different units in 1915 before eventually being conscripted in 1918.

In the first 17 months of the war, the British armed forces were made up (at least legally) of voluntarily-enlisted men. Many who enlisted in this period were underage boys, many making into the army at the age of 13 or 14 – Richard van Emden describes the experiences of some of them in his book Boy Soldiers of the Great War.

Willesden lad Herbert James Bryant was one of those boys who managed to get into the army in 1915 despite being underage (He may well have tried unsuccessfully before then, but there is no record of it).

In June 1915, Bryant joined the Middlesex Regiment, telling them that he was a brass worker aged 18 years and 11 months. How obvious it was that he was too young is hard to say, but this young 5 feet 4 inch fair-haired and blue-eyed boy did not last long in the army. On his first day with his unit, 10 June, he absconded and disappeared for a week until the civil police picked him up on the 18th. The next day he was discharged for having lied about his age.

Bryant's (short) record in the Middlesex Regiment

Bryant’s (short) record in the Middlesex Regiment

Not to be discouraged, he enlisted again (describing himself as a painter’s labourer) two months later on 31 August, this time in the Royal Fusiliers – joining their 27th (Reserve Battalion). In the three months before he was again discharged for lying about his age, Bryant was repeatedly punished with confinement to barracks and cessation of pay for unauthorized absences and malingering.

When Bryant was sent back to civvie street on 28 December 1915, the nation was on the verge of adopting conscription to replace the voluntary enlistment that was not finding sufficient recruits. In theory, with a National Register compiled in August 1915 and a new official system for recruitment, it should have been much harder for underage boys to get into the army.

It took another 28 months for Bryant to get back into the army. Although he was ‘deemed to have enlisted’ in June 1917 (under the terms of the Military Service Act) he was not called up until April 1918, the delay presumably due to his employment at Small Arms Factory in Acton. He had certainly grown up since 1915, now being 5 feet 7.5 inches in height with tattoos on his forearms: a heart and an anchor.

Bryant's details when he was conscripted - including previous service and date of birth

Bryant’s details when he was conscripted – including previous service and date of birth

Despite his ‘A1’ fitness, Bryant was never sent to the front. After four months in the 5th Reserve Cavalry Regiment, he transferred to the Tank Corps, eventually joining the 19th Battalion on 21 September. After being granted home leave for Christmas 1918, he was discharged from the army on 13 March 1919.

Join the Tank Corps - 1919 recruiting poster (c) IWM

“Join the Tank Corps” (1919 recruiting poster (c) IWM) – Bryant rejoined the Tank Corps around this time.

Bryant was not done with military service, thought, and rejoined on demobilisation. He stayed on in the Tank Corps, serving in the 20th and 5th Battalions in 1918-20, during which time he again got in trouble repeatedly for overstaying his leave, absence and neglect of duty. Eventually his service was cut short but a series of illnesses: after contracting from gonorrhea, he also suffered from variocele and was then discharged suffering from ‘Disordered Action of the Heart’ (“DAH”).

Herbert James Bryant was one of the many boys who tired to join the army underage in 1914 and 1915. Eventually he did join up, conscripted in 1918. Oddly, though, he may still have been underage. His Tank Corps service papers give his date of birth as 25 June 1899 (which led to his official enlistment on his 18th birthday in 1917, before his call-up). Strangely, it seems that he was still only 16 when he joined up in early 1918, though. On the 1911 census, Herbert Bryant is listed as a 9 year-old; he does not appear in the 1901 census and his birth was registered in summer 1901 rather than 1899.

1911 census entry for Herbert Bryant's family - note his age: 9 year.

1911 census entry for Herbert Bryant’s family – note his age: 9 year.

It seems mostly likely that he gave a fake date of birth in the National Register in 1915 (just before he joined the Royal Fusiliers) and was called up on the basis of that information three years later. That means that he was originally accepted into the Middlesex Regiment in 1915 at the age of 12 or 13.

Whether it was a sense of duty, a desire for adventure or social pressure that drove boys like Herbert James Bryant to enlist is hard to say, and their motives probably varied just as much as those of other enlistees. What is clear is the Bryant was keen to join up, repeatedly lying about his age to get into khaki, apparently even fooling the conscription system in 1918.

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Thanks to David Underton for pointing out that DAH in the Great War stood for Disordered Action of the Heart, rather than its modern meaning Diffuse Alveolar Hemorrhage.

 
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Posted by on 4 January 2013 in Ordinary Londoners, Recruitment

 

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Happy New Year from the Railway Companies

Following swiftly on from the Season of Good Will comes the annual Season of Rail Fare Increases. On 2 January 2013 year, ticket prices will increase by an average of 4%. In January 1917, the increase was up to 50% and it was accompanied by a decline in services.

In December 1916, the Board of Trade announced new regulations with wide-ranging impact on travellers. Railway companies announced changes to take effect in the New Year:

  • Increase in fares by up to 50%
  • Limit passengers’ luggage was limited to 100lb (this was to reduce the work of the depleted number of railway porters, many having enlisted)
  • Abolition of cheap excursion tickets (many had already disappeared in 1914)
  • Running fewer trains, and slower services (some trains to run more slowly, but also more Express services cut than stopping services)
  • Reduction in dining cars
  • No longer allowing ‘reservation of seats, and compartments, and saloons for private parties’

These changes were not aimed at commuters, though. They were intended to reduce the amount of pleasure travel to free up capacity to support the war effort. The increase in fares did not apply to season tickets, workers’ tickets (i.e. those before a certain time in the morning), traders’ tickets and ‘zone tickets’. They also did not apply to the Underground (unlike in 2013) other than where it went outside London, such as beyond Acton on the District line.

There were also numerous station closures, many of them temporary for the duration of the war.  For example, the London, Brighton and South Coast railway company announced the reduction in services between the capital and the closure of stations on that line. These included South Bermondsey, Old Kent Road, Tooting Junction, Merton Abbey, and Selsdon Road in London, and further stations in Brighton.

The London and North West Railway also announced the closure of a number of stops, including some in London:

List of stations and halts closed by London and North West Railways (Times 22/12/1916)

List of stations and halts closed by the London and North-Western Railway Company (Times 22/12/1916)

At the end of January, the Times reported that the changes had been successful in their aim of reducing non-work travel. Travel was down 20% overall and there had been a particular impact on the level of travel between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. In addition, many more people were using season tickets (which had previously not given a significant discount on travel in London). Another change that accompanied this was that people were asked to show their season tickets to the inspector, where before a declaration that one had a season ticket was enough!

The Railway Companies’ New Year’s gift of increased fares is not a modern phenomenon. The increase in 1917 – and the reduction in service – was a particularly dramatic one. Where modern fare changes seek to get people onto off-peak services, the 1917 changes were aimed at reducing unnecessary railway travel in wartime.

 
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Posted by on 1 January 2013 in Famous companies, Ordinary Londoners

 

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