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De Keyser: a London Hotel and the Royal Prerogative

On Tuesday, the UK’s Supreme Court will issue its judgment on a case about whether the Government needs Parliament’s permission (most likely in the form of an Act of Parliament) in order to trigger Article 50 of the Treaty of the European Union and begin the process for the UK to leave the EU. The court case included numerous references to an incident in  London in the Great War – watch out for the name ‘De Keyser’ in the judgment if you’re inclined to read the whole thing. This is the story of the prominent London hotel of that name during the Great War, which provides a precedent for one of the key principles in the Article 50 case.

The Royal Hotel was founded by Joost Constant Fidel Armand de Keyser in 1845 on the Victoria Embankment next to Blackfriar’s Bridge. De Keyser was a Belgian who came to the UK in the 1830s to escape turmoil in Belgium. His son Polydor de Keyser followed him after his initial schooling in Ghent and – after the death of his elder brother – joined the family business. Polydor is often cited as the founder of the hotel, which doesn’t seem to be accurate but perhaps reflects his prominent role both in the history of the hotel and in his adopted city.

Polydor de Keyser 'The Lord Mayor', as depicted by Spy in Vanity Fair, November 1887

Polydor de Keyser ‘The Lord Mayor’, as depicted by Spy in Vanity Fair, November 1887

And Polydor certainly was prominent in the life of the city. To quote from his entry in the Dictionary of National Biography:

As president of the Belgian Benevolent Society he promoted the British section at the International Exhibition on Hygiene and Lifesaving, held at Brussels in 1876, for which he was made a knight of the order of St Léopold; he was later raised to commander. He was a founder of the Guildhall School of Music and an early president of its management committee. In the autumn of 1887 he became lord mayor of London, the first Catholic to hold this office since the Reformation… His mayoralty coincided with Queen Victoria’s jubilee and the silver wedding of the prince and princess of Wales. His desire to celebrate this latter event was frustrated by the period of court mourning which followed the deaths of Kaiser Wilhelm I and (shortly afterwards) Friedrich III, though he was later able to present the royal couple with a silver model of the Imperial Institute. He was knighted in December 1888.

De Keyser accepted the task of presiding over the organization of the British section at the Paris Universal Exhibition of 1889. His efforts bore fruit; the British exhibitors made a good showing at this very successful event, located close to the brand-new Eiffel Tower, and the French government created him a chevalier of the Légion d’honneur. He was a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, the Royal Geographical and the Statistical societies, a member of the Loriners’, Butchers’, Innholders’, Poulters’, and Wyre-Drawers’ companies, and held high masonic office.

Along with his father, and after the latter’s death, Sir Polydor also oversaw the expansion of the Royal Hotel. The DNB describes its growth: “The hotel was rebuilt to five storeys in 1874, decorated in the best French taste, with 230 guest rooms and a vast dining-room to seat 400 people. Another wing was added in 1882, making it the largest in London with a total capacity of 480 guests. It had a second dining-room, seating 250, many recreation rooms, gardens, and accommodation for 150 staff.”

De Keyser's Hotel from Blackfriar's Bridge, from A London Inheritance blog post

De Keyser’s Hotel (the large curved-fronted building) from Blackfriar’s Bridge, from A London Inheritance blog post

Sir Polydor de Keyser died in 1898 and is buried in Nunhead Cemetery in South London. The hotel lived on under the stewardship of Polydor Weichand de Keyser, the nephew and heir of Polydor and his wife Louise.

When war came, the Royal Hotel – which was widely known as de Keyser’s Hotel, was badly hit. From June 1915, the De Keyser Hotel Co Ltd was in the hands of a ‘Receiver and manager’ appointed by the Chancery Court.

Times were hard. As a writer in The Sphere put it on 22 January 1916:

The misfortune of having a foreign name is exemplified in the case of that old-established institution the De Keyser Hotel, hitherto the favourite haunt of opulent European people of all nationalities. Although the proprietor and founder of this caravanserie was a Belgian and sometime Lord Mayor of London, and although the staff contains no enemy waiters or Germans who have been naturalised, the hotel has suffered to such an extent since the war opened that a receiver and manager has had to be appointed by the Chancery Court. It is understood that a new company has been formed to carry on the business under the auspices of Mr R.C.Vaughan, recently the successful manager of the Grand Pump Room, Bath, and it is hoped that when it becomes known that the hotel is in all respects English in its ownership and managership there may return an era of prosperity such as the hotel formerly enjoyed for so many years.

This article hints at the difficulties around nationality and Britishness in the Great War. That a hotel with no ‘enemy’ staff (i.e. citizens of enemy states) and no British staff who had been born a Germans that had been run by the Clapham-born nephew of a former Lord Mayor of London was struggling to convince people that it was British tells us something about problems people and businesses suffered if their names and/or backgrounds were at all Germanic sounding. A name that sounds like the title of the hated German Kaiser must have been particularly unhelpful (the pronunciation of the hotel’s name caused a bit of unusual banter during the Supreme Court case).

Advert for De Keyser's Royal Hotel, in the Scotsman, 12 Feb 1916

Advert for De Keyser’s Royal Hotel, in the Scotsman, 12 Feb 1916

An alternative appeal: De Keyser's Hotel as a place for Belgians in London, from Folkestone, Hythe, Sandgate & Cheriton Herald,15 April 1916

An alternative appeal: De Keyser’s Hotel as a rendezvous location for Belgians in London, from Folkestone, Hythe, Sandgate & Cheriton Herald,15 April 1916

The De Keyser Hotel story that is particularly pertinent today, is not, however, about the difficulties of running a foreign-sounding hotel in London but about the powers of the Government in wartime.

In May 1916, the War Office took over the Hotel to house its growing aeronautics staff – the civil servants supporting the Royal Flying Corps. The Government took over the entire hotel of around 400 rooms – an article about the introduction of British Summertime in 1916 noted that there were 400 clocks in the hotel that would need to be changed by Government clock-winders. This was part of a large-scale take over of buildings and open spaces by the Government, as we have seen before on this blog.

The Government moves in to De Keyser's Hotel, Daily Mirror 18 May 1916

The Government moves in to de Keyser’s Hotel, Daily Mirror 18 May 1916

The Government’s takeover of de Keyser’s Hotel was not a happy one for either party. In April 1916, the Board of Works and the De Keyser Hotel Co Ltd had been in negotiations over the Government renting the hotel but these came to nothing. On April 29th, the Board wrote to the company that they were recommending that the hotel should be requisitioned under the Defence of the Realm Act 1914 (the notorious and wide-ranging ‘DORA‘) and the company would receive compensation for losses incurred, to be decided by the Defence of the Realm Losses Commission.

The company wrote back denying the right of the Government to do this. The company’s Receiver wrote on 5 May “it does not seem to me that the acquisition of this building as offices is necessary for the purpose of securing the public safety or the Defence of the Realm”, which was the phrase used in Defence of the Realm Regulation 2 to allow requisitioning of property. he suggested that a reasonable agreement on terms could be reached, or arbitration used. The Office of Works replied reasserting the right to requisition the hotel under DORA and the Royal Prerogative (the remaining powers of the Crown – exercised by the Government – that have not been superseded or restricted by Acts of Parliament) and the need for the company to apply to the Losses Commission.

The company refused to go to the Commission and presented a Petition of Right to the King calling for payment of an annual rent while the Government used the building (£13,520 for the year May 1916-Feb 1917) and asking for “a declaration that your supplicants [the company] are entitled to a fair rent for use and occupation by way of compensation under the Defence Act 1842.” The Attorney General responded for the monarch, reasserting that the DORA powers and Royal Prerogative were sufficient, and compensation scheme was applicable in this case.

The company took the case to court. The first judge sided with the Government, saying that the DORA powers were sufficient, but the Appeal Court overturned that decision. The Government then appealed to the House of Lords. In the UK’s unusual constitution, the highest court in the land was the House of Lords – or more accurately the Lords of Appeal in Ordinary, known as the Law Lords, who were appointed to decide important cases (since the Appellate Jurisdiction Act 1876). This was the arrangement until the creation of the modern UK Supreme Court in 2009 – some of the current Supreme Court Justices were Law Lords before they moved across Parliament Square to their current location.

In May 1920, the Law Lords decided the case in favour of the company. Essentially, they decided that the acquisition of the hotel by the Government had not taken place under the Defence of the Realm Regulations, which did not permit it. The use of the Losses Commission to pay the hotel’s managers was therefore a use of the Royal Prerogative, which was invalid because there was already legislation in the form of the Defence Act 1842 providing for compensation where property was requisitioned by the Crown.

 

The case helped to establish the extent of prerogative powers. It decided that the Crown could not requisition citizens’ property under the Royal Prerogative without paying compensation. It is also cited as an authority for the key constitutional principle that statute law (passed by Parliament) trumps the Royal Prerogative, meaning that if the Crown used to be able to do something on the basis of the Royal Prerogative but is now has a legal basis to do it under statute, the Prerogative falls into abeyance and cannot be resumed. The Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 is an example of this, ending the Crown’s right to dissolve Parliament (by setting out fixed dates for elections and mechanisms for Parliament to call early elections).

Technical though it sounds, this is a ‘leading’ (i.e. important) case in constitutional law, helping to establish the balance of rights between the citizen and the Government. As Sir John Simon QC (Counsel for the De Keyser Hotel Co Ltd in the case, former MP for Walthamstow, former Attorney-General and Home Secretary, and later Lord Chancellor during the Second World War) wrote in an introduction to a book on the case:

“Leading cases in Constitutional Law are chiefly concerned with establishing the rights of individual citizens in the face of exceptional interference by the Executive, and a heavy crop of judicial decisions on this subject might, at first sight, have been expected in the years 1914-19. But in fact the instances in which such questions were raised and decided by Enghsh Courts are few.”

The ‘Article 50′ case being considered by the Supreme Court touches on the same issue as the de Keyser case. The argument accepted by the High Court was that UK citizens’ rights as EU citizens, conferred by Acts of Parliament, cannot be taken away by use of the Royal Prerogative – i.e. the Government cannot trigger article 50 and therefore remove those rights without a statutory basis for doing so. That (and not whether Brexit should happen) is the gist of the court case. We will find out the Supreme Court’s decision on Tuesday morning.

It is not often that a story from London in the Great War has a bearing on 21st century UK politics, but it in this case, De Keyser’s Hotel, its forced acquisition by the Government and the competing arguments about compensation are playing just such a role.

What happened to the hotel itself? In 1920, the site was leased by Lever Brothers as their London headquarters. They demolished the old hotel and built Unilever House in 1930, the building that currently stands on that spot. The blog A London Inheritance tells of the demolition and the new building, with a good set of photos.

Sources:

Disclaimer: I know quite a bit about the Great War and about the constitution, but I am not a constitutional lawyer. I am happy to correct any errors in my interpretation of the de Keyser case and the Royal Prerogative.

 
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Posted by on 23 January 2017 in Famous companies, Places

 

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One road at war: Arthurdon Road, SE4

The Great War had a global impact, but it was experienced my millions of individuals, families and communities across the world. By focussing on one street in South London, we can see something of the variety of war experiences.

In 1918, all men aged 21 or over and servicemen aged 19 or over were eligible to vote. The register for that year therefore lists (or should list) every man on military service in July 1918, when the register was compiled. Those who were absent on military service were marked with a lower-case ‘a’ next to their name and NM in the ‘qualification’ column (as opposed to HO for home owner and R for resident). Unfortunately, the more restrictive franchise for women means that very few female service personnel are listed.

Some boroughs published separate registers listing the military details of those men on war service. Lewisham was one of these boroughs and I have picked Arthurdon Road in Ladywell. The road is opposite the Ladywell entrance to Brockley and Ladywell Cemetery, part of a series of roads with odd names: Phoebeth, Francemary, Maybuth. They were built around the turn of the century (the streets south of Ladywell road are not on the famous and fascinating Booth Poverty maps), so the people living there in the 1910s must have been among the first to occupy Arthurdon Road.

1930s map of Ladywell showing Arthurdon Road - from ideal-homes.org.uk

1930s map of Ladywell showing Arthurdon Road – from ideal-homes.org.uk

There were 148 voters for parliamentary elections registered in Arthurdon Road in 1918 (the local franchise was different, but the general election register is the key one for our purposes). Thirty one men were listed as absent on war service, or 21 %. These were men away on military service aged 19 or older (civilian voters were men over 21, and women over 30 with a property qualification – there were some women on the absent registers but not many, and none on Arthurdon Road).

These servicemen of Arthurdon Road were 31 of the 17,589 absent in Lewisham borough, which was smaller then than today with 81,220 voters, meaning that 31.6% were absent on military service. Across London 433,800 were registered absent of 1.96 million voters (male and female), or 22.1%.

Arthurdon Road today(from googlestreetview)

Arthurdon Road today(from googlestreetview)

Going along house by house, these are the men who were listed as absent voters in 1918:

Odds

1 – At the top of the street were the Youngs brothers, both of them confirmed war heroes:

  • Harold William Youngs was born in 1889 and married Violet Lillian Bellsham in 1911; their daughter Betty was born in 1913. In January 1917, he joined the Royal Flying Corps and in April he went out to France. In June 1918, he is noted as moving from 16th Balloon Company to 24 Squadron, but he appears later to have returned to ballooning. Sadly, he then died in March 1919 in France, serving with 14th Balloon Section; his death was officially attributed to his own negligence. This did not, however, stop the authorities from awarding him the Military Medal in July 1919. The medal was awarded for bravery in action, but sadly no citation explaining what he had done was published.
  • Arthur Leslie Youngs was two years younger than his brother. He joined up first, though, joining the Royal Army Medical Corps on 1 September 1914, leaving his job as a schoolmaster in Tottenham. He went to the Western Front in May 1915 with the 4th London Field Ambulance and remained there for nearly three years. In August 1916, he was awarded the Military Medal (three years ahead of his ill-fated older brother). He did not get through unscathed, however. On 8 April 1918, he was wounded in the right leg. His medical report states “Bricks from a house fell on him and bruised his right side. Was sea sick coming across [back to the UK] and brought up some blood. States he got some gas several days previously. Piece of metal taken from knee in France”. An x-ray showed there was still shrapnel in his leg. He was eventually discharged in March 1919.

3 – Their neighbour George Douglas Sylvester was a tea buyer born in Brighton in 1884, who lived with his mother and stepfather (in 1911 he was in nearby Tresillian Road). He joined the Royal Naval Air Service in September 1917 and later served in the newly-formed Royal Air Force. He served in Italy from November 1917 with 66 and 67 Wings. He was discharged in 1920.

9 – Harry Hayden Ellis was born in Stepney in 1878 and married Emma Frances Thornbury in 1903. In the 1911 census, he is listed as a journalist. During the war, he served in the 6th Battalion of the London Regiment as a rifleman. He died in 1951.

17 – Henry Emerson Sanderson, a bank clerk who had married in 1909, served in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. He survived the war, but died in 1931.

23 was the home of the Squires brothers, whom we have met before. Alfred Webb Squires was a clerk working for Nestlé before the war and joined Queen Victoria’s Rifles (1/9 Battalion, London Regiment) in August 1914, he went to France in November that year and served there until he was wounded at Gommecourt, where he was a stretcher-bearer during in the fighting on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. He was awarded the Military Medal, possibly for his actions that day. He spent the rest of the war in the UK and got married in 1918. His brother Sidney Charles Squires was already in the Royal Navy in 1914 and served as a sick-bay attendant through the war, on a variety of ships – including one that was involved in a minor way in the Battle of Jutland. Both Squires brothers survived the war.

25 – Their neighbour was Frederick John Bryan Lucas, born in 1874. He does not appear to have married and the other people at number 25 were Wilfred and Katie Kent, so perhaps he was a boarder or relative of theirs. He was commissioned into the Worcestershire Regiment in 1917 but was seconded to the East Yorkshire Regiment. He is listed in the electoral register as a Lieutenant in their 2/4th Battalion, which was then based in Bermuda.

27 – At the next house lived Frank Moorhouse, who lived there with his wife Julia and two children and was working as a traveller (i.e. travelling salesman) when he attested in the Derby Scheme in December 1915 aged 32. He attested the day after his younger child Geoffrey was born. In June 1916, he joined the Royal Garrison Artillery, before transferring to the Military Foot Police, with whom he served in France from May/June 1917 and became a Lance Corporal. He served on the Western Front from May 1917 until he was discharged from the army in September 1919.

Communication sent to Moorhouse in Arthurdon Road in late 1919

Communication sent to Moorhouse in Arthurdon Road in late 1919

35 – Charles Bray served in the RAF, having joined the RFC in Jan 1916 when he was a student aged 18. He served as a wireless operator and was in France from May 1917 to March 1919, when he was demobilised.

49 – Frederick George Hunt was another RAF man. He was born in 1880 in Rotherhithe and worked as a clerk before joining the Royal Naval Air Service in April 1916. He doesn’t seem to have served abroad. In the electoral register, he is described as serving in Group 5, No 1 Area, RAF.

55 – Completing the odd side of the road is Reginald Thomas Wilding, who was born in Dulwich in 1898 and lived in New Cross in 1911. During the war, he served in the Ammunition Column for 57th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery. He served in France from 4 October 1915. He survived the war and died in 1969.

 

Evens

12 – On the opposite side of the road William Francis Halfpenny is the first entry at number 12. He was born in 1883 in Walworth and worked as a carpenter and joiner before he joined the Royal Navy in September 1916. He served on a number of ships, including HMS Greenwich. In September 1917, he distinguished himself by his behaviour when HMS Contest was sunk (sadly, the details of his behaviour are not recorded). He was demobilised in early 1919. He died in Lewisham in 1954.

Contest

HMS Contest, torpedoed by German submarine U-106, 18 September 1917 ©IWM (Q 38536)

14 – The Halfpennys neighbours included George Sidney Bird and his parents George William and Sophia Emma Bird. George junior was born in a clerk, in 1911 he worked for the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich, but when he joined up in November 1915, he was working for St John’s School, Wellington Street, Woolwich – and the school promised to top up his army pay to the level of his civilian pay. Bird joined the Queen’s Westminster Rifles (16th Londons) on 10 November 1915; he was sent to the Western Front in June 1916 and joined the unit a week into the Battle of the Somme. A year later, Bird was wounded in the thigh and was away from the unit until early October. Soon after that, he was allowed home for ten days to get married to a Sydenham woman named Lilian on October 24th. He was in action again at the start of the German Spring Offensive in 1918 where he was badly gassed on 22 March, as a result of which he was sent back to England at the start of April and remained in the UK for the rest of the war. He was sent out to France again on 20 November but returned to be demobilised in January 1919.

16 – The next household included two servicemen, the youngest of the seven children of Mary Rebecca Gooding and her late husband Charles: Horace Rason Gooding was born in 1889 and was a gas fitter; he served in the Army Service Corps – the register lists his unit as 3rd DMT (District Mounted Troops) Company. Thomas Edgar Gooding managed to serve in both the army and the navy. He was an 18 year old clerk at the Home and Colonial Stores when he signed up for the 21st London Regiment (First Surrey Rifles) in 1909. He remained in this territorial unit through to its mobilisation in 1914. In March 1915, he went to France with them and served out the rest of his contractual period in the battalion before being sent home in January 1916 and leaving the army the February. A year later, he joined the Royal Navy and served out the rest of the war on various ships including NHS Devonshire.

18 – There were three voters registered at number 18. Two were a couple Richard John Walsh and Elizabeth Martha Walsh, who had married in 1902 and had at least three children (three are listed on their census return for 1911). Richard was from Bermondsey and worked as a jewellery buyer for a general store in 1911; he served in the Royal Field Artillery as a gunner during the war. The third voter was Frank Ernest Lancaster, who was serving in the Royal Marines Light Infantry, having joined up in 1901. He was born in 1879 in Walthamstow and worked as a slater for Walthamstow Council, taking after his father who had the same job for London Country Council (Walthamstow was then in Essex). Quite why he ended up being being registered at the Walshes’ house – did he know them? Had to lived there at some point earlier in the war? I simply don’t know.

20 – William Albert B. Thornbury was another Arthurdon Road man serving in the London regiment. He was born in Forest Hill in 1898; in 1911 he was a schoolboy living in Honor Oak Park. During the war he joined the London Regiment – I don’t know when, but he was serving before 1917 and in 1918 was in the 6th Londons and ended up as a Corporal. He married Dora Brightwell in Sussex in 1926 and they had at least one child (a son, Hugh was born in 1931), but William died in 1936.

26 – Edward Richard Pettitt was a shipping clerk and enlisted in the London Regiment on 17 April 1917, having already registered with them before his 18th birthday. He later served in the Royal Engineers as a switchboard operator and was discharged in 1919, having served only in the UK.

28 – Herbert Thomas Barnes was born in November 1879 and worked as a “handicraft instructor” for London County Council. He lived at number 28 with his wife Ellen. He joined the Royal Naval Air Service on 2 June 1916 and was absorbed with it in into the RAF in 1918, with whom he served until his demobilisation in February 1919.

32 – Charles Edward Calnan was a Sergeant in the Royal Field Artillery, but I have not been able to find out any more information about his military service. There was a Charles Edward Calnan living in Rotherhithe in 1911, a shorthand typist born in the area in 1890, who died in 1977. Perhaps that was this Arthurdon Road man.

36 – Albert George Maxted (or Manstead) was a theatre manager in 1911. His war service is neatly summed up in the National Roll of the Great War: “He joined in February 1917, and in the following year went to France, where he was engaged with the Cinema Section of the RASC, entertaining the troops in the forward areas.” He ended up as a Sergeant and was discharged in February 1920. He lived another 50 years and died in September 1970.

38 – Lawrence Sydney Pudney was born near Sittingborne in Kent, but lived in South East London before the war. He was married to Marian Bowes in 1912 and was a teacher employed by London County Council when he enlisted in the Royal Engineers in 1916. He served in France for 9 months and left the army in 1919. He lived until 1978.

40 – Bookbinder’s overseer Richard Nathaniel Lamb and his wife Lilian were registered at number 40, with Richard absent in the RAF. Initially, though, he was an orderly working with the British Red Cross, having previously been a territorial member of the RAMC. He went to France in May 1915 and rose to the rank of sergeant-major, working at the Anglo-American Hospital at Wimereux. Then in July 1917 he applied for a commission in the Royal Flying Corps. He became an officer in November that year and served through to 1919 as a Lieutenant in the new Royal Air Force, but doesn’t appear to have gone out to the front with them.

R.N.Lamb's service record, showing the name his house in Arthurdon Road went by in 1918: "Inverkeithing"

R.N.Lamb’s service record, showing the name his house in Arthurdon Road went by in 1918: “Inverkeithing”

44 – Another RAF man lived a few doors down: John Sinclair Jenkins, a civil servant from Peckham who had joined the RNAS as a carpenter in November 1915 aged 29, served in France from June 1916 and by 1918 was a Corporal, serving with number 217 Squadron RAF.

48 – Frederick Kitchenmaster served as a Sergeant in the 4th (Ross Highland) Battalion of the Seaforth Highlanders. He was killed in action on 21 March 1918, the first day of the last great German Offensive on the Western Front. He is commemorated on the Arras Memorial, meaning that he has no known grave; given that this was months before the register was compiled, one must assume that his family did not know of his fate in the summer of 1918 – months after his death.

4th Seaforth

A gas sentry of the 4th (Ross Highland) Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders, Frederick Kitchenmaster’s unit, at Wancourt, 23 October 1917. ©IWM (Q 6132)

52 – Harry George Kennedy appears to have served twice. Originally a private in the 20th London Regiment (Blackheath and Woolwich Battalion), having enlisted on 3 September 1915 he served on the Western Front for exactly six months in 1915. He then suffered from elipeptic fits, which had happened before the war. He was discharged in December 1915, but seems to have rejoined and served in the Labour Corps. On the electoral register he is listed as serving in the Officers’ Mess, 16th Corps HQ.

54 – Victor Robert Stotesbury  was born in Greenwich in 1888 and grew up in Deptford; before the war he was a house decorator. He served as a gunner in 189th Siege Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery and survived the war. He lived until 1979.

60 – Percy Edward George Farrow is listed as a corporal in a Royal Engineers Anti-Aircraft unit (service no 563779), but I have not been able to find any more information about his military career. He appears to have been a library assistant, who was born in Chelsea in 1880 and died in 1968.

68 – Walter Herbert Victor Badger was born in 1883 and in 1911 lived in Ladywell, on Wearside Road, working as a gas company’s representative traveller. In 1916, giving his occupation as “outdoor inspector” he joined the RNAS, later becoming an RAF aircraftman, serving in Kingsnorth, Kent (the airfield was where the power station is now), as a fitter.

 

As with any attempt to list service personnel from a particular place, the list is imperfect. For one thing, the names were provided by the head of the household, potentially meaning that men who had moved away before the war were listed because they had no other address even if they had left home already. For example, both Youngs brothers gave addresses on Whitehorse Lane, South Norwood in their files at the end of the war.

In addition, those men who were reported missing but who had died or whose deaths had not yet been reported would have been listed (like Sgt Kitchenmaster). On the other hand, men who had already been discharged or died were not listed as absent voters, so it is far from a full list.

The service dates of those whose information I have been able to uncover may suggest that there were some others who joined up earlier but died or were discharged. Three were already serving before the war (one of them as a part-time Territorial soldier), two joined up in 1914, three in 1915, seven in 1916 and five in 1917. Overall there was a broadly-even split in recruiting between those who joined the Army between August 1914 and December 1914 (as volunteers) and those who were called up in 1916-1918, having attested under the Derby Scheme or been conscripted. In this record of Arthurdon Road, those joining up in 1916-17 far outnumber those from 1914-15. This suggests either that the street was quite unusual in its pattern of enlistment, or that earlier recruits had been killed or discharged – or possibly both. Unfortunately, it is hard to identify which young men living in Arthurdon Road had died or been discharged before the summer of 1918.

One of the war dead associated with Arthurdon Road was Sydney William Batchelor – the only entry on the CWGC database with the street listed in his details. He enlisted in Chelsea and served in the Royal Army Medical Corps. He died of wounds in 1918 while serving with the 1st/3rd (North Midland) Field Ambulance, and was buried in a cemetery at Etaples. His parents are listed by CWGC as living at 48 Arthurdon Road, possibly meaning that between the summer of 1918 and the return of the Commission’s information form, Nellie Kitchenmaster had moved out and Mr and Mrs Batchelor had moved in.

It is not a complete list, but hopefully this blog post gives some sense of the range of things that Londoners did during the war. And this is only among the military roles that men played, and it doesn’t include the service or work undertaken by women.

Nonetheless we can see that, at the point in time that their service was registered in 1918:

  • Eight served in the RAF and/or its predecessor units (RFC and RNAS);
  • Five served in the Royal Navy or Royal Marines (excluding RNAS);
  • Four served in the London Regiment;
  • Four served in the Royal Artillery (RFA and RGA);
  • Three served in the Royal Engineers;
  • Two served in the Army Service Corps;And the other others served in other infantry units, the Military Police and the Labour Corps.

Arthurdon Road was probably no different to other roads in the area, or many other areas of the country. There was no dominant industry that kept men out of the forces – or pushed them into it through unemployment. Men from Arthurdon Road served around the world – but primarily on the Western Front or at sea. Among them were heroes, decorated for their bravery. I hope that by highlighting some of their stories, I have shown some of the variety of experiences Londoners had in the armed forces during the Great War.

 
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Posted by on 10 August 2016 in Ordinary Londoners, Places

 

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They also served coffee

Londoners serving on the Western Front would have encountered there a familiar sight from home: coffee stalls. The number of these street vendors in London diminished, but they peddled their wares in France and Flanders instead.

Troops outside a London coffee stall at Auchonvillers, November 1916. © IWM (Q 4545)

Troops outside a London coffee stall at Auchonvillers, November 1916. © IWM (Q 4545)

As well as around a million Londoners, other features of pre-war London life appeared on the Western Front. Tradesmen’s horses were requisitioned, as were London buses. Some of London’s previously disparaged coffee retailers also turned up in the areas behind the battlefields.

Before the war, the coffee stall had been a prominent feature of London life, particularly at night. Their history is told in a very interesting post by Peter Jones on the blog London Fictions, in relation to a book called Arthur’s by A. Neil Lyons. The book is a series of vignettes bases around a south-London coffee called Arthur’s. Jones quotes a descriptive passage from the book that suggests the prevalence of coffee stalls in the London night:

Somewhere beyond William’s, which supports the [St George’s Circus] Obelisk, lies Kennington, famous for “Jim’s” and the “Original Pieman”; and beyond these again is Brixton; and between these two you shall find Arthur’s. This is an ambiguous direction; but then we night-seekers are jealous of our ill-fame, and the fear of the Oxford Movement is strong upon us. […] So I will leave the reader to identify Arthur’s for himself; and if he do not succeed, why, there are twenty other coffee-stalls between the Obelisk and Brixton, and the philosophers in charge of any one of them will answer to the name of Arthur.

The coffee stalls were denigrated by many at the time, particularly those stalls that were open through the night. It was felt that ‘night walkers’ and criminals were the only people who would frequent such places in the small hours. Lyons gives a more sympathetic depiction than many of the ‘state of London’ books that Jones quotes in his blog post.

Images of 'old-time' coffee stalls from a 1920s book - from London Fictions blogpost

Images of ‘old-time’ coffee stalls from a 1920s book – from London Fictions blogpost

When the war came, there were two big changes to the fortunes of the coffee stalls. The first is that they became something to be praised and provided rather than denigrated and driven out of business, at least those stalls that were serving soldiers. In December 1914, Messrs Burberrys donated £600 to the Red Cross fund “to provide One Motor Coffee Stall”; the next month, the Students’ Representative Council of London University were raising £600 for another coffee stall “for the wounded”. The reasoning for these stalls is provided by the Bishop of London in March 1915 when unveiling another stall, the first of 20 due to be provided by the Church Army:

“He did not doubt [The Times reported] that the travelling coffee can would be of great assistance, among other things, in promoting temperance. He expressed regret that soldiers who were abstainers had so few facilities in the ordinary way for getting liquid refreshment except that of an intoxicating kind, supplied by the wet canteens.”

In contrast to the coffee stalls of pre-war London, these providers of non-alcoholic beverages for soldiers were welcomed – and indeed run – by the nation’s elites. Lady Mabelle Egerton was reported in April 1915 to be “conducting a coffee-stall at the station” in Rouen.

Soldiers at a coffee stall at Aveluy, November 1916. © IWM Q 4488 - the Daily Mirror's 1916 caption read "A coffee stall behind the lines. It gets as many customers as ever it did when it catered for the revellers and night workers of London"

Soldiers at a coffee stall at Aveluy, November 1916. © IWM Q 4488 – the Daily Mirror’s 1916 caption read “A coffee stall behind the lines. It gets as many customers as ever it did when it catered for the revellers and night workers of London”

The other development was the reduction in the number of coffee-stalls in London during the war.

Political journalist Michael MacDonagh found himself out on Kennington Road during a gap in an air raid in January 1918:

Emerging from Lambeth [North] Station, I found myself at the top of Kennington Road, that long and familiar thoroughfare which I have traversed hundreds of times going to and from the Houses of Parliament. Little did I ever think that I should see it under the disturbing conditions and with the sinister aspect it now wore to my agitated mind’s eye. It lay dead in a hush under the moon. I have been frequently abroad as a journalist at all hours of the night, but never before in such absolute silence and loneliness. In my night-walking hitherto the motion and noise of the streets had never ceased. There were always pedestrians about; always, at first, carriages and hansoms; and, at a later period, always taxis and motor-cars. A policeman on duty was always certain to be come upon on turning a corner. “Nightbirds,” male and female, were to be encountered. To-night no one was abroad but myself. In the mile or so of Kennington Road I met no policeman or special constable; no prowler or drab. Those benefactors of the London streets on winter nights, the hot-potato man and the roasted chestnut man, were gone with the glowing braziers of their trade. That other friend of the night-wayfarers, the coffee-stall, with its red lights, its tea and coffee urns, its cups and mugs, its loaves and cakes, and its packets of cigarettes, had also disappeared.

His experience was unusual of course, as people were sheltering from the air raid at the time. But given that many coffee stalls were semi-permanent, we might expect him to have seen a few closed-up stalls on his walk. Given the shortage (and price) of sugar, it would not be too surprising if many of the coffee stalls had closed up for the duration.

There were certainly a few still left out and about during the war. In November 1917, a Canadian soldier was murdered in central London and the accounts of the event begin around a coffee stall on the Strand.

The war brought a range of changes to the streets of London, particularly at night (with the black out). Among them was the migration of many of the coffee stalls from London’s streets to the area behind the lines in France and Flanders.

Sources:

  • The Times, 4/12/1914, 19/1/1915, 4/3/1915, 20/3/1915, 13/4/1915
  • Michael MacDonagh In London During the Great War: the Diary of a Journalist (London, 1935)
  • Peter Jones, A. Neil Lyon’s Arthur’s, post on the London Fictions blog

 

 
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Posted by on 9 December 2014 in Ordinary Londoners, Places

 

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Armistice Day pandemonium in Westminster

Today, the nation will mark the anniversary of the Armistice of 1918. Millions of people will keep a two minutes’ silence in memory of the men and women who died in the Great War, and other conflicts. Armistice Day in 1918 in London was quite different as people, understandably, swarmed through the streets celebrating the end of the war. Swirling crowds, fireworks, bonfires and stolen artillery pieces were the order of the day!

The fighting on the Western Front ended at 11 a.m. on 11 November 1918. News of the Armistice immediately spread through London. Guns were fired to announce the occasion in central London; in Croydon, the air-raid warning maroons were fired, followed by the all-clear bugle calls; the Union Flag was run up the flagpoles of the town hall and churches simultaneously. In the City of London, ‘Within a minute the central streets were packed from side to side with wildly cheering crowds’ and the buildings sprouted flags and decorations.

Taking over a London bus in the Armistice day celebrations, 1918 (image from battlefield-tours.com)

Taking over a London bus in the Armistice day celebrations, 1918 (image from battlefield-tours.com)

Outside Buckingham Palace, 5,000 people gathered within five minutes. At 11.15, the King appeared on the balcony before a large and vociferous gathering.

Christopher Addison MP, the Minister for Munitions, described the scene in Westminster in his diary: “not only the inhabitants of the Government Offices, but as it seemed, the whole of London simultaneously “downed” tools and rushed into the streets – taxicabs, motors, lorries, buses and vehicles of every description were commandeered by joyful crowds, driven up and down – cheering whistling, singing, rejoicing.”

That evening, Vera Brittain was outside the Admiralty building on Whitehall where “a crazy group of convalescent Tommies were collecting specimens of different uniforms and bundling their wearers into flag-strewn taxis; with a shout they seized two of my companions and disappeared into the clamorous crowd, waving flags and shaking rattles”.

It was not quite a day universal joy. For some, the thought of what, or whom, they had lost prevented it being a day for celebration. Georgina Lee’s friend Florence Younghusband ‘was on top of a bus when the guns were fired. In front of her were two soldiers one with his face horribly scarred. He looked straight ahead and remained stonily silent; the other just bowed his head in his hand and burst out crying. The omnibus conductress dropped into the vacant seat next to Florence, leant her head to her soldier and cried too. “I lost my man two months ago, I can’t be happy today”, she murmured.’ Likewise, Vera Brittain simply wanted to be alone, realising that the young men she cared about and had wanted to share her future with were gone.

The mood of the day, though, was predominantly one of celebration. All across London, crowds gathered in public places. Mayors made speeches from the steps or balconies of their town halls. The festivities were not as extensive beyond Westminster and the West End, but many Londoners had streamed across the capital to be part of that crowd (around 100,000 are estimated to have taken to the streets to celebrate the Armistice). The King and Queen’s visit to the East End on 12 November was described as a ‘return visit’ after so many had come to Westminster the previous day.

The celebrations in central London continued every evening for the rest of that week. Addison noted that “crowds filled the streets from Trafalgar Square as far as Waterloo Bridge, still dancing and singing. Thanks perhaps to the still prevailing liquor restrictions, I do not remember myself seeing anybody who appeared to be drunk, although no doubt, like most other rules that week, the Closing Hour Regulations were a good deal disregarded.”

Despite this description of calmness, the Daily Express described a ‘pandemonium’ on 12 and 13 November, with ‘rivers of people’ and ‘whirlpools of dancers’, accompanied by concertinas, cornets, tambourines, wooden rattles and singing. On the 12th, a big bonfire was lit on Trafalgar Square against the base of Nelson’s Column; it was started at around 10 p.m. and fuelled by wooden road-blocks from the nearby roads, and a temporary wooden structure in the square was burned to the ground – later one of the captured German guns that lined the Mall was added to the flames!

That night, the whole square was full of people setting off fireworks and crackers. Another bonfire was lit in Piccadilly Circus, fuelled by advertising hoardings from the Pavilion theatre.

The flames of the Trafalgar Square bonfire actually caused permanent damage to the plinth of Nelson’s Column. After the war, the authorities decided that replacing the stone with new pieces would look worse than leaving the original damaged pieces in place. The damage is still visible on the western side of the plinth.

On the 13th, a number of German guns went missing. “One gun was taken for a riotous joy-ride on a great motor-lorry” and disappeared along the Strand towards the East End trailing a “Buy War Bonds” banner, according to the Express. Others were pulled by hand and abandoned nearby; many appeared in Trafalgar Square, one making it as far as Piccadilly Circus. Just before midnight, the gates of Admiralty Arch were closed to try to stop the departure of more of the weapons. Another bonfire was lit in Trafalgar Square, this time near the end of Cockspur Street. Some soldiers fetched another captured German gun, which was again added to the fire while the crowd cheered.

In the years after 1918, Armistice Day became increasingly a day for reflection and mourning rather than celebration – particularly once it became obvious that war in Europe had not been banished for ever. On 11 November 1918, though, the mood in London was primarily – and understandably – one of relief and rejoicing for the lifting of the immediate burden of the war.

Sources:

  • Daily Express
  • Daily Mirror
  • Christopher Addison, Four and a half years
  • Georgina Lee, Home Fires Burning
  • Vera Brittain, Testament of Youth
  • Adrian Gregory, Silence of Memory
 
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Posted by on 11 November 2014 in Events, Places

 

A strange good-bye, Paddington Station 1914

British Tommies heading for the Western Front were not the only people to leave London by train in the Great War.  On 17 August 1914, the Austrian Ambassdor departed the capital from Paddington Station accompanied by a strange chorus.

When a nation declares war on another, they expel the other country’s ambassador. On 6 August, the German ambassador Prince Lichnowsky left his residence at 9 Carlton Terrace, watched by a small but quiet crowd of Londoners.  The Prince had been quite pro-Britain and was disappointed in his nation’s role in bringing about the war – as he set out in his book about his time in London.

After the United Kingdom declared war on Austria Hungary on 12 August, the Austrian Ambassador Albert, Count von Mensdorff-Pouilly-Dietrichstein also had to leave. Count Mensdorff too had tried to avert war. He had been ambassador since 1904, but had also been an attaché as far back as 1889. After 25 years in London, he had to go back to Vienna. He reportedly received a telegram from King George V saying that he would be welcome back in London in future.

Count Mensdorff by Philip Alexius de Lazlo (c)NPG

Count Mensdorff by Philip Alexius de Lazlo (c)NPG

On 17 August, the Count left the Embassy in Belgrave Square, watched by a crowd of people – mostly British but with a few Austrians. According to the Manchester Guardian’s account, one Englishman stepped forward to bid the ambassador ‘Good-bye’.

Count Mensdorff arrived at Paddington Station, where members of the public were not allowed onto the platform. However, a group of 30-40 Austrians and Germans had managed to get onto a neighbouring platform and began to sing their national anthem, which had the same tune as the more famous German anthem Deutschland uber Alles.

Journalist Michael McDonagh was there and wrote: “It was indeed a strange experience to hear the two enemy National Anthems sung together by enemy groups and filling a London railway station with the commingling strains.”

It really must have been a strange sight – and sound – to hear the two groups trying to outdo one another in singing the national anthems of nations on opposite sides of the Great War.

 

 
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Posted by on 17 August 2014 in Famous People, Places

 

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Westminster’s air raid plaques – a war memorial that never was

After the Great War a vast number of war memorials were erected across London, the UK and other combatant nations across the world. Most commemorated those who had died (also commonly, but less frequently, those who fought and returned were remembered), others marked sites of important events in local war experiences. In the City of Westminster, an abortive scheme was launched in 1919 to commemorate the air raids on London.

The Zeppelin air raids on England killed 1,400 and injured 3,400 people between January 1915 and May 1918. Hundreds of the victims were Londoners in the thirty raids that hit the city. The City of Westminster Council established that in their area (a much smaller area then than now, mainly the area around Parliament and Whitehall and between Kingsway and Green Park) there had been 78 fatalities and 167 injuries due to raid raids. The bomb map produced by the City Engineer shows 54 bombs dropped (22 on 18 December 1917 alone) and 60 other sites where damage was caused by dud bombs or anti-aircraft shells.

Great War bomb sites in central London (from a post-war Harmsworth atlas)

Great War bomb sites in central London (from a post-war Harmsworth atlas)

In February 1919, a councillor called Philip Conway put forward a motion to the council stating

“That it be an instruction to the Works Committee through the City Engineer or as the Committee may think best to prepare a list and map of places and properties within the City which were struck by bombs during Air Raids with a view to obtaining the consent of the owners or occupiers thereof to the placing of suitable memorial or identification tablets for the purpose of reminding in perpetuity the Citizens of Westminster and of the Empire of the brutal, horrible and cowardly character of our principal and present enemy Germany and to submit a scheme and report forthwith.”

The council adopted the resolution and, apparently intending the scheme to be London-wide decided to send it on to all other Metropolitan borough councils. (n.b Germany was still the enemy because technically the war was still ongoing; after the Armistice of 11 November 1918, the war continued in law until 1921)

The Council’s Works committee reported back in July with a design for a plaque, which was to state:

City of Westminster

Near this spot bombs were dropped by

German Air Raiders

(Date)

Total Casualties …Killed and …Injured.

“Lest We Forget”

They also reported that five quotes had been received for making them, ranging “from £10 10s 0d each to £16 10s 0d each for tablets of varying degrees of artistic merit in various kinds of metal.” The £14 version was picked, to be erected at 19 sites, a total of £266, plus £7 12s to put them up. The Council approved the scheme and the spending.

The scheme was up and running in Westminster, then, but it was less popular elsewhere. “Replies have been received from the Borough Councils of Chelsea and Hammersmith supporting the proposal, though the latter did not propose to take any action, no place in the Borough having been struck by enemy bombs.” Meanwhile, nine boroughs had “replied, not supporting, viz: – Bermondsey, Camberwell, Deptford, Lambeth, St Pancras, Shoreditch, Southwark, Wandsworth and Woolwich. The remaining 17 Borough Councils and the Corporation of [the City of] London have not so far expressed any opinion for or against the proposal.” The scheme was not popular in those boroughs where there had been air raid damage. We might also wonder whether the cost of the scheme did not appeal to the less well-off southern and eastern boroughs, compared with Westminster which (then as now) contained a lot of businesses.

The full map of London bomb sites

The full map of London bomb sites

In January 1920, the works committee felt that “Upon further consideration of the matter we thought that the desired purpose might possibly be served by putting up a tablet on the spot where the first enemy bomb fell in Westminster and another at the spot where the last fell. The Commissioner of Police states that the first enemy bomb in Westminster fell on the Lyceum Theatre at 9.26 p.m. on the 13th October, 1915, and the last on No. 26A, King Street, St James, at 12.30 a.m. on 20th May 1918.”

The Lyceum bomb was, of course, part of the raid that cause Mr Petre, the local pub landlord, such strain that he later committed suicide; the King Street bomb was the only one to fall in Westminster in that raid, although 49 were killed nationwide that night.

Damage caused by the second bomb to fall in Westminster, on Wellington Street near the Lyceum

Damage caused by the second bomb to fall in Westminster, on Wellington Street near the Lyceum

The City Engineer was sent off to inquire about erecting plaques at these two locations, but had little success. The works committee reported to the Council on 20 May 1920 (exactly two years after that last bomb):

“We instructed the City Engineer to report the exact positions where the tablets should be fixed, and whether all necessary consents of parties concerned had been obtained, and he informs us that he has received a letter from the Lyceum Theatre stating that the Directors do no approve of a tablet being fixed at the Theatre.

“With regard to 26A, King Street, the occupiers, Messrs. Robinson, Fisher & Co., have suggested a position which the City Engineer thinks too high to be suitable. The point as to what would be a satisfactory position has not yet been settled with them.

“It will be seen that the Council’s intention cannot be carried out as the proprietors of the Lyceum Theatre are opposed to the fixing of a tablet, and having regard to the circumstances we think the proposal had been be left in abeyance. Moreover, the price of the tablets now quoted is £30 as against £14 each some months ago.”

The Council agreed to put the scheme permanently on hold. Although there are sporadic memorials of the Great War air raids, Westminster Council’s attempt to have a London-wide commemoration failed in the years after the war.

Sources:

  • City of Westminster Council minutes 1919-21
  • Map of bomb damage sites, Westminster Archives.

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on 12 August 2014 in Air Raid, Places, War memorials

 

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That fateful day, London 4 August 1914

In Belgium, Germany’s mighty army pressed on in its invasion. In London, politicians and the public reacted to that invasion with indignation. It was clear to most that –for good or ill- the United Kingdom would enter the European War, as it is was referred to at that stage. In Westminster, the crowds that had gathered in the first days of August came to a peak on 4 August.

Crowds outside the Houses of Parliament (Illustrated London News picture, looking south down towards Millbank)

Crowds outside the Houses of Parliament (Illustrated London News picture, looking south down towards Millbank)

Times journalist Michael MacDonagh was there. In the crowds around Parliament Square, Whitehall and Trafalgar Square, he noted an atmosphere of ‘real passion’. ‘Young men in straw boaters were in the majority. Girls in light calico dresses were numerous. All were already touched with war fever’. They sang patriotic and anti-German songs. ‘There were opponents, of course. Making my way through the crowds to Trafalgar Square, I found two rival demonstrations in progress under Nelson’s Pillar – on one side of the plinth for war, on the other again! The rival crowds glared at each other. Cries of “The War does not concern us; we must keep out of it!” were answered with cries of “Down with Germany, the violator of Belgium!”.’

Even in the heart of London, then, the mood was not a unanimous support of the war. As we’ve seen, historians such as Adrian Gregory, Catriona Pennell and Niall Ferguson have noted, ‘war enthusiasm’ was far from universal in Britain – as others have shown in France and Germany. (The mention of straw boaters gives some indications of the unrepresentative nature of the crowd; straw boaters were not the hats of the working classes!)

Many people were concerned about the impact that war would have on the economy, particularly the poor. Liberal MP Christopher Addison (writing up his thoughts a few weeks later) remembered that, “What haunted me was the plight of the people of Hoxton. It was a constant nightmare to us.”

The UK’s ultimatum demanding German withdrawal from Belgium was due to run out at midnight in Berlin, 11 p.m. in London (GMT – British summertime came later in the war).

When the fateful hour struck, the central-London crowd – notified by the tolling of Big Ben – cheered and sang. Thousands gathered outside Buckingham Palace, as we have seen.

Buckingham Palace, on the evening of 4 August 1914 (Daily Mirror)

Buckingham Palace, on the evening of 4 August 1914 (Daily Mirror)

This crowd greeted the war with cheers. Crowds elsewhere gathered to hear the news at telephone exchanges and military bases (there being no way of finding out otherwise without waiting for the next day’s newspapers) and to cheer on the Territorial soldiers who were being mobilised ready for war. The Ilford Recorder reported that ‘Little knots of people gathered outside the local Territorial offices, and at various points all the way down the High-road from Chadwell Heath to the Clock Tower and railway station… awaiting the fateful declaration of war, and it was not until long after the momentous hour of midnight had struck that they began to disperse’.

In Croydon (according to the borough’s war history) ‘There was bewilderment at first, but there was no panic. … Nor was there any war-fever, that enthusiasm which finds expression in flag-flapping, cheering, boasting, and the singing of patriotic songs. It was, as one acute observer remarked “a war without a cheer;” it was too serious a matter’.

It is difficult to judge the balance of opinions. How can we distinguish between information-seeking members of a crowd and hoping to celebrate the start of a war. The crowds in central London commanded attention because they were large events; the non-appearance of the vast majority of people in those crowds was less eye-catching. The general sense one gets from contemporary sources is that people were resigned to the war: some felt that it was too risky because of the economic disruption it would cause, others thought it would be redemptive and counter the social malaise of the Edwardian period. After Germany invaded Belgium, though, actual opposition to Britain entering the war was minimal.

No-one knew how long war that Britain entered on 4 August 1914 would last (and there was no dominant view as to its length). In fact, it lasted 52 months. Around a million people served in the military out of Greater London’s population of seven million. Perhaps 120,000 of them did not return. The city also faced shortages (leading to rationing), black-outs and air raids by Zeppelins and aeroplanes. Part of what makes the photos of men and women in the streets on 4 August 1914 and men volunteering for war is that we know with hindsight what a vast struggle it would be – and that it would not be the war to end wars (in HG Wells’ phrase of 1914).

 
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Posted by on 4 August 2014 in Events, Ordinary Londoners, Places

 

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