Category Archives: Places

Going to Cologne

The London County Council sports teams’ trip to Germany in Summer 1914 had to be abandoned. By the time that they were meant to be Cologne, many of the sportsmen were in the armed forces preparing to fight against the very Germans they had been planning to race and play sports against just weeks earlier.

The August 1914 edition of the London County Council (LCC) Gazette carried the details of the sports teams’ trip to Cologne, due to take place that month. They were to compete against athletic clubs from the German city. The city authorities were clearly excited by the Anglo-German contest, as medals were being struck especially to be awarded to the winners in the contests.

Cologne Cathedral (image from wikipedia)

Cologne Cathedral (image from wikipedia)

The planned schedule for the games was:

  • Tuesday August 18th: Football
  • Wednesday, August 19th: Lawn Tennis
  • Thursday, August 20th: Swimming
  • Friday, August 21st was held in reserve for playing off draws in the sports already played
  • Saturday, August 22nd: Athletics

In the end, the great mortal contest between Britain and Germany began in earnest on August 23rd – not in Cologne, but in Mons, Belgium, when the British Expeditionary Force met the German Army for the first time. 870 of the LCC’s staff had been called up for military service (as well as 436 naval reservists) and some of these men were in action at Mons – George Baker (who worked at Colney Hatch mental hospital) and L/Cpl E.W. Stretton were reported missing, and John Yates died of wounds the next day.

The LCC’s trip to Germany is a fine example of the general lack of antagonism between Britons and Germans in the months and years preceding the Great War. It also shows how unexpected the war was, as the September edition of the magazine noted: ‘A glance at the August Gazette brings home the suddenness of the catastrophe’.

Several of the LCC organisers joined the British armed forces during the war: Arthur Attwooll of the clerk’s department, the organiser of the football matches, served in the Royal West Kents and in a trench mortar unit. Walter N Halliwell (tramways department), the organiser of the swimming, was a serjeant in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.

Twenty-seven year old George Deane Turk, from Walthamstow, worked as a clerical assistant in the Comptroller’s Department, and was responsible for planning the athletics on August 22nd along with Otto Marum in Cologne (who was also the football organiser on the German side). Turk was also honorary secretary of the sports club.

By the end of the August 1914, though, Turk was serving in the Royal Army Medical Corps. He became a corporal in the 85th (3rd London) Field Ambulance, part of 28th Division, and served in Salonika. In late 1916, he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Essex Regiment and was posted to the 1st Battalion in 1917. On 14 April, he was taken prisoner when his battalion fought at Monchy-le-Preux. The battalion attacked at 5.30 that morning 31 officers and 892 men strong, captured the first German line, but they suffered heavily in the counter-attack. Turk was one of 17 officer casualties; 644 other ranks were killed, wounded or taken prisoner. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission database lists 187 officers and men who died on 14 April from the 1st Essex alone – 181 of whom are remembered on the Arras Memorial, meaning that their bodies were not found or could not be identified.

An 18-pounder Battery in action in the open, west of Monchy-le-Preux, 11 April 1917. © IWM (Q 2017)

An 18-pounder Battery in action in the open, west of Monchy-le-Preux, 11 April 1917. © IWM (Q 2017)

Turk did survive 14 April, but sadly died of his wounds on 23 June 1917. Another prisoner, Sergeant George Rogerson of the Rifle Brigade, wrote to Turk’s mother with the details. In one of the horrible ironic twists of fate that war throws up, 2nd Lt G.D. Turk was buried in Cologne Southern cemetery, one of over 1000 allied prisoners of war buried there (he is also commemorated on a grave at Chingford Mount Cemetery, possibly his parents’ grave). His service file doesn’t say whether he was in hospital in Cologne during his two months of captivity. If he was, one has to wonder whether he thought about the irony of having arrived in the city where he had planned to spend late-August 1914.

His correspondent in 1914, Otto Marum, also appears to have died during the war. The German army records on list an Otto Marum, born in Koln in 1885 as having died while on active service on 7 August 1916.*

For George Deane Turk and other sporty staff at the London County Council, August 1914 should have been a time when they were traveling and competing with German friends. In the end, Turk and many others ended up fighting the Germans. One must suspect that the LCC and Cologne athletes would have been among the generation hardest hit by the war, being healthy, relatively young adult men in 1914. How many, like Turk, lost their lives in the conflict?



J.W. Adamson and L. Hudson (eds), A London Town Miscelleny, vol 1 (which reproduces articles from the LCC Gazette)

G.D. Turk’s  service records

1st Essex war diary

Ancestry: German casualty lists, 1911 Census, British soldiers’ service records.

* The entry for Otto Marum in a list of casualties lists his unit as “Fusla. Btt. 481 Vz Wachtm”. I would be interested to know what that means, if anyone can help.

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Posted by on 1 April 2014 in Ordinary Londoners, Places, War Dead


Then and Now: Rahere’s Tomb


Rahere's Tomb protected from bomb damage, 1915

Rahere’s Tomb protected from bomb damage, 1915


Rahere's tomb today (image from Wikipedia Commons)

Rahere’s tomb today (image from Wikipedia Commons)

Under the threat of attack from the air, some of the treasures of London were hidden from view behind sandbags.  At the British Museum, those artifacts that could not be moved to safety after the galleries were closed to the public were protected, as we have seen.  At Charing Cross, the statue of Charles I was hidden behind wooden hoardings and sandbags.  At St Bartholomew’s Church in Smithfield, the tomb of the church’s founder Rahere was also covered with sandbags.

Unlike most London landmarks, though, St Bart’s really did come close to destruction. On 8 September 1915, the largest bomb yet dropped on London fell from Zeppelin L13 on Batholomew’s Close. The 660lb bomb caused an enormous amount of damage, creating a hole eight feet deep, gutting a local printworks,  smashing shopfronts and shattering windows. A fountain in the close was virtually split in two. One curious effect of the blast was that it revealed the timber-framed gateway to the courtyard of St Bart’s church. Thankfully it missed the nearby hospital and the soldiers being treated there.

Rahere founded the church and hospital in the early twelfth century after a vision of St Bartholomew instructed him to. The site was on the King’s land, so Rahere had to win the favour of King Henry I, which he managed to do despite being discouraged by the London barons. Rahere was often portrayed as the king’s jester or minstrel in later years, but remained prior of St Bartholomew’s until his death. His effigy was installed in the church in the early fifteenth century, where it has remained to this day – despite the danger of time, the puritans, and two world wars.


Secret London

Ian Castle – London 1914-17, the Zeppelin Menace

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

Michael McDonagh – In London during the Great War

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Posted by on 16 March 2014 in Air Raid, Places, Then & Now


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Taking in a show

There are a number of plays that we associate with the Great War, R.C. Sheriff’s ‘Journey’s End’ and Joan Littlewood’s ‘Oh! What a Lovely War’ the most prominent among them. For Londoners during the war, though, the theatre was a place of distraction and escape. The most successful West End play of the war was Oscar Asche’s musical comedy ‘Chu Chin Chow’.

In the days before radio and television, the theatre, cinema and music halls were the big mass entertainments available to Britons. Throughout the Great War, despite the scorn of the ‘Die Hards’ who wanted all amusement abandoned for the duration, all three flourished.

There were war-related songs, films and plays, of course. The 1914 song ‘Your King and Country Want You‘ by Paul Rubens was clearly a product of the war, with its chorus of “Oh! we don’t want to lose you but we think you ought to go/For your King and Country both need you so”. So too – just as obviously but much less popularly- was the song ‘The Military Representative‘ by RP Weston and Bert Lee. Other popular songs were simply sentimental – perhaps given added resonance by the pressures and separations of wartime – such as ‘If you were the only girl (in the world)

We have seen that the film the Battle of the Somme was a huge success for a few weeks in 1916, but really most audiences wanted escapism and follow-up documentaries about the war did not have anything like the same level of success. Charlie Chaplin was a much more popular choice among British cinema-goers.

A wartime scene in a play at the Coliseum in 1917 (Daily Mirror, 10/01/1917)

A rare wartime scene in a play at the Coliseum in 1917 (Daily Mirror, 10/01/1917)

The theatre, too, was a place of refuge.  Diaries and letters of Londoners and people visiting the city include numerous mentions.

Vera Brittain remembered her brother Edward’s short leave in London in her autobiography, Testament of Youth:

‘Edward’s leave, like all short leaves, vanished in a whirlwind of activities. Somehow he crowded into it an afternoon at Keymer [visiting the family], a visit to Victor [Richardson], who was now at Purfleet, a concert, and one or two theatres, which inevitably included Romance, with Doris Keane and Owen Nares, and Chu Chin Chow.’

The plays people went to see were not war plays, although there were some of those.  Michael Macdonagh went to the theatre regularly in late 1915 (in his In London During the Great War):

‘The theatres, music-halls and cinemas are doing well. None of us, speaking generally, are pinched for money. We are being paid good wages or better salaries, both with war bonus additions, and so are ready to spend freely on relaxations from the tension of the War. There are also large numbers of wounded soldiers in the hospitals, or physically well on leave, whose desire and need for entertainment is far greater than that of civilians, of course, and on no account must be denied. Matinées are held every day, and these are always well patronised. On dark nights, which are air raid nights, attendances are slack. We prefer to stay at home behind our well-curtained windows. But when the moon is out Zeppelins stay in, and we can go to the theatre with an easy mind. Places of entertainment have begun, in fact, to advertise “moony nights” as holiday resorts do “sunny days.” “Come and see the Bing Boys: it is a full moon to-night so you need not fear the ‘Bang Boys’.” Yes, the full moon was majestically sailing last night in a clear sky. The streets were thronged with carefree crowds “mooning” themselves. How we delight in the moon! We look up and laugh heartily at seeing the Man in the Moon winking good-humouredly at us!’

Walking around London in 1916, he noted down what was on offer:

‘Here are the titles of the plays at some of the theatres which I passed in the course of my walk. Strand, “Ye Gods!”; Globe, “Peg o’ My Heart”; Criterion, “A Little Bit of Fluff”; His Majesty’s, “Chu Chin Chow”; Daly’s, “The Happy Day”; Drury Lane, “Razzle Dazzle”; Duke of York’s, “Daddy Long Legs.” Ah, here is something different – Royalty, “The Man who Stayed at Home.” Even in War-time with all its gloom hilarity will keep breaking in. No situation is ever so bad that it might not be much worse!’

‘The Man who Stayed at Home’ stood out to Macdonagh because it was the only war play on offer at the theatres he passed, walking through the West End in 1916.

One play stands out beyond all others as the great hit of the war years, and it is the play mentioned in both Brittain’s and Macdonagh’s lists of plays in London. This was Chu Chin Chow, a music comedy written, produced and directed by Oscar Asche.

Oscar Asche in cosume for Chu Chin Chow

Oscar Asche in cosume for Chu Chin Chow

The play was, according to William A Everett (writing about its obvious Orientalist elements), ‘one of the greatest successes in the history of popular musical theatre’.  It opened in August 1916 and ran for nearly five years – until July 1921 – with 2,235 performances, more than twice as many as any other previous musical. This made it the longest-running play ever in the West End (although it is no longer in the top 10). It went on to be a hit on Broadway and was revived in 1940.

The play is loosely based on the tale of Ali Baba and the forty thieves, featuring slaves, spies, lovers, disguises and a magic cave. The Guide to Musical Theatre has a fun synopsis here.

The Times described it as an “excursion into the region of fantastic, polyphonic, polychromatic Orientalism. Mr Asche himself preferred to call it an Eastern revue. It is, in fact, everything by turns and nothing long – a kaleidoscopic series of scenes now romantic, now realistic, now Futurist or Vorticist, but always beautiful, with action passing from the sentimental to the droll and from the droll to the grim, and yet with the unity of a familiar tale, the old Arabian Nights’ tale of the Forty Thieves.” (Times 1/9/1916)

The colourful set and costumes and the music were a major part of its appeal. Asche updated the costumes each year, with  criticism from some quarters that cannot have harmed the play’s appeal with the masses:

'Do these dresses offend you?' Chu Chin Chow's new cosumes in the Daily Mirror, 4/9/1917

‘Do these dresses offend you?’ Chu Chin Chow’s new cosumes in the Daily Mirror, 4/9/1917

As Macdonagh’s description of the theatre crowd and Edward Brittain’s whirl-wind leave schedule suggest, it was not just civilians who sought escape in the theatre. Many soldiers – and particularly officers – went to the theatre if they could.

They also took the theatre to war with them. In the Imperial War Musuem’s collection is an HMV record of the songs from Chu Chin Chow, taken to war by 2nd Lieutenant C.R. Tobbitt of the Royal Engineers.

Soldiers also performed the show to each other in concert parties on the Western Front:

'Chu-Chin-Chow', played by the 1st Australian Concert Party, Bailleul, France (c)AWM E01641

‘Chu-Chin-Chow’, played by the 1st Australian Concert Party, Bailleul, France (c)AWM E01641

Or even in Germany:

a Prisoner of War (POW) production of "Chu Chin Chow" at the Freiburg POW camp, Germany. (c)AWM P03236.270

a Prisoner of War (POW) production of “Chu Chin Chow” at the Freiburg POW camp, Germany. (c)AWM P03236.270

Although one suspects that the appeal of watching a bunch of comrades performing the play was rather different to seeing Asche’s young actresses in their risque outfits.

The contrast would have been even greater because of the lack of young men in the theatre casts in London. Milton Valentine Snyder noticed a distinct lack of them by 1918 after yet another effort to conscript more young men: ‘Managers have usually boasted of the number of pretty girls in their shows. If this war continues, it is possible press agents may be driven to lay stress on the number of able-bodied men.’

Theatre, like cinema and music-hall, offered civilians and service personnel alike an escape from the pressures, dangers and anxieties of wartime. Chu Chin Chow  was great escapism for wartime (and post-war) Londoners, combining this relief from the anxieties of everyday life with a glimpse of (a version of) the orient and with music, comedy and colourful costumes. It was just what people needed in the hard years from the summer of 1916.

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Posted by on 4 March 2014 in Famous People, Places


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Then and Now: Waterloo YMCA

This is the first in a new series of short posts showing scenes from Great War London with the same location today.


Waterloo YMCA hut next to St John's Church (c)IWM Q28744

Waterloo YMCA hut next to St John’s Church (c)IWM Q28744


The scene today (image from Google streetview)

The scene today (image from Google streetview)

The new building on the left (KCL’s James Clerk Maxwell building) is closer to the church than its predecessor was, and there are no longer public toilets under the road, but you can still clearly see where the YMCA building was.

In case you’re wondering what Iron Jelloids are, they are basically lozenge sweets used to counter an iron deficiency. According to a blog post about them ‘by April 1913 The British Journal of Nursing could write that “Iron Jelloids are now well-known as a neutral, palatable, non-constipating form of Iron Tonic.”‘

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Posted by on 20 February 2014 in Places, Then & Now


A postcard from the Eagle Hut

The “Eagle Hut” on Aldwych was the home to the American YMCA and used by thousands of Americans in London in 1917-1919.  Those visitors could buy and send postcards of the Hut. One of these postcards was sent by George Donald Preece to his wife Doretta in Brooklyn, New York.

The American YMCA 'Eagle Hut' in Aldwych.

The American YMCA ‘Eagle Hut’ in Aldwych.

On the back of his postcard, George D Preece wrote:

George D Preece's message to his wife back in Brooklyn

George D Preece’s message to his wife back in Brooklyn

The message reads:

To my dear Little Wife,

            This is the center of YMCA activity in London. It is packed to the doors with soldiers and sailors. This sure is a busy burg and we are on the go. The YMCA men and women are wonderful and do every thing possible for us. Wish that I had you with me.

Love, Geo.

George Donald Preece was serving on the US Navy’s Submarine Chaser 47. After enlisting in December 1917, he was in training from January to March 1918 and was mobilised on 20 March. He served on US SC 47 for the remainder of the war.

A summary of George D Preece's service in the US Navy (from

A summary of George D Preece’s service in the US Navy (from

He born in January 1893, the son of George William Preece and his wife Matilda.  George senior was in fact from London, having been born in North London in 1871 and went to New York in July 1887, where he was working as a machinist when he became an American citizen two years later (and briefly served in the National Guard in 1898). Matilda was born in New York but her parents were both born in Germany. In 1900, the family lived on Warren Street, New York: George and Matilda with their children Matilda, George, Helen and Gertrude. Like so many Americans, George D Preece found himself in Europe to fight against one of his ancestral homelands. When he sent the postcard, though, he was in his father’s hometown of London.

When he registered for the draft in June 1917, George D Preece was an unmarried timekeeper, living at 443 54th Street, New York, and working for C.W.Bliss on neighbouring 53rd Street. That December, though, he married Doretta May Heyl, the recipient of this Eagle Hut postcard, then living at 232a Sixth Avenue, Brooklyn.

George returned home to New York after being demobilised in June 1919 and in 1925 the couple were living at 1979 Troy Avenue, Kings, Brooklyn. They had two daughters, Dorothy in 1919 and Norma in 1923. They were still living there in 1941 when George again registered for war service. Doretta died in 1968 and George in 1970, after over 50 years of marriage.

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Posted by on 7 February 2014 in People, Places


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Temporary housing for the Government in Great War London

As Britain mobilised for Total War, the Government took over dozens of properties across London and built a host of new temporary buildings in parks and gardens. We have seen how these buildings blighted the view of St James’s Park, but the spread of Government offices was much much more widespread than that.

During the war, the shape of the UK’s civil service shifted dramatically. While the number of civil servants did not increase an enormous amount (a 22% increase from 229,500 to 281,000), the number of female civil servants did increase substantially (by around 400%, to fill a 30% decline in male civil servants) and some departments grew enormously – many growing from nothing to a great size.

DM 18 5 1916 hotel

De Keyser’s Hotel being taken over “for war purposes” (Daily Mirror, 18 May 1916)

Among just five of the new departments there were 23,000 civil servants, of whom 63% were women (theses excludes the 14,000 employees of the regional national service offices in the table below):

Men Women Total
Ministry of Munitions




Ministry of Information




Ministry of National   Service (HQ)




Ministry of National   Service (regions)




War Trade Dept




Ministry of Food




The Admiralty and War Office were the key existing war departments, while the Inland Revenue demonstrates the shift from a largely-male workforce to one that was evenly split between men and women:

Men Women August 1914 total Men Women Early 1918 total







War Office







Inland Revenue







In February 1917, an MP raised in the Commons the question of accommodation at the Hotel Cecil, complaining that the Constitutional Club – which had already lost its own rooms at Northumberland Avenue – was now being squeezed out of the Hotel by the expansion of the Air Ministry.  The Ministry occupied 570 ordinary rooms and 9 of the larger rooms (halls, etc) in the Hotel.

Questioned further the First Commissioner for Works (Sir Alfred Mond) promised to publish a list of all the properties in London that had been lent to, commandeered by or rented by the Government. That list is set out below. It reflects the vast growth in the work and workforce of certain departments, of which the Admiralty and War Office are the obvious examples, alongside the new departments such as the Air Ministry and the Ministry of Munitions. There were also bodies dealing with separation allowances, national service, war pensions and the blockade of Germany.

The types of buildings used varies enormously, from huts on the roofs of existing Government offices – or in open spaces in central London (like St James’s Park and Regent’s Park) – to rooms in museums and galleries (including the British Museum), to the National Liberal Club and the Strand Hotel. A number of additional buildings were then needed across London to house the furniture and other items removed from the buildings commandeered by the Government.

Controversy over the displacement of other organisations continued, including the take-over of buildings on Kingsway by the Air Ministry’s Aircraft Production Department, requiring 122 firms to move. At the same time the War Casualties department moved from Kingsway to Finsbury Court and displaced a number City firms.

As with the temporary huts (more of which were built even after the war to house the Ministry of Pensions!), there were complaints about the continued occupation of hotels. Asked in February 1919 how many hotels had been vacated since the Armistice, Mr John Pratt from the Treasury said that:

Fifteen hotels are still retained as Government offices in the Metropolitan area. No hotels have been restored for public use since the 11th November, 1918, but the Hotel Victoria has been vacated by the Government staff which has occupied it, and arrangements are proceeding as speedily as possible for its reinstatement as a hotel. Carter’s Hotel, Albemarle Street, is to be vacated immediately. The Hotel Cecil will be vacated within two or three months, and the Grand Hotel a little later.

Sir Alfred Mond expanded on this, with a list of the fifteen hotels and who had occupied them. Further updates were given by Winston Churchill in June and Mond in November 1919:

Hotel. Occupied by 1919 updates
Carter’s   Hotel War   Office. Released   at the end of March 1919
De   Keyser’s Hotel War   Office. June 1919:   “arrangements are under consideration for the early evacuation of this   hotel”November 1919: purchased by a private firm and will be used as   offices when Government vacate.
Grand   Hotel Ministry   of Munitions. Feb 1919:   to be vacated in a few months.
Hotel   Metropole Ministry   of Munitions. Still in   use Nov 1919
Hotel   Cecil Air   Ministry. June 1919:   “will be vacated by the end of June, evacuation commencing at once.”
Covent   Garden Hotel Air   Ministry. Vacated in April, 1919.
Horrex’s   Hotel Ministry   of Labour. Still in   use November 1919, still required for Ministry of Labour Appointments Branch
Howard   Hotel Ministry   of Labour. Still in   use November 1919
St.   Ermin’s Hotel Ministry   of Labour. Still in   use November 1919
Holborn   Viaduct Hotel Board of   Trade—Coal Controller. Still in use   November 1919
Hotel York Board of   Trade—Timber Controller and Canadian Red Cross. Still in   use November 1919
Windsor   Hotel Ministry   of National Service and Reconstruction. Still in   use November 1919
Salisbury   Hotel War   Savings Committee. Still in   use November 1919
Belgrave   Mansions Hotel American   Army Headquarters. June 1919:   “Release by the American Expeditionary Force is under consideration.”
Goring   Hotel American   Army Headquarters. Already   vacated by June 1919

In March 1920, Mond announced that “Six hotels (of which three have been taken on lease and one is in course of vacation) and 348 other buildings are still occupied by Departments set up during the War.” The Metropole was also due to be vacated by Easter.

Temporary War Buildings in London, Board of Trade, Whitehall Gardens, Whitehall. © IWM (Q 28727)

Temporary War Buildings in London, Board of Trade, Whitehall Gardens, Whitehall. © IWM (Q 28727)

Temporary buildings constructed for or occupied by Government departments at the end of 1916

Temporary Buildings erected or contracted for HM Office of Works to be used as Government Offices in the London District during the period 1st January to 31st December, 1916…

  • Admiralty: Buildings on Roof; new rooms in Domes
  • Foreign Office: Buildings on Roof; extension for passport office
  • Horse Guards: Alterations and extra accommodations for General Headquarters
  • Horse Guards Parade: Admiralty extension
  • Stationery Office: building, south front, Princes Street, SW
  • Chelsea HospitalL Building for staff of Pensions Deptarment
  • Regent’s Park: extension building for Army Sorting Office; building for War Office Post Office Parcels Censor;
  • Post Office Savings Bank Department: building in Quadrangle
  • Adelphi Gardens: building of Ministry of Munitions
  • Montagu House: extensions for Ministry of Munitions and Ministry of Labour
  • Embankment Gardnes: building for director-general of Military Railways
  • St James’s Park: War Office effects branch; Admiralty transport building; War Trade Intelligence Department building
  • Lancaster House: Foreign Trade Department building in garden
  • Pocock Street: Stationery office warehouse
  • 10 Downing Street: building in garden
  • Home Office: permit office
  • Kew: office for headquarters of Unemployment Insurance
  • Strand House, WC: building on roof for Army Postal Censors
  • Custom House building on quay
  • Board of Trade: building on roof for Queensland Government Offices

Note: Kew building suitable for use after war; some constructed in parks will also be suitable for use after the war.

Temporary War Buildings in London. Tank Association and extensive Leave Huts, Horse Guards Parade. (c)IWM 28708

Temporary War Buildings in London. Tank Association and extensive Leave Huts, Horse Guards Parade. (c)IWM 28708

Temporary War Buildings in London, Ministry of Labour, Whitehall Bungalows. (c)IWM  Q28724

Temporary War Buildings in London, Ministry of Labour, Whitehall Bungalows. (c)IWM Q28724

Premised hired or requisitioned by or on behalf of H.M. Office of Works, etc., in the same area and period and for the same purpose. [n.b. does not include properties taken over for purely military purposes]


  • 62-66 Charing Cross (rooms in)
  • City and Guilds Engineering College, Exhibition Road (portion of)
  • Trafalgar Buildings, 1 Charing Cross (rooms in)
  • 26 Cockspur Street (rooms on 3rd floor; whole of 2nd floor)
  • 47 Victoria Street (rooms on 1st floor)
  • Whitehall House, Charing Cross (rooms on 3rd and 5th floors)
  • Greener House, Haymarket (rooms from basement up to 3rd floor)
  • Dewar House, Haymarket (rooms on 1st and 3rd floors)
  • 29 Spring Gardens
  • 31 Spring Gardens
  • Union Club, Trafalgar Square (3 rooms on top floor)

Ministry of Munitions:

  • LGO Co’s premises, Albany Street, NW (3 rooms)
  • 16 John Street, Adelphi
  • 54 New Bond Street (2 rooms)
  • 117 Piccadilly
  • 118 Piccadilly (2 floors)
  • Bacteriological Laboratory, Point Pleasant, Wandsworth
  • Red Lion Restaurant, 9 Princes Street (upper part)
  • 8 York Buildings, Adelphi
  • 31 Great St Helens, EC (3 rooms, 2nd floor)
  • Grand Hotel
  • Hotel Metropole
  • Hotel Victoria
  • Constitutional Club
  • SPCK premises, Northumberland Avenue
  • 8 Princes Street Westminster (rooms on 2nd, 3rd and 4th floors)
  • 26 Abingdon Street (rooms in)
  • Caxton House, Tothill Street (rooms on ground floor)
  • Avenue House, Northumberland Avenue
  • Chiswick Laboratory
  • St Ermin’s Hotel (4 floors west wing)
  • National Club, 1 Whitehall Gardens
  • 2 Whitehall Court (flats 44 and 46)

Board of Agriculture, Home Grown Timber Committee

  • 4 The Sanctuary, SW
  • 2 and 3 The Sanctuary (rooms on 3rd floor)
  • 54 Victoria Street, SW, including Canadian Forestry Battalion on 1st floor
  • 18 Marshalsea Road, SE
  • Old Smithy, Stewarts Lane, SE

Wheat Commission

  • Trafalgar House, Waterloo Place, SW (part of)

Stationery Office

  • Imperial House, Kingsway (portion of ground floor)
  • 1 Underwood Street, EC (basement)
  • 18 & 20 Shepherdess Walk, EC (3 floors)

Board of Trade, Allies Supplies Commission

  • Canada House, Kingsway (7th floor)
  • Empire House, Kingsway (2nd & 3rd floors)
  • All offices in occupation of private firms in Canada, India and Empire Houses, Kingsway, WC (eight firms)
  • India House, Kingsway (1st floor & portion of 2nd floor)
  • Board of Trade
  • 19 Berkeley Street, W
  • 9 Bridge Street (rooms in)
  • Central House, Kingsway (4th floor)
  • 38 & 39 Parliament Street (1st floor)
  • Portland House, 73 Basinghall Street (rooms in)
  • 2 Thurloe Place, SW
  • Wakefield House, Cheapside

Local Government Board. Military Service (Civil Liabilities) Committee

  • Imperial House, Kingsway (1st & 2nd floors, 3rd floor West, 5th floor West, and one other room on 3rd floor)
  • (Local Commissioners appointed by the Committee for the various boroughs were accommodated mostly in Town Halls or Municipal Buildings, &c, free of rent, or in Government Buildings where rooms were available.)

Inland Revenue, Tax Office

  • Gloucester Mansions, Charing Cross Road, WC (1st floor East and 2nd floor East)
  • 86 Bow Road (ground & 2nd floors)
  • 300 Mare Street, Hackney (1 room)
  • 93 Great Eastern Street, EC (1st & 2nd floors)
  • 214 Bishopsgate, EC (1st floor)
  • 33/37 Hare Street, Woolwich (1st & 2nd floors)
  • Temple Chambers, EC (3rd floor)
  • Salisbury House, Finsbury Circus (rooms in)
  • 62 Altenburg Gardens, SW
  • New Hibernian Chambers, London Bridge, SE (rooms in)
  • 1 Peckham Road, Camberwell
  • 13 Victoria Street (rooms in)
  • Diamond House, Hatton Garden (rooms in)
  • 23 Kingsland High Street, Dalston (2nd floor)
  • 99 Uxbridge Road, Ealing
  • 25 Euston Road (rooms in)
  • 287 Lewisham High Road
  • 139A Finchley Road (1st floor)
  • 1/4 Paternoster Row, EC
  • 178 and 180 Romford Road, Stratford, E
  • Phoenix House, King William Street, EC (3rd, 4th & 5th floors)
  • 1 Dorncliffe Road, Fulham, SW
  • 24 William Street, Woolwich (1st floor)
  • 8 Finsbury Square, EC (1st floor)
  • 36 and 38 Mortimer Street, W (2nd floor)
  • 32 West Kensington Gardens

Customs and Excise

  • 158 High Street, Harlesden (ground floor)
  • 72 Romford Road, Stratford
  • Central Hall, Southall (1 room)
  • 45 Kings Road, Chelsea (1st floor)

Air Ministry

  • Hotel Cecil (except portion occupied by Director General of Military Railways)

Air Board

  • 19 Carlton House Terrace

War Office

  • Queen’s House, Kingsway, WC (4th floor)
  • 9 Victoria Street, SW (rooms in)
  • Strand House, Portugal Street, WC
  • Gilbey Hall, Agricultural Hall, Islington, N
  • Carter’s Hotel, 14 & 15 Albemarle Street, W
  • De Keyser’s Hotel, Victoria Embankment, EC
  • 69/71 Haymarket, SW
  • National Liberal Club, SW
  • 38/39 Parliament Street, SW (ground floor)
  • Whitehall Court, SW: flats 51, 105, 106, 107 and 111
  • 33/38 Baker Street, W (ground floor & basement)
  • Marylebone Town Hall
  • 8 Bedford Square
  • Caxton House, Tothill Street, SW (portions of)
  • Institution of Electrical Engineers, Savoy Hill, WC (1st floor, except library; room in basement)
  • 6 & 7 George Street, Hanover Square, W (2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th floors)
  • 78 Lancaster Gate, W
  • 53 Parliament Street, SW (rooms in)
  • Hotel Cecil, WC (portions of)
  • 201/203 Great Portland Street
  • National Gallery of British Art, Millbank [Tate Gallery]
  • Board of Education Art Buildings, South Kensington

Blockade Ministry

  • 5 Waterloo Place
  • 6 Waterloo Place

War Risks Insurance Department

  • Imrie House, King William Street, EC (rooms 3 & 4, lower ground floor)

War Trade Department

  • Morden House, Dartmouth Street, SW (2nd & 3rd floors)
  • Queen Anne’s Gate Building, SW
  • 1 Central Buildings, SW (library, small hut, and conference hall)
  • 13 Victoria Street, SW (rooms on 1st floor)
  • 27/29 Tothill Street, SW (rooms in)

Office of Works (required to deal with the expansion of Supplies to Munition Factories, War Department, etc, and for storage of furniture, etc, from Hotels and Clubs, etc, commandeered)

  • 7 Grove Road, Balham, SW
  • Warehouse at corner of Suirries Street and Florida Street, NE
  • Bottling Store, Essex Place, Chiswick, W
  • Warehouse in Guildford Street, SE
  • Hertford Street Garage, W (1st floor)
  • 2 Lambeth Palace Road, SE
  • 4 Lambeth Palace Road, SE
  • 137 St Pancras Road, NE
  • Norwich Street, Fetter Lane (part of)
  • 86 North Side, Wandsworth Common, SW

Prisoners of War Bureau

  • British Museum, sub-basement of Extension Building

War Office, Medical Research Committee (Statistical Department)

  • British Museum, sub-ground floor
  • Purchase of Timber (Office of Works)
  • Winchester House, Old Broad Street

National Debt Office

  • 1 Moorgate Street and 3/4 Lothbury (portion of)
  • 32/33 London Wall

National Insurance Audit Department

  • British Columbia House, Regent Street SW (rooms in)

Belgian Colonial Office disturbed from their Offices in India House by Allies Supplies Commission

  • British Columbia House, Regent Street SW (rooms in)

Foreign Trade Dept

  • Lancaster House (upper floors)
  • 70 Lombard Street, EC

Defence of the Realm Losses Commission

  • Spencer House, St James’s Place, SW

Food Controller

  • Grosvenor House, Upper Grosvenor Street, W

Propaganda Dept

  • 8 Buckingham Gate, SW

War Savings Committee (now occupied by Statutory Committee on War Pensions)

  • 18 Abingdon Street, SW
  • 19 Abingdon Street, SW

War Saving Committee

  • Salisbury Hotel, Salisbury Square


  • Danes Inn House, Strand, WC (1 room)

National Service Department

  • St Ermin’s Hotel (except portion taken for Priority Department, Ministry of Munitions)

Labour Ministry and Ministry of Munitions

  • Montagu House, Whitehall
  • Labour Ministry, Employment Department
  • Strancolor House, Martlett Court, WC
  • Victoria and Albert Museum, North Court



Parliamentary papers: 1917 Cd 8499, and 1918(76)


Posted by on 31 January 2014 in Places


The Two Trains of Destiny

In her book, Untold Tales of War-time London, Hallie Eustace Miles described the scene as soldiers arrived on leave and left again for the front at Victoria station in early 1915.

Her descriptions provide a vivid picture of the station’s daily use as a point of transit for soldiers travelling to and from the front (as we heard from F.H. Keeling, who travelled there early one morning in early 1916). Here are Miles’s descriptions in full, which had the title The Two Trains of Destiny in her book, with some photos and a few comments from me at the end.

March 5th [1915]

I must now describe two very different wonderful experiences I have just had. Every day there is a train from Victoria which takes soldiers who have been home on leave back to – somewhere – to join a Boat that will take them to France and the cruel trenches. Shortly after, another train comes in, bringing soldiers and officers home from the trenches. Well, I determined I would go to Victoria and meet both trains, and see for myself the moving scenes that people can hardly speak of for their pathos. And I really can scarcely find words in which to describe what I saw.

Back to the trenches after Christmas: soldiers leaving Victoria for the front after a brief stay at home Illustrated War News, 5/1/1916

Back to the trenches after Christmas: soldiers leaving Victoria for the front after a brief stay at home
Illustrated War News, 5/1/1916

The “Good-bye” Train

It was a perfect day of brilliant sunshine. When I got to Victoria Station, the train was waiting in the “siding” which is always kept for these goings and comings. Even the train looked to me different to any other train that I have ever seen before. It seemed to me like a train of Destiny waiting there for its sacred burden of brave men who might never again return to “Blighty”. It reminded me of the Allegory of the “Black Ship” which used to fetch people and take them out to sea when their “day” had come to start on their last voyage.

‘At first the platform was empty, only the train with “steam up,” waiting. And then there began to arrive the Tommies, and the Officers, and the Mothers, Wives, Sisters and Sweethearts. A magic piece of paper admitted them on to the platform. I was at the barrier. The men looked very brave, but their faces were very set. Some of them hardly dared to look at the brave women walking by their side. But I knew what they were each feeling, I went through a bit of it on that very platform, when Eustace went to America. The luggage was so different to other luggage too; it was chiefly those long bolsters they take all their things in. Some of the Tommies had bunches of flowers to take out with them. Soon the platform was crowded with this wonderful army of men and women who were fighting back the tears so bravely, and each helping the other by their own courage. Then came the moment when the first dreaded whistle sounded; it seemed more like a “trumpet call” than the whistle of an ordinary engine. The very air become suddenly charged with intensest feeling. We all held our breaths; perhect silence reigned, for we knew the “good-byes” were being said; we knew that for some the last kiss was being given. Then there was a banging of doors, and the last whistle sounded. The train slowly moved off, as if it could not bear to go, and the platform was left with only women, a few fathers, and some very depressed doggies. I never saw such as sight as it was when the khaki arms were waving out of the windows to those dear ones who were left standing on the platform as long as the train was in sight.

And then the sad procession passed out again; some of the women looked years older since they had last gone through the wonderful gate that kept opening and shutting to admit the brave procession through. I kept on thinking “Which will come back again through that gate?” Of course there were tears, but on the whole very few really gave way. Some looked terribly lonely, and one thought of the empty homes to which they were going back.

Soldiers back on leave, at a London station (probably Waterloo) in 1915.

Soldiers back on leave, at a London station (probably Waterloo) in 1915.

March 6th

The “Blighty” Train

I must now describe the second train which brought the Tommies and Oficers home on furlough to the same platform as the train that, alas! took them out again to the awful trenches. It was a very intense time, waiting for the wonderful train to come in with its heroic burden. Not the least interesting part was the sight of the happy, expectant faces of those who had come to meet their dear ones; such a contrast to the faces I had just seen go through the gate, after seeing their brave men off. How we all watched for the signal to drop! At last it did, and again the train seemed more than a train, as it slowly slipped into the siding. In one instant the doors all flew open, and strange objects poured out. They seemed almost to resemble Arctic explorers, or Esquimaux, than ordinary soldiers. Most of them had on sheepskin coats, strange fur caps and woollen helmets; and their khaki was black; some were in rags, and oh! the mud on their boots and legs. The colour of their faces was strange too, so weather-worn and weather-beaten. But the saddest part of all was the stern gravity of their expressions, as if the “veil” had been lifted and they had seen things they could never speak of and never forget. They carried the weirdest parcels and bags, full of souvenirs. Some of the “Tommies” had bunches of flowers tied to their rifles, given to them, I suppose, by the French girls. There were some beautiful cares waiting for some of the officers, with beautiful wives inside too! I was so sorry for those who had no one to meet the. They all looked dreadfully tired. It was the most wonderful and thrilling crowd I have ever seen. It made one realise what the War means more than anything else has ever done. When it was all over, I felt as if I have been to Church; as if I had been at a Sacrament. I did so long for someone to start cheering the War-worn heroes; it was all so horribly English and silent. One woman waved her baby to the Tommies! This gave a little life to the solemn scene. I went up to some of them and said “Welcome Home.” One thing I noticed was that the men who came home looked nearly as sad as those who went back. I suppose it was that the shadow of the “going back” was already over them. It was only three days for most of them.

Victoria station, after the arrival of the leave train © IWM (Q 30511)

Victoria station, after the arrival of the leave train
© IWM (Q 30511)

Miles’s descriptions capture a snapshot of leave arrivals and departures, fairly early in the war. The three days granted in 1914-15 gradually increased until most soldiers at the front could expect a ten-day block of home leave at least once a year by 1918. During 1915, free buffets for soldiers were opened at the major London stations – as we shall see in a forthcoming blog post.

Source: Hallie Eustace Miles, Untold Tales of War-time London: a personal diary (1930).

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Posted by on 16 January 2014 in Ordinary Londoners, Places


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London’s war graves

When walking through cemeteries and churchyards around London and across the UK, it is common to come across the familiar outline of a Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstone, or even a Cross of Sacrifice. Well over eight thousand of the British Empire’s war dead are buried in London and Middlesex.

According to the CWGC’s website, there are 9375 cemeteries, churchyards and memorials in the UK that serve as the nation’s commemoration of a fallen service man or women of the Great War. This is a total of over 90,000 of the British and Empire dead of the Great War, out of around 673,000 with known graves in total from that war worldwide (deaths dating from 1914-21). This does not include those mentioned on their parents’ or siblings’ gravestones here, only those who were buried or cremated in the UK or whose bodies were never found and who are officially commemorated in this country.

War graves in front of a Second World War air-raid shelter in Wandsworth (Earlsfield) Cemetery. Picture (c)CWGC

First World War graves in front of a Second World War air-raid shelter in Wandsworth (Earlsfield) Cemetery. Picture (c)CWGC

In London there are 36 cemeteries and churchyards in which service personnel of the Great War are buried, along with another 79 sites in what used to be Middlesex (now almost entirely in London).  There are bound to be more in the bits of East London that used to be in Essex and South London that used to be in Kent or Surrey, but these are harder to separate from the modern counties’ sites.

In total 8,569 of the Empire’s war dead are buried in London and Middlesex (5637 in London, 2832 in Middlesex). Sixty-three of the 115 sites hold fewer than 10 war casualties each, while the largest six sites hold nearly a third of the London Great War graves between them – over 2,700.

The 27 sites with over 100 war dead are listed in this table:

London CWGC

The men and women buried in London and Middlesex are a mixed groups, from a variety of nations and arms of service. The reasons they are buried here vary too: some were Londoners who died in training or on leave or serving as medics; many died in London hospitals whether as Londoners near home or  hundreds or thousands of miles from their families across the UK and the rest of the globe; others survived the war but died shortly afterwards of their wounds or illness.

Laid to rest thousands of miles from home. Australian war graves in Nunhead cemetery, 25 April 1920. Image from AWM collection

Laid to rest thousands of miles from home. Australian war graves in Nunhead cemetery, 25 April 1920. Image from AWM collection

In addition to the thousands buried in London and Middlesex, the capital is home to the nation’s largest memorial to the missing. The Tower Hill Memorial commemorates the dead of the Merchant Navy and the Fishing Fleet. Almost twelve thousand of its 35,747 names are from the First World War. The other memorials in the UK (the matching naval memorials of Portsmouth, Chatham and Plymouth and the smaller Hollybrook Memorial in Southampton to those of land and air forces who died at sea) together list another 27,370 names from the Great War dead with no known graves. In addition, 53 Hindu and Sikh soldiers are commemorated at Patcham Down after dying in the UK and being cremated in accordance with their faiths.

Near to London are the graves of another 1,738 of the Great War dead buried in Brookwood cemetery (including the Muslim comrades of the Sikhs and Hindus named at Patcham Down). A new monument there also records the names of over 350 war dead who still had no known grave before being commemorated at Brookwood.

Australian and New Zealand headstones in Highgate Cemetery. Picture (c)CWGC

Australian and New Zealand headstones in Highgate Cemetery. Picture (c)CWGC


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Commandeered: German offices in London

Early in the Great War, the British Government were able to take extraordinary steps against German citizens and businesses. In 1914-15 many Germans were interned (including some held in Stratford). The Government also commandeered the headquarters of German owned shipping line Hamburg-Amerika in Cockspur Street, Westminster.

Hamburg-Amerika was a transatlantic shipping line founded in 1847 and based in Hamburg, Germany; in the early twentieth century, one of their ships held the record for the fastest crossing of the Atlantic.  In 1906-07, they had a new London headquarters built at 14-16 Cockspur Street in Westminster. The  building was designed by Arthur T. Bolton, with sculpture by W.B. Fagan (both of them Londoners) – it was a magnificent structure. The website Oriental Passions has a good set of photographs of the facade in a blog post from 2011. The English Heritage Archives have a few photos of the building just after it was built (for example this one of the facade).

At the start of the Great War, this impressive German building was taken into the service of Britain and its armed forces:

War Illustrated, vol. 1, Jan 1915

War Illustrated, vol. 1, Jan 1915

Here is the same section today:

The same section of 14-16 Cockspur Street today

The same section of 14-16 Cockspur Street today

One of the English Heritage Archive photos shows this part of the building in detail before the war. This allows us to see how it was transformed.  The company’s name was removed from the top and a banner with ‘HIS MAJESTY’S ARMY’ erected in its place. Likewise the windows have been boarded up and plastered with recruiting messages – with the words ‘Men of the Empire. Your King & Country Need You. Enlist Today.’

Around this big poster are the usual 1914-era text-based recruiting posters – the picture posters were more common in 1915.  Either side of the door is an unofficial recruiting poster that did have a large picture on it. These were reprints of the poster from a pre-war film about the army, pressed into service in 1914 to serve as a recruiting poster:

Film poster used for recruiting (image built up of two IWM poster images: title and image)

Film poster used for recruiting (image built up of the images of two sections of the poster (c)IWM)

The building’s role as a recruiting office was far from the end of its use by the British Government. By late 1916 (when voluntary enlistment had been replaced with conscription), the Hamburg-Amerika Line section of the building moved from being used by the War Office to being an Admiralty building, according the Prime Minister in response to questions about whether steps were being made to sell the building. Eventually, in July 1917, the building (now being used by the Ministry of Munitions) was sold by the British Government for £60,200 to P&O, maintaining the presence of travel companies on Cockspur Street (reported in Times 1/8/1917). Throughout all this, the British/Canadian Allan Line Steamship Company Limited had continued to occupy the right-hand-side of the building (viewed from Cockspur Street), as they had before the war. Today, that side of the building is the Brazilian Embassy.

When war was declared, German citizens in Britain were subject to restrictions on their liberty. Similarly, German property could be seized by the Government. This prominent building in Westminster was seized and put to the key purpose of the day: recruiting men to fight against the Germans.

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Posted by on 21 October 2013 in Famous companies, Places, Recruitment


Remembering the fallen of the Great War, 1914-1917

In early 1917, there was a strong sense that this would be the year of victory. The directors of the East London Cemetery were so confident that they had it set in stone.

In February 1917, a new monument was unveiled in the East London Cemetery. Under a celtic cross and over a soldier’s cap, rifle and sword set in bronze, the monument’s main message read:













1914 – 1917

At some point the latter date was removed and, after the war, replaced with ‘1918’ to leave the monument as it stands today:

The East London Cemetery cross (photo (c) flickr user )

The East London Cemetery cross (photo (c) flickr user DeeGeeBee51)

On its other faces the directors express their sympathy of the families of the dead and their gratitude to the maimed servicemen and record the full list of Britain’s allies (which includes the ‘US America’, presumably added after they entered the war later in 1917).

The preemptory inclusion of an end-date for the war is an interesting reflection on the optimism hope felt early in 1917 that the war would indeed end that year. It is a reminder of the obvious fact that one must bear in mind when reading contemporary material from the Great War – that they simply did not know how much longer it would last.


UK National Inventory of War Memorials

West Ham and South Essex Mail, February 1917

Thanks to Dai (DeeGeeBee51) for permission to use his photograph of the cross


Posted by on 5 October 2013 in Places, War memorials


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