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Tag Archives: Great War

Will You March Too?

As conscription loomed, the Government tried to convince men to volunteer or attest their willingness to serve in the army before they could be forced by the state to join up. Posters appeared across London and elsewhere in Britain asking ‘Will You March Too or Wait Till March 2?’

(c) Library of Congress

(c) Library of Congress

The Military Service Act 1916, passed into law on 27 January, made all eligible single men (those aged 19-40) liable for military service on 2 March 1916. It ended the Derby Scheme, set up in late 1915, which had allowed men to ‘attest their willingness to serve’ – essentially volunteering to be conscripted. At midnight on 1/2 March, the Derby Scheme ‘groups’ (arranged by year of birth) were closed and eligible men not in them were assigned to the equivalent ‘classes’ in which they could be called up as conscripts.

The more bellicose newspapers and propagandists made much of this deadline – insinuating that only those men who attested would be able to apply for exemption from military service (as we have seen, this was not the case). The Government and army recruiters were happy to play along. Posters like that above appeared around the country (including a Welsh version). The phrase ‘Will You March Too or Wait Till March 2’ was plastered up outside Town Halls. The posters appeared around the base of Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square – as shown in this photo, replaced on 1 March with one reading ‘Last Day: March the First’.

The final pre-conscription recruiting campaign poster was widespread enough to be satirised by Punch magazine. On 1 March 1916, a cartoon showed two ladies looking at the ‘March Too’ poster:

Topical humour from Punch, 3 March 1916

Topical humour from Punch, 1 March 1916

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Posted by on 2 March 2013 in Recruitment

 

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A Naval wedding in Hackney

On Monday 14 May 1917, a group of naval ratings drew a motor car through the streets of Hackney. Inside was Petty-Officer Philip Henry Baker and his bride Ethel.

Philip and Ethel Baker's wedding in the Daily Mirror (15/5/1917)

Philip and Ethel Baker’s wedding in the Daily Mirror (15/5/1917)

Philip Baker was born in Bromley-by-bow in 1892, the son of Alice and ‘blind-house fitter’ Henry.  Ethel Kain was 5 years his junior, daughter of undertaker Thomas Kain.

As Petty-Officer Baker, Philip was serving as a stoker on HMS Broke, and was involved in the Battle of Dover Strait the month before his wedding. Along with another ship, the Broke attacked German torpedo boats that had shelled Calais and Dover. Both British ships rammed German vessels. The commanders and many of the men on the two British ships were awarded medals for their actions (although Baker was not among them).

On 14th May, Philip Baker was back on dry land to marry Ethel at St John-at-Hackney church.

Philip and Ethel's Banns of marriage

Philip and Ethel’s Banns of marriage

 
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Posted by on 28 February 2013 in Ordinary Londoners

 

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A Bermondsey family’s war effort: the Holtons

We tend to think of families in the Great War in terms of the service of the sons, brothers or fathers in the armed forces. They were not necessarily the only ones to play a part, though – many women went to work in munitions or other jobs as more men left civilian life. One example of this is the Holton family who lived in Bermondsey.

In 1911, leather finisher James W Holton and his wife Sarah Ann (nee Longhurst) lived at 33 Marcia Road, off the Old Kent Road, with seven of their children, who ranged in age from 11 to 24. They had married on Christmas day 1883 and had a total of 16 children before James died in 1913 (Sadly, seven of their children had died before 1911, another two lived elsewhere).

The Holtons listed at 33 Marcia Road in 1911

The Holtons listed at 33 Marcia Road in 1911

Reginald George Holton, a 14-year-old errand boy in 1911, was working as a warehouseman in 1915 when he went to East Dulwich to enlist in the Royal Field Artillery. He was a 5 feet 4 inches tall, with a tattoo on his right arm. Before going to the front, he got in trouble for going absent without leave for a week in November 1915.

Part of Reginald Holton's service papers

Part of Reginald Holton’s service papers

Despite his indiscretion, he joined 167 Brigade’s artillery in France as a drvier on 12 December 1915 and remained on the Western Front for the next three and a half years. In May 1916, Driver Holton joined the D battery of 162 Brigade’s artillery.

Meanwhile Sarah Holton and her youngest daughter Ethel went to work for John Bell, Hill and Lucas, Ltd, making gas masks in their factory on Tower Bridge Road, Bermondsey. The company were pharmaceutical chemists in peace, so well placed to make gas masks to keep up with the advances in chemicals used in gas warfare in the Great War. They had opened their London Works on Tower Bridge Road in 1909.

According to the National Roll of The Great War, Sarah worked in the factory for three years (presumably from 1915 until the end of the war) and was joined there by 17-year-old Ethel from August 1917 until September 1918.

In the Holton family – like many others – at least three members took part in the war effort. Reginald drove for the artillery in France and Flanders, while his mother and sisters were making gas masks to counter the gas shells fired by his counterparts in the German artillery.

 
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Posted by on 16 February 2013 in Ordinary Londoners, Women

 

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The Kaiser’s Own

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

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

Crest of the Middlesex Regiment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edward Kehlstadt’s record of service

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

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

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

 
 

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Get a haircut!

One feature of army life has always been the change in appearance of the recruit. Apart from the obvious adoption of a uniform and often an improvement in physique, there was – of course – the matter of haircuts.  This was not only on joining the army: a severe haircut was often part of going to the front.

Archibald, Evans, Hudson, Chell, Ridley. ‘C’ Company officers, 10th Essex, before embarking for active service.

The officers of C Company, 10th Essex (a mixed Essex and London battaltion in its personnel) had their photo taken after getting their hair cut very short prior to going out to France.

The group includes Randolph Chell, a Londoner (although Essex-born), who ended up with a DSO and an MC and co-wrote the battalion’s biography With the 10th Essex In France – a classic of the genre. On the left is James Duncan Archibald, another Londoner having grown up in Edmonton, but sadly one who died during the war – killed during the Battle of the Somme in July 1916.

Another group who were shorn was Len Smith and his mates in the ‘shiny seventh’ – the 7th battalion of the London Regiment. Private Smith, a Walthamstow lad, wrote up his war experiences from his diary with excellent illustrations (published recently as Drawing Fire – and online here). At one point he shows two of his comrades and himself before and after their haircuts out in France in 1915:

Len Smith and friends, before and after their haircuts.

The chap with the moustache is referred to only as Tom, with the others being Jack and Len himself. I think Len is the one on the right.

Another Essex-born Londoner whose appearance was changed by a wartime haircut was Frederic Hillersdon Keeling, whom we have met before. Company Sergeant-Major ‘Ben’ Keeling served with the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry; he was killed in action at Delville Wood 1916 and posthumously awarded the Military Medal.

FH Keeling as a civilian and as a soldier (Sgt, DCLI)

 
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Posted by on 15 November 2012 in Ordinary Londoners

 

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Victoria Station, 10 November 1920: the arrival of the unknown warrior

The Unknown Warrior is part of the UK’s national remembrance of the Great War. A single, unidentified serviceman, he represents all those whose bodies were missing, while the Cenotaph represents all those who did not return. On 10 November 1920, the warrior arrived at Victoria station en route to Westminster Abbey.

The idea was that an unidentified body would be repatriated from the battlefields in France and Flanders to lie in the heart of London (and thus of the nation and empire) to represent the British Empire’s one million dead, and especially those whose bodies were not located or identified. The warrior’s journey is depicted in this five-minute Pathe film.

Four bodies were disinterred in from the battlefields of the Aisne, the Somme, Arras and Ypres. They were taken to St Pol and one was blindly selected to return to Britain.  This warrior was transported across France to Boulogne and onto the – significantly named – HMS Verdun. The ship landed at Dover and the coffin was tranferred to a train.

The Unknown Warrior being removed from HMS Verdun by soldiers, a sailor and an airman. (Daily Mirror 10/11/20)

The train arrived at platform 8 in Victoria Station at 8.32 on the 10th of November, the coffin being borne in the same carriage that had returned the bodies of Nurse Edith Cavell and Captain Fryatt to the UK.

The Unknown Warrior at Victoria Station, guarded overnight

A plaque next to platform 8 now marks the occasion and the Western Front Association meet there at 8pm each year to pay their respects.

The plaque marking the event of the warrior’s arrive

On 11 November, the warrior was transported on a gun carriage to Westminster Abbey. The procession left Victoria at 9.40am and travelled via Hyde Park Corner and the Mall to Whitehall, passing the Cenotaph before arriving at the Abbey.

The procession’s route, 11 November 1920 (from Daily Mirror 10/11/20)

A guard of honour of a hundred Victoria Cross holders welcomed the coffin, accompanied by the King, Field Marshals Haig and French and many other luminaries of the Great War era.

After a shortened version of the burial service, the King dropped a handful of French soil onto the coffin as it was lowered into the grave. After thousands of mourners had passed the spot, the grave was filled with 100 barrels of French soil.

The Unknown Warrior’s grave being filled with French soil

So, by the evening of 11 November 1920, the key pieces of the landscape of British national (and imperial) remembrance were in place. The Unknown Warrior and the Cenotaph (used in temporary form in 1919 but replaced in stone in 1920) are central to remembrance in London. The warrior also plays a part in other events in the Abbey, such as the recent royal wedding, when the new Duke and Duchess of Cambridge paid their respects.

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Sources and further reading:

Adrian Gregory – the Silence of Memory

Neil Hanson – the Unknown Warrior

Westminster Abbey website

BBC picture gallery of the Unknown Warrior’s final journey

 

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Those moustachioed men in their flying machines

A slightly more frivolous post than normal, today – but it is for a good cause. We are now a week into Movember, meaning that many men (including yours truly) are growing moustaches to raise money for testicular and prostate cancer charities. You can sponsor my moustache here.

In honour of Movember, here are some moustachioed Londoners of the Great War. They had moustaches of different shapes and sizes; all of them were pilots in the Royal Flying Corps.

2nd Lt John Lovell Dashwood

John Lovell Dashwood was born in London in 1891 and lived in Maidenhead, working as an English lecturer. He gained a commission in the Royal Flying Corps in late 1915 and qualified as a pilot in February 1916. Bizarrely, he then left the RFC and moved to the Canadian Infantry, joining the 58th battalion in July 1916. He was killed in actionat Vimy Ridge in April 1917 and was posthumously awarded the Military Cross in June 1917 for “conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty when in command of a raiding party. He personally made prisoners two groups of the enemy and carried in several wounded men under heavy fire. He displayed great gallantry throughout.” (Oddly there is an academic article about Dashwood, but it is behind a paywall so I don’t know what exactly it says.)

Sgt Alfred Robert May

Alfred Robert May was born in Woolwich in 1891 and joined the Royal Flying Corps in 1912. He was serving as a serjeant in No 3 squadron when he qualified as a pilot on 4 August 1914. I don’t know what he did during the war, but he was still around in 1914, when he was promoted from Warrant Officer to temporary Flying Officer in the RAF.

Lt. Victor Osborne Rees

Victor Osborne Rees was a 25-year-old living in Balham in 1912 when he was commissioned as an officer in the 23rd Battlaion of the London Regiment (a territorial regiment). He qualified as a pilot in October 1915. By 1921, he was a Squadron Leader and was awarded the OBE, and he retired as a Group Captain in 1935.

2nd Lt. Gerard Octavius Rooney

Gerard Octavius Rooney was born in 1889 in Clapham (the youngest child of Robert Rooney) and qualified as a pilot while he was an officer in the Royal Irish Fusiliers. In 1918, he was living in Wandsworth and he survived the war – indeed to lived until 1986.

Sgt-Major Frederick Henry Unwin

Frederick Henry Unwin was born in 1882 and, like May, was already in No 3 squadron RFC when he qualified as a pilot the day before the war began in August 1914. In 1919 he was a Major and was awarded the OBE and was later promoted to Wing Commander before retiring in 1932.

Richard Upton

Last but by no means least, Richard Upton also qualified as a pilot in August 1914. He was a master mariner at the time, but went on to join the RFC as a serjeant. He was serving with No 10 Squadron in May 1915 when he died of pneumonia. He is buried in Streatham Cemetery.

 
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Posted by on 8 November 2012 in Award-winners, Ordinary Londoners

 

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