The life of a stoker in the Royal Navy

The focus of many histories of the First World War is on the great land battles of the Western Front. The Royal Navy often gets overlooked because the Battle of Jutland was a seemingly inconclusive sea battle and many other actions did not involve fleets of ships. A Culture volunteer on the Poole History Centre First World War project describes some experiences of Poole men who served as stokers in the Royal Navy.

John Matthews, formerly a goalkeeper of Longfleet St Mary’s FC and stroke with Poole Amateur Rowing Club, was on the HMS Armadale Coast which was off the German South West African coast. His letter of January 1915 said that they ‘have had a very trying time just lately’. He describes ‘coaling’. This involved working continuously day and night until 3,700 tons of coal had been transferred in sacks. His injury came about because he slipped and damaged a knee which he hoped ‘will not affect my knee in future’. His mates brought him oranges and apples while he was in hospital and he noted it was ‘the first rest’ he had had since leaving home. He was now on light duty but still in some pain. He hoped to be able to carry on playing football and rowing when he got back to Poole – so far it is not known whether he did.

Coaling at sea was a strenuous, difficult job. Sacks had to be filled on the coaling ship by shovel, winched across and then tipped into the bunkers. Everybody who was not assigned another role had to help. A midshipman would alternate between spending an hour holding sacks open for another rating to shovel coal into and then spending another hour winching across. Often they would work from 5.30 in the morning until 6pm in the evening. The stokers who manned the bunkers were covered in ‘indescribable clouds of dust’ that clogged their skin and lungs with the only light from a few Davy safety lamps. And when coaling was finished the ships had to be cleaned.

The shovelling of coal into the boilers was hard physical labour in very hot and dusty conditions. Stoking the boilers was also a highly skilled job. The ‘firebed’ in the boiler had to be even and any gaps filled with white hot coal. The stokers would wear blue-tinted glasses to protect their eyes from the intense glare whilst they were checking the ‘firebed’. Every time the ship’s gun fired the ship would lift, settle, and clouds of dust would fill the boiler room – the noise would also resound above the noise of the boilers. The men also worked in the knowledge that there was little chance of survival if the ship was hit. Watertight hatches were closed and there was a maze of routes to the upper decks. They rarely had time to do anything; HM Transport Arcadian sank in just three minutes after being torpedoed.

Coal was a serious business and anything that disrupted it could have devastating consequences. Poor quality coal could lead to the ship not maintaining speed at critical times. HMS Pathfinder was sunk because the lack of coal meant it could only maintain a speed of 5 knots. The German SMS Dresden had a rendezvous with a collier off the South American coast. It was spotted by HMS Kent before coaling took place and the Dresden had no option but to enter a river estuary where she was eventually scuttled.

Several Poole men served as stokers in the Royal Navy. Some had joined the navy before the war and were either in the reserve or were still sailors, others enlisted or were conscripted.

Fred G. Trowbridge was a Stoker on the battleship HMS Iron Duke. In December 1914 he sent a letter to his mother, who lived at 19 Market Street, to say he was well and enclosed a photograph of what he called the ‘Dorset Brigade’ who were on board. Trowbridge had joined the Royal Navy in 1912 and served on HMS Iron Duke from February 1914 until 1918. After the war ended, he stayed in the Royal Navy on various vessels and in shore-based installations before retiring in 1934.

Stoker Augustus Albert Ball, of Hamworthy, died when the battlecruiser HMS Invincible was sunk at the Battle of Jutland on May 31st 1916. It is believed that she was hit on one of her turrets and the flash fire went into the magazines. The explosion tore the ship in half and over a thousand men lost their lives. Six men survived – one of them recorded that he ‘remembered nothing about the explosion until he found himself in the water’. Ball’s first ship was the paddle steamer Brodick Castle which was part of a fleet of ships that sailed along the Dorset coast catering for the holiday trade. He joined as a fireman at a weekly wage of £1 8s 2d (£1.41), on July 3rd 1901 at the age of 20. He left on October 5th 1901 when the summer season ended.

Sidney James, of Newtown, Poole, was employed as a golf caddie before he joined the Royal Navy in 1909 as a Stoker 2nd Class. In 1910 he was promoted to Stoker 1st Class when he was on HMS Essex in 1910. He then served on many other ships until he joined the cruiser HMS Black Prince on April 21st 1914 as Stoker 1st Class. He was promoted to Leading Stoker in February 1916. He died when HMS Black Prince was sunk during the Battle of Jutland on May 31st 1916. It is believed that the German fleet was mistaken for the British fleet and they were only half a mile apart when the error was realised – the crew of HMS Black Prince stood no chance.

Thomas Foot of Poole worked in a wood factory before he joined the Royal Navy in 1906 as Stoker 2nd Class when he signed up for 5 years. He left the navy in 1911 as Stoker 1st Class and was transferred to the Royal Fleet Reserve. With the threat of war looming he was recalled to the navy and joined HMS Good Hope on July 31st 1914. He died when the ship was sunk at the Battle of Coronel off the coast of Chile on November 1st 1914.

William Bradley of Poole (born 1896) worked as a greengrocer’s porter before joining the Royal Navy in 1914. He worked as a Stoker on several ships during the First World War and continued in the navy serving through the Second World War. In contrast, William Hedgecock, a general labourer from Poole, joined the Royal Navy on December 28th 1916. He was posted as Stoker 2nd Class to HMS Ariadne on March 21st 1917 and was killed only a few months later when the ship was torpedoed on July 26th 1917.

The Poole and East Dorset Herald reported in November 1914 that Mr Alfred Woodland of Hamworthy had five sons involved in the conflict. Albert Edward Woodland was a labourer from Hamworthy and had signed on with the Royal Navy for 12 years, initially as a Stoker 2nd class. He served on several ships and was promoted to Stoker 1st class while he was on HMS Dreadnought. In August 1914 he joined HMS Hermione which he left in March 1915. He had a spell on HMS Excellent before joining HMS Canada on which he served until March 1919 where he rose to first becoming a Leading Stoker and then Stoker Petty Officer. A few months after leaving HMS Canada he married Minnie Cox in Hamworthy. He survived the First World War. He served during the Second World War as Stoker Petty Officer on HMS Claverhouse, but died in August 1942 at the Royal Naval Hospital, South Queensferry from a kidney infection. He is buried in Hamworthy.

The local newspaper also reported that four of his brothers were serving in the Royal Marines. It said that John Woodland was a prisoner of war in October 1914 but says he was a Lance-Corporal – other records have him as a Private. It is believed he also survived the war and stayed in the Royal Marines dying of natural causes during the Second World War. Charles Woodland was a dental assistant at the RM base in Deal and also survived the First World War. Sadly, two other brothers died during the First World War. Sidney served in the Royal Marine Light Infantry (RMLI), but was drowned in a boating accident in Poole Harbour in 1915. Another brother, William, died during the Battle of Jutland while on HMS Southampton. It is possible that another brother, Frederick, also served in the RMLI but this not clear.

William Harold Hammond

By Ed Perkins

There are two heroes in the story of Poole man William Harold Hammond. One was the shell-shocked soldier, rescued unconscious after being buried alive on the Western Front. The other was his wife, Lillie, who would nurse him till he died.

Longfleet St Mary’s churchyard with William Hammond’s grave in the foreground.

Longfleet St Mary’s churchyard with William Hammond’s grave in the foreground.

William Hammond was born in 1878 and brought up in Kingston upon Thames. The son of a cooper and his schoolmistress wife, he would stay in touch with his family and friends in the Surrey town  for the rest of his life.

His father, Charles, would go on to become the manager of a brewery store and, when grown-up, William followed in his footsteps, moving to Poole to manage the Whitbread brewery store in the Dorset town.

It was while living in Poole, boarding at ‘Tivoli’, a young couple’s home in Parkstone Road, that he was to meet the woman who would become devoted to him.

Her name was Lillie Naomi Ince and she was born in 1881 in the City of London, her mother and father both being in the business of manufacturing umbrellas. Even as a child, Lillie would learn the hard facts of life, for her brother, Oliver, passed away when she was three and her father died when she was seven.

Lillie’s widowed mother moved to Winchester with her daughters and carried on making umbrellas for a living. Lillie grew up there and took a job working as a Post Office telegraphist.

By 1911, like her future husband, she had moved to Poole, boarding with a widow and her daughter in Wimborne Road and working as a clerk at the post office.

Lillie Ince and William Hammond met and fell in love and in that year of 1911, Lillie now 30, and William, 32, married.

The ceremony took place in London’s Hampstead where their marriage certificate shows she was then living, just around the corner from Swiss Cottage.

The newly-weds set up home in Poole in a semi-detached called The Creek in Sterte Esplanade, that had been built around 1906, just a few years before. In those days the Esplanade homes looked out directly over the waters of Holes Bay.

A Russian cannon, said to date back to the Crimean War, looking out over Holes Bay and positioned at Sterte Esplanade, where William and Lillie Hammond lived. Picture: Poole Museum

A Russian cannon, said to date back to the Crimean War, looking out over Holes Bay and positioned at Sterte Esplanade, where William and Lillie Hammond lived. Picture: Poole Museum

Within three years their family grew, for Lillie, on 18 March 1914, gave birth to their only child, a boy they named Harold Brooke Hammond. He was baptised in Parkstone that June.

William carried working as the brewery store manager and, when war broke out in 1914, became a member of what was to become the Dorset Volunteer Regiment. It was a defence unit for volunteers who trained at drill halls in Heckford Park and Weymouth Road, Parkstone,  and who guarded the coast and strategic places at Sandbanks, Hamworthy and other sites across the county, freeing artillery soldiers to be sent to the Front.

Conscription, introduced in January 1916, however, meant that men up to the age of 40 were liable to be called up. In the June of that year, William now 38, married and the father of a boy of just two, enlisted.

His Army record shows that he stood at 5ft 5ins, weighed 9st 4lbs had a 36ins chest and was classed fit for general service, despite his vision in both eyes being 6/9.

It would be more than a year before William was called up for active service with the Royal Field Artillery in June 1917. He was given the rank of Driver and the regimental number 239666.

Driver Hammond was to spend the rest of that year serving in Britain, qualifying as an Army telephonist, before being posted to France two days after Christmas. He disembarked at Le Havre and then went on to the Western Front.

He was in the field in France for the next five or so months. Then, in April 1918, something happened.

‘As a dispatch rider in France he was buried by a shell explosion,’ a note on his medical record explains.

‘Unconscious for a fortnight.’

We know that after being dug out from the shell-hole he was taken to a field hospital, probably in Rouen, suffering from shell shock.

‘He was in ‘a highly-confused state,’ a medical report stated. ‘He talks incessantly. Says his wife must be given £500.’ He was delusional but with ‘no grandiose ideas’.

Tragically, the horrific experience would trigger the re-activation of a disease that he had probably contracted as a much younger man before he married. It had been latent, probably for many years. Common at the time, before the invention of penicillin its final stage would lead to madness and death.

Driver Hammond’s case was ‘aggravated’ by his service, the Army admitted.

He was posted back to Britain for treatment, first to the Army clearing hospital, the Royal Victoria at Netley, near Southampton, where he arrived on 25 May. His Army Pension record shows that he was suffering from ‘confusional insanity’,

Hammond stayed at Netley for a single day before being sent up to Perth in Scotland for treatment at Murthly Military Hospital. He would remain there under treatment for the next five months.

‘On admission he was very confused. Since then there has been a gradual advance of physical symptoms,’ the record reveals.

Eventually, the Army decided he was ‘permanently unfit for was service of any kind’, granted him a weekly pension of 27 shillings and sixpence (£1.38p – worth about £40 a week today) and discharged him.

Before his discharge, his medical report states that the origin of his disability had occurred on 29 April that year in France – around the time he was buried alive.

Diseased, deeply confused and now discharged from the Army, who would look after the shell-shock victim now?

On 25 October 1918, Lillie Hammond took him home.

‘His wife brought him home, hoping that home influences would improve his condition,’ a hand-written note from his Poole doctor, Dr George Smith Small, records.

There, while bringing up their little son alone, Lillie lovingly nursed him through the coming months, over Christmas and deep into the new year.

Poor William’s condition, though, was terminal. Lillie had tenderly nursed him single-handed for 137 days.

As his life neared its end, however, he was finally sectioned and taken off the County Asylum near Dorchester as a ‘person of unsound mind’. Harry Brooks, a Poole JP, signed the admittance form.

He based his judgement on a certificate provided by Dr Small who wrote: ‘He lies in bed with eyes staring, refusing to speak or take notice of anything, hands twitching; keeps muttering to himself.

‘I have had him under supervision since October 1918. He has had three attacks of an epilepsiform nature and, since the last attack, his moods are uncertain and he is difficult to control.’

William’s wife, Lillie, added other facts: ‘He says he is full of disease and in consequence requests to be moved to an isolation hospital. He refuses to shake hands for fear of spreading the disease.

‘When offered food he says: ‘’What is the use ­– I have no mouth’’.

‘Lately he has threatened to lose himself on the sandbank in front of house. At times he has been violent, attempting to get to window.’

His very brief time at the Dorset County Asylum was paid for by the Poole Union, whose Relieving Officer, Harrie [sic] E. Shave understood that William would be placed there ‘with other service men.’

He added in his letter to the hospital: ‘It is a very sad case as they are very respectable people indeed.’

We know from the Dorchester asylum hospital records that, by then, dark-haired William was thin and in poor physical condition. He was not speaking and in a ‘stupitose’ state. It was ‘very difficult to arouse his attention which then ‘wandered’ and was ‘evanescent’.

The evening of the day after his admission, he had a major seizure followed by several other attacks. The next day, semi-conscious, the fits became more frequent and severe and he turned blueish.

In the early hours of 14 March 1919, he grew weaker and died. He was 40 years old.

William Harold Hammond, despite his disease and confusion – his death certificate confirms that the cause of death was what known in those days as General Paralysis of the Insane – had evidently tried his best during his deteriorating condition not to be a nuisance to his caring wife.

She had taken him home that previous October, though ‘it was unwise of her to do so,’ according to Poole Union officer Mr Shave.

‘She has been a faithful nurse and has done everything possible for her husband,’ the local medical man, Dr Small, wrote in his report.

Lillie would remain in the Poole area for the rest of her life. By 1939, she had moved away from The Creek, the house where she had nursed her suffering husband The Creek and now lived in Sheringham Road in Branksome, where she lived with her sister Rhoda, a private nurse, and her son, Harold, now working as an estate agent’s clerk and also an auxiliary fire officer. Harold would later marry and work, for a time at least, as a commercial driver.

Sterte Esplanade today.

Sterte Esplanade today.

Lillie Naomi Hammond passed away in Redhill Park, Bournemouth, in 1963 at the age of 79. The shell-shock that triggered the condition that led to her husband, William’s death, had changed her life.

After his death she had received a widow’s pension from the Army and her late husband was awarded the British War Medal, the Victory Medal and the Silver Badge for his service on the Western Front.

His funeral service, on 20 March 1919, took place at St Mary’s, Longfleet, conducted by the vicar, the Rev Canon Okes Parish. The mourners included his brother Mr F. Hammond, his sister Mrs White, sister-in-law Miss Ince and two friends who came down from Kingston upon Thames where he had grown up.

They heard of how well-known William had been in Poole and the esteem in which he was held.

Poignantly, Lillie was unable to be at the funeral. She was unable to attend ‘through a sudden indisposition,’ the local paper, the Bournemouth Guardian reported.

‘The music included Elgar’s Land of Hope and Glory, which was the piece Mr Hammond had asked his wife to play shortly before his death.’

The Poole and East Dorset Herald reported that week that he ‘died following shell shock in France’.

William was buried in the churchyard outside. He was one of 80,000 men in the war to suffer from shell shock. For them, the trauma did not end when the guns ceased firing.

Today his grave is fittingly tended by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, ensuring the soldier’s service for his country will not be forgotten.

The grave of Driver William Harold Hammond of the Royal Field Artillery.

The grave of Driver William Harold Hammond of the Royal Field Artillery.

Christmas Cards and Postcards

A Culture volunteer working on the Poole History Centre First World War project highlights some Christmas cards and postcards from the Poole History Centre. The volume of letters and cards that went between Britain and the various battle fronts throughout the world was huge and especially at Christmas-time.

‘Windy Corner’ (Poole History Centre)

‘Windy Corner’ (Poole History Centre)

This rather unusual Christmas card, ‘Windy Corner’ with ‘Xmas Greetings from 5th B.S’, is believed to have been sent from someone who served on the Queen Elizabeth battleship HMS Barham. This was the flagship of the 5th Battlecruiser Squadron, commanded by Rear Admiral H. Evan-Thomas, which took part in the Battle of Jutland. The second Christmas card is also apparently of HMS Barham but all that can be seen of the ship is the foremast and control platform. The recipient must have mixed feelings on receiving it!

Christmas Greetings from the North Sea (Poole History Centre)

Greetings from the North Sea (Poole History Centre)

Your King and Country Thank You (Poole History Centre)

Your King and Country Thank You (Poole History Centre)

The ‘Your King and Country Thank You’ Christmas card was sent by the Rev. E. Hounslow, Rector of Hamworthy Church, to Rifleman George Stokes in November 1917. Included was a two page letter describing what the Rector knew about the fortunes of his various parishioners who were in the army and navy.  Many Hamworthy men sent letters to the Rev. Hounslow which he then included in the ‘St Michael’s Parish Magazine’ and this enabled the men to keep in touch with each other and those at home. The Parish magazine notes were often reported in the Poole and East Dorset Herald newspaper. For example, the February 22nd 1917 issue included a short piece from George Stokes who had written from Falmouth saying he was on a Musketry Course. Other Hamworthy men mentioned in the same issue were Sidney Short (who was in Mesopotamia), Sidney White (in a hospital in India), Mr Goff (promoted to a Sergeant), W. Kearley (was in the trenches), D. Wadham (also in the trenches), R.Trace (on a ship), Albert Woodland, F.C. Barnes, H.G. Jeffery, A. Gillingham and Charlie Mitchener. E. Gurd, who was stationed in Salonika, looked forward to receiving the Parish Magazine every month because of the news it contained.

Christmas card from 25th Battalion Rifle Brigade

Christmas card from 25th Battalion Rifle Brigade

This plain Christmas card was sent home by George Stokes while on service with the 25th Battalion Rifle Brigade. Inside is a simple printed greeting and then a very brief history of the 25th and a colour illustration of the 1808 Christmas during the Peninsular War.

Postcards of the era often conveyed the feelings of absence and longing that many felt.

Greetings from Hamworthy (Poole History Centre)

Greetings from Hamworthy (Poole History Centre)

I’m thinking of you at Bournemouth (Poole History Centre)

I’m thinking of you at Bournemouth (Poole History Centre)

The postcard ‘thinking of you’ was sent to Rifleman George Stokes while he was in ‘B’ Company, 13th Rifle Brigade in France and is postmarked 12 August 1918.


Can you help identify the people in this First World War photograph?

A Culture volunteer working on the Poole History Centre First World War project has explored the background to a photograph from the Poole History Centre.

16 Women and 6 sailors from Hamworthy Base (G9_0001 Poole History Centre)

16 Women and 6 sailors from Hamworthy Base (G9_0001 Poole History Centre)

This wonderful formal photograph shows 16 women and 6 sailors – plus one dog. The hat band of three of the sailors shows that they served on HMS White Oak. Rather confusingly, White Oak was the name of the Poole depot ship for mine net drifters and also that of a drifter that was hired for the duration of the war which sailed from Poole. The other rating’s hat band is unclear but could be HMS Panther? All the women are wearing a distinctive triangular badge which has been identified as the women’s ‘On War Service’ badge. This was introduced in 1916 for women munition workers to show that they were on war work. But who are the women?

They could be members of the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS) from the Hamworthy base. However, the Poole History Centre has a photograph of Winifred Newman, who served with the WRNS, and the cap is very different to those in the main photograph.

Winifred Newman (G9_0003 Poole History Centre)

Winifred Newman (G9_0003 Poole History Centre)

Winifred Newman was born in Hamworthy and enlisted in the WRNS on August 22nd 1918. She was assigned to White Oak as a ‘Net Mine Worker’, ie someone who worked on the nets used against mines. Net mine workers were part of what was known as the Miscellaneous Branch of the WRNS which included diverse roles, such as bakers, gardeners, and pigeon women. The Imperial War Museum has two photographs of WRNS Net Mine Workers who are wiring glass floats onto nets. They all are wearing a white cap with a black brim and a black hat band with ‘W.R.N.S.’, and the very distinctive dark collar with the dark flap with white stripes associated with the Royal Navy.

Poole History Centre has a photograph of Elsie Stokes who worked at the Royal Naval Ordnance Factory at Holton Heath. The uniform is the same as that in the main photograph – the only difference is that she is not wearing the ‘On War Service’ badge.

Elsie Stokes with munition shell (Poole History Centre)

Aged in her mid 20’s, Elsie Stokes During the 1914-18 War Holding a Munition Shell, she worked at Holton Heath. (Poole History Centre)

So who are the women in the main photograph? Are they:

  • munition workers from the Royal Naval Cordite Factory. It was quite common for munition workers to be in photographed in formal pictures as it was felt to be inspiring.
  • WRNS from the Hamworthy base. The formality of the photograph suggests that they were they would be wearing a WRNS cap and all except one have white collars.
  • Or, which is more likely, they are munition workers from the Hamworthy naval base and the photograph predates the formation of the WRNS, which officially came into being in November 1917.

Can you help identify any of the women and men in the photograph? It would make the image more than just a wonderful photograph.

Poole man injured in Russia

Arthur George Leaton was a survivor. They sent him to fight at Gallipoli, where he was badly wounded. Then they sent him to fight in Russia after the Bolshevik Revolution where he was wounded again.

But, despite his injuries, he came through it all.

Leaton – usually known as George – was no stranger to tough times. His mother, Elizabeth, had been widowed before he was born and she was widowed again while he was very young.

Arthur George Leaton was the son of Elizabeth Leaton who came from old Poole stock. Her maiden name had been Coombs and, as a child, she and four siblings had all been christened at St Paul’s Church in the High Street on the same day. Later, Elizabeth had married a man called John Wilson with whom she had four children before he passed away.

Still young, the widowed Elizabeth became pregnant again and she and George Leaton, a maltster, became husband and wife at St James Church in Poole on 14 September 1895. Their son, Arthur George was born in Poole and baptised at the parish church on 26 January 1896.

His father must have died soon after for Elizabeth, described as a widow, married for the third time, again at St James Church, on 5 November 1899. Arthur George was only three years old.

Elizabeth was 32 and her new husband, George Christopher, a labourer, was a few years younger. They, too, would have children together and Arthur George would end up, it is believed, with at least seven step-brothers and sisters.

Their home was in Thames Street, a poor part of town. When Arthur George was nine he found himself up before the magistrates. His crime? Thieving lumps of coal.

The lad was accused, along with another boy, of stealing 50lb of coal in a bucket and a bag from a railway truck by Poole Quay. They were spotted in a group of 20 leaving the coal truck and a constable subsequently found the 7d-worth of coal (3p-worth then, with a purchasing power of about £2.30p today) left under the wall of the nearby pottery.

It was the boys’ first offence and they were dismissed by the court on payment of costs of 4s 6d (23p, worth around £21 in 2019).

By the time he was 13, if not before, Arthur George was sent away to a Dorset county industrial school at Milborne St Andrew to learn the trade of shoemaker.

Unfortunately, it led to his step-father George Christopher, being called up before the petty sessions himself… for failing to pay the contributions for his Arthur George to be there. He was 12 weeks in arrears and ordered to pay up or face a month in prison.

It would seem he paid up for Arthur George was still marked down as an ‘inmate’ at the school in the 1911 Census.

By the time the war broke out in 1914, however, Arthur George had left the industrial school and was now working for a Mr J. King at Tolpuddle, giving his profession as ‘farmer’. (A Mr James King, living in a private house in Tolpuddle was a cattle dealer, married with two children.)

Arthur George Leaton volunteered to fight soon after war was declared in 1914. He was 18, though he told the Army he was 21, possibly knowing that at 18 he was not eligible to be sent to the front.

He enlisted with the Dorset Yeomanry, naming his mum, Mrs Elizabeth Christopher, of Levets Lane, Market Street, Poole, as his next of kin.

After being posted to Egypt, he was sent on to the Dardanelles where the British sought to end the deadlock in the Battle of Gallipoli against the Turkish enemy.

Private Leaton and his Dorset Yeomanry comrades landed at Suvla Bay as part of a British offensive. It failed dismally and he was hit twice. A gunshot wound entered under his right shoulder and shrapnel caused a severe flesh wound on his chest.

Invalided, he was put on a ship bound for Blighty and was treated at the Royal Victoria military hospital at Netley near Southampton.

Once recovered, Private Leaton returned to his regiment (though found himself in hospital again two years later as a result of contracting a disease common at the time among soldiers.)

As the war neared its end, Private Leaton had another dose of bad luck. The Bolshevik Revolution that overthrew the Tsar had taken place in Russia the year before. The new Bolshevik government had swiftly withdrawn Russia from the war that had cost the country around two million lives. But a brutal civil war now raged.

Leaton was transferred to the 17th Battalion of the King’s Liverpool Regiment and posted east in support of the anti-communist forces known as the ‘White’ Russian Army. The battalion sailed from Glasgow to Murmansk and then Archangel on 11 October – exactly one month before the Armistice that would end the First World War. But the fighting in Russia did not end. Leaton’s battalion would remain there for the next year until Britain withdrew support for the ‘White’ Russians.

Long before then, in March 1919, Private Arthur George Leaton was injured again. This time he was suffered ‘gunshot wounds’ in the arm and thigh.

Two months later, his local paper, the Poole and East Dorset Herald, carried a report stating that his mother had received notification that he was injured again but she was not told which hospital he was in. It was headlined, ‘Poole man injured in Russia’.

Arthur George Leaton Poole Herald 8 May 1919

Arthur George Leaton Poole Herald 8 May 1919

In fact, the wound this time, it seems, was not so serious for George Leaton was soon able to rejoin his battalion before being sent back to Britain to be demobbed at last.

A medical examination revealed that he had two large circular scars, one ‘the size of the palm of a hand’ around his right armpit. He complained, too, of still suffering from shortness of breath and a pricking sensation at the seat of the wound. The Army, however, marked down his degree of disability as ‘Nil’.

Private Arthur George Leaton had served with the colours for four years and 315 days, including a year and 44 days abroad. During that time, his weight had gone down from 10 stone 4lbs to nine stone 9lbs. For his service, he received the three First World War campaign medals, the Victory, the British War and the 1914-1915 Star, awarded to the British soldiers known as Old Contemptibles, who had been in the war since virtually the start. (They were nicknamed ‘Pip, Squeak and Wilfrid’ after a newspaper cartoon characters of the time.)

Two years after he returned to Poole, Arthur George Leaton, now 24, married. The ceremony took place at St John’s in Wimborne near Leigh Road near the home of his young bride, Agnes Longman, the daughter of a widowed laundry woman.

The couple set up home at 29b West Street, close to where Arthur George’s mother and step-father still had their home in Levets Lane. The young Leatons later lived at Barber’s Piles near the Quay before returning to West Street, setting up home at number 47.

It is believed Agnes and George had six children, though two, tragically, would die in infancy. Agnes, too, would die young. She passed away in Poole in 1938 at the age of just 35.

Widowed, Arthur George and his family were still living in their West Street home when the Second World War broke out. By then, he had a job as a cordite worker.

Before that war was over, in early 1943 he married again in Poole. He was still only 47 years old. His bride was a 37-year-old Poole woman called Doris Amy Bartlett who had worked as a housemaid at St Ann’s Sanatorium.

Arthur George passed away on 29 November 1982 when living in Legion’s Close in Hamworthy, four years after the death of Doris, his second wife.

Despite the wounds he had suffered in the First World War and after, he lived to the age of 86.



The war did not end in 1918 for some

While the Armistice was declared on November 11th 1918 and the fighting ceased on the Western Front there were other conflicts that continued for several more years. Typical is the involvement in the Civil War in Russia. A Culture volunteer working on the Poole History Centre First World War project attempts to unravel the involvement of Poole men and those from the Dorset Regiment in that conflict.

After Russia declared peace with Germany following the overthrow of Tsar Nicholas there were concerns that Archangel and Murmansk in North Russia could be used by German submarines. A multi-national Allied force occupied both places in mid-1918 but could not leave Archangel when the Armistice was signed a few months later because the sea was frozen. The force had provided food for the locals who were starving and had also helped anti-Bolshevik forces. The latter involvement was because of concern that the rise of Communism would lead to unrest in many European countries.

In early 1919, it was decided to send a British Relief Expeditionary force to get the British troops out of Archangel, many who were due for demobilisation, and also to assist anti-Bolshevik forces. The 1st Battalion, Dorsetshire Regiment became part of the First North Russia Relief Force by becoming ‘Y’ Company in the 2nd Hampshire Regiment.

Nine officers and 240 men from the Dorsets, along with the rest of the Force, set sail from Tilbury on May 13th 1919 on an ‘uneventful’ journey and arrived in Archangel on May 27th. They were welcomed with a civic reception which included the traditional bread and salt. The History of the Dorsetshire Regiment describes briefly how they then travelled by barge, which were pulled by steamships, along the River Dwina to Kurgomen; a journey of four days. It was a quiet period as the Bolsheviks had few shells. What struck the soldiers most was that the block-houses in which they were billeted were full of equipment from all different nations.

The History of the Dorsetshire Regiment goes on to describe the ‘Topsa-Troitza action’ in support of the anti-Bolshevik White Russian forces. One problem was the terrain they had to cross was marsh-like and ‘not very attractive’. The mules carrying ammunition could not cope and ‘Y’ Company spent much of its time carrying ammunition to the troops in action. The Dorsets did not get involved in the actual fighting which was abandoned after a while. A withdrawal followed which was ‘very trying’ as they could only manage around 1mph because of the conditions. The Dorsets acted as a rear-guard and had two men wounded. The limited success of the action was overturned when several companies of a supporting Russian Battalion mutinied.

Action of sorts was also seen on the Volgoda Railway and the ‘front’ was advanced to Yemsta but these were highly confusing skirmishes with uncertainty over who was fighting whom and why; because of this the British announced on August 8th that they would leave North Russia. September 17th saw ‘Y’ Company leaving Yemsta and make a difficult journey to base before sailing from North Russia on the 27th. By October 8th they had arrived in Crowborough, England.

The History of the Dorsetshire Regiment summed up the involvement in North Russia – ‘as has so often happened, intervention in another country’s internal troubles had proved unsuccessful’. ‘The northern lights by night made a wonderful and awe-inspiring sight’ but the food was ‘poor’ – often just bully beef and biscuit and lime juice was issued to provide Vitamin C.

There was also a naval involvement in North Russia. Various ships saw action including the sea-plane carrier HMS Vindictive on which Able Seaman Reginald Vincent of Poole served. The ship sailed to Baltic in 1919 where it was involved in the multi-national action against the Bolsheviks and its seaplanes attacked the Soviet fleet at Kronstadt on August 18th 1919. It is believed that HMS Vindictive left the Baltic at the end of 1919. Vincent went on home leave in February 1920 and returned to duty where he got influenza which developed into pneumonia. He died on March 16th 1920 at the Royal Naval Hospital, Gosport and is buried in All Saint’s Churchyard, Branksome.

There were also limited actions in South Russia which were connected with the Civil War but also to stop Russian expansion into Persia.

The Poole and East Dorset Herald reported in late October 1920 that Mr Hutchings of Wimborne Road, Poole was expecting the return of his son, Leading Signalmen William Alfred Hutchings after he was arrested by the Bolsheviks. Hutchings was a volunteer in a group of thirty men that were carrying out ‘reconnaissance work’ around the Caspian Sea on what was known as the ‘Enzeli Expedition’. He had been taken prisoner in April 1920 and was understood to be amongst fifty men who were held in Baku prison. The conditions in which they were held were described as ‘appalling’. The British Government had been attempting to get them released and hopes had been raised after the Russian Government offered an exchange of prisoners. Hutchings was released in November and eventually returned home.

Private George Leaton, whose parents lived on Everett’s Lane, Poole, was reported as being wounded in Russia in March 1919 while serving in the King’s Liverpool Regiment. The newspaper report does not describe where. He had served in the 1st Dorset Yeomanry during the First World War where he had been wounded in 1915.

Private James Bungay was one of several thousand British troops sent to intervene in the Siberian Campaign. The situation in Siberia was highly confused following the overthrow of the Tsar and the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with an anti-Bolshevik Siberian Republic being declared in December 1917. The Czech Legion, formed of former POWs and now supporting the Allies, had found itself in Siberia in their campaign for an independent Czechoslovakia. The American President, Woodrow Wilson, suggested that Japanese troops could assist the Czech Legion in Vladivostock. A Japanese force did land in early 1918 and was followed by various British detachments and a large Canadian force. Vladivostock was declared an Allied Protectorate on July 6th 1918 and on July 10th it was announced that a British regiment would sail from Hong Kong in support. The Allied troops fighting alongside the White Russians in Siberia were from all nations; mainly Japanese and Czechoslovakian, supported by Canadian, French, American, Chinese, Italian and British forces. It is estimated that there were 120,000 troops in Siberia but by early 1919 the early successes were overturned and a withdrawal followed. British and Japanese troops left in the winter of 1919 and Czechoslovakian troops in early 1920.
Private Bungay’s mother, Jane, of Commercial Road, Parkstone received a telegram telling her that James had died at St Stilos, Vladivostok. James Bungay had joined the Hampshire Regiment in 1914 and served for four years in India. He also spent time with the Bedfordshire Regiment. He was then transferred to the 25th Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment with whom he was posted to Russia.
‘The first intimation that anything was amiss came with a cable saying he was seriously ill (from influenza and pneumonia),’ reported the Poole and East Dorset Herald. He died of a kidney infection on February 9th 1919 and is buried in the Churkin Russian Naval Cemetery,

George Edward Ford – a survivor of Gallipoli

The Gallipoli Campaign took place between February 1915 and January 1916. Winston Churchill’s plan was for a massive naval bombardment of the Turkish guns controlling the Dardanelles and a landing at Gallipoli. The aim was to get Turkey, an ally of Germany, to surrender, open another front and provide a route to assist the Russian forces.

Remarkably, the Poole Museum has a pencil sketch by Poole man, George E. Ford, which he did in 1915 while he was at ANZAC Cove on Gallipoli. The sketch is a view from a dugout looking out to sea with three ships at anchor. One of the ships looks like a pre-dreadnought-type warship, with the distinctive tall wireless masts, while the other two are probably supply ships. Piles of ration boxes and a lighter are on the beach. According to the description accompanying the drawing, the dugout was totally destroyed by a shell not long after the sketch was done.

Sketch. Anzac Cove. Gallipoli 1915. By George E. Ford [Poole Museum]

Sketch. Anzac Cove. Gallipoli 1915. By George E. Ford [Poole Museum]

George Ford attested ‘for the duration of the conflict’ on February 9th 1915 at Bournemouth. He lived in Seldown, Poole and was aged 24 ½ years. He married Elizabeth Muriel Belben in March 1913. They had a young son, Bernard, who was born on October 11th 1914 but sadly died in 1915 and is buried in Longfleet.

George Ford joined the Royal Army Service Corps as a clerk. His trade in Poole was recorded as a draughtsman in the pottery trade although another source says clerk. His service record shows that he:

  • Embarked on HMS Terrible from Portsmouth (September 16th 1915)

HMS Terrible was a Powerful-class cruiser launched in 1895. She was put up for sale in 1914 but the advent of the war brought her back into service. The journey on which Ford travelled was the only one the ship made before it became a depot ship.

  • Disembarked Mudros (October 5th 1915)

Mudros was a small port on the island of Lemnos in the Aegean Sea. It became one of the busiest ports in the world during the Gallipoli campaign and was overwhelmed in the ensuing chaos. Supply ships even returned to England with their cargos intact. Ironically, the system delivered vast quantities of rations to Gallipoli just as the evacuation of the troops was taking place and according to one German general it took nearly two years to remove everything that had been left.

  • Posted to 179, D.U.S. Anzac (October 5th 1915)

Anzac Cove was the official name of Z Beach. When Australian and New Zealand (ANZAC) troops were landed on Z Beach in April 1915 they found that instead of a fairly level hinterland they were under a 200ft cliff. A navigational error meant they had been landed at the wrong place. Chaos ensued and General Birdwood requested permission to withdraw but was overruled by General Hamilton who was in overall command. Any ships off the beachhead were hit by artillery fire from behind the cliff and, therefore, they had to move further away. Wounded were taken out on lighters which should have been bringing in troops and supplies and the last battalion landed 4 hours later than planned. It was said that ‘the whole plan for the landing had fallen to pieces’. The personnel who were supposed to control the beach were landed 6 hours after the original landing.

  • Sailed on the SS Grampian from Mudros to Alexandria (January 4th 1916)

Early December 1915 saw the evacuation of tens of thousands of troops from Gallipoli and the remainder left in early January 1916. In contrast to the landings, the evacuation was remarkably successful.

SS Grampian was built in Scotland in 1907 for the Allan Line Royal Mail Steamers before the company was bought by the Canadian Pacific Steamship company. It was used during the First World War as a troop transport ship.

            –  Promoted to Corporal (April 11th 1916) and then Sergeant (April 1st 1917)       during his time in the Middle East.

The only blemish on his military career was when he was severely reprimanded for delaying military correspondence while in the field on October 10th 1917.   He delayed showing a telegram for 17 1/4hrs.

  • Admitted to 76th CCS Hospital (August 10th 1918)

CCS = Casualty Clearing Station. The 76th was based in Palestine. Ford was discharged about a week later.

  • Promoted to Staff Sergeant (November 1st 1918)
  • Embarked on H.T. Caledonia to UK (May 14th 1919)

This was for a 3 weeks furlough on compassionate grounds – the reason is not known.

  • Taken off strength of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force on expiration of furlough (June 28th 1919)

George Ford’s time in the army was at an end. The 1939 register records him living at 10, Seldown Road, Poole together with his wife, Elizabeth Muriel and son, Reginald, who was born in 1920. George was working as a book-keeper for a wholesale fruiterer while Reginald was a storekeeper.

The involvement of men from the Dorset Regiment in the Gallipoli Campaign will be described in a future post.



What was it like being a POW on the Western Front?

Becoming a prisoner-of-war was a risky business. You had to hope that the enemy, who probably moments before you were trying to kill, would now look kindly on you. One soldier said that ‘chivalry diminished according to a kind of graduated scale’ –soldiers in certain units, because of what they did, were less likely to be taken prisoner than others. You then had to make your way through enemy lines that were probably being shelled and attacked by your own side.

The Poole and East Dorset Herald newspaper had a few letters passed on to it by relatives of Poole, or Dorset Regiment, men who were prisoners-of-war on the Western Front. A Culture volunteer working on the Poole History Centre First World project describes their experiences which varied quite wildly.

In November 1914, Private James, of Pile Court, Poole wrote to say he was a POW in Weser, that he was ‘having a good time’ and recommended not ‘taking notice’ of what was being said in the newspapers. He said that there were quite a few Poole men in the camp. This must have included Private James Houghton who was captured, along with 200 others, on October 13th 1914 and wrote that he was now in Hamelm, Weser. He said he was alright but would welcome cigarettes and cake. His father was Mr J. Houghton of the Brewers Arms, Poole.

Private Charles Beale, Dorset Regiment, had been wounded and, on recovery, had been sent back to the fighting. He was taken prisoner towards the end of 1914. In a letter to his mother, who lived in Nile Row, Poole, he said that she was not to worry – ‘I am quite happy’ but he would welcome chocolates and cakes. He understood that the Poole Working Men’s Club was going to send him a parcel of tobacco and clothes.

 In stark contrast to Private James’ pleasant experience is that of Private H. Ripley of the 1st Dorsets who actually escaped from a POW camp. He described his experience of being a POW to the ‘Hampshire Telegraph and Post’ in August 1916. Ripley went over to France with the British Expeditionary Force and fought at the Battle of Mons. He was taken prisoner near La Bassee on October 22nd 1914. He was then taken to Douai where he was held in barracks for seven days along with many others and the ‘treatment [was] too filthy and disgusting to describe’. They were then sent in railway trucks to Germany with around 70 men in each truck and nothing to eat or drink. The journey took two days. They were then put in a temporary camp where they were given a piece of sausage and a bit of black bread. After a short stay, they were sent on to Dortmund to work in the coal mines. A few days later, they refused to do the work which they felt was contributing to the death of their fellow servicemen. ‘They knocked us about’ but in the end their captors asked if they would be willing to work in the woods near Munster. He worked there for several months before being sent, along with a small group of men, to join several hundred French and Russian prisoners working in the coal mines. The British soldiers refused and were punished by being forced to stand to attention against a wall for 10 hours a day with hardly any food. The effects of starvation and exhaustion meant they had to give in a week later. It was shortly after this that Ripley decided to escape. The newspaper article, as reported in the Poole and East Dorset Herald, unfortunately does not describe how he escaped and made his way back to England.

Several men were transferred to Switzerland in either a prisoner exchange or because they were seriously wounded. Towards the end of 1914, Private E.G. Langdown sent a postcard to his wife who lived in Garland Road, Longfleet. He was a POW at Sennelager, Paderborn and wanted his wife to send him cake, jam, biscuits, chocolate and similar but that no letter should be included. His wife learnt in January 1917 that he had been in Paderborn since August 23rd 1914 but had then been transferred to Switzerland because he was very ill. He said he was now staying at a very nice hotel in the Swiss Alps. Interestingly, Mrs Langdown’s house was called ‘Mons’, presumably after the battle in which her husband was captured.

Sergeant-Drummer F.J. Bowditch, ‘a native of Poole’, who was an interned POW in Switzerland sent a letter home at the beginning of 1917 requesting that a six-key E Flat piccolo be sent to him at the Hotel Berthod, Chateau-de-Oex. The reason was that he needed it to play in an orchestra that was being created. His injuries meant that he required two sticks to be able to walk and was expecting to have more surgery. Christmas 1916 had been a pleasant time with a Christmas tree, concert, a film show and afternoon tea – ‘we couldn’t have had a better day’s enjoyment’.

The conditions under which POWs were held deteriorated significantly as the war progressed because the Royal Navy blockade was leading to widespread starvation in Germany. The Dorset Guild of Workers had a Prisoners of War Fund which was specifically aimed at providing food and clothing for Dorset Regiment prisoners of war. In June 1917, a view was expressed that if POWs in Germany did not receive food parcels from organisations such as the Dorset Guild ‘these men would starve’.

The Guild supplied parcels for Dorset Regiment men in captivity and subscribers could ‘adopt’ a prisoner at 5s (25p) per week but this increased as the price of materials went up. A special effort was made to send them parcels at Christmas.

A POW wrote in February 1917, after being exchanged and interned in Switzerland, to express his thanks for the parcels from the Dorset Guild which he had received when he was a POW in Germany. ‘Dorset soldiers receiving parcels from the Guild are well satisfied…it is a good parcel to look forward’.

 Comments from other Dorset POWs said the parcels were ‘exceedingly good and I am very grateful’; ‘they come very nice, and regularly, but do want some soap badly’. One man was puzzled he had received no bread but was pleased with his parcels of boots and clothing. Supplies of bread were from a Central Committee and went via Copenhagen and it was believed that the problems were in Germany. Although an improvement was noted in March 1917, a year later it was said that the German postal system was working badly and that Austrian postal system had collapsed which affected parcels for POWs in Bulgaria and Turkey.

It is estimated that nearly 7,000 officers and 170,000 other ranks were either prisoners-of-war or were interned in a country that was neutral. The experience of Captain Esler, R.A.M.C., highlights how their fortunes could change.   He was held in a POW camp near Baden where he slept on straw riddled with lice and subsisted on a starvation diet. He was then transferred to a POW camp on the Baltic Coast. The contrast could not be more startling. Here they had blankets and sheets, cooking facilities, a recreation hut and entertainments. They received so many food parcels via organisations such as the British Red Cross that they began to give food to the camp guards who were starving.

What did Poole schools do in the First World War?

A Culture volunteer on the Poole First World War project has looked at the articles in the Poole and East Dorset Herald newspaper to discover what schools were doing during the war. This ranged from practical, such as collecting acorns, to financial, through war savings.

Unrestricted submarine warfare led to the introduction of rationing because of the loss of a significant number of merchant ships carrying food. Schools throughout the country were asked to either create, or enlarge existing, gardens to grow food and, interestingly, medicinal plants. Nationally, 806 new school gardens were created.

Teachers were also encouraged to educate children in using food sources from the natural environment. For example, blackberry picking took on a new urgency. During the First World War, Dorset schools are believed to have collected around 91 tons to turn into jam. However, with sugar becoming in short supply from the end of 1917, it became increasingly difficult to obtain enough for jam making.

The natural environment was also used to provide material for commercial use. Scientists had developed a fermentation process that converted grain into acetone for use in cordite manufacture but the pressing need for food meant that an alternative to grain was needed. The Royal Naval Cordite Factory at Holton Heath had built a manufacturing facility for turning acorns into acetone but a huge quantity was needed and adverts were placed in newspapers encouraging people to help. The Ministry of Munitions asked that councils would permit schools to collect acorns and an official from Holton Heath visited Hamworthy School in October 1917 to encourage the schoolchildren.

Other schools in Poole were also active in foraging for acorns. It was reported in November 1917 that schoolchildren at Longfleet School had collected 3 ½ tons of acorns while pupils at Poole Secondary School had amassed 4 tons of acorns. The Mayoress of Poole, who was handing out prizes at the Secondary School’s awards ceremony, said she proposed to give an acorn-shaped item of jewellery to a pupil, Winnie Durant, because of the number of acorns she had collected. Broadstone Council School had gathered 100 bushels of acorns and 20 bushels of horse chestnuts (total weight 3 tons). George Aldridge was the star pupil having collected 2 ½ cwt. (Cwt = hundredweight, an old measure of weight).

As well as acorns, schoolchildren were encouraged to collect horse chestnuts. It was claimed that 200,000 tons of horse chestnuts would be the equivalent of 100,000 tons of grain. It was noted that the nuts were not suitable for eating and only those that had fallen were to be collected. Horse chestnuts could also be turned into cattle cake to feed livestock and the Food Production Department in London announced it would pay £4 per ton of horse chestnuts.

The need for charcoal to be used as an absorbent in gas masks led to an appeal from the National Salvage Council for everyone to collect nut shells and fruits stones. These would then be converted into charcoal. The shortage was so acute, and the demand so great, that the Government considered importing charcoal from abroad. It was accepted that fruit was in short supply but it was hoped that hundreds of tons a week could be collected nationally. Schoolchildren were encouraged to collect as many as they could.

Eggs were in great demand from military hospitals in Britain and on the Western Front. In late 1914, a National Egg Collection was instituted which hoped to collect 200,000 eggs every week. There were around 1,000 depots throughout the country to receive them and transport by rail was free. The vast quantity of eggs donated shows how many people kept chickens at the time. Pupils at Heatherlands Boys School, Upper Parkstone collected around 300 eggs for soldiers who were in the Poole Red Cross Hospital when the school held a special ‘Egg Day’ in 1915.

The financial cost of the war was substantial. The War Budget in November 1914 raised income tax from 9d to 1s (5p) for every earned pound and from 1s 3d to 1s 8d (9p) on unearned income. Beer duty was increased from 7s 9d a barrel to 25s (£2.25p). Surprisingly, the duty on tea was also increased from 5d to 8d (4p) for a pound of tea.  A War Loan of £350,000,000 was to be issued which was only expected to fund the war until July 1915. There followed extensive advertising and encouragement to take up War Bonds and Savings Certificates and the entire community, including schools, was involved in raising funds.

Schools in Poole contributed in many different ways towards the war effort. A newspaper article in May 1917 reported on the activities of Hamworthy Schools. The Schools had sent 192 eggs to the National Egg Collection, collected £1 15s (£1.75p) for gifts for soldiers and sailors, and, since January 1917, the War Savings Association had subscribed nearly £105 from 114 members. At a prize-giving, each child who had a good attendance received six penny War Savings stamps which could be added to their Savings cards.

The Harvest Festival of South Road Girls’ School, Poole, in October 1914 had a war theme. The bunting with the colours of the Allied armies decorated the school and numerous hymns were sung followed by the National Anthems of the Allies. Needlework, fruit, vegetables, and fancy work were on sale with all the money going to the War Fund. Teachers and schoolchildren had already given knitted items for soldiers and the parents had provided clothing for refugees from Belgium.

One way of encouraging people to take up the savings needed to fund the war was to have towns and cities visited by the remarkable British invention – the tank. There was even a competition to see which place could raise the most per head of population who would then receive a tank as a gift.

When the Tank was on Poole Quay

When the Tank was on Poole Quay

Schoolchildren at Poole Secondary School purchased 1,341 war savings certificates raising £1039 5s 6d during the Poole Tank Week. The local newspaper described their efforts as ‘most creditable and gratifying’. The tank visited various places in Poole, such as the Quay, Lower Parkstone, and Constitution Hill, to raise money for National War Bonds and War Savings Certificates – ‘the soundest and safest investment in the world’. The tank was on display in Poole Park on the Wednesday which was designated ‘Children’s Day’ and schoolchildren carried flags as they marched from their respective schools to the tank. Children who had paid their contribution to the School War Savings Association had their certificate stamped with a souvenir stamp. Music was also provided at the event.

For a while, the Poole and East Dorset Herald newspaper had a ‘Children’s Circle’ to which children were encouraged to send stories, jokes, riddles, and poetry. The following are two examples of poetry from October 1914 and the sentiments expressed are quite surprising given the age of the writers.


Nellie Brett's Poem

Nellie Brett’s Poem

Nellie Brett was 11 when she wrote her poem. She lived at 16, East Street, Poole along with her mother, two brothers and three sisters. Nellie’s father, George Reuben Brett was a seaman most of his life and served in the Royal Naval Reserve.

He survived the war as did her brother, Frederick George, who was a tailor’s errand boy before also serving in the Royal Naval Reserve. Her poem was considered so good that it received a book as a prize.


Alice Elgar's poem

Alice Elgar’s poem


Alice Elgar was also 11 when she submitted her poem. She lived at 1, Perry Gardens Terrace, Poole and her father, Edward, was a fishtrader.

Perhaps a legacy of the First World War is the concept of volunteering. Schools were very involved. Local organisations, such as the Dorset Guild of Workers (see a previous post) did some amazing work. There are also unexpected surprises. For example, a letter from Lady Jellicoe, wife of Admiral Jellicoe, appeared in the Poole and East Dorset Herald. It said that the Royal Navy did not have enough blankets, warm clothing or oilskins for its sailors – please donate. In contrast, Miss Gladys Storey organised a charity that for over 5 years provided ‘hot’ Bovril for the troops on the Western Front from the beginning of the war and into 1919 for the troops in North Russia.

So why not do your bit? Poole Museum needs you! Contact the Museum for details on how to volunteer.


The war grave of Lily Scammell

By Ed Perkins.

In a quiet churchyard in Poole, lies the grave of Lily Emma Scammell, who died in the First World War.

Although commemorated as one of the war dead with her gravestone maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Lily did not lose her life as a result of enemy action. But though she may not have been a heroine, she was certainly a pioneer, who died when comparatively young.

For Lily served in the First World War as one of the earliest members of the Women’s Royal Air Force, joining it in 1918. And she passed away that same year of an abdominal infection at her home in Alder Road, Poole, at the age of just 45.

Lily was born in the village of West Tytherley in Hampshire, the daughter of Thomas and Elizabeth Scammell. Thomas was a carpenter.

By the time Lily was seven, the Scammell family had moved to Poole, close to the Woodman Tavern in what is now part of Branksome.

Two years later, around the same time as the Scammells’ youngest child, Sidney, was born, the children’s father, Thomas, died, aged 49. He was buried in January 1883 at Branksome Park. His widow, Elizabeth, was left to look after their six children, including the new-born baby.

After she grew up, Lily, the oldest of two daughters, was to have a number of jobs. At 18, she was working as a housemaid at the home of a family, living in Burton Road, Branksome Park.

Ten years later, she is listed as a waitress at a restaurant and was now living back with her family at Firwood, Langley Road, in Parkstone, just off the Bournemouth Road.

Soon afterwards, Elizabeth, her youngest boy, Sidney, and daughter Lily moved to another home called ‘Ranelagh’ in nearby Alder Road. By now, Sidney was working on the corporation trams and Lily was in domestic service.

In 1914, the year the First World War broke out, Lily’s mother died at the age of about 74. Like her husband, she was buried in Branksome Park.

The war saw aircraft being used for the first time in conflict and, as the conflict progressed, more and more military planes were taking to the skies. Before the war ended, in the early spring of 1918, the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service merged to form the RAF, with the Women’s Royal Air Force alongside.

At the time of the merger, 9,000 women – many of whom were already in military service – joined the new WRAF.

Two months later, Lily Scammell, too, enlisted in the WRAF. Her age was recorded as 42, though she was three years older.

She had followed her younger brother into the service for Sidney served as a private in the RAF’s Kite Balloon Section.

Lily worked as a seamstress with the WRAF and was stationed at the Beaulieu airfield at East Boldre in the New Forest. Women in the WRAF had the rank of Member and she was given the service number of 9239.

RAF Beaulieu was a training airfield that expanded greatly during the course of the war. In the year Lily enrolled there it, it had huge aircraft hangars, workshops covering everything from carpentry to welding, and accommodation buildings that included one for specifically for women in the WRAF.

Many squadrons passed through the training airfield, some before going to the Western Front. Pilot training was dangerous in itself and 41 airmen are believed to have died in accidents at East Boldre.

Women carried out many tasks at RAF Beaulieu, according to the East Boldre Parish Council website .

‘By early 1918,’ it says, ‘women were performing several vital roles. Some were lorry drivers, or officers’ chauffeurs while others worked in the workshop, which was also on the north side of the road.

‘This workshop comprised a Sewing Room where the material was stitched onto the wings, and a Doping Room where the material was ‘dipped’ in stiffener. It was a terrible place to work due to the fumes given off by the dope.’

As a seamstress, it is likely that Lily Scammell worked in the Sewing Room.

Stitching on a First World War SE5a fighter. Lily Scammell would have been involved in this sort of work at Beaulieu airfield. Picture: East Boldre Village Hall & Geoff Tomlinson

Stitching on a First World War SE5a fighter. Lily Scammell would have been involved in this sort of work at Beaulieu airfield. Picture: East Boldre Village Hall & Geoff Tomlinson

Lily had enrolled for duty with 17th Wing at RAF Beaulieu on 3 June 1918. Just 80 days later, she died back at her Alder Road, Poole, home. Her younger sister, Ida, was at her side.

The cause of death was given as ‘Tubercular Peritonitis’ – an inflammation of the abdominal lining causing severe pain. Her death certificate also included the words ‘Five months’, suggesting she may have been suffering even before she joined up.

Her funeral took place days later with Lily’s brother, Frank, liaising with the War Graves Commission. The service was conducted by the Rev Charles Arthur Strange, a clergyman from St Clement’s Church in Boscombe, whose brother, the Rev Geoffrey Lionel Strange, was a minister at All Saints.

Lily was buried under the shade of trees in the north of All Saints churchyard at Branksome Park, not far from where her mother and father had been laid to rest.

Close-up of Lily Scammell’s grave, maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Close-up of Lily Scammell’s grave, maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission

At St Nicholas’s Chapel in York Minster, her name is included in the roll of honour of more than 1,500 women who died in the First World War, recorded on oak panels on a screen.

York Minster memorial

York Minster memorial