Coughs and sneezes spread diseases

The 1918 influenza pandemic was devastating in its impact. A Culture volunteer working on the Poole History Centre First World project has looked at the history of the pandemic and its effect on Poole and its inhabitants.

Although many places have been put forward no-one knows where the 1918 pandemic started; there are suggestions it may have been present in a less serious form in 1917. The death toll from the pandemic has been estimated upwards of thirty million but the actual figure will never be known. There a few facts which are certain:
– It was global. North and South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, Australasia and the Pacific Islands were affected.
– The death toll was high. For example, around 250,000 died in England and Wales, in France 400,000, and over 14 million in India. More American soldiers died from influenza than died in battle during the war.
– It was different. Previous influenza viruses affected the very young and the elderly but this virus was most serious for adults aged 20 to 40. It was most virulent during the summer and autumn of 1918 in Europe whereas normally influenza occurs during winter.
– It was spread by travel. Millions of soldiers moved from country to country, continent to continent as did those displaced by the fighting. Over-crowded troopships, troop trains, hospitals and military camps were ideal for spreading the virus. A seriously ill soldier would be transported to hospital spreading the virus – in normal life they would have stayed at home.

There are believed to have been two phases: the first less serious, the second highly virulent with the second appearing around August 1918. Reported deaths peaked in October and then began to drop significantly and the virus disappeared as rapidly as it had appeared. It was followed by an epidemic of encephalitis lethargica (an inflammation of the brain) and a further influenza epidemic in 1920.

What was the impact on Poole? An advertisement from the Borough of Poole Health Department appeared in the local newspaper in 1919. Its aim was to suggest ways of reducing the impact of influenza and recommendations included:
– Keep fit, eat healthily and regularly. Get plenty of rest, keep warm, and avoid alcoholism.
– Be in well-ventilated rooms and avoid crowds.
– Wear a face-mask if nursing someone who is ill.
– Hold a handkerchief in front of the mouth if coughing or sneezing as it was spread by ‘discharge from mouth and nose’. The handkerchief was to be boil-washed and a paper handkerchief burnt. [It is now believed that around half million particles are released every time someone coughs or sneezes]

The local newspaper had various adverts for medications which allegedly ‘cured’ and ‘prevented’ influenza. Other medications started to include influenza in their list of illnesses that benefitted from whatever they were selling. The advice from William Gosse, the Poole Medical Officer at the time, however, was clear – ‘do not waste money on drugs in the false hope of preventing infection’.

Poole elementary schools and the Schools for Mothers closed in late 1918 because of ’the prevalence of sickness’. The local newspaper reported that some local councillors believed that if schools were closed then so should theatres and cinemas. The Health Authority planned on disinfecting cinemas while the Medical Officer said that children should be stopped from visiting them. A newspaper report recommended glass as the safest and most hygienic container for food and hoped that workers in the glass industry would be demobbed quickly.

The Reports of the Medical Officer of Health for Poole make fascinating reading about the general health of the town’s residents. The History Centre has several volumes from which the following data has been extracted and shows a noticeable increase in influenza deaths in 1918 and 1919. The table includes data on diphtheria to put the influenza figures into context. The population of Poole is estimated to have been between 39,000 and 41,000 from 1916 to 1920.

graph

The primary concern for health professionals was not influenza itself but the complications which were extremely serious. The Medical Officer believed the true figure for influenza deaths in 1919 was much greater because it often turned into bronchitis and pneumonia from which there had been 66 deaths.

The raw data does not tell the tragic impact it had on people’s lives. Private Sidney Dolman, whose father lived on Market Street, died of pneumonia in Alexandria on November 7th. His death was especially difficult as he had recently written saying how he was looking forward to coming home. Able Seaman Reginald Vincent had survived the Zeebrugge raid and the First World War but contracted influenza while on home leave and died of pneumonia. The local newspaper also reported on the deaths of people in Poole from influenza – sadly some were couples. Mr and Mrs Charles Worth of Branksome were in their thirties when they died within a week of each other to leave a 5 year old daughter.

The 1918 influenza pandemic has sometimes been referred to as the ‘forgotten pandemic’ because of the reaction to it. It is thought that with so much reporting on the loss of life from the war the distinction between deaths from military action or influenza became blurred. Another possible reason is that there were so many diseases at the time that it was just one amongst many. There were 969 cases of infectious diseases reported in the Borough of Poole in 1918. This included 654 cases of measles or Rubella, 146 of tuberculosis, 49 of diphtheria, 51 of scarlet fever, and 27 of chicken pox.

For more information on health during the First World War go to our earlier blog ‘The Mutual Enemy of WW1’.

Jane Bungay – the story of a mother.

Jane Bungay had not had an easy life even before the First World War started. Widowed twice, she had lost one child in infancy. Her six other sons would all grow up to enlist in the Army or Navy.

Tragically, one of these grown-up boys died before the war even started. And another lost his life thousands of miles from home and just months after it came to an end.

The conflict meant huge changes at home as well as for the soldiers and sailors at war. Life could be very tough for a widowed mother of serving men. Without her sons living with her, Jane Bungay had to move because she could not afford to pay the rent on her Poole home.

Jane, nee Russell, had been born in the Dorset village of Compton Abbas, the daughter of a farm labourer and his wife. But at the age of just 17 she married a Piddletrenthide-born soldier by the name of Richard Thomas Bagg.

Their first son was born the following year but died before he was two years old.

Another boy, however, would soon be born

Four years after their marriage, the national Census shows that Jane was living with her widowed mother, a sister and her 11-month old son, Walter George in a house in Dorchester. There is no mention of husband Richard being there that day. Could he have been the Richard Baggs [sic] who was doing time in Dorchester Prison on the day of the Census? He, too, had been born in Piddletrenthide and was, at 21, the right age. This man would be back up before the bench for stealing two bushes and a padlock in the following year and sentenced to six months’ jail.

Or was that another man? Could Jane’s Richard Bagg have been serving abroad with the Army? After all, he had enlisted as a soldier and was a Driver with the Royal Horse Artillery.

Jane had another son by him, whom they called Henry. But soon she would be widowed and left to bring up the boys alone.

We don’t know what happened to Richard Bagg. Perhaps he had died while serving abroad?

Whatever occurred, widowed Jane would remarry at Weymouth in early 1889. Her second husband was Henry Bungay and the couple would soon have a baby daughter they called Nellie.

In 1891, the family, including the two Bagg boys, were living in Weymouth. Jane’s new husband was recorded as working as a labourer but, like her first husband, he had seen military action. He served with the Gordon Highlanders and had been decorated, receiving a medal and star and four clasps for his engagement in the Anglo-Egyptian War in the early 1880s.

The couple would have five more children – four boys and another girl, Florence Alberta – all born in Weymouth except one who came into the world in Chester. Was Henry back in the Army and stationed there?

If so, Henry Bungay may still have been serving away from home in 1901 for the Census of that year yet again shows Jane Bungay as acting as the head of the family with no mention of Henry. She was 41 and working as a laundress on her own account.

Ten years later, and the Bungay family had moved to Parkstone, Poole, where they lived in Layton Road. Henry was back with the family, working as a road contractor. Their son Charles, 18, was by now working as a labourer and the second oldest boy, James, 16, was a butcher’s errand boy.

Tragedy, however, came knocking again in the following year for before the end of 1912 Henry Bungay passed away.

Her eldest boy, Walter Bagg, who had joined the Royal Navy, and served on board HMS St George, had also died.

When war broke out, it must have been hard to see her sons answer their country’s recruitment call.  Walter’s brother, Henry Bagg, followed him into the Navy where he served on HMP Europa which received battle honours for her part in the Dardanelles Campaign that witnessed the disastrous battle for Gallipoli.

Two of the brothers, Charles and Frederick, had joined up as Drivers in 1915 with the Army Service Corps – one would later be a prisoner-of-war and eventually repatriated. In time, Frederick would transfer to the North Staffs Regiment. Both would receive the British War, Victor and Medals as well as the 1915 Star.

Jane’s youngest boy was John Francis Reginald Bungay, who had got a job as a railway porter. But he, too, was keen to join up when war broke out and enlisted five months after the conflict began. He claimed he was 18 years and a month old. He lied about his age.

Initially a Gunner with the Royal Artillery, he was transferred to the Black Watch in Scotland where he waited to be sent to the Front, despite being under age.

There, the regiment received an urgent telegram from Parkstone. It was from his mum, Jane and read: ‘I forbid my son, Private John Bungay going on service only 17 years old. Certificate follows. Mother.’

Once he turned 18, however, he was posted to France. During his second spell there, he was hit by enemy fire, suffering a gunshot wound in the buttock and had to return home.

Once again, Jane Bungay contacted the Black Watch Regiment. She wrote: ‘To the Officer in Charge.

‘Re my son, Private J.F.R. Bungay., no 10261 Black Watch.

‘Dear Sir, Will you kindly note my correct address as letters from you still go to my former address.

‘Shall be most grateful to hear as to my son’s condition as soon as possible. Thanking you for your kind attention. And hoping to hear better news.’ Signed Jane Bungay.

Private John Bungay survived the war. (He is believed to have later married and lived in Salisbury.) Jane’s other serving sons survived the war, too… including William James,

But, months later, before he was able to leave the Army, he was to die thousands of miles from home.

Soon after war was declared in August 1914, he answered the call and, within days, volunteered to fight. He joined the 5th Dorsets. But within two months he was discharged, considered unfit for service due to his suffering from Phthisis, a form of pulmonary tuberculosis.

His Battalion’s Adjutant then tried to contact him to confirm the date when he first enlisted, according to his Army Pension records. But, by then, he was no longer in Poole.

His mother Jane, wrote back saying: ‘My son, W.J. Bungay is not at home now so cannot say the date he enlisted.’ She signed it ‘From his mother, a widow’.

Then she added: ‘My address is Fernlea, Pottery Road. I had to move from Bournemouth Road as I could not pay the rent after my sons joined the Army.’

No soldier’s mother grew rich on the Army Separation Allowance.

Bungay home. The terraced homes in Pottery Road. Jane Bungay lived for a time during the First World War at 'Fernlea' (now number 3)_

Bungay home. The terraced homes in Pottery Road. Jane Bungay lived for a time during the First World War at ‘Fernlea’ (now number 3)_

William James Bungay was not at home because, by then, he had re-enlisted, in November, this time with the Hampshire Regiment under the name of Private James Bungay.

He was serving on the other side of the world, in India.

During the war years, it seems Jane Bungay had to move a number of times. We know at different times time her address was given as being at ‘Kersley’, Bournemouth Road, Parkstone; in Pottery Road, Poole; in Sturminster Marshall; Queens Grove, Parkstone; and finally at  Fairholme, 14 Commercial Road, Parkstone. (Now demolished, a day centre today stands on the site.)

During the war, Private James Bungay would also serve with the Bedfordshires before being transferred to the 25th Middlesex Regiment.

While other soldiers celebrated Armistice Day on 11 November 1919, James Bungay was not so lucky. A year before, the Bolsheviks in Russia had come into power following a revolution but a civil war prevailed.

And the Allies decided to intervene to protect their interests. James’ battalion was sent east in support of the White Russians fighting the Bolshevik’s’ Red Army and stationed in Siberia.

At first, he had written cheerful letters saying he was looking forward to coming home. But then his mother received a telegram with grim news. It said he was seriously ill from influenza and pneumonia.

He died on 9 February 1919 at Vladivostok, as a result of a kidney infection, pyelitis, according to his Army record.

Bungay, Poole and Dorset Herald Feb 1919

Bungay, Poole and Dorset Herald Feb 1919

He was buried in the Churkin Russian Naval cemetery, 7,500 miles from home. A war memorial stands close by.

Before the end of the year, the British had pulled out.

And what happened to Jane Bungay, the grieving mother? We don’t know. A Jane Bungay married in Poole in 1927. Was she our Jane? She would have been 67 at the time.

All we know for sure is that a year after James died, Jane Bungay received a parcel from the Army containing her son, James’ possessions.

It had been sent back from Siberia…  and contained just two rings.

Private Thomas Duffy and his experience of the Battle of Mons

In September 1914, the Poole and East Dorset Herald carried a lengthy interview with Private Thomas Duffy under the headline ‘Wounded Hamworthy Reservist relates his experiences at the Battle of Mons’. A Culture Volunteer on the Poole History Centre First World War project decided to explore further.

According to the newspaper article, Private Thomas Duffy was from Hamworthy and had ‘rejoined’ the Royal Scots Regiment when war began. Hamworthy Parish Church has a memorial board to those who joined up, were wounded, taken prisoner, or were killed in the First World War, but Thomas Duffy is not mentioned.

Family history records show that Thomas Duffy (born 1885) was married in March 1914 to Alice Maud Cobb (born 1889), whose parents were Charles and Annie Cobb of Hamworthy. Other records show that Duffy was born in Edinburgh and enlisted with the Royal Scots while living in Scotland. At some point he left the service and must have travelled to the Poole area where he met, and married, Alice Cobb.

The Dorset Church of England Parish register has a Thomas Powell Duffy being baptised on October 18th 1914 at Hamworthy to Thomas and Alice Maud Duffy. Their son died just a month later and is buried in Hamworthy cemetery. At the time, the family were living at 2, Seaview Terrace, Hamworthy – hence the Hamworthy connection in the newspaper headline.

The Battle of Mons was the first battle involving the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and the German Army. It took place from August 23rd to 26th 1914.  Initially, the regulars of the British Army were very successful against the conscript army of Germany; however, the French were falling back and the German army was considerably larger than the BEF. Although Sir John French, commander of the BEF, wanted to maintain their gains he realised that it was inevitable that the BEF would become isolated and surrounded – there was no option but to withdraw.

Private Duffy gave a wide-ranging impression of the first few weeks of the war when he talked to the local newspaper in September 1914 after being invalided home. On arriving in France, they had marched around 35 miles every day for three days to get to Mons where they arrived on August 22nd ‘very fatigued’. The following day they were told to ‘fall in’ and marched around 2 miles to find themselves in the middle of a battle. Duffy described being near a tree that was hit by German artillery and then by rifle fire. After a while, he decided that ‘he was in an unpleasantly dangerous position’ and moved a short distance away. While Duffy was eating ‘a biscuit with some jam’ he turned to discover a Captain Henderson taking a photograph of him and several others, oblivious to the shells that were flying around. Duffy and his fellow soldiers were under attack from lunchtime to nearly 9pm in the evening when the enemy made sporadic attacks until just after midnight. They had been under fire for 12 hours.

Duffy said that ‘the Germans are absolutely no good with a rifle’ – the Germans themselves commended the quality of British rifle fire finding it at times so rapid they thought they were facing machine guns. However, he found that the German artillery were ‘quick and accurate’ and ‘were good shots’. Duffy is remarkably candid in his interview about the fighting and the loss of men. While the Royal Scots hadn’t lost anybody at Mons, 350 men were lost at Amiens. He claimed that only 120 out of 1,200 men answered at a roll call of the Gordon Highlanders.

 He describes the fighting that occurred and how they were outnumbered by the enemy 4 to 1. They eventually fell back under artillery fire and found themselves so worn out they were allowed an hours rest. At one point they hadn’t eaten anything between Sunday evening and Tuesday morning while having to march over 30 miles. Duffy commented on the welcome the French civilians gave them and that ‘they were exceedingly kind to us on the march’. It was at this point Duffy dislocated his foot and was sent on a long journey back to Le Havre in a railway carriage along with dozens of wounded. Arriving back in England he was sent to Netley Hospital, Southampton, and then was given two weeks sick leave in Poole. He said his wife ‘had wanted for nothing’ while he had been away and he hoped to return to the front very soon and have ‘another cut’ at the enemy.

The WW1 Pensions Ledgers and Index Cards have Private Thomas Duffy being discharged from the Royal Scots on October 4th 1916. His Silver War Badge Record states this was because of ‘sickness’. These badges were given to ex-servicemen who had been discharged because of ill health so that they would not be accused of cowardice when seen wearing civilian clothes. The 1919 Electoral Role has Thomas and his wife living at Suvla Cottage, Hunger Hill. The choice of name of the cottage is interesting as Suvla Bay was part of the tragic Gallipoli campaign and one wonders if it was named after the conflict.

Cottages at Hunger Hill from the collection of Poole Museum Service

Cottages at Hunger Hill from the collection of Poole Museum Service

Life under the waves

The first British submarine was launched in 1901. At the beginning of the First World War, Britain had around 60 submarines, 168 officers, 1,250 men and limited idea of what to do in a battle as they had never been in conflict. They rapidly became a potent force and during the war sank 54 enemy warships and U-boats and 274 supply vessels. The cost was, however, tremendous with around a third of those who joined the submarine service losing their life. A Culture volunteer on the Poole History Centre First World War project describes what it was like being in a submarine and the fate of a few of the Poole submariners.

All submariners were volunteers and on interview they had to show they were ‘capable of sustaining a considerable amount of bodily strain’. An understatement! The clothes they wore were usually the ones they had on a fortnight earlier – the smell was described as ‘most revolting’. The lack of fresh air meant the crew suffered nausea, headaches and lethargy which could affect decision-making. They also suffered from sleep deprivation relying on, typically, 4hrs a day. Submarine commanders were under special strain as any decision they made could be fatal. Broken bones and concussion were common when a submarine was thrown about in a stormy sea. There were no doctors on board and the only first aid was provided by the crew themselves. If seawater entered the batteries, the submarine would fill with poisonous chlorine gas.

A submarine crew rarely changed members so they became a close knit community. Also the confines of a submarine meant that distinctions of rank meant very little. Despite the high risk and unpleasant working condition, the informality and comradeship, plus the excitement of being involved in something different, made the prospect of being in a submarine attractive to some men.

In contrast to the surface fleet, not many Poole men served in submarines. Hedley Alexander Grant, whose parents lived in Parkstone, died in October 1918 when the L10 submarine was sunk in the North Sea. He was a messenger boy when he joined the navy in January 1913 for 12 years when he was 18. The L10 was commissioned in June 1918 from the Dumbarton shipyard of William Denny and was used to stop German vessels mining the sea. It had a crew of 38 and was armed with four bow and two beam torpedo tubes, as well as a 4in deck gun. On October 3rd 1918, L10 came across a group of German destroyers in the Heligoland Bight and torpedoed the German ship S33. However, the submarine, for some reason, suddenly surfaced and was sunk by the other destroyers. All those on board died.

Charles Trickett, from Branksome, was a coal loader before he joined the navy in March 1912 as a Stoker 2nd Class. He served on several ships and was promoted to Stoker 1st Class in 1913. His service record is unclear but he may have joined the submarine service at the end of 1916 as he was attached to HMS Maidstone, which was a submarine depot ship. There is a record of him serving on HM Submarine E32 towards the end of the First World War. Charles Trickett was on HM Submarine L55 (Lucia) when it failed to surface on June 9th 1919. The submarine was part of the Baltic Battle Squadron and was fighting on the side of the Baltic States during the Russian Civil War. It is believed that after firing on two Bolshevik destroyers it entered into a British minefield. The Soviets claimed it had been sunk by one of its destroyers. They raised the submarine several years later.

Able Seaman George Miles, from Hamworthy, was also attached to the submarine depot ship ‘Maidstone’, and served on HM Submarine E19. HM E19 was part of the Baltic submarine fleet that sank several German merchant ships with the aim of disrupting the trade in iron ore. The 9th September 1915 issue of the local newspaper reported that Miles and the rest of the crew had been awarded the St George’s Cross by the Tsar of Russia. Submarine E19 was destroyed in April 1918, along with six other submarines, by their crews to stop them being captured by German troops who had landed in Finland. George Miles served in the navy during the Second World War.

Able Seaman Frederick Fudge, whose mother lived in Wallisdown, died when HM Submarine D 6 was sunk by the German U-boat UB 73 off the coast of Ireland on 24th June 1918. Two survivors were taken prisoner. Fudge had been a butcher’s boy before he signed on with the navy in February 1914 for 12 years.

Albert Joseph Miller was born in Branksome and joined the Navy in October 1914 when aged 18. He started his naval life as Boy 2nd Class and was promoted several times becoming Leading Telegraphist in April 1916. He was wounded in an action off the Heligoland Bight on August 28th 1914 while on HMS Fearless. He was on HM Submarine E50 when it was lost in the North Sea on January 31st 1918.

There were several classes of British submarine but the K-class submarines had a particularly bad reputation with only 18 being built but were involved in 16 accidents, several collisions, and one sank on trial. They were steam-powered when on the surface to enable them to travel fast in support of the fleet. However, shutting down a boiler and lowering two small funnels increased dive time and the likelihood of leaks. An even more significant problem was that the K-class was 339ft long (compared to the L-class at 239ft) but only had a maximum operating depth of 200ft. If the submarine dived at an angle of 30o the stern would be at the surface and the bow nearly at maximum depth. The reputation of the class was so bad that they were referred as the ‘Kalamity’ class.

The local newspaper reported on the loss of submarine K5 in late January 1921. It was with four other submarines (K8, K10, K15 and K22) while on manoeuvres with the British Atlantic Fleet when it failed to surface. Fifty-seven men lost their lives. It had gone down in 85 fathoms of water but as the salvage vessel could not go more than 30 fathoms a rescue was impossible. There was Poole connection to the loss. Lieutenant B.J. Clarke was an officer on K5 and had been second-in-command on the captured German U-boat U107 when it came to Poole in January 1919 for a charity fund-raising event. He had been accompanied by his wife and son on the visit and ‘much sympathy’ was felt by those in Poole who had met them after hearing about his death. See an earlier blog ‘German U-boats in Poole Harbour’ 

U 107 on Poole Quay

U 107 on Poole Quay

 

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,