The Mutual Enemy of WWI

The first world war bought great suffering to many and not just as a result of military engagement at the war torn fronts of the conflict. Disease was rife across Europe and even those who remained on home soil didn’t escape the sickly grasp of illness.

Famously, in 1918, one of the most devastating outbreaks arose in the United States of America; odd perhaps then that it became known as Spanish Flu. In a time when secrecy meant everything many hierarchies of affected personnel refused to report the magnitude of the problem for fear of the enemy using the intel to their advantage. However, Spain was a neutral force and as such was able to be scrutinised by the media who could account the full scale of the problem, leading to a widespread belief that the outbreak originated in Spain. At its height, in July,  the Spanish flu  infected 46, 275 British soldiers serving in France, in the space of a single week, completely devastating the capabilities of an already stretched medical service. Things went from bad to worse when a second variant of flu met the first and mutated into a far more virulent strain. Many healthy individuals were struck down as their body overcompensated for the sudden appearance of the virus, resulting in a fatal haemorrhagic autoimmune response. It is estimated that 50 to 100 million people were effected world wide; 20% of Samoa’s population died and 17 million deaths occurred in India alone, the same figure as the total number of casualties during WWI. London witnessed unprecedented fatalities from an outbreak of influenza, totalling 13,000.

The culprit for this death toll was Influenza A subtype H1N1, experienced more recently with Swine Flu, a mutation of the human and  porcine variants. This pandemic remains in the minds of many and to those of us who experienced its impact it appeared incredibly severe. Yet only 14, 286 deaths resulted from this contagion, only slightly above those experienced solely in London 110 year earlier, which highlights the stark impact the 1918/19 pandemic had.

Recorded incidents of respiratory are vast and were also resultant of the damp conditions many soldier were forced to face. The prologue stalemate during the wetter months meant pneumonia, bronchitis and even TB weren’t uncommon. These were also often instigated in soldiers who had experience the terror of gas attacks. Airborne chemical weapons had long lasting effects on top of recurrences of those listed above, such as asthma, COPD, bronchiectasis, not to mention the devastating effects on the skin and eyes. Anything from everyday complaints like epiphora and conjunctivitis to debilitating carcinomas were stacked on top of already suffering soldiers.

For the men in the trenches, horrors were to be found around every corner and even the ‘comfort’ of your own trench didn’t keep you free from infection and infestation. Of all the medical conditions the soldiers on the western front suffered ‘Trench Foot’ is by far the most notorious. Caused by long exposure to cold and wet conditions the foot undergoes a series of changes before suffering from necrosis, where the tissue hardens, blackens and begins to decay. Although short periods of exposure to the optimum conditions can cause trench foot, such as waterlogged festival sites, the western front’s stagnated style of warfare was perfect for the onset of numbness, erythema, cyanosis and eventually gangrene. Another necrotising infection frontline soldiers sometimes experienced was  ‘Trench Mouth’, or acute necrotising ulcerative gingivitis to give it its full medical name. A build up of bacteria on the gums leads to ulceration and severe decay of tissue. Although nothing about the physical and environmental conditions of the trenches would have facilitated the development of the condition it is believed the psychological effects payed a considerable part, which also explains the high number of trench mouth cases noted in populations that suffered continual air raids during the second world war.

Personal hygiene in the trench wasn’t top of the agenda so it isn’t surprising to know that infestations of human body lice was common place, bringing with it ‘Trench Fever’, or pyrrexhia, a rarely fatal infection causing severe fatigue and anaemia.  Despite its name the infection wasn’t confined to the western front and was found in practically every theatre of war. It is likely responsible for many of the recorded occurrences of neurasthenia in soldiers’ service records. Despite significant anti-lice treatment programs and development of delousing stations the problem of pediculosis was so severe that media speculation was often brushed under the carpet and the details were kept out of public view in fear it would deplete moral and affect  the willingness of people to get involved in the war effort. The human body louse, known colloquially amongst soldiers as a chat, was also responsible for spreading Typhus amongst the ranks. Typhus causes severe fevers and headaches, culminating in meningoencephalitis, and is accompanied by a rash. Although Typhus was prevalent on the Western Front it was on the Eastern front where the disease took its toll. In Serbia alone there were 150,00 deaths from Typhus, a death rate of approximately 40% of those infected. The delousing stations seen on the western front did not materialise in the East and many of those caring for the sick became ill as the lice or fleas spread amongst the overcrowded treatment facilities.

Across all theatres and styles of warfare, dysenteric infections were an everyday occurrence. Human waste mingled with living areas and contaminated drinking water; fresh water was hard to come by and sanitation was often an afterthought. Fatal bouts of diarrhoea, sometimes haemorrhagic in nature, are record in the service records of every nation that took part in the war. Outbreaks of cholera and typhoid hit hard and fast and infection spread like wildfire as these unsanitary conditions continued unchecked. The medical services were fraught enough treating wounded soldiers and ever increasing rates of highly contagious infections pushed them to breaking point. There simply wasn’t the staff to treat everyone and certainly not enough time to take preventative action.

For those soldiers serving in the Middle East, Asia and North Africa, along with Italy, Greece and the Macedonian front, Malaria was a very real threat. Similar to trench fever in its cyclical nature, malaria is spread by mosquitos who would have been attracted to many activities carried out by the military. ‘Digging in’, and digging for water, would have been the biggest action that assisted in the potential for an epidemic, such as the one that occurred in Macedonia in 1916/17, which hospitalised over 1800 British soldiers and caused the deaths of 587. Malaria also posed a risk to the general populace in Britain as infected soldiers returned home, possibly accompanied by hitchhiking mosquitos. Soldiers returning form areas where malaria was endemic were banned by the Ministry of Health from being stationed in Kent and parts of Sussex as the wetland environments here would have made managing the spread of the disease impossible. By the end of 1918, 34,000 infected soldiers returned to the wider London area causing 500 fresh ‘imported’ cases of malaria. A further  3, 216 cases of malaria were identified at the London General Hospital by the end of 1919; the last malaria epidemic to occur in the British Isles.

Some people have commented that disease was the only real winner of the first world war. This isn’t hard to understand when you consider how previously unexperienced disease traverse across Europe and decimated populations of soldiers and civilians alike. It unnerving  to realise that although this is a brief account of some of the most common medical conditions experienced by those who served during and lived through the first world war it is in no way an exhaustive list. Diphtheria, measles, mumps and even small pox played their part alongside countless other autoimmune, immunodeficient, inflammatory, hypersensitive, sexually transmitted, airborne, foodborne, waterborne, viral, bacterial and parasitic infectious and physiological diseases.

 

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Christmas 1914 on the Western Front

The Christmas truce of 1914 was a remarkable event. Quite spontaneously, British and German troops started to gather in no-man’s land on several sections of the western front to celebrate Christmas. A Culture volunteer on the Poole First World War project describes some of the experiences and the Princess Mary Christmas gift that many of the armed forces were to receive.

Private P.E. Dyer of the Scots Guards wrote from France to his mother who lived in Market Street, Poole. ‘It’s jolly cold here, and snow is on the ground’. ‘Please send me something tasty, homemade cake, as we get none. We shall get our parcels quite safe at Christmas’. His mother’s parcel did get through as a few weeks later he wrote to her saying that ‘it contained everything I need; the scarf is a beauty…I will save the pudding as we shall be in the trenches on Christmas Day and I will try to boil it. It will be good, I guess’.

The ‘History of the Dorsetshire Regiment 1914-1919’ recorded that the 1st Battalion experienced ‘nothing unusual’on the Dorset front’ near Wulverghem but there were no shots between the opposing sides. They understood that the sides south of them were ‘friendlier’. Interestingly, in the local newspaper of January 1915 there is correspondence from Private Bray of the Dorsets under the heading ‘Fraternising Foes’. He describes how they sang carols in the trench but it was very cold so several of them got out for a walk to warm themselves. Three Germans, two officers and a private, approached and gave them a couple of bottles of whisky, cigars and a pudding. Bray said that if they had not been in billets on Boxing Day they would have returned the favour.

Private Horace Sartin’s experience was in contrast. He lived at Longfleet, Poole and was serving with the Royal Army Medical Corps at a Field Hospital somewhere in France.  In a letter, he describes that on the morning of Christmas Day there was a widespread frost and he went for a walk through the country lanes. His group of fourteen soldiers then sat down to a Christmas meal where they had plenty of hot food. He went for a walk after the meal but had to abandon it because he was too cold. After tea, they sang songs and played bridge. However, his letter ends on a more sombre note –‘I cannot see that this terrible war can conclude for months, perhaps, years’.

There are many recollections and photographs of the Christmas Truce on the Imperial War Museum website. Captain Chater of the Gordon Highlanders was at Armentieres. At 10am on Christmas Day he saw a couple of Germans approaching their trench. They were about to fire when they realised the Germans were unarmed. Suddenly, crowds of men and officers from both sides were greeting each other. After about half an hour everyone on the British side was ordered to return to their trenches and for the rest of the day no shot was fired. On Boxing Day, cigarettes were exchanged, and autographs and photographs were taken. Chater hoped they would have another truce on New Year’s Day. Other soldiers reported that the two sides played around with a football, exchanged addresses, badges, and sang songs. One British soldier was even seen cutting the hair of a German soldier. A more sombre task was the collection of the bodies of the dead from both sides for burial.

The British senior military staff was unimpressed. Sir John French, Commander-in-Chief, gave orders that no such occurrence should be allowed to happen again while the General Staff of the 7th Division ordered ’that such unwarlike activity should cease’. There was no repeat and it is likely that the horror of the conflict throughout 1915 had hardened attitudes.

Another remarkable, but less well-known event at the end of 1914 was the provision of Princess Mary Christmas Gift tins to the armed forces. Princess Mary, daughter of the King and Queen, sent out an appeal on 15 October 1914 to raise funds to provide a Christmas Gift tin for every man who was either at sea or at the front. Interestingly, she hoped it would be welcome as a gift, be something ‘useful’ and of ‘value’ but also that it would be a ‘means of providing employment in trades adversely affected by the war’. Notice of the gift, and that the Mayoress of Poole was willing to accept donations for the fund, appeared in the local newspaper on 29 October. By the middle of December 1914 around £133,000 had been raised in the national appeal.

The brass tin was designed by Adshead and Ramsey. It had an embossed image of Princess Mary in the centre of the lid with the names of Britain’s allies ie France, Russia, Belgium, Japan, Servia (Serbia) and Montenegro around the outside.

Princess Mary wanted the scheme expanded to all those in uniform on Christmas Day 1914 and it was decided there would be three classes of recipients:

A – those in the Navy and soldiers in France, nurses, prisoners-of-war, and next-of-kin of those who had died.

B – British, Colonial and Indian soldiers serving outside Britain and not in category A.

C – all soldiers in Britain.

The decision to widen the scope of the gift caused a shortage of brass for their manufacture and, not surprisingly, there were logistical problems in getting the gift to the recipients. Those in Category B received their gifts by August 1915 and those in Category C by June 1916. The fund eventually closed in 1920 having raised nearly £194,000 and having despatched an estimated 2.6 million tins.

It was not just the distribution of the tin that was a challenge but also its contents to consider which could include:

  • A pipe (over 700,000 supplied)
  • An ounce of tobacco (nearly 45,000lbs supplied)
  • Cigarettes (over 13 million in packs of 20)
  • A Christmas card of which there were several designs
  • A tinder lighter, or a shaving brush, or scissors, or a pencil case, or a purse.
  • Acid tablets – for non-smokers
  • A writing case – for non-smokers
  • Sugar candy – for Sikhs
  • Tin of spices – for Indian troops
  • Packet of sweets – for non-smokers
  • Packet of chocolate – for nurses
  • A bullet pencil case

The contents of a tin depended on what was available and who was the recipient. For example, nurses in France usually got a packet of chocolate and a card; an estimated 1500 nurses received a gift. Sikhs could get a tin with sugar candy, a tin of spices and a card; nearly 300,000 Indian soldiers received a gift. Widows or parents (only if their loss had occurred in 1914) received a card in their tin; around 5,000 were sent. Sailors could get a pipe, tobacco, a packet of cigarettes, a bullet pencil case, a card and a picture of Princess Mary. Boys serving in the Navy received only a bullet pencil case and a card. An estimated 250,000 were sent to naval personnel. There was also a distinction between smokers and non-smokers.

The manufacture of the gift tins, organising their contents and transporting them during war time is a remarkable achievement. There is also one recorded case of a recipient’s life being saved because the brass tin stopped shrapnel.

 

 

 

 

 

Family Who Lost Four Sons

Edward Brackstone, from Parkstone, saw six of his sons join up to fight for their King and Country in the First World War.

Only two came home.

Edward and Mary Ann Brackstone and family circa 1899

Edward and Mary Ann Brackstone and family circa 1899

The last of the four brothers to die was Herbert Henry, the baby of the family. He survived beyond the Armistice but, while still in France, he succumbed to the Spanish flu that swept across the world, claiming millions of lives.

Herbert Henry Brackstone, 1899-1919, died in France

Herbert Henry Brackstone, 1899-1919, died in France

Herbert went into the military field hospital at Etaples, near Boulogne in January 1919. He was seriously ill but, a month later, news filtered back that he had improved and was no longer on the critical list.

Tragically, by April has condition had deteriorated so badly that a telegram was sent to the Infantry records office in Shrewsbury who alerted Edward and his wife Florence at Vale Cottage at 78 Albert Road.

It said: ‘Regret to inform you 53747 Private H Brackstone Cheshire Regiment reported dangerously ill from Broncho-pneumonia and Empyema at 7th Canadian General Hospital Etaples France. Regret permission to visit him cannot be granted.’

Edward was distraught at being refused permission to go to see his dying son. He went to see Alderman F.C. Julyan of the Poole Local Pensions Committee, begging him to do what he could to allow him to see Herbert one last time before it was too late.

Urgently, Alderman Julyan wrote to the Records Office pleading with them to allow Edward Brackstone to be given permission to go to France.

‘This man has lost three sons killed in the war – out of five or so who joined up and this refusal has hurt him very much. He is only a working man; one knows others have been assisted in going and why assistance in this case is withheld I cannot understand.’

He added that he would be writing, too, directly to the war office and the local MP, Captain. F.E. Guest.

Tragically, before the Army Records Office replied, Edward Brackstone received a second telegram. It was the fourth of its kind that had been delivered his door during the war.

It read: ‘Deeply regret to inform you your son 53747 Private H Brackstone Cheshire Regiment died 22 April 1919.’ It added: ‘I am to express the regret and sympathy of the Army Council [?] in your sad bereavement.’

The awaited reply from the Records Office arrived two days later.  It would have made no difference. It did not grant permission for Edward to visit his stricken son, stating that only the medical officer in charge at the hospital was authorised to do so.

Even before the war, Edward Brackstone’s life had been blighted by tragedy. Born in 1860 in London, he had married Somerset-born Mary Ann Tilley in 1880 at St Andrew’s Church in Poole. The couple would have 11 children. Although he worked as a potter or potter’s labourer, four years after the wedding he built the house in Albert Road where he lived with his family. It was number 78 and he called it Vale Cottage.  The family would go on to build several others in the neighbourhood, according to his great-granddaughter Mrs Pat Bryant, who has collated information about her past relatives.

Mrs Pat Bryant, granddaughter of Edwin Brackstone (2)

Mrs Pat Bryant, granddaughter of Edwin Brackstone

Herbert Henry was the last child to be born to Mary Ann. He came into the world early in 1899 and was baptised at Heatherlands on the 26 February of that year.

Just over a year later, on 31 March 1900, Mary Ann died. She had suffered from an antepartum haemorrhage (a gynaecological bleeding) and syncope (a temporary reduction in the blood flow to the brain.)

Edward, now widowed, was the father of 11 children, aged between 19 and one year. Their names were Mary Louise, Edwin, William, Caroline Lily, Robert, Edith, George, Charles, Frank Wilfred, Frederick Arthur and little Herbert. But just two months after Mary Ann had died, one of the little boys, George, passed away, too. He was seven and a half years old.

Edward Henry Brackstone who lost four sons

Edward Henry Brackstone who lost four sons

Grieving, Edward was left to cope with looking after so many children. But, happily, he found another partner. She was a widow called Florence Locke, nee Barnes, who was working as a laundress and living in nearby Jubilee Road. She had two children of her own, Ethel, born in 1888 and Robert Locke who was five years younger.

Two years after Mary’s passing, Edward and, Florence, married and lived together at 78 Albert Road. They had three children together, Dorothy, born in 1903, May (1904) and Sidney (1906).

As time went by, the children grew older and some went out to work. One of the boys became a butcher; another worked as a baker; a third as a laundry van boy. Herbert had been a dairyman and one of the girls got a job in a restaurant. Some of the grown-up children left home and got married.

Soon after the First World War began in August 1914, the first of the brothers volunteered to fight for King and Country. He was Charles, by then a butcher by trade, who had married Constance Amelia Faulkner just a few months before and they had had a baby daughter, Nora. He was called up to join the Royal Berkshires in June 1916 but was discharged less than a month later, probably due to poor eyesight. That did not stop him joining up with the newly-formed RAF some time afterwards where he served as a butcher.

A second brother, Edwin, a labourer, attested in December 1914. He had married Bessie Mesher several years before and the couple had two surviving children at the time. More would follow. Edward, Bessie and their family lived at ‘Sunnyside’ in New Road, Parkstone. He had spent six years previously with the Dorset Militia but, like his brother Charles, was also discharged as medically unfit. He, too, though, would later serve his country for a family photograph shows him in uniform.

Edwin Brackstone in uniform 2

Edwin Brackstone in uniform

Edwin and Charles survived the war. Herbert and the other three brothers to answer the call were not so lucky.

Frank Wilfred, who enlisted at Corfe Castle, and served with the Dorset Regiment, died on 17 July 1916 in Mesopotamia. He was buried in the Basra war cemetery in Iraq. Frank was about 20 years old.

His younger brother, Frederick Arthur was killed in action on 24 March 1918 at about the same age, according to the Forces War Records. He was a Private, initially with the Dorsets but subsequently with the Wiltshire Regiment. His death is commemorated at the memorial at Arras.

Frederick Brackstone, 1898-1918, killed in France

Frederick Brackstone, 1898-1918, killed in France

The fourth brother who died in the war was Robert William. A building labourer, he had married Poole-born Martha Pearce in 1909 and they had two young sons. They were living at a house called Heathfield in Cromwell Road, very close to the rest of the Brackstone family. Robert volunteered in December 1915 and was mobilised the following May, serving with the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. That September he was sent to France and would go on to be promoted to Acting Lance Corporal before reverting to Private at his own request.

On 2 November 1918, just nine days before the Armistice, marking the end of the conflict, was signed, Private Robert Brackstone was killed in action. He had served for two years and 327 days.

His widow, Martha, and their two children would receive a weekly pension of 25/5 (£1.27 and worth about £37 today). The year after he died, the Army sent her Robert’s possessions. They consisted of photos, letters, two religious books, cards, a metal mirror, two photo cases, his watch, case and chain, a cross and a fountain pen. She acknowledged receipt and asked about his missing pocket knife and brushes.

Martha and the two boys, Robert and William, emigrated to Canada in 1920, soon after her husband’s Memorial Scroll and Plaque were sent to her at their Parkstone home. Brother Herbert’s was sent to his step-mum Florence, who, before he died, he had listed as his mother.

Mrs Pat Bryant, who, like her husband, Adrian, was born and bred in Poole, said her grandfather, Edwin, ‘never talked about the war.’

She did not even know, until a few years ago, that four of Edwin’s brothers had lost their lives in the First World War.

‘It must have been just terrible,’ said Mrs Bryant, who lives in Birds Hill Road, Poole. ‘You just think of all the suffering.’

‘My poor great grandfather. My heart goes out to him.’

Apart from the memorials in the war cemeteries abroad and the family photos Mrs Bryant treasures, the names of the four brothers who laid down their lives for their country are listed on a roll of honour in Poole.

They can be found on a memorial at St John’s Church at Heatherlands, Ashley Road, alongside the names of scores of other parishioners. They had all died in what was called ‘the war to end all wars.’

St John's Memorial e

St John’s Memorial

A War Memorial for Poole?

A common feature during, and after the First World War, was a desire to commemorate and remember those who had given their lives during the conflict. Poole was no different but what is remarkable is that the War Memorial in Poole Park was unveiled as late as 1927. A Culture Vulture volunteer working on the Poole History Centre First World War project provides a timeline up to the end of 1920 of the debate about a war memorial in Poole.

All agreed that there should be a memorial but there was no agreement over what form it should take. Opinions were clearly divided between those who believed that it should be of practical value and those in favour of a ‘traditional’ memorial. The dates are those of the Poole and East Dorset Herald newspaper in which the article or correspondence appeared with the aim of giving an idea of people’s opinions as expressed in the local newspaper. Not all references are included here.

  • 12 July 1917 A meeting of invited people was held in the Guildhall to discuss a War Memorial for Poole. A person commented that ‘before they did anything in the way of stonework they should see that proper provision was made for the wounded and the relatives of those who had fallen in the War’. The aim was to set up an Executive Committee to determine the best course of action.
  • 26 July 1917 Instead of a war memorial there should be Homes of Rest for Disabled Soldiers or Almshouses wrote a correspondent.
  • 26 July 1917 A correspondent wrote that ‘I hope the memorial will not take the form of statuary, which would be of no special interest to future generations’.
  • 2 August 1917 A correspondent wrote that almshouses would only benefit a few while public baths would be of use for many – often the only opportunity to have a bath was at the public baths.
  • 16 August 1917 A correspondent proposed a monument near the Wesleyan Church with a bell, similar to the Curfew Bell, that could be rung.
  • 23 August 1917 A request for names to be provided by those who had died in the war for a ‘War Heroes Memorial’ had largely been ignored. The report did wonder if people were aware of the project.
  • 30 August 1917 A Poole soldier serving with the Heavy Artillery Group wanted a workshop to be built for wounded soldiers.
  • 21 March 1918 The Sheriff to convene a public meeting about a war memorial. The Editorial of the newspaper expressed a hope that no soldier’s or sailor’s name would go ‘unrecorded’.
  • 11 April 1918 Suggestions included a bed endowed at Cornelia Hospital, almshouses, or a memorial with an ‘inscription of the names of the men of Poole who had given their lives’.
  • 18 April 1918 A correspondent suggested swimming baths, housing, reconstruction of Hamworthy Bridge, and a new museum. Another correspondent wanted a clock tower in Poole Park with the names of those who had died to be recorded on a plinth.

The end of the war saw no decision being made.

  • 20 February 1919 Poole War Memorial committee proposed that the memorial should be in two parts at a total cost of £10 000. Firstly, a 30ft tower should be built on Constitution Hill, with the names of those who had died recorded on stone tablets, and possible trophies from the war, such as captured German guns, and tearooms. The second was the purchase of two semi-detached houses in Seldown, ‘Forest Holme’ and ‘Belle Vue’, and to convert them into a convalescent home for soldiers.
  • 6 February 1919 In a Council meeting, an opinion was expressed that there should be a central memorial on Constitution Hill with another option being a monument at the old Toll Gate House in Longfleet.
  • 27 February 1919 A poorly-attended public meeting threw out the Poole War Memorial committee’s suggestions.
  • 6 March 1919 Concern was expressed that the convalescent homes could easily be condemned with a new Government Health Ministry being proposed and any money spent on them would be wasted. The tower idea was ‘useless’. Some wanted a Poole War Memorial Institute.
  • 20 March 1919 Poole War Memorial committee resigns after the response to its proposal for the tower on Constitution Hill and a convalescent home was unenthusiastically received.
  • 27 March 1919 A correspondent suggested that a fully equipped fire station would be a useful memorial for the town.
  • 27 March 1919 A public meeting was to be held to discuss the proposed extension to Cornelia Hospital as a memorial.
  • 3 April 1919 A correspondent considered a monument was a waste of money, the extension to the Hospital as not necessary, and wanted houses built for rent to returning soldiers.
  • 3 April 1919 The Cornelia Hospital Committee proposed an extension to the hospital and intended to raise £10 000 with 75% spent on the extension and 25% on a monument.
  • 10 April 1919 Opponents to the hospital extension believed that the State should pay for hospitals.
  • 17 April 1919 At a poorly-attended meeting it was proposed that an extension of Cornelia Hospital should be the town’s war memorial. 24 voted for the proposal and 10 were against.
  • 1 May 1919 East Dorset Guild of Workers was closed. The Guild had provided clothing and food packages to soldiers at the front, in hospital and POWs. Its remaining funds were distributed with the Poole Hospital War Memorial Fund receiving £700 and the Isolation Hospital £10. A comment was made by some that more money should have gone to the Isolation Hospital.
  • 15 May 1919 A soldier serving in Germany with the Royal Garrison Artillery wanted public baths.
  • 22 May 1919 Another committee was formed which hoped to work with the hospital extension committee, this time to create an educational Institute, with baths, for ex-soldiers.
  • 26 June 1919 A soldier serving with the army of occupation in Germany wrote that statues had no use. They wanted public baths because they would need one when they got home.
  • 26 June 1919 Funds should be raised to create a memorial by extending the Hospital and building an Institute with monies divided 75:25.
  • 17 July 1919 Some supported the idea that a fire engine should be purchased as a war memorial as the existing fire engine was not fit for purpose.
  • 10 June 1920 A branch of the League of Nations was formed in Poole at a packed meeting held in the Guildhall. A view was expressed by some that those who had died during the war would want, as a memorial, the unity of nations. The branch had around 500 members by August. The League of Nations came into being with the Treaty of Versailles and it was hoped that future wars could be avoided by nations working together. There is a suggestion that Poole was the first place in Dorset to have a branch.
War memorial Poole park.

War Memorial Poole Park from the Poole Museum collection

During August 1920, the local newspaper was once again discussing the lack of, and the need for, a memorial in Poole. The long editorial of 12 August expressed a hope that a decision would be made without delay and work begun soon. And yet again there was no consensus.

  • 19 August 1920 A cenotaph should be built at the junction of Mount Street (now part of Lagland Street) and High Street.
  • 19 August 1920 A correspondent believed that instead of a monument an Endowment fund for the Cornelia Hospital should be created with a simple plaque recording the reason. There was no free National Health Service until 1948 and everything had to be paid for – at the time there were concerns the hospital could struggle to survive.
  • 26 August 1920 Money should be given to the Mayor’s fund for a ‘Poole’ workshop at Enham Village Centre for disabled ex-servicemen. The fund had only raised £105. The correspondent believed that this was the best war memorial the town could have. Enham Village was created in 1919, with the support of King George V and Queen Mary, to provide training for disabled soldiers in trades such as upholstery and gardening. 150 men were in residence at the end of 1919. It provided the same care to injured soldiers during the Second World War.
  • 11 November 1920 The Cenotaph in London was unveiled by the King in a day of remembrance that included the interment of the ‘Unknown Warrior’ in Westminster Abbey.

From the timeline it is clear that people wanted a memorial but as to what form it should take was unclear. How unusual was Poole’s experience is not known. However, the local newspaper of 20 March 1919 reported on a meeting held in Dorchester into a war memorial for the town. Suggestions put forward included public baths, a convalescent home or rest home for soldiers and the meeting ended with no agreement. The debate in Poole was only resolved when Alderman H. Carter spoke in 1925 about the need for ‘a timeless tribute to all war dead’ which eventually led to the unveiling of Poole War Memorial in Poole Park on October 16 1927.

And the story is continued here on the Poole Museum Society Blog

The First Concrete Barge to Be Built in Britain

The first ferro-concrete barge to be built in Britain was launched from the Hamworthy Shipyard, Poole of Hill, Richards & Co on 24 August 1918. A Culture Volunteer on the Poole History Centre First World War project describes the background to the launch and the actual event.

The Ministry of Munitions had decided in late 1917 that concrete ships could help overcome the shortage of steel and would only need an unskilled workforce. 154 barges and tugs were ordered in February 1918 but the requirement for them ended with the declaration of peace and it is believed that only 54 barges and 12 tugs were actually built. A concrete barge cost around £27 500 compared to nearly £18 000 for a steel barge and it was found that a more skilled workforce was required than had been anticipated. The scheme lost nearly £3million and it was concluded that the project was carried out on too large a scale for an experiment although it was accepted that war-time necessitated the effort.

Construction of ‘Admiralty Auxiliary Shipyard Extension No 62’ at Hamworthy began in December 1917 on marsh and farmland by Poole Harbour. It took around 10 months to construct the 16 slipways and associated works and eventually covered 250 acres. A timber mill was needed to provide the wood used in the building of the moulds for the ships. The original plan was to cover the slipways to stop wind and frost damaging the concrete as it ‘cured’ but the cessation of war meant that this was not needed. The shipyard gave the Hamworthy branch line a new life having been singled in 1905. The second line was reinstated in 1916 to enable materials to be brought in and Lake Halt was built for the shipyard workers.

The first barge to be launched was PD 25 (known as Cretacre). It took about six months to build to a design of the Marine and General Concrete Construction Company. The barge had a double skin and its dimensions were 190ft long, 33ft beam and 15ft 6in deep.

The launch ceremony was a major event for Poole and the shipyard was decorated with flags and streamers. Several thousand people gathered to watch the opening ceremony carried out by the Mayoress of Poole (Mrs Dolby) at 12 o’clock on the Saturday. As the barge went down the slipway a paddle steamer waited in Poole Harbour. The Premier, of Cosens of Weymouth, had been hired to act as a tug because the concrete barge was unpowered. The Premier towed the barge to the Claypits Pier which was adjacent to the shipyard.

An employee sports event was held in the afternoon with prizes awarded by Mrs Ward, wife of the Commander of the Poole Naval Base. Sports included egg and spoon races, wheelbarrow races, and tilting at the water bucket. The Tug of War for men was won by the ‘barge carpenters labourers’ and in the ladies competition the lady typists beat the lady accountants. The Poole Town Band provided the musical entertainment. Among those who attended the launch was a group of men from the Cornelia Hospital in Poole. They were known as the ‘boys in blue’ because they wore blue uniforms to indicate they had been wounded in the war.

On January 16 1919 a ferro-concrete oil-tanker, designed to carry a 1000 tons of oil, was launched from the shipyard. HRH Prince Nicholas, Crown Prince of Romania performed the launch ceremony of OC 601 at 9.30 am with the traditional bottle of wine.

F4d_0016 - The Crown Prince about to launch OC 601

The platform was decorated with British and Romanian flags; Romania had declared war on Austria, an ally of Germany, in 1916. The barge had Romanian flags at the stern and a Union Jack on the mast. Even though the event was more low-key than the launch of PD 25, around a thousand workers watched the event.

F4d_0017 - The launch of OC 601

The Romanian military attache and directors from Hill, Richards were among the launch party, as well as Mr E.O. Williams, who had invented the system used in the construction. Interestingly, the concrete barge has in the photograph the name ‘Prince Nicholas’ on the bow. The Prince then went to visit the German submarine U 107 which was at Poole Quay.

F4d_0022 The launch of PD25 with the Premier in the background

The Table gives the known details about the barges that were built by the Hill, Richards & Co shipyard in Hamworthy, Poole. The newspaper report of the launch of PD 25 noted that eight barges and three steam tugs were on the timber construction frames.

Name (1) Type PD No (2) Launch Use and final fate
Cretacre Barge PD25 24/8/18 Army stores transport – scrapped 1948
Cretabode Barge PD26 1918 Army stores transport – deregistered 1952
Cretalp Barge 1918 Army stores transport – depot ship 1924
Creteol Oil barge 16/1/19 Civilian use -Sold to France 1937
Cretoleum Oil barge 1919 Civilian use -Sold to France 1937
Cretarch Barge PD42 1919 Civilian use – Scrapped and sunk 1922
Creterill Barge PD29 1919 Civilian use – Sold to Norway 1922
Cretearmour Barge PD28 1919 Civilian use – Sold to Brazil 1926
Cretangle Barge PD30 1919 Civilian use – Broken up at Shoreham 1957

 

  • Sometimes the spelling is different eg Creteangle instead of Cretangle, Cretol instead of Creteol.
  • Port discharge number = Government Hull number

Gardiners Shipbuilding and Engineering Co purchased the shipyard in July 1919. The company had great plans and had an initial contract to build six 7 200 ton steel steamers. By November 1920, the company was facing compulsory liquidation for unpaid debts from several companies and the company folded.

German U-boats in Poole Harbour

An unusual aspect of the Poole First World War Project is that, while the main focus is on 1914-1918, the Project is also interested in what happened in Poole post-1918.  Looking through the Poole & East Dorset Herald newspaper, a Culture Volunteer has come across the report of unusual event – the visit of two German U-boats to Poole in January 1919; one accidental and one planned.

U 143 was being escorted to Japan by two Japanese destroyers, Kanran and Kashiwa, as part of the compensation settlement between Japan and Germany. The newspaper has a brief report of U 143 becoming stuck on a sandbank in Poole Bay and being recovered with great difficulty. Another source records that the U-boat, which was being crewed by Japanese sailors, was taken into the Harbour for assessment and repairs. During this time, the destroyers were docked at Poole Quay much to the interest of on-lookers. U 143 eventually set sail for Japan where it was renumbered O 7. It served in the Japanese Navy until it was scrapped in 1921. Although the newspaper described it as U 143 it is more accurately known as UB 143 because it was a Type UB III submarine.

The other German submarine in Poole during January 1919 was U 107. A Royal Navy crew had sailed the U-boat from Portland to Poole for a planned 11 day visit from January 6. Over 10,000 people, including many schoolchildren, took advantage of the U-boat’s stay to explore the submarine, with donations going to the King’s Fund for Disabled Officers and Soldiers. A reporter from the Poole & East Dorset Herald gave a layman’s description of the inside of the submarine, such as sleeping arrangements, and mentions that at the bow there were ‘four 19.5 torpedoes in position’. The submarine returned to Portland on completion of its visit and Herbert Carter, a former Mayor of Poole, was on the return trip. He explains that one reason for being on-board was that he could translate the German ‘control notices’. He notes that the submarine only sailed on the surface and did not submerge.

U 107 on Poole Quay

But which U 107 was on Poole Quay given that there are three possibilities; UB 107 (a Type UB III), UC 107 (a Type UC III mine laying) or U 107 (a Type U 93)?
– UB 107 was sunk off the Yorkshire coast and, although wreckage has been identified, there is uncertainty as to the date and circumstances of its sinking.
– UC 107 did not have four torpedo tubes at the bow. It was given in war reparations, but it is unclear if it went to Britain or France.
– U 107 had four torpedo tubes at the bow which fits with the reporter’s description. U 107 was surrendered at Harwich on 20 November 1918 and scrapped in Swansea in 1922. In another source, the Japanese wanted U 107 instead of U 99, which they claimed was not seaworthy, and were told by the Royal Navy that it was destined for America.

It follows that the German U-boat on Poole Quay during January 1919 was the Type 93 U 107. And there the story would have ended if it was not for some research carried out by another Culture Volunteer who found a short film of the actual visit in the British Pathe Archive (www.britishpathe.com/video/u-boats-visit-the-south-coast). The film shows the U-boat alongside Poole Quay, near the Customs House, with crowds of people clearly inspecting the U-boat with great interest. However, it must have been with mixed feelings. U 107 is believed to have sunk 25 000 tons of shipping since its launch in 1917. Curiosity at seeing a U-boat close-up must have been coupled with sadness knowing this, together with over three hundred like it, had sunk millions of tons of shipping and cost tens of thousands of lives.

Poole First World War Timeline Reaches 100 Records on the Centenary of the Battle of Amiens

The Poole First World War Timeline is a fascinating chronological catalogue of events from 1914 to just after the end of the War. It brings to life the impact of the war on Poole and those who lived in the town against a backdrop of the major historical events. It is appropriate that this point has been reached as August 8 is the centenary of the Battle of Amiens which was a major turning point in the war and marked the beginning of the end of the conflict.

The timeline is being created using the resources of the Poole History Centre and, in particular, the East Dorset Herald newspaper so as to bring a local aspect to an international conflict.

Each record has information about an event for a particular day and there is often a link to more information which means that the timeline can act as a gateway to further resources. It is also not a static record because new or additional information is always being added.

But what can we learn about the First World War and Poole? The timeline describes major events, such as the Battle of Verdun, the sinking of the RMS Lusitania, and the Battle of Jutland, but its uniqueness is that it places these against the effect of the war at a local level.

So, for instance, we learn that a letter was published in the East Dorset Herald on 7 September 1914 asking for the loan of bicycles to help Poole Sea Scouts patrol Sandbanks. This was an important role because many places along the coast were fearful of spies being landed and there were concerns over a possible naval attack.

The First World War was a time of social change within the town. It was considered noteworthy that, as reported in the East Dorset Herald newspaper of 2 September 1915, three women were now working in the Poole postal area.

The First World War involved everybody in the town. A tank, which was a British invention, visited many towns and cities in the country to raise funds for the war effort. When one came to Poole in June 1918, Poole Secondary School pupils were praised for purchasing over £1000 of war certificates.

G9_0016

First World War Tank on Poole Quay from the collection of Poole Museum

What has been surprising when looking at the local newspaper is just how much was done through charity and fund-raising. For example, money was raised for many local hospitals, such as the Cornelia Hospital, to look after wounded soldiers, to provide food parcels for POWs and to provide warm clothing for soldiers. It also extended to providing, for example, hospital and refreshment vans. We take for granted the National Health Service and the Welfare State and it is hard to understand what life would have been like in their absence at a time of major disruption. Families were being torn apart through bereavement and wounded soldiers needed hospitals and after-care. There was great uncertainty and social upheaval during the war, but this continued after the Armistice was signed when hundreds of thousands of men returned home not knowing if they had a job, a home or a family.

Poole, the First World War and its Legacy timeline

Military Appeal Tribunals Part 2: ‘Are There Any Women Here Today?’

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‘Australian Sketches Made on Tour, p.30. Harry Furniss. Public Domain’

Women were largely represented in the local appeal tribunals through the words of others.

Although women had been earning law degrees since 1888, at the time of the First World War they could not technically graduate or have their degrees awarded to them. This was compounded in 1913 when the Law Society refused to let four women sit the Law Society examinations. These women took their case to the court of appeal, but the court decided in the Society’s favour, Mr. Justice Joyce ruling that, ‘women were not ‘persons’ within the meaning of the 1843 Solicitors Act.’

It would remain this way until the Sex Disqualification Act of 1919. Therefore, they would not be representing the men appealing for exemption for military service as Harold Salt (a solicitor from Bournemouth) would do so often throughout 1916 to 1918.

However, there was at least one woman out of the thirteen people who made up the Poole Tribunal Board. Her name was Edith Cloutman. Born Edith Hicks, she was married to a builder’s clerk named Sidney Thomas Cloutman and they lived on Curtis Road in Upper Parkstone. When she was voted onto the local tribunal board in 1916 she was already a member of the Poole Board of Guardians, representing Parkstone East, and had been doing so for some time prior to 1914.

In 1921 she would be appointed as a magistrate, one of two women to do so that year – the other being Mrs. Reginald Fawkes. These two would be the first women appointed as magistrates in Poole.

The Bournemouth Guardian for 3rd December 1921 would describe Edith as:

‘[A] Labour Party nominee, she is a good worker upon the Board of Guardians, but has not yet obtained success in her attempts to capture a seat upon the Council. Her quiet, practical wisdom and sane judgement will be of value on the Bench, as will her sympathy with the unfortunate.’

In 1916, though, all that lay ahead.

Continue reading

Work Experience submarine research

This work was done by a student on work experience at the Museum. They have collected some information about the men from Poole who served on Submarines from the Roll of Honour.

Only two men from Poole served on Royal Navy submarines and didn’t return – this was because the British admiralty thought at the time that submersible warfare was scandalous, and the only ‘right and proper’ way to do battle at sea was on the surface. Only eighty were in service when the First World War began in 1914, but by the end of it the Royal Navy had employed around 350 (Germany had more, at about 375).

Charles Trickett served on the Royal Navy HM Submarine L.55. Based in Tallinn, Estonia, it was part of the Baltic Battle squadron fighting for Baltic independence against the Soviet Union. On the 9th July, 1919, she attacked two Soviet minelayer-destroyers in the Gulf of Finland. But she missed her targets and was forced into a minefield, where she was sunk by soviet gunfire. The wreck was recovered by Soviet salvage crews in 1927, and raised in August 1928 – the remains of the 34 crewmen were returned to Britain to be buried in Portsmouth. The submarine was repurposed and later used for training crews in the Soviet Union.

Hedley Alexander Grant served on the HM Submarine L.10. One of the first of the L-Class boats serving in the Royal Navy, she was sent to the North Sea to try to prevent German minelaying over British naval routes. On the 3rd October 1918, only four months old, she came across a raiding party of four destroyers who had stopped, as one of them had detonated a mine. As they were distracted, her commander Alfred Edward Whitehouse was able to take them by surprise and hit a destroyer with a torpedo, sinking it. However, L.10 was forced to surface and was spotted by the other members of the raiding party, as well as another lone destroyer. She attempted to escape, but was outmatched and too slow to evade them. She was sunk 11:03 (CET) with all 38 crewmen lost.L.52

 

Information and picture from www.naval-history.net

War Poetry

Austin Threlfall Nankivell (1884-1942) was Poole’s Medical Officer of Health between 1914 – 1921.  He was called up in 1915 and became a captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps until 1918, when he returned to his post in Poole.

He published articles and a book during the war, about trench fever and hygiene for soldiers.  He also penned a war poem:

THE HOUSE OF DEATH

SURELY the Keeper of the House of Death
Had long grown weary of letting in the old—
Of welcoming the aged, the short of breath,
Sad spirits, duller than their tales oft-told.
He must have longed to gather in the gold
Of shining youth to deck his dreary spaces—
To hear no more old wail and sorrowing.
And now he has his wish, and the young faces
Are crowding in: and laughter fills Death’s places;
And all his courts are gay with flowers of Spring.

 

Taken from A treasury of war poetry, British and American poems of the world war, 1914-1919

by George Herbert Clarke, 1917

Thanks to Poole’s Health Record for the information.