Poole twins Roger and Harry Carter, as Quakers, would not take up arms to fight in the First World War. They were conscientious objectors.

Some ‘conchies’, in the febrile, patriotic atmosphere of the time, were wrongly dubbed cowards. Roger and Harry were anything but that. The pair joined the Friends Ambulance Unit going across to France and Flanders. One of them, Roger, was gassed in the last months of the war. He survived.

Roger Callaway Carter and Harry Balston Carter belonged to one of Poole’s most influential families. The Carters were the family that founded Carter’s tiles that gave birth to Poole Pottery.

Roger Callaway Carter courtesy of John Reynolds

Roger Callaway Carter courtesy of John Reynolds

The twins’ grandfather, Jesse Carter, was the son of a bricklayer. He had been born in Winchester, became a bricklayer himself and married a woman called Mary Callaway.  A member and sometimes preacher of the strict religious movement, the Plymouth Brethren, Jesse had become a partner in an ironmongery and builders’ merchants company in Weybridge.

Jesse Carter, the twins' Grandfather

Jesse Carter, the twins’ Grandfather

But Jesse possessed unusual business acumen. When he visited Poole, he spotted an opportunity. An encaustic tile and brick company on Poole’s East Quay had got into financial difficulties and closed down. Jesse acquired the site and Carter’s Tiles was born.

The Carters moved to Poole, first living at ‘St Aubyn’s’ in Market Street and then at the impressive West End House in St James Close near the parish Church. Built in the 18th century, it had originally been the home of a wealthy Poole merchant who had made his fortune in the Newfoundland trade.

Jesse, a self-made man, began to expand the Carter’s range, producing decorative glazed and painted wall tiles along with the popular red floor tiles. He took three of his sons, Charles, Owen and Ernest into the business, while a fourth, William, took over Kinson Pottery. Ernest, sadly, died of rheumatic fever at the age of 27.

Charles, who had briefly worked at an ironmongery in the High Street that would later become W.E. Boone’s, was sent by his father to work at Weybridge. There, reportedly, he attended a Roman Catholic mass but was ‘disgusted’ by an absurd assertion made by the priest, who had allegedly claimed it was better to commit 1,000 murders than leave the Catholic Church.

Charles, a vegetarian and later evidently attracted to the Quakers, was soon back in Poole. Always close to his brother William, he married William’s wife Eliza’s half-sister, Annie Elizabeth Balston, whose twine-manufacturer father, Alfred, was a radical politician and had been town mayor. Brother Owen, who became a Quaker, later married a third Balston sister.

As the years passed, Jesse became less directly involved in the business. While Owen concentrated on the more artistic, decorative side, Charles became the managing director of Carter’s and later chairman of the pottery company.

Charles made a name for himself in the town, too, becoming a Freemason, a senior Poole JP and twice mayor of the borough.

Charles Carter, the twins' father

Charles Carter, the twins’ father

Charles and Annie Carter had four children. First came Charles Cyril Carter, born in 1888. Two years afterwards, on 22 September 1890, twins Roger Callaway and Harry Balston came into the world. A year later Charles’ and Annie’s only daughter, Maude Jessie, was born.

Carter family photo with Maude Jesse front left and Roger Callaway front right

Carter family photo with Maude Jesse front left and Roger Callaway front right

Around this time, the Carters were living in a house called ‘Runnymede’ in Parkstone Road, Poole. In 1901, however, they had moved to ‘Belle Vue’ in Seldown Road. It would remain Charles’ and Annie’s home for the next 30 or so years.

That same year, the 10-year-old twins and their older brother were boarders at Sidcot School, a Quaker school in the village of Winscombe, Somerset. (Its former pupils today include the actor Zoe Wanamaker, Justin Webb of Radio 4’s Today programme and Anthony Waller who directed, amongst others, the film An American Werewolf in Paris.)

Ten years later, the twins, now young men and members of the Society of Friends whose Poole place of worship was in Lagland Street, were back living at Belle Vue. The family had a ‘lady help’ and two servants living with them.

Carter Tiles, by now, had an international reputation and Charles’ three sons all joined the family firm. Harry was a ‘clerk’ and Roger ‘under works manager’.

When war broke out in 1914, the twins’ older brother, Charles Cyril, responded to his country’s call. In October of that year he was given the rank of Lieutenant in the 4th Battalion of the Dorsetshire Regiment.

Roger and Harry, both Quakers committed to peace, took a different decision.  They declared themselves to be Conscientious Objectors and volunteered to serve instead with the Friends Ambulance Unit.

The Friends Ambulance Unit (FAU) was a khaki uniform-wearing civilian ambulance service set up at the start of the war by a group of Quakers. Over the coming war years its 1,000 members would serve in France and Belgium, as well as at home.

The FAU carried out duties that ranged from relief work in Allied-occupied Flanders, (including looking after those affected by the typhoid epidemic at Ypres), to staffing many hospitals and supporting French soldiers wounded in the battle-torn Champagne and Argonne regions.

The twins’ record cards carry the words ‘Exemption: Absolute. Grounds: Consc Obj’. (Conscientious Objection.)

Roger, aged nearly 25, was the first to join the FAU.  He served with the ambulance unit, that came under the wing of the Red Cross, from 20 July 1915, giving his previous occupation as ‘tile manufacturer’.

His personnel card shows that he declared that he had ‘experience of ambulance work’ and ‘a little motoring’, as well as camping. Also, that he could speak French.

The FAU sent him for a few weeks’ training near Watford, then posted him over to the war zone in France.

For the rest of the conflict, he served as a driver or chauffeur, based at FAU stations such as Coxyde, Woesten, Adinkerk and Crombeke in Belgium as well as places in France like Rexpoede, Pont St Maxence, Beverin and Kursaal, which was the Unit’s headquarters based in a hotel in Dunkirk that was also used as a hospital.

Roger who was there for three and a half years, suffered from a gas attack in late August 1918, not long before the war ended. He underwent treatment for more than three weeks, then was granted nearly six weeks’ home leave almost straight after.

He left the unit on 25 January 1919, less than three months after the Armistice.

Harry Balston Carter, courtesy of John Reynolds

Harry Balston Carter, courtesy of John Reynolds

Meanwhile, his brother Harry – probably an identical twin and now 25 – had followed in his footsteps. He joined the Friends Ambulance Unit on 1 December 1915 with his father, Poole magistrate Charles Carter, paying for his kit.

His personnel record card shows that: his previous occupation had been ‘Voluntary Social Worker’ (he must have left the family firm); that he could ride a motorcycle; spoke French and German; and had special skills in ‘music, singing and cello’.

He was sent immediately for training at Jordans camp in Buckinghamshire before being posted, just before the year ended, to work as an orderly (assisting the medical and nursing staff) in war-torn France and Belgium.

The Friends Ambulance Unit – whose volunteers were unpaid – staffed many hospitals in France and Flanders, at places like Ypres and Poperinghe. Harry was stationed at Kursaal, Crombeke, Woesten and the Queen Alexandra Hospital at Malo-les-Bains, Dunkirk.

For two weeks in February 1917, he was treated for sickness himself.

When the war was eventually over, Harry left the ambulance unit on 15 February 1919, three weeks after his brother.

By volunteering to join the Friends Ambulance Unit before the Government introduced conscription in early 1916, existing members of the FAU, like Roger and Harry, received almost automatic exemption. They did not have to appear before the local tribunals set up to consider applications to be exempted from combat.

(A ‘Conscience’ clause in the Military Service Act gave conscientious objectors the chance to be granted exemption from being enlisted. From early 1916 they would have to argue their case at their local tribunal. Those men called before a tribunal would be asked such questions as: ‘If your sister was threatened with rape by an enemy soldier, what would you do?’ Or: ‘If you could save hundreds or women and children by taking a life, what would you do?’

Only a small number of men were given exemption. The tribunals, like the country as a whole, generally had little sympathy for ‘conchies’. Many were called cowards, cads or even traitors, despite the courage needed to take their stand. Those turned down could be enlisted in the Army and, if they continued to resist military orders, would be court martialled and imprisoned, often in harsh conditions. In all, 16,000 men in Britain refused to fight.)

Many conscientious objectors returning from the war faced hostility from the community and struggled to find work. That was unlikely to have badly affected Roger and Harry Carter who had ‘done their bit’.

Like every soldier returning from a theatre of war abroad, both had been awarded the British War and Victory medals, as well as the 1914-15 Star. (Harry just qualified for the latter by sailing to France on New Year’s Eve 1915.) The medals were known to the Tommies as ‘Pip, Squeak and Wilfred’ after a newspaper comic strip of the time.

And what of their sister, Maude Jessie? She, too, was a volunteer with the Red Cross during the war, putting in 3,550 hours’ work at the Cornelia and Forest Holme hospital from 1915 to the end of the war. Later, she would marry her widowed cousin, Herbert Spencer Carter, who was five times Poole’s Mayor and would give his name to a Poole school. They lived at The Hermitage in Upper Parkstone.

(During the war, cousin Herbert had also been interviewed by the Friends Ambulance Unit but was not taken on because he declared he did not have a conscientious objection to taking life. He was judged by the Army to be fit only for sedentary work. Herbert was employed in the Ministry of Munitions Explosives Supplies and carried out some voluntary work for the Red Cross overseeing stretcher bearers at the Cornelia Hospital when the ambulance trains carrying wounded soldiers arrived in Poole.  Incidentally, another of Maude and her brothers’ Carter cousins would one day become a leading astrologer.)

After the war, twins, Roger and Harry both returned to live with the family at Belle Vue, in Seldown Road. There they registered as voters. (Around that time, it was proposed that the house, along with nearby Forest Holme, be purchased as a convalescent home for soldiers as a memorial to those who fell. The idea was later rejected in favour of a war memorial in Poole Park.)

Harry would soon marry a lady 12 years younger than him. Born in Boscombe, Lola Victorine Salomon was the daughter of artist, sculptor and photographer Herman Salomon and his French-born wife Victorine Charlotte, née Bertrand. They had had a home at Castle Hill, Parkstone when Lola was a pupil at the nearby Dane Court School in St Peter’s Road, Parkstone. It was the same school to which the famous painter Augustus John sent his children.

Harry Balston Carter marries, courtesy of John Reynolds

Harry Balston Carter marries, courtesy of John Reynolds

Harry, it is believed, pursued a career in music and he and Lola moved to the outskirts of London. In 1928, he was registered as an elector, living in Hillingdon, west London. His in-laws, the Salomons, were at the same address.

In 1929, however, Harry Balston Carter, was listed in the Kelly’s Directory for Hertfordshire as living at Hill Cottage in Chorleywood, Hertfordshire.

Years later, from 1936 to 1938, Harry and Lola had moved again. They were now had a home in Hatch End, near Harrow.

Harry and Lola with their young son, Jon, courtesy of John Reynolds

Harry and Lola with their young son, Jon, courtesy of John Reynolds

In 1939, however, the Register of England and Wales, compiled just after the Second World War had begun, showed that they were back at Hill Cottage, in Chorleywood. (The cottage had once been used as a rehearsal room by Sir Henry Wood, the founder of the Royal Albert Hall Proms and would later become a Catholic Church.)

Harry and Lola, who had two sons and two daughters, eventually moved back to Poole, to a flat at Castlemount in Glenair Road, Parkstone, not far from the Civic Centre (in the house where his widowed mother had lived.)

It was where Harry had been living before he passed away in Poole hospital on 17 May 1960 at the age of 69, just six months after his twin brother.

Roger’s life had taken a different course. A year after the war ended, he, too, got married. His bride was a Kent-born lady, seven years his junior, called Ethel Eileen Gripper, known as Eileen. The ceremony took place at Steyning in Sussex.

The couple lived in a house called ‘Wykeham’ on Mount Pleasant Road, near Belle Vue and, in 1927, Eileen gave birth to a baby boy. They called him Roger Philip.

Tragically, the infant died before he was two years old. His gravestone, featuring a little statue of an angel on top, bears the inscription: ‘In memory of Roger Philip Carter, infant son of Eileen and Roger Carter. Born July 11 1927. Died October 7 1929. “Of such is the kingdom of heaven.”’

The grave of Roger and Lola’s infant son in Parkstone Cemetery

The grave of Roger and Lola’s infant son in Parkstone Cemetery

(The twins’ father Charles would pass away five years later at the age of about 64, leaving estate worth nearly £470,000. Their mother, Annie, would survive him by 11 years. Their grandfather, Jesse, had died in 1927, aged 96.)

Happily, other children were born to Roger and Eileen and the family, it seems, may have spent time in Portugal, which was given as their ‘last permanent address’ on a shipping document in 1935. They were to return to Britain in 1936, sailing from Lisbon and now giving their ‘last permanent address’ as Switzerland.

Back in England, after staying first at Roger’s mother’s home at Castlemount in Glenair Avenue, Parkstone, they set up their own home a few miles away at Waterford Lodge, Bure Road in Mudeford.  In the 1939 Register of England and Wales, Roger, now 49, gave his occupation as ’Honorary Secretary, Refugees Committee’.

Sometime later, the family emigrated to Durban, South Africa. Roger passed away there on 7 October 1959.

Poignantly, his name was added to the inscription on the headstone 8,000 miles away in Parkstone Cemetery that marks the little grave of his first-born child who had died 30 years before at the age of just 20 months.

Footnote: Six hundred men served with the Friends Ambulance Unit in France. The FAU set up dozens of hospitals in France and Flanders, staffed dressing stations on the front line and provided motor ambulances that transported 260,000 sick and wounded soldiers away from the fields of battles. They had four ambulance trains which, moved half a million seriously wounded men, and two ambulance ships that carried 33,000 men back to Britain. They also inoculated 27,000 Belgians against typhus and fed and clothed refugees.

At first, they worked with the French Army but later with the British Army, too, treating not just Allied casualties but German ones, as well. (Source: Conscientious Objectors by Ann Kramer, Barnsley, Pen and Sword, 2014.)

Acorns and Horse Chestnuts for Holton Heath

The rapid expansion in munition factories placed a great demand on everything from construction to the need for a workforce. The Royal Naval Cordite Factory at Holton Heath required, in only a year, a workforce of around 4,000 with the vast majority having no experience in the work they were being asked to carry out. The need for raw materials also began to outstrip supply. A Culture volunteer on the Poole History Centre First World War project describes the part that Holton Heath played in improving the availability of one important raw material.

The Royal Naval Cordite Factory at Holton Heath was built in 1915 to supply Cordite MD which was used by the Royal Navy as a propellant for its guns. Cordite MD was produced by blending nitroglycerine with guncotton and petroleum jelly in acetone to give a ‘dough’. The mixture was then extruded to produce ‘cords’ of cordite. The acetone was recovered by drying the cordite in a current of warm air and then reused. Typically, up to 60% could be recovered.

The recovery process was not without its dangers as acetone is flammable. In November 1919, Jesse Orchard, of Parkstone, was killed whilst measuring the temperature of the process in the Acetone Recovery Store No 1 Cordite Section. He had worked at Holton Heath since 1915. The extent of the explosion was such that part of the plant was found nearly a quarter of a mile away.

The quantities of acetone required to manufacture cordite far exceeded the amount that could be produced by the destructive distillation of wood which was how it was normally produced. An alternative route was desperately needed.

In 1912, a Manchester University lecturer, Dr Chaim Weizmann, had developed a way of making acetone by the bacterial fermentation of grain using clostridium acetobutylicum. The process was similar to the yeast fermentation of sugar to make alcohol. Little interest had been shown in his process even when he offered it to the Government in 1914 but this changed with the increasing need for acetone. Weizmann’s work came to the attention of David Lloyd George (Minister of Munitions) and Winston Churchill (First Lord of the Admiralty). Weizmann was invited to the Admiralty in 1916 and met Churchill who reportedly asked him if he could make 30,000 tons of acetone to which Weizmann replied he had only managed to make a few hundred mls. He needed to work with brewers who had the experience of working on fermentation on a large scale. With Government support, a scale-up of the process using equipment at Nicholson’s Gin Distillery in London proved it was a viable route and, after 6-7 months, acetone was being produced on a half-ton scale.

The success of the work encouraged the Admiralty to build an acetone factory at Holton Heath in 1917 at a cost of £133,000 for the building and £50,000 to equip it. It was the largest building on site with eight (another source refers to six) concrete fermentation vessels, each 36ft in diameter, as well as a storage facility 85ft high and 130ft long for the grain. Production of acetone began with maize imported from America; another source refers to ‘damaged rice’ being used. However, the German U-boat campaign meant that food supplies were badly affected and any grain was needed to feed the population.

In response, the Ministry of Munitions asked schoolchildren to collect horse chestnuts and acorns as an alternative raw material. It was claimed that if 200,000 tons of horse chestnuts were collected this would be the equivalent of 100,000 tons of grain. A note of caution was expressed that only those that had fallen from the trees should be collected – presumably to deter enthusiastic tree climbers! It was also emphasised they were not fit for human consumption. In an advert in the Poole and East Dorset Herald of 18 October 1917 the Superintendent at Holton Heath said he was prepared to buy bushels of ‘good acorns’ at 1s 3d (6 ½p) a bushel for lots over 50 bushels. A bushel is a measure of volume and is equal to 8 gallons (equivalent to ca 36L) of grain. Sacks were provided and, when filled, the sacks could then be delivered to the nearest railway station in Dorset for transport to Holton Heath.

Schools in Poole responded to the call. It was reported in November 1917 that schoolchildren at Longfleet School had collected 3 ½ tons of acorns while pupils at Poole Secondary School had amassed 4 tons of acorns. The Mayoress of Poole, who was handing out prizes at the Secondary School’s awards ceremony, said she proposed to give an acorn-shaped item of jewellery to a pupil, Winnie Durant, because of the number of acorns she had collected. Broadstone Council School gathered 100 bushels of acorns and 20 bushels of horse chestnuts (total weight 3 tons). George Aldridge was the star pupil having collected 2 ½ cwt. Cwt = hundredweight, an old measure of weight and is equivalent to 50.8kg.

A view of Poole from Constitution Hill towards Baiter

The photograph shows a typical view from Constitution Hill towards Baiter – a scene considerably more rural than it is now.

The actual process of making acetone was not very successful because the change in raw material meant that yields were lower than expected which made it costly to produce. Even so, it is believed that 20,000 tons of acetone were manufactured using the fermentation process, although it is not known if this is just Holton Heath or includes breweries taken over by the Admiralty and a site in Canada. The end of the war and the development of Cordite SC, which was solventless and did not require acetone, made the building redundant. The storage building was demolished in August 1934. Some of the concrete fermenters were modified as air raid shelters during the Second World War.