Poole First World War Trophies and a puzzle

After the First World War, it was quite common for war trophies to be distributed to towns and cities and put on display. This was not an unusual occurrence. Poole had obtained a Russian cannon reputedly from the siege of Sebastopol in the Crimea. The classic looking cannon was originally sited under the Guildhall, moved to Sterte Esplanade in 1936 and finally ended up in Poole Park before being scrapped during the Second World War.

Photograph 1

Poole Council had contacted the War Office in January 1919 hoping that the town would be considered a suitable place to exhibit items from the First World War.  Poole was subsequently awarded three trophies. It was announced in April that the Royal Army Ordnance Depot had allocated a German machine gun, gun mounting and ammunition box to Poole. The Council decided that it would be passed on to the Poole Museum for possible display.

The Poole Council minutes of June 1919 record that a large German artillery gun was to be presented to the town. A few months later, the Poole and East Dorset Herald newspaper reported that it was to be put in Poole Park near the East Gates.  In the photograph, it can be seen just to the right of one of the pillars and has been identified as a 12.5cm German breech-loading towed field gun.

Photograph 2

What local people thought of this addition to Poole Park is not known. Some residents in other towns did not take too kindly to this reminder of the conflict. In 1920, people in Lynton, Devon, threw their trophy into Glenn Lynn Gorge. Dorchester locals were so angered by their German gun that the local council removed it and put it in a Council yard. In contrast, Poole’s gun remained in Poole Park until 1928 when it was offered to the Dorsetshire Heavy Brigade of the Royal Artillery who didn’t want it. The gun finally went to the Poole Ex-Serviceman’s Club where it remained until sold for scrap in 1940 for £2 13s 0d.

Poole’s third war trophy is more of a mystery. The Mayor announced in September 1919 that a heavy gun which had been used by Dorset men had arrived in Poole. Shortly afterwards, a concrete base in Sterte, near the Spring Well, was built but it took several months before the 12” British howitzer was put in place. A team from the Royal Garrison Artillery at Weymouth was involved in moving it by rails from the adjacent railway sidings to the site. The barrel was raised 45 degrees and pointed towards the town. Not long afterwards, the local newspaper reported on the need for railings as children were playing on the gun. Tantalisingly, the Poole and East Dorset Herald newspaper said that there would be an article about the story behind the gun and its use by Dorset men but none has yet been found.

Photograph 3

This photograph in the Poole History Centre archive is of an artillery gun on Sterte but the photograph is uncaptioned. It shows a large gun, with its barrel at 45 degrees, on the shoreline and pointing towards the town. Is this the First World War trophy of 1919? The photograph is not very clear and the gun can only be tentatively identified as a British 12in BL Mark 4 Siege Howitzer. This type of howitzer was also used in the Second World War and, therefore, would explain why it was not removed for scrap, as was the fate of the other trophy. But is this identification correct? And what was the story behind the Dorset gun?


Dorset Guild of Workers – A remarkable voluntary organisation

A rarely mentioned aspect of the First World War is the huge amount of voluntary work that provided for the armed forces what we would assume was supplied as standard. A Culture volunteer on the Poole History Centre First World War project describes the activities of one such organisation, the Dorset Guild of Workers, which was based in Poole.

Lady Feodorovna Alington and Cornelia, Lady Wimborne started the East Dorset Guild of Workers from 20, Market Street, Poole. It was not long before it had grown to encompass Dorset with the majority of branches in Poole, but also as far afield as Dorchester and Sherborne.

20 Market Street in 1940s

20 Market Street in 1940s

In a letter of 21 November 1914 to the local newspaper, Feodorovna Alington and Cornelia, Wimborne reported that the request in October for 1000 pairs of mittens (gloves) for the Dorset Territorial Reserves Battalion had been fulfilled. However, the letter went on to say that although they had supplied 4,000 hessian sleeping bags many thousands more were desperately needed. A startling comment was that ‘none of these things are supplied by the Government’.

The work of the Guild evolved as the war developed. Initially, there was a need to provide clothing and bedding for the tens of thousands of recruits and to help those at the various fronts. As the conflict moved into stalemate and its consequences, there were also additional demands to supply the burgeoning number of military hospitals and prisoners of war.

The Guild had two funds. The first was the General Fund, which as its name implies, supplied clothing and equipment where it was needed and the Prisoners of War Fund which was specifically aimed at providing food and clothing for Dorset Regiment prisoners of war. In June 1917, a view was expressed that if POWs in Germany did not receive food parcels from organisations such as the Dorset Guild ‘these men would starve’.

For a while, the Guild was the sole supplier for Dorset Regiment men in captivity and subscribers could ‘adopt’ a prisoner at 5s (25p) per week but this increased as the price of materials went up. It was only from 1 December 1917 that the War Office allowed ‘personal parcels’ to be sent to POWs by relatives – even then they could only be sent once a quarter and should weigh between 3 and 11lbs. The reason for the restrictions was because everything was delivered via the postal service and the system could easily be overwhelmed.

What did the Guild supply? In summary, clothing and medical supplies through the General Fund and food and clothing through the Prisoners of War Fund. Most of the knitted articles were made by groups of women but the Guild also accepted donations.

The reports in the Poole and East Dorset Herald newspaper during the war years record in incredible detail the number of items that were despatched and where they went. It was reported that between 29 January and 12 February 1917, 2591 items were received and 3894 items were despatched – the latter all by post. Although they were primarily for British troops and organisations there could also be an international element. The Romanian Government reported that they were desperately short of hospital supplies and the Guild despatched 30 roller bandages, 25 hospital flannel shirts, and 200 bandages to Romania.

At a meeting held at its headquarters at 20, Market Street it was reported that the Guild had received between 30 March – 2 April 1917 the following:

Shirts 10
Mufflers (Scarves) 158
Mittens (Gloves) 76
Steering gloves 6
Hospital bandages 83
Bed Jackets 13
Walking sticks 56
Anti-vermin vests 120
Multi-tail Bandages 6
Slippers 14
Sun shields 190

Lice were a serious problem and anti-vermin vests were tight fitting in attempt to stop them while multi-tail bandages were for chest wounds. The Guild supplied other medical supplies such as pneumonia vests, which were worn over the chest and often soaked in fat, and nightingales which were worn over the shoulder when in bed. Lady Smith Dorrien’s Hospital Bag Fund thanked the Guild for 100 hospital bags in September 1917 but requirements were expected to be 4,000 a day! Interestingly, other organisations, similar to the Dorset Guild, were criticised for producing what were deemed ‘fancy’ articles rather than useful.

As the conflict dragged on, what was made and despatched to the battle fronts depended on the time of year. In March, the request was for mosquito nets, sunshades and anti-vermin vests in anticipation of warmer weather, but from August it was for gloves and scarves. The mosquito nets had to be treated and the White House Laundry in Poole offered to do the work on the 3000 yards of netting being made by Guild workers.

How were the items supplied? They were despatched to ‘Comfort Pools’ at the various fronts. Officers of the various units contacted the officer in charge of the ‘Comfort Pool’ requesting the supply of various items which were then sent if available. While the Dorset Guild had a close association with the Dorset Regiment there were many new military units, such as the Labour Corps and the Machine Gun Corps, which had no specific organisation to look after their needs so that there were great demands on the ‘Comforts Pool’.

What was supplied was greatly appreciated. As well as official acknowledgements, such as from the Civil Service Rifles, the 10th Gloucesters and the 1st Coldstream Guards, postcards were often received from POWs saying their parcels had arrived.

An officer POW in Mesopotamia, who had received 100 mufflers, had reported ‘it is very cold now and if you could see the joy on the men’s faces when they received them’ would be ample reward for the Guild’s hard work.

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

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

In November 1916, the Dorset Guild proposed to send to every Dorset Regiment man in captivity, as it had done the previous Christmas, a Christmas Pudding, preserved fruit, cigarettes etc. For 5s a donor could also have their name on the parcel so that the POW would know who had provided them with the gift. The Guild had hoped to send each man a blanket but, for various reasons, this was been prohibited. Also because ‘of the great stress of work in the Post Office at Christmas’ packages had to be despatched before December 10th.

A year later, Dorset POWs in Germany got a parcel containing ‘Christmas pudding, roast beef and potatoes, sausages, cheese, tea, jam, marmalade, crystallised ginger, curry powder and soap… 1/2lb of tobacco and a pipe’. It was hoped that adopters or relatives of the men would pay the cost of 10s but in any event a parcel would be sent. In January 1917, Dorset POWs in Germany were to receive a clothes parcel containing a vest, one shirt, one pair of pants, two pillows and a handkerchief.

A grim feature of the Guild’s adverts in the local newspaper was that often they recorded the number of Dorset Regiment prisoners of war. The advert for 1 March 1917 reported that in Germany there 370 POWs, in Turkey 319 (addresses not all known) and in Bulgaria 5.

The local newspaper report of the AGM held at the Guildhall, Poole, covering from September 1915 to September 30th 1916, goes into incredible detail about the activities of the Guild. The charity was now registered with the War Charities Act which came into being in 1916 – an important aspect was correct accounting presumably because of the dramatic increase in voluntary organisations. The Guild reported it was supplying the Dorsets in France as best it could but was uncertain about those in Mesopotamia. The Director General of Voluntary Organisations had informed the Guild that there would be an increasing need from Military Hospitals.

The report lists every organisation that had given money and these included the Parkstone Angling Society £5, Hamworthy Sewing Circle 15s (75p), and Oakdale School 12s 11d. Also recorded is expenditure with the highest being on wool (£325 10s 4d). Three parcels of food were being sent every fortnight to every Dorset Regiment prisoner – last year this cost 5/- (25p) and now cost 6/3 (31 1/2p) because of the rise in food prices. Individuals could adopt a prisoner of war.

Twenty-six branches submitted a report to the AGM. For example, the Poole & Parkstone Branch had made 295 articles and also picked sphagnum moss, while the Poole and Longfleet Circle had made 823 articles. It was noted that other places were helping out with the despatch of items because the demand was too great for Poole. For example, Dorchester was now handling parcels for Dorset POWs in Turkey.

There was no National Health Service and when a temporary Military Hospital opened it was voluntary organisations who supplied it. In 1917, the Guild provided supplies for the Springfield Hospital in Parkstone prior to its opening; the Torbay House and Parkstone Circles of the Guild were praised for the speed with which they had make curtains, chair covers and similar items. In 1917, the Guild was asked to supply Studland Hospital which was to open in April. In October 1917, the Guild received a request for 60 pyjamas that were ‘needed at once’ by the Dorset County Hospital. The Guild also supplied hospitals in other districts such as, for example, Streatham War Hospital, London who thanked them for supplies of sphagnum moss.

Fund raising was essential for the Guild which relied solely on donations. An advert for the Guilds ‘Great Fete’ in Poole Park 18 August 1917 made note that ‘Poole had a beautiful Park, with its advantages and attractions’ which should make the Fete a great success. So many demands were being placed on the Guild that in May 1917 the Committee had purchased £150 of goods ‘on credit’.

The end of the war did not mean the end of the Guild’s activities as there were prisoners of war waiting to be repatriated, millions of men waiting for demobilisation and an Army of Occupation in Germany, but it did mean that there was less pressure and the closure of the various groups began.

The local newspaper of 27 February 1919 reported that the Canford Cliffs Circle of the Guild had closed. It had begun in October 1914 with five members (Misses Grieg, Misses Putnam and Mrs McWilliams) and a wool order of £7 – in 1918 they had 172 members and a single order for wool was £180. The vast majority of members were women. In total, they raised £754 17s for the Prisoners of War Fund and £1075 12s 6d for the General Fund. They also made or provided a total of nearly 33,000 articles which were all taken to the Depot in Poole for despatch. Surprisingly, it also included 15,675 moss dressings and sacks of raw moss. Why sphagnum moss? It was used as surgical dressings with the moss being wrapped in butter cloth and the sphagnum moss around Canford Cliffs was of a type which was highly absorbent and, therefore, highly suitable for dressings.

The Dorset Guild of Workers closed at a General Meeting held on 29 April 1919. Over 200,000 articles had been donated or made for the troops and 50,000 parcels despatched to Dorset POWs. It was hoped that ‘for women workers there was a great future’ because of the varied work they had been involved which ranged from administration through to manufacture. It was also noted that the Dorset Guild of Workers had been considered as ‘the model of that kind of organisation in England.


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.


‘Poole Girls: The Best’. The Munitionettes of Holton Heath

The Poole and East Dorset Herald newspaper of 7 September 1916 carried an editorial headed ‘Poole Girls: The Best’ about the need for women munition workers at Holton Heath and especially those from Poole. A Culture volunteer on the Poole History Centre First World War project has been exploring various sources, including the local newspaper, to discover what life was like for women munition workers.

Lord Northcliffe, owner of several major newspapers, blamed the death of his nephew on the lack of artillery shells on the Western Front. A newspaper campaign led to the creation of the Ministry of Munitions and an expansion in the number of munition factories. Holton Heath was chosen because it was close to a railway line, was near Poole Harbour for sea transport, and was relatively flat with a few ‘hills’ for the gravity transfer of certain materials. 1915 saw intense activity as heathland was transformed into the Royal Naval Cordite Factory which opened in January 1916 and at its height employed around 4,000, half of them women.

With men needed for the armed services it meant that women were now in demand for jobs that, ordinarily, would have been denied them. However, while the Ministry of Munitions worked hard to promote a positive image of women in its factories, the other Ministries played down their contribution over fears of demands for equal pay. Throughout the war there was an ambivalent attitude towards women workers which moved between actual hostility and an acceptance of change. The local newspaper reported early in 1918 that prior to 1914, the ‘majority of women enter industrial occupations merely as a stop-gap between schooldays and marriage’. The article expected that with 1.5 million women having entered the workplace since 1914 this would change when the war eventually ended.

Women worked in the factories for many reasons; the independence which came from having a wage, better pay, a feeling of wanting to contribute to the war effort, or because of the death of a family member in the war. A survey in 1918 found that the percentage of under-nourished children in London was less than half that in 1913. It is believed that one reason was that women now had control over the pay packet.

Reporting of the work at Holton Heath was covered by many restrictions because of the Defence of the Realm Act. A visit by Poole councillors in September 1916 was only able to describe the hospital and first-rate ‘washing and eating departments’ for women. It was noted that a good lunch was available for 7d – for many women, a canteen meal enabled them to have a regular, proper meal for the first time.

The Poole councillors visit described the work as of ‘congenial character’ which glossed over its dangerous nature. There was a high risk of fire from flammable solvents, vats spewed out acrid choking fumes, there were high levels of dust, and some of the chemicals caused skin rashes and even turned the skin yellow.

Not surprisingly, advertisers were quick to take advantage of the conditions. ‘How women workers can increase strength’ was the headline for an advert of 1918 in the local newspaper. It was claimed that after ‘long hours of hard, nerve-racking work in our munition factories’ Bitro-phosphate tablets were important in helping to maintain a strong nervous system. Another advert claimed that ‘Sanitas’ would cure the sore throats of munition workers. In contrast, a cup of Rowntree’s cocoa was advertised as helping women in the workplace by turning ‘a biscuit into a meal’ and the advertising campaign featured women in a series of jobs.

Rowntree's cocoa advert 1916

The starting wage for women at Holton Heath was 20/- (£1) a week. The local newspaper reported that Bournemouth Labour Exchange and Ministry officials were encouraging girls to go to the factory at Woolwich with the prospect of higher pay. The Mayor of Poole had written strongly against this and expressed hopes they would not leave Poole. Captain Desborough, Superintendent of Holton Heath, intended to have the pay increased because he said that Poole girls were better at the work than elsewhere.

As mentioned before, there was an ambivalent attitude towards munitionettes. They were praised for working for their country at a time of great conflict; ‘who works, fights’ was the rallying cry of David Lloyd George. However, a woman who saw a group of munitionettes at a railway station described them as:

‘a couple of hundred, dehumanized females, Amazonian beings bereft of reason or feeling, judging by the set of their faces, bereft of all charm of appearance, clothed anyhow, skin stained a yellow-brown even to the roots of their dishevelled hair.’

[Quoted in Patricia Fara, ‘A Lab of One’s Own, Science and Suffrage in the First World War’, Oxford University Press]

There were concerns that the work environment would make women ‘masculine’ and even, as one man put it, ‘unlovable’. Some people were concerned that ‘the masculine dress has a psychological effect on the susceptible’.

Reporting restrictions on Holton Heath did not extend to the RNCF Carnival which was regularly held in Poole Park and attracted thousands of visitors. A mixture of entertainments included sport events for men and women. For example, the 1919 women’s tug-of-war final was won by the Gun Cotton Section who beat the Cordite Section 2-0. Interestingly, there were also women’s football matches and in 1917 the Nitroglycerine team defeated the Cordite team in the final. Professional and amateur football was severely curtailed which led to an interest in the women’s game. For example, a Munitionettes Cup was held in the North-East in front of thousands of spectators.

Munitionettes from Poole 1916

While the local newspaper praised the efforts of the munitionettes in 1916 only a year later it reported the commonly-held belief that they were so well-paid they were buying expensive clothes and jewellery. There was no evidence. They may have earned a better wage than elsewhere but they were still paid less than men doing the same work. A correspondent to the same newspaper was asking in January 1918 why women were being paid 25/- (£1.25) per week at Holton Heath compared to men who were receiving £4 plus a £1 war bonus.

Unions struggled to come to terms with the changing workplace. If a woman could do a job it was considered ‘unskilled’ and some employers used this as an opportunity to reduce wages. In 1915, a representative of the Railwayman’s Union expressed a view that women should receive the same wage as this would ‘safeguard the interests of the men’ when they return. Similarly, Newcastle tram workers said that women should be employed at the same wage as men but with the proviso that men would be ‘guaranteed reinstatement’ when the war ended. As early as January 1915, the Secretary of the Federation of Trade Unions had anticipated the problem that would happen when peace was declared. He said ‘if women are turned out, what is to become of them; and if they are allowed to remain, what is to become of the men.’ The newspaper went on to say that ‘in either event the social situation will be perplexing’.

And what did happen to the women after peace was declared? Cordite production at Holton Heath went from around 150 tons per week to 35 tons per week following the Armistice and many lost their jobs. The women who remained were put under a lot of pressure to leave. Millions of returning soldiers came back expecting to get a job and, not surprisingly, found it difficult. At a demonstration of unemployed ex-servicemen in Poole in 1920 it was said that women workers should leave places such as Holton Heath to become domestic servants so as to allow men to have a job. Only a year earlier, a visit by a scientific group to the works had praised the women for their ‘efficient and loyal service’.

The General Election of December 1918 was a landmark and for the first time women could vote – as long as they were over 30 and met certain occupancy conditions; it was another ten years before all women over 21 could vote. Those who got the vote were eager to use it and 73% of the electorate voted in the election of 1922 with the number being boosted by women voters

Although having the vote was a step-forward there was still a resistance to change and many female supervisors found their roles downgraded after the war. The experience of Isabel Emslie Hutton highlighted the experience of many women who, having achieved a senior role, were now faced with the reality of post-war. She had set up and run a major hospital in Serbia in difficult circumstances and was an excellent surgeon. She returned to Britain, struggled to find a job, and on marrying in 1921 had to resign from her basic post because she was now married and her husband was expected to support her.

A consequence of the Restoration of Pre-war Practices Bill to be introduced in Parliament in June 1919 with the aim of returning life to ‘normal’ would have been to make it illegal for women to be employed in engineering. Prior to 1914, trade unions had not allowed women to work in these trades. A newspaper article commented that if the Bill was passed as it stood it would be ‘a farcical anticlimax’ to deny women the opportunity to continue to do something for which, during the war, they had been praised. However, a Ministry of Labour leaflet of the time expressed a different view – ‘a call comes again to the women of Britain’… to sew, to mend, to cook, and to clean and to rear babies’.

It is very difficult to discover what life was like for a First World War munitionette at Holton Heath. What was it like working in the factory, what were attitudes towards the munitionettes from other people, and what happened to them when the war ended? The Poole History Centre First World War project is keen to learn of any personal stories of those who worked at Holton Heath during the First World War that may have been passed down through the generations.

The Curious Case of Mr Taff Rutt

A Culture volunteer working on the Poole History Centre First World War project has come across a remarkable tale of alleged deception and invention with a Poole connection in the Poole and East Dorset Herald newspapers of 1920 and 1921.

Our story begins with a report on the departure from Poole on 16 March 1920 of Taff Rutt and his team of divers to raise the ‘Princess Juliana’, a Dutch mail boat, which had been sunk by a mine off the East Anglian Coast in 1915. Rutt was reported to be the managing director of the Rutt-Nissen Salvage Company, Poole and in charge of the salvage operation. The company shortly afterwards changed its name and Kelly’s Directory for Poole of 1920 lists the Rutt Salvage Company as salvage contractors of Custom House, Poole. Taff Rutt was pictured at Poole with around twelve of his staff as they got ready to depart for Felixstowe.

Custom House, Poole Quay

Customs House, Poole Quay

In the newspaper article, Rutt said he had patented a means of raising sunken vessels and had been awarded the contract to raise the S.S. ‘Mechanician’ which had been mined off St Katharine’s Head, Isle of Wight, in 1917. The vessel was to be raised and then stationed off Bournemouth where visitors could explore the ship on payment of a donation to charity. The newspaper described the process in which several 500ft long water-filled steel cylinders would be attached to the sides of the vessel and then the water would be expelled by air causing the vessel to rise to the surface. A manned submarine, another one of Rutt’s inventions, was to be used to attach the steel cylinders instead of using a team of divers. He was hoping to recover several other vessels that had been lost between St Katharine’s Head and Anvil Point, Durlston using this method – assuming he could find enough harbour space in Poole to take them. He also hoped to use his system to raise the R.M.S. ‘Lusitania’.

The article went on to say that Rutt was an ‘inventive genius’ with around 50 patents of which around three-quarters were commercially successful. He claimed he had invented an aerial torpedo during the First World War which he had attempted to use against a Zeppelin when it attacked London but had to land in the face of anti-aircraft fire. He was arrested but later released. He was now using Poole as a base for his deep sea salvage work.

In July 1920, the Poole and East Dorset Herald again described Rutt’s ‘Deep Water Salvage System’, how trials had been successful, and that after working on the ‘Princess Juliana’ and ‘Mechanician’ he expected to enter into other contracts.

However, a few months later, he was before the Bournemouth Bankruptcy Court with liabilities of around £700 but with apparently assets in the form of shares of around £40,000. He repeated his claim he was inventor and that he had had manufactured 1000 of his aerial torpedoes but these were later scrapped. The case was adjourned.
The story now takes a rather unusual turn. On 17 March 1921, the Poole and East Dorset Herald reported on a story that had appeared in the Western Daily Press about a deep sea diver, Mr Taff Rutt, of the Custom House, Poole. Rutt said he had been employed on surveying the R.M.S. ‘Lusitania’ which had been sunk in the Atlantic by a German U-boat with heavy loss of life.

Rutt claimed he had surveyed the vessel using a ‘patented diving device of his own invention’. The newspaper report described how he had found the ship badly damaged, the funnel had disappeared but some bulkheads remained undamaged. He described being amongst great shoals of fish including conger eels. Working at 42 fathoms was only made possible because of his diving device and the Western Daily Press newspaper report showed him about to make his historic dive. The report went on to add that in 1911 he had been arrested in Berlin as a spy but released and during the war he had helped in the lifting of two ships in the Thames.

Several weeks later, Rutt was in a Bristol court for allegedly obtaining money under false pretences from Captain Gray of the Bristol Shipping Federation. Rutt had claimed he owned three salvage vessels based in Cardiff, Avonmouth and Southampton and was planning to take part in the raising of the ‘Lusitania’. However, he was not ‘satisfied with the Poole seamen’ and wanted to sign on men from Avonmouth. Captain Gray had believed Rutt solely on account of the Western Daily Press article of March 1921.

However, the court heard that the photograph of him allegedly diving near the ‘Lusitania’ was actually a photograph of a Felixstowe diver about to explore the wreck of the ‘Princess Juliana’ off the East Anglian coast in September 1920. The reporter who had written the original article about the ‘Lusitania’ said that Rutt had provided letters from several companies about his involvement in diving.

The next report is from 2 June 1921 where Taff Rutt, or perhaps Alfred Rutt, ‘a salvage engineer formerly of Poole’, was at the Bournemouth Bankruptcy Court. He had allegedly run up debts to help with a new salvage venture at Poole and Bristol. He claimed that they were company, not personal, debts and that the business owed him £4000. When he was asked what were his assets he replied they included work carried out in the Atlantic and ‘my brains’ to which the Official Receiver replied that he was not entitled to his brains – Rutt replied but ‘they are an asset’.

Rutt requested, and was allowed to make, a statement to the court in which he said he had invented numerous inventions that were to be made in Belgium. These included a device for creating musical sounds, a better gyroscope compass, and a method for overcoming resistance to motion to allow objects to move more freely. He also said he had invented a new type of steel which was considerably better than the existing and for which he had received £8000. However, the Government had never paid him for the aerial torpedo which he had invented. He claimed he had attended a meeting at the War Office about the torpedoes and had requested £250,000 for the designs of the controllers but the War Office had not been interested. The case was adjourned ‘sine die’.

Able Seaman Reginald Vincent – a short life in the Royal Navy

The Poole and East Dorset Herald newspaper reported on the funeral of Able Seaman Reginald Vincent who died from influenza and pneumonia on 16 March 1920 aged 22. His parents lived at 7, Princess Road, Branksome. The newspaper report was headlined ‘A Hero of Zeebrugge’ and mentioned he had taken part in the Battle of Jutland. A Culture Volunteer on the Poole First World War project provides the background to Vincent’s naval record.

Reginald Vincent was born on 7 December 1897. According to the Royal Navy Register of Seaman’s Services, he was employed as a greengrocer’s boy before he joined the Navy. He signed on in January 1914 at the age of 17 when, as ‘Boy Second Class’, he went to the training establishment, HMS Impregnable, at Devonport, Plymouth. A ‘Boy’ was the lowest ‘rank’ in the Navy. He was promoted to ‘Boy First Class’ on 13 July 1914.

Vincent transferred to HMS Endymion on 14 July 1914. HMS Endymion was an Edgar-class cruiser that had been launched in 1891. A ‘Boy First Class’ who served on a light cruiser during the First World War, described how, after just one weeks training, he became a sight-setter for one of the 4in guns. While the rest of the crew had duffel coats to keep themselves warm, he was not given one because he was a ‘boy’. After a couple of weeks, some of the crew took pity on him and gave him some warm clothing. His duties were 4hrs on and 4hrs off on a two watch system.

On 30 November 1914, Vincent left HMS Endymion and returned to shore. He was based at the HMS Vivid I navy barracks in Devonport until 5 December 1914.

From 6 December 1914 to 24 November 1915 he served on HMS Hilary which was an armed merchant cruiser which had been converted from a cargo vessel after being requisitioned in 1914. HMS Hilary was part of the 10th Cruiser Squadron and carried out blockade duties along the German coast.

Vincent left HMS Hilary and spent from 25 November 1915 to 23 February 1916 at the HMS Victory I shore establishment in Portsmouth. It was during this posting that he signed on for 12 years. He then joined the battlecruiser HMS Princess Royal on 24 February 1916 as an Ordinary Seaman.

HMS Princess Royal saw action on 31 May 1916 in the Battle of Jutland as part of Rear-Admiral Beatty’s First Battle Cruiser Squadron. The squadron came across the German fleet and, as the range began to decrease, the guns were placed at the ready. However, clouds of smoke from the British destroyers accompanying the Squadron began to obscure the German vessels which, in contrast, were not hampered by poor visibility. As the range decreased below 18000yds (16.4km) the British guns opened fire but while the 13.5in guns of HMS Princess Royal were superior to the German guns the quality of the British rangefinders was not as good. The German guns opened fire at 16500 yards (15km) and scored numerous hits while the British gunners were struggling to find the range. HMS Princess Royal was hit twice and one of her forward turrets was put out of action as was, shortly afterwards, the aft turret. HMS Lion, a sister ship of the HMS Princess Royal, was only saved from total destruction when its Q turret was hit, and the cordite ignited, because of the rapid order to flood its magazine. As many as 80 men were involved in the operation of loading and firing a turret.

HMS Princess Royal, along with other ships, stopped firing at 8.40pm because they had never fired their guns at night. During the battle, the HMS Princess Royal was seriously hit on nine occasions and a midshipman was ordered to sketch the damage that had been sustained while it sailed home.

Vincent was promoted to Able Seaman on 1 February 1917. Throughout his brief career, he was assessed as either good or very good in character and his ability was either satisfactory or superior at his annual assessment.

His next posting was even more dramatic than Jutland when he spent 1 March to 22 April 1918 on board HMS Hindustan. This ship was involved in the preparations for the attack on Zeebrugge and Ostend which was aimed at blocking the exit points for the German U-boats from their inland base at Bruges.

A force of around 2000 men was brought together. One sailor was told that the chances of being killed were nine out ten but still volunteered, preferring that to spending any more time languishing in Scapa Flow which he described as a ‘dismal theatre of war’. Vincent was one of several men on HMS Princess Royal who were selected to take part and, remarkably, the Poole History Centre has a copy of Reginald Vincent’s actual account of his experiences of the Zeebrugge raid.

Along with other sailors, he was with men from the Middlesex Regiment on board HMS Hindustan while they were trained in fighting techniques and night exercises. The men were transferred to the cruiser HMS Vindictive and sailed on 13 April but the raid was cancelled because of the weather. The men inspected models of the target and carried on with their training whilst they waited for the weather to improve. Vincent’s role was to lower a prow or ramp from HMS Vindictive on to the heavily-defended Mole that protected the canal entrance. He describes that the prow had a ‘man-bodyguard’ which it was hoped would provide shelter for the soldiers as they attempted to leave the ship. Vincent was part of No 1 section ‘A’ company, who also carried supposedly ‘bulletproof plates’ to protect themselves but in the event they were not used.

At 1420 on 22 April a small flotilla of vessels set sail towards Zeebrugge. The force included HMS Vindictive, the Mersey ferries Daffodil and Iris as troop transports, the concrete-filled blockships Intrepid, Iphigenia, and Thetis, and the submarine C3 which was towed by a destroyer. At around 2245, rum was issued to everybody on board HMS Vindictive and Vincent noted that he, along with many others, had more than just one drink. At 2300, the sailors were at their ramps and the marines were lined up ready to go. Half an hour later, the attacking force was lit by enemy star shells known as ‘flaming onions’. Around 2345, the ships began to be hit by shells; many of the prows on HMS Vindictive were lost, including the one to which Vincent had been assigned so he had to join the rest of his company. It was at this point he was hit by shrapnel. ‘I took very little notice of this at the time – just felt the sting’. He noted that 10 pieces of shrapnel were later removed from his arm when he eventually made it to hospital. The order was given ‘to go over the top’ and he landed with ‘A’ Company who destroyed most of its objectives on the Mole. A vicious fight developed during which they often ‘looked back at the ship and saw her enveloped in flames and smoke. We thought it was ‘Goodbye, Vindictive’ – the ship was their only route home. The three blockships were sunk at the entrance and a viaduct connecting the Mole to the mainland was destroyed by C3. At around 0115, the badly-damaged HMS Vindictive left with survivors of the raid, as well as those of the dead that could be recovered. Vincent noted many of those who could fell asleep after plenty of rum.

The survivors returned to Dover around midday on 23 April 1918 where HMS Vindictive was met by a rousing reception and a hospital train. Along with five others, Vincent stayed at Dover on HMS Arrogant as they believed there were more badly wounded who should get preferential treatment. The next day, the men were sent to Chatham Barracks where they had a meal and two tots of rum. When he went to the sick bay he was immediately taken to the R.N. hospital; ‘it was found that I had almost put off too long having my arm attended to – I might have lost it.’

After three weeks, Vincent transferred to Chatsworth Royal Naval Hospital where he wrote down his experiences of the Zeebrugge Raid.

Although, the Germans had dredged a way round the blockships by the middle of May the psychological impact was substantial. A daring raid by the Royal Navy had struck at a strongly defended German position.

It is believed that 214 men were killed in the attack and 383 were wounded – of which Vincent was one. The newspaper reported that he was visited by the King and Queen while in hospital. A note on his Seaman’s Register states that his name was in the ballot for a Victoria Cross which was one of several awarded for the Zeebrugge raid. Unusually, the 4th Battalion Royal Marines Light Infantry was awarded the Victoria Cross and a rule meant that a ballot was carried out for who should receive it. Two of the eight Victoria Crosses for the raid were awarded by this method which was also the last time it was granted in this way.

Vincent was attached to HMS Victory I until 30 September 1918 and on the following day he joined HMS Vindictive. This was not the same ship that had taken part in the Zeebrugge raid as this had been converted into a blockship for the second raid on Ostend. A Hawkins-class cruiser, HMS Cavendish, was being built when it was decided to convert it to a seaplane-carrier for six planes and be renamed HMS Vindictive. 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 18 August 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 16 March 1920 at the Royal Naval Hospital, Gosport and is buried in All Saint’s Churchyard, Branksome.


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.


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