‘The Astounding Record of a Poole Girl’

A Culture Volunteer on the Poole History Centre First World War project has been exploring the local newspaper to discover what life was like in Poole during the war for the town and its residents. A headline, ‘The Astounding Record of a Poole Girl’, in the Poole and East Dorset Herald newspaper of June 21 1917 was intriguing and, using other records collected by Charlie Lord (Poole Researcher), the remarkable life of Poole girl, Ada Fricker has been pieced together. A warning – the story is very convoluted and the accuracy of some of the information is open to question!

The newspaper article of 1917 described Mary Rogers as ‘one of the cleverest adventuresses who has been about in recent years’ when she appeared in a West London court. But who was Mary Rogers and what was her connection with Poole?

Mary Rogers was actually Alice Ada Fricker. She was born on October 22 1871 in a cottage in Cinnamon Lane in Poole to Samuel Fricker, a Poole seaman, and Emily Fricker. Cinnamon Lane ran from New Street around the back of the Almshouses and on to Market Street.

Cinnamon Lane from the collection of Poole Museum Service

Cinnamon Lane from the collection of Poole Museum Service

A newspaper article of December 26 1889 reported that her father had been drowned at sea while working as a mate on board the vessel ‘Cross House’ which was sailing from Southampton to Sunderland. He was knocked overboard in a gale when the vessel was north of the Spurn Lightship off the Humber Estuary. The deceased’s wife and two daughters were reported to be living in Shaftesbury Cottages, Market Street. Samuel Fricker had been at sea all his working life and was aged about 45.

Nothing has been uncovered about Ada Fricker’s life in Poole. A later newspaper report noted the ‘when 14 years of age she was a tall and pretty girl and looked much older’. At the age of 19, Ida Alice Fricker married Maurice Rogers, a medical student, at Barton Regis, near Bristol, and so became Mrs Rogers. That her first name had changed from Ada to Ida and her married name is often recorded as Rodgers is a characteristic of her story. Also how did a Poole girl end up getting married in Bristol? One possible answer is that she may have gone into domestic service which was a typical outcome for single young women at the time. It is also from this point that the tale begins to take an unusual turn.

Two years after getting married she had become an actress and appeared as Lady Gipsy Rodgers in the play ‘Apartments to Let’ and also in several other plays. She played Lady Agatha Carlisle in ‘Lady Windermere’s Fan’, a part she was apparently very good at, but none of her other performances were of note. However, she must have had a bewitching presence because, after meeting her, Stanley Napier Roberts, Edward Elgar’s brother-in-law, borrowed the considerable sum of nearly £2000 from London moneylenders to finance the theatrical companies in which she was involved. Unfortunately, the productions were a failure and instead of an easy retirement he found himself under pressure because of the debts he had incurred.

Three years later the self-styled Lady Gipsy Rogers and Lionel Rogers of the Trilby Theatrical Company were accused of assaulting John Roydon, an actor of the company, at Aberystwyth over a dispute about pay. Apparently he alleged that members of the company were close to starvation because they had not been paid. The defendants were each fined 5s (25p). The choice of name for the theatrical company is intriguing as George du Maurier, grandfather of Daphne du Maurier, had written a gothic novel, ‘Trilby’, in 1894. It was an incredible success with the London stage production being first presented in 1895. The style of hat worn by the leading female character, Trilby O’Ferrall, became known as the ‘trilby’. It is interesting to speculate if Ada Fricker thought that touring a theatrical production using the name of Trilby would be a profitable exercise; the play also features in another of her court cases.

The 1901 Census records an actress ‘Gipsy Ro(d)gers’, 23, as living in Southall, Middlesex, having married Maurice Rodgers in 1891. An age of 23 is rather hopeful with a date of birth of 1871 and she was also apparently living with two brothers who were actors. Strangely, she did run, for a time, a riding school in the West End of London.

In 1907, after being fined £14 at Clacton, Essex for keeping a manservant and carriage without licence she promised only to use the name ‘Mrs Rodgers’. Mr H. Lionel Somerset stated during the court proceedings that he was her brother, although he had previously said they were married, while she, unhelpfully, said he was no relation. A copy of a marriage certificate presented in the court case showed her to be ‘Ida Alice Faulkner Fricker’, daughter of a deceased Army captain (!).

In 1910, she interviewed the infamous murderer, Dr Crippen, in Pentonville Prison. The prison governor believed the interviewer was Lady Henry Somerset with ‘her object to evangelise the famous prisoner’. In actual fact, it was Ada Fricker posing as ‘Lady Mercia Somerset’ and she hoped to sell the interview to a newspaper if Dr Crippen was not convicted. She promised to take him to her country house if he was released – at the time she was a tenant of Broom Lodge, Huntingdonshire. She also carried out a correspondence with Crippen while he was in jail and published some of his letters in order to make some money.

January 1911 saw her once again facing criminal proceedings – this time at Huntingdon Assizes. She was living in Herne Bay and claimed she could not attend the Assize because she was very ill, although it was noted in court that it was strange she became ill ‘so suddenly after being served with notice to appear’. Debts had been run up in the name of Reed, a groom, who was supposed to be an employee. She claimed he was her husband so the debts were his, not hers, and that she had married Reed when she was 14. Under cross examination, she admitted that Reed was Rogers. She received 4 months. The prosecutor believed she was the daughter of a medical officer in the Navy, had married at 19, and had lived as the Hon. Ida Faulkner in Bristol. According to some newspaper reports she apparently kept bulldogs and, occasionally, a wolf wherever she lived.

In a later appearance, at Cirencester Police Court, she bore ‘herself with dramatic dignity’. She was arrested in 1913 along with Cecil Roslyn (also known as Lionel Somerset) whom Mrs Rodgers described as her brother. They had toured ‘Trilby’, a theatrical production, and, on their travels across the country, it was alleged they had persuaded numerous traders and hoteliers to give them credit or paid them with cheques that were not honoured. It was also alleged that the defendants had used the name ‘Lady Somerset’s Theatrical Touring Company’ in their dealings with traders. However, Mrs Rodgers claimed she did not need credit as she received £500 per year. Lady Henry Somerset, a member of the Beaufort family, did appear in court and said she knew many members of the family but the accused was not one of them. The prisoner claimed she received an income on the assumption she did not use the Somerset name – apparently a firm of solicitors provided her with £18 to £25 every month. The two defendants were convicted and received three months hard labour.

Her story had, by now, become so famous that ‘The People’ newspaper published the ‘Life Story of Lady Mercia Somerset’ in February 1913.

In 1917, Mary Rogers (33) Ellen Taylor, Edna Gordon (19) and Cecil Rogers (18) were in court for having stayed at a London hotel and pawned a large quantity of its bedding and sheets. Oddly, they were charged with illegal pledging and not theft. She claimed she had an army allowance of 25s a week for herself and one child (her husband was believed to have served in the war) and, as before, a £23 per month allowance from a ‘person’. Mrs Edna Gordon and Cecil Rogers were apparently her children so giving her age as 33 was optimistic. Mary Rogers and Edna Gordon were fined with the alternative of prison if the fines were not paid – which they were.

The court case had little effect as a year after the First World War ended a headline announced ‘Lady Mercia Again’ with the article referring to the defrauding of clergymen at Eastbourne. Edna Gordon, her 18 yr (?) old widowed daughter, was also arrested. Mrs Rodgers received 6 months and Mrs Gordon three months.

In one report it was said ‘she was very fond of beautiful dresses and had a passion for jewellery’. She ‘impressed tradesmen’ with the use of titles and presumably benefited from having been an actress. Her success also appears to be due to the prevailing respect to titled people at the time and the seeming expectation that they would run up debts which would eventually be paid. The society of the First World War era was cash based so that someone who used cheques was considered unusual. Banks were not common and there was a certain mistrust of them because there was no protection if they went bankrupt. The absence of a welfare state also meant that people had to rely heavily on their own devices if they got into financial difficulties.

One newspaper headline referred to her as the ‘Woman of Many Names’. It is believed that she used on her travels around the south of England: Ida Alice Fricker, Lady Mercia Somerset, Avis Fitzroy, Mavis Redfern, Irene Rodgers, Jane Jones, Mary Cullam, Aris (possibly a misspelling of Avis) Fitzroy, Mrs Alice Rogers, Avis Fitzroy Somerset, Mrs Reed, Mrs Reeves, Mrs A. Bolingbroke, Ida Rogers, Melia Rogers, Mrs Rodgers, Ida Alice Faulkner Fricker.

Her choice of aliases is interesting. Lady Mercia Somerset was her favourite and people usually assumed she had links to the Beaufort family whose name was Somerset. Fitzroy was often the middle name of members of the Beaufort family. Bolingbroke was the name of landed gentry in Wiltshire and Henry IV was also known as Henry of Bolingbroke. Interestingly, Faulkner is a name associated with St James’ Church, Poole – ‘Fawconer’s Charity’ provided bread for elderly women. One wonders if this was why she used the name.

It is interesting to consider her frequent change of names, flexibility of age etc from the viewpoint of the First World War era. Accuracy of names and ages seems to have been of no real concern simply because they rarely mattered and spelling, in particular, was often flexible. An earlier classic example would be the father of the Bronte sisters who decided his original name of ‘Brunty’ was not interesting enough and simply changed it to ‘Bronte’. Payment for work was by cash, most people rented and many could not write – accuracy of date of birth and name was irrelevant.

Many young women of Ada Fricker’s age went into domestic service and in 1900 there were around 2,000,000 women working as servants. The work was very hard with long hours for little reward. A newspaper article of 1915, under the headline ‘Fewer Servants’, commented that ‘the pressure of war’ was making it difficult to hire servants. This was partly because the incomes of large houses had been seriously eroded and they needed fewer servants. The First World War also offered many new employment opportunities that a lot of women found more attractive because they were better paid and had more independence. Post-First World War many of these jobs disappeared but the large houses could no longer afford a large staff. The lack of this traditional work for single women, with no clear alternative, meant they were increasingly encouraged to emigrate to countries such as Australia and New Zealand – another reason, sadly, was the lack of men of marriageable age.

The Nottingham Evening Post reported in 1928 that male impostors are ‘careful’ in their choice of titles while women appear more able to get away with it. The newspaper used, as an example, Lady Mercia Somerset (Ada Fricker) who managed to get photographed and be reported as an ‘enthusiastic politician’ who might even stand for parliament. The newspaper commented that ‘when women become imposters they are to be feared’.

 She was not beyond self-publicity. The Thompson Weekly News announced in 1923 that, as part of a series on the ‘The Scandals of Cinema Land’, the story of the ‘The Amazing Career of Lady Mercia Somerset’ would be ‘told by herself’. Unfortunately, neither a record of this article nor that in The People has so far been found.

A remarkable tale but there is one question that was never fully answered – did she actually receive a monthly allowance from solicitors and, if so, why? £20 a month was a significant sum given that the starting wage for a female munition worker at Holton Heath was £1 a week.


The tragic story of Sydney Woodroffe, Poole’s teenage VC winner, and his brothers

Three Poole brothers answered their country’s call to join the Army and fight on the Western Front.

One would be mentioned in dispatches; another won the MC; and the youngest, Sydney Clayton Woodroffe, ‘a boy with a wistful smile’, received the Victoria Cross.

All three began by serving with the Rifle Brigade. None survived.

Bournemouth Graphic image of 1915 commemorating Sidney, Kenneth and Leslie Woodroffe. (Courtesy of Marlborough College.)

Bournemouth Graphic image of 1915 commemorating Sydney, Kenneth and Leslie Woodroffe. (Courtesy of Marlborough College.)

Of the brothers-in-arms, the oldest, Kenneth, would be the first to be killed in action. Sydney died in a battle in which his other brother, Leslie, suffered terrible wounds. Leslie spent months recovering then returned to France… and was killed.

Their three names are inscribed on a roll of honour at All Saints Church at Branksome Park close to where the Woodroffe family lived.

All Saints’ roll of honour including the Woodroffe brothers.

All Saints’ roll of honour including the Woodroffe brothers.

The Woodroffes were well-to-do. The father, Henry Long Woodroffe, the son of a florist and nurseryman, was a wine merchant who had been born in London’s Paddington where he married at the age of 27. His bride was Clara Eliza Alice Clayton, 22 years old, whose father was described on the marriage certificate as ‘gentleman’.

Henry and Clara soon had a wine and spirits business in Lewes called Browning and Woodroffe. Later it would merge with the wine and spirits section of the local Beard’s Brewery.

Henry and Clara’s four children – all boys – were born in the Sussex county town.

The Woodroffes would also lease a public house called the Nutley Inn (later known as the Shelley Arms) near Maresfield in Sussex. It is unlikely that they involved themselves directly in running it for, in 1899, their address was still in Lewes and, in the 1901 census the licensee was another man who lived there with his family and two boarders. Henry also owned a property in the Finsbury district of London.

In 1904, after seven years, Henry’s involvement with the inn ended and, in time, the family moved west towards Poole.

By 1911 the Woodroffes were living at 20 Acresholt, in Branksome Wood Gardens and then on to a large property called Thorpewood in Branksome Avenue (today called The Avenue) in Branksome Park, Poole.

The two oldest Woodroffe boys, Hugh and Leslie, born in 1885 and 1886, had been sent as boarders to the prestigious Marlborough College in Wiltshire. Their younger brothers, born in December 1892 and December 1895, would follow them there.

Leslie, Kenneth and Sydney would excel at Marlborough, all becoming the college’s Senior Prefect (head of the school).

Sidney Woodroffe and two other editors of the Marlburian magazine, 1914. (Courtesy of Marlborough College.)

Sydney Woodroffe and two other editors of the Marlburian magazine, 1914. (Courtesy of Marlborough College.)

Leslie was in the school rugby XV and cricket XI, and won a Classics scholarship to University College, Oxford. He went on to become a schoolmaster at Shrewsbury, but volunteered to serve soon after war was declared, obtaining a commission in the 8th Rifle Brigade.

Kenneth who went on to be a Classics scholar at Pembroke College, Cambridge, was a first-class sportsman. He had been captain of Marlborough’s cricket team and became a Cambridge Blue in 1913 and 1914. A fast-medium bowler, he made an appearance for Hampshire at Bournemouth’s Dean Park against South Africa. He went on to play for Sussex taking 6-43 against Surrey in the county’s last game before the war. Within a month, he was commissioned into the Rifle Brigade. Later he would be transferred to the 2nd Welsh Regiment to fight at the front.

Sydney, the baby of the family at 18, had just finished school when war was declared. He had been a member of the college rugby, soccer and hockey teams and was all set to follow in Kenneth’s footsteps by going to Pembroke College, Cambridge to study Classics. He never did. Instead he obtained a commission to serve with the Rifle Brigade and left his Branksome Park home to go to war.

Postcard of Sidney Clayton Woodroffe.

Postcard of Sydney Clayton Woodroffe.

The oldest brother, Hugh, had left Marlborough at the age of 16 and had long gone to Malaysia to work in a business believed to be a rubber plantation. Still employed there when war broke out in August 1914, he was, by then a married man with a two- year -old son and his wife, Norah, was heavily pregnant. She would give birth to a son the following month. Hugh was not in a position to join Lord Kitchener’s Army half a world away.

It must have been a proud but worrying time for the boys’ parents, Henry and Clara, back in Poole with three sons in the Army. They had every right to be concerned. Tragic news would soon come knocking.

Lt Kenneth Herbert Clayton Woodroffe was in action almost constantly from November 1914. On 9 May 1915 he was killed during an attack on the German trenches at Neuve Chapelle in France. For his bravery, he was mentioned in dispatches. He had been leading his platoon and was the man nearest the enemy front-line trenches when shot through the head. Kenneth was 22.

The next news to reach Mr and Mrs Woodroffe just three months later was even worse. Both Leslie and Sydney were involved in the fighting at the village of Hooge, on the outskirts of Ypres in Flanders. The British had, days earlier, successfully blown a huge mine under the German entrenchments. But on July 30, the Germans launched a counter-attack.

It was memorable in military history because it was the first time that flamethrowers were used in battle. At 3am, the Germans spread ‘liquid fire’ into the British trenches and, with the weight of numbers against them, the Tommies were forced to retreat to their second line of defence.

That afternoon the order came to counter-attack to recover lost ground. With not enough artillery support and going uphill towards the strong German positions, it was a risky strategy.

Leslie, a captain in command of a company, led his men over No-Man’s Land into intense machine gun fire. He counted 160 steps before throwing himself flat but was hit in the thigh, knee and heel, according to Marlborough College accounts.

For six hours he lay there, before night fell and he was able to drag himself back to the British lines.

Captain Leslie Woodroffe would be awarded the Military Cross for exemplary gallantry in the field that day.

On that same ghastly day at Hooge, his brother, Second Lieutenant Sydney Clayton Woodroffe, too, had been in action.  After the enemy had broken through the front trenches, he and his men came under heavy attack by bombs from the front and rear. They defended their position until they had exhausted all of their own bombs.

Then, Sydney skilfully managed to bring what was left of his platoon back safely over 200 yards of open ground and then down a communication trench back to Brigade headquarters by a wood.

That afternoon, he took part in the ill-fated counter-attack.

His citation for the Victoria Cross, posthumously awarded, said: ‘This very gallant officer immediately led his party forward in a counter-attack under an intense rifle and machine-gun fire.’

He was killed cutting through the barbed wire in front of the enemy trenches to move the attack forward. Sydney was just 19 years old.

The Commanding Officer, Lt Col Ronald Maclachan, who had lost 19 officers and 469 men either killed or wounded, afterwards sent a letter to Sydney’s parents at Branksome Park. He wrote saying ‘your younger son was simply one of the bravest of the brave.’

He said: ‘He risked his life for others right through the day and finally gave it for the sake of his men’ and added, ‘he was a splendid type of young officer, bold as a lion, confident and sure of himself too.

‘The loss he is to me personally is very great,’ he wrote, adding that ‘his men would have followed him anywhere.’

In his letter, Lt Col Maclachlan included another personal observation that must have affected Henry and Clara’s deeply, this time about brother Leslie: ‘I shall always remember how I saw him last – just minutes before a counter-attack was to take place, quiet, cool and collected, as he always was when there are shells and bullets about, armed with a rifle and preparing to lead his men over an open sweep, uphill in a counter-attack.

‘He knew what it meant quite well.’

The Victoria Cross that Sydney was awarded must have been some small compensation for parents Henry and Clara who had now lost two sons to the war.  They received their son’s VC from King George V at Buckingham Palace.

A fellow officer, war poet Captain Charles Sorley, who would later be killed later that year at Loos, wrote a poem as a tribute to his friend Sydney. It read:

‘There is no fitter end than this.

No need is now to yearn nor sigh.

We know the glory that is his,

A glory that can never die.


Surely we knew it long before,

Knew all along that he was made

For a swift radiant morning, for

A sacrificing swift night-shade.’

The Poole and East Dorset Herald, like many other papers, reported Sydney’s death and the award of the Victoria Cross.

The Poole and East Dorset Herald report on Sidney Woodroffe’s Victoria Cross, 9 September 1915.

The Poole and East Dorset Herald report on Sydney Woodroffe’s Victoria Cross, 9 September 1915.

The wording of the report prompted the Poole Mayor, Cllr G.C.A. Kentish, to write to the Herald thanking them for correcting a mistake that said that Woodroffe’s Branksome Park home was in Bournemouth, not Poole.

‘Poole is indeed proud of her heroes,’ he wrote, ‘and would rather not have them annexed by other boroughs, though, of course, the temptation is great.’

Mayor’s Letter to the Poole and East Dorset Herald, 23 September 1915.

Mayor’s Letter to the Poole and East Dorset Herald, 23 September 1915.

Meanwhile, Henry and Clara’s badly injured but surviving child, Leslie, spent months in hospital recovering from wounds in both legs.

While there, he wrote a poignant letter, putting on a brave face, to a former teacher at Marlborough saying: ‘Isn’t it splendid dear old Boodles getting the VC? My people are awfully happy and I am especially pleased for their sake.

‘That wonderful phrase, “this very gallant officer” keeps ringing in my ears. What more could anyone want to hear said of their brother?’

Hardly recovered, Captain Leslie Woodroffe was posted again to the Western Front. He arrived back with his regiment on 1 June 1916.

A shell hit him that same day. He was taken to a casualty clearing hospital but died days later on 4 June.

A grieving Shrewsbury teaching colleague described Leslie as ‘one of the best men ever to put on a gown.’

After the war, the Woodroffes remained living in Branksome Park, at Thorpewood then, seemingly, a house called Woodmore or Woodmoor in Branksome Avenue.

The boys’ father, Henry, died nine years after the war had ended in a Bournemouth nursing home. He was buried in the churchyard at All Saints, Branksome Park. (Coincidentally, another VC winner Thomas Pride, a Royal Navy man who was awarded the honour for his gallantry in 1864, is also buried in the churchyard. And the parents of another British officer who won the VC in the First World War, Montague Shadworth Seymour Moor, lived in Tower Road, Poole, just a short hop away)

Henry Woodroffe’s widow, Clara, was in a hotel in Croydon when the Second World War began, living on private means. Later she would reside in a hotel back in Sussex, before passing away on 13 January 1951 at the age of 89.

She was buried alongside her husband at Branksome Park.

Their oldest son Hugh, left Kuala Lumpur soon after the war to return to live in Britain. In late 1919 he wrote to the War Office, successfully applying for a 1914 Star medal to be added to the Victory and British War medals awarded to his late brother Kenneth.

When the Second World War started, Hugh, now a wine merchant like his father had been, was back at Lewes. Over the years he would live in many places across London and the Home Counties and would marry for the second time in his late 70s. He died in 1972 at the age of 87.

Today Kenneth Woodroffe’s name is commemorated at the Le Touret Memorial in France. Leslie was buried at the Barlin Communal Cemetery Extension, near Bethune, also in France. Sidney’s name can be found on the Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing at Ypres in Belgium.

Sydney’s VC is now part of Lord Ashcroft’s Collection, housed at the Imperial War Museum.

Memorials commemorating Sydney Woodroffe can also be found in places such as Lewes, London and on the Rifle Brigade memorial in Winchester Cathedral.

At peaceful All Saints Church in Branksome Park, the three Woodroffe names are included alphabetically on a tablet on the wall, listing the dozens of men from the parish who sacrificed their lives in the Great War. The church organ is also dedicated to the war dead.

In the Treasury at the London church of All Hallows by the Tower, a sword is kept that is believed to have been Sydney Woodroffe’s. It was one of two that had once flanked what had been the church’s Toc H Chapel.

Newspaper cutting showing Sidney Woodroffe’s Marlborough rugby football cap on the memorial to Gilbert Talbot in what was the Toc H chapel at All Hallows by the Tower church. (Courtesy of All Hallows by the Tower.)

Newspaper cutting showing Sydney Woodroffe’s Marlborough rugby football cap on the memorial to Gilbert Talbot in what was the Toc H chapel at All Hallows by the Tower church. (Courtesy of All Hallows by the Tower.)

Why is it there? There is a link. The Rev ‘Tubby’ Clayton, who co-founded Toc H – signallers’ abbreviation for Talbot House, a rest centre for soldiers in Belgium during the war – was for a long time, vicar at All Hallows by the Tower. The other Toc H co-founder was the Rev Neville Talbot. Neville’s brother, Gilbert, was killed alongside Sydney at Hooge. The following day Neville, who could not bear to leave his brother’s body unblessed, crawled through the grass, defying shells and snipers, and found Gilbert and Sidney’s bodies. Gilbert’s body was recovered a week later. Sidney’s never was.

They had died near a communication trench that was known to the soldiers as ‘Old Bond Street’.

Sydney’s Marlborough rugby cap had also been displayed at the church before a bomb devastated the sacred building in the Second World War. It was placed on the memorial to Gilbert.

They are commemorated, too, on the roll of honour at their old school, Marlborough College, where a Memorial service for 2nd Lt Sidney Woodroffe was held in the September of 1915, not long after he had died.

A tribute given by the Master of the College, the Rev J.H. Wynne-Willson perhaps gives an insight into what Sidney, the 19-year old lad, rather than Sydney the soldier, was really like:

‘I have constantly in my thoughts the quiet, strong boy with a wistful smile, who went in and out amongst us doing big work in all departments of the school life, and yet so modest and self-forgetting, with a disposition strong, yet kind, vigorous, yet gentle.

‘Though rather reserved, he was very sensitive: he never expressed his feelings much, but they were strong.

‘Practical though he was, he would, I think, have made his mark in scholarship, for he loved literature and had a student’s mind.

‘In spite of his capacity as a Cadet officer, and his intense interest on the OTC, he shrank from war.

‘It was an effort to go, but therein he did his duty as in all else.’

Sources include:


The National Archives

Lest We Forget by Steve Annandale (2014, All Saints Church, Branksome Park)

Marlborough College and the Great War in 100 Stories (2018, Marlborough College.)

Public Schools and the Great War by Anthony Seldon and David Walsh (2013, Pen and Sword)

Bournemouth and the First World War by M.A. Edgington (Bournemouth Local Studies Publications, 1985)

‘Band of Brothers’ newspaper article by Kevin Nash (Bournemouth Daily Echo, 13 November, 2008)



Inventions – not so serious and serious

The First World War was a time for inventions. A classic example is the British invention of the tank – there were many ideas for a mechanical war vehicle before 1915 but it was not until the first tank, built by William Foster of Lincoln, rolled out of the factory did it become reality. A Culture volunteer on the Poole History Centre First World War project looks at patent applications as reported in the local newspaper which includes one from a Poole resident.

The Poole and East Dorset Herald reported that while the number of patent applications in 1914 by men had dropped by 5,000, presumably because of the war, those by women had remained at 350 ie virtually the same as in 1913. The article listed the types of invention applied for by women – these ranged from clothing and medical to motor cars and cycling. It noted that amongst the inventions which could be of military use was an inflatable life-belt and nets ‘for defensive purposes’. The article is an illuminating example of attitudes of the era. It refers to ‘the versatility of women’s genius’ but then says that several applications from women were joint with a man – ‘naturally [one can] conclude that in such cases the device has emanated from the brain of the gentleman’.

The War Office had several committees which looked at inventions. For example, the Air Inventions Committee received several thousand ideas in the nine months up to July 1918. Two of the more unusual suggestions were that moonlight could be countered by hiding the Moon with a black balloon while another suggested that clouds could be frozen so that guns could be put on them.

In June 1917, under the headline ‘Armour Plate: A Dorset Invention’, the local newspaper reported that a Poole man, Mr J. Pullman, of The Knollsea, Lilliput, Parkstone had been granted a patent for his invention of a type of body armour. It was to be made of metal plates that would overlap in a series of fabric pockets and fabric hinges to make it flexible. The armour could be worn over the body or attached to a jacket. The metal plates could differ in thickness depending on which part of the body they protected. The newspaper article did not give the patent number and a search of various sources has unfortunately not uncovered the original patent. Did Pullman’s invention ever develop beyond just an idea?

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.