Sunday, 23 November 2014

Sit up straight! It's time to dig out the school logs of 1914

Eyes straight ahead and hands out of sight: a class photo from 1914
Old letters and diaries are among the most popular primary sources for anyone researching the social history of a particular period in time. But there are many others of course. Reports of the old assizes courts bristle with fascinating detail and, on another tack completely, so do the school logs that used to be kept by all headteachers. School logs proved very useful when I was writing my book Bristol in the Great War (published September 2014) and they are bringing colour to the book I am writing at the moment, Dorchester, Weymouth and Portland in the Great War (out next year).

Below is a taste of these logs from 100 years ago. They were kept during the winter of 1914, just after the Great War had started, at schools around Bristol and on the Isle of or the Isle of Portland, Dorset. You won't find anything earth-shattering in the entries, but with mentions of the war, whooping cough, laundry classes and coal fires, the details could not be more evocative of a bygone age ...

Hambrook Evangelical School
November 23 - Some wounded soldiers visited the school this pm. The time table was suspended and the soldiers were entertained with country dancing & some patriotic songs.

November 27 - I [the headmaster] have obtained permission to attend the funeral of my uncle & to be absent for 2 or 3 days to assist my aunt, who is very aged, in making her arrangements for the future. Mrs Luff will take charge of the school during my absence.

Brinkworthy School, Stapleton

November 26 - To date 45 exclusions have been made for whooping cough.

November 30 - Received notice from LEA [Local Education Authority] that in view of the present circumstances, it has been decided that until 31st March next the school hours shall be from 2 to 4.15 in the afternoon.Two more exclusions for whooping cough were forwarded today.

Deccember 7 - School was closed by permission of LEA on Dec 7th & 8th for the purposes of a school play in aid of the school and War distress funds, and in which all the children were taking part.

All Saints School, Winterbourne Down

November 18 - The School visited by Mr Ward, to see about Laundry Classes. It was decided that none should be held at present.

November 26 - Colonel Lister, HMI [His Majesty's Inspector], visited the School late in the afternoon to speak about some bad behaviour at woodwork and cookery classes.

November 30 - School opened at 9.40, a service having been held at Church at 8.45.

December 4 - Owing to stormy weather, only 13 Infants were present in the afternoon, and the register was not marked.

Frenchay National School

November 9 - Miss Whale absent all day at London to be inoculated against typhoid fever, having volunteeered as a red Cross nurse for active service.

St George's Infant School, Portland

September 15 - Began coal fires today.

November 5 & 6 - Half day holiday each day, though owing to war there is no fair.

November 15 - Half day holiday there being a bazaar in the Jubilee Hall in aid of the Belgian Relief Fund and the fund for providing clothing for the Soldiers and Sailors.

These school logs are held by Frenchay Village Museum and the Portland Heritage Trust - my grateful thanks to both.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Armistice Day - the view from 1918

A hundred year after the armistice was signed, lavish commemorations are being held up and down the country and all over the world to mark the event. But for those who believe the pomp and ceremony is starting to take on a life of its own, here's what it felt like for the ordinary people who were actually there on 11 November 1918...

Private Tom Fake, of the Rifle Brigade, writes to his wife from the Western Front:

‘This is the day we have been looking forward to, hostilities ceased at 11 o’clock this morning, so I guess it’s fairly safe out here now with the exception of accidents. Of course we have to be on the alert in case of anything re-starting. But I did not think when I wrote my last letter to you that it would come so soon. Well, my dear, I can tell you I am more than glad for I have had more than enough of it lately, and thank God he has brought me through. I am quite well, but owing to marching etc I am as sore as though I have been kicked all over.’

Later he added: ‘I think the day the armistice was signed or rather the morning hostilities ceased was the most miserable day I have had since I have been out here, and all I feel is roll on the time when I am free once more.’ 

Maude Boucher, a Bristol mother of four, kept journal she kept throughout the war:

'The hooters from the ships were all sounded and the church bells pealed forth, so we understood the good news was true ... The workpeople at many of the big factories and laundries put on their hats and coats and left their work and in the majority of cases would not return again any more that week. Everyone got very excited and the streets were soon crowded with people and flags were seen flying everywhere.’ 

Eight-year-old Olive Fairclough, of Colchester, writing to her father in the Machine Gun Corps:

‘You better hurry up and come home now peace has come because we want either to spend Christmas or the new year with you. Yesterday, the day peace was declared, the soldiers were singing and shouting wrapping themselfs in flags and dancing catching the girl and some of them got in long trails and shouting left right all the time.'

Lance Corporal Stanley Goodhead of the Royal Engineers, one of the first to enter newly-liberated Belgium:

‘I shall never forget the day we landed in Ostend from Calais, on our arrival the people went mad with joy, kissing us, shaking hands, hugging us, and in every manner possible they showered their thanks on the “English Gentlemen” as they called us. I was carted off for tea at a large house near the Grand Promenade, and along with three other men entertained to music and dancing.'

Captain Warren Sandes, of the Royal Engineers, a prisoner of war in Turkey since 1916:

The loss of liberty is a severe punishment and becomes more and more irksome as time goes on. But the full rigours of captivity are not felt till the prison is reached and the doors are closed...Not until we settle down to the dreary monotony of monastic prison life among a semi-civilised people did the iron really enter into our souls. Some went to pieces under the strain. Most did not. Work was found to be the panacea for all ills, and those who worked hardest were the least affected.’

These extracts are taken from my new book 'Letters from the Trenches' which is published on 30 November and tells the story of the First World War in the words of those who were there. Lest we forget.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

The face of our 'St Paul's Hero' is revealed!

The gallant Private Thomas Orr
More information has come to light - as well as a photograph (right) - about Private Thomas Orr, the gallant soldier I wrote about on September 30 and October 3, who featured in a poem called 'A St Paul's Hero' that was published in a local Bristol paper early in the war.

After reading my posts, Elliot Metcalfe got in touch to say that his research had revealed the following about Private Orr:

'He originally joined the Devon Royal Garrison Artillery Militia in March 1904. In June of the same year he joined the Gloucestershire Regiment as a regular soldier. He went over to France with the 1st Battalion in August 1914. In October 1914 he was mentioned in despatches. He was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal in December 1914. His citation states "For gallantry in going forward 100 yards, on 19th September, to pick up a wounded scout, and helping to bring him in under heavy fire". He was later transferred to the Royal Fusiliers and became Sergeant.'

Western Daily Press
10 December, 1914
Had fortune smiled on Thomas Orr in 1914, he would have lined up in France to receive his medal from none other than King George V himself, according to a report in the Western Daily Press from December 1914, left, that was sent to me by Robert Bickers:

'The battalion was drawn up in single file on both sides of the road near their billets in a pretty French village. Bright sunny weather favoured the Royal visit. His Majesty remarked upon the fine appearance of the men and took the opportunity of presenting the distinguished conduct medal to Private George Law, of the Battalion.'

Private Law had been involved in the same act of bravery as Orr, but sadly Orr had since been wounded and was now laid up in hospital (as described in 'A St Paul's Hero'). He must have been kicking himself!

The newspaper goes on to give more details about the battlefield rescue:

'An outpost sentry was wounded and a second sentry came in to report the casualty. As the report was being made the wounded man was seen crawling towards the trench. Private Law, accompanied by Private Orr, immediately went out to his aid, and succeeded carrying him to a place of safety under heavy fire. Private Orr has since been wounded but has been awarded a similar medal.'

My thanks to Elliot Metcalfe and Robert Bickers for their research and the photograph, which was published in the January 1915 edition of Bristol and the War.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Cavalryman's 1914 diary - the early days of war

Sgt George Fairclough in India, where
he was stationed before the war
In October 1914 the first phase of war in Europe was drawing to a close and what had begun as a mobile campaign would soon become mired in the trench warfare most of us associate with the Western Front. As both sides worked their way westwards towards the coast in an attempt to outflank each other, cavalryman Sergeant George Fairclough kept a diary which noted the relentless labour of each day, and how motor transport was rendering horses less and less useful.

Sunday, October 4th 
We crossed the River Aisne at last after a fortnight’s halt. We crossed at a pontoon bridge thrown across by the French as the iron bridge was completely wrecked by the Germans.
All the cavalry are to concentrate on the Allies’ left wing, and having left our other troops behind we are now among the French. The troops marched 45 miles and camped at Trier. There was terrible gun fire going on all night.

Monday 5th
Marched 35 miles and camped at Dormat-sur-la-Luce.

Tuesday 6th
We marched out but we had only gone about four miles when we were stopped by a motor car and sent back. We stood to all day, there was heavy firing going on all day.

Wednesday 7th
We were sent to assist the French force that had been driven out of their positions, but our men weren’t required after all as some French infantry reinforcements had arrived in motor lorries after travelling all night. There is not much use for cavalry at the present.
We have been travelling north-west each day to try to get around the enemy’s right flank – no fighting.

Monday 12th
Came into contact with the enemy early in the morning in dense fog, the 4th Lancers had five wounded, the  16th had one officer, one sergeant, and one private killed and several wounded.
In the afternoon two troops of ‘C’ squadron took a hill with a monastery, the Mont-des-Cats, on top.  My troop acted as the rear guard. The Germans, firing from fox holes killed Captain Gatacre.
My troop retired, and being fired upon dismounted for action, I had led the horses and came under shell fire. We were lucky to have no casualties. Billeted at Fletre.

Tuesday 13th
It was pouring with rain all day, we got drenched. We passed through lines of French infantry to get in touch with the enemy. We had a sharp fight which developed into a general engagement as our infantry came up. Mr Lonsdale and four men were wounded.

Wednesday 14th
We had a sharp fight but no casualties.

Thursday 15th
Still in contact, one corporal has been hit.

Friday 16th
Dense fog impeded movements, as it cleared we got in touch. Corporals Wakefield and Smythe were killed and Sergeant Dillon, Corporal Davis and another man of ‘C’ Squadron wounded. General Gough got the 4th and the 16th Lancers to trail a gun, by hand, up to within 200 yards of a barricade of a village where Germans were billeting ad then blew the barricade to bits. We took the village, but then had to retire. The Germans, afterwards, spent the whole night knocking the village to bits. They probably thought we were still there! There was beautiful furniture used to barricade the streets.

Saturday 17th
We had no casualties but the 5th had several including one sergeant killed.
I have learnt since that in the action my troops had taken part on the 12th, the monks from the monastery had picked up and buried 17 German dead and several wounded. The Prince Max of Hesse was among them. 

You can read more of George Fairclough's diaries and his dramatic story in my new book Letters from the Trenches which is published in November.

(Copyright © 2014 Jacqueline Wadsworth)

Friday, 3 October 2014

A breakthrough in the search for gallant Private Orr!

Private TH Orr's bravery is recorded in the
Citations of the Distinguished Conduct Medal
Could this be the the First World War soldier who was lauded in the columns of a Bristol newspaper for 'saving a chum under fire!' on the battlefield?

In my last post I published a verse called 'St Paul's Hero' which praised the bravery of a Private T Orr who risked his life saving a wounded comrade. The verse was discovered on a yellowing cutting that was tucked inside an old bible and I asked if anyone had any idea who the soldier could have been.

He was described in the verse as 'a Glo'ster' (soldier of the Gloucestershire Regiment) and there was some indication that he and his wife ran a business in the St Paul's area of Bristol.

Within hours of my post going up, Sarah Spink, an amateur researcher, got in touch to suggest that the man in question may have been Private Thomas Henry Orr who served with the First Battalion, the Gloucestershire Regiment (Regimental No 7640) and who, according to the 'UK Citations of the Distinguished Conduct Medal, 1914-1920', above, was decorated 'For gallantry in going forward 100 yards, on 19th September, to pick up a wounded scout, and helping to bring him in under heavy fire'.

Sarah's research also showed that Private Orr was born in the Eastville district of Bristol in 1887, and was married in the city in 1913. At the time of the 1911 Census he was serving with the Gloucestershire Regiment and his wife-to-be worked as a confectioner's shop assisant.

If anyone can confirm Sarah's findings, or tell us any more about Private Orr and his connection to St Paul's, I would be delighted to hear from you.

Sarah has also tried to shed light on the identity of RW French, who wrote the verse. 'I have seen several references to a RW French of Bristol on the British Newspaper Archive website, who was on the National Executive of Credit Traders in the 1940s and the Western Executive in the 1930s,' she said. 'Possibly the same one of Bristol who is referred to as being a Presbyterian Church Speaker in 1945.'

This isn't the first time Sarah has helped 'Letters from the Trenches' with its inquiries. Two years ago she managed to track down the family of another WW1 soldier, Ernest West, which resulted in two half-brothers meeting for the first time. I thank her very much for taking such a lively interest.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Who can help identify this brave Tommy from the trenches?

Can anyone shed light on the newspaper cutting to the right which has been discovered in an old bible? It was published in  newspaper that circulated in Bristol - an advert for a city tyre firm is printed on the back - but no more than that is known.

The verse was written as a tribute to a WW1 soldier called Private T Orr, who risked his life saving a wounded comrade, and the cutting was found in the bible of a woman who was related to a WW1 soldier - but she had no known link to Private Orr.

There are a couple of clues as to Orr's identity: he is described as 'a Glo'ster' (soldier of the Gloucestershire Regiment) and appears to have run a shop with his wife in the St Paul's area of Bristol. At the end of the poem is a line that explains that 'the verses were written and sent to Pte T Orr when he was in hospital'.

The poem's author is 'RW French' who, rather wittily, uses his name in a play on words in the last line, saying Orr had been 'mentioned in French's despatches.' (Sir John French was commander of the British Expeditionary Force in Europe from August 1914 until December 1915.)

The verse is transcribed below, do get in touch if you know who Private Orr - or RW French - were.

A St Paul's Hero

Said she, 'You go, I'll mind the shop.
Leave me to tend the 'biz;
You're needed the tyrant's game to stop,
Mid bullets and shells that fiz.'
But who can tell of the parting wrench?
Who count the tears it cost her,
As she thought of her soldier in bullet-drill'd trench,
Her own brave 'Tommy' - the Glo'ster?

The prayer she offered - was it in vain?
Her hubby - God bless him! A hero! -
Played his part as he lay in the cold numbing rain,
When the temperature stood about zero.
He bore with his fellows in the thickest of fight,
A Britisher true to the core!
As we hear of his daring it gives us delight.
We're proud to have known 'Tommy' Orr!

Men of great daring command our attention;
'Tis deeds of the brave that inspire:
Orr, be it known, has gained special mention
For saving a chum under fire!
The deed was full noted by officer, proud
Of his private who faced 'certain grave',
Whose courage by shell fire never was cowed
Who risked all - one wounded to save!

In hospital, kindly, he's now being nursed;
He's far from the battle that galls:
His dreams and thoughts will ever turn first
To his dearest one there in St Paul's.
We're waiting to greet him when homeward he hies:
His shop we will storm it in batches.
Oh! What a joy to e'er patronise 
Orr, mentioned in French's despatches!

'Her own brave 'Tommy!'

Saturday, 30 August 2014

'Capt Sandes to proceed at once on active service!'

Captain Warren Sandes
Every regular British soldier wanted to serve his country during the First World War - it's what they had been trained to do - however, not all were sent to fight straight away. Captain Warren Sandes, of the Royal Engineers, was disappointed to find himself still based in India in 1915 and had resigned himself to watching the conflict from a distance when a telegram finally arrived summoning him to Mesopotamia. Here he would command a bridging train on the River Tigris as troops advanced north towards Baghdad.

This is how he broke to the news of his imminent departure to his mother at home in Weymouth.

4th April 1915

'My dear Mother

'I expect you will have quite settled down to the idea of my going on service by the time this reaches you as ... this letter will arrive a long time after the wire. Of course I am delighted to go anywhere where I may be of use in this crisis and to feel that after all I am not to be left in the lurch. It all happened suddenly, as these things do. We had been playing polo in a very hot and oppressive atmosphere and I had just dismounted and was wandering in a dripping state to the changing enclosure when a telegram was brought for Colonel Atkinson and I heard my name shouted so hurried back. The wire ran something as follows "Capt Sandes to proceed at once on active service".

'Everybody was full of congratualtions and envy for it was thought that no more RE [Royal Engineers] officers would go from India anywhere. Since this wire no news has come regarding where I am to go, or when, so it is a case of waiting. But meanwhile I am frightfully busy getting a new water bottle, new haversack, cape, hood, imitation turban even, and saddle bags, ropes, buckets, new valise and other things.The Sedgwicks will keep the gramophone and my shooting trophies.'

On 9 April Sandes wrote again, this time including details that suggested an uncertain future. His mother's heart must have sunk:

'I handed my despatch box with my will to Colonel Atkinson. He has it now and the key. It contains also details of insurances, investments and a lot of papers and mementoes which I value.'

The following day he sent another letter in which he tried to raise his mother's spirits with some reassurance and a bit of gentle teasing:

'I hope you have cheered up about my going off like this. I am sure you would wish me to go and do my part and of course I shall be very careful never to go near any battle or other disturbance for those might be dangerous! You will see me back in Weymouth within 18 months.'

In fact Captain Sandes would not return home for more than three years. In Mesopotamia he was held for five months in the desperate siege of Kut al Amara, then taken prisoner by the Turks until the end of the war. During his time in captivity he kept a diary detailing the grim life of privation, boredom, and cruelty that he and his fellow soldiers endured. Written in beautifully calm, clear prose, you can read extracts from these astonishing journals in my book Letters from the Trenches which is out in November.