Introduction

This is the first of five posts – one for each year of the Great War – 1914 to 1918/19 – revealing something of life on the ‘home-front’. The material is drawn from newspapers of the time.

The following is really my notebook of stories I discovered as I trawled through hundreds of newspapers to gain a sense of what civilian life was  like for the inhabitants of the City of Rochester during the Great War. The reports I discovered and have collated in this book, not only gave an indication of the hardships at home but also the emotional pressures that families had to face. Is a loved one dead? Is he laying on a battlefield wounded and alone? Is he ‘lost’ in a field hospital? Is he being held as a prisoner of war? When will a husband or son be called to the Colours?

Added to these concerns there were the threats of air raids, the fear of invasion, a shortage of affordable housing, food shortages, rampant inflation, and perhaps worse for a widowed mother, worrying how she – alone – would be able feed and clothe her children, or pay the rent in order to avoid eviction. It was not as if everyone in Rochester had a comfortable life before the War. As will become obvious to the assiduous reader of this tome, the war added hardships to those already experiencing considerable hardships.

These stories also give a sense of the injustices that existed in society one hundred years ago and how the war helped reveal them. In doing so the foundations were laid for the society we have today. Sadly though it will become clear that many of the inequalities and political problems that the politicians undertook to address remain with us. Whether they were solved and they returned, or were never resolved is for the reader to reflect on.

So please reader regard this as less of historical text book and more of a resource which you can draw upon to form your own understanding / opinion.

Other blogs in the series:

Life in Rochester – 1915

Life in Rochester – 1916

Life in Rochester – 1917

Life in Rochester – 1918

Explainer

The challenge was how best to present a lot of material. It was necessary to take a chronological approach as over time situations evolved and the resilience of the folk of Rochester would have ebbed & flowed. However, there also seemed to be themes that may be of particular interest to different readers. The sections of the book therefore flow in a month-by-month chronology, but within each month stories are grouped – where possible – under consistent headings.

I frequently found myself deliberating about what and where to include particular stories. I’m therefore sure others will similarly question why a story was included and why it was placed within a particular category. Please try not to become frustrated with me, but use the opportunity to reflect on the reported event, its significance at the time – and perhaps what, if any, significance it has for us today. But, perhaps above all, remember that the stories I’ve harvested where from the ones that an editor at the time thought were relevant and pertinent to report – within the limited number of pages they had available.

The ‘headlines’ for the following reports are largely my creation. I chose wording that I hope gives a sense of what the news report contains. The news reports – reproduced or abridged – are in italics. All other words, unless otherwise attributed, are mine. The dates included in the footnotes are those that a report was published or a web source was visited.

The text proceeding a news report in the body of the book aims to provide some background information that may have been available to the reader at that time. Again, the aim is just set the context and not to detail the historical antecedents of the matters being reported.

Sources

Stories from the Chatham, Rochester & Gillingham News and the Chatham, Rochester & Gillingham Observer, were found on the microfilms held by Medway Archives Centre. Stories from the Kent Messenger were found on the KM Group digital archive. All other stories were found on the British Newspaper Archive.

Acknowledgement

I’m grateful, again, to the ‘H.R.Pratt Boorman Family Foundation’ for proving the funding to get this book printed. This means all the money paid/donated for this book will go to support the Royal British Legion’s Poppy Appeal. If you are finding this online source helpful do consider giving a donation to the Poppy Appeal.

Geoff Ettridge aka Geoff Rambler

August 2018 / April 2022.

I can be booked to give a talk (within Kent) or lead a tour of Rochester on which some of these stories will be recounted, in return for an agreed donation to charity. Visit my Facebook or blog for more information and how to contact me.

www.facebook.com/geofframbler, or www.geofframbler.blog.

Map of Rochester around the time of the Great War

old-rochester

PRE-WAR EVENTS

  • Former Rochester publican convicted of espionage
  • Soldiers are based at Rochester railway station
  • Soldier was killed by express train whilst guarding the bridge
  • Closing orders were made for particular trades
  • War Peril – a grave outlook as War has been declared between Austria and Serbia
  • Training given in first aid
  • Strood’s Voluntary Hospital now only needs equipment

AUGUST 1914

Military & War Reports

  • Fitness categories used in the British Army in 1914
  • The marching of troops was heard as the Dean led an impressive Cathedral service
  • Everybody seems to make for Military Road in these days for news and camaraderie
  • Troops are billeted with families in Strood
  • “Tremendous advances in death-dealing machinery has taken place within the last few years”
  • Captured German boats brought to Rochester. “First War Prize in Medway”
  • Belgian refugees were met at Strood Pier by the Chief Constable of Rochester
  • Belgian refugees were received at the Guildhall

Home Front

  • Man was arrested for spying – but the case was dropped
  • Soldiers shoot at a Police boat as it failed to respond to the challenge from soldiers
  • Strood men were encouraged to undertake drill and rifle practice
  • Restrictions were placed on the use of the River Medway
  • Manpower contingencies were put in place to ensure continuity of services as men enlist
  • A ‘Central Distress Committee’ to be established to organise relief
  • Rochester’s ‘Central Relief Committee met at the Guildhall

Food, Queues & Deceptions

  • Food supplies needed protection

Life Goes On

  • The Corn Exchange Picture Palace was refurbished
  • Marriage between Mr. Percy Thompson & Miss Annie Hooper

SEPTEMBER 1914

Military & War Reports

  • A message from Churchill was read out to the Recruitment Meeting

Roll of Honour

  • Lieut. L. S. Woodgate was killed in action

Home Front

  • Licensed houses in Rochester are to close at 9 o’clock – an hour earlier than Maidstone
  • The opening hours of licensed premises were reduced
  • A man suspected of being a German spy was arrested near Rochester railway station
  • ‘Casuals’ booking into a Union should be made to support the war effort
  • The War will bring new business opportunities
  • Robins and Day Ltd., started an appeal to purchase a properly equipped motor ambulance
  • Gas cookers available for hire from Robins & Day

Life Goes On

  • Rochester Conservatives held a gardeners’ show

OCTOBER 1914

Military & War Reports

  • The billeting of soldiers with families poses risks to lone wives and children
  • Observer’s Sixpenny Fund will send tobacco for our local heroes at the Front
  • Arthur Harrison was before the Court for pretending to be an officer
  • Robust flasks suitable for sending to the Front are available

Reports from the Front

  • Fought, captured and escaped, only to have his pipe destroyed by a shell
  • An unnamed English lady brings news from the Front
  • Pte. Rowe who is held as a Prisoner of War managed to get a letter home
  • English woman reported her experiences in Germany and her escape

Roll of Honour

  • 1,400 Medway men were lost in the sinkings of the Aboukir, Cressy, and Hogue.
  • Neville Bridgland an Old Roffensian was killed at the Front

Health & Hospitals

  • The Red Cross flag floats over the Strood VAD Hospital
  • Men are moved to the Strood VAD hospital from military hospitals
  • The greatest interest is being evinced in the Strood Voluntary Hospital
  • Rumours that staff at the VAD are being paid are refuted
  • Cllr. J. M. and Miss Jackson paid a Mayoral visit to Strood VAD
  • The King & Queen visited Fort Pitt Hospital where they were shown the new ward
  • A house-to-house collection for St. Bartholomew’s was abandoned

Home News

  • Some Belgian refugees settled in Rochester
  • The King & Queen travelled though Rochester on their way to Fort Pitt Hospital
  • Compensation was paid for licensed houses forced to close
  • Contractors sought an increase in the contract prices they have with the Strood Union

School / Education News

  • Teacher’s pay and jobs to be protected
  • Children are not to be employed in the making of clothes

Women’s Experiences

  • Women teachers to be recalled and pupil teachers to be used to cover vacant posts.

Church & Cathedral reports

  • The Cathedral Harvest Festivals were very well attended
  • Cathedral recitals were held in aid of the Belgian Relief Fund
  • Rumours that a German is winding the Cathedral clock were refuted

Life Goes On

  • Featherstones moved into new commodious premises
  • Strood Union lost its blanket supplier due to the mills being taken over by the War Dept
  • Woollen undergarments available but shortages are expected – so buy soon

NOVEMBER 1914

Military & War Reports

  • A new pension scheme was set up for soldier’s widows and dependents
  • Chatham Dockyard War Fund supports families until allowances come through
  • The cost of billeting soldiers proved to be considerable
  • 150 of the National Reserve from the Tonbridge District were billeted in Rochester.
  • Service men are left wandering the streets if they’re unable to get into their billets
  • A recreation room was opened for soldiers at Cliffe-at-Hoo

Reports from the Front

  • Cpl. Samuel Hallett has been promoted to Second-Lieutenant for gallantry in the field
  • Pte. Walter Huggett wrote of the distress he witnessed of civilians in an occupied country
  • Sgt. G. Kill sent a poem that he wrote in a trench at the Front, to friends in Rochester

Roll of Honour

  • List of men serving is published
  • Help sought to identify Old Choristers of Rochester who have enlisted
  • Thomas Harold Drake died in action
  • Pte. Robert Taylor died from tetanus
  • HMS Bulwark explosion

Health & Hospitals

  • Mrs. Montefiore, wife of a prospective MP for Rochester, visits Strood VAD

Home News

  • The war must be won says the Mayor
  • The war was costing between £900,000 and £1 million / day
  • A home defence force needs to be created
  • Shopkeepers encouraged the public to continue shopping despite the lighting restrictions
  • Rochester shopkeepers may be happy with the new closing orde
  • Military orders the closing of pubs at 8pm
  • The Post Office is to close at 8pm instead of 10pm
  • A business conference held to explore producing goods that were previously imported
  • An austere Christmas was proposed for the inmates of the Strood Union
  • Children to decide on use of money saved by foregoing their Christmas entertainment

Community Support

  • Gifts donated for patients in St. Bartholomew’s hospital were acknowledged
  • Fundraising concert was held to raise funds for Strood VAD and the Blind & Cripple Guild

School / Education News

  • Prepare for university at the University School Rochester

Women’s Experiences

  • Phoebe Mayfield asks for assistance to run the support club for wives of servicemen
  • An alternative to the pub is needed for where women can meet
  • Three Rochester maids want to raise money to purchase an ambulance
  • A woman’s responsibility is to keep their homes pure and holy for the men’s return

Church & Cathedral

  • The Dean was critical of class distinction

Life Goes On

  • Royalties from the sale of ‘Columbia & Regal War Records’ go to charity
  • High Street stores take steps to encourage trade

DECEMBER 1914

Military and War Reports

  • Winston Churchill wrote to Dockyard workers recognising their hard work
  • Preparations are being made in case of an attempted landing by hostile troops
  • The public are advised to take cover in event of a bombing raid

Reports from the Front

  • PC Eve of the Rochester City Police Force recounted his battle experience
  • Lieut. S. Hallett nee Cpl. Hallett is reticent to speak of his experiences that to promotion
  • Report by a solider from the Battle of Aisne and of the distress of the refugees

Roll of Honour

  • Gunner G. Spicer has died at a hospital in France of his wounds
  • Sgt. Herbert Denton has died of wounds received at the seat of the war
  • Lieut. Gordon Browne died of his wounds

Health & Hospitals

  • Ada James was remanded and bound-over for attempting suicide

Home News

  • Accidents are occurring due to the lack of street lighting
  • A War Tax was placed on beer.
  • There is a great more drunkenness in private houses than before
  • Wounded soldiers are allowed free access to the Castle

Community Support

  • A concert was given at the YMCA Winter Quarters, Baptist Institute, Rochester
  • Warm clothing is sent for Kitchener’s Army stationed at Cliffe Fort

School / Education News

  • Top-up payments made to enlisted teachers are to be simplified

Court cases

  • Thomas Ward, a butcher, was fined for allowing light to escape from his shop

Women’s Experiences

  • Dreadful dangers could beset young women through them being led astray
  • Rochester YWCA has provided comfort to military families and Belgium refugees
  • Lady Darnley opens a ‘Home for Wives of Service Men’ in Strood
  • A club and recreation room for women was opened at 114 High Street, Strood

Church & Cathedral

  • A new church was opened in Chattenden for government employees

Life Goes On

  • Butchers are angered by street musicians – particularly on Saturday mornings
  • The Mayor made a Christmas plea for toys for orphans and refugee children
  • Irresistible Yuletide gifts for the fair sex can be found at Louis Cobb
  • Toys which children will cherish can be found at W. Day & Co’s, Xmas Bazaar
  • There is a showroom of chocolates at The Tea Table Cafe
  • Gramophones and records can be obtained from H. J. Martin

++++ The Articles ++++

Pre-war events

It is clear that hostilities were being anticipated sometime before the Declaration of War.

Former Rochester publican convicted of espionage. At the Central Criminal Court on Friday, Frederick Adolphus Gould (55) pleaded guilty to indictments under the Official Secrets Act for obtaining and attempting to communicate documents that would be useful to an enemy. He was sentenced to six years’ penal servitude and to be deported. Between 1908 and 1913 he was the licensee of a public house [Queen Charlotte, Rochester High Street] which was frequented by naval and military people.[1] [His wife was discharged.]

Soldiers are based at Rochester railway station. Rochester Station has been converted into a military encampment. Soldiers are under orders to protect the bridge and tunnel because of the strategic importance of the main line to the continent.[2]

Soldier was killed by express train whilst guarding the bridge. Today a party of Dublin Fusiliers was guarding the London, Chatham and Dover Railway Bridge at Rochester, when Private Michael O’Neill (19) was knocked down by the up boat express train and killed instantly.[3], [4]

It is unclear from the reports which trades were ordered to be closed. The orders may have pertained to food shops in an attempt to prevent panic buying.

Closing orders were made for particular trades. The Town Clerk instructed to take the necessary steps for making closing orders in respect of the four trades mentioned in the Chief Constables report – in line with those issued in Chatham and Gillingham.[5]

War Peril – a grave outlook as War has been declared between Austria and Servia. Belgrade has fallen and fears are that Russia will enter the war in support of Servia, and Germany in support of Austria.  Precautionary measures are being taken. Naval and military forces have not been mobilised but the dockyard, railways and government buildings are being guarded. Service men on leave are being recalled.[6]

Training given in first aid. At a time of international crisis such as the present, it is encouraging to learn of the formation of further Voluntary Aid Detachment in connection with St. John Ambulance Brigade. As a result of a course of lectures on First Aid and home nursing, given recently by Dr. G. A. Skinner, divisions have been formed in Strood and Frindsbury. Their first parade was on Wednesday when Dr. Skinner entertained the members of his classes to tea at the “Tea Table Cafe”, [79 High Street – Brettingtons] Rochester.  During the course of the proceedings the awards gained by members were distributed by the Mayoress Miss Jackson.[7]

As hostilities had been long expected the Country had prepared to receive large number of wounded soldiers. A number of hospitals managed by Voluntary Aid Detachments (VAD) had been set up before war was declared. The VADs were founded in 1909 through the combined efforts of the Red Cross and the Order of St John (now known as the St. John Ambulance Service.) By the summer of 1914 there were over 2,500 Voluntary Aid Detachments in Britain. Of the 74,000 VAD members in 1914 two-thirds were women and girls who largely came from the middle and upper classes, but few had anything more than basic training in first aid and home nursing. The local VAD hospital was in Strood and the nursing would have been provided by a mixture of trained and voluntary nursing staff. Trained nurses were licensed professionals who had spent years training in a hospital with a recognised school. In every large hospital there was a matron, sisters, nurses and probationers. Voluntary nurses – also known as Voluntary Aid Detachments (VADs) – were people who willingly gave their time to care for wounded patients. There was undoubtedly an enthusiasm driven by compassion to get involved in the nursing of wounded soldiers, but there also appears to have been desire on the part of women to show support for the war effort through being part of a uniformed service.

Strood’s Voluntary Hospital now only needs equipment. The St. John Voluntary Aid Detachment formed last February in Strood and Frindsbury, have come forward with a splendid offer of a voluntary hospital and have guaranteed 50 beds, with nurses in readiness. The site of the hospital is yet to be announced, but it understood that several buildings have been suggested, and as the power of the War Office is behind the Detachment a large building may be instantly commandeered and turned into a temporary hospital. Any towns people who have single beds not exceeding 3’ 6” and linen suitable for bandages etc., that they are willing to give or lend, should communicate with the secretary Mr. Clarke. 35 beds and a quantity of bedding has already been promised. The Strood Detachment that is currently available comprises 20 nurses, one surgeon, one pharmacist. The Frindsbury detachment comprises of 12 nurses and one surgeon. On Friday and Saturday the Voluntary Aid Nurses will be parading the streets in uniform, when collections on behalf of the Detachment funds will be made.[8] [Strood VAD was the first VAD to receive wounded soldiers.[9]]

The following provides only a brief synopsis of significant dates and national events relating to the recruitment and conscription of men into the military to establish the context of the local news reports.

On 4th August 1914, Britain declares war on Germany, the following day Field-Marshal Lord Kitchener, someone whom Col. H. D’Arch Breton, late R.E, and the soon to be Mayor of Rochester, was acquainted[10], was appointed to be Secretary of State for War.

Lord Kitchener who expected a long and costly war made his first appeal for 100,000 men to volunteer to join the military. The call received a good response with almost 500,000 men enlisting between 4th August and 12thSeptember 1914, and one million by January 1915.  Despite this being a considerable number it was not enough to keep pace with mounting casualties. (Those responsible for setting up a scheme to help the families of dockyard employees who enlisted noted – “The committee desire to point out that on the government basis of 10% deaths, they may unfortunately realise that the number of widows and dependents may reach 90 to 100. If so the present fund will be insufficient”.[11])

August 1914

Military & War Reports

Fitness categories used in the British Army in 1914. The fitness of men for combat was assessed by medical officers who assigned men to a category that helped to quickly determine the type of deployment the man could undertake. The following is the list of categories that the British Army used in 1914. The term ‘A1’ meaning perfect remains in our vocabulary.

A1 – Fit for despatching overseas, as regards physical and mental health, and training.

A2 – As A1, except for training.

A3 – Returned Expeditionary Force men, ready except for physical condition.

A4 – Men under 19 who would be A1 or A2 when aged 19.

B – Free from serious organic diseases, able to stand service on Lines of Communication in France, or in garrisons in the tropics.

B1 – Able to march 5 miles, see to shoot with glasses, and hear well.

B2 – Able to walk 5 miles, see and hear sufficiently for ordinary purposes.

B3 – Only suitable for sedentary work.

C – Free from serious organic diseases, able to stand service in garrisons at home.

C1 – Able to march 5 miles, see to shoot with glasses, and hear well.

C2 – Able to walk 5 miles, see and hear sufficiently for ordinary purposes.

C3 – Only suitable for sedentary work.

The marching of troops was heard as the Dean led an impressive Cathedral service. It was an intercession service in connection with the war and took the place of the ordinary mission service in the nave. From the pulpit the Dean led the congregation in heartfelt prayer. “Troops had been passing through the streets of the old city all day, the ordinary quiet of the Sabbath had been disturbed and even as the Dean asked worshippers to remember the sailors and soldiers there was the sound of the march of soldiery. You could hear in the distance their ditties which lightened their hearts and made marching go with an easier swing. The Dean gave less of a service but more of a personal talk reminding his hearers they were standing at a crisis probably unequalled in the age-long story of our land. War was always horrible, hideous, and ghastly, but there was one thing which was worse than war, and that was peace with dishonour”.[12]

Not everyone shared the jingoistic fervour for war – many women of Medway clearly shared a sense of foreboding.

Everybody seems to make for Military Road in these days for news and camaraderie. “In all of Rochester, Chatham and Gillingham, it is the thoroughfare, not where ordinary business is done but where people most do congregate. It is there where you can hear the varying tales of the bystanders, see the anxious faces of wives and mothers, and incidentally make yourself terribly miserable. Children tug at their mother’s jackets not in the least conscious that terrible events are happening – beyond knowing that ‘Daddy has gone to war’. The Town Hall is the hub of the universe just now to many a poor soul. It is the very heart of the three Towns. People go there for news, they go there for assistance, they go there to help, they go there to control. The Town Hall is no longer thought of as the place where you can be sure to catch a tram or rate payers go to air their grievance. It is a far more important place.” [13]

Aside to the personal grief of families as their men head of for war, daily life in Rochester and district, began to change – changes that in many ways highlight the fact that for many there was nothing romantic about the past, only hardship and more hardships as the war continued. Rochester was class-riven at the start of the war and in many ways, as illustrated by the following news reports, the distinction between the classes became more apparent through the working classes carrying a disproportionate share of the wartime privations.

Troops appear to have quickly arrived in Medway with many being billeted with families in Strood.

Troops are billeted with families in Strood.  A letter was sent from Lieut-Colonel R. Harvey of the 5th East Surrey Regiment, thanking the householders of Strood who billeted the men of his Battalion and for the very kind way in which they were received and cared for. “It was no doubt a new experience to most of the householders, but they all ‘played the game’.[14]

As if the people of Rochester were not nervous enough about the war a journalist wrote in the local press:

“Tremendous advances in death-dealing machinery has taken place within the last few years”. Artillery was now available that could fire a shell from Trafalgar Square and hit Rochester.[15]

Within days of the commencement of the war Rochester gained sight of the consequences of war.

Captured German boats brought to Rochester. “First War Prize in Medway”, the captured German bargue, Neptune, was bought into Rochester by a government steamer. The vessel, which was flying the German colours at her mainmast carried a cargo of new bottles. The captain and the ship’s company of five persons were taken charge of by Rochester police.[16],[17]. Five days later another captured German ship, the Eriga, arrived in Rochester where the crew were taken as prisoners of war.[18], [19]. [A barque was a sailing ship, typically with three masts.]

Terrified Belgians fled in their hundreds of thousands as Germany invaded on 1st August 1914. Over 200,000 Belgians made their escape to Britain. So as not to cause alarm Strood Pier was closed to the public so they would not witness the arrival of the refugees detailed in the following report.

Belgian refugees were met at Strood Pier by the Chief Constable of Rochester (Mr. A. Arnold). Writing from Rochester on Sunday a special correspondent of the Daily Chronicle gave a vivid account of the flight of British people from Ostend. He reported he was one of the last 80 British refugees from Ostend and he landed at Strood Pier from the vessel X (which cannot be identified) which had waited till 2am off Ostend Pier to take fleeing Britons, as well as aircraft, thousands of gallons of petrol and stores. When Vessel X set sail for Sheerness her decks were simply covered with stacks of crimson tins of petrol. It also carried £1,200,000 of gold from Ostend banks.

Belgian refugees were received at the Guildhall. A Custom Officer booked the refugees ashore. The Mayor, Cllr. J. H. Jackson, was informed and he kindly went over to the pier and gave the party a warm welcome. His Worship also had the Guildhall thrown open for their convenience. Mr. G. Strickland of the Gordon Hotel put on an excellent spread within the short period of half an hour. Mr. W. Ford, the caretaker of the Guildhall, and his wife were indefatigable in administering to the wants of the visitors, and several police officers acted as waiters. Sixty of the refugees – that included English, French and Belgians – accepted the Mayor’s hospitality. In order that the attention of the general public should not be attracted Strood Pier was kept clear and the party were taken across to Rochester in boats to the Town Quay. Later the majority of the visitors entrained for London, Folkestone and other places, but two families remained in the Gordon Hotel until Monday morning then proceeded to Broadstairs.[20]

Home Front

Prior to the declaration of War there was a very significant population of German immigrants living in England. Many would have been married to an English person. Unsurprisingly with the outbreak of war, strong anti-German feelings developed. As will be seen in later reports we, as happened in Germany, became extremely suspicious of aliens living in the Towns – particularly those from Germany.

Man was arrested for spying – but the case was dropped. John Kaltenbach, a German master watchmaker was remanded at Rochester. He was charged with being an alien found loitering near certain railway arches belonging to the South Eastern and Chatham Railway Companies, near Bath Hard, St. Nicholas, Rochester, with the supposed intent to destroy or interference with the railway on 6th August. On his return to Court the Chief Constable advised that the Director of Public Prosecutions believed there was insufficient evidence to justify proceedings and therefore raised no objections to the prisoner being discharged. The magistrate discharged Mr. Kaltenbach with the advice to the police that they should not lose their heads even if others were losing theirs.[21]

The military had, for some time, regarded the bridges and tunnels as possible targets for sabotage. It seems though the Police were not so aware of the risks of ignoring the orders of armed soldiers!

Soldiers shoot at a Police boat as it failed to respond to the challenge from soldiers guarding Rochester Bridge. The soldiers opened fire on a police boat – fortunately no one was hurt.[22]

Fear of an invasion must have been in the mind of many – particularly in the minds of those who had heard of the assaults perpetrated on the Belgian civilians. Some of those unable to volunteer to join the army felt they should prepare for possible combat in the event of an invasion.

Strood men were encouraged to undertake drill and rifle practice.  Rochester Corporation will lend Strood Recreation Ground for drill practice. W. Waterer of 6 Hayward Avenue, Strood, writes to the men of Strood suggesting they should meet and undertake drill and rifle practice. He is confident that instructors will be found and the Corporation will lend the Recreation Ground as their parade ground.[23]

Restrictions were placed on the use of the River Medway. Notice to MarinersA boom has been placed across the entrance to the river Medway extending from Garrison Point to Martello Tower, and from the Martello Tower to Grain Island. Mariners should approach with caution. The gate of the boon will always be closed during the hours of official night [table of times published in the official notice] and during fog, and it may be closed during the day if circumstances render it necessary.[24]

The large number of men who responded to the early call to enlist presented serious challenges for businesses and local services that had to develop contingencies to sustain their businesses / services.

Manpower contingencies were put in place to ensure continuity of services as men enlist. The church and local employers quickly implemented contingency plans to respond to the call to arms. “Forty special constables for Rochester were sworn in, including Rev. A. T. Wallis, vicar of Strood, and several tradesmen of the town”.[25] With a view to keeping open the places of two musicians who had been called up, the Vicar of St. Peter’s, Rochester, (the Rev. H. A. Hicken) and his daughter, covered their places in the orchestra that played at the Empire Music Hall, Chatham.[26]

It was widely recognised that the realities of war would be experienced at home and voluntary efforts would be required to alleviate the consequential distress.

A ‘Central Distress Committee’ to be established to organise relief. Special meetings have been held in the three towns for the purpose of meeting the distress which is bound occur as a result of war. The three towns had been asked to consider setting up of a central committee.[27]

Rochester’s ‘Central Relief Committee met at the Guildhall on Wednesday evening. It consisted of 58 members, all classes in the community being represented. It was agreed it would meet every Friday evening at 8pm and to open accounts at each of the three banks in Rochester. It was reported that dependents of all servicemen would be cared for by the Solider and Sailors’ Families Association leaving only civilians to be dealt with by the Distress Committee.[28]

Food, Queues & Deceptions

Britain was not self-sufficient in food and relied on imports. As merchant shipping were likely to be targeted by the German U-boats the cost of insurance increased and this, in turn, pushed up the price of food. For the perilous position of the poor to be recognized so soon after war was declared, suggests the government was aware of the vulnerability of the working class.

Food supplies needed protection. The necessity of guarding food supplies during the war has been fully recognised. Lloyd George placed before Parliament a scheme for the State assuming a large share of war insurance for shipping. The government also resolved to supply food supplies of the country to protect the poor against the risk of starvation. There is sufficient food in GB – all that is required is to organise the consumption and distribution.[29]

Life Goes On

The Corn Exchange Picture Palace was refurbished. Patrons of the Corn Exchange Picture Palace are delighted with the improved arrangements made for their comfort. Decorators and upholsterers have been busy so that now picture palace patrons may see the best of cinematographic pictures in style and comfort.[30]

At the time of the following report Rochester only had a horse-drawn fire engine.

Marriage between Mr. Percy Thompson & Miss Annie Hooper. St. Margaret’s, Rochester, was the scene of an interesting wedding on Wednesday afternoon when the contracting parties were Mr. Percy Thompson from College Avenue, Gillingham, and Miss Annie Hooper of Rochester. The bridegroom is the honorary secretary of the Gillingham Fire Brigade, and a complement of the members turned up in strong force with their steamer, the funnel of which held a massive bouquet of choice flowers. The bride was charmingly attired in cream voile, trimmed with Spanish lace, with veil and wreath of orange blossom, and carried a beautiful bouquet of lilies, carnations and white heather. On leaving the church they passed under the crossed hatchets of the firemen.[31]

September 1914

Military & War Reports

Meetings and rallies were held across the Country to recruit men into the army. General French was the Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force during the first 18 months of the war.

A message from Churchill was read out to the Recruitment Meeting at Chatham on Wednesday night: “All good wishes for Chatham recruiting meeting. The German Emperor has urged his soldiers to exterminate the treacherous English and walk over General French’s contemptible little army. Chatham will know to answer this cant [humbug]. To arms! No peace till Prussian militarism is pulverised and German truculence abased.”[32]

Roll of Honour

Lieut. L. S. Woodgate was killed in action. L. S. Woodgate was the youngest son of the late Alderman E. Woodgate of Star Hill, Rochester.  He was born 11th June 1888, was educated at Mr. Gerald Dale’s School, Star Hill, and at Bradfield College, Berkshire, before going to Sandhurst.[33]

Home Front

With the commencement of the war, authority as to what could or could not happen in a district – particularly those like the Medway towns – was determined the military. One of many areas that military exercised authority was over pub opening times. DoRA stood for the Defence of the Realm Act. It was legislation that was rushed through Parliament in four days and enacted on 11 August.  It was designed to help prevent invasion and to maintain morale high at home through requiring the public to obey and conform to all instructions and regulations which may be issued by the government, the Admiralty and the Army Council.

Tighter licencing regulations were applied in all towns where soldiers were billeted. Why the licencing hours were shorter in Rochester than in Maidstone isn’t made clear.

Licensed houses in Rochester are to close at 9 o’clock – an hour earlier than Maidstone, under the provisions laid down for districts in which troops are billeted.[34]

The opening hours of licensed premises were reduced. Mr. C. Ashton, licensee of the Gundulph Hotel Rochester drew attention of the Magistrates sitting in the Guildhall to the notice issued by the Chief Constable, as required by the military authorities, requiring all premises licensed for the sale of intoxicating liquor and registered clubs to be closed between 9pm and 5am., under DoRA. Mr. Ashton wanted to know whether this superseded the existing law that allowed licensed premises to open between 6am and 11pm. He also wanted to know if license holders could still have the privilege of entertaining friends on the lines previously conceded to them by the Bench. The magistrates could not comment on the revised hours as that was not an order from them, and on the other they would look at each case on its merits.[35]

Even if the man in the following account was no more than a hobby-artist it was extremely unwise for him to be sketching any installation associated with transport that was under military guard.

A man suspected of being a German spy was arrested near Rochester railway station by soldiers because he was sketching.[36]

The Guardians of the Strood Union / workhouse come up with what they saw as a solution to reducing their costs. Workhouses were the welfare system of the time. They were funded by the Parishes and administered by people, largely men, known as Guardians. In addition to providing an infirmary for the sick & frail, and accommodation for the homeless poor in the district, workhouses had ‘casual wards’ into which tramps and vagrants could book into for a meal and a nights’ shelter. Beds were limited and late-comers could be turned away if all had been taken. Those who received accommodation for the night were expected to undertake some task before leaving. This may have included chopping kindling wood – see Food, Queues, & Deceptions, December 1917.

‘Casuals’ booking into a Union should be made to support the war effort. Strood Guardians received a reply to their letters suggesting that the State should use able-bodied casuals to support the war effort. The responses received stated it sounded good in principle but could be difficult to put into practice.[37]

The War will bring new business opportunities. Robins & Day, The Motor House Rochester, placed an advert to sell the cars and motorcycles of naval and military Officers. People interested in buying one of these was asked to make reasonable officers. Robins & Day also offered special terms to officers wishing to dispose of, or store their cars.[38]

Robins and Day Ltd., started an appeal to purchase a properly equipped motor ambulance. The well-known automobile engineers appealed to their customers to help raise the funds to purchase a properly equipped motor ambulance for the conveyance of wounded soldiers in the district. The £130 was quickly raised. The motor ambulance now forms the centre of an effective battlefield tableau in Messrs. Robins and Day’s window; the weapons spread over the ‘field’ having been taken from the Turks at Scutari. The ambulance is fitted on a Ford chassis and will comfortably accommodate two regulation stretchers, and provides seats for the driver and an attendant. The body platform has iron grooves into which the stretcher runners slide. A hinged tailboard shuts upon the stretchers and keeps all fixed and the patient obscured. Front curtains immediately behind the driving seat screen the interior. The body cover and its supports are instantly removable leaving an uncovered platform for transport.[39]

Gas cookers available for hire from Robins & Day. The Rochester, Chatham and Gillingham Gas Co., offering gas cookers for hire from 2/- per quarter.[40]

Life Goes On

Rochester Conservatives held a gardeners’ showalthough the circumstances were much less favourable than usual there was a capital display at the 15th annual show of the Rochester and Strood Conservative Gardeners’ Society held at the Victoria Hall.[41]

October 1914

Military & War Reports

The influx of soldiers into the area added to a significant accommodation problem in Rochester. Many soldiers were billeted with families – which caused some anxieties for households that did not include a man. Refugees were also being accommodated in the district.

The billeting of soldiers with families poses risks to lone wives and children. Concerns were raised about the billeting of recruits in homes which caused great inconvenience to wives who were lone with their children. The War Office, in response to the concerns, advised that instructions had been issued stating that premises should not be used without the full consent of the occupier when –  a). the home is only occupied by women, with or without children; b). homes of naval and military officers absent on duty and whose families are left unprotected; c). Homes of female religious communities, and d). Bank premises. Police who make the arrangements for billeting were similarly instructed by the Home Office.[42]

Various fundraising schemes were established to send comfort to those at the Front. At the start of the war these were unregulated and provided opportunities for what would be referred to today as ‘scams’. There were also many subliminal messages included in reports and adverts that defined the role that women should fulfil at home, and in encouraging men to enlist in order to protect them.

Observer’s Sixpenny Fund will send tobacco for our local heroes at the Front. Every 6d sends ‘smokes’ to the value of 1/6. An arrangement has been made with Messrs. Martin Ltd, well known tobacco firm in Piccadilly, to send the supply directly from their bonded warehouse. If you have a father, son, brother, husband, lover or friend at the Front they will be sent direct to him – one parcel for every 6d you send.[43] To promote the scheme the Observer published an image of a tobacco parcel along with the statement – “How the girls at home can help”. The Observer has prepared convenient collection books and is recruiting people who are able to collect sixpences so tobacco and cigarettes can be sent to the troops.[44]

The high regard shown to those serving their Country created the opportunity for villains to exploit the public’s goodwill.

Arthur Harrison was before the Court for pretending to be an officer. Arthur Harrison from Lambeth was before Rochester Magistrates for unlawfully representing himself to be an officer authorised to demand a billet at Strood. He was also charged with that he being the holder of a license under the Penal Servitude Act, failed to notify his place of residence to the Chief Officer of Police when he arrived in Rochester.[45]

The following advert suggests that ‘army issue’ might not have been all that it needed to be. Earlier vacuum / Dewar / Thermos flasks tended to have a glass liner that could be shattered if the flask was dropped or received a heavy knock.

Robust flasks suitable for sending to the Front are available from W. B. Fitch, MPS, who has been appointed the sole agent in Rochester and Chatham for the “Roc” flask. The bottle rests in an asbestos lined seating and the neck is protected by a rubber ring that stops ALL the vibrations which has been the cause of many breakages. Prices from 3/6 to 10/6. Locally they can be obtained from St. Bartholomew’s hospital, Eastgate Pharmacy, 143 High Street, between the museum [now Eastgate House] and the [old] post office [165/69 High Street.][46]

Reports from the Front

The following account from the Front makes reference to a solider being a servant to an officer. In a future report it will be noted that the Chairman of a Tribunal exempted a man from military service as the civilian role he fulfilled was more important than becoming an officer’s servant / assistant – See ‘Tribunals’, August 1917.

Fought, captured and escaped, only to have his pipe destroyed by a shell. Private W. Hales, son of Mr. & Mrs. Richard Hales of 5 Nursery-terrace, Bill-street, Frindsbury, has sent home an interesting letter from the seat of war to his wife and parents. Hales was a member of the Ramsgate Borough Police Force when war broke out. He was recalled to the colours, his battalion being the 2nd Grenadier Guards. His letter was dated 28th September although he stated they lose count of days. He wrote that he hoped his wife had received cards saying he was all right and asking if she had heard from an officer of the Irish Guards who had promised that he would write and tell her he was all right. “I was servant to him for a few days while he was in hospital as we were both prisoners of war, but I’m glad to say I got away from them and am now back in the same old company. You may be sure I feel glad to be out of the hands of those people, and I also consider myself very lucky.” “I was sitting last evening about 6:30 having a comfortable smoke when a piece of shell hit my pipe and knocked it completely in two pieces and the stem of the pipe which was left in my mouth was jerked against my tongue and cut out a piece as big as a pea. I thought all my teeth on the left side of my mouth had gone as it gave me a nasty knock.” He asks his wife to send him a few packets of cigarette papers as they have plenty of tobacco at present but as he has no pipe at present a few papers would come in handy. He wanted nothing else unless his wife could find his old wooden pipe that may be in his old night-duty pocket. “It would be glorious to get that.” When reporting on being captured – “We were in a wood, and the enemy were close after us. There were thousands of them and as they were coming along we were shooting them down wholesale. Nevertheless, they kept coming. We dare not even think of running away as we had to check them while our division retired to another position. There were about 430 of us – Grenadier and Irish Guards – and as the enemy kept advancing we had to do something to get through, as by that time the bounders had completely got right round us. We charged them with our bayonets and found they were about 50 to 1. And out of that lot of us there were only 43 prisoners, and I happened to be one of them – the rest of the poor fellows were killed or wounded. There were over 20 who tried to get me. I would not have given tuppence for my chances a minute or so before, but I found that they had finished charging and were only just now taking prisoners, so I said ‘God help us now’. But as I said before, I am lucky in that respect. I will leave the rest until I get home, if I do get there. I have lots to tell you. Will you please send a few envelopes and papers as we cannot buy anything out here?” Hales closes his later with a cheery note asking his wife not to worry, and then, still thinking of his pipe, adds a postscript requesting a packet of safety matches as they were the “scarcest things imaginable” out there.[47]

An unnamed English lady brings news from the Front. A woman who recently left Germany managed to get through messages from imprisoned soldiers to their wives. One such anxious wife was Mrs. J. Rowe, 116 Cecil Road, who received a letter from her husband after 11 weeks of great suspense. Her husband was a private in the Royal West Kent Regiment of which he was a reservist. He was called to the Colours and left home on 6th August. Three weeks afterwards he was a prisoner in the hands of the Germans, and then for 11 weeks his wife heard nothing. Every casualty list was anxiously scanned every possible inquiry made, but to no avail. The suspense was broken when she received from her husband two pencil-written postcards. With them was a short letter evidently in a lady’s handwriting and posted in Hampstead. The lady didn’t want to be known so sent the letter anonymously.

Pte. Rowe who is held as a Prisoner of War managed to get a letter home. Pte. Rowe wrote – 26 August – “We have had an engagement [with the Germans]. I am a prisoner, but I am being received kindly. I hope that this infernal war will soon cease … Remember me to all friends in Rochester. I am in the best of spirits. The second card, undated, said – “I suppose you will be surprised to hear from me, but I’m still in the land of the living. We had a great battle with the Germans, and our …. was put to flight. I am captured. A few of us were totally left behind; they retreated sometime before we were aware of the fact, so we were cut off and eventually captured. I might say that they are treating us very kindly, receiving the best of hospitality, so don’t be alarmed. The Germans are not so bad as they are painted. Love to Billy and baby, and all at home.” It might be added that since Pte. Rowe went to the Front his wife had had another child.[48] [See also Reports from the Front – March 1916.]

There were English people living in Germany when war was declared. The following provides an account of how an English woman from Strood was treated, and how she made her way back home. It also gives an indication as to how Germany treated English aliens when war was declared and how propaganda was used. It also shows that Germany was also experiencing high levels of casualties at the start of the war.

English woman reported her experiences in Germany and her escape. Miss Manley, eldest daughter of Mr. Stephen Manley, has arrived home in Strood. She had been living for some years in Germany and had had some unpleasant experiences since the war broke out. Miss Manley was in the service of a Danish Count, who had married an English lady, as a nursery governess in a village in a suburb of Dresden. Matters were exceedingly unpleasant for Miss Manley during the first few days of the war, and she dared not leave the house. Englishmen were seized wherever they were seen and taken off to prison, but women were compelled to give all information with regard to themselves, and warned that they would not be allowed out after 6pm. Miss Manley was visited by the village constable three or four times a week and had sometimes to go twice a week to the Chief of Police at Dresden, who also used to occasionally telephone to enquire whether she was still in the house.

The wording and alarming stories that were told to her made her ill, and she was obliged ultimately to go to hospital. England was blamed for everything and she was pointed at, even by former friends, as the ‘enemy’. She was told that the German army was in England, that Dover had ceased to exist, and that all the people had fled from the towns between Dover and London, so when she arrived at Strood she would find nobody there she knew to receive her. As she could not receive news from home she could not discount this information. It was arranged for her to go into hospital in Dresden but this was found to be full of wounded from the war, so she went to a town hospital in Radebergh. Here the doctor prevented the police from pestering her, but they used to repeatedly telephone inquiring about her. Miss Manley said that the newspapers reported on the horrors and destruction in Belgium but attributed it to the Belgians and English. The German losses were evidently very great, there was scarcely a family not in mourning. Trains filled with wounded were arriving every day and the distress among the civilian population was awful. At the latter part of her time in Germany when she went out she wore miniature German and American flags. She selected the latter because she discovered it was a popular idea with the German people that the Americans were going to help them.

Miss Manley ultimately secured a pass from the American Counsel and left Dresden on 12th. She needed to change trains six times and reached the frontier at 5pm on Tuesday. On examining her pass and discovering she was English, a German official looked at her as though he would have liked to have killed her. He ordered her to stand aside and kept her standing there for 15 minutes with people staring at her and repeating ‘She is English!’ The official wanted her to turn out all her luggage again but another pointed out that it had been done. Miss Manley finally got away and reached Rotterdam shortly before midnight. There she found the British Consul waiting to see whether any English might by chance arrive. He took her to a hotel where she remained until Thursday when she left for England on a small boat crowded with Belgian refugees and only three other English passengers on board.[49]

Roll of Honour

On 22 September 1914 a German U-boat ambushed three obsolete cruisers of the Royal Navy. They were mainly manned by reservists and are sometimes referred to as the ‘Livebait Squadron’. Approximately 1,450 sailors were killed and there was a public outcry in Britain at the losses. It would appear that the Navy at this time did not perceive U-boats as a significant threat.

1,400 Medway men were lost in the sinkings of the Aboukir, Cressy, and Hogue. Pages of names and pictures were published detailing the names of hundreds of missing men who served on HMS Aboukir, HMS Cressy, HMS Hogue.[50]  A private funeral service was held at St. Nicholas Church, Strood, before the ordinary service, in connection with the death of Leading Seaman Reginald Colyer (33) of HMS Aboukir, who perished on the occasion of the sinking of that vessel in the North Sea. His widow and two young children now reside at 25 Cliffe Road, Strood. Mrs. Colyer and several of her own and her late husband’s relatives were present as mourners, and the service for the ‘Burial of the Dead’ was read by the Rev. A. T. Walis, Vicar.[51] [There is a painting of the ‘Live Bait Squadron’ by Kevin Clarkson on display in the Guildhall Museum, Rochester.]

Neville Bridgland an Old Roffensian was killed at the Front. Neville Bridgland (20) was killed at the Front last week. Both he and his brother were members of the East Surrey Regiment and were prominent members of the School Eleven.[52]

Health & Hospitals

Within a month of declaring war on Germany the Stood VAD was not only full but needed to be extended.

The Red Cross flag floats over the Strood VAD Hospital. For the first time, probably in the history of this town, the Red Cross flag floats over a hospital in Strood. The institution that has been provided with the assistance of many local residents is being maintained by the Strood and Frindsbury VAD of the St. John Ambulance Association, and now merged in the Territorial Forces. Its mobilisation on 3rd September was authorised the by War Office. It is in all respects thoroughly equipped and filled just now with wounded from the war, and is a centre of greatest interest….

Having placed ‘Claremont’ on a ‘war footing’, the committee with Dr. Skinner at their head, have greatly increased their accommodation by taking over from the Rochester and District Co-operative Society – the handsome and spacious hall almost opposite. When ready it will provide an additional 60 beds to the 40 at Claremont.[53]

Soon the VAD hospital was full to capacity – but seemingly attracting criticisms that were not reported – but based on other reports there could have been the suspicion that the volunteers were being paid. This would have been of concern as it could have had a negative impact on the public’s generosity on which the VAD depended.

Men are moved to the Strood VAD hospital from military hospitals. Claremont House, Frindsbury Road, is full and 15 men are being accommodated in the Cooperative Hall. Most of the patients are removals from Fort Pitt Military Hospital or the Drill Hall in Boundary Road, Chatham, but several have been received direct from the Front, one wearing pyjamas in lieu of trousers and another wearing German boots with spurs attached.

The hospital was inspected by the Strood Trustees who found care was being provided in the nicest way and the greatest medical care was being bestowed on the patients, but it was stated that the hospital had been disadvantaged owing to criticism which could have been avoided.[54]

The greatest interest is being evinced in the Strood Voluntary Hospital. The main hospital is at “Claremont” Frindsbury-road, formerly the residence of Dr. Robert Ross Brown, JP, but additional accommodation has been placed at the disposal of the Committee by the Rochester and District Cooperative Society, who are allowing their spacious hall in Gun-lane to be utilised as a ward. Dr. G. Skinner is the medical officer in charge, and he is assisted in attendance on patients by Dr. A. Packman. With the exception of three trained nurses provided by the War Office for operations and dressings, the staff consists of members of the Voluntary Aid Detachments, the whole of whom are giving their services gratuitously. Claremont House provides accommodation for 40 beds and the Co-operative Hall for 60, and as many as 70 patients have been under treatment in the hospital at one time. Close to 40 have been drafted out, and are now on ten days furlough or are back with their regiments ready to take their place on the firing line. The two sections of the hospital are thoroughly equipped. In some cases operations were necessary and these have been successfully performed in the old surgery of “Claremont” which has been fitted up as an operating theatre. A representative of the [Chatham] Observer visited the hospital on Wednesday and found no fewer than 34 patients under treatment. They represented many regiments and mostly sustained their injuries in the early stages of the Battle of the Aisne [12 – 15 September]. All were progressing satisfactorily, in fact most were convalescent, but as to their terrible experiences at the Front there was an air of reticence. They much preferred to talk of the great kindness and attention which had been bestowed on them since their arrival in Strood.[55]

Rumours that staff at the VAD are being paid are refuted. Along with pictures of wounded soldiers in Strood VAD a letter is published stating categorically that the rumours that staff at the VAD are being paid are entirely untrue. The only payment received from any source is an allowance from the War Office of 2s / day / head for food for the patients. The medical and nursing staff receive no payment whatever, their work being entirely voluntary. There are currently 80 patients in the hospital, the greater number of whom have come directly from the firing line, and subscriptions for working expenses are urgently needed as are gifts of bedding, clothing, slippers etc.[56]

Cllr. J. M. and Miss Jackson paid a Mayoral visit to Strood VAD. The Mayor, Cllr. J. M Jackson and Mayoress, Miss Jackson [Lucie H. Jackson] visited the Strood Voluntary Hospital. The Mayor took with him two huge boxes of chocolates and expressed great satisfaction of all that’s being done for the patients. At the close of the visit the patients gave hearty cheers for his Worship and Mayoress. In the evening the Mayor wrote a letter to Dr. Skinner, honorary medical officer, saying how pleased he was with all the Mayoress and he had seen – and enclosed a cheque for £10.[57]

The following report contains details of the services provided for British and German casualties of the war, as well as a description of the welcome the King & Queen received on their visit to the district.

The King & Queen visited Fort Pitt Hospital where they were shown the new ward. They passed through the medical and surgical wards to reach the new block of buildings. Both the King & Queen stopped at every bed and had a word with all the patients, many of whom were dressed with arms or legs in slings or hands in bandages. They showed special interest in examining the pieces of shrapnel and the bullets extracted from wounds, and in examining some X-ray plates. In a separate ward in the old block were five German naval officers from the Heligoland Bight [the first Naval battle of WW1 fought on 28 August]. These also received a visit from their Majesties and were apparently much gratified with the pleasant words spoken. In another building, altogether isolated from the main hospital, were 65 more German wounded prisoners, non-commissioned officers and men. There were altogether 208 invalids in the hospital, 100 of whom were wounded from the Front. Twenty-four of this number had been bought over from the Strood Voluntary Hospital, and eight from the Drill Hall.

Their Majesties spent 50 minutes at the hospital before returning to Buckingham Palace. The route taken was past the railway station, along New-road, down Star-hill, through Rochester High Street, across the bridge and along Strood High Street.[58]

Before the NHS was established hospitals needed to raise funds in any way they could. House-to-house collections were undertaken on behalf of St. Bartholomew’s hospital. The decision by the committee to abandon a planned collection suggests they may have been aware that ‘collection fatigue’ may have already began to set in.

A house-to-house collection for St. Bartholomew’s was abandoned. Charles Speyer, Secretary, wrote to the editor, saying in view of the many collections taking place in the district in connection with various War Funds, and the additional demands now being made upon the public, the House Committee very reluctantly decided to abandon the idea of having a house to house collection in aid of the hospital this year. The hospital though still needs funds and requested that contributions continue to be made to support the work of the hospital.[59]

Home News

Some Belgian refugees settled in Rochester. Several refugees from Belgium have found temporary shelter in the Rochester district. Some of these homeless wanderers were from Antwerp and its environs and on the first sign of trouble they fled taking but a few necessities with them. In one house in Frindsbury is a family of five – mother, father, grandmother and two little girls, the eldest of whom is eight and the youngest nine months. These refugees left Antwerp six weeks ago and thus escaped the last few days of misery in the bombarded city, but others members of the family who are living in Gundulph-square were not so fortunate and succeeded in reaching Rochester on Monday [?12 October] having left the city on the previous Thursday.[60]

The King & Queen travelled though Rochester on their way to Fort Pitt Hospital. There was a great crowd in Strood High Street and on the hill, who waited patiently for about an hour in order the see their Majesties pass. A number of policemen were on duty. They had a very busy time side-tracking every tramcar and motor car which were tempted to enter the main thoroughfare with the result the entrance to Cuxton Road, North Street etc. were positively choked with vehicles.

As in other parts of the route thousands of people lined the main thoroughfares of Rochester for some time before it was known that their Majesties had left Gravesend. When they left for Rochester a message was telephoned through to the Guildhall and the police held the traffic. Rochester bridge was closed to traffic and pedestrians. Those who needed to cross were accompanied by a constable. All along Strood-hill, London-road, and High-street Strood, over the bridge to Rochester High Street into Eastgate and thence to Chatham-intra and from every window, there were waving hands and handkerchiefs to give the Royal visitors a real hearty welcome.

Up at the Guildhall the Mayor held a party in the Mayor’s Parlour, including the Mayoress (Miss Jackson) and other ladies who from the side window had an excellent view as the Royal motor-car came across the bridge. In the Town Clerk’s office were other visitors. On the piece of spare land by the Cathedral were the Headmaster, staff and pupils of the King’s School, who gave a rousing cheer which His Majesty acknowledged. The Dean and other well-known local people were also in the enclosure. One tradesman, Mr. C. Woollett, turned his upper windows to good account. He let some seats at 2s / head – at least that was the notice displayed outside his shop – and the proceeds went for cigarettes for soldiers at the Front. “Wake-up Rochester!” was one of the mottos which Mr. Woollett displayed, and below, in larger letters was the answer “We are waking up, Sire!”. The people were thickest, perhaps, at the foot of Star-hill, but the City Police, aided by some mounted men, controlled the traffic well and no untoward incident happened. It was 1:30 when the Royal party left Rochester.

Serious as is generally the King’s countenance, it was remarked how anxious and careworn he appeared as he left Fort Pitt. There were those who thought His Majesty might call into St. Bartholomew’s where it was known there lay some of the British wounded from the Battle of Aisne. One or two who were able to rise were at the windows, while at the main entrance saw a party of sisters, and at the windows nurses and other members of staff.[61]

Part of the strategy to reduce alcohol consumption was to reduce the number of licensed premises. Pubs that were forced to closed received compensation.

Compensation was paid for licensed houses forced to close: Lord Nelson Inn, 139 High Street, Rochester, £1,012 (£650 for the freeholders, £302 for lessees and £50 for the tenant). [139 is currently the site of Rochester Fire Places.] New Inn beer house, 306 High St. Rochester, £1024 (£844 for the owners, and £180 for the tenant). Upnor Castle beer house, Upper Upnor, £1019 – (£909 for freeholders and £110 for the tenant).[62]

As a consequence of the war – and perhaps exacerbated by the large number of people coming into the district – suppliers sought to increase their prices and inflation began to take a hold.

Contractors sought an increase in the contract prices they have with the Strood Union. The Strood Guardians received a number of applications for additional payments from contractors owing to the increased prices of provisions.[63]

School / Education News

Army pay was below that which many earned in their civilian employment. As part of the war effort private and public employers often made up the difference between a soldier’s military pay and what he would have been paid had he remained with his employer.

Teacher’s pay and jobs to be protected. Rochester Education Committee (following a similar standard set for civil servants) agreed all Assistant Masters who are called-up will be granted leave of absence and that they would be allowed to re-join their schools at the end of the war. They would be paid their salaries minus their army pay and any allowances and £1 / month that is supplied to them as soldiers.[64] [This proved t difficult to administer see School/Education News December 1914.]

The fact that the Rochester Education Committee needed to make the following ruling suggests that children were being used to make clothes – if not in factories perhaps as part of a cottage industry supported by their parents.

Children are not to be employed in the making of clothes. The Rochester Education Committee stated that children should not be employed in the making of clothes during this emergency.[65]

Women’s Experiences

Schools were one of the first to find recruitment difficulties as a consequence of the war. This was largely because, until the Sex Disqualification Removal Act was passed in 1919, no married women were allowed to work as teachers.

Women teachers to be recalled and pupil teachers to be used to cover vacant posts. The Rochester Education Committee heard that schools were having great difficulty in filling the six vacancies caused by assistant masters having joined the Army as no teacher was prepared to accept a temporary post. In the circumstances, it was agreed to offer three permanent positions to certified teachers (men or women) – one to Gordon Road Boys, one to St. Peter’s Boys and one for St. Mary’s Boys. The other vacancies to be covered by pupil teachers.[66]

Church & Cathedral reports

The Cathedral Harvest Festivals were very well attended – particularly the 7pm service held in the nave. A large number of chairs had to be brought into the nave at the last moment and even then there were those who could not be accommodated. The attendees included a large number of service people. Decorations of the cathedral harvest festival were never on such a lavish scale. On this occasion there was a collection of choice flowers on the alter, arranged by Mrs. Storr and Miss Storr. The amount of the offertories to be sent to the Belgian Minister, amounted to £25. The parish church of St. Nicholas, Strood, also had never looked more beautiful than on the occasion of this Harvest Festival.[67]

Cathedral recitals were held in aid of the Belgian Relief Fund. The first of a series of five organ recitals on behalf of the Belgian Relief Fund (silver collection) attracted a numerous gathering in the nave of the Cathedral on Saturday evening.[68]

“Not for a considerable time has there been heard in Rochester Cathedral such a varied choice of music as was heard on Wednesday evening at another of the series of organ recitals which have been held for several Wednesdays past in aid of the Belgian Relief Fund. The Cathedral organist (Mr. B. Loard-Selby) was the recitalist, while Miss Elise Grosholz, a sweet-voiced singer of distinction, gave two vocal solos.[69]

Paranoia continues about the German’s living or working in the Towns. Edward Bassett Willis was a watchmaker. Number 200 is currently the Rochester Grill but is a ‘rebuild’.

Rumours that a German is winding the Cathedral clock were refuted. A notice was placed in the press by E. Basset Willis – “In consequence of a report which has gained currency in certain quarters to the effect I employ German to wind the Rochester Cathedral Clock, I hereby emphatically state that such a report is entirely false. My staff does not include any person who is remotely connected with a German nationality. The rumour probably owes its origin to the fact that a man of German extraction had charge of the said clock prior to me assuming control of it a fortnight ago. E. Basset Willis, 200 High Street. Rochester.”[70]

Life Goes On

Featherstones moved into new commodious premises. Advertisement – Featherstones Ltd., Gentleman’s Department will be removed to our new Commodious Premises at 337 – 341 High Street, Rochester – the New Shopping Centre Chatham Intra. The space freed will be utilised for the increased requirements of the Ladies Department.[71]

It wasn’t just food that became in short supply. There were also shortages in textiles as the government required garment manufacturers to concentrate on producing material for uniforms and blankets.

Strood Union lost its blanket supplier due to the mills being taken over by the War Dept. The Board received a letter from Mr. H. Edwin from Dover saying he could no longer provide blankets of the required quality as all the mills have been taken over by the War Department.[72]

Woollen undergarments available but shortages are expected – so buy soon. Advertisement – Now is the time to buy your winter underwear – all British made says Joseph Stanley, Gentleman’s Outfitter, 93 High Street, Rochester. Owing to the huge requirements by the government for all kinds of wool undergarments for the troops, there will probably be serious difficulty in replacing stocks and possible rise in prices.[73] [93 High Street is currently Fieldstaff Antiques.]

November 1914

Military & War Reports

At a time when welfare was largely provided via workhouses and funded by the Parish, there was potential for extreme hardship for families as a consequence of the breadwinner enlisting or being killed or disabled in action. In 1901 a state pension was introduced for the widows of soldiers who had gained the permission of their commanding officer to marry. These widows were referred to being ‘on-the-strength’ and received support from the army. ‘Unapproved’ wives were ‘off-the-strength’ and received no support. In the first week of the war the Asquith government announced pensions would also be available to ‘off-the-strength’ wives and wives of volunteers. Based on the date of the following report (November) it appears to have taken a while to deliver on this undertaking and in the intervening time many women would have been widowed and experienced considerable hardship. Their only option would probably have been to turn to the Royal Patriotic Fund administered by SSFA (the Soldiers’ & Sailors’ Family Association) or work based schemes such as the Chatham Dockyard War Fund. The Royal Patriotic Fund was set up in 1854 as a consequence of Queen Victoria’s concern for the well-being of the widows and orphans of British servicemen dying in the Crimean War. Its budget was entirely dependent on public donations as the state at this time accepted no responsibility for the dependants of its servicemen lost in conflict.

A new pension scheme was set up for soldier’s widows and dependents. The government has issued a new scheme of pensions for soldier’s widows and dependents. A widow without children will receive 7s 6d / week with amounts increasing for the number of dependent children. A widow with four children will see her pension increase from 11s to 20s.[74]

The following report suggests that casualties were being sustained faster than was anticipated.

Chatham Dockyard War Fund supports families until allowances come through. Over £1,300 has been subscribed to the Chatham Dockyard War Fund. The Fund will be used to assist solely the wives, children and dependent mothers and fathers of men whose income by joining the Colours had become less than they received in the yard. Three hundred and twenty families have so far been helped. The help continues until the separation allowances and other allowances made by the government are received by the women. When there were difficulties in obtaining these allowances assistance was given in writing letters. In event of their husband being killed dependents can apply to the fund again. “The committee desire to point out that on the government basis of 10% deaths they may unfortunately realise that the number of widows and dependents may reach 90 to 100. If so the present fund will be insufficient.[75]

The cost of billeting soldiers proved to be considerable. Huts for the billeting of troops are being erected to provide accommodation, but a scheme under consideration by the War Officer where more are billeted in households for 2s 6d / day or 17s 6d per week including laundry, could be more economical – saving £2.5 million in six months.[76]

Much is written of the war from the perspective of the trenches but life for a billeted solider or one deployed on home duties, must at times have been lonely and tedious – particularly on Sundays when much was closed for the Sabbath.

150 of the National Reserve from the Tonbridge District were billeted in Rochester this week. The men have not yet taken up their duties but it is believed they will relieve the soldiers who are at present employed in guarding communications in the town.[77]

Service men are left wandering the streets if they’re unable to get into their billets. One of the last public acts of the Mayor and Mayoress [Jacksons] was to attend the tea and entertainment given in the Vines Institute to servicemen who were bought in from the streets by members of the Institute on Sunday afternoon last.[78]

A recreation room was opened for soldiers at Cliffe-at-Hoo. Ever since the outbreak of war large numbers of soldiers have been stationed at Cliffe Fort and at the Powder Works, but although Cliffe is a populous parish of now probably 3,000 inhabitants, there has been nowhere the soldiers could go for quiet recreation other than that offered by public houses. Thanks to Mr. G. Batchelor the old Wesleyan Chapel has this week been opened every evening as a recreation room. Newspapers and periodicals have been provided, as well as writing materials, besides games like draughts and dominoes. It was also thought that cards might be a useful and harmless addition, and arrangements will soon be made to provide tea, coffee and cocoa. It is hoped that the room will largely be used by men in khaki.[79]

Reports from the Front

Cpl. Samuel Hallett has been promoted to Second-Lieutenant for gallantry in the field.  His commission is with the Middlesex Regiment. Lieut. Samuel Hallett, RE, whose wife and two children are living, while the war is on, with Mrs. Hallett’s mother in Hooper’s-place, is a soldier to his fingers’ tips. Mrs. Hallett had not heard officially of her husband’s promotion except some significance was to be attached to the fact that the War Office had written and asked for the return of her ring paper. Her husband had included something about the events in a letter but they had been removed by the censor. Suffice it to say that Mrs. Hallett is amongst the proudest of women in Rochester – and justly so. In addition, Lieut. Hallett has been awarded by the French the Medallion Militaire. Hallett went to the war on August 15th when his baby girl was only 11 days old, and since then has done some wonderful work.[80] [Ring papers may refer to confirmation of marriage.] See ‘Report From the Front’ – December 1914.

The ‘great strategical retirement’, referred to in the following report, probably refers to the Retreat from Mons by the British Expeditionary Force, which followed the Battle of Mons – the opening battle of the war – which started on 23rdAugust 1914.

Pte. Walter Huggett wrote of the distress he witnessed of civilians in an occupied country. Walter Huggett of 77 Grove Road, Strood, has written to his wife to say that he is in hospital in France, and is wounded, although he hopes to be out again in a few days. He says it was on 1st November they were crossing a field when a big shell came. Dozens had come their way without effect, but this one was disastrous. “We flopped down some of us in a ditch. Those who were out in the field, poor chaps are there now, and us in the ditch caught the back of the shell. My right shoulder being up on top of the ditch stopped a little bit. … I was lucky … I expect I shall be out of hospital before you get this.  In an earlier letter Pte. Huggett describes the scene of the inhabitants leaving their homes. He refers to the great strategical retirement and says “A sight that touched me was all the while we were retiring the people of the towns and villages were turned out … Some walking, some riding, all crowded in old carts with their belongings thrown in, some pushing barrows and ‘prams’ with bedding and food all thrown in anyhow, some crying and fainting and dying and all sorts of horrible things. They didn’t know where to go, roaming about woods and lanes trying to follow us and dodge the Germans… The people left their livestock behind, so that it was roaming about everywhere – donkeys, goats, sheep, cows and dogs.[81]

Seems the author of the following poem may have been a bit cynical about the information released by the Press Bureau.

Sgt. G. Kill sent a poem that he wrote in a trench at the Front, to friends in Rochester.

We’re hidden deep in a trench

Front line and angle fire;

A drain of drip and drench,

a fence of barbed wire.

There Allied arms must be,
            And barley show a head;

An odd game this, “I spy,”

Instead of laughter, lead.

 

Things come to those who wait;

“Coal boxes”, “Black Marias”;

The stroke of cruel fate,

The death betwixt two fires.

 

We play a hand of whist,

Smoke, sing a marching song;

We hear a sudden “Hist”!

Attack! All out! So long!

 

A smothered cry, a thrust,

 A curse beneath the breath;

A Bosche has bitten dust

For him or me ’twas death.

 

We’ve made a “slight advance,”

So states the Press Bureau;

We’ve made the beggars dance,

We’ll make them dance anew.[82]

 

Roll of Honour

In the early days of the war the Roll of Honour comprised of a roll of men who had enlisted.

List of men serving is published.[83]

Firms and schools also desired to list men associated with them who had enlisted.

Help sought to identify Old Choristers of Rochester who have enlisted. W. Morgan, Headmaster of King’s School, wrote to the editor asking for the public’s assistance as he was anxious to compile a list of all old choristers of the Cathedral who are serving our country in any way during this war.[84]

The war in East Africa started on 8 August 1914 when the British ship HMS Astrea bombed the wireless station at Dar-es-Salaam in German East Africa. The war ended on 25 November 1918 when the Germans under General Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck surrendered to the British at Abercorn in Northern Rhodesia.[85]

Thomas Harold Drake died in action. Dr. A. Courtney-Drake of Watts’ Avenue has heard this week of the death of his only brother, Thomas Harold Drake in action. Thomas (33) was killed in action on 3rd November in British East Africa.[86]

The following death highlight the fact that if a solider was not killed by the injury he sustained the ensuing infection could prove fatal. The bacteria that causes tetanus is found in soil and animal faeces. On the battle it would have been very easy for ‘muck’ to get into a wound.

Pte. Robert Taylor died from tetanus in Fort Pitt Hospital. Robert Jacob Taylor received a bullet wound to the leg in France that probably became infected.[87]

A huge blast ripped through HMS Bulwark shortly after dawn on 26th November 1914. She was anchored in Kethole Reach about five miles west of Sheerness in the Medway Estuary. Out of her complement of 750, no officers and only 14 sailors survived, two of whom subsequently died of their injuries in hospital. Most of the survivors were seriously injured.[88]

HMS Bulwark explosion. Recovered bodies are being landed at Gun Wharf.[89] [Gun Wharf is the current site of the HQ for Medway Council in Dock Road, Chatham.]

Health & Hospitals

Mrs. Montefiore, wife of a prospective MP for Rochester, visits Strood VAD. Mrs. Montefiore, wife of Capt. R. Montefiore, prospective Unionist candidate for Rochester, was among the visitors to the Strood Voluntary Hospital on Wednesday. She bought with her chocolates and other gifts for the wounded.[90]

Home News

Colonel Harry D’Arch Breton, retired from the Royal Engineers, is appointed as Mayor of Rochester. He was a single man and Miss Lucie Jackson agreed to continue as mayoress.

The war must be won says the Mayor. The new Mayor of Rochester, Col. H. Breton, concluded his speech on Mayor’s Day with observations on the national crisis. He said the war in which we are engaged is one of extreme severity and vast importance. He then, in some detail, provided an evaluation of the German nation which necessitated the winning of the war.[91]

The war was costing between £900,000 and £1 million / day. Despite the cost, Parliament agreed to another million men being recruited for the army.[92]

As will be seen through this chronology the army’s almost unfettered demand for men seriously impacted on the industries at home – industries that supported the war effort, kept the country fed and the ‘home fires burning’.

A home defence force needs to be created. ‘AN Irishman’ wrote to the editor saying there was a large number of men in Rochester and Chatham who for various reasons are unable to join Kitchener’s Army, men over 35 or with some slight physical defect which puts them outside the severe test of the Army, but in all respects are able and willing to defend their country. He therefore requested the paper to start a local movement somewhat on the lines of the old volunteers.[93]

Regulations were adopted, under the Defence of the Realm Act, that required lights to be extinguished or obscured and thereby confound possible air attacks by Zeppelins. This included the requirement to extinguish street lighting and reducing the inside lighting of shop fronts so as not to illuminate the street. Regulations were also passed that required business premises to be closed by specific times.

Shopkeepers encouraged the public to continue shopping despite the lighting restrictions. High Street traders of Rochester placed a notice in the paper encouraging people to continue shopping – despite the lack of outside lighting of the street because of the war, the going down of the sun need not incommodate [inconvenience] intending purchasers. They assure customers that sufficient power for all practical purposes will be found in their premises.[94]

In this era shops routinely opened until 8pm or as will be seen in the following report, later. There had also been a campaign to achieve better hours and conditions for shop workers. The lighting restrictions added some legitimacy to this campaign as shoppers were less willing to come out after dark as the streets were no longer lit. There would also have been problems for the shop assistants finding their way home after work along unlit streets.

Rochester shopkeepers may be happy with the new closing order. In a letter to the editor from Hinton Kerrellfrom Rochester, in respect of the Shops Act, Mr. Hinton stated that he suspected that many shop keepers in the high street would be happy to immediately implement the new closing order which required shops to close at 8pm on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, and 9pm on Friday and Saturday. He said it would be a boon to shop assistants and he was sure ladies would endeavour to shop early and so help the young people.[95]

Military orders the closing of pubs at 8pm. The public houses in Rochester, Chatham, Gillingham and district, are to close at 8pm on and after Tuesday next by order of the military authorities.[96]

The Post Office is to close at 8pm instead of 10pm. A complainant says this will greatly inconvenience many people and the change is not absolutely necessary.[97]

As dreadful as the war was, it brought new opportunities for business and women.

A business conference held to explore producing goods that were previously imported. The Council supports the Medway District Chamber’s proposal to hold a conference on the question of establishing new industries in respect of goods hitherto manufactured abroad.[98]

With Christmas approaching thought was given to how, in the circumstances of war, it should be celebrated. The report on the deliberations of the Guardians of the Strood Union may say much about how the inmates in their charge were regarded.

An austere Christmas was proposed for the inmates of the Strood Union. The House Committee of the Strood Union recommended that owing to the war, the Christmas fare to inmates should this year be limited to 6oz beef or mutton, with parsnips and potatoes, 1lb of plum pudding, 1 pint of beer or mineral water, 1oz of tobacco for men and 1/2oz of snuff for women. Mrs. Baker questioned the need for beer – it was not offered throughout the year so it was not necessary at Christmas. She also pointed out that beer was often the cause of many people becoming inmates. Mr. Mitchell could not go along with the proposal to eliminate the beer but felt half a pint on Christmas Day and another of Boxing Day would be appropriate. Both motions were lost and the inmates are to get a pint of beer on Christmas Day. The Board also received a letter from Mr. H. Edwin from Dover saying he could no longer provide blankets of the required quality as all the mills have been taken over by the War Department.[99]

Children to decide on use of money saved by foregoing their Christmas entertainment. In lieu of the customary entertainment which Alderman Willis and Mrs. Willis of Rochester have been accustomed to give the Elementary School children at Christmas, they allotted various sums according to the size of the school and left the children to vote as to the particular fund to which they would like their amounts to be sent. They have divided between the Prince of Wales’ Fund, Princess Mary Fund and the Belgian Shilling Fund. The Troy Town Girls decided to devote their 20s to the purchase of wool for the purpose of making socks.[100] [See ‘Time to Celebrate’, Community Support, January 1919 for the restating of the Christmas party.]

Community Support

Hospitals relied on public fundraising and financial donations as well as gifts of equipment and ‘comforts’ for patients. The press often carried lists of those who had made donations – no matter how small.

Gifts donated for patients in St. Bartholomew’s hospital were acknowledged. The names of the people who made a donation and what they donated was published. The gifts for the wounded soldiers in St. Bartholomew’s hospital included cakes, cigarettes, pillowcase, etc.[101]

Fundraising concert was held to raise funds for Strood VAD and the Blind & Cripple Guild. Strood VAD requested the publication of an appeal for support from the people of Rochester & Strood for a concert arranged by Misses R. and V. Edmonds, on behalf of the funds of the Strood voluntary hospital and the Blind and Cripple Guild, to be held in the Castle Hall. After expenses the profits will be divided equally between the two worthy causes. Tickets – 2s, 1s and 6d.[102]

School / Education News

Prepare for university at the University School Rochester 5 & 6 New Road.[103]

Women’s Experiences

In response to the declaration of war the women’s suffrage movements ceased active campaigning for the vote and actively supported the war effort – initially at home, and then abroad. As will be seen throughout the news reports of the war the working-class women of Rochester experienced considerable hardship and those of the upper and middle classes provided a wide range of welfare services for which they actively raised funds.

Miss Conway-Gordon mentioned in the following report was a leading member of the Rochester branch of the “law-abiding suffragists”.[104]

Phoebe Mayfield asks for assistance to run the support club for wives of servicemen. Phoebe Mayfield of ?Massan? Lodge, Strood, wrote to the editor asking for assistance in running a club and recreation room for women, the wives and friends of our soldiers and sailors. A committee of ladies has been formed with Mrs. Pollard as president, Miss Conway-Gordon as vice president and Mrs. W. Corbett Barker as treasurer.  Premises have been found – thanks to the International Store – at 114 High Street, Strood. They now need funds and helpers and definite contributions of regular amounts. They would also appreciate a gramophone, magazines, periodicals and papers. The club opens at 5:30pm and closes early, and wishes to give the women a pleasant evening. In a final plea – “Please help us to help the women, that when Tommy and Jack return they may find there have been friends who have eased the dreary days of waiting for the ‘Girl he left behind’.[105]

An alternative to the pub is needed for where women can meet. A number of Chatham ladies have decided to provide a counter attraction to public houses for women of the town. The Salvation Army Schoolroom in Whittaker Street has been loaned for the purpose. The room will be opened every morning for the wives and families of service men.[106]

The following report is one of the earliest of the tremendous fundraising efforts led by the women of Rochester.

Three Rochester maids want to raise money to purchase an ambulance. Three women wrote to the editor saying they have noticed that a Field Ambulance had been funded entirely from donations made by domestic servants. They felt it would be splendid if someone could be found locally to organise a similar subscription locally. They said they would willingly help to collect.[107]

There was also concern being expressed for the moral wellbeing of women who could be led astray. ‘The League of Honour’ was an organisation “for women and girls of the British Empire”. It encouraged women to show their patriotism by abstaining from alcohol, acting as a good influence on soldiers on leave, and encouraging men to enlist.

A woman’s responsibility is to keep their homes pure and holy for the men’s return. A meeting was held to recruit women and girls into the League of Honour. In response to the demand for women and girl recruits to the League of Honour a large number (possibly 300) attended the first meeting of a series arranged in a local lightening campaign. The meeting was held at Chatham Town Hall and presided over jointly by Mrs. Storrs [wife of the Dean of Rochester] and Miss Jackson the Mayoress of Rochester. Mrs. Storrs said the object of the meeting was to help keep the little grey homes in the west sweet and pure for the men who were defending their country’s honour with their life blood… it rested on the women and girls to keep the homes pure by their love and high-mindedness and devotion to the memory of the men who were sacrificing all. It also fell on the women to exert influence over the men and send them out for their country’s sake, and in their absence, keep the homes pure and holy, and on their return let them find a stronger nation more firmly rooted in good.[108]

Church & Cathedral

The Dean of Rochester speaks out about inequality and immorality within society.

The Dean was critical of class distinction. A straight-talking sermon was delivered by the Dean when the Mayor and Corporation was present. He made a distinction between what we are taught and what we learn and that we’ve learnt that what we eat, what we drink and how we dress, are not the most important things in life. We see that a life of idleness is a life of wickedness; we see that more ‘business as usual’ as being less degrading than ‘pleasure as usual’. The Dean was critical of class distinction as it failed to recognise that each man, whatever his class, has something to contribute to the general good. He saw party spirit as the fungus of national life and that we were beginning to learn that patriotism did not simply mean the singing of jingo songs in the music hall, or waving flags, or shouting to assure people that we are not down hearted. The truest patriotism was the love of country issued in service. The Dean also thought that we had been taught about the wonderful capacity of self-sacrifice and we should learn of its power. He also felt that despite these high ideals there remained a tendency to evil. There is no doubt that the stress and strains of war was letting loose passions and impulses which were working havoc among the young soldiers, and indeed among the young people of both sexes. The moral fibre of thousands of our young soldiers was being weakened, and the womanhood of thousands of our young women was being degraded. The Dean said we were looking to the Mayor and his colleagues for suggestions as to the stemming of this. The man or woman who tempted the young soldier to drink was, ipso facto, an enemy to his country.[109]

Life Goes On

Regal records was a British record label founded in 1913 as a subsidiary of the UK branch of Columbia Records.

Royalties from the sale of ‘Columbia & Regal War Records’ go to charityAdvertisement – Wharton & Sillifant, The Chatham Intra Music Stores, 357a High Street, Rochester. £750 to date has been paid in Royalties to the Prince of Wales Fund on account of sales of ‘Columbia & Regal War Records’.[110]

High Street stores take steps to encourage trade. Franklin Homan Ltd., Artistic Furnishers, Eastgate, cordially invited people “inside” on a ‘Tour of Inspection’ of their showrooms that contain all the requirements for making a comfortable home. Louis Cobb, 72 High Street, Rochester and offering coats and skirts from two guineas that are made in their workshops. The Tea Table Cafe, 79 High Street, Rochester, invites people to take afternoon tea in their new Palm Lounge which now looks its best, decorated with growing Chrysanthemums. You will find it bright and cosy, whilst the uniforms of the numbers of officers passing in and out with their friends, lend just that completing touch of colour lacking in times of peace.[111]

December 1914

Military and War Reports

Special efforts were required to ensure the deployed troops had essential equipment. This required those working in the munition services to work long hours. It was also prohibited to recruit men from particular firms who were engaged in providing munitions.

Winston Churchill wrote to Dockyard workers recognising their hard work and stressing the importance of fulfilling as rapidly as possible orders for the Navy. They are doing their duty for King & Country – equal to those who have joined his Majesty’s forces for active service afloat and ashore. Recruiting to the military is prohibited among Messrs. J. S. White and Co’s employees.[112] [Shipbuilders]

England prepared for a possible invasion and needed to take steps to regulate ‘local militias’ that appear to have been set up within various communities. Advice was also given in case Medway was subjected to a naval bombardment.

Preparations are being made in case of an attempted landing by hostile troops. Lord Harris, Vice-Lieutenant of Kent, made an announcement regarding the precautionary measures being made in case of an attempted landing of hostile troops. To be recognised as a combatant and to receive the government’s badge you must be a member of a Voluntary Corp which has been affiliated to the Central Association of Volunteer Training Corps. The measures are being undertaken in the first place in order to give our army the best opportunity of refusing admission to hostel forces.[113]

The public are advised to take cover in event of a bombing raid. Following the heavy casualties sustained in Yorkshire, people in coastal areas are advised to take shelter in the event of a bombardment – and not as occurred to Yorkshire assemble out of curiosity in the street.[114]

Reports from the Front

So as not to assist the enemy many newspaper reports did not include the precise location of the reported events.

PC Eve of the Rochester City Police Force recounted his battle experience. PC Eve of the Rochester City Police Force was one of the earliest to re-join his old regiment. He left his wife and 16 months’ old baby, living in Longley-road, and was soon in the thick of the fighting. Now he has been wounded and is now spending 14 days at home after a month in hospital. A representative of the Chatham News chanced upon him on Wednesday amongst a great crowd who saw the funeral of Lieut. Gordon Browne, in St. Margaret’s Cemetery. His first words were to contrast the sacredness and the orderliness of the funeral compared to what he had seen on the battlefield. He said it was only by God’s mercy that he survived the struggle at Dixmude, where he was wounded. It was during a temporary retirement, following a charge, the Grenadier Guards were scattered, and Eve, with some of the Black Watch became separated from his comrades. When the order was given to charge they were only some 35 yards away from the German trenches but it was ‘too hot’ for them for a while. “I shall never forget it” he said, “To me now, as I think of it all, it was like a shower of peas at us, and it was wonderful how I escaped. Bullets fell all around. One went clean through my hat, another caught me on the left side near the hip bone, and another went through his right hand near his wrist. The constable described the intense excitement and explained you get carried away with it and said “it’s only in the quiet of an occasional rest that you can think of your wife and home. It is hell out there, sir!” After he was shot he was assisted back to the lines, although there were a large number of Grenadier Guards who were either killed or taken prisoners. He then went to Ypres, and afterwards to Boulogne. He did not have a long wait before he was back in England at a private hospital in a gentleman’s residence in Sherborne, Dorset, where he spent a memorable month under medical care. After his leave at home he’s to report himself at Chelsea. “Though some of us have been smashed up a bit – I can assure you the enemy are not having things all their own way!” [115] [See News from the Front, December 1916 reporting the possible death of PC. Eve.]

Lieut. S. Hallett nee Cpl. Hallett is reticent to speak of his experiences that to promotion. Lieut. S. Hallett, who until a few weeks ago was a second corporal, returned home on Saturday and took his wife and family living in Hooper’s-place by complete surprise. He left today, Friday, and expects to be able to report himself at headquarters in France before the day is out. The News endeavoured to get him to speak about his experiences and how it came about that he was given a Commission, but he was adamant that he would say nothing until the war is over. He did though say that we at home did not yet fully realise, as we ought to, what the people of France and Belgium have had to undergo. The sight of the refugees was heart-breaking, he said.[116] [See ‘Report from the Front’, November 1914.]

Report by a solider from the Battle of Aisne and of the distress of the refugees. Acting Bombardier Walter Chalmers formally of 114 Kings Street, Rochester, wrote to the editor of the Chatham News detailing some of his experiences of the battle of Aisne which lasted for 25 days – “Our brave soldiers, the pride of the Empire, although in wet and cold weather, and fighting for 25 days, were able to drive the Germans back. After forcing the Germans to retreat, we worked to the left-hand and are now fighting a terrible battle at …. (place cannot be reported). Oh what a pitiful sight to see young women, old women, men and children come crying down the roads on account of the Germans driving them out of their homes! Everywhere the Allied forces now go they are crowned with glory and victory, and so long as the English army worships the God above they will be victorious everywhere they go.”[117]

Roll of Honour

Gunner G. Spicer has died at a hospital in France of his wounds. G. Spicer, an old Frindsbury boy, died of wounds received in action. He was the son of Mrs. Spicer, 3 Medway-terrace, Frindsbury. The deceased left Frindsbury some years ago on enlisting in the army. [118]

It is quite possible that infection rather than the battlefield trauma was cause of a soldier’s death.

Sgt. Herbert Denton has died of wounds received at the seat of the war. Mr. Ricard Denton (Chief clerk at the Town Clerk’s office) and his wife, of 29 High Street, Rochester, has received intimation that their eldest son Herbert Denton (27), an Old Williamsonian, [Maths School] has died of wounds received at the seat of the war. He was seriously wounded by being shot in the thigh.[119] [29 High Street is the current location of the Oxfam shop.]

Lieut. Gordon Browne died of his wounds. Gordon Browne had been promoted to Captain dating from 15thNovember.[120] See ‘Report From the Front’ above, PC Eves, concerning the funeral of Lieut. Browne in St. Margaret’s Cemetery.

Health & Hospitals

The following report is included in this section which would not have been an appropriate place at the time as it was not until 1961 that the act of suicide in England and Wales was decriminalised. However, in this case the need for care rather than punishment was clearly recognised by the police officers and accepted by the Court.

Ada James was remanded and bound-over for attempting suicide. Ada James of 7 Station Road, Strood, was before Rochester magistrates charged with attempting to commit suicide by jumping in the river near Balls Jetty, Frindsbury. The police’s request to remand her in custody was accepted to enable them find make arrangements for her to be properly cared for. It was subsequently reported that a lady had been found to care for the prisoner so she was bound over and discharged.[121]

Home News

Accidents are occurring due to the lack of street lighting. One person claimed compensation because his wife had tripped on a kerb because of the darkness. The Council replied they had no liability in the matter. Others were concerned that trams were required to dim their feeble lights as they cross the bridge but cars with much brighter lights are not required to do so.[122]

A War Tax was placed on beer.[123] It appears that this tax was introduced in November as a means to raise revenue rather than to curtail drinking. This tax would probably have disproportionately fallen on the working class. A Parliamentary question also suggests that brewers may have put up the price of beer beyond that required by the tax increase.[124]

Shorter pub opening hours did not prevent drunkenness – as will be reported later. Concern developed about what was referred to as the ‘crate-culture’ where beer was purchase and taken home.

There is a great more drunkenness in private houses than before. William Boswell of 11 Strood Square, Strood, was before magistrates charged with being drunk and incapable. PC. Willis who found him on Church-path said he had to put him in a hand barrow to take him to the station. The Chief Constable reported that the man had been turned out of a private house in this condition. Clerk to the magistrates remarked that there was a great more drunkenness in private houses than before. The defendant said he had been drinking bottled beer and it had gone to his head. Fined 10s including costs.[125] [See report Alice Flynn, ‘Women’s Experiences’, October 1915. The use of a handcart to take a drunken person to the police station must have been the ‘vehicle of choice’; it also suggests the person was seriously incapable or they would not have stayed in the cart!

Wounded soldiers are allowed free access to the Castle subject to the person in charge first obtaining a pass from the Town Clerk.[126]

Community Support

A concert was given at the YMCA Winter Quarters, Baptist Institute, Rochester, on Wednesday evening, to a crowded audience of the 5th Battalion Middlesex Regiment now stationed in the City.[127]

Warm clothing is sent for Kitchener’s Army stationed at Cliffe Fort. A parcel of woollen shirts and knitted mufflers were sent by the Manor Farm working party, of the Red Cross Association, to the men stationed at Cliffe Fort.[128]

School / Education News

The top-up payment previously reported that the Education Committee had agreed to make to teachers, has proved too difficult to manage.

Top-up payments made to enlisted teachers are to be simplified. The Education Committee heard it was difficult to ascertain the pay that a serving assistant master was receiving from the army. It varied in accordance with promotions and the duties they were undertaking. For the sake of uniformity, it was therefore resolved to pay all the teachers 4/5th of their salary as from 1st October 1914.[129]

Court cases

Thomas Ward, a butcher, was fined for allowing light to escape from his shop. Thomas Ward, a butcher from North Street, Strood, was prosecuted for having a too bright a light in his shop. He pleaded not guilty but the case was proven. Mr. C. Tuff, Chairman on the Bench, reminded the defendant that recently elsewhere a tradesman was court-marshalled for a similar offence. The Court though decided to take a lenient view and only fine him £1 with 10/- costs. The military’s requirements were read out in Court. These stated that shopkeepers must ensure that the lighting of the interior of their shops should not cause a reflection on the ground or the sky outside. Shop keepers were advised to undertake outside inspections for themselves.[130]

Women’s Experiences

There were many people in the community that required support – military personal billeted in the area, women & mothers coping alone or with loss, injured soldiers and Belgian refugees. These services were largely delivered and funded through the efforts of women.

Hostels were opened to provide safe accommodation for single women – many of whom came to the towns to work in the war industries. Without these hostels these women could have found themselves living in unsafe circumstances.

Dreadful dangers could beset young women through them being led astray. Lady Darnley, at the opening of a YMCA ‘Sale of Work’, said there was abundant evidence of the generous support given by the townsfolk and other friends to the local branch of the YMCA at the annual sale at the Hostel in New Road, Rochester. There was quite a profusion of gifts including numerous needlework and wooden articles, and a large and varied assortment of provisions. Lady Darnley who in commending the work of the Hostel said that one could indeed realise what a home like that meant in the distressing times through which we were passing. “Surely at no period did England need so much help from her women as now. Her noble men were at the Front giving their lives for their country, and experiencing hardships of all kinds, and the one thing which kept them out there was the thought that their homes and their dear ones in England were being cared for. They knew perfectly well that it was the duty of every woman, who was able, to help in this direction (hear, hear). In this district where there were so many sad widows and fatherless children, as a result of the war, they wanted every day to help, and as she looked around her she was thankful to see that many willing hearts and hands had been at work. There was no more dreadful danger besetting a young woman than that of being led astray or becoming a victim to the drink traffic, and she hoped that the little Hostel on New Road would shed peace and happiness around, and would guard the lives of the girls and women who went there in trouble and distress (applause).[131]

Rochester YWCA has provided comfort to military families and Belgium refugees. Members have been busy during the past few weeks in providing for the comfort of some of the soldiers’ and sailors’ families and also for the Belgian refugees in the district. The sum of £3 7s was collected and with this was purchased material from which quite a large number of garments etc. have been made and distributed. Several bed jackets have also been provided for the use of wounded soldiers in the hospitals.[132]

Lady Darnley opens a ‘Home for Wives of Service Men’ in Strood. Strood is taking a very noble part in providing for service men and their dependents. Already a hospital for wounded, and a trio of recreation and bath rooms for soldiers have been provided in the town. To this has now been added a Recreation Room and Club, opened by Lady Darnley for women folk left behind by soldiers or sailors ordered to the war.[133]

A club and recreation room for women was opened at 114 High Street, Strood, with the laudable object of providing some pleasure for the wives of soldiers and sailors who are engaged in the war. The premises were previously occupied by the Kent County Tariff Reform Association. Downstairs there is a large assembly room in which meetings can be held, and upstairs a reading and recreation room, and a playroom for children. The club is under the direction of a committee of ladies of which Mrs. Pollard is the president and Miss Conway Gordon is the vice president. The object of the club was not to take women away from their homes but to encourage, brighten and cheer them so that their work might be better done while the men were away.[134] [The Tariff Reform Association was formed in 1903 to protest against what they considered to be unfair foreign imports. It desired reciprocally-enacted tariffs or free trade agreements.]

Church & Cathedral

A new church was opened in Chattenden for government employees in the area. A mission church has been erected in Chattenden to supply the spiritual needs of government employees in the area.[135]

Life Goes On

Butchers are angered by street musicians – particularly on Saturday mornings. Rochester Town Council resolved to refer the complaint made by the Butchers Association concerning the nuisance caused by the playing of street organs – particularly on Saturday mornings – to the Chief Constable.[136]

The first Christmas of the war must have been a difficult time – how was it to be celebrated with so many families having men in the army and others suffering the loss of a husband / father?

In the following report the request for cheap toys, that could be burnt, for children in St. Williams hospital was because it was then a hospital for infectious diseases – such as diphtheria. The following report also contains numbers of Rochester children who had already been orphaned by the war.

The Mayor made a Christmas plea for toys for orphans and refugee children. The Mayor of Rochester, Col. Breton, wrote to the paper suggesting that there were many nice children about who would like their Christmas presents this year to go to children who are worse off than they are. He suggested the toys could go to 1). Belgian Relief Fund – Postal Orders sent to the Guildhall or directly to the Belgian Minister, London. 2). Children orphaned by war. There are 14 families with 30 children from 9 years of age downwards in the city, and two families with six children at Wouldham. Postal Orders, or preferably gifts, to be sent to the Guildhall, marked, “Orphans”. 3). 40 to 50 children in St. William’s Hospital, cheap toys that can be burned, can be sent to the Guildhall, marked “St. William’s.”[137]

Shops promoted the gifts they had for sale that could make desirable Christmas presents.

Irresistible Yuletide gifts for the fair sex can be found at Louis Cobb, 72 High Street, Rochester – a very special store where dainty things for the personal adornment of ladies, are temptingly displayed. Prices are extremely reasonable.

and

Toys which children will cherish can be found at W. Day & Co’s, Xmas Bazaar at 228, 230 and 256 High Street, Rochester.[138]

There is a showroom of chocolates at The Tea Table Cafe – 79 High Street Rochester. 2s 6d / 1lb box – ideal for the theatre or holidays.[139] [Brettingtons.]

Gramophones and records can be obtained from H. J. Martin, 125 High Street, Rochester. H. J Martin holds a large stock of gramophones and records bought and paid for before the war – therefore cheaper than those offered by other dealers. A free double-sided record will be given free for every 6 or more records bought.[140] [125 High Street = Morleys Bakery.]

+++ Sources+++

[1] 11 April 1914, Whitstable Times and Herne Bay Herald.

[2] 1 August 1914, Daily Mirror – Includes pictures.

[3] 30 July 1914, Manchester Evening News.

[4] 7 August 1914, Dover Express.

[5] 1 August 1914, Chatham, Rochester & Gillingham News.

[6] 1 August 1914, Chatham, Rochester & Gillingham Observer.

[7] 1 August 1914, Chatham, Rochester & Gillingham News.

[8] 8 August 1914, Chatham, Rochester & Gillingham Observer.

[9] 3 August 1918, Chatham, Rochester & Gillingham News.

[10] 20 June 1916, South Eastern Gazette.

[11] 28 November 1914, Chatham, Rochester & Gillingham News.

[12] 15 August 1915, Chatham, Rochester & Gillingham News.

[13] 15 August 1915, Chatham, Rochester & Gillingham News.

[14] 15 August 1914, Chatham, Rochester & Gillingham News.

[15] 21 August 1914, Evening Telegraph.

[16] 10 August 1914, Birmingham Daily Mail.

[17] 10 August 1914, Portsmouth Evening News.

[18] 15 August 1914, Manchester Evening News.

[19] 22 August 1914, Chatham, Rochester & Gillingham News.

[20] 29 August 1914, Chatham, Rochester & Gillingham Observer.

[21] 15 August 1914, Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette.

[22] 15 August 1914, Manchester Evening News.

[23] 29 August 1914, Chatham, Rochester & Gillingham News.

[24] 8 August 1914, Chatham, Rochester & Gillingham Observer.

[25] 21 August 1914, Evening Telegraph.

[26] 15 August 1915, Essex Newsman.

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[28] 29 August 1914, Chatham, Rochester & Gillingham Observer.

[29] 8 August 1914, Chatham, Rochester & Gillingham Observer.

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[31] 15 August 1914, Chatham, Rochester & Gillingham Observer.

[32] 17 September 1914, Western Mail.

[33] 19 September 1914, Chatham, Rochester & Gillingham Observer.

[34] 25 September 1914, Kent & Sussex Courier.

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[36] 1 September 1914, Daily Mirror.

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[84] 7 November 1914, Chatham, Rochester & Gillingham Observer.

[85] http://gweaa.com/ww1-ea-study-pack. Accessed 26 October 2017.

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[88] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMS_Bulwark_(1899). Accessed 10 May 2017.

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[109] 21 November 1914, Chatham, Rochester & Gillingham News.

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[111] 14 November 1914, Chatham, Rochester & Gillingham Observer.

[112] 12 December 1914, Chatham, Rochester & Gillingham News.

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[122] 12 December 1914, Chatham, Rochester & Gillingham Observer.

[123] 5 December 1914, Chatham, Rochester & Gillingham News.

[124] http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/written_answers/1914/nov/27/increased-tax-on-beer.

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[126] 12 December 1914, Chatham, Rochester & Gillingham Observer.

[127] 5 December 1914, Chatham, Rochester & Gillingham News.

[128] 19 December 1914, Chatham, Rochester & Gillingham News.

[129] 5 December 1914, Chatham, Rochester & Gillingham Observer.

[130] 12 December 1914, Chatham, Rochester & Gillingham Observer.

[131] 12 December 1914, Chatham, Rochester & Gillingham News.

[132] 19 December 1914, Chatham, Rochester & Gillingham News.

[133] 5 December 1914, Chatham, Rochester & Gillingham News.

[134] 5 December 1914, Chatham, Rochester & Gillingham Observer. (Page 12).

[135] 12 December 1914, Chatham, Rochester & Gillingham Observer. (Photo).

[136] 12 December 1914, Chatham, Rochester & Gillingham Observer.

[137] 5 December 1914, Chatham, Rochester & Gillingham News.

[138] 5 December 1914, Chatham, Rochester & Gillingham Observer.

[139] 12 December 1914, Chatham, Rochester & Gillingham News.

[140] 19 December 1914, Chatham, Rochester & Gillingham Observer.