Thursday, 29 December 2016

A Day at the YMCA

YMCA Hut at Houghton Regis, 1917 [Z1130/63/26]

Friday 29th December 1916: An interesting letter has been received in Leighton Buzzard from a man well known in the town in which he describes his daily routing working for the Y.M.C.A. behind the firing line:

“First of all, I must tell you I am extremely fortunate in having a good billet; in other words, a bedroom containing a small, but comfortable bed and little else! This is situated some four minutes walk from the “hut”. There I rouse from my slumbers prompt at 8 a.m.; breakfast at 8.30 sharp. The meal is not an elaborate one – five days out of the seven just a savoury omelette (well cooked), a cup of excellent coffee and a roll; the latter made out of the semi white-brown flour a-la-regulation. Twice a week my good landlady digs up “poisson frais” usually a herring or a mackerel. Nine o’clock sees me on the way to work. Arrived on the scene of my labours the first job is to dust and sweep out the billiard room and reading room – two decent sized apartments some 22 feet square each. This takes a good hour, and, on the stroke of ten, we open for business. The billiard room is going all day without a solitary break, at the fixed price of 4d for each half hour.

I sally forth – up town – to purchase the rations necessary for the day. Ten forty-five sees me on the return journey with a savoy or cauliflower under one arm, a bag of potatoes under the other, the head of a fowl or some pork chops hanging out of one pocket, and a selection of groceries or other small sundries bulging the other pocket. I take my place at the canteen counter in lieu of the “chef”. Cups of tea, buttered rolls and buns, dolly cakes, tobacco, cigarettes, shaving and toilet soaps, bachelor’s buttons, chocolates, boot blacking, cough lozenges and sundry other things, too numerous to mention, are the staple articles we deal in; business is ever busy and the takings at the end of the day represent a good round sum.

At 1 p.m. the counter is closed for two hours. This allows us to take our mid-day meal in comparative peace, also to “wash up” and take a short stroll if the weather is favourable. Three o’clock sees us on duty again, with a steady run to closing time (8 p.m.). Tea is on the table at 4.30, and we generally entertain one or more visitors. At 5.40 one of us marches to the ticket office of a most excellent cinema, open each evening from 6 to 7.30 p.m. Here is generally a big rush, especially on Mondays and Thursdays, when fresh pictures are on the screen. On the close of the pictures there is the final big rush on the canteen, and the money rolls in, thick and fast, as bullets from a machine gun. At 8 p.m. prompt we call “Time”. I take myself to the billiard room, give the table a good brush down, cover up, dowse the lights, don my great coat and make tracks for the place I now call home. By 9 p.m. I am between sheets, a wee bit tired, but always merry and bright and ready for “tomorrow”. Such then is the daily routine of a Y.M.C.A. worker. Plenty of work; plain grub – and not too much of that – an easy conscience, no luxuries, mighty few comforts, plenty of gun-fire in the near distance, with an occasional aeroplane fight overhead for surplus excitement, and always in hopes, either of receiving a letter from “Blighty” or meeting some old time pal.”

Source: Leighton Buzzard Observer, 29th December 1916

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Tram Crash at Luton

Crashed tram at Luton, 27 December 1916 [Z1306/75/18/34]

Wednesday 27th December 1916: A serious tram crash took place in Luton at 11.30am this morning. The accident occurred at the junction of Midland Road and Old Bedford Road, where a steep downward slope ends in a sharp bend. Eye-witnesses say there can be no doubt that the tram car was travelling too fast, but the cause of its undue speed is not known. As the tram approached the bottom of the hill it was clear that an accident was unavoidable. The car failed to take the curve, overran the rails, went up the kerb, hit an electricity standard and crashed through a wooden fence into an earth bank next to the Midland Railway bridge. The tram car was wrecked with the front smashed in, seats torn out of their bracings, and windows splintered like matchwood with debris scattered to the sides and behind the car.

Seven or eight passengers were on board, including Luton’s Acting Chief Constable Walter Hagley. He suffered a dislocated shoulder and minor injuries to his face, but despite being obviously in pain he took charge of the crowd and directed the rescue of the driver and the other passengers. The driver, Alfred Lloyd, was trapped and some of the wreckage had to be removed with a crowbar to release him. Although he was unconscious his rescuers found that his hand was still holding the brake. He is being treated at the Bute Hospital for concussion and internal injuries, along with two of the passengers: Mrs. J.J. Wooding has severe scalp and face wounds, and four year old Charles Gregory of 19 Brache Street suffered leg and arm injuries. When the tram car was moved a large amount of money was found underneath; this belonged to Mrs. Wooding, who was on her way to the bank. The other passengers and the conductor, Arthur Eaton, suffered from cuts and shock and have all been discharged.

Mr. A. E. Wray, the Tramways Manager, says that he has no idea how the accident could have happened. The car had four brakes, two mechanical and two electrical, and had been recently overhauled. The driver has been working for the Company for twelve months and is known to be reliable and careful. Not only was he still gripping the brake, but the emergency electrical brake was switched right over. Until Mr. Lloyd is well enough to answer questions nothing more is likely to be learned about the cause of the crash. The chairman of the Tramways Committee of the Town Council has promised that there will be a thorough investigation. It is fortunate that the tram did not swerved more to the left as if it had struck the bridge wall the damage would have been much worse. It is hoped that the driver and his passengers will all make a full recovery.  

Source: Luton News, 28th December 1916

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Bedroom Burn Out in Bedford

BorBP 4006/1-2, Close-up of Bedford Borough plan of 41 & 45 York Street, 1901 (Bedfordshire Archives & Records Service)

Sunday 24th December: Sometime after eight o'clock on Sunday evening, a fire broke out at 45 York Street, the residence of Mrs Jacques, her widowed mother and two soldiers of the West Riding Regiment. A large volume of smoke engulfed downstairs and upon investigation, a bedroom was found ablaze. The fire eventually broke through the roof of the property. Fortunately, neighbours and soldiers reacted quickly and provided assistance until the fire brigade arrived. Thanks to this joint effort, the fire was contained to one bedroom, which was completely gutted. A gold watch and a cashbox were amongst items that were destroyed.

Source: AD1082/4a, scrapbook of newspaper cuttings put together by Bedford Volunteer Fire Brigade, 1911-1935 (Bedfordshire Archives & Records Service)

Friday, 23 December 2016

Inquiry Following Bomb Explosion Death

Biscot Camp, 1916 [Z1306/75/16/15]

Saturday 23rd December 1916: An inquiry into the death of Gunner Ernest Victor Jackson has been opened at Luton Court House. Gunner Jackson succumbed to the injuries he received in Wednesday’s accidental explosion. The jury have heard that three soldiers at Biscot were preparing a signal bomb which exploded unexpectedly, causing injuries to all three. Gunner Jackson was the most seriously hurt and died yesterday. His body was identified by his sister Mrs W. S. Clarke of Bishops Stortford. Gunner Jackson was 21 years old and was serving with the Royal Field Artillery; he had previously been to the front and been wounded. The inquiry has been adjourned until January to allow communication to take place with the War Office and His Majesty’s Inspector of Explosives. Gunner Jackson’s funeral will be held with full military honours on Wednesday afternoon at the Church Cemetery.

Source: Luton News 28th December 1916

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Grammar School Founder's Day Service

Bedford Grammar School 1914 (Z1130/9/2/1/19 Bedford Archives)

Sunday 17th December 1916 There was a wartime theme to the Grammar School Founder’s Day Service. It was held in the very full Grammar School Chapel where the view of all the young boys in uniform served as a stirring reminder of the great task that is the war effort. The procession was made up of the Mayor and Corporation, the Masters, the Headmaster as well as the choir and clergy. The sermon was given by the Rev. J. M. Glubb, M.A., an Old Boy of the school. The sermon was a message of strength based on St. Paul’s adjuration; “Watch ye, stand last in the faith, quit you like men, be strong.” Military analogies were used effectively to drive home the message to the students. However, the Headmaster’s reading of the lengthy list of Old Boys killed in the war effort since July 1916 was the most striking aspect of the service.

Source: Bedfordshire Times 22/12/1916

Schoolmistress Injured by Falling Chimney Cap

St. Andrew's School, Church Street [Z1432/2]

Friday 22nd December 1916: Mrs. Rose, headmistress of St. Andrew’s School in Church Street, Leighton Buzzard was seriously injured on Wednesday night when a large chimney cap fell through the roof of the School House as she lay in bed. The cap fell from a large chimney stack between the school buildings and the School House. These chimney stacks are finished with an overhanging coping of stone blocks, each weighing four hundredweight. While there were no obvious signs that anything was wrong with this coping, it seems that the cement had crumbled due to recent frosts, and a sudden thaw and rain storm caused the masonry to fall onto the tiles of the School House below. Mr. and Mrs. Rose were sleeping in the room immediately below when the chimney cap fell through the roof, hitting the bed and “crumpling it up as though it were matchwood”. Mr. Rose says he at first thought that a Zeppelin bomb had fallen on the building.

Mr. Rose escaped with cuts to the face and legs, but Mrs. Rose was so seriously hurt that she was unable to speak. While she was being moved to another room her daughter, Miss Rose, went for a doctor. He found Mrs. Rose was suffering from pain and shock, having been struck a glancing blow by the block of masonry as it fell on the bed. At first internal injuries were feared but she has since spent a comfortable night and it is hoped she will soon be out of danger. The bed rail on the side Mrs. Rose was sleeping was bent almost to a right angle, and probably saved her from worse injury. The block fell end first through the bedroom ceiling, and after hitting the bed landed in the fireplace, smashing the gas stove and fender to pieces. A second block from the top of the chimney lodged in the ceiling joists, and two more fell into the front garden and the schoolyard.

All her pupils will hope that Mrs. Rose is well enough to return to school after the Christmas break. She has been headmistress at St. Andrew’s for thirty two years, and the school has thrived under her leadership. A recent inspection report concluded that the school “is in excellent order and continues to do well in all ways. Instruction in Needlework and in other branches of Home-craft is especially worthy of praise.”

Sources: Leighton Buzzard Observer, 26th December 1916; Bedfordshire school inspection reports 1910-1937 [E/IN1/1]

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Bomb Explosion Near Luton

Architectural drawing of Bute Hospital frontage, c.1902 [Z1306/75/5/1]

Wednesday 20th December 1916: A serious accident has taken place during military training near Luton when a trench mortar bomb exploded prematurely. Three soldiers are now being treated at the Bute Hospital. One has a smashed elbow and a forearm wound; another has lost a first finger. The third, Gunner Jackson, is in a critical condition with a fractured jaw and serious head injuries.

Source: Luton News 21st December 1916

Friday, 16 December 2016

Christmas Parcels for Methodist Soldiers

Hockliffe Street Wesleyan Chapel, c.1920 [Z1306/72/2/8]

Saturday 16th December 1916: Over one hundred former members of the Sunday School at Hockliffe Street Wesleyan Methodist Church are now serving in the armed forces, and each of them will be receiving a Christmas parcel from the church. Parcels have been prepared containing chocolate, butterscotch, soap and other useful items, at a cost of between seven and eight shillings each, including postage. Every package will also contain a Christmas letter and a useful wallet from the Sunday School children. Parcels for soldiers serving in France, Mesopotamia, Egypt and Salonika have already been dispatched, and those for English destinations will be sent during the next few days. The number of men from the church who have joined up has increased significantly since last Christmas, when only around seventy parcels were needed.

Source: Leighton Buzzard Observer, 12th December 1916

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Royal Army Medical Corps Deserter Tried

Horse drawn ambulances of the R.A.M.C. moving along High Street, Bedford 1914 (z1306/12/5/20 Bedfordshire Archives)

Friday 15th December 1916 It is reported that an actor named Hugh McNagel was brought up in Bedford on the charge of being a deserter of the Royal Army Medical Corps. McNagel had been with the R.A.M.C. on the battlefield in France. He has been identified by a Lance-Corporal as having deserted his regiment in June. McNagel has pled guilty, stating that there were documents proving he had deserted in order to join a combatant Irish Regiment, and requested these be given to the escort. This was agreed to and McNagel was given over to a military escort.

Source: Bedfordshire Standard 15/12/1916

Monday, 12 December 2016

A Change of Government

David Lloyd George, 1915 [Wikimedia]

Tuesday 12th December 1916: The last week has been one of political crisis following the resignation of the Prime Minister, Mr. H. H. Asquith. His coalition government has now been replaced by a second coalition led by his fellow Liberal politician, the ‘Welsh Wizard’ David Lloyd George. Luton’s Member of Parliament, Mr. Cecil Harmsworth, has written to the Chairman of the South Bedfordshire Liberal Association and has requested that his views be made public:
  “A Coalition Government under the leadership of Mr. Asquith has been succeeded by a second Coalition under the direction of the most brilliant of our younger Liberal statesmen. As I write, Mr. Lloyd George has gathered round him a body of experienced statesmen, together with some gentlemen of great business reputation whose names have not hitherto been prominently before the public.
  To the new Government I shall extend the same faithful and hearty support that I accorded to the recent Government. This I feel to be the duty of every patriotic citizen. We have arrived at a juncture in our history when it is the plain duty of every one of us to do all in his or her power to strengthen the hands of the King’s Government and to prosecute the war with all possible vigour to a triumphant conclusion.
  … Of Mr. Asquith I may be permitted to say, in writing as a Liberal to a Liberal, that he carries with him in his retirement from the Premiership not only the grateful esteem but the affection of all who have for many years looked to him for leadership. I think that these sentiments are shared in large measure by members of the Conservative and Labour parties also.”
 Source: Luton News, 14th December 1916

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Escaped German Prisoners

German prisoners-of-war marching through Woburn Sands, c.1917 [Z887/2]

Tuesday 5th December 1916: Leighton Buzzard has been on alert since hearing that two German prisoners had escaped from a prisoner-of-war camp at Woburn yesterday. Carl Schwartz and Paul Hubner, two inmates of the camp at Crawley Road, had been at work in Woburn Park felling and cutting timber. When the prisoners were marched back from the park to the camp just before dusk, the two men were found to be missing. The guard and all the Woburn special constables were called up and spent the night on duty. The men were spotted at Eversholt and near Tingrith, then a message was received at mid-day to say the missing prisoners were in custody at Luton. Without food or a change or clothes it was not anticipated that they would get far. Special constables were sent from Leighton this morning to relieve the exhausted Woburn men, but their services were not needed.

Source: Leighton Buzzard Observer, 5th December 1916

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Ship's Boy Drowned

H.M.S.Wisteria, Arabis-class sloop [Wikimedia]

Thursday 7th December 1916: A sixteen year old Luton boy has given his life for his country. Arthur George Swain, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Swain of 30, Arthur Street, joined the Navy as a ship’s boy twelve months ago. It is now believed that he, along with another eight boys, were among the crew lost when H.M.S. Genista was torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine in the Atlantic on 23rd October 1916. An Arabis-class sloop, she had been launched only eight months ago.

The Vice-Admiral has sent to Mrs. Swain a copy of the memorial service held at Haulbowline Parish Church, Queenstown, on November 5th for the officer and men who were drowned when Genista went down. This loss compounds the family’s grief as they heard recently that another son, Private Thomas James Swain, had been killed in France fighting with the Grenadier Guards. A third son, William, is serving with the Bedfordshire Regiment in Egypt. Before the war young Arthur worked as a baker with Mr. Shuter of Tennyson Road. If he had lived he would have celebrated his seventeenth birthday on Sunday.

Source: Luton News, 7th December 1916

Christmas Doll Show a Success

House on Rothsay Road, Bedford 1905 (z1306/10/51/2 Bedfordshire Archives)

Thursday 7th December 1916 The exhibition of the dolls given for the Invalid Children’s Aid Association was held in Rothsay Road in the drawing room of Mrs. Le Jeune. This annual event has been running for 17 or 18 years and this year was no exception despite doubts about it continuing during wartime. It was thought that many of the children that would benefit from this event had fathers in the Army or Navy who would be cheered by the knowledge that their sick children were being thought of. Over 230 dolls were given; a greater number than last year and regarded as a remarkable number for wartime. Collections of dressed dolls were given by the children of St. Andrew’s School as well as St. Peter’s School. These dolls will be temporarily displayed and then given to sick girls for Christmas, with the funds from the admission to the show being used to purchase toys for the invalid boys.

Source: Bedfordshire Times 8/12/1916