Saturday, 29 July 2017

Remembering a Luton Sailor

HMS Vanguard 1915 [Imperial War Museum under IWM Non Commercial Licence]

Sunday 29th July 1917: One of the men lost in the sinking of the HMS Vanguard at Scapa Flow earlier this month was Luton sailor Charles Johnson, the son of Mrs. Johnson of 24 Ash Road. Able Seaman Johnson had been with the Navy for seven years and saw much active service abroad. More recently he had been drafted to the Home Fleet, serving first on a torpedo boat destroyer, and then on the Vanguard for the past seven months. At the time he was killed he was expecting to be sent on leave. His friend, Leading Seaman George Tarton, writes:

“I have been fortunate in serving with him aboard H.M.S. --- in two campaigns, both in the Dardanelles and in German East Africa. Under the most adverse circumstances, he has been the life and backbone of the party, fearless in action, and straight as a die. I myself owe my life to his resourcefulness and courage, but he made me promise to say nothing of it. On one occasion, I remember, we had been through some exceedingly rough weather, and the wind was still high and the sea rough. The ship’s company’s pet, a minor bird, was blown in to the water, and without hesitation, the late Seaman Johnson dived in and saved it, though he had to make three attempts, for he was not a strong swimmer then. I am sure the deepest regret will be felt by the members of the old ship’s company at the news of his death, and they will join me in extending the deepest sympathy to the bereaved family.”

Source: Luton News 2nd August 1917

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Aircraft Works Employee Charged With Theft

Morgan’s aeroplane works, Leighton Road, Linslade 1917 [Z50/72/195]

Wednesday 25th July 1917: Alfred Philips Barnett, an assistant aircraft erector at Morgan and Company Limited of Linslade has appeared at the Linslade Police Court charged with stealing a number of tools and a tool box from the company on Thursday 19th July. The works manager, Richard Arthur Wheatley gave evidence that Barnett had started work for Morgan’s in December 1916 as a rib maker and had later been transferred to the erecting shop. On the day in question Barnett admitted having an argument with Mr. Gutherie, who had sworn at him and told him “they had --- well enough of him”. Barnett had apologised, but Gutherie refused to have him back in the erecting shop. He was offered an alternative job back in the rib shop but refused and asked for a week’s pay in lieu of notice. Wheatley admitted that he had told Barnett in “plain English” that he could “take the case to the --- Tribunal”. He had refused to take the work offered to him and could “take it or leave it”.

Police Inspector Walker had met Barnett as he alighted from a train on Friday evening and had taken him to the parcel office where the tool box had been left. Barnett told him “there is nothing in the box but what’s my own”. He told the court that before he started at Morgan’s he had been a traveller and salesman for one of the largest furnishers in London, handling between £5000 and £6000 a year in cash. If he had agreed to go back to the rib shop he would have lost money in overtime. He had left the works at very short notice, taking his tool box to the railway station from where he went to Bedford to get another job, and he had not had a chance to check the contents. Two of the files were given to him as worn out, and others were files he had bought himself. He took from Morgans the same number of cramps and drills he had brought with him, as it was impossible in the time available to find his own. The box itself had been made in his own time from scrap wood given to him by the timber yard foreman.

As the case progressed it became apparent that other factors may have influenced works manager Wheatley’s treatment of Barnett. A month earlier Barnett and others had written a letter of complaint about him to the Air Board, and on the previous Tuesday a meeting had been held to form a Union at which Barnett was a leader. Although Wheatley denied that the dismissal was a consequence of these actions, Barnett’s solicitor pointed out there was a striking coincidence in timing. He said it was clear that there was no criminal intent. The magistrates agreed and dismissed the case.

Source: Leighton Buzzard Observer 31st July 1917

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Bedford Soldier Killed in Air Raid

Felixtowe letter card 1917 [AU41/3/6]

Monday 23rd July 1917: News has reached Bedford that Private Alfred John Alder of 65, Gwyn Street was one of eight soldiers of the 3rd Battalion of the Bedfordshire Regiment killed in an air raid at Landguard Camp, Felixstowe yesterday morning. Private Alder joined the reserve battalion of the Bedfordshire Regiment at the beginning of the war. After performing various home duties he was sent to France seven months ago and was wounded at Loos at Easter. After recovering at Bradford Hospital he spent a few days leave at Bedford before returning to his unit ten days ago. Last week his daughter received a letter from him telling her that the shrapnel embedded in his shoulder had shifted towards his back, but he was “going on very well”.

The tragedy of Private Alder’s death is all the greater as his wife died in October 1915, three days after giving birth to their youngest child; their nine children are now left orphans. After her mother’s death their eldest daughter Dorothy, then aged 16, left her job in service to look after her brothers and sisters while their father was serving his country. The youngest daughter, Ethel, who is now one year and nine months old, has been cared for by relatives, but Dorothy has been responsible for the other seven and has kept their home spic and span. Her grandfather is reported as saying that “Dorothy has been a good girl; she has kept the home going, and looked after the children well”. The three oldest boys are now at work, and the four younger children are still at school.

Two of the other victims of the air raid are also from Bedfordshire: Private George Smith is from Upper Gravenhurst, and Private Albert Wilton from Henlow.

Source: Bedfordshire Standard 27th July 1917

Friday, 21 July 2017

Fraudulent Claim for Separation Allowance

Men working at Balmforth factory, c.1910-20 [Z1411/1/3G]

Saturday 21st July 1917: William Saunders of Wood Street, Luton has appeared today at the Luton Police Court on a charge of illegally obtaining an allowance from the Bedfordshire Territorial Association. The proceedings were brought on the instructions of the War Office, who had decided that these cases were becoming too frequent and should therefore be heard in open Court. William Saunders son was called up at the beginning of the war, having previously worked for Messrs Balmforth’s engineering firm at Luton. No claim for a separation allowance had been made until last April, when the father declared to the Territorial Force Association that the son had paid him 17 shillings a week. The son’s former employers said it was “absolutely untrue” that his average weekly earnings were 22 shillings; they were only 10 shillings and 9 pence as he was only a labourer. The prosecution claimed it was “a barefaced attempt” to obtain an allowance to which Mr. Saunders knew he was not entitled.

In Mr. Saunders’ defence it was stated that although his wages were only 10 shillings and 9 pence, the son was able to earn a good deal more by helping the gang with whom he was working – these men would each given him a shilling, so that his total earnings came to at least 22 shillings. Mr. Saunders had only written on the application form the amount that his son paid him at home. The Bench were not convinced by this explanation. The Chairman said they considered it a serious attempt to defraud. However, as it was the first case of the kind brought before the Court they would treat it with a degree of leniency. William Saunders was fined 40 shillings with the alternative of a month’s imprisonment.

Source: Leighton Buzzard Observer 31st July 1917

Thursday, 20 July 2017

A New Trade for Disabled Soldiers

Basket makers at work at James Robinson Limited, Leighton Buzzard 1919 [Z50/72/221]

Friday 20th July 1917: Arrangements have been made by the Bedfordshire Local War Pensions Committee to send disabled soldiers to the Leighton Buzzard Basket Works to learn the basket making trade. Men who have lost a limb who will have their pension made up to 27s 6d per week during training, with a 5s per week bonus for every week they attend. Those who have a wife and family will receive an allowance for them similar to the Army separation allowance.

Source: Leighton Buzzard Observer 17th July 1917

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Protests Against War Bread

Baker’s shop in Stanley Street, Bedford c.1915 [Z1306/10/65/1]

Wednesday 18th July 1917: The Bedford Board of Guardians has petitioned Lord Rhondda to vary the war bread Order on the ground that the mix of  cereal in war bread is not conducive to health. Mr. Kenealy, who moved the resolution said he was “sick of this wretched bread” which had increased indigestion and had the whole of England up in arms. The bread was rotten and unwholesome, turned sour very quickly, and often developed a condition known in the trade as “ropy bread” with gummy, glistening strands. Once in this condition it could not be eaten. If poorly chewed it was worse, and it was unsuitable as a staple food for the very young and the very old. Maize, barley, rice and oatmeal are being included with the flour in too great a proportion. Mr. Northwood, a baker, believed that the maize was the cause of the trouble; if kept in a sack it heated itself and caused fermentation in the bags of flour. He believed the supply of wheat was ample and understood the Food Controller was considering a request to go back to entirely wheaten flour. Making bread under these conditions was “enough to break the heart of a baker”. Mr Kenealy knew of one baker who was forced to send 55 sacks of flour back to the miller because if its poor condition, but the replacement flour was little better. When asked what had been done with the rejected flour the baker was told “Oh, that we dumped on to the military”.

Source: Bedfordshire Times, 20th and 27th July 1917; Leighton Buzzard Observer, 17th July 1917

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Accidental Death of Bedford Grocer in France

Gwyn Street, Bedford [BorBK2/5a]

Sunday 15th July 1917: Lance-Corporal George Markham, previously a grocer at Gwyn Street, Bedford, has been killed in a tragic accident while serving with the Tank Corps in France. He joined the Colours in November last year but only reached France three weeks ago. In his letters home he told his wife that he was very happy and enjoying military service, but yesterday she received news from the War Office that he had been killed. This morning the following letter arrived from Lance-Corporal Markham’s Captain explaining the circumstances:
“Dear Mrs. Markham, It is with the utmost regret and sympathy that I have to write and tell you that your husband was accidentally killed at about 6 o’clock. He was apparently walking down the railway line reading a paper, and did not hear a train coming. The engine driver blew his whistle, which must have startled him, and he slipped, and the train could not be pulled up in time. There is no doubt he was killed instantly and suffered no pain. He was a bit seedy yesterday, but seemed quite well and cheerful today, and I was speaking to him only about an hour before the accident happened. If there is anything you want to know about or if I can answer any questions, I shall be very pleased to do so. Yours faithfully, Stuart Gay, Captain.”
Mrs. Markham received a letter from her husband by the same post, which she believes was posted by him just before the accident.

Source: Bedfordshire Standard, 20th July 1917

Thursday, 13 July 2017

News of Heath and Reach Soldiers

Heath and Reach, 1905 [Z1130/57/4]

Friday 13th July 1917: Private James Baker, aged 23, who died of wounds on Tuesday, has been buried with full military honours in the cemetery at Heath and Reach. Private Baker was wounded and advised by his officer to go to the dressing station, but insisted on staying to attended to injured comrades in greater need. However when he returned to the battlefield he received another wound which after seven weeks of acute suffering caused his death. He was treated in Leeds Infirmary, where he had one leg amputated and underwent three further operations. Despite the best efforts of the doctors he finally succumbed to his injuries. Private Baker was attached to the 7th Field Ambulance, Royal Army Medical Corps and had been serving in France as a stretcher bearer for eight months. He was awarded the Military Medal for his gallantry.

Mrs A. Hines of Thomas Street in Heath has heard that her husband Private A. Hines has been hospitalised in France with an injured back. He and five others were with a labour party of the Queen’s West Surrey Regiment when a shell exploded nearby, burying all six men. Only Private Hines escaped alive. A third Heath man, Private W. Kenny of the Bedfordshire Regiment, has been discharged from the army. After active service in Egypt he suffered a nervous breakdown and has since spent several months in hospital in Scotland.

Source: Leighton Buzzard Observer 10th and 17th July 1917

Sunday, 9 July 2017

The Sutton Family of Luton

British Gelatine Works, Luton 1906 [Z210/145]

Monday 9th July 1917: An old soldier from Luton has no less than seven sons and two step-sons serving in the Army. Alfred F. Sutton, who now works at the British Gelatine Works, served for 31 years in the 5th (Royal Irish) Lancers, including 19 years abroad in Egypt, India and South Africa. All seven of his sons joined their father’s old regiment. The longest serving is the eldest, Frederick, who has been with the Colours for 19 years and has been awarded the Military Medal. His brother William has served for nearly 17 years and is the only one of the brothers who has been wounded while serving in France; he suffered a slight wound from which he recovered at a base hospital. The younger brothers, Thomas, Sidney, Ernest, Archie and John, have served for between eight and twelve years. Mr Sutton also has two step-sons who joined up at the beginning of the war. Private Alfred Fountain of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers came home last week from hospital, where he had been recovering from a bullet wound in the thigh received last February; he has been recommended for the Distinguished Conduct Medal. His brother, Driver Thomas Fountain, is with the 13th Middlesex Regiment.

Source: Luton News 12th July 1917

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Death of a Crimean War Veteran

Royal Oak, Friday Street, c.1925 [WL800/2]

Thursday 5th July 1917: The funeral has taken place today of Leighton Buzzard’s last remaining veteran of the Crimean War, who has died at the age of 82. George Wilson, of 85 South Street, enlisted on Midsummer’s Day 1844 in the 46th Regiment, now the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry. He was sent first to St. Helena and then to the Crimea. By the time he was twenty had spent two winters in the trenches at Sebastopol, where he suffered hardships from lack of suitable food and clothing which exceed any that British soldiers have to endure in the current war. Although a piece of shell took the heel off one of his boots and another knocked a pipe out of his hand, he was never wounded, though he suffered sores from lying on hard ground. He was present at the Battle of Inkerman where he helped to bury the dead.

After the Crimea he went to India where he helped to put down the Indian Mutiny. He was among the soldiers who relieved Lucknow; he also attended the consecration service at the infamous well at Cawnpore, into which the bodies of women and children killed during the mutiny had been thrown. He was discharged after twelve years’ service. In 1882 he became the landlord of the White Swan Hotel at Hockliffe, and  later of the Royal Oak in Friday Street, Leighton Buzzard. He and his wife had seven children (four of whom are still alive) and celebrated their golden wedding two years ago. His wife’s grandfather fought and Waterloo and four of her brothers were in the Army. Two of his sons-in-law are serving as Sergeant-Majors, and four grandsons and four nephews are serving in the Forces. One of his grandsons was badly wounded at Gallipoli. Despite poor health for the last year or so he remained bright and alert, and had been following the present war with interest. Once he became unable to read the newspapers he had the whole of the war news read to him daily.

Mr. Wilson’s funeral was attended by a large number of people. The local police and a detachment of Royal Engineers from the Dunstable Depot led the funeral procession. The body was carried from the house in South Street to the Cemetery. on a gun carriage drawn by six horses, and was covered by a Union Jack onto which Mr. Wilson’s medals had been pinned.

Source: Leighton Buzzard Observer, 3rd and 10th July 1917

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Luton War Pensions Committee has a Complaint

Alderman J. H. Staddon, Mayor of Luton and President of the Luton War Pensions Committee, as High Sheriff of Bedfordshire 1938-9 [Z49/261]

Monday 2nd July 1917: The Luton War Pensions Committee has expressed considerable indignation over regulations regarding massage treatment which appear to be thoroughly unreasonable. A number of military cases have been receiving massage treatment from William Lawson, the Luton Town Football Club trainer. However the authorities at Bedford Military Hospital have objected, stating that a special form of massage has been devised for military cases which can only be given at a suitable hospital; no fees will be paid to private masseurs. The Military Hospital will accept men sent there for treatment, but the level of inconvenience this would entail is extreme. One man was sent there for treatment on Friday and was told to come back three days a week. Between railway fares and compensation for lost work time this would cost the Pensions Committee around thirty shillings a week, when the same treatment could be given in Luton for four shillings and sixpence without interrupting the man’s working week. When the secretary telephoned the authorities and explained this ridiculous situation he felt the official there agreed and it is hoped that a satisfactory resolution will be found.

Source: Luton News 5th July 1917