Forest Gate during the Blitz

Friday, 31 July 2015


The most significant series of events of the last century to affect the constituent parts of Newham: East Ham and West Ham - including Forest Gate - were the World War 11 bombings.

The whole physical structure of the borough was transformed by the destruction caused. Everyone today "knows" that the East End was badly hit, that local people were "plucky" and that sporadic visits to the sites of destruction by royalty litter the folklore of the area.


Distinctive outline of the Thames
 made targeting East London
 easy for the Luftwaffe, even
 when the radar was rudimentary

No sane person can deny the extent of the destruction.  Anyone with half an eye on architectural styles can spot areas hit by bombs, where late nineteenth buildings have been replaced by post-war structures - the lower east side of Woodgrange Road simply being the most obvious local example.

Whole swathes of the borough - particularly in the south, on the banks of the Thames - where the strategically crucial docks and other war-related industries were located - were flattened by German bombers, as they sought to disable the British war effort and demoralise the local population.

But, relatively little reliable detail of the profound reconfiguration of our area actually survives.

There is no definitive, hit-by-hit history  of the bombing of London in general and Newham, in particular - just lots of fragments, that often don't correlate too well with each other.

Hundreds of books have been published about London, the war and enemy bombings and some give very compelling eye witness accounts of specific incidents, such as Cyril Marne's of the Dames Road trolley bus doodlebug of 1944, recently covered on this site, here. But there is no overarching comprehensive account publicly available.

A website www.bombsight.org was launched recently to much acclaim.  It locates all the main bomb hits of the Blitz (October 1940 - June 1941), and can be searched by post codes, offering very useful maps to site visitors.  But it only covers a fragment of the war and offers no detail of casualties, the impact of individual hits, photos of the bomb sites, or eye witness accounts - certainly not of the Forest Gate area. Hopefully, these will follow, as the site is developed, over time.

Some official records exist and are in the public domain. The former West Ham Council Civil Defence team published a summary of air raids on the borough, between 28 August 1940 and 8 May 1945. ARP (Air Raid Precaution - the civil defence organisation) records provide details of bomb hits, and they can be analysed by area. 

The War Graves Commission, in 1954, published a list of British civilian dead (including local people), West Ham Council produced its own roll of civilian remembrance from the war. 

Many of these records, however, are incomplete, and do not reconcile with each other. For example, the list of bomb hits obviously refers to the location of the dropped bomb, but the list of civilian dead is by the deceased's address, which is not necessarily where they were killed. 

It is not unreasonable to assume that when bombs fell in the early hours, in a particular road on a given day and people from that road were reported as having been killed on that day, that the deaths were as a result of the bomb in question.

But other people, with addresses elsewhere may have been in the area when a missile struck, and could have been killed, but they would not have been recorded as a victim of that bomb.

That was certainly the case of the Dames Road Doodlebug incident (see above). The eye witness account talks of several bodies being thrown about as the crowded trolley bus was blown up. By definition, most of those people were travelling and may not have lived in the immediate vicinity of the explosion. The civilian deaths would have been recorded by the home address and not the location of the explosion. 

Another dramatic example of this was probably the worst air raid to affect West Ham. It occurred on 10 October 1940.

Several hundred people, bombed out of their homes, gathered in the South Hallsville school, Canning Town, waiting for evacuation. The transport did not arrive and the school received a direct hit from a high explosive bomb.  The official council figure indicates that 73 people were killed and hundreds injured. 

To this day, survivors and their relatives are convinced that in fact many hundreds were actually killed, and the total number was hushed up, for fear of adversely affecting morale.

it is difficult to tell, because of the circumstances, many of those killed did not live in the vicinity of the school, so their deaths would have been recorded at the locations of their homes. It is unlikely, however, that a true total list of fatalities and casualties will ever be established.

This is the first of two articles on WW11 bombing in Forest Gate.  It attempts to bring together the various records and supplement them with surviving photographs and some eye-witness accounts of specific incidents.  It also reproduces some articles from the Stratford Express, which were heavily censored, extremely vague, and again, underestimated the numbers of deaths inflicted.


The opening paragraph of this article
 from the Stratford Express of 25 April
 1941 illustrates the censorship under
 which papers worked under, and how
 little real information readers could
 gain from them. We presume it refers
 to the Eric Road bombing, see below
 - but the road, or even the district are
 not mentioned and the copy is vague in
 the extreme. It reads: "We are now
 permitted to relate some incidents which
 occurred in a violent raid a few weeks ago
. It was more severe than any in the  vicinity
 for some months and resulted in a
 considerable  number of fatalities.
  It carries on in the non-informing way.
 In fact, that bomb resulted in at least 17
 deaths, not that you would know it, or
 the location from the report

This post deals with the first half of the war, up to the end of 1943; it is mainly focused on the Blitz (October 1940 - June 1941). Next week's installment covers the second half of the war - particularly the horrific V1 and V11 bombings.

West Ham Civil Defence statistics claim that although the first air raid was on the opening day of the war 3 September 1939, the first bomb did not land in Newham until almost a year later 28 August 1940.  ARP figures, however, indicate that the first bomb hit Forest Gate six months earlier! Just the first and most obvious lack of reconciliation between different bombing records and accounts.

These, admittedly less than reliable, Civil Defence statistics, suggest that there were a total of 1,227 air raid alerts affecting the borough and 194 actual raids. Many of the raids, of course, resulted in multiple bombings. They estimated that there were 3,221 hits in the borough; about a third of which were high explosive bombs, a third incendiary bombs and the remainder a variety of other missile devices - some of which remained unexploded.


The bombed interior of one of Forest
 Gate's then most recognizable landmarks,
 the former Methodist church building on
 Woodgrange Road. 

Their figures suggest that 1,207 West Ham civilians were killed in these raids, with 2,545 received hospitalisation and 3,322 received treatment at a first aid post. This is almost certainly an underestimate.

What follows is the ARP's listing of bomb incidents in Forest Gate, by date and location. In brackets and italics are the names of civilian fatalities identified by either the War Graves Commission or West Ham council's rolls of civilian dead most likely to have been the result of the bomb hit recorded.

Public spaces, or buildings identified in the records are presented in bold italics.

Using those figures, it can crudely be estimated that there were approximately 245 incendiary devices of different kinds dropped on Forest Gate during World War 11, and 124 Forest Gate civilians were killed during the war. 

But, for reasons explained above, we cannot deduce from this that 124 Forest Gate civilians were killed in the district during the war, or that only 124 people were killed in Forest Gate!

Contemporaneous photographs, and some Stratford Express reports have been inserted following details of some of the most significant bomb hits.

We are sure what follows is far from definitive, so would be delighted to receive any corrections or additional eye witness accounts from the surviving band of war time residents of the area - which we will happily append to this post, with full credit being given to the source (if they wish).

Next week - Part 2 - 1944 - 1945.


WW11 Forest Gate Bomb hits, by road
1940

March
29th - Latimer Road

June
29th - Gower Road

August
15th - Woodgrange

September
3rd - East London Cemetery

7th - Margery Park, Odessa, Sebert, Station Road, Wellington, Avenue Road, Upton Lane

8th - Upton Lane, Forest Street, Hampton, Latimer (Forest Gate Station)

9th - Osborne, Capel, Clova, Disraeli (Deaths: Ada Louisa Barnes, aged 40, 81 Disraeli; Ada Dorothy Barnes, aged 14, 81 Disraeli; Brenda Beach, aged 12 months, 81 Disraeli,;Dorothy Beach, aged 25, 81 Disraeli; Leonard Beach, aged 24, 81 Disraeli), Dunbar x 2, Upton Lane, Sebert, Wyatt (West Ham Cemetery)

10th - Romford x 2, Earlham Grove, Clova

16th - Sidney, Woodford x 4, Woodgrange, Dames, Forest Lane x 3

17th - Upton Lane

18th - Odessa, Ridley, Wellington

20th - Odessa, Sebert, Tower Hamlets (Deaths: Alice Scott, aged 69, 140 Tower Hamlets Road; Isabella Scott, aged 34, 140 Tower Hamlets Road, William Scott, aged 44, 140 Tower Hamlets Road), Wellington

23rd - Cranmer, Hampton, Odessa x 2 (Deaths: Elizabeth Clarke, aged 46, 29 Odessa; George Clarke, aged 46, 29 Odessa; Harry Clarke, aged 14, 29 Odessa; Lily Clarke, aged 8, 29 Odessa; Arthur Clayden, aged 37, 29 Odessa; Lily Clayden, aged 8, 29 Odessa; Margaret Clayden, aged 8, 29 Odessa; Mary Clayden, aged 67, 29 Odessa; Annie Hopgood, aged 26, 23 Odessa), Upton Lane

24th - Capel, Disraeli, Clova (Deaths: George Hamer, aged 87, 70 Clova; George Frederick Hamer, aged 56, 70 Clova; Mary Hamer, aged 79, 70 Clova; Cecil Partridge, aged 52, 68 Clova Road; Daisy Partridge, aged 56, 68 Clova Road; Hubert Partridge, aged 42, 68 Clova Road; Lilian Partridge, 68 Clova Road), Romford (Upton Lane School)(Death: Ronald Harris, aged 17, 32 Wellington)

28th - Windsor


The top of Windsor Road after the bombing,
 and the debris had been cleared
29th - Knox, Skelton


Communal grave of early air raid casualties,
 established September 1940 in East London Cemetery
October
1st - Sprowston (East London Cemetery)

2nd - Forest Lane, Odessa, Woodford (Forest Gate Hospital : Death: Elizabeth Sinclair, aged 61 at FG Hospital, Wanstead Flats)

4th - Hampton (Deaths: Hilda Humphreys, aged 23, 73 Hampton Road; Joyce Humphries, aged 23, 73 Hampton Road), Latimer

7th - Nursery Lane

8th - East London Cemetery, Dames

9th - St James', Romford x 3, Balmoral, Odessa (Forest Gate Hospital)

14th - Earlham Grove, Sebert, Station Road, Romford, Woodgrange

15th - Dames, Forest Lane, Leonard, Vansitart (East London Cemetery, West Ham Cemetery, Forest Gate Hospital) Deaths: Mrs Sabbon, aged 62, 102 Earlham Grove

16th - East London Cemetery

17th - Dean

18th - Sebert

22nd - Upton

27th - Romford

28th - Glen Parke

November
15th - (Death: Charles William Bryant, 67, an APR of 1 Dunbar Rd, killed Royal Albert Dock)

18th - Dunbar, Upton Lane x 3, Skelton

23rd - Ridley

December
3rd - Odessa, Sylvan, Whytevlille, Romford x 4, Woodgrange, Upton Lane, x 2, Kitchener x 2, Knox, Glen Parke, Gower, Green Street, Chaucer x 2, Claremont, Disraeli x 3, Earlham Grove, Clova x 3 (Emmanuel Church)

4th - Clova

9th - Margery Park, St James, Tower Hamlets, Whyatt, Romford x 7, Clova, Crosby, Earlham Grove x 4, Leonard, Upton Lane (Forest Gate Hospital, Upton Lane School)


 
What at the time was the maternity hospital on
 Forest Lane, after one of the six hits,
 in total it received during the war 
19th - Odessa, Forest Lane

29th - Upton Lane

1941

January
11th - Disraeli

19th - (Forest Gate Police Station)

29th - Clova, Osborne, Green Street

March
8th/9th - Claremont x 3, Forest Gate Station,  Vale, Romford x 3, Vale (East London Cemetery)

19th - Wellington, Windsor, Talbot, Sidney, Knox, Hampton, Green Street x 3, Clova, Bignold, Atherton (Godwin School)

20th - Eric Road (Deaths: Albert Clements, aged 15, 25 Eric Road; Joyce Clements, 12, 25 Eric; Sarah Louise Clements, aged 52, 25 Eric; Ivy Denham, aged 26, Eric; Elizabeth Goddard, aged 70, 19 Eric; Frederick Ellis, 41, 161 Station Road; Alfred Middlehurst, aged 35, 20 Eric Road; Babrara Murrell, aged 2, 24 Eric Road; Doris Murrell, aged 18, 24 Eric Road; Dorothy Murrell, aged 13, 24 Eric Road; Rose Murrell, aged 16, 24 Eric Road; Susan Murrell, aged 46, 24 Eric Road; Thomas Murrell, aged 20, 24 Eric Road; Elizabeth Spooner, aged 51, 22 Eric Road; Annie Tallintire, aged 53, 21 Eric Road; Betty Tallintire, aged 14, 21 Eric Road; Charles Tallintire, aged 65, ARP stretcher bearer, 21 Eric Road)


Iconic photograph of Eric Road after
 the bomb. It is a small side
 road, just off Station Road

Parachute mine, of the kind that hit Eric Road
April

8th - Sebert (Godwin school)


Godwin school, after 1941 bombing
16th - Ridley

17th - Woodgrange (Methodist Church)(Deaths: Lucy Bruce, aged 68, 5 Claremont; William Bruce, aged, 68, 5 Claremont; Myer Cash, aged 65, 6 Claremont; Rosetta Cohen, aged 23, 3 Claremont;  Ruth Cohen, aged 19, 3 Claremont)


Above the bomb damaged Methodist
 church on Woodgrange Road

Once more, the Stratford Express
 report is very vague about location or
 details, but it probably refers,
 in very vague terms to the
 bombing of the church, which
is vaguely mentioned in the third
 paragraph in a small article,
 the week after the hit.

18th - Romford

19th - Earlham Grove x 3, Romford (Princess Alice Pub)


Bomb site left where original Princess Alice
 pub stood, junction of Romford and Woodgrange Roads
20th - Margery Park (Deaths: Herbert Kaye, aged 60, 1 Woodgrange Road)

29th - Romford (Queen's cinema)


Queen's cinema, soon after 29 April bomb
December
9th - Margery Park

1942

July
27th - Vansitart

1943

January
17th - Palmerstone, Romford (Death: Ronald Kirby, aged 18, a firewatcher)

18th - (Forest Gate Station)

March
3rd - (Forest Gate Hospital)




























Tons happening in Upton Lane

Friday, 24 July 2015



One of the great (and loudly sung) successes of Forest Gate over recent months lurks behind the boarded up decay that was once the proud Old Spotted Dog pub, on Upton Lane.




Tucked to one side of the pub is the almost equally decrepit exterior of Clapton FC.  We have written about the club's history (here), its most iconic player (here) and the on-going power struggle between the club's apparent "owner" and its supporters (here) before.

There is much more to tell, however; hence this blog.

Formed in Hackney in 1878, Clapton FC moved to the Old Spotted Dog ground on Upton Lane in 1888 and two years later became the first British club to play in Continental Europe. Its proud history also features the facts that it has:
Won the FA Amateur Cup five times; and
  Won the Isthmian  - now Rymans - League (of which it was a member for 100 years) twice.
Amateur Cup winners in 1909 -
Walter Tull second from right, front row
Now playing in the Essex Senior League (eight divisions below the English Premier League), Clapton's attendances have grown rapidly since 2012, from an average of 20 to over 500 at the end of the 2014/15 season.

This article attempts to explain this remarkable turnaround in the club's fortune and provide an update on some of the more deep-seated problems it and its supporters face.


The main stand, on the half way point.
The Ultras are to be found directly opposite,
 on match days, in an enclosure made from
scaffolding poles - hence the various
Scaffold references in communications

On the pitch

Last season was one of the club's most successful in living memory. For the record:
After having not appeared in a cup final for thirty years, Clapton FC last season appeared in two (both of which were lost)!
  The club finished in eighth spot in the Essex Senior League, its highest position in the last decade. Apparently this was only the third time since the 1930's that it has finished in the top half of the division it has played in!
Part of a near 500 attendance, under
"The Scaffold", at a match, in April 2015

On the terraces

More and more football fans have started to attend because of the unique atmosphere created by the Clapton Ultras, the club's noisy and passionate supporters. They are part political and campaigning, and wholly football fans.

This is an engaging combination of characteristics and makes a refreshing change to the same old tedium experienced in so many higher league (including the Premier) grounds. 

This, as their attendees will know, usually features boorish, "laddish", often intimidating, offensive right-wing and personally abusive chanting and threatening behaviour towards away supporters and players. Not to mention increasingly exorbitant entrance prices.


A spotted dog wearing the
 club's strip - Up The Tons!
According to a leaflet the Ultras distributed at last week's highly successful Forest Gate Festival, they are very different and proud to proclaim themselves as:
Strongly anti-fascist and anti-discrimination, the Ultras are trying to build a club that is affordable, welcoming and family friendly, but also one that completely rejects racism, homophobia and sexism - a different experience to a lot of modern football and a chance to watch a game in a space that is safe and inclusive.
 The Clapton Ultras want more local people to come along and join again, to become a genuine centre of the local neighbourhood. Over the last season we have made many new friends through our local activities, which have included:
organising regular food bank collections for the Refugee Migrant Project (RAMP), supporting asylum seeker and refugee families with no income.
clearing fly-tipping from the grounds of the Old Spotted Dog public house.
  raised funds for Newham Action on Domestic Violence.
distributing information locally on people's immigration rights.
  launching and supporting a successful appeal for funds for Paris - Newham's only LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Trans-sexual, Queer) youth group.
  •  organised a Fans for Diversity football tournament in Mile End.
Players raise the Rainbow flag, in solidarity
 with the Ultras anti-homophobic campaigning
If you love watching football, but think you have no alternative but to pay a huge amount of money for a ticket and then to have to put up with nasty, racist, sexist, homophobic "banter", go and experience a Clapton game. The Ultras promise you, you won't regret it!

You'll even get to shake hands with the players - usually of both teams - after the game.

Behind the scenes

Despite success on the pitch, controversy and in-fighting predominate behind the scenes. As we have reported before (here) there is a severe clash of ambition and desire between the club's apparent owners and its fan-base. 

This often happens in football, when there is a gap between the unrealistic expectations of fans and the capacity of owners to subside the route to achieving them.

The story is very different in Clapton's case. At the centre of the concerns is the very valuable piece of real estate that the club occupies.

It is perhaps no co-incidence that the ground and its buildings have been allowed to decay at almost the same rate as the historic Old Spotted Dog pub next door. The pub is the oldest secular building in Newham, but is rotting away, boarded up.

Planning permission will never be given for this local, and nationally listed, treasure to be destroyed, replaced or significantly altered. But, in its current state, it is unusable and it is difficult to see how it could again become a going concern, without a major source of external funding.

It is, however, only one careless match away from destruction. The prospect that its land foot print, extensive car park and that of the Clapton FC ground would then have for housing redevelopment, in this increasingly desirable and expensive part of East London, would make a property developer salivate. A £5m profit would not seem excessive for those in control of the land.

Enough of the speculation and fantasy.  Back to the here and now.

The freehold of the Clapton FC ground rests with a property company. A 100-year lease on the ground was granted by them to the Clapton Trust Ltd in 1992.

The Trust, however, remains a separate entity to the football club, and, in any case, has subsequently changed its name to Newham Community Leisure Trust Ltd.

The public face of the Trust is its chairman, Vincent McBean, who lives in Lambeth. He has tried, unsuccessfully, to purchase the ground from the freeholders, in a personal capacity.


Trust chairman, the
controversial Vincent McBean
A former trustee was Dwayne Brooks, friend of murdered Black teenager, Stephen Lawrence. He and Stephen's mother, Doreen, have feuded for years. Brooks is currently a Liberal Democrat councillor in Lewisham, with no known connections to Newham.

Another Lewisham resident, Rashford Angus, is also a trustee, as is Newham-living Esmond Syfox.

Quite why two Lewisham and one Lambeth residents should end up running the Newham Community Leisure Trust is not clear - particularly since they have resisted all attempts by a well-organised club supporters group to become involved with it.

According to a recent Google search, the Trust is now more than nine months behind in fulfilling its obligation to file its accounts with the Charity Commission.  This kind of non-compliance is not unusual for Mr McBean, who has a long history of failing to fulfil statutory obligations. He has had companies struck off for either not filing accounts or returns and being in receipt of warning letters about his financial conduct. See here, for the full details.

Worryingly, for the fans of the club, if this negligent behaviour continues the Trust will be struck off by the Registrar of Companies and the charity by the Charity Commissioners, at which point the lease could revert to the freeholders.
Players, Ultras, Diversity and pyro -
part of the Clapton experience!

This was the situation in 2003, when Mr McBean failed to similarly comply with company regulations. It was not until 2008 having opened negotiations for a sale of the lease, that Mr McBean applied to the High Court to have the company re-instated. Even then, the charity was not re-instated until the Charity Commission were alerted by the supporters with regard to their concern over the club's security of tenure on the ground.

Another bout of non-compliance with charity and company filing obligations by Mr McBean and chums could see both being formally wound up.

Cue: end of club (or at least its 127 year association with the ground) as speculators squabble over the valuable real estate spoils.

A well organised group of supporters is determined to prevent this undignified ending of the relationship between the club and its historic ground. They have tried, in vain, to engage and negotiate with Mr McBean.
  
They have communicated with both the Charity Commission and football authorities to try to ensure that the Trust is properly managed and accountable and that the rights of spectators and supporters are recognised and upheld

It is proving an uphill struggle.

A combination of the old adage about possession being nine tenths of the law and football authorities showing the same disregard at a local level for the rights of spectators that the Premier league quite disgracefully do at a national level for their supporters, means that voices which are loud on the terraces are not being listened to by the relevant authorities.

Legal action is afoot to preserve the heritage of this proud football club, and place its future in the hands of the one big consistent about football at all levels - the supporters. We would urge all those with an interest in grass roots football, local history and community action to engage with this important local campaign (see below for details and contacts).

Spreading the word

Fortunately, the vociferous supporters are well organised and are very effective communicators, via social and other media.  They even have their own podcast - The Old Spotted Dogcast! You can find details via the many channels listed below:

For full details of supporter activities try:



Engage with the Friends of Clapton FC - see below
www.claptonfc.info
www.claptonhistory.co.uk
www.pitchero.com/claptonfc
Twitter: @Real_ClaptonFC
@ClaptonFC_Match
@andylangalis53
@LewListz

For Clapton Ultras, try:


One of the many stickers the
Ultras use to announce their presence.
  Some very far distant sightings
 have been spotted!

www.ClaptonUltras.org
ClaptonUltras@riseup.net
www.Facebook.com/ClaptonUltras
Twitter: @ClaptonUltras
ClaptonUltras.Tumblr.com

As the Ultras say: "Another kind of football is possible, and it's happening right now in Forest Gate."

Go along, join in, be entertained, have fun, become a member of Friends of Clapton FC (details through links, above) and help save a great local institution!

You will find details of Clapton's home fixtures for the remainder of the year in the Events panel, to the right of this article.

Educating Arnie: The Terminator in Forest Gate - in his own words

Wednesday, 15 July 2015


Arnold Schwarzenegger is one of Forest Gate's most famous adopted sons. His stay in Forest Gate was the subject of this website's first-ever, and most visited, post, see here.

Arnie was in London recently, posing with one of the city's "Boris bikes" - see photo, below. So, we thought it would be timely to give his account of his days in Forest Gate - from his autobiography: Total Recall (see footnotes for details).


Arnie, posing recently in London, on a 'Boris bike'

We pick up the story in 1966, when Arnie has just spent some time in Munich, in pursuit of his body-building career:

Three months later, I was back in London, laughing and horsing around on a living room rug with a jumble of kids. They belonged to Wag and Dianne Bennett, who owned two gyms and were at the centre of the UK bodybuilding scene. Wag had been a judge at the Mr Universe contest, and he'd invited me to stay with him and Dianne in the Forest Gate section of London (ed: in what is now the burned out house on Romford Road, opposite Emmanuel's church) for a few weeks of training. They had six kids of their own, they took me under their wing and became like parents to me.
Arnie, Dianne and Wag with some
of the Bennett children, referred to above,

 posing outside his temporary Forest Gate home
Wag had made it clear that he thought I needed a lot of work. At the top of the list was my posing routine. I knew there was a huge difference between hitting poses successfully and having a compelling routine. Poses are like snapshots, and the routine is the movie. To hypnotise and carry away an audience, you need the poses to flow. What do you do between one pose and the next? How do the hands move? How does the face look? I'd never had a chance to figure very much of this out. Wag showed me how to slow down and make it like ballet: a matter of posture, the straightness of the back, keeping the head up, not down.
This I could understand but it was harder to swallow the idea of actually posing to music. Wag would put the dramatic theme from the movie Exodus on the hi-fi and cue me to start my routine. At first I couldn't think of anything more distracting or less hip. But after a while I started to see how I could choreograph my moves and ride the melody like a wave - quiet moments for a concentrated, beautiful three-quarter back pose, flowing into a side chest pose as the music rose and then wham!, a stunning most muscular pose at the crescendo.
Dianne concentrated on filling me up with protein and improving my manners. Sometimes she must have thought I'd been raised by wolves. I didn't know the right way to handle a knife and fork or that you should help clear up after dinner. Dianne picked up where my parents Fredi Gerstl and Frau Matscher had left off. 
One of the few times she ever got mad at me was when she saw me shove my way through a crowd of fans after a competition. The thought in my head was 'I won. Now I'm going to party'. But Dianne grabbed me and said 'Arnold, you don't do that. These are people who came to see you. They spent their money and some of them travelled a long way. You can take a few minutes and give them your autograph.' That scolding changed my life. I'd never thought about the fans, only about my competitors. But from then on, I always made time for the fans.
Even the kids got in on the Educating Arnold project. There's probably no better way to learn English than to joining a lively, happy London household where nobody understands German and where you sleep on the couch and have six little siblings. They treated me like a giant new puppy and loved teaching me words.
A photo of me during that trip (see below) shows me meeting my boyhood idol, Reg Park, for the first time. He's wearing sweats, looking relaxed and tanned, and I'm wearing my posing trunks looking star struck and pale. I was in the presence of Hercules, a three-time Mr Universe, of the star whose picture I kept on my wall, of the man on whom I'd modelled my life plan. I could hardly stammer out a word. All the English I'd learned flew right out of my head.
Arnie, with his idol, Reg Par, at the Romford
 Road Bennett gym, 1966. The 'W' on his vest
 stands for 'Wag'. Courtesy Schwarzenegger archives
Reg now lived in Johannesburg, where he owns a chain of gyms, but he came back to England on business several times a year. He was friends of the Bennetts and had generously agreed to help show me the ropes. Wag and Dianne felt that the best way for me to have a good shot at the Mr Universe title was to become better known in the United Kingdom.
Bodybuilders did that in those days by getting on the exhibition circuit - promoters all over the British Isles would organise local events, and by agreeing to appear, you could make a little money and spread your name. Reg, as it happened, was on his way to an exhibition in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and offered to bring me along. Making a name for yourself in bodybuilding is a lot like politics. You go from town to town, hoping the word will spread. This grassroots approach worked, and the enthusiasm it created would eventually help me to win Mr Universe. ...

Arnie and Wag, by the recently
 removed lamp post outside the
 now dilapidated Romford Road
 house that was home
 to Schwarzenegger in 1966 
My initial success in London had reassured me that I was on the right track and that my goals were not crazy. Every time I won, I became more certain. After the 1966 Mr Universe contest, I won several more titles, including Mr Europe ... 
I knew I was already the favourite to win the 1967 Mr Universe competition.  But that didn't feel like enough. I wanted to dominate totally. ...
So, I poured my energy and attention into a training plan I'd worked out with Wag Bennett. For months I spent most of my earnings on food and vitamins and protein tablets designed to build muscle mass. ...
Arnie went on to win his second Mr Universe title in September 1967.  Forest Gate and the Bennetts slip from his story for a while, but Dianne, in particular, is back making an impact with him in 1971. After four more years of success, following his second Mr Universe title, he was passing through London. The autobiography picks up the story:


On my way through London, I called Dianne Bennett to say hello.
'Your mother has been trying to find you', she said, 'Call her. Your father is ill.' I called my mother and then went home quickly to Austria to stay with them. My father had suffered a stroke."
His father died soon afterwards, when he was back in Los Angeles.  The outline of Arnie's story from there is well-know: after the body-building came Hollywood stardom and a marriage into the Kennedy family then the governorship of California. You can read the detail in the autobiography.


Wag (centre) and Arnie in 2001

Forest Gate and the Bennetts do not get a further mention in Arnie's book, but the close contact between him and his Forest Gate mentors remained, as the photo of him and Wag, celebrating his election as Governor of California in 2001 illustrates (above).

Footnote: Total Recall - my unbelievably true life story, by Arnold Schwarzenegger, with Peter Petre, published by Simon and Schuster, 2012. Available from all good bookshops and Amazon, pb £8.99. Thanks to all concerned for being able to publish the above - and make the story available to a wider, local audience.

Forest Gate's role, in WW1 The Hammers battalion (2)

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

This is the second of two articles about the role played by Forest Gate residents in the "Hammers Battalion", more formally the 13th (Service) Battalion (West Ham), of the Essex Regiment - 1914 - 1918. 


Members of "the Hammers" relaxing
 on Wanstead Flats, before being
 deployed to France, in 1915
It is largely based on the excellent Up The Hammers, a well researched account of this short-lived battalion, by Elliott Taylor and Barney Alston. It is highly recommended to anyone intrigued by this post, and is available, priced £14.99 from Newham Bookshop, and the publishers, Amazon - see footnotes for details.
Highly recommended book, on
which much of this article is based
The first episode (see previous article), traces the origins and formation and then deployment of this battalion to France in 1915. It traces the battalion's early days in the battlefields, until the eve of the Battle of the Somme in July 1916. Read on ...


Early, West Ham recruitment
 poster for "The Hammers"

One of dozens of images from
 Westhampals.blogspot
 - see footnotes for details
And so, onwards to the Battle of the Somme, in which the Hammers were soon in the thick of. Its opening day, 1 July, was the costliest ever for the British army, when 18,000 men were killed and a further 42,000 injured.

The intensity of the bombardment was such that the opening barrage could be heard in Forest Gate. Harry Smith, of Henderson Road wrote to the Stratford Express describing how some of his neighbours: "feared it was an attempted invasion. I have never in all my life heard so persistent and continuous booming of guns."

The Hammers incurred some fatalities and many casualties, but fought with distinction, as the book's authors illustrate so thoroughly - as indicated in the detail, below. Lt William Busby was awarded the Military Cross for "gallantry on the night of 1/2 July" (and was soon promoted to captain, on 31 Aug). Private EM Wilding, who came from Monega Road was awarded the Military Medal.

Wilding had joined The Hammers on 8 February 1915, having previously been a tough quartermaster in the merchant marine. He was noted as having enlisted to "The Hammers", when "thoroughly drunk."


Pte E M Wilding of Monega Road
, awarded the Military Medal.
 A tough, former quartermaster
 in the merchant marine, who
 enlisted when "thoroughly drunk"

Thanks to Essex Regiment.
Latter in the battle - on 14 July - Private Robert Lee, from Forest Gate was killed outright by heavy shelling and was buried in what is now the Canadian Cemetery No2, outside Neuville St Vaast.

By the end of July the West Ham Battalion was fighting around Delville Wood and William Busby, who was in the thick of battle yelling encouragement to his troops, was wounded, on the 29th, by a bullet to his right knee. He struggled back to an aid post and was sent to a hospital in Rouen for 12 days, to get patched up.

On 31 July the battalion HQ took a direct hit from a shell, and the roof collapsed. Among the buried was Claremont Road resident Lt Len Holthusen, the signals officer. To quote Taylor and Alston:

Outside the men of the HQ company began frantically digging with shovels, helmets and their bare hands at the earth, sandbags, wood and corrugated iron sheeting still smoking from the impact. Frantically they released the trapped and dreadfully shocked men. Dr Holthusen was immediately in attendance and found that his younger brother Len, as well as Major Churchill, were both so seriously injured that they required immediate evacuation. ... for Len Holthusen, the Hammers snooker champion at the Alexandra mess, back in Stratford High Street (this was the Alexandra Temperance Hotel; the officers' mess during the war, now the Discover Children's Centre), the war was over. Evacuated to England, his initial recovery took seven months. Even then, he never truly returned to full health and the engineering surveyor of Forest Gate reluctantly left the army, a broken man.
In an appendix to their book, the authors note: 
Len Holthusen, who had been badly smashed up when the HQ dugout was hit during action at Delville Wood, still suffered with his wounds after the war. He had sought recuperation in Westcliffe On Sea, but sadly died aged 34, at the Milbank Military Hospital in November 1920. Alan Holthusen had also moved to Westcliffe to be near his brother, living there until his death, aged 65 in 1950.


Dr Alan Holthusen (left), at his
 first aid tent, conspicuously
 not in uniform. Thanks to Alston

Collection.
The bombardment of the Hammers Battalion was so severe at the Somme, that to quote Taylor and Alston, they:
Suffered heavily in their tour with two hundred and twenty nine men gone, including nine of the officers. ... Twenty of them were literally sent mad by shell shock. A terrible price, especially when it is remembered that they had not initially been in the front of the attack.
Although it is invidious to pick out the names of some rather than of others who fell, their number included Private Hubert Ayres, who lived in South Esk Road, with his wife Alice and together ran a small coffee shop and Private Joseph Sait of Katherine St, Forest Gate, one of the original 300 volunteers to the Hammers Battalion, who was awarded the Military Medal, posthumously.

By August enough of the officers had been wounded that untried juniors, like 2/Lt Bernard Page (see previous post) were having additional responsibilities thrust upon them. Others like the recently commissioned Arnold Hone, a 21 year old shipping clerk of 176 Romford Road Forest Gate were thrown into the fray.


Quirk of fate: 176 Romford Road. Site  of
Arnold Hone's home, 100 years ago. Fifty
years later it was the site of the  Rolling
 Stones "pissing in public"  conviction,
 and today, an old folks home

19 year old Bernard Page lead his company in an attack in the early hours of 9 August, and they were mown down by combatant fire, and their bullet-riddled remains left on the battlefield.

In the morning, as daylight rose, stretcher bearers searched No Man's Land for the fallen, some were found, and buried, others not. Taylor and Alston record, with stark simplicity, the terrible impact of his death and events subsequent to it. In a paragraph they describe the horror of war:
The stretcher bearers weren't able to get to Bernard Page. The body of William Busby's great friend and billiard partner was never found. A West Ham lad, through and through, his proud father Robert was devastated when he received the telegram from the War Office. In common with so many families, his grief did not end there. Bernard's older brother, Wilfred, was also killed in action, in March 1918. Today 'BRP' is another commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing.
Meanwhile, the recently commissioned 2/Lt Hone returned from the night's carnage "exhausted, dehydrated and wounded". So lengthy was the death and casualty list, that his circumstances barely received a line in the official account of the night's events.

Other Forest Gate-related deaths recorded at the Somme, according to the book's authors, included those of Cpl Frederick Hunt, who was one of the enthusiastic volunteers when the battalion was established in March 1915, whose body was never recovered, following an intelligence gathering mission on 4 September. 


56 Cramner Road - today,
 then Frederick Hunt's home,
 killed in action in 1917,
 but remembered on the Thiepval
 Memorial to the Missing
He was a 31 year old clerk from 56 Cranmer Road, and his name joins that of Bernard Page on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing.


Thiepval Memorial to the Missing,
 remembering, among others, Bernard
 Page and Frederick Hunt, from Forest Gate
On 26/27 October Field Road resident Sgt Harold Joseph Morrison was on patrol in No Man's Land reconnoitring German wire, when he was caught in German fire, he was badly hit and bled to death. He is buried in Sucerie Military Cemetery.

The young-looking, 21 year-old 2/Lt Arnold Hone was soon to distinguish himself in the field. He lead his men in a daring and brave mission on 13 November, at the Battle of Ancre, showing great tactical awareness, leadership and bravery, for which he was to receive the Military Cross. The result of the action was that The Hammers took a German 'minor' trench, thanks largely to Arnold Hone's "splendid example", as a cool head under fire.


"Baby faced" 2nd Lt Arnold Hone,
 in a photo taken after the war.

 Photo courtesy of Michael Holden
 But, as Taylor and Alston note, this minor "victory" came at a heavy cost:
The losses had been horrendous, nearly half of those involved had become casualties. .. no less than ten (officers) were immediately listed as missing ... The huge numbers of wounded filling the trenches ... who had been pouring back for two days bore witness to the withering nature of the machine gun fire and vicious hand to hand fighting. 
In addition to the officers, 165 "other ranks" were posted as missing, of which only seven were ever located. The "butcher's bill" paid by the Hammers in the Battle of Ancre was truly awful.

Two of the officers who were killed at Ancre were 2/Lt George Manners Gemmell, a 27 year old insurance clerk from 10 Hampton Road, who after a chance meeting with some members of the Hammers, had applied to become an officer with the battalion in 1916. Although killed in the field, brave comrades were able to drag his body back to British lines, for a dignified burial.


10 Hampton Road, today. Then
 home to 2/Lt George Manners Gemmell,
an insurance clerk, who was
 killed in action, in 1916
Captain William Busby also perished on this night, leading his platoon into action. He was hit in the head by bits of a German shell, a small 'whizz-bang'. His dying words, according to Silvertown boy Pte J Clark were "Goodbye my lads, I hope you will get through, alright". His comrades were able to drag his body back, through the mud, to give him a proper burial.


Lt William Walter Busby. Photo
 courtesy of Newham Scouts

On hearing the news, the boys of the West Ham Scouts immediately renamed themselves Busby Troop (which still, today, meets in Durning Hall), and changed their neckerchiefs to khaki, in his memory.

His Company Sergeant Major wrote to his father, describing him as "An ideal officer". He is buried, besides George Gemmell at Serre Road No 2, the largest cemetery in the Somme.


Serre Road No 2 Cemetery - the largest
 of very many war cemeteries in the Somme
 area. Last resting place of Lt William
 Walter Busby and 2nd Lt George Gemmell,
 both of Forest Gate
The battalion was devastated by the losses they suffered at Ancre, but continued to serve, being moved up and down the line in the Somme. Deaths and causalities continued to be endured. Unfortunately the battalion diaries soon afterwards stopped publishing the names and ranks of the fallen, probably because there were so many and it was so ghastly a task - so it is difficult to be precise about which local men suffered, where - from now, in The Hammers Battalion.

Deaths and casualties mounted on the front line, however, until an operation in the village of Oppy on 28 April 1917 saw 125 of them killed. There were precious few of the original volunteers left, and the battalion's numbers were often replenished by men with little association with the area - because the unit numbers needed to be kept up to fighting strength and levels.

There was little respite. Within six months the battalion was embroiled in the Third Battle of Ypres - better known as Passchendaele. Further casualties followed and army re-organistions took place, to rationalise military units. In January 1918 the battalion was disbanded, with the remaining soldiers redeployed to other units, with thanks from Field Marshall Douglas(Later Earl)  Haig, for "fine work, consistently done".

The war ended on 11 November, that year. Forest Gate, like every other suburb, town, village and city in the UK, and beyond, paid a heavy price in blood, for what turned out to be a pyrrhic victory, in an inconclusive war.

Footnotes

1. Thanks to Elliott Taylor and Barney Alston, whose dedication resulted in the publication of Up The Hammers - The West Ham Battalion in The Great War - 1914 - 1918, available at Newham Bookshop, and from the publishers, Amazon for £14.99. See here, for details. The book is available from Amazon, world-wide and has 60 never-before-published photos of the Hammers, a small number of which, as indicated, have been reproduced above.

2. Elliott maintains an up-to-date blog on matters relating to the battalion, which is well worth a visit, via hyperlink:this. Elliott is always seeking out new relatives of soldiers from the Battalion, and will be happy to share your details of them (if you wish) with visitors to the site, and his further researches with you.

3. Other WW1-related articles on this blog are:

Black war hero and football pioneer, Walter Tull 
Tragic end to World War 1 romance (1) 
Tragic end to World War 1 romance (2) 
Becoming rapidly forgotten 3/8/2014
Centenary of anti-German riots in Forest Gate

4. As Elliott reminded us, Walter Tull (see link above) was a member of the Footballers Battalion during the First World War. They fought side by side with The Hammers Battalion, throughout its existence, in the 6th Brigade of the British army.