The Home Front in WW1 Forest Gate - through the eyes of Godwin school

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

This is the third of a series of posts based on the school log of Godwin School, from 1883 - 1984, providing a fascinating, worms' eye view of the development of the local area.

See here for details of the first post and a background to this series of articles.

Godwin school in 1973

This article, in particular, highlights:

  • Deaths of former Godwin pupils during the conflict;
  • assistance Godwin pupils gave to the war effort;
  • how war-induced fuel and food shortages impacted on Forest Gate;
  • impact of air raids on the district;
  • attempts to provide "business as usual" in the school;
  • the impact of the great flu epidemic on Godwin.
1 Sep 1914 Sent a large parcel of magazines brought by the boys for men of the fleet. ...  Received an intimation that Thomas Pascoe, an old Godwin Road boy went down in the Amphion (ed:a British cruiser, and early WW1 victim.  Sunk in Thames estuary on 6 August, with 1 officer and 131 ratings killed).

HMS Amphion, photographed in 1911

Artist's impression of HMS Amphion being
 sunk by a German mine in August 1914
9 Sep 1914 Sent off a box of gifts for the Expedition Force today, to Southampton Docks.

8 Oct 1914 The master engaged in an educational chat with Standard 6 upon the real causes and inwardness of the war. Emphasised the importance of fidelity to treaties in national life and to one's word in individual life.

9 Nov 1914 In response to a request by the master that each boy should ask to bring one potato for the Belgians. about 4 bushels of excellent specimens have been brought. (ed: a bushel is a measure of about 8 gallons or 32 litres).

10 Nov 1914 The potatoes were dispatched this morning and they will go to H--- during the week.

16 Nov 1914 Today most of the boys have brought some sugar for the Belgian refugees.

18 Nov 1914 Sent off sugar to Lady Bennett for the Belgian refugees.

27 Nov 1914 The funds obtained by the staff and boys for Christmas puddings to the men in France and the fleet was closed today. Three pounds 17 shillings was obtained and sent to the Daily News.

17 Feb 1915 No fires in school today, because of a shortage of fuel.

13 Apr 1915 This is an interesting day. It is 30 years today since Godwin school was opened. ... Nearly 5,000 boys have entered in this period and 180 old boys have joined the colours.

31 May 1915 Received intelligence that Pte AD Eady was killed in action on 5 May and Albert Phimmer on 9 May.

8 Sep 1915 An aeroplane descended on the Flats this morning and remained the whole day. This proved a very strong attraction for the mothers and the children, so that the afternoon attendance suffered very considerably.

Stratford Express with only vague
 coverage of the air raid attacks referred
 to above - dated 15 September 1915

4 Oct 1915 Arthur Burrell, Standard 5, was present and quiet as usual on Friday died suddenly on Saturday at home. The inquest is being held this afternoon. News has come to hand that Douglas Home was killed in the great advance last week. He was in the London Scottish Regiment and went to France in March.

7 Oct 1915 Arthur Burrell was buried today. A wreath was sent from the school and about 40 boys who belong to the Scouts attended to pay their respect to the dead comrade.

15 Oct 1915 The Zeppelin raids on Wednesday night kept many from getting proper rest and in consequence the boys could not attend the next day.

23 Feb 1916 At prize giving the master called attention to ... upwards of 300 Old Boys had joined the colours. He further called the boys attention to those who had fallen in action, as follows: Pte A Eady, 7th City of London Rifles, killed 5 May 1915; Quarter Master Sgt Robert Sere ... killed in action; Pte Cecil Wheeler, Seaforth Highlanders, killed 15 June 1915; Pte Douglas Macgregor, Home London Scottish, killed Sep 1915; Pte Arthur Parker, Australian Contingent, killed on the Gallipoli peninsular, 10 August; Pte Walt Lewis Gilbert, 2/4 Battn Royal Fusiliers, killed 8 Dec at the Dardanelles; Pte Reggie Wagstaffe, 5th City of London Rifles, killed May 1915 in France; Sgt John Rasmussen (ed: see 3 Apr 1913, in earlier post), Rifle Brigade, killed 24 May 1915; Pte Alf Jameson, 8th Battery Somerset Light Infantry, reported missing; Pte Bert Plummer, 2nd Middlesex Reg, killed 9 May; Rifleman Fred Stanley, 12th London Reg, killed in action 27 Apr at St Julien; Sgt Edward King, Bedfordshire Reg, killed in action France 17 Jan 1916.

3 May 1916 The tercentenary of Shakespeare's death was celebrated today. In the afternoon the 7th Standard went through the trial scene of The Merchant of Venice in character.

24 May 1916 Some slight variations have been made in the nature of the lessons today in order to bring the 'British Empire' idea before the scholars. In the afternoon, after play, the classes assembled in the playground. Several of the classes sang suitable songs and the school, the national anthem. Three cheers were given for the king and also the 'Old Godwin Boys' in the area.

2 Oct 1916 The attendance has been considerably affected by the Zeppelin raid, which kept so many up the greater part of the night ... The school hours are altered from today until further notice. They are 9 to 11.45 and 1.15 to 3.30.

Zeppelin of the kind that raided London in 1916
19 Oct 1916 Several Jew boys are absent today in consequence of a Jewish festival.

Earlham Grove synagogue, where many of
the Jewish boys would have visited on this day

16 Feb 1917 Several coats have been missed during the last 10 days. It has been reported to the clerk and the police have been notified with a description of the garments.

15 Mar 1917 The detective officer called to say he has been unable to trace any of the lost coats.

13 Jun 1917 An air raid occurred this morning at 11.35. The boys behaved with coolness and self control. As the hostile aircraft made off the master considered the best thing to do was to get the boys distributed and sent them home at 11.40 before the craft returned.

5 Sep 1917 The attendance has been affected today owing to the air raid in the district and over London last night, from 11.25 to 1.59, when the all clear was given.

Censorship was alive and well during WW1.
This was the Stratford Express's account
 of the raids noted in the school log,
 above - dated 8 September 1917.
  So vague as to be useless.

25 Sep 1917 The raid last night has kept several away and others are going away.

More vague, uninformative, censored
 coverage in the Stratford Express
 of 26 September, "covering"
 the raids referred to, above.
11 Jan 1918 Considering the severity of the weather, the difficulties of shopping owing to shortage, the attendance has been good this week - 91.7% It is very difficult to get punctuality as many of the boys are out in search of articles of food before coming to school.

25 Jan 1918 The food queues are proving a great drawback to punctuality and regularity.

29 Jan 1918 Owing to an air raid which lasted on and off for some hours last night, a great many boys are absent today. The warning was given about 8 and the all clear was not sounded till after one o'clock.

31 May 1918 A very interesting letter has been received by the master from an old scholar Mr WJ Matthews ... I have been in the civil service for the last twelve years. As a result of my labours, I have been appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire.

4 Oct 1918 Mr Rowland, student teacher, left today. He has now joined the air force.

18 Oct 1918 The attendance this week has been the lowest since records began, 55.6% This is due to an influenza epidemic that is sweeping many districts (ed: this would have been the 1918 - 1920 flu pandemic, which current estimates suggest killed between 50m and 100m, worldwide - between 3% and 6% of the entire global population.  The total number of people killed in WW1, by comparison, is estimated at 17million - somewhere between a third and a sixth of the deaths from the flu pandemic). Claude King, Standard 3, died on Wednesday.

11 Nov 1918 The armistice was signed this morning at 5 o'clock and fighting ceased at eleven. The school did not meet in the afternoon.

7 Jan 1919 Mr CH Rowland student teacher now discharged from the RAF, resumed work this morning. 

The 1919 Forest Gate murders

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Henry Perry, aka Beckett, was executed by hanging at Pentonville jail on 10 July 1919 for the murder of four members of the Cornish family, of 13 Stukeley Road - and so became the last person judicially executed for  Forest Gate-related killings.

Police photograph of Henry Perry
The circumstances were gruesome, and there was no disputing the fact that Perry killed mother Alice Mary (43), husband Walter Frank (47) and children Alice Beatrice Dorothy (14) and Marie (6) Cornish brutally, with an axe and hammer, in their own home. But even in an era of capital punishment, was hanging an appropriate sentence?

John Ellis, Perry's hangman
Thirty-seven at the time of the killings, Perry was born in Chatham in 1882, the illegitimate son of Polly Perry. His father was a sailor, who died when Henry was young.  His mother subsequently married a hawker named William Beckett.  Henry used this name throughout his adult life, but sometimes reverted to Perry, when he was in trouble.

In his statement to the police, after his arrest for the murders, Perry said that the family travelled the country in a caravan in his youth, although East Anglia was their home base. He became a slater, as a young man, and joined the 3rd Suffolk regiment, attached to the Army Veterinary Corps, in Bury St Edmunds on 29 November 1916. He saw service in Egypt and Palestine during World War 1 and ended back in England in February 1919.

Perry was given £5 by the army in Bury St Edmunds on his return home, but was not discharged from the service, as questions remained over his status: whether he was entitled to prisoner of war payments, or whether he had deserted the army.
By his own testimony, he soon made his way to his step-aunt, Alice Cornish, in Stukeley Road, Forest Gate. He was made very welcome and stayed for about two weeks.

Location of the killings:
13 Stukeley Road, today
While with the family he met Mrs Henrietta Emmiline Sparks (known as Ettie), a war widow with a two-year old daughter, from Neville Road, Forest Gate. In her statement to the police, following the murders, she said she had only known Perry for three weeks and that he had war wounds in his head and legs and suffered from headaches when it rained.

Banns for their marriage were put up at St Antony's church in what was then called Khedive Road, with a wedding date set of 7 May. He was Catholic and she said she was converting to Catholicism, as a result, as was the practice at the time.

She concluded her first statement to the police by saying: "I did not know very much about him."

On 28 April Perry returned to the Cornish family's home and brutally, one-by-one, battered the four members to death with an axe and a hammer. He stole a small sum of money (about £4) and fled the house.

Perry's detailed file remains in the National Archives, at Kew (ref: MEPO 3/262A), having been kept under wraps for 75 years. It reveals that the police were quickly on to the murders and interviewed a large number of local people, who had witnessed some of the events subsequent to the killings - such as his flight.

In issuing a statement and "wanted "notice for him, the police described him as insane and said they thought he had probably committed suicide following the murders. They said he was: "About 5'5", complexion fresh, dark brown hair, blue eyes, heavy dark waxed moustache, khaki uniform, no overcoat, black leggings and boots."

Police description of Perry, as
 published by the Stratford Express 
One of the key witnesses was local girl, 13-year old Elizabeth Cordee. She described him as: "Short with a brown moustache, with something of the appearance of a gipsy. having blood stained rags hanging from his clothes".

She said that she saw: "A soldier running out of Stukeley Road, where the Cornishes lived. The collar on his tunic was undone, his hands were covered in blood and his puttees (gaiters) were coming undone."  She stated that she had seen him the previous day with Mrs Cornish and her two children.

There was a hue and cry, and as a result Perry was caught a few days later on Barking Road, East Ham. He was charged with the murders. He was found guilty of them a month later at the Old Bailey, had his appeal rejected and was hung on 10 July - less than six months after his return to England, from serving in the Middle East.

Arresting officer, Special
Constable William James Green
The facts, above, are indisputable - and seem clear cut enough. But they omit significant details of Perry's pre-war life and his army experience, which makes the appropriateness of the death sentence considerably less clear. 

They also omit some crucial testimony heard by the jury, before its ten minutes of deliberation resulted in his death sentence and by the judges who sat on his appeal hearing. These would probably be given a more sympathetic hearing in a court of law today.

Perry's background

It emerged during the trial that Perry's relatively late call up to army service, in November 1916, was because he had only been released from five years hard labour the day prior to his enlistment, for a crime of violence.

The court was told that he had: "spent most of his life in prison" - having been convicted seventeen times - including two previous terms of hard labour (penal servitude, as it was known), for crimes of violence and for breaking and entering houses and shops (see extracts from his police records, below). "He was well known to the police all over England", the jury was told.

Extract from Perry's police records.
  Source: National Archives
This record as "a jail bird" clearly weighed heavily in pronouncing  a death sentence. His army service, less so.

In his lengthy statement to the police, read out in court, Perry described how after enlisting he was posted to the Middle East, and that he had had "got lost" looking for water, while with his army unit in Palestine.

He was subsequently shot in the leg before being taken as a Prisoner of War, by Turkish troops, when he contracted typhoid. He was then taken to Damascus and joined a working party of prisoners, where he was beaten and tortured by Turkish soldiers.

The torture included a "bastinadoing sesh" (where the soles of feet are whipped), after which he was struck on the head with a rifle butt, before being held up in a dungeon.  He also suffered from head injuries, allegedly caused by shrapnel imbedded in his brain, and later contracted syphilis.

As a result of these experiences, he said at the trial that it was voices in his head that told him to commit the murders.

He pleaded not guilty of them, by dint of his insanity.

The jury found him sane and guilty.

Although many WW1 soldiers were treated for "battle fatigue", Shell-Shock and hallucinations after witnessing terrible events in the conflict, the true effect on combatants' mental condition was little understood at the time, and rarely, if ever, held responsible for the victim's subsequent behaviour.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) only began to be understood and taken seriously as an effect of war some 50 years later - during the Vietnam war.

The murderous events

There was little disputing the details of the killings at Perry's trial, with his statement and that of various witnesses and the police all re-enforcing each other, as accounts of the events. A brief summary follows.

When Perry got back to England in February 1919, he had difficulty in settling down. He moved from place to place, conning money from people. He tried to get money by deception from the army and was put in detention barracks for a few days for the offence.

He continued to drift through the country for days, before he moved in with his step-aunt, Alice Cornish, in Forest Gate, in March 1919.

After a couple of weeks with the Cornish family there was an argument and he was sent packing - not before he had arranged to marry Mrs Sparks, however. He continued to roam the country and returned to Forest Gate on the day of the murders.

He passed the Cornish's house in the early afternoon of 28 April, having had a drink, and was invited in by Alice, who was alone. She appears to have continued with their previous argument and he struck her on the head with a poker and took her to the garden shed, to hide her body.

He cut one of her fingers off, and stole her wedding ring. She was not yet dead, so he hit her with a pick axe and returned to the house and got a carving  knife, which he used to stab her throat.

This would have been about 3 o'clock.

Perry waited until her younger daughter, Marie, aged 6,  returned from school and struck her on the head with a hammer, and then threw her down the stairs, to the cellar. Soon after, the older child, Alice, aged 14, came in from evening classes, and according to Perry: "I let her in. She went into the kitchen. I struck her on the head with a hammer. She fell down, and I then hit her on the throat with an axe and carried her into the cellar".

Perry then went upstairs in the house and stole a small amount of money, leaving behind a bank book with over £130 in the account. He then waited for Walter Cornish, the father, to return from his work as a decorator.

When Cornish came into the house, he went to the kitchen, unsuspecting of what had happened, and began to cook himself a meal. When he became aware of Perry's presence he wanted to know what he was doing in the house and threatened to call the police.

Perry hit him on the head with the axe and ran from the house.  Cornish was not killed instantaneously. A neighbour came to his rescue, and took him to hospital, in Stratford by bus (!).

Walter Cornish died later of the injuries sustained. 

Perry went into Stratford the next day and spent most of the money he had stolen from the Cornishes in kitting himself out in "civvies" - civilian clothes.

He was caught three days later in East Ham, having spent some of his time with a sailor, looting in the dockland areas.

Summary justice

Henry Perry was interviewed by the police on 2 May and had his first court appearance at West Ham Police Court [ed: former name for magistrates court] the following day.  He was detained in police cells until his committal appearance at the court on 9 May. Press reports say that he was shielded by the police on his way into and out of court: "From large and hostile crowds" who had gathered outside.

The case against him, as outlined above, was heard by the court. He pleaded insanity.

Mr Justice Darling - judge
at Perry's Old Bailey trial
The prosecuting solicitor said that his motive for the murders was: "That he had been short of money and that obtaining this (the less than £4 that he stole) was the object of the accuser's attack." [ed: At no point during the trial or appeal does the defence appear to question that if this was the case why Perry had not run off after he had stolen the money, but instead waited until the fourth member of the family returned, so that he could kill him].

His case was referred to the Old Bailey for trial on 27 May, where it lasted two days. He appeared before Mr Justice Darling (see photograph), who had previously sat on - and rejected - appeals from infamous prisoners Dr Crippen and Roger Casement.

The Old Bailey - location
 of the Perry trial
The case against him, as outlined above, was presented.

Perry/Beckett, in support of his plea of insanity, told the court that he had suffered nightmares as a result of the torture and treatment by the Turkish troops. He said he had dreams, in which, in the presence of his mother, he committed horrible deeds. He constantly heard voices commanding him to do things and was drawn to his crime by those voices.

According to press reports: "In relating this, the prisoner wept bitterly."

His defence lawyer described him as: "An epileptic subject and suffered from hallucinations". In support of the insanity plea, he called three expert witnesses: Sir Robert Armstrong-Jones, Mr William Henry Butter-Stoddard and Mr Herbert Norman.

Police files in the National Archives described the witnesses as: "Three eminent specialists in diseases of the mind".
They stated that they had each examined the prisoner at Brixton Prison and had come to the conclusion that he is a man of unstable mind and in their opinion an epileptic subject. The attacks of epilepsy would seize upon him at irregular periods and when under the influence of this disease he would be irresponsible for his actions.
Sir Robert Armstrong Jones, for 20 years the superintendent of Claybury Asylum, said he found the prisoner solemn and that as a result of his treatment at the hands of the Turks he was: "Irresponsible and morose".

He said he considered the prisoner to be: 
A congenitally unstable person and was now suffering aural hallucinations which were dominating, tyrannical and relentless. He did not think that such a man could appreciate the nature and quality of his act.
Dr Norman, senior assistant medical officer at Camberwell House asylum,  said he: "Did not consider Beckett was capable of judging between right and wrong, when he committed the act."

Dr Stoddard, said that he considered Beckett to be suffering: " From mental deficiency and epileptic insanity."

Mr William David Hickson, Doctor at Brixton Prisoner was called to rebut the evidence and stated that he: "Had had the prisoner under observation since arrest and had failed to find that he was suffering from this complaint."

The prosecutor, Percival Clarke, who is not thought to have been tortured and incarcerated by Turkish forces during WW1, said:
The war has done great good for some persons. It has taught them discipline, and made honest and honourable men of people who started badly. But the brutalities of war may have made more vicious a person who was vicious before.
The press, at the time, considered this to be the damning indictment that was to convict Perry. The jury was out for less than 10 minutes, ignored his plea of insanity and found him guilty.

The judge, Mr Justice Darling, had no option but to pronounce the death sentence
He said the he considered that:
The acts of the prisoner were consistent with the acts of a sane man of a criminally brutal disposition. The jury had not the definite evidence that the man had suffered from epileptic fits, or that he was suffering from an epileptic seizure, when he committed the crimes.
 The medical evidence relied entirely on the theories formed from statements made to the doctors and on their observations of the man. No one could apparently distinguish, or give a test which would enable the court to distinguish between the sane and the insane with any certainty.
Darling left little optimism for a successful appeal. He said that he: "Held no hope for the prisoner," and added that he had: " Never heard a case tried in which the circumstances were more horrible."

Perry did appeal against sentence and conviction on grounds of his insanity and his case was heard before the Lord Chief Justice of England and two other judges  a month later, on 26 June.

Lord Chief Justice Sir Rufus Issacs,
 judge who rejected Perry's appeal
The Lord Chief Justice Sir Rufus Isaacs had previously (1910 - 1913) been the Attorney General. He was later to become Viceroy to India (1921 - 1925), and was created Marquess of Reading in 1926. He was the first Jewish Lord Chief Justice.

According to the National Archives, evidence of Perry's half-sisters (Lovey Nark -(! sic) - and Bella Bird) as well as other family members, who had no liking or sympathy for him, attested to his "epilepsy", at the appeal. They described his as dishonest and violent.

Major Stewart, joint Honorary Secretary of the Suffolk Prisoners of War Help Committee gave evidence to the effect that when Perry called upon him at the end of March 1919 for help, he considered him to be: "Strange in the mind."

He said that he: "Formed the impression the man was quite wrong in the head and not knowing anything of him, thought it was as a result of treatment he received as a prisoner of war."

Dr Theophilus Hyslop, lecturer in medical diseases at St Mary's hospital and former senior physician at Bethlem Hospital, made a prolonged examination of Perry in Pentonville on 20 June and: "Concluded he was of unsound mind and understanding". When asked why, he said that he felt Perry was: "Insane since the wounds (received during the war)".

He said that Perry was:
Suffering from a form of insanity and homicidal mania at the time of the murders, and he did not know the difference between right and wrong.
Had (I) been consulted on the matter before it came into the hands of the police, it would have been a case in which (I) would have recommended an operation of the injured area of the the man's skull. The appellant is insane now; and had organised delusions and he had hallucinations and visions. 
The state of his epilepsy would lead to alternately forgetting and remembering what he had done. The appellant said to (me) that he did not know anything about the murders and did not believe he had done them. 

Dr Dyer, Chief Medical Officer of Prisons, also gave evidence, producing Perry's records from time he spent in time an prison in Dartmoor, indicating that he had had epileptic fits while incarcerated there.

This evidence cut no ice with the judges.  According to Archives records:
The learned judges stated that there was no evidence before them that at the time the prisoner committed the acts he was not in a sane state of mind; moreover, everything the prisoner did at the time and afterwards was what would have been expected from a sane man who was vicious and brutal enough to do such acts, and dismissed the appeal.
The Lord Chief Justice added that the Home Secretary could have the prisoner examined and could act according to the results of such examination.
The Archives include a letter dated 7 July 1919 (see photocopy) stating that : "The enquiry was unable to find any grounds to justify (The Home Secretary) in advising His Majesty to interfere with the due course of law."

Letter from Metropolitan Commissioner
 of Police, advising of the Home Secretary's
 decision not to overturn the death sentence.
Source: National Archives
The end for Perry and his victims

Perry was hanged by John Ellis and William Willis on 10 July 1919 in Pentonville. 

Pentonville prison, location of Perry's execution
There was an inquest, according to press reports:
Dr Perry Mander, the prison medical officer stated at the inquest that he was given a drop of 7 feet 11.5 inches and that death was instantaneous. Only about half a minute elapsed between the prisoner leaving the condemned cell and death taking place.
 The jury found that Beckett had been duly executed, according to the law.

Perry's end, according to the
Stratford Express, 12 July 1919
The Cornish family victims are buried in Woodgrange Park cemetery. The Stratford Express reported that there were "crowds of thousands at the burial on 6 May.

Footnote: the state of knowledge of PTSD at the time of the murders

It's one thing to look at the Perry case in horror through a 2017 perspective, but what was the contemporaneous and local perspective view of PTSD?

Local historian, Mark Gorman investigates and has found  “Shell shock”  was identified from early 1915. Frequent local press reports and listings amongst casualties mentioned it. Treatment by hypnotic therapy being tried as early as May 1915, according to The Globe 27 May 1915).

The Essex Newsman referenced "Shell Shock" in a number of reports: 
  • 'Shell shock in London due to air raids is more widespread than widely known, says Mental After-Care Association'. 9 Mar 1918.
  • 'Ex-soldier charged with scalding child – suffered from Shell Shock. While drunk, he assaulted his wife'. 4 Jan 1919.
  • 'In a case of assault on police at Epping, a medical witness said combination of Shell Shock and alcohol meant loss of memory and “all control of himself”.' 8 Feb 1919.
  • 'East Ham War Pensions Disablement committee meeting heard of poor conditions for local men suffering from Shell Shock in Essex County Asylum at Chelmsford. No treatment given for Shell Shock and men said that if they didn’t get treatment they would end up as madmen like the other patients. Superintendent denied lack of food and said it was a mental hospital, not an asylum.' 20 Feb 1919.
  • Advert for tonic in the paper 10 May 1919: "...although the continuous fire of our own guns was deafening, and so bad that heaps of chaps got knocked out by Shell-Shock etc., I never felt a bit the worse, thanks to Phosferine”.
Essex Newsman advert for Phosferine
treatment for Shell-Shock, 1919

  • 'Soldier stole money from Gas Light and Coke Co. in Leyton. Suffered from Shell-Shock. “He only knew he was doing wrong, but his will, power was not strong enough to go against it”. Jury found him guilty, with recommendation for mercy. 5 July 1919.
So, although Shell-Shock was understood at the time of Perry's trial, no sympathy was shown to him. Perhaps this is explained by his previous criminal record and a discriminatory attitude to "travellers"?

Whatever the explanation, it is difficult to believe that a less callous interpretation would be placed on these, admittedly horrific, killings today.

When Godwin school went to Paris - 1912

Monday, 27 February 2017

We have featured the history of Godwin school over a number of posts., over recent months (see here, here, here, here, and here for details). One of the most memorable events in that 130 year history is when a choir from the school visited, and won two first prizes, in a singing competition in Paris, in June 1912 (see here) for reference to this.

The competition was well covered, over a number of editions by the Stratford Express at the time. We are extremely fortunate that they published a diary of the Godwin visit, written by one of the staff accompanying the pupils.  We reproduce this diary, in full, below.

The 150 West Ham children (including
 50 from Godwin) on the steps
 of Vincennes Town Hall
Wrapped around this verbatim account of this visit, we provide some context.  This is a lengthy post - but a fascinating snapshot of a quite extraordinary event in the history of Godwin school, and some of its pupils.

Context of the competition

Stratford Express headline of a very
 detailed account of the Paris trip
The Stratford Express of 29 May provided the context of the visit:

One hundred and fifty boys and girls have been taken to Paris this Whitsun. They feel they have been somewhere, have seen something, and they certainly have had an experience the memory of which will live with them for as long as they live.
 Beckton Road Girls' school, Godwin Road Boys school and St Paul's Boys school had the honour of supplying each a choir of 50 voices to represent West Ham in the great International Music Festival organised by the Paris municipal authority ...
In all there were some twenty thousand entries from England and the Continent for the various choir and band contests, but none were more eager and expectant than the children from our elementary schools.
 To visit Paris was an idea almost too good to be true and it can easily be understood that the long-looked-for journey, with all its experiences, has filled the minds of all the fortunate children who formed the special choirs of their respective schools.

What follows, below, is a fascinating verbatim account of the trip to Paris, from the Godwin perspective, penned in the Stratford Express, by an unknown teacher (there were only 3 on the trip, Mr Herbert, the Head, Mr Earle, the choir master and a Mr May).

Godwin Road in Paris Day by Day

The long-looked-for visit to Paris has come and gone, and not a hitch of any kind has occurred to mar the pleasure of the success of the project. Godwin went primarily to sing, but much more has been done, and the pleasant remembrances of the visit will remain in the memories of those who took part for many years to come.

The boys and their teachers lined up at Forest Gate station at a quarter to seven on Saturday morning, and many parents of the boys came to see the choir off, and wish the party bon voyage. At Liverpool Street two buses were waiting to convey the boys to Holborn Viaduct. By a quarter past eight the Godwin party was comfortably settled in two saloon carriages communicating with each other and at 8.25 the train started in highest spirits.

The ride to Folkestone was of great interest and pleasure to the boys who showed themselves keenly anxious to see Chislehurst, where Napoleon III resided after the Franco-German war on 1870. Arriving at Folkestone at 10.15, the party with other West Ham schools, went aboard the Empress, which also conveyed the LCC (ed: London County Council) choirs to Boulogne. It was a brilliant morning, the sea was smooth, and things augured well for a grand crossing.

The air was keen and invigorating, but soon signs of mal-de-mer began to manifest themselves among some of the boys. As we neared Boulogne a slight twisting pitch and roll made it necessary for some of the youngsters to go below. But the scene at Boulogne harbour soon pulled everybody together, and put the boys in the highest of spirits. The quay was lined with French; bands played the National Anthem and the Marseillaise by turns, and indeed everybody seemed en faite to welcome Les Anglaise.
One of the first sites in France to greet
the boys - a near contemporary post card
 of Boulouge-Sur-Mer railway station

When the boys were seated in the Paris train, His Worship the Mayor of West Ham (Mr Alderman JP Hurry), and those accompanying him, worked with the teachers like Trojans (ed: for American readers: not what you are thinking!)in distributing lunches to the West Ham schools. While this was going on, the French dames distributed dolls, flags and favours to the youngsters, and scenes of wild enthusiasm prevailed everywhere.

Godwin's section of the train stood opposite the entrance to the buffet, and here a group of French and English stood listening to the remarks of the young people. Very amusing it was, after some of the boys had been "chipping" them for some time to hear the French manager retort with: "Get your hair cut and sing up". This was the signal for the boys to pipe out the Marseillaise.

In a short time the train steamed out of Boulogne station and the first idea of the French country occupied the attention of the boys. The first stopping place was Amiens. Here many alighted to stretch their legs, but soon the train was off again.

As the party proceeded, the attention of the children was called to the historic incidents of the district, such as the battles of Crecy and Agincourt and the crossing of the Somme by the English under Edward III. Nothing of importance occurred from Amiens to Paris, and the party contented themselves by looking out on the well-wooded and cultivated country.

Arriving at the Gare-du-Nord about 5 o'clock, Godwin's party was met by Mr Lawler, the English master at the Institute Commercial, where the boys were to be put up at Vincennes, about four miles outside Paris. His services during the whole of the visit were invaluable, and most generously accorded.

Vincennes Town Hall today
 - a French listed building
leaving the Gare-du-Nord, following the placard "Godwin Road School" a dense crowd was encountered. It soon appeared that it was impossible to find a tram to convey the boys to Vincennes, and Mr J T Meadows-Smith, secretary of the British Chamber of Commerce, Paris very kindly came forward and accompanied us to the Place de la Republique.

The party alighted at the Institute. Here a royal reception awaited the boys. "Welcome", in huge letters, was over the entrance, drums were beat, and the young foreigners prepared to get settled into their new conditions.

On Sunday morning all were up early, for the municipalite of Paris had arranged for the West Ham schools to go down the Seine to St Cloud at 9 o'clock.  Breakfast over and prayers having been said, the boys started for the Hotel de Ville, from which point the schools were to embark. Here they were met by Mr Boumaire, the agent of the festival, our Mayor and Councillors, and the others accompanying the children. As the boats proceeded down the Seine to St Cloud, our destination, the various buildings of interest were pointed out.

A near-contemporary photo of Notre Dame,
 as the boys would have seen it.
Our Mayor, busy as usual for the good of the West Hammers was occupied by changing the boys' money into the French coinage. On the return the other schools were on the first boat, and so Godwin alone occupied the second, and the boys enjoyed themselves well, as they well know how to do.

In the afternoon a reception was held at the Town hall, Vincennes. Our Mayor, robed at the "Institute" and the members of the party followed by the boys of St Paul's and Godwin proceeded to the Town Hall. On the steps of the building, the two schools lined up on either side, while the Mayor's procession entered.

At the reception speeches of good cheer were made, and the school children of the various schools sang. Godwin's item was Wake up, my merry masters, all. The room was getting very crowded and Godwin's choir retired to the vestibule, and resumed their position later on the steps to meet the return of our Mayor, who, by the way, expressed the sentiments of the entente cordiale in such kindly terms that one of the French dignitaries said afterwards he felt ready to cry with joy.

To leave the boys for a moment, at the dinner of the house-party in the Institute, Mr Herbert, the head master proposed the toast to the Director of the Institute, Dr J Delapace O.I. and expressed the gratitude of the visitors for the good feeling manifested towards them, and at the same time reciprocating it on behalf of those located in the Institute.

Later Godwin's choir sang a number of hymns and Crossing the bar, an elaborate composition by Mr FE Wilson FRCO, of Ilford, a former teacher of Godwin, who was also one of the party.

Monday was a great day for sight-seeing, so far as Godwin was concerned, for Mr Herbert had arranged for a drive for the boys around Paris.

At ten o'clock three brakes (ed: buses) drove up, and soon they were all aboard. The first place visited was the famous Pere-le-Chaise cemetery, and here under the guidance of Mr Robert Kyle of Messrs Cook's Tours (ed: Thomas Cook), the chief great monuments were pointed out. Proceeding the party next visited Notre Dame, and the items of interest were pointed out.

After this the Parthenon, with its beautiful pictures were inspected under Mr Kyle's lucid explanation.  By this time Mr Kyle was a Godwinian, and the boys seemed like his own children; nothing was too much for him to do. Driving on, we passed the greatest shop in Paris on our way to the Champs de Mars, with that always fascinating object for boys, the Eiffel Tower.

The recently erected and "always
 fascinating object for the boys"
Eiffel Tower
Here the conveyances left us for a rest and the party proceeded to the Trocadero. Getting just a glance into this building, for a concert was about to take place, the party ascended the tower by lift, a concession Mr Kyle secured at a greatly reduced rate. Arrived at the top, all Paris was before us. The air was beautifully clear, and Mr Kyle pointed out and explained from this point of vantage all the chief buildings of Paris.

By request, the boys sang that charming part song composed by Mr HH Donald, Summer Longings. They will never forget it, surrounded as they were by the beautiful city of Paris, the glamorous Bois de Boulogne and the Avenue des Acacias, the fashionable drive of fashionable Paris.

The next objects of interest visited were the Arc de Triomphe, the Champs Elysees, the Alexander III Bridge and the tomb of Napoleon. Here the crowd was very thick, and it was with difficulty the boys were kept together. On the steps the party were photographed for the papers.

The next move was to the Place de la Concorde. The crowd was very great, and from this site our way through the Tuilleries and along the Rue de Rivoli, through lines of soldiers keeping back the people assembled to see the President. It was a wonderful sight and one the boys will ever recall.

By six o'clock all were safely back at Vincennes and so ended a unique day in Paris. Visit one of great pleasure and educational value.

Tuesday was Mr Earle's day, for the choir was due to sing at the Sarah Bernhardt Theatre at 8.30. Godwin was the first choir to sing, and made an excellent start. Many choirs, English and French sang during the morning. While this was going on, the choir crossed to the Theatre Chatelet, to sing the sight test.

Location of the boys' great triumph
 - a near contemporary post card
 of the Sarah Bernhardt Theatre
Shortly after noon the awards were announced and imagine the joy of Godwin when the judges declared that Godwin Road, West Ham was awarded one of the first prizes. We learned on the boat coming back that a first prize for sight singing also fell to Mr Earle's choir.

In the afternoon the choir went to an invitation show of pictures at the Hippodrome, and returned well pleased with the day's performances.

At dinner in the evening a very pleasing episode took place. In consideration of the kindness of Madame Delaplace and Mademoiselle Delaplace. Mr Herbert, on behalf of Godwin, presented Madame with a beautiful bouquet and Mademoiselle with a large box of chocolates. In acknowledging these the doctor made a delightful speech.

He said:
Never in my life before have I regretted so much that I cannot speak to you in English. This gift has touched us profoundly, as it happens to be the 20th anniversary of our wedding day. In embracing my wife I embrace you all. The boys have sung with French children the Marseillaise. This is not a song of war, but a hope the time is not distant when the children of the nations will only unite their voices in the songs of peace and goodwill. I ask you to raise your glasses in the cause of the Entente Cordiale.
The speech was ably translated by Mr Lawler.

following the gift to Madame Delaplace, Mr Earle, on behalf of the Godwin boys, who had made a collection of their own, presented Mr Tooth, an English student from Surbiton with a fountain pen. Mr Tooth had fairly captured the affection of the boys, and had rendered excellent service as a guide and interpreter during the visit. He had sold them chocolate, helped them to change their money, and in every way had been at the boys' beck and call.

Thoughts now began to turn homeward. On Wednesday morning, the boys went to buy presents and get ready for the return. During the morning, his Worship the Mayor and Mayoress of West Ham visited the Institute and concluded the final arrangements.

All through the visit his Worship has been most assiduous in his efforts for the comfort of the West Ham choirs, and merits the warmest gratitude from  all. His task has been most difficult, and the thanks of Godwin to his Worship are most heartily given.

Immediately before starting the house party with Dr Delaplace, Madame and Mademoiselle and the Mayor and Mayoress were photographed. The return was but a repetition of the outward journey, enthusiasm everywhere; but perhaps the warmest of all was at Forest Gate.

The Broadway was full of well-wishers, anxious to congratulate Mr Earle, Mr Herbert, Mr May and all who had seen the project through. The choir assembled around the fountain from the steps of which Mr Herbert addressed the crowd.

He thanked all who had been helpers in sending the choir to Paris. He said that all had returned safely. No accident had occurred, the first two prizes had been won.

The boys then sang two verses of a hymn and cheers were given. Thus ended this memorable episode in the history of Godwin Road school, satisfactory alike to the teachers, the boys, the parents and well-wishers of the school in Forest Gate.

Following the visit, J Trant of 6 Knighton Road, Forest Gate, wrote to the Stratford Express (see extract, below), expressing his appreciation for the efforts of the staff accompanying the trip. He wrote:

May I through the medium of your paper thank Mr and Mrs Herbert, Mr and Mrs Earle and Mr May for their kindness and attention to the boys of Godwin Road's School, during their recent visit to Paris to compete in the great musical festival. No accident, no boy left lost, no boy tired out, plenty of riding accommodation, everything for their comfort, which speaks well for the organisation of Mr Herbert and Mr Earle. I write as a parent of one of the boys.

Six weeks after the event, the local MP, Baron de Forest, hosted an event at Stratford Town Hall for the winners in the competition.  The Stratford Express covered the event in some detail (see extracts, below).

Stratford Express headline to the
presentation evening report
Edited extracts from the report, include:

Wednesday evening at the Town Hall was an occasion long to be remembered in the annals of West Ham school life, for on that evening the prizes and certificates gained by the West Ham choirs in Paris at the International Musical Competitions, were presented.

Each of the choirs received two beautifully framed certificates. The awards were: Godwin Road Boys. gained first prize for glee singing and first prize for sight singing. ... The prizes consisted of gold crown of oak and laurel leaves in the case of  Godwin Boys ... for glee singing. For sight singing Godwin Road ... received silver plaques.

The children (from all West Ham schools), numbering 150, each received a certificate, at the hands of the Mayoress, the framed certificates and prizes being presented to the conductors of the choirs by Baron de Forest MP. ...

The Mayor said that it was appropriate that the Baron should be there, because he assisted some of the choirs financially to make it possible for them to take the trip to Paris, a trip which most certainly had tended to improve the cordial relations between England and France.

No child or teacher would ever forget the experience. ... Best of all was the magnificent singing they all heard and the splendid success of the West Ham choirs. When one thought and knew they competed against all comers one felt proud of the singing abilities of the children of West Ham. ...

Baron de Forest - the area's last
 Liberal MP. He helped fund the
 Godwin trip and showed why in his
 speech - a dedicated internationalist
 who sought to prevent war via
 international friendship exchanges
Baron de Forest said ... 

'When he was first approached to assist, he did so with great pleasure, first of all because he knew many of them (the parents) were anxious the children should go to Paris, and secondly because he saw in the whole enterprise a step forward in improvement of their relations with foreign countries (Applause).
Although relations with France were very good at present, they need fear no war with the country, still he hoped that these events might encourage a series of similar festivals with other European countries, and he was hoping for an occasion when their children should be called to Berlin to participate in similar activities (Applause).


We were left wondering, at the end of writing this piece, just how many of the Godwin party, who had such a joyous time,  would have returned to France over the next six years - and not come back?