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.

Fire! Fire! Fire!, in Forest Gate

Friday, 5 June 2015

Our recent feature on the shops and traders of Woodgrange Road at the turn of the last century (see here and here), has provoked a flurry of local interest in the fate of the Forest Gate fire sub-station. So, we dug around a little and owe considerable gratitude to local historian and fire service expert, Peter Williams, for what follows.

Peter is doubling up his contribution to this blog with a small display at CoffeE7, showing how things looked from their cafe window in 1900 - with the fire service in mind. So, pop along, have a coffee, and catch up on local heritage!

We've trawled through the excellent Newham Story website (see here), local photographs, maps, trade directories and Peter's detailed knowledge of the Fire Service, and put the following together.

The first record we can trace of a fire service presence in Forest Gate is in the 1890 Kelly's Street Directory, which simply states that there was a "Fire Engine Station" on Woodgrange Road.

This mention is confirmed by the 1893 Ordnance Survey Map (see below, for extract), which shows a "Fire Station" at the junction of Woodgrange and Sebert Roads - where it appears to be adjacent to a public toilet.


1893 Ordnance Survey Map detail,
 showing Fire Station at junction
 of Woodgrange and Sebert Roads.
The 1900-01 Kelly's Directory - used for the 'Woodgrange Road in 1900' blogs - confirms the location, as being in front of what is now the dentist, with the confusing "Market Place" carving on the (sadly neglected) building, at the Woodgrange/Sebert Road junction.

An early 20th century postcard (see below) shows a small wooden hut with a tall ladder in front of what is now the dentist. The detailed enlargement, immediately below this,  clearly shows what was then known as a "Street escape station" - effectively a local sub-station for the West Ham Fire Brigade. The borough service was then based adjacent to Stratford Old Town Hall, the outline of which can still be seen today.


Postcard of junction of Woodgrange
 and Sebert Roads c1900

Detail of the postcard, clearly showing
 'Fire escape station' in foreground
The "Street escape station" consisted of a man and a ladder, which would be rushed off to any local fire or emergency. Below is a close-up photograph of one, from Manchester. The escape weighed about half a ton, so having received notification of a local fire to be fought, the watchman's first task would have been to recruit passers-by to assist him in dragging the appliance to the incident! This, clearly, could only provide a limited and primitive service.


Street escape station, Manchester
 - how the local Forest Gate facility
 would have looked, c 1900
There is no indication of this Fire Service location and presence in the 1902-03 Kelly's Directory.

By 1908 a more effective local fire service sub-station had been built on the corner of what was then Forest Street, and is now occupied by the Lord Lister clinic, on Woodgrange Road. (see 1920 Ordnance Survey map, below for location). n.b. there has been some change in the layout of the streets in the years since this map was made.


1920 Ordnance Survey map detail,
 showing fire station at the end of Forest Street
The photo, below, shows a team of firemen at this location - some of whom would have been part-time or voluntary or auxiliary. Their vehicle was horse-drawn. The man in the centre of the front row of this photo was Henry Dyer, who was a local undertaker and mayor in 1914-15. He featured in our blogs on the local WW1 Hammers Battalion (see here, for details). It is likely that this photo was taken in or around the outbreak of the war.


Forest Gate Fire Station c 1914,
 with 1914-15 mayor,
Henry Dyer centre front row
We have few details of the local fire service over the next decade - including during World War 1, although we know that the station managers from 1908 - 1922 included Edward Smith, W Stringer and Alfred Braddick. 

Motorisation of the fire service fleet - particularly after the war - almost certainly sounded the death knell of the Forest Gate fire service presence.

We know that the Forest Gate depot replaced its horse-drawn vehicle with a motorised one in 1920, but it was not a hitch-free process. Prior to the introduction of the motorised fire engine, the Forest Gate station operated with one horsed fire escape, two horse carts and three firemen. The annual revenue cost of the service was a little under £630.

Although a motor vehicle was introduced to Forest Gate in 1920, by 1922 its big end had broken and the service was forced to acquire 2 horses from the council's stables - presumably to draw the pre-motorised fire vehicle to local incidents. A temporary backward step in the onward march of progress!

Motorisation, however, meant that vehicles could reach Forest Gate swiftly from the main West Ham station in Stratford, and so the pressure was on to rationalise services and close the Forest Gate sub-station. It was, in any event, a fairly quiet facility; having attended only 15 incidents in 1919, seven the following year and 18 in 1921.

A two-shift system - greatly resisted by strong trade unions at the time - was being introduced in Stratford in the early '20s, which would have meant a more comprehensive service for the borough generally.

The Forest Gate sub-station was finally closed on 31 May 1923 and the premises were taken over by the electricity department of West Ham council, which generated and supplied electricity in the borough, at the time.

Forest Gate's role, in WW1 The Hammers battalion (1)

 As part of our on-going series examining Forest Gate's role in World War 1 (see footnote for links to other articles), we are running a two-part blog on Forest Gate residents' participation in the West Ham Battalion ("The Hammers") during that war. 

We are entirely indebted to the tremendous work done by authors Elliott Taylor and Barney Alston in their recently published book Up The Hammers, available from the Newham Bookshop, Barking Road, and through their publishers, Amazon - see footnotes for details.
Cover of Up The Hammers - upon
 which much of this blog is based


This, the first episode, traces the story from the establishment of the battalion in December 1914, until the outbreak of the Battle of the Somme on 1 July 1916.

Wherever possible, we have tried to track the addresses of local volunteers and added details (including some contemporary photographs) to the authors' accounts, from censuses etc. We cannot recommend their book highly enough to anyone touched by the events described within these articles, as it gives a much lengthier and fuller account of an important part of West Ham's history.


Following outbreak of WW1 a number of "Pals" Battalions were formed, groups of mates, who joined up together in localities, throughout Britain. The West Ham Battalion was one of them, and established on 29 Dec 1914. Forest Gate skating rink, Woodgrange Road, was temporarily secured as a drill hall. The battalion was given the name "The Hammers" and 120 men were recruited within a fortnight.


Skating rink on Woodgrange Road -
where the rail air shaft is today
 - used as a drill hall for "The Hammers"
An early volunteer was William Walter Busby of 14 Sherrard Road. He was 24, worked as a chemical analyst and was studying for a BSc. He had been a member of the Officer Training Corps, as a student, and was a founding member of the 2nd West Ham Scouts, eventually to become the borough's district commissioner (see here for details). 

He and his family were well established members of Sebert Road Congregationalist church.  Members of his family continued their association with the church and authored its official history in the 1950's. 

The Hammers Battalion book's authors have been fortunate in obtaining fairly detailed diaries of William Busby's movements, at home and abroad during World War 1, and we are grateful to them for being able to quote so extensively from these, in what gives a full picture of both the man, himself, his friends and the conditions they and his comrades endured during the war.


Lt William Walter Busby. Photo
- courtesy of Newham Scouts

14 Sherrard Road today
 - Busby's home then
Battalion recruits were housed on hastily constructed wooden huts in the grounds of the 'Old House' in Wanstead Park, which today is part of the golf club. 

By the end of February they had over 1,000 volunteers and two weeks later they held a recruiting parade and march, around St James' church, Forest Gate, which lead to another influx of local recruits. 


St James church, Forest Lane,
 now demolished, then hosted
 a recruiting parade
Local venues provided entertainment to the volunteers. The staff at the Queens cinema on Romford Road, according to the authors, opened their doors and 850 of the filed in to watch the latest films.


Queen's Cinema, Romford Road,
 bombed in WW2, in 1915 offered 850 soldiers
 free film shows, now flats and shops,
 next to Barclays Bank
Among the Forest Gate volunteers were friends of William Busby - who was soon elevated to become 2nd Lieutenant - like 17-year old Bernard Page and Leonard Holthusen. Page's father, Robert Henry, was proprietor of a successful chain of florists throughout the area (including 2 Woodgrange Road - see here for further details), and lived at 143 Earlham Grove.


143 Earlham Grove today,
 then home to Bernard Page,
 and his father, the florist,
 Robert
Advert for Page, the Florists, of
 Woodgrange Road. Proprietor
 Robert was  the father of
Hammers' recruit Bernard







Twenty nine year old Leonard Holthusen was an engineering surveyor, living at 102 Claremont Road. He became the battalion's first signals officer. His older brother, Alan, of the same address, was a local GP, with a surgery a few doors from the Sebert Road Congregational church. He was quickly appointed the battalion's first medical officer. Their father, also of Claremont Road, was an "ornamental confectioner and Christmas cracker manufacturer".


102 Hampton Road today, then
 the home of Hammers' signals officer
 Leonard Holthusen, medical officer, 

Dr Alan,  and their father, an
 "ornamental confectioner"

On 23 March 1915 1,300 of the battalion mustered on Wanstead Flats and were inspected by Major General CL Woollcombe of Eastern Command. 

A month later a route march was undertaken, after some physical drill on the Flats. The journey took them to Manor Park, via High Street North, to Barking.
They then marched along Green Street, past West Ham's Boleyn ground and back to Wanstead Flats (via Stratford).


Some of the 1,300 Hammers
 mustering on Wanstead Flats in 1915

The following month there were anti-German riots in Forest Gate (see previous blog), and one magistrate commented in court that: "A West Ham Juvenile Battalion of thieves should be raised", owing to the number of children that defendants claimed had been responsible for the looting.

"The Hammers" paraded beneath their home-made colours on Wanstead Flats for the last time on 16 May 1915. Many turned out to hear the service from the Bishop of Barking and a lesson by the Mayor, Henry Dyer - who, ironically, as time was to tell -  had a very successful undertakers' business at 54 Woodgrange Road (see here).

The battalion left the district for the last time on 19 May, and the Stratford Express reported: "They appeared more like a joyous crowd of excursionists than that of a battalion of fighting men with such stern work ahead of them".


"The Hammers" parading along, The Grove,
 Stratford, spring 1915. Photo courtesy
 of Newham Archives
They were seen off by Henry Dyer, who was honorary Colonel of the West Ham Battalion. They marched to Brentwood, for further training. In mid July they were sent to Mansfield, for additional preparation, then to Salisbury Plain.

On 17 November they were on their way to France. One of the officers in the advanced party and responsible for the onward transport and accommodation arrangements was Lt Gilbert Simpson, of Osborne Road. He would appear to have been a 23 year old civil servant, previously of 3 Knighton Road, Forest Gate.


3 Knighton Road, today
 - previously home to
Lt Gilbert Simpson
"The Hammers" were, formally, the 13th Battalion of the Essex Regiment, and once in France they became part of the 2nd Division of the 6th Brigade of the British Army.

On arriving in France, the battalion made its way, by train, to St Omer then on to Bethune, on foot, where they were billeted in an old tobacco factory.

Reality of life in and around the trenches soon hit - cold, over-run by vermin, sleepless nights, constant artillery bombardment, boredom.

A truce, of sorts, provided some relief over Christmas, although that day's dinner didn't live up to hopes. William Busby noted in his diary that it: "was not altogether a success ... the cooks were drunk", on the rum meant for the soldiers!  

Len Holthusen was able to provide some relief, when he brought news that West Ham had massacred Arsenal at the Boleyn Ground, 8-2, on Christmas Day, with Syd Puddefoot banging in five.

Using surviving official battalion diaries, Taylor and Alston are able to describe the movements of "The Hammers" and the suffering inflicted on them in quite a detailed way. So, the diaries and authors are able to tell us that casualties were relatively light during their first couple of months in France, until 20 January 1916, when they suffered a heavy bombardment at the front, which included the wounding, in a barrage of artillery, of Walter Charman, a 39 year old carman (barrow trader), with previous experience in the Boer War. 

Walter who had enlisted in April 1915, recovered after his injury, survived and returned home to his wife, Ethel and their five children at 78 St James Road, off Forest Lane.


78 St James Road today -
then home to Walter Charman
The Hammers Battalion was on the move in mid-February, a little further down the trenches, and on the 16th Arthur Ley Davies was "accidentally shot by a comrade". He lived at 105 Dames Road, with his parents and had enlisted in Stratford in January 1915 - as one of the first 300 volunteers to the Hammers Brigade. 

He was badly wounded, as a result of the shooting, and was shipped home, to recover slowly. Fifteen months later, however, he was to die at sea, while still in military service.


105 Dames Road, today - then
home to Arthur Ley Davies
"accidentally shot by a comrade"
Died, in uniform, at sea in 1916
The following day, Pte Frank Cowell, a 34 year old "enamel writer and glass divider" of 68 Gwendoline Avenue, Upton Park was carefully sandbagging his bit of trench, when he was spotted and shot in the stomach, by a German sniper. Dragged down the trench, he was quickly given morphine by Busby and was evacuated to the casualty clearing station at Bethune, but died two days later.

Later that day Private Alfred Sekles, at 35 one of the oldest volunteers in the battalion, originally from Forest Gate, but by now married and living in Church Road, Manor Park, was hit. He was still breathing when he was taken to the same clearing station, but died of his wounds a week later. He is buried in the Bethune Town Cemetery.

The battalion was soon on the move again, to the area around Verdun, marching in appalling weather, to relieve French troops and face the Germans at Vimy Ridge.

Towards the end of April William Busby was granted some very welcome home leave, and his diary recalls the experience. Arriving home at Sherrard Road, in the early hours, according to his diaries and Taylor and Alston, he woke the family and: "showed souvenirs and then to bed". 

Popular souvenirs would have been bits of captured German uniforms and equipment, like the distinctive spiked helmet, belts, buckles, bayonets and sometimes handguns or grenades.

Back in England, he spent time with some of his former West Ham scout colleagues and caught up with the families of comrades in arms - such as that of Sgt Clark of Kilchurn Road, Forest Gate. He also met with the family of his old billiards opponent, Bernard Page. These were the florists, of Forest Gate and elsewhere, 

He was invited to supper by Bernard's father, then "BRP's younger brother", took him on a drive "through Chigwell, via Abridge to Theydon, then on to Loughton and Chingford, before arriving home for tea".

His final day was spent at home with his father, before, on Friday 5 May: "Packed up things and left home. Train to L'pool St, taxi to Victoria. Just caught train. No seat in Pullman.", where on his return to the front line, he was to encounter the consequences of gas attacks and the further killings of comrades in the trenches.
Alan Holthusen, local
 GP and medical officer
to Hammers Battalion,

 in unconventional dress
 - see text, below. Photo
 courtesy of Essex Regiment.
On 1 June the battalion came under sustained attack, where trenches were badly damaged. Taylor and Alston describe the role of Claremont Road doctor, Alan Holthusen, at this time:
Alan Holthusen, the medical officer, was working feverishly in very confined and extremely dangerous conditions. Since joining, Dr Holthusen had refused to wear his service tunic, opting instead to wear his tweed jacket, which had served him so well at his GP's surgery. He also wore a battered trilby for his time at the front until the initial introduction of steel 'shrapnel' helmets ... Altogether that night, Holthusen personally treated over ninety casualties from three different regiments, including those Hammers ... who were brought in by fearless stretcher bearers like Norman Bellinger. Unable to evacuate them because of the intensity of the shelling, Holthusen and his orderlies took on the status of an advanced dressing station (ADS). They finally managed to move the wounded to the rear by motor lorry between 6 am and 11 am.
The second and concluding article about the role Forest Gate soldiers played in the "Hammers Battalion" will appear next week. It starts with the Battle of the Somme and tells the story of the battalion's remaining months, and disbandment, due to loss of members, in 1918.

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) 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.

Turning the Pages of history

Wednesday, 27 May 2015


We've recently come across a great website, that specialises in getting hold of old postcards, putting them into a social and family context and relating their back story, and we are very grateful to them for inspiring this posting.

One of their subjects is a 1915 card from Dames Road - sent 100 years ago today, on 27 May. Their blog gives some fascinating details (see here) and we thought we'd paint a fuller picture, by putting it more firmly in its local context.

Below is the rather plain postcard, and it shows the shop front of TR Page, Bootmakers - with a young girl in the foreground.

Start of the tale: postcard
 of Page's shop on
 Dames Road, 1915
The second photo below, is a blow up of the image of the girl. The postcards' blog identified her as Ethel Page - daughter of the bootmaker. She was born in 1907, so would have been around 8, when the card was sent. As can be seen, she was well-dressed, including wearing a rather smart pair of boots - presumably made by her father, Thomas.

Ethel, proudly modelling her dad's boots
The recipient was her friend, Lily, in Crowthorne, Berkshire, an altogether more salubrious area than Forest Gate.

So, what can we add?

Well, Dames Road gets its name from, the Dames estate, of which it was part, until the mid nineteenth century.

The social commentators, Howarth and Wilson, in 1907, had this to say about the part from where Page traded:

In Dames Road, which for the most part runs northward from Woodford Road, are some new flats, with separate front doors. The accommodation consists of four rooms and a wash-house downstairs, and three rooms and a wash-house upstairs. They were built in 1903, and are inhabited mostly by newly married City clerks.

These flats are very strictly kept, as they are in great demand. The rest of Dames Road, which was built in 1878, is chiefly inhabited by clerks and businessmen in the City, and has shops on one side of the southern end. The rents vary from 8s 6d, per week to £40 per year. The houses have maintained their level up to the present time, but the shops are difficult to let.

We can assume, therefore, that Page's shop was constructed around 1878.

According to local trade directories, Thomas Richard Page, a boot maker, set up shop there in 1908 - around the time of the birth of his daughter, Ethel. The shop is long gone - see later - and was near the present Anna Neagle Close.

Page lived above the shop, in a four-room flat.  At the time of the 1911 census he was aged 34 and shared the accommodation with his 30-year old wife Eliza and 4 year old daughter Ethel.

Trade directories suggest that Page continued to operate as a boot maker from the premises until the end of the first World War.

By 1922 he moved his workshop a little further up the street, to 54 Dames Road, where he traded from for the next 30 years - but now as a boot repairer, rather than boot maker. Presumably  more highly automated factories in places like Northampton priced small local manufacturers out of the production of footwear. He must have felt deskilled by industrial progress.

While trading from 54, he could well have been a witness to one of the area's more dramatic events - in 1944. Although Dames Road was hit by three small explosions during the Blitz of 1940 (on 16 September and the 8th and 15th October), the damage was minor and mainly structural.

The Germans launched their much more vicious series of V1 attacks on London from June 1943, and Dames Road took a very direct and spectacular hit on 27 July 1944 - a little over 100 metres from Page's shop.

A "Doodlebug" hit a trolleybus at the junction of Dames and Pevensey Roads - by the Holly Tree pub, killing at least eight people.

Below we reproduce an extract from the following week's Stratford Express, describing the incident.

The extract is interesting, in that, apart from recording the incident (rather vaguely), it shows the level of censorship prevalent during World War 2 - designed to not give too much information to potential German spies about locations, and therefore assist in the accuracy of further bombing raids, but also in not fanning the flames of despondency and having an adverse affect on morale on local people.

Without a very detailed knowledge of local events and geography, it would be impossible to locate the bombing location referred to in the extract below. The incident was reported on an inside page of the paper, whose front page was filled with comparatively trivial local day-to-day civilian matters, and it is almost certain the newspaper underestimated (deliberately, or otherwise) the numbers of fatalities endured, in its report.

The extract below is from the Stratford Express of 4 August 1944. It may be difficult to read, so a transcription is supplied below it.

Stratford Express, 4 August 1944,
 recording the Dames Road
 trolley bus incident
Incidentally, the cinema referred to, again obliquely, as being damaged, in the headline, is almost certainly the Rio Cinema on Woodgrange Road, which was hit on 29 July (not that you would know if from the report!). It is now the location of the Durning Hall charity shop.

When a number of dwellings were damaged close to a public house (ed note: Holly Tree) and the edge of open land (ed note: Wanstead Flats); early on Thursday evening last, listening apparatus was employed by members of the rescue parties with a view to finding how many victims were trapped. It was a demanding voice, heard through a loud speaker demanding: "Quiet, please, everyone" which brought a strange silence on the scene. A moment before there had been all the noise inseparable from the aftermath of any "incident"; but the voice that came out the loud speaker altered that. Men perched precariously on debris were listening for sounds which would indicate the presence of survivors. The hush was a weird one, but it told the listeners all that they wanted to know, and in a minute came the voice again. This time it said "Thank you, carry on" and the resources were soon rapidly in progress. A passing vehicle (ed: the trolley bus) was wrecked by the blast and there was loss of life amongst those travelling on it. The dead included William Winter, Dennis Barfield, Thomas Driscoll and Reginald Hillman.

It is likely that the four mentioned above were passengers on the trolley bus, because four residents of Dames Road were also killed on that hit, according to Air Raid Precautions (ARP) records. They were: Gladys Blackman (aged 39), Wendy Blackman (aged 4), Abraham Ince (aged 76) and Edith Tilley (aged 41).

The eye witness account, below, from a very credible witness, suggests that the death toll was very much higher. No publicly available records confirm quite how many, but well into double figures, by the sound of things.


Eye witness account from
 Cyril  Demarne, later chief
 of  West Ham Fire Service
James Owen, author of Danger UXB - The heroic story of the World War 11 Bomb Disposal Teams, quotes Cyril Demarne's account of the incident. Cyril was a fireman of the time, and later became Chief Fire Officer of West Ham:

A particularly nasty, gory, situation confronted us, following a V1 explosion in Dames Road, Forest Gate. A trolley bus, crammed with home going workers had caught the full blast and the whole area was a sickening sight. Dismembered bodies littered the roadway; others were splattered over the brickwork of the houses across the way and the wreckage of the trolley bus was simply too ghastly to describe.

The roof and upper deck, together with the passengers, were blasted away. Standing passengers on the lower deck were also  flung against the fronts of houses on the other side of the road. The lower deck seated passengers were all dead. Although many of the victims had been decapitated, they were still sitting down, as if waiting to have their fares collected.

Demarne described the Dames Road bomb as "the most horrific thing I ever witnessed." Given the position he rose to in the service, and the number of incidents he must have witnessed in a long and distinguished career, that is some testimony to the horror of the event.

Thanks to local community historian, Carol Price, for pointing this reference out, and for confirming neighbourhood memories of the nature of the incident.

The houses in the photo, below, were built on the site of those destroyed by the bomb, post-war.

Junction of Pevensey and Dames
 Roads today - location of the
 trolley bus bombing in 1944
Back to the Pages of Dames Road. Thomas Richard Page ceased trading as a boot repairer at 54 Dames Road in 1952 - some 44 years after he began shop life in Forest Gate - aged 75. Presumably he retired, or died.

The business carried on, however, for another 15 or so years, in the name of Charles Thomas. We don't know whether he was a relative of Thomas, or had purchased a going business concern. Neither do we know why he ceased trading, but can assume that he became a victim of the throw-away society that would rather buy new than repair old.


The lower part of the eastern side of Dames Road was demolished in the 1970's for redevelopment, and the photo below shows the cleared ground, including what would have been Page's two shop locations, in 1984.

Lower part of Dames Road,
 undergoing redevelopment, mid 1980's
The area between Dames Road and Woodford Road is now covered by a small residential estate.


Amazing, where following the tale of a postcard can take you!

Forest Gate - short-changed

Wednesday, 20 May 2015


Newham is, of course, a one party state, at local council level. There is no formal opposition on the 60-0 body; and the elected mayor, Sir Robin Wales, is able to treat the borough as his personal fiefdom.

Council meetings are over in minutes, public scrutiny is thin on the ground and decisions are taken behind closed doors, in party caucuses, or in pubs by the cronies.

We, the citizens, are administered to and treated with contempt by the power elite.

Robin Wales, like political leaders world-wide (as Cameron will soon be showing us, by the bucket load), has a juggling act to perform, to retain power and keep the comrades happy. And he does so at our expense - quite literally.

Mates are given top, and lucrative jobs in "the cabinet", complete with meaningless sounding "portfolios". Others, whose support, or that of their communities, he needs to retain power are paid off - by our taxes - with sinecures. All but one of the nine mayoral advisors for areas of the borough are, for example, of Asian heritage. Each of the nine of them receive £6,679 p.a. for undefined purposes (i.e. in excess of £60k in total)

Step forward Cllr Rohina Rahman.



Who, you may ask? She has been a councillor for Green Street East (roughly the area south of Romford Road, between Green St and Katherine Rd.), since 2006.

She has hardly made a mark in her 9 years on the council - though has picked up £100,000 for the privilege. Google searches, a trawl through Newham Recorder back editions and the Newham Council website struggle to throw up her name once a year, on average (apart from at election times, when she is looking for votes, of course).

Forest Gate resident, Martin Warne, who runs excellent blog www.forestgate.net, has tracked her contribution to the council and its democratic processes. He recently wrote:


According to council records, in the 2014/15 municipal year, she turned up to just three of eight meetings of the Health and Social Care scrutiny commission she sits on, and not a single cabinet meeting. She attended four full meetings of the council, although the minutes do not record her uttering a single word.

That works out at about £2,000 per hour on official duties - averaging out her £11,000 p.a. councillor remuneration between recorded attendance at recorded council meetings.

Her track record, to be frank, is probably little different from many of her 59 colleagues, on the council.

So, why single her out?

Because, exactly a year ago Robin Wales appointed her his "Mayoral Advisor" on Forest Gate and awarded her £6,679 a year for the post, allegedly for one day per week's work - in addition to her basic £11k per year councillor remuneration.

What does this onerous position involve? We wish we could tell you. There is no job description or list of duties and accountabilities attached to the function.

Freedom of Information requests to the council, over a year, seeking answers to the "what does the job involve?" question have been ignored/rebuffed/evaded/frustrated.

This website - interested in all matters Forest Gate - decided to try and find out.

Two months ago, we wrote polite letters to Cllr Rahman, Robin Wales, council chief excecutive, Kim Bromley-Derry, and the council's "Head of Complaints, Members Inquiries and Freedom of Information".

The letters asked for a job description, list of duties undertaken in exchange for the remuneration, and sight of any reports produced and recommendations made, affecting our area.

Below, we reproduced the sum total of the answers received, so we can show you, in completely unedited form, what we are getting for our money.


What 2 months time and over £400,000
 a year's salaries and expenses can
 tell us about what Cllr Rahman has done
Why does Robin Wales need a "Forest Gate Advisor"? He has spent most of the last 20 years living within a couple of hundred metres of the area, and is frequently seen in and around E7 - particularly coming in and out of the railway station.

Forest Gate is probably over-represented by Newham councillors who live within the area, and  four of the district's councillors (Ellie Robinson, Rebecca Tripp and Seyi Akiwowo, from Forest Gate North and Dianne Walls from Forest Gate South) are some of the most hard working and diligent members of Newham council, active and visible within the area.

What other advice does he need about the area - that justifies the expenditure of over £6,000 per year? We are still waiting to hear - and will share the answers with you, when we do.

Just a reminder. Robin Wales is paid over £80,000 as the council's mayor - over three times the average Newham wage. Kim Derry-Bromley, the council's chief executive is paid £195,000 a year - and will get a bonus this year for being the returning officer in the general election.


Kim Derry-Bromley - the
£195k p.a. sound of silence
Both of them have a legal responsibility for ensuring that public funds are used responsibly and appropriately. One year on, they cannot, between them, offer a single line of explanation for what Newham gets by way of advice on Forest Gate, for this £6,000+ expenditure.

Cllr Rahman's £6,679 payment isn't, apparently, enough to enable her to be able to account for her actions, either. And presumably the council's "Head of Complaints, Members Inquiries and Freedom of Information", on an estimated minimum of £40k p.a., is too busy applying for other similarly exotic sounding jobs in BBC's excellent W1A to have time to respond to our request.

Robin Wales, of course, has form when it comes to wasting money on vanity projects. Like the £40m he has given Tory peer Karren Brady and her pornography producer fellow directors of West Ham, to move to a ground that most fans don't want to go to. 

Then there is the, who knows what (£1m per year?) actual costs of producing the Wales fanzine - The Newham Mag.


Robin Wales: vanity, patronage
 and no accountability
As we face 5 years of Tory government, the £20bn of cuts they promised - but wouldn't spell out during the election - will begin to tumble out. Local government, we know, will take a big hit.

How will Robin Wales react to the central government imposed cuts, locally?

Protect the poor and sacrifice vanity, or continue to squander £6,679 a year on the silent Ms Rahnam and her ilk (£60k+, in total)? 

A not unreasonable litmus test of his priorities will soon be with us.