Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Boy Drowns in Leighton Buzzard Sand Pit

Men at work in Leighton Buzzard sand pit, early 20th century [Z1432/2]

Wednesday 15th August 1917: A verdict of accidental death has been given at an inquest into the death of Arthur George Watson, who fell into a sand pit and drowned while gathering wildflowers. The twelve year old London boy had arrived in Leighton Buzzard on Saturday with his mother to stay with her brother at 18 Stanbridge Road. After dinner on Sunday Arthur and another boy were sent to Page’s Park. His mother told the inquest that about half an hour later the second boy came home and said “Help, Sonny’s in the water”. When she rushed to the pit she could not see her son, only his cap lying on the bank near the bushes. He had brought her some flowers that morning and had said he would bring her some more. He had suffered from infantile paralysis [polio] which had affected his hands, but he had the use of his arms. They had come to Leighton Buzzard for a holiday because the bombs in London had upset her. The last thing her husband said to Arthur before they left was “Don’t go near the water”.

George Edward Charles, aged 8, who was also on holiday with his mother at 18 Stanbridge Road told the inquest that he, Arthur Watson and some other children went out for a walk and were told to go to Page’s Park. Sonny, as Arthur was known, had said “Don’t go there; it’s a rotten old place, and the bulls run after you; come to the sand pits.” When they got there Sonny left them sitting on the gate to go and get flowers for his mother. He fell near the water and called out “George”. The boy ran to him and found his friend in the water up to his waist. He got hold of him and dragged him onto the sand, then ran home to tell the boy’s mother. By the time he got back Arthur was in the water and could not be seen. There were boys on the other side of the pit but when he called to them for help they said they could not swim.

Due to the difficulty of dragging the pit Arthur’s body was not recovered until the following day. A police officer said that when they began dragging the pit there were no marks on the bank, but the middle of a big bush of flowers of the type the boy had been gathering had been broken down as though something had fallen through it. There was also a bush floating in the water to which the lad had apparently been clinging. The banks of the pit were treacherous due to running sand, and there was no proper path. It would be almost impossible to get out where the boy fell in because of the steep bank. The pits were fenced off from the road and the lads were really trespassing. Both the Coroner and the police thought it would be very difficult to keep boys away, as if they were prevented from reaching one pit they would go to another. P.C. Cheshire said that this year people had gone “fishing mad”, with even the munitions girls going fishing.

Source: Leighton Buzzard Observer, 21st August 1917

Sunday, 13 August 2017

News from Salonika

Music hall artiste Vesta Tilley [Wikimedia]

Monday 13th August 1917: A Bedford soldier, Corporal A. S. Kilbourn, has written home from Salonika describing the conditions faced by British troops there:

“No doubt people in Blighty consider this front very cushy, and I believe Vesta Tilley or some actress sang a song about ‘If you don’t want to fight go to Salonique.’ I need not tell you what the boys here thought of it. There certainly isn’t a lot of fighting on now. It’s the killing climate that is one’s greatest enemy. If the people of England only saw what the boys went through last year soon after arriving in the country, and what they are going through now, they wouldn’t sneer twice. They talk of Salonika as if that place is where we are at the town itself. Appranetly they don’t know that there are scores and scores of miles of mountain ranges, swamps breathing foul fevers, mosquitoes injecting fevers and sores into one, and millions of filthy flies which worry one’s body and soul in summer, to overcome, before one reaches the firing line, and that the roads aren’t tar macadamised and steam rolled, but consist of native mule tracks hardly visible, or else roads made by the troops themselves as they advanced, hewn and dynamited out of the mountains, and all under a boiling sun. They know little of the early difficulties of supply transports, especially when winter descended and turned everything into seething mud, rank swampy fever-stricken mud, which it took all one’s strength almost to get out of. Or of the boys rolling up with the fever, helpless, their blood teeming with it, and my God, it makes one’s blood boil to think of some people’s ‘gratitude’. I’d like an hour or two on a platform in England with some such people as audience.”

Source: Bedfordshire Times, 17th August 1917

Thursday, 10 August 2017

The Luton Hat Trade

Straw hat stall at Luton market, 1920 [Z1306/75/17/43]

Friday 10th August 1917: This week has seen a complete shutdown of the hat industry within Luton for a holiday. This unprecedented event would have seemed unthinkable before the war, when few workers could have accepted the loss of a week’s pay. Wages are now two or three times higher than they were at the beginning of the war, and this relative prosperity has made the luxury of a holiday closure affordable.  

This is the time of year when preparations are made for the autumn styles. It appears that felt hats will be most in demand, and local factories have been producing them in readiness for several weeks. Velvet hats are also expected to be popular. For high-class goods Lisèrie hats with a uniform glossy surface are prominent. These are made from plaits imported from the Far East, but the hat makers are having considerable difficulty working with these plaits due to an inconvenient construction method. The export trade is depressed due to the insecurity of the ocean routes. Hats are still being sent to the colonies where there is still good demand for men’s hats, although the home trade is much reduced due to the war.

The workforce in the hat industry is largely female, so it has not suffered as much from military demands as other industries. However, it is already apparent that there will be a serious labour problem when the war comes to an end. Young women have successfully taken on various occupations that were formerly considered to be men’s work. Will they be prepared to give up these jobs when the men return?

Source: Luton News, 9th August 1917

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Hockliffe Soldier Dies After Fall From Car

Hockliffe c.1905 [Z1130/60/11]

Wednesday 8th August 1917: A minor car accident has caused the death of Sergeant Herbert Henry North, the landlord of the Bell Hotel at Hockliffe. Sergeant North had served with the Bedfords during the South African War and rejoined the regiment for the present war. On Friday he was given seven days’ leave and was offered a lift from Kempston Barracks to Hockliffe by two Leighton Buzzard men. Although the car was only a two-seater all three men squeezed into the front seat, with Sergeant North on the outside near the door. Near Milton Bryan some partridges flew into the front wheels; without waiting for the car to stop, Sergeant North jumped out, apparently intending to run back and fetch a bird. However, when he jumped he lost his balance and apparently hit his head on the road. A doctor was fetched from Aspley Guise and the sergeant was taken home in an army ambulance that happened to be passing. His wife, Lizzie North, was out shopping when her husband was brought home; she returned to find him on the bed unconscious. He recovered slightly on Saturday, but died on Sunday afternoon.

Mr Ernest Heady, a motor car proprietor of Bridge Street, Leighton Buzzard, gave evidence at the inquest that Sergeant North had said “There are some birds down; pull up and I’ll get them”. He had told him to wait until the car had stopped and  slowed; when the car was almost at a standstill Sergeant North opened the door and stepped off in the opposite direction  to that in which the car was going. Mr Heady saw him lying in the road. He spoke to him but could not get an answer so went for the doctor. He thought Sergeant North was in a hurry to get the birds as he thought they were only stunned and wanted to pick them up before they got away. He was known to most of the jury as a very excitable man. P.C. Racher of Eversholt said he was on duty on Woburn when Mr Heady drove up and told him of the accident. He returned to the spot with Mr Heady and found the soldier lying at the side of the road in a pool of blood. The doctor who attended Sergeant North at home said there had been an extensive haemorrhage from the injured man’s left ear and he concluded he was suffering from a fracture at the base of the skull in addition to concussion. The jury returned a verdict of accidental death.

Source: Leighton Buzzard Observer, 14th August 1917

Friday, 4 August 2017

Eggington Vicar's Son Killed in Action

Eggington, c.1910 [Z50/42/3]

Saturday 4th August 1917: Lieutenant-Colonel Alfred Joseph Elton Sunderland of the Devon Regiment, the eldest son of the Reverent James Sunderland, Vicar of Eggington, had been killed in action. Colonel Sunderland was born in 1875 and joined the Devon Regiment in 1895. He served in the Boer War, where he took part in the relief of Ladysmith. As a result of his actions in South Africa he received the Queen’s medal with six clasps and the King’s medal with two. He was gazetted Major in September 1915, and temporary Lieutenant-Colonel in March last year.

A Toddington man has been more fortunate. Herbert Alfred Nicholls has written to his father to tell him that he has survived a gas attack but is now in hospital in France. He wrote: “I was coming out of the trenches when Fritz put over a barrage of shell gas. I put my gas helmet on when they sent over shrapnel and high explosives, and it came down and destroyed my gas mask and never touched me. I thought my time was up. I got my handkerchief and water bottle and soaked it, and put it over my mouth when they started dropping gas shells all around me. I made a dash for it as best I could. All I remember is being in the dressing station, and then in the Red Cross train, having had 10oz of blood taken out of my arm to kill the gas in me … I am feeling too weak to write any more.”

Source: Leighton Buzzard Observer, 7th and 14th August 1917

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

The Marsh Family of Luton

Arthur Marsh (left) and Albert Marsh (right)

Wednesday 1st August 1917: An 19 year old Luton soldier has been dangerously wounded in the leg, just two days after returning from home leave. Private Arthur P. Marsh, the son of Mr and Mrs. George Marsh of 30 St Ann’s Road, Luton, is now in a base hospital in France with his leg broken by a piece of shell, but says he is “keeping on smiling”. Private Marsh was so anxious to join the Army that he enlisted in the Bedfordshire Regiment in 1914 aged just 16. He was previously wounded at Ypres, where he lost a finger.

Arthur is not the only member of the Marsh family to enlist while under age. His brother, Albert, now aged 18, fought at the Somme for four months before his age was discovered and he was sent back to England. He is now back in training with the Bedfordshire Regiment. Their elder brother George, aged 25, served in the Territorials for six years before the outbreak of war. He was initially rejected for Army service, but rejoined a year later. He is now in Egypt with the Norfolk Regiment and has recently been promoted to corporal. Before the war both George and Albert were employed by Messrs. Brown and Green Ltd.[1]

George Marsh senior (left) and George Marsh junior (right)

The brothers’ father, Mr. George Marsh served with the Colours for just over a year but was then discharged through medical unfitness. He now works at Messrs. George Kent Ltd. It seems the family inherited their patriotic instincts from their grandfather, who was a Crimean War veteran.

Source: Luton News, 2nd August 1917

[1] Sadly Albert and George did not survive the war. Albert died on 1st February 1918 and was buried at the Luton Church Burial Ground. Corporal George Marsh was killed on 11th December 1917 and was buried at Ramleh Cemetery near Tel Aviv in Israel.

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Remembering a Luton Sailor

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

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

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

Source: Luton News 2nd August 1917