What follows is an account of life in Dulwich, then forming about a third of the Borough of Camberwell, during what was once called The Great War; it has been culled from accounts in local newspapers, from the reports in the monthly issued St Barnabas Church Magazine and from oral history transcripts. It might be seen as typical of the experience of that war in many parts of Britain.
At St Barnabas Church, Dulwich, the Vicar, the Revd. Howard Nixon wrote in the August 1914 parish magazine:
“Up to the last I thought and I expect most of us thought that war was impossible, the next day war had been declared and we came to see that war was inevitable.
With the declaration of war on August 4th 1914, there was an immediate increase in the prices of groceries and building materials because of shortages caused by widespread hoarding. Prices would subside later. At Herne Hill, Williamson’s Grocers, announced that it would close until further notice.
There was a sudden widespread antipathy towards Germans living here. Non- naturalised Germans were required to register as aliens at police stations and every householder was instructed to notify the nearest police station of any Germans in the household. A goodly number of London’s 50,000 German population actually lived in Dulwich, some in the Champion Hill area (where there had been a German church in nearby Windsor Walk) and some in the area surrounding the Crystal Palace where the weekly German music concerts conducted over a period of forty years by the German born Sir August Friedrich Manns had been hugely popular. Naturalised Germans anglicised their names, even British born Gustav Von Holst, the composer who taught music part-time at James Allen’s Girls’ School who dropped the ‘von’ to his name. Elsewhere, signwriters were busy painting out the names of German owners above their shops.
Suspicion that Germans might be spies was prevalent - Adolph Schneider (25) was arrested as an alleged spy in Thurlow Park Road, “Has there been a mistake?” - he asked, thinking that it was a practical joke. His employer later vouched for him. A 32 year old German artist found wandering in the garden of the Woodlawn Hotel, Dulwich Common with £43 on him was remanded in custody and a German butcher in Peckham was arrested as an alien enemy for owning 20 ‘carrier pigeons’. He protested that they belonged to his son. At St Barnabas Church, one of the assistant curates, the Revd O R Eurich, was German by birth and somehow managed to upset the congregation with a sermon delivered just after war was declared. He felt obliged to write an apology in the next edition of the church’s magazine-
“In my sermon it was far from my thoughts to say anything to offend the patriotic feelings of members of the congregation….I sincerely regret that my remarks may have hurt the feelings of members of the congregation…I have been a naturalised citizen for 34 years. His German background also led to him being removed from the St Saviour’s Infirmary chaplaincy team.
Your Country Needs You!
When war was declared the Territorials and the National Reserve, of which many local men were volunteer members, were mobilised. The local regiment, 1st Surrey Rifles, National Reservists, was already at nearly full strength with 1806 men and 25 officers. On Thursday 6th August, the first day of recruiting at Camberwell Town Hall, 44 men enlisted, the next day there were 77, by the Saturday 104. By the middle of the August, the number of men enlisting had risen to 260 a day, and by the end of the month the number had reached 1000 a day in Camberwell alone.
So what is the explanation for enthusiasm of the men of Dulwich, Peckham and Camberwell (and of course all over the Nation) to rush to enlist? There had been a history of rivalry between the two very different empires and in Britain there had been a decade or more of rampant jingoism, before and after the Boer War. It was stimulated, in part, by the naval arms race with Germany, to build more and bigger battleships. One consequence of this was that the idea of volunteering for the Reserves or enlistment in the regular army became very popular. Some joined perhaps, because they were incensed at the occupation by Germany of neutral Belgium. Recruits were also attracted by the presence of military bands, the appeal of military uniforms and encouragement to fulfil the ideals of duty and service to the Empire. Young men were also physically fitter than they had been; sports and gymnasiums were offered by schools, employers and churches alike. It was all such fun and good comradeship. It might explain the compulsion which made young men enlist in droves. This enthusiasm to enlist is borne out locally by the extraordinary recruiting success of the Camberwell Gun Brigade.
Nor was the role of women overlooked. Even before war was declared, training was being organised for volunteer nurses at Dulwich Baths. At the same venue other volunteers were recruited to make garments for hospital use and sewing machines were being provided. Later, Dulwich Baths (2nd Class) would be briefly designated as a Base Hospital. The Crystal Palace was also offered as a hospital (it had recently been purchased by the Nation for £230,000). Locally, 350 ladies were enrolled by the Red Cross and first aid and home nursing instruction was offered at Dulwich Hamlet Institute at a fee of 1/- for the course.
The occupation by Germany of a neutral Belgium aroused great sympathy. This sympathy increased when attacks and atrocities against Belgian civilians were reported. One effect locally of the news that Germany was demanding that all aliens and mixed nationality families should leave Belgium, was that the role of Dulwich Baths was changed, from that of a military hospital to a reception centre for these Belgian refugees. By the second week of September 1914, 100 Belgian refugees had arrived at Dulwich Baths. The refugees had only 12 hours notice to quit their homes and were permitted only one suitcase of possessions. They were taken to Holland where they stayed a week or so before being transported to Ostend and ferried to Folkestone. One of the refugees was 13 year old Alice Brand who had a Belgian mother and a Yorkshire father and lived near Brussels. She was unwell for much of this time. After arrival in Folkestone they were moved to Dulwich Baths where they remained for about a week before being accommodated by a local voluntary aid committee.
Great efforts were being made in Dulwich to assist the refugees, for example, in December 1914, a Concert was held at St Barnabas Parish Hall to provide aid. The Brand family were directed to a house owned by a Mr and Mrs Richardson in Westwood Park, Forest Hill. It was there that Alice’s father became a munitions worker, her elder sister became a cleaner and Alice herself went to a grammar school in Forest Hill (Queenwood Rd School near Dartmouth Rd). Many years later she recalled that she found much kindness at the reception centre and with Mr and Mrs Richardson.
Not all the refugees could be found accommodation and the Baths continued to be used as a hostel for them. Two years later, a press report in the South London Observer noted complaints that the baths were still out of use because of the occupation by Belgian refugees.
Dulwich’s Military Hospitals
By mid-August 1914 the British Expeditionary Force had landed in France to support the left of the French line. Following the retreat from Mons and the battle of the Marne, casualties soon arrived in England and in September wounded soldiers were admitted to King’s College Hospital which was renamed No. 4 General Military Hospital and administered by the Royal Army Medical Corps. Dulwich’s first fatality was Lieutenant Rudolph Wissman, an officer in the Royal Field Artillery, who was killed on 1st September 1914. Ironically, his father (who lived at Bell House in College Road) was a naturalised German married to an English wife.
Southwark Infirmary (now Dulwich Hospital), then a Poor Law infirmary, was also taken over as a Military Hospital and opened on November 15th with the arrival of 50 convalescent invalids. St Barnabas Church promptly sent a ½ sized billiard table and a piano for use by the patients and began the first of a long succession of social events for them. The Revd Howard Nixon was appointed as the hospital’s chaplain. Elsewhere in Dulwich, large houses like Bessemer House were converted into convalescent homes for wounded officers and Kingswood House turned into a convalescent home for wounded Canadian troops courtesy of the Canadian tractor manufacturer Massey Harris.
Dulwich Defence League
The formation of the Dulwich Defence League was announced soon after war was declared. It was a kind of First World War Home Guard although many of its members would later transfer into the regular army. Among its tasks it set itself, was to guard strategic local facilities such as fire stations, against attacks by saboteurs. Its HQ was at the hall at 485 Lordship Lane near the junction with Woodvale (It would be destroyed by a V1 flying bomb in 1944). Rifle practice was carried out on the Dulwich & Sydenham golf course with butts at 25, 50 and 100 yards. The Dulwich Defence League was later renamed 1st Bn Dulwich Volunteers (South London Regt) and has its memorial in the grounds of St Peter’s Church, Dulwich Common. By 1916 the roll of regiment, which recruited from Dulwich, Camberwell and Norwood numbered 2000. A full account of its history was published in this Journal in Autumn 2008 and may be read online. A Volunteer training corps of old boys and masters of Alleyn’s School was also formed a month after war was declared and 150 members enrolled.
A Time for Heroes
The opening weeks of the war were an opportune time to have heroes who might be examples to others. Both the local and the national press carried graphic reports of the extraordinary exploits of Dulwich College-educated Sidney Vincent Sippe who was a member of the fledgling Royal Navy Air Service. Sippe was already a pilot when war broke out and took part in the very first bombing raids of World War 1 with Düsseldorf and Cologne as targets. However, it was the celebrated attack on the Zeppelin sheds and factories at Friedrichshafen, Germany on 21 November 1914 which captured the headlines. It was one of history’s first long-distance bombing missions. Sippe and two other pilots flew 125 miles (201 km) from Belfort, France, over mountainous terrain and in difficult weather - a risky flight near the limit of the aircraft's range. The distance was increased by the need to avoid flying over neutral Switzerland. Reaching the target area, Sippe crossed Lake Constance in mist while under heavy fire, descending to just ten feet above the water so as to use the mist as cover. Despite their aircraft being hit, the three pilots succeeded in bombing their targets. Two planes returned safely, one crashed and the pilot taken prisoner.
The raid was announced by Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, who called it "a fine feat of arms". One historian concluded: "The pilots deserve all praise for their admirable navigation... this flight of 250 miles, into gunfire, across enemy country, in the frail little Avro with its humble horse-power, can compare as an achievement with the best of them".
Sippe and the other returning pilot received the French Legion of Honour immediately after the Friedrichshafen raid, at the request of General Joffre himself. Sippe was also awarded the Distinguished Service Order in the 1915 New Year Honours, and the OBE in the 1919 New Year's Honours. He was also awarded the Croix de Guerre and made a Chevalier of the Belgian Order of Leopold.
Dulwich also had other heroes, one admittedly an unsung one. The Rev Sydney Bicheno Smith, the second assistant curate at St Barnabas was one of that breed of priests who were prepared to dedicate their life for their belief. He was a charismatic figure and was the warden of the St Barnabas Institute which had been founded in 1899 and had raised money to build a hall and rooms in Townley Road. It had a membership of some 270 members. In the summer of 1914 Smith had just received news of his gaining a First in Theology at the University of London and was anticipating going to work in India or China, when war broke out. Instead, he joined the Royal Army Medical Corps as a private soldier. A year later, at the instigation of his commanding officer, he transferred to become an army chaplain, serving the men of the 13th &14th Yorks and Lancasters, The Barnsley Pals battalion. In 1916 he resigned from this and was commissioned into the Royal Garrison Artillery, and sent with the ‘heavies’ to France. According to the vicar of St Barnabas, the Revd. Howard Nixon, Smith wanted to be side by side with the men and face the same danger and death with them. He was seriously wounded near Cambrai in the last month of the war in1918. He was returned to King’s College Hospital where his leg was amputated. He caught pneumonia and died in December 1918 leaving widow and daughter.
The Roll of Honour
In Dulwich, from early 1915, it became usual to publish in the monthly St Barnabas Church magazine, the names and regiments of local men who had volunteered for active service, as well as another column recording those who had been killed. This added pressure on young men to volunteer and the initial list totalled 320 names including those of 38 members of the St Barnabas Institute. By 1917 with numbers of the Roll of Honour numbering 400-500 with a further 42 killed it was deemed that the Roll was then too large to publish monthly and instead a list would be posted up in St Barnabas Church. Three supplementary lists of those who volunteered or who were called up later were printed in the magazine subsequently. The local newspapers, the South London Observer and the South London Press carried a weekly list of the names of the dead, missing and wounded. They also highlighted the volunteering for active service of well known local figures such as borough councillors, to serve as examples to others. Also featuring prominently in the newspapers were reports of those men who had had appeals against conscription rejected when it became compulsory in 1916, firstly for single men aged 18-41 years and later that year for married men.
Were there any conscientious objectors in Dulwich? In an article about the artist Percy Horton who would later live at Pond Cottages, in the Artists in Residence series in this Journal, Judy Fitton says that Horton had just left art school when conscription was introduced. He was an absolutist objector - refusing to perform any kind of service to assist the war effort. For his refusal to report for duty, Horton was sentenced to two years hard labour in prison, not being released until after the war. Horton and his fellow CO’s were subjected to a much harsher confinement than other prisoners. John Taylor is researching conscientious objectors in South London and has identified an active branch of the No-Conscription Fellowship based in East Dulwich with its headquarters in Hansler Road. Its members appear to be connected either because they were Quakers or were dedicated trades unionists who refused to fight fellow workers in Germany.
Camberwell Gun Brigade
The Revd Howard Nixon appears to have been one of those priests termed ‘ Church Militarists’. He brought to the attention of Dulwich an appeal launched for young men to volunteer for a new battalion of the Civil Service Rifles to replace the 1st Bn which had been ordered to the Front. - Nixon said that he would be glad to give men information that he had been sent. He also called attention to the parade through the Village of the Camberwell Gun and Howitzer Brigade in May 1915. The Brigade had been formed at the invitation of the Army Council to the Mayor for the Borough of Camberwell to form an artillery brigade from volunteers. The mayor wisely asked the charismatic Dulwich MP, Colonel Frederick Hall to be its commanding officer and take on the task of recruiting the men. So great was the enthusiasm to join up that Hall, who had been asked to recruit an artillery brigade of 800-900 men, actually formed an entire artillery Division made up of 4300 men. The Camberwell Gun Brigade and Howitzer Brigade’s divisional insignia was a ‘double three domino’. Exercises were carried out on Goose Green, Dulwich Park and Dulwich Hamlet FC ground.
After the march through Dulwich and Camberwell, the Brigade was sent to Bulford Barracks, Hampshire in August 1915 and embarked for France on 12-13 December 1915. as 162 Brigade Royal Field Artillery 33rd Division. They saw service in the Somme campaign 1916, Arras, Ypres, Lys, and Passchendaele. It was on Easter Monday, 1916, following a fortnight with very little sleep, that the Brigade was the first across No Man’s Land. In recognition of this feat it was awarded one of the captured 5.9 howitzers which would later be presented to the Borough of Camberwell. The Brigade was disbanded on 30th June 1919.
News from the Front
In November 1915, the first consignment of ‘comforts’ was sent to soldiers who were formerly members of the St Barnabas Institute - 47 parcels containing… “khaki handkerchiefs, cigarettes, tobacco, chocolates, a writing pad, boot laces, bachelor buttons, needle and thread, sardines, café au lait, a copy of The South London Press, the Institute annual report and a list of members”. Whether the inclusion of the last two items was an attempt to accompany the ‘comforts’ with reminders of ‘normal times’ is uncertain. For the soldiers at the Front their ‘normal times’ were somewhat different.
Harry Wall, who some readers may recall, lived for many years at Ash Cottage at the bottom of Court Lane, enlisted in April 1916 into the 1st Surrey Rifles in order to join his brother. He recalled that after three weeks of training he was sent to France, When his battalion marched to the Front, each man carried a pack weighing 110 lb (50kg) and wore two belts of ammunition to stop him from overbalancing. On reaching the Line they relieved a Highland regiment and were horrified to see the soldiers were covered in lice. Within 24 hours Wall and his comrades were similarly covered and no amount of brushing, washing or laundry would appear to shift them. The trenches were deep in mud and water which the duckboards failed to cope with. Discarded rifles and unburied bodies lined the sides of the trenches. Bloated rats abounded. In his first day in the line a bullet grazed his helmet.
Another Institute member wrote back to Dulwich
I managed to come through the Big Push safely and only suffered shell shock for a few days although the sights one has to witness at times are nearly sufficient to turn the strongest mind and I think it is only a man’s prayers and his letters from home which saves him from utter collapse.
L/Cpl Angus McFadyean who was a prisoner of war and was awaiting trial for trying to escape, wrote back to his fellows at the Institute: “I know you pray for me. I should like that prayers of thankfulness be offered that I have survived this supreme ordeal.”
In January 1918 Nixon wrote in the parish magazine:
“Sydney Proctor of Hillsborough Road was wounded early in December 1917 and died the same day. He loved his brother William and begged him to go out and serve with him, though he would have been exempted had he wished. William helped his brother all the way to the Field Dressing Station and a week later, William himself was posted missing - We hope he is a prisoner, great is the anxiety of his father. The two brothers belong to a little group of friends who came together to be confirmed.”
William was later reported as a POW
It must have been very hard for the vicar, to receive so much bad news and then console the wives, sweethearts and parents of those killed. Nevertheless, it did not dent his resolve to encourage men of the parish to enlist and he reminded everyone of their duty to join up, citing the example of the Bartlett family whose father was the Village bookseller and Registrar of births and deaths, saying that six of his sons were in uniform and a seventh was coming from Canada to join them. (In all, 8 Bartlett brothers out of 9 joined up, one was killed.) Nixon also reminded parishioners of the Russell boys -
“Mr Russell of Pond Cottages has 5 sons serving and it is probable the eldest will also join up.” (It is believed that as many as four were killed).
In 1915, Sir Evan Spicer who lived at Belair, Gallery Road sent a letter to The South London Observer as follows:
"On Aug. 10 I caused an intimation to be made in the obituary column of your paper of the death of my son, Second Lieutenant Frank Evan Spicer, having received an official notice from the War Office that he had died of wounds some days previously. On Saturday evening last I received at Tunbridge Wells a letter from my son, written after his supposed death, and consequently on Sunday morning I visited officials at the War Office, who were exceedingly kind and sympathetic and who immediately telephoned to France, and in the afternoon I had the unspeakable joy of hearing officially that my son was alive, though seriously wounded, also that he had left for England. Later in the day I had a telegram from my son saying that he had arrived in England. As I have already received a very large number of letters and telegrams of sympathy, which I and my family have greatly appreciated, I shall be much obliged if you would kindly insert this letter in your paper, as I should like my friends, in all parts to know as quickly as possible the joyful news I have received."
Sadly, his son was killed in action on 28th March 1918 aged 24 years and his name inscribed on the Arras Memorial to the Missing.
The photograph below was taken in the garden of 'Court Mount', 57 Dulwich Village adjacent to the Burial Ground in Dulwich Village. The corner of Dekker Road is visible in the photograph. It shows the two sons of the local builder and amateur artist C. B.Core. It was taken a few months before they were both killed. On the left is Private Cecil John Core (Jackie) Royal Warwickshire Regt. Born 1897 died 8 October 1917. Buried at Tyne Cot Cemetery, Passchendaele. On the right is 2nd Lieutenant Charles Gooch Core (Dickie) Royal Fusiliers. Born 1885 died 10 August 1917. Memorial; Menin Gate, Ypres.
Life in Dulwich
For civilians in Dulwich, the grief felt by the losses of their young men was coupled with a worsening home situation. While every attempt was made to allow life to continue as normal, the effects of air raids and food shortages made themselves felt. In February 1916, following on from the success of the previous month when a cake stall had been organised to raise funds for British POWs in Dolmen, Germany, a Zeppelin raid curtailed the Band of Hope annual tea and entertainment at the Parish Hall in Dulwich Village. Later a gun emplacement was built in the of JAGS for anti-Zeppelin defence. Fears that the gunfire would shatter the school windows were misplaced.
The food shortages got significantly worse in 1917 and rationing and the half day closure of shops was enforced. Taxes were raised to pay the cost of the war which was running at over £6million per day. People were encouraged to grow their own food and vacant land was turned into allotments. Fields in Burbage Road and Green Dale were converted into allotments and demonstrations of vegetable gardening held in local parks.
Commander Campbell VC
The food shortages were exacerbated by the German UBoat campaign which was causing havoc among British shipping. A Dulwich man, Commander Gordon Campbell RN, the son of Colonel Fred Campbell, commanding officer of the Dulwich Volunteer Battalion, played a major part in combating the Uboat campaign. He commanded a ‘Q’ ship, a heavily armed but disguised merchantman which acted as a decoy for a U boat attack. Campbell, who already held the DSO and bar, was awarded the VC for an action in which the Q ship he commanded, the HMS Farnborough was torpedoed . Campbell had seen the wake of the torpedo and altered course. However the torpedo struck his ship which settled in the water. The Uboat then surfaced, possibly to deal it the coup de grace. Campbell then ordered his armament to open fire and 45 shells were aimed at the submarine which was destroyed. The Farnborough survived and later continued in its under-cover role. News of the award of Campbell’s Victoria Cross award was published in the press but unusually not the circumstances, so secret was his work. It was not until the war ended that the full story of the Q ships was revealed.
Major S W Loudoun Shand VC
Like Campbell, Loudoun Shand , who grew up in Alleyn Park also attended Dulwich College, and was also awarded the Victoria Cross, in his case posthumously. The citation ran: For most conspicuous bravery. When his company attempted to climb over the parapet to attack the enemy’s trenches they were met by very fierce machine-gun fire which temporarily stopped their progress. Major Loudoun Shand immediately leapt on the parapet, helped the men over it and encouraged them in every way until he fell mortally wounded. Even then he insisted on being propped up in the trench and went on encouraging the non-commissioned officers and men until he died.
The fierce battles of 1918 caused more casualties among Dulwich’s servicemen. In May 1918, 456 Dulwich men were serving, including 76 Institute members, and 55 had been killed, a number which rose to 75 dead by the end of the war. Later however, when Nixon opened a list of names, age, rank, regiment of those killed from parish he found there were actually about 85 fatalities. The fatality rate for Dulwich’s servicemen was therefore considerably greater than the national average of 10%, probably reaching 17%. An explanation for this is possibly in the large numbers who had enlisted before conscription was introduced.
On 28th July 1919 the parish’s War Memorial Committee held its first meeting in response to a request made at the Parish Conference held a week earlier. It was decided that the War Memorial for the Parish of St Barnabas would consist of:
- The placing of 2 carved wooden tablets on the north wall of the church with names of the fallen. (about 85 names)
- The replacing of the clouded glass East Window with a memorial window in suitable glass to show the consolation of our Saviour
- Further assistance beyond government pension and allowances to widows and orphans of the fallen towards better education of the children.
It was later found that a third memorial panel would be required.
The Memorial Tablets were unveiled on 10th June (nearest day to St Barnabas Day) 1922 by Capt. Pellett (sidesman) and the East Window, made by the Whitefriars Glass Company, was dedicated by the Bishop of Woolwich on 6th July 1922.
The memorial and the East Window were destroyed in the fire of 1992. There is now no longer a complete record of those killed.
One Dulwich widow’s daughter’s education was supported by the memorial assistance fund. The widow of the Revd Smith was also offered the memorial assistance but it was declined. The Revd Smith’s daughter, Mary Vida Smith continued to live locally with her mother and went on to embroider the altar frontals of St Barnabas which were also destroyed in the fire.
A Memorial tablet to those Institute members killed was also unveiled in 1922, this has also apparently disappeared. In 1916 it had been proposed that an extension be built onto the St Barnabas Institute in Townley Road as a memorial to those members who fell. Ironically, the memorial hall was not completed until 1938, twelve months before the outbreak of the Second World War. It is now rented by the Area Health Authority and the Church benefits from this income.