Rochester Great War Report – 1 December 1915 to 29 February, 1916.
Words in [square brackets] have been added by the author based on additional research, or to give some context to the matter being reported.
Solidarity and Self-Sacrifice through Necessity.
The Bishop of Rochester in his New Year message referred to the growing strain of war which shows no sign of abatement, and the loss of heroic lives laid down for King and Country. “The war” the bishop said “has been forced upon us by stern necessity; it is our pride that we know how to fight as Christians and as gentleman without cruelty or vindictiveness.”.
A Rush of Men
There was tremendous activity around the Guildhall on Saturday (11 December) as over 2,000 men presented themselves, before the deadline [that was extended], to attest their willingness to enlist immediately or at a future date, under what is known as the Derby Scheme. The administrative arrangements put in place proved to be wholly inadequate for the numbers presenting and staff needed to relocate from the offices across the courtyard into the Guildhall, and despite working until midnight they needed to open the office again on Sunday.
Sir Ernest Lamb, our Radical MP, was the first to be seen in the House of Commons wearing an armlet that signified he had attested under the Derby Scheme. Although nationally thousands attested the number was insufficient to meet the country’s military needs so the Government brought forward proposals for conscription in the Military Services Bill; Sir Ernest was one of 36 MPs who voted against this legislation which was passed with a huge majority.
Women Continue to Share the Burden
The two daughters of the Dean of Rochester, Misses M. & P. Storrs, along with Miss M. Hickin, Miss K. Graham and Miss Clare Latham are travelling to Erith from this district, to engage in shell-making in order that the regular munition workers can have Sundays off.
To deal with the shortage of teachers caused by illness and enlistment, the Rochester Education Committee has appointed a number of married ladies who had formally been teachers [before they married] as ‘supply’ teachers. [The Dundee Evening Telegraph reported on 4 Oct 1910, that the Rochester Education Committee had decided to request all married women teachers in their service to send in their resignations forthwith, and in future no married women were to be appointed on the teaching staff.] In Rochester and Chatham women have been taken on as postmen and teachers as temporary sorters to help with the Christmas post.
Christmas - Nave used for Communion for the first time since the Reformation!
There are proving to be more soldiers in Rochester and Strood wishing to attend Sunday services at the cathedral than can be accommodated; the Queen's Regiment has therefore been asked to attend St. Peter's. However, recognizing the significance of worshiping in the cathedral at Christmas extra services were laid on for Christmas Day.
All seven Christmas Day services at the cathedral were well attended and a special 9am parade service was also arranged for the troops. To cope with the large numbers wishing to take Communion a table was specially prepared for the Holly Sacraments which were administered in the nave for the first time since the Reformation.
Prisoner’s of War
It has been previously reported how badly the Germans are treating our soldiers who have been taken prisoner. This contrasts starkly with the way in which we are looking after German prisoners held in the Rochester PoW Camp. Based on an investigation by an American journalist who visited the camp and had free access to all the prisoners, there are 3,400 prisoners held at Rochester in large barracks which were used by the cavalry before the war. Among the prisoners are 1,000 captured at Loos. The German PoWs said they were satisfied with their treatment, with their accommodation and the quality of food; every prisoner receives daily, half a pound of meat with vegetables, and bread that is “as good as cake”. The German’s manage the internal affairs of the camp themselves under the oversight of one commandant, a couple of officers, some sergeants and about 20 soldiers. (The report includes much more ‘favourable’ information.)
Temperance – A Symbol of Solidarity?
The Bishop of Rochester addressed an inaugurating meeting of the Kent County War Time Temperance Crusade in Tunbridge Wells. The call he said was not anti-alcohol but followed the example of the King in using abstinence as a demonstration of solidarity and sacrifice with those fighting to save our country from invasion.
Although there are continuing concerns about the impact of excessive drinking the Chief Constable reported to the City’s annual licensing committee that in the past year there had been a decrease in drunkenness (29 down from 32 in 1914) even though there has been a very large increase in the population bought about by the number of soldiers stationed in the district. The Committee also received a report from the Chief Constable advising that there were now 91 ‘on’ licenses in the city including 70 ale houses and 21 beer houses, making one ‘on’ license for every 344 residents of Rochester.
Austerity and Public Services
A number of measures were considered by a special committee of the Rochester Corporation to economise on expenditure. One measure was to require households to burn their rubbish thereby reducing the need for collecting and carting it. The committee also thought that a better system for the collection of rates was needed.
Additional savings will be made by stopping the allowances paid to workmen serving in the forces as their pay now exceeds the wages they received whilst working for the Rochester Corporation, and the Education Committee has resolved not to provide desks, pianos, library books or special requisitions for schools in the ensuing year.
There are growing concerns about the state of the county’s roads. W. Banks (Surveyor, Rochester) along with representatives from other councils, met to discuss the problems brought about by the high cost of materials and shortage of manpower to maintain the roads that have suffered extra wear and tear due to military traffic.
Because of the number of difficulties encountered the Rochester Town Council have decided to take no further action in the matter of supplying coal to the poor. It may be of help to readers to know that Wm. Day & Co., 230 High Street, Rochester, is selling a device that reduces the grate size thereby enabling a banked fire to be had with less coal.
There is such a serious shortage of housing in the dockyard towns of Chatham, Rochester and Gillingham that people are offering rewards for the first intimation of empty houses, and a local paper [unnamed] is offering a reward of £5 for such information.
Our hospitals are also facing significant financial shortfalls. The Strood & Frinsbury VAD hospital that is to reopen under its new and reorganised staff, had a budget shortfall of £150. This was, in part, due to the cost of the new operating theatre and equipment costing over £100, and the authorities only allowing 2s / day / man; however I am now pleased to report that the special appeal to the public at Christmas raised the required funds.
As generous as the public has been more money is still required. The Recognised Association of Voluntary Workers at Rochester is appealing for funds as a very large order sent by the War Office for supplying the needs of four hospitals, has used up all the money that it had in hand.
The Disreputable Few
Although few in number there have been a more than one would expect of billeted soldiers stealing from their host families.
Others who are acting disreputable are the men employed in essential industries who fail to report for work or turn up unfit to work; for instance, Fred Couchman and Fred Ellmer, gasmen employed at the Medway Steel Company, were brought before the magistrates and fined £5 + costs, for ‘neglect of work’ as they presented for work drunk. As a consequence, gas required for the works to operate was not produced and essential production was lost.
Roll of Honour
It is with considerable sadness that we continue to receive information relating to the loss of lives of the inhabitants of Rochester and the surrounding towns - where widows and fatherless children abound. The loss of HMS Natal joins the list of Hogue, Cressy, Aboukir, Hermione, Amphion, Triumph, Laertes and Princess Irene - to name the most prominent - all ships with a Chatham connection. A. Scriver, A.B., of 24 Gravel Walk, was amongst the 343 lost in the sinking of the P&O liner SS Persia. [30 Dec. 1915.] We are currently waiting on news of HMS Arethusa that hit a mine – 12 crew are listed as missing. [Six may have died, www.marabese.com/arethusa.]
At home, whilst preparing for deployment, Thomas William Cowley was tragically killed after being hit by a bullet whilst undertaking machine gun training in North Street, Strood; Lieut. Dennington who was demonstrating the use of the gun was exonerated from blame.
• Pte. W Rowe from Cuxton, serving in the 6th Royal West Kent Regiment, is reported as missing. If any comrades in France have any information can they please write to Mr. & Mrs. Rowe, Dean Farm, Cuxton.
• The Rochester Volunteer Training Corp decided at a general meeting to cease to exist as a battalion and to amalgamate with the Gillingham, Chatham and Gravesend contingent. Together they will form the 4th Battalion of the Mid-Kent Regiment of the Kent Volunteer Fencibles. Rochester members will become B Company of the battalion with Mr. L A Goldie in command.
• The South Eastern and Chatham Railway Company have decided to close the Station Road entrance to Strood station so better control can be exercised over passengers going to and from the platforms.
• The posts in Two Post Alley are to be removed as they are seen as a source of danger.