January to February 1915. “Rochester is Rallying”.

The Rochester Great War Report - based on newspaper reports of the time.

January to February 1915. “Rochester is Rallying”.

The bracketed dates are the publication date of the newspaper carrying the source report – all relate to 1915. Source material from Medway Archive Centre and British Newspaper Archive 

I am needing to be careful what is reported as under the The Defence of the Realm Act, (DORA) that was enacted four days after hostilities began, I must not communicate anything that may cause disaffection or alarm amongst those serving in the forces or civilians. 

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The people of Rochester are rallying to the cause! 

The services at the cathedral are “unusually well attended” and a number of social gatherings are being held for the soldiers billeted in the area. Upwards or 120 soldiers were entertained last Sunday in the recreation room of the old post office. 

The Council of the Association of Men of Kent and Kentish (21 & 23 High Street, Rochester) have decided to publish a list of their members who are or have taken part in active service and to provide gifts to the crew of HMS Chatham. The ship’s captain, in response to an enquiry from the association, advised that the crew would appreciate gifts of pipes, socks and books whilst in warms climates, and scarves and glovers if deployed in home waters. 

Voluntary efforts are growing apace in the City. Last Thursday (7 January) a very large meeting was held at the Guildhall to consider the formation of a volunteer training corp for the city to be formed on a democratic basis. When it was stated that every man was to be on equal footing there were loud cheers of hear hear. It was subsequently resolved that officers would be appointed by a show of hands by the whole corp. On the following Monday another meeting held and several hundred enrolled in the new Voluntary Training Corp. 

Excellent progress has also been made in the organisation and training of the City of Rochester Ambulance Corp that was formed shortly after war was declared. Four stations have been established Guildhall, Conservative Club Star Hill, Borstal Cottage, Borstal Road and Strood Work House. 

The drive to increase enlistment is being driven in part by a number of cartoons that I suspect are being carried nationally. On 23 January the Chatham Rochester Gillingham News published a cartoon of and father accosting a young man who was courting his daughter with the line -  "look here my lad, if you're old enough to walk out with my daughter, you are old enough to fight for her and your country”.

One must recognise the patriotism of Mr Fairey an employee of Shorts Brother was keen to join the Fly Corps but who was informed by the Admiralty that his "services as a destructor could not equal his well known abilities as a constructor.  And when Mr Wallace, solicitor, apologised to his Honour Judge Shortt at Rochester County Court, for appearing before him in the uniform of a lieutenant commander of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. The judge responded with “you could not be robed more honourably”. 

Less honourably - but perhaps understandable, if not excusable - was the conduct of Private Harry Kid, who was stationed at Rochester and had not returned for duty, who was discovered underneath the mattress of a bed - on his wedding day. 

Over Christmas our hospitals did their best to be festive. St Bartholomew's Hospital, what with having a 30 wound British and Belgium soldiers as patients had decided against the usual Christmas decorations but at the request of the soldiers found some evergreens for the ward. Spirits were also lifted by the sisters and nurses who went between the wards with lighted tapers singing carols. With few adult patients but 50 children, spending Christmas Day in St Williams the staff did their best to celebrate Christmas as usual. 

St Bartholomew's, although benefiting from gifts and cash, is struggling to meet the cost of the additional demand being placed on it. The Matron was pleased to list the gifts she had received for the wounded soldiers; these included cakes and cigarettes from Mrs. Francis and pillows and socks from Mrs Wilson - both ladies from Rochester. As important as these gifts are to the patients, St Barts is in urgent need for funds to meet the increased expenditure necessitated by the war. Provisions have increased in price - as has medication - and due to scarcity of good surgeons higher salaries have needed to be offered. 

Rochester Cathedral has made two donations £17 2s 10d and £13 17s 2d following an urgent appeal for funds to support the Kent Voluntary Detachments. 

I cannot ignore in this dispatch the losses that Rochester families are experiencing. The papers are listing names, with pictures, if they have them, of men killed or lost in action, and carrying reports as to how the “river towns of Kent” (Gillingham, Chatham and Rochester) had suffered terribly through the war … but noting that the only effect seems to be a strengthening our determination to carry on the war to a successful conclusion. 

Col H D’Arch Beaton, Mayor of Rochester, praised the patriotic spirit of the people of Chatham, Rochester an Gillingham following loss of the ships Cressy, Aboukir, Hogue, Pathfinder and Formidable, along with hundreds of brave husbands, fathers and sons. Women and children in the towns are “overloaded with grief”. Col. Beaton reported that Gillingham was most severely affected with 43 women being widowed in one street and 28 in another. (The painting “Live-Bait” commemorating the loss of the Cressy, Aboukir, Hogue, hangs in the Guildhall Museum, Rochester.)

One can’t image the grief that Mrs. Graves, of Gravel Walk, Rochester, experienced when she received a letter from the Admiralty, on what would have been her husband birthday, advising her that her husband, marine Alfred Graves, was presumed dead following the sinking of the Formidable (destroyed in a torpedo attack 1 Jan). She has since received a letter from him that he wrote the evening before the ship went down. 

Amongst the tragic stories of loss there have also been reports of great bravery. Particularly we have heard that Private H J Ranger of Rochester who joined the Royal Army Medical Corps, has been awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for his gallantry and prompt action on the battlefield. Faced with heavy fire Private Ranger brought in Prince Maurice of Battenberg who had been mortally wounded. 

Less serious but nevertheless alarming was the bomb dropped just outside of Rochester at Cliffe. Fortunately no one was hurt and no buildings damaged, but a hole 12 inches deep and several yards in circumference was created in a road. 

Sadly they’re those by temperament or circumstances who are taking advantage of the current crisis. Elizabeth Whiffen, 15 John Street, was charged with impersonating a soldiers wife and inducing various ladies to give her money; she pleaded guilty. The bench, not liking to send to prison a woman with a baby in her arms, put Whiffen on probation for a year. 

Also before the Court was Geo Davis from Rochester who was committed for trial for hoodwinking a sentry at the gate of Fort Pitt Military Hospital and then going on to steal from the nursing sister’s quarters. 

Life though goes on and the Council resolved to increase the size of the Bowling Green in castle grounds, and the cattle market continues in the castle grounds.

Do remember that if you’re planning to travel anywhere by rail do check the train times first. Owing to the demands being placed on the rail network by the military authorities the South-Eastern & Chatham railway has published a revised timetable. 

Geoff Ettridge
WW1 War Correspondent

Geoff Rambler