March to May 1915. “The Price of War is Increasing”.

The Rochester Great War Report - based on newspaper reports of the time – all dates relate to the date of publication.

March to May 1915. “The Price of War is Increasing”.

Life and commence in Rochester is radically changing. Large numbers of troops and munitions workers are now being billeted with families across the city - which is increasingly coming under the control of the military authorities. Notices have been published in the press preventing the use of the Medway, east of the bridge, by fishing and leisure craft; this will have considerable implications for those earning a living from fishing the Medway so the Council will be making representations to the authorities see whether any allowances can be made.

Casualties of War

Disturbing news is reaching us about the appalling and distressing conditions in which our prisoners of war are being held. Lord Harris, Vice Lieutenant of Kent, has arranged with Mr. J Spoor of Rede Court, to establish a fund to assist the men of the Buffs and West Kent Regiments, and men from Kent who are members of other regiments, who are being held as prisoners of war. Of particular concern is the fact that there is not a comprehensive list of who is being held prisoner and where. Anyone with information about prisoners is requested to write to Mr. Spoor. [A list of Kentish Prisoner of Wars published was subsequently published.]

The Association of the Men of Kent and Kentish Men, has also opened a fund that will be administered as an auxiliary to that established by Lord Harris. Particulars can be obtained from, and cheques sent to the secretary, 21, High Street, Rochester.

The mayors of Rochester, Chatham and Gillingham have all undertaken to send provisions and other necessities to men from their towns that are being held as prisoners of war.  Amongst the men from Rochester known to be prisoners of war are Rifleman Bennett of the Rifle Brigade, Byson of the Rifle Brigade and Pte Farrer, Royal Scots Fusiliers.

We have continued to receive casualty information. Perhaps the saddest coincidence is that of second lieutenant Nesbit, whose parents’ live in Rochester. The notice announcing that he had been promoted to a lieutenancy because of his gallantry and excellent service, appeared on the same day as the notice stating that he had been killed during fighting at Radingham, France.

Two more bodies from the Bulwark were found this week in Rochester bringing the total to 100. Another shipping disaster - the sinking of The Lusitania – has also touched Rochester. Although Mrs. Farrier, daughter of Mrs. Bingham of Fort Clarence House, was amongst those saved from the Lusitania disaster [7 May 1915]. her husband and their ten-month-old baby were lost. 

German Aliens

There seems to be a persistent and understandable concern about the possibility of German spies being in our midst. Mr. L A Goldie, Adjutant of the Rochester Volunteer Corp, deemed it advisable to meet with members of the Corp to explain that he was not German and that his name is not Goldstein or Goldberg, and that although his mother was German there was no German influence in his upbringing; 

Mr. James Bush of Bernard's Farm Stoke, who runs a lodging house found himself before the Rochester Police Court, for failing to require guests to furnish information to determine if they were aliens. Although the maximum fine was £100 the bench imposed a fine of 9s and gave a week to pay.

Air raids and Disasters

The Corners’ Court in Chatham had to hear the tragic circumstances of a fatal airship accident that occurred at Hoo. 150 bluejackets were involved in hauling an airship down by means of a long trailing rope, when it was suddenly snatched by the wind. All men let go of the rope except for James Standford (23) who was carried up 500 feet. On becoming exhausted he finally had to let go of the rope and fell to his death.

The risk of air raids remains omnipresence with a Zeppelin spotted passing over Rochester heading for the Thames. The Rochester Education Committee has instructed all headmasters to at once dismiss the children from school in case of an enemy air raid. 

The Rochester Town Council has attracted some criticism for not showing financial restraint in their decision to purchase land to build a new fire station - the fire station no doubt being required to house the motor fire engine that is to be supplied by Messrs. Merryweather and Sons, for the sum of £1,048. The fire engine will be for the use of the City Volunteer Fire Brigade  - a purchase that people may not be so critical of should Rochester experience a fire as a consequence of a bombing raid.

New lighting regulations have been brought it to make it difficult for enemy pilots, who tend to raid under the cover of darkness, to identify landmarks that will help their navigation. The new regulations require the turning off of streetlights and for householders set up blackout arrangements to prevent the escape of light from their windows. 

Daisy Holande, wife of a bargeman from Lower Upnor, and Elizabeth Bennet of 11 Dickens Terrace, Wainscott, where both early offenders under these new regulations and they were fined 23s and 20s, respectively, by Rochester Police Court for failing to obscure light.

The absence of lights on Rochester Bridge has been blamed for a recent disastrous collision on the bridge early Monday morning between a motor mail coach running from London to Dover, and a single horse mail coach proceeding from Rochester to Strood railway station to fetch mail. “The two vehicles came together in a terrific crash at the Rochester end of the bridge.” Edward Hodge, driver of the horsed van, was thrown from his seat. “He alighted on his head in the road, and fractured his skull”. [Nothing said about what injuries the horse sustained.]

Courts and Tribunals

Our Courts and Tribunals continue to be very busy enforcing DORA as well as punishing those taking advantage of the war or failing to support the war effort. The majority of appeals being made to the Local Exemption Tribunals, for exemption from conscription, are being rejected with the best that many men can expected is a deferment in their call-up to allow time to make alterative arrangements. One exception was that of Alfred William Jordon of Rose Street, Rochester, a milk carman. His duties involved moving milk up from the railway station to the creamery. An unsuccessful trial was undertaken involving two women in the moving of the milk. As they were not able to take on this duty the Tribunal gave an exemption to Jordon on the condition that he did not change his job – and should he change his job without notifying the tribunal, he would be fined £50. 

One role that women have been able to take over successfully has been that of conductors on the trams from Star Hill. “The appearance of the fair sex on the cars aroused some interest but it soon wore off.”

Pub Opening Hours

Amongst the human sadness generally reported in the Court pages, it was pleasing to find a positive report: At Rochester Police Court the Justice’s Clerk reported that this was the fifth consecutive Court in which there had not been a single charge of drunkenness, and remembering the large number of men in the district engaged in war work, that was very credible. The Mayor (Colonel H Breton) agreed and said it was plain that drunkenness was not caused by war. The Mayor thought that pubs closing earlier might be beneficial for the troops but he was not so sure that it benefited the civilian population who he speculated were now drinking at home.

Wartime Profiteering

There is a growing suspicion that some people are profiteering from the war. Reuben Davies a dairyman from Chatham, and another dairyman, Alfred Reeves, were found guilty at the Rochester Police Court for selling milk adulated by the addition of 35% of water. They were fined £2 12s 6d - including costs. The price of gas is also going up across the county. Gas companies supplying customers in Rochester, Chatham and Gillingham have all increased their prices by 3d / 1,000cu ft. They are attributing the increase to the higher price of coal. “The increased price might be due to the war but it is possible that some people are making huge profits at the expense of the consumer.”

The Government, keen to crackdown on the black-market for military equipment, has given punitive powers to the Courts to discourage such a trade. The maximum sentence is now £20 + three times the value of the goods purchased. However the Rochester Magistrates dealt leniently with Stephen Henry Muggeridge from Strood, who previously being of good character, and claiming ignorance of the law, was only fined 20s for purchasing a regimental mackintosh.

Supporting the War Effort

Our magistrates fortunately showed independence of thought when Rochester & District Laundry Company was brought before them charged under the Factory Act. The firm was accused of allowing two girls to work on Sundays in January, and also late at night on three days in the second week of January. The firm claimed that the girls were willing work the extra hours for which they were paid, in order that the company could comply with inflexible requirements of a contract it had with the Home Office. The magistrates appreciating the effort the firm was making to support the war effort only imposed a nominal fine of 1s and charged only half the usual court costs - £3 in all.

Less patriotically it has been reported that married women are leaving the employment of the laundry because the separation allowance they now receive from their husbands render it unnecessary for them to work.

The Mayor of Rochester presented the members of the (volunteer Training Corps) with their War Office Brassards - a red armlet bands with “G.R.” there on. 

An urgent appeal has been made for butchers and bakers to join the Army Service Corp. Enlistment will be for the duration - with pay 8/6 per week and keep all found; a separation allowance will be paid to the families of married men. Apply the Recruiting Officer, Dock Road. 

Health Concerns

The city’s medical officer is being kept extremely busy. He has been particularly concerned to put arrangements in place is address the plagues of flies that can infest the city in the summer. The Town Council has appointed an ex-police inspector to supervise the removal of stable manure in the City and to ensure every manure pit in the city is inspected between 1 May and 30 September. 

The Health Committee has also received claims from two families for ‘loss of time’ because they had been placed in isolation as a consequence of soldiers being billeted with them developing cerebrospinal fever [meningitis]. The committee was most displeased with this request as the military authorities should have paid the compensation.. 

St. Bartholomew’s Hospital continues to experience financial problems. It is currently £3,000 in debt and fund raising initiatives have commenced with house-to-house collects in Queensborough. The situation is expected to worsen with it being estimated that the hospital will need £9,000 next year.

On a lighter note

“A pretty war wedding was held at St Peters” between Miss Elizabeth Haddon, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Haddon of Roebuck Road, and Captain W Eric Bingham Gadd, lifted sprits in Rochester. The couple met whilst the groom was stationed in the district. The marriage was expedited as the groom expected an imminent deployment. The groom wore khaki. Mrs. Gadd wore the uniform of the Commandant of the V.A.D hospital at Rosherville, Gravesend. The bride was gowned in Ivory satin with a court train. As the couple left the church they passed under an archway of swords.

Any finally - A parishioner of St Nicholas (Rochester) suggested at a Vestry Meeting that those present should beat the bounds of the parish. Rev. A Briggs, Vicar, observed, “I think we must beat the Kaiser first.”

Geoff Ettridge
War Correspondent

 

Geoff Rambler