Rochester Great War Report – 1 September to 30 November 1915

Rochester Great War Report – 1 September to 30 November 1915

The strain is beginning to show

News reports over the past three months have been distressing and depressing both for those serving at the Fronts and for those at home.

Role of Honour

With a great sense of pride the Executive Committees of the Rochester Conservative and Liberal Associations, sent off Captain Robert N Sebage-Montefiore, prospective Unionist candidate for the city, with their sincere wishes for his safe and speedy return; sadly those wishes did not save him. Whilst commanding the Rochester troop of the Kent Yeomanry at the Dardanelles / Gallipoli he sustained serious bullet wounds to his shoulder and legs, injuries that he died of in Alexandria, .

We have also heard that Sergt.-Major J H Carter (42), who was foreman in the Corporation’s sanitary department, before the war, has been reported as drowned. He and his company were involved in landing at Gallipoli when their ship - the minesweeper Hythe - was struck by another boat; 155 are reported missing. 

Great Recruiting Rally

Despite the hardships being experienced on the Front Lines recruitment rallies continue to attract enthusiastic support. Thousands of people lined the streets in Rochester and Strood to witness the start of a great recruitment parade. The procession, led by the band of the Royal Marines, set off from Rochester High Street and made its way to Military Road, Chatham via various streets. A great sense of pride was felt as the streets were filled with the sound of marshal music and the tread of men who had already enlisted. 

Rochester can be proud of the numbers who have enlisted. Our schools have supplied a large number of ‘old boys’; 7 masters from Kings and 10 from the Maths school have enlisted, and over 300 men have left Aveling & Porter to fight. The numbers could have been more but for the essential war work being undertaken by this engineering firm, which brought it within the munition workers’ rules which prevents staff from leaving.

The large number of men enlisting is, though, having an impact on services at home. Delegates attending the general meeting of the Chatham, Rochester and District of National Union of Teachers, held at the Gordon Hotel, heard that Kent schools were struggling to cope with the loss of 8,000 teachers who have enlisted. The union did not want special treatment but felt the Government should give Appeal Tribunals instructions to take evidence from Education Committees on the impact of a teacher leaving from particular schools.

In spite of the war the school children had some cause to be cheerful what with the Rochester Education Committee deciding to extend the school holiday by a week, owing to the lateness of the hop harvest, and deciding, because of the lighting restrictions, that schools should close 30 minutes earlier.

The Green-Tented City of Medway

The population of the towns – centred on Chatham – has quadrupled in size as a consequence of the war - the Special Correspondent of the Birmingham Gazette goes as far as to describe Chatham as “a throbbing pulse of the war”.  A green-tented village that accommodates an ever-changing population, now stretches miles beyond Strood, Rochester and Gillingham. 

To help meet the needs of the troops billeted and encamped in the district Princess Marie Louise of Schleswig-Holstien visited Strood to open the commodious premises known as ‘Ye Olde Bridge Tavern’, located in the high street, as a centre for the YMCA’s work in the area.

Fundraising efforts continue for those serving and who have been wounded

The mayors of Rochester, Chatham and Gillingham are making a joint appeal for money to purchase extra warm underclothing for the Non-Commissioned Officers of the Medway Squadron of the East Kent Rifles. The Medway Squadron under the command of Major Granville Winch, a member of Rochester Town Council, will be part of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force.

Serious concern continues to be felt for the welfare of the Kent Prisoners of War. A conference was held in Chatham, attended by the Mayor of Rochester, to discuss the arrangements for sustaining regular supplies to the Prisoner of War camps. Mr. Spoor, who is coordinating the Kent effort, stressed the importance of regular supplies that will help prevent starvation and that the men can come expect. Mr. Sills, on behalf of the Rochester Relief Committee, stated that it dispatches between 15 and 20 lbs. to half their 32 men in one week and to the other half the following week.  

In addition to flag days a large number of fundraising events continue to be held to raise much needed funds to support the war effort. St Bartholomew’s, for instance, is £3,000 in debt and a house-to-house collection was undertaken between 18 and 25 October during which it is estimated that volunteers called at 40,000 houses. 

Miss Gladys Wright, diplomatist, and other lady members of the Medway Swimming Club, put on a demonstration of natation at the Watt’s Swimming Baths to raise funds in aid of wounded soldiers. The demonstration, given by Mrs. Gerald Newcombe and Miss Wright, included plunging and turning somersaults in the water. 

A collection at Gillingham Football ground raised over £30 of which £21 12s 10d was given to the West Kent Comfort Fund, £5 5s to St Bartholomew’s and £4 6s to the Maidstone Eye Hospital.

Local auctioneers held an auction in the castle grounds to raise money for the purchase the Star & Garter Hotel, Richmond as a home for disabled soldiers and Sailors - the outcome was though disappointing. Although there was some spirited bidding no sensational prices were fetched. A grand piano was sold for two guineas, and an envelope containing a postal order realised £2 10s - the postal order it contained was for 2s 6d. [In total £135 was raised compared to £702 from an auction of livestock in the Cattle Market.]

Although funds are critical to helping hospitals cope with the increased demand for their services they are also in need of specialist equipment. At a meeting held at the Guildhall it was agreed to use of the workshops of the technical institutes of Rochester, Chatham and Gillingham to make ‘hospital munitions’. These include muffs, mittens, jackets etc., as well as bed-rests, cradles, lockers and special fracture and surgical appliances. Rochester City Council donated £10 for materials to make equipment for the Rochester Hospital. People who would like to be involved in the manufacture of this equipment are invited to visit the workrooms on Saturday afternoons between 2:30 and 4:30pm.

Women feeling the Pressure?

There are an increasing number of reports of drunkenness amongst women as well as street arguments and the use of obscene language. The licensee of the Burnt Oak, Gillingham, was fined £10 at the Rochester Magistrates for permitting drunkenness on his premises. On hearing the evidence the court and police expressed concern about the increase in drunkenness amongst women. This could be symptom of the pressure that women may be under. Amongst the many other court reports, Annie Thompson, wife of a naval warrant officer, of Horsley Road, Rochester, was bought before the court for neglecting her children. She was well provided for financially but was spending too much on whisky and was therefore failing to provide adequately for children. She was sentenced to three months imprisonment. To help alleviate her distress on receiving a prison sentence, the magistrate assured her that her sentence would not entail hard labour. [The reports are silient on what happened to her children.]

Other cases before the Court have involved what could be best described as ‘community disagreements’ resulting in women engaging in heated arguments. At a recent sitting of the Rochester Court, at which the case against two married women from Parr’s Head Lane was dismissed, the Mayor observed that an increasing number of  “Rochester ladies are indulging in fisticuffs” and concluded that “it’s a very bad thing and the sooner it is put a stop to the better”.

War Time Austerity

The price of coal is escalating and having failed to come to an agreement with the local coal merchants to limit the profit on the sale of coal for domestic purposes, the Rochester and Chatham Corporations have made arrangements to buy and retail coal.  

In pursuance of austerity the Strood Guardians have decided to reduce the size of the Christmas plum puddings for inmates this year from 1lb to 3/4 lbs.; the other Christmas fare will remain much the same.

Public Notices: The Rochester, Chatham and Gillingham Gas Company have asked their customers to advise them if they experience a significant drop in gas pressure. This could occur as the company has been required by the Ministry of Munitions to alter the way it manufactures gas in order that more chemicals essential for the production of munitions, are produced.

Remember to obscure light for your safety and that of Rochester. The Rochester City Police Court continue to hear cases brought for infringement of the Lighting Order brought in under the DORA - and no one is immune, Cllr. R. Wilfred Dale, grocer in the High Street, as fined 20s for failing to obscure light despite complaining that others in the High Street are infringing this regulation. 

Geoff Ettridge, War Reporter.


Geoff Rambler