Weald in WW1 (2)

Conscription and the Sevenoaks Tribunals

 

 Although conscription was the norm in most European countries, Britain had always prided herself on her volunteer army, but by the middle of 1915 it became clear that not enough men were volunteering to replace the  army’s losses.

Over one million men had answered Lord Kitchener’s call in the first months of the war but by early 1915 it became clear that voluntary enlistment could not keep up with the slaughter in Gallipoli and on the Western Front. Lord Derby, Minister for Recruitment, devised a scheme that invited men between the ages of 18 and 40 to attest and agree to serve when called upon. If a man attested and was accepted he could defer his call up, he was then given an official armband, sent home and back to work. The armband showed his willingness to serve and prevented verbal and sometime physical attacks or being presented with a white feather in the street.

This approach did not result in sufficient new recruits and so, with great reluctance, the Military Service Act was passed in January 1916. In March 1916 every unmarried man or widower without dependent children and between the ages of 18 an 40 was deemed to be on the Reserve. The list of exceptions included men in holy orders, full time ministers of religion, the physically or mentally unfit and men who had tried to enlist but been rejected.  The law was passed through parliament with very great difficulty, splitting the already weak Liberal Party which never again took office. Huge demonstrations were held in London and around the country with accusations that conscription was an attack on the working classes, an attempt to smash the Trade Unions and allegations that we were “no better than the Germans”.

Eligible men were allocated a “class” and had to keep an eye on the public notices to see when their class was called up, then report to the recruiting office. The Sevenoaks Chronicle started printing lists of men, as many as a hundred in one issue, who had not appeared when called and asked for information to enable these men to be found; “under no circumstances will the name of the informant be disclosed”.  The usual reasons for non-appearance were that the family had moved or sons had left for pastures new or, in several cases, the man was already in the Armed Forces.

 Meanwhile Tribunals were set up to hear requests for exemption from conscription and the  Sevenoaks Rural Tribunals were faithfully recorded in the Chronicle.  Farmers and their workers sometimes assumed they were exempt but this was not the case. In early 1917 several men from Weald found themselves before the tribunal pleading the case for themselves or their workers. When a farm worker was called up, the farmer was given time to find a substitute from the many men classified as unfit for the armed forces. Many of these were also unfit for farm work as a reference supplied with the man sent to Mr Renwick shows. This reference, which was produced at the Tribunal says,

“He would be absolutely useless. He is deaf, dull of understanding, of the navvy type and has not the slightest knowledge of any kind”. Let us hope the man was also illiterate and could not read his reference. Mr Renwick’s two cowmen were given three months exemption while he looked for a better alternative.

Albert Paige, a wheelwright in the village, also produced a piece of paper which he waved at the Chairman saying, “this will show you what we have got to do at the present time” but the Chairman replied, “and we are too busy to read it, there is no need as you have conditional exemption”.

Albert’s younger brother, Herbert Alexander, variously called Alex, Alec, Alick in the Chronicle,  had enlisted under the Derby Plan in November 1915 and, after taking a trade test as a wheelwright, joined the elite Tank Regiment in April 1916. In spite of being badly wounded twice he survived the war.

Most farmers were finding it difficult to manage without their skilled workers. Mr Pearson, farming at Morleys Farm, found the conscientious objector assigned to him was “an ignoramus in agriculture” and was given another three months to find a substitute for his younger son, Kenneth. He retained the services of his older son as a ploughman but by September 1917 he too was called to the Tribunal and allowed 6 months exemption.  Mr Campbell of Hatchlands Farm lost Edwin Boakes, his cowman, who ended up in the Grenadier Guards attached to a machine gun corps. He was wounded in early 1918 and sent to hospital in London. Mr Golding of Westwood Farm was given six months to find a replacement for his ploughman, F Webb. 18 year old William Chapman, in the opinion of the Tribunal, would be of more use in the army than working as a carter’s mate for Mr Sears and was “ordered up” within 21 days.

Some men appeared several times to ask for exemption. Mr. Jordan, a 40 year old butcher, first applied in April 1917 saying he was the only butcher in Weald and also worked as a farmer. He was allowed three months on condition that he assisted Sevenoaks butchers with slaughtering. In July he was granted another six months as he was a one man business and helped out at haymaking. The Kent War Agricultural Committee had the power to grant certificates to men they deemed to be full time farmers and so exempt.  Mr Jordan applied for a certificate which was refused but in May 1918, he was referred to the Food Control Committee, presumably in his role as a butcher. As his name does not appear in any later reports it seems that this he managed to spend the war in Weald.

In 1918 Mr A C Gasson, 49, and Mr G Stanley, 36, were still waiting for their certificates to prove they were legitimate farmers so their cases were adjourned. Bureaucracy, it seems, has always been exceedingly slow. Mr J Reed, who cultivated 3 acres for Mr Young of Young’s Stores in Sevenoaks and supplied the indoor staff with vegetables, heard that this was not sufficiently important and was refused exemption.

However, on occasion, the Tribunal could show mercy as in the case of Mr E A Heath, a sweep of Westerham. His elderly, infirm father had already sent seven of his eight sons to the Front and relied on this last son to carry on the business. Total exemption was granted.

Tribunal reports between August and  October 1918 contained no more reports of Weald men.

Copyright Sheila Hocking

 

 

 

 

 

                               Albert Miles. Died July 25th 1918

 

Albert was the middle one in Enos and Fanny Miles’s family of five sons. The boys were all born in Weald and shortly after the birth of the last son, Amos, their parents had all the boys baptised together on October 16th 1905 at St. George’s Church. By this time William, the eldest boy, was ten years old. The five boys attended Weald School but did not have far to walk as they were then living in Ark Cottage on Morley’s Road.

Enos was working as a labourer in the stone quarries in 1911 with William who worked as a stable boy with the stone contractor while Frederick, Albert, George and Amos were still at school. 

William enlisted in 1914 with the Royal West Kent (Queen’s Own) Regiment and by early 1915 was in France. He was taken prisoner in 1916 and finally returned to Weald in December 1918. The Chronicle of December 20th 1918 tells his story.

 

“A Returned Prisoner.

 Pte. William Miles of the Royal West Kent Regiment, eldest son of Mr. and Mrs. Enos Miles of Windmill Cottages, Weald, is the second released prisoner to return to the village. He joined HM Forces in 1914 and went to France early in 1915, where he worked behind German lines at Queant until taken prisoner on 18th March 1916. The first part of the time he spent in clearing roadways, etc., with practically nothing to eat; in fact conditions of living were so bad that at times life was almost unbearable, until after about six months when parcels from home were given to him for the first time, although a great number had been sent. Then matters began to slightly improve, though still many hardships had to be endured by the prisoners until the almost unbelievable news was received that the Armistice was signed and life once more held out the hope of freedom. He is spending his two months leave, which he justly deserves, with his parents”.

 

George, the fourth son, signed on in the Royal Navy in 1918 as a “Boy” and trained at HMS Ganges. When he turned 21 years old in February 1920 he signed on for 12 years.  However his naval career was cut short when he was invalided out and sent home from Malta to Haslar Hospital in September where he remained at least until the end of 1920.

 

Albert had only four years of working life before he was called up in late summer 1917 as Private G/44754 in the Middlesex Regiment but was soon transferred to the 7th (City of London) Battalion of the London Regiment and sent to France. The 7th were nicknamed “The Shiny Seventh” as they had brass buttons on their tunics instead of the black buttons worn by the rest of the Regiment.

Early in the following year the German Spring Offensive of 1918 resulted in very heavy fighting along Western Front over ground that had seen battle since the start of the war and the Allies had to defend fiercely to protect their supply lines from the Channel ports. Albert and the Shiny Seventh were heavily engaged in these battles and sustained heavy losses but it was only towards the end of this offensive that Albert was killed on July 25th aged just 19 years. His body was never recovered and his death is commemorated on the Pozieres Memorial, Somme, France.

 

At the unveiling of the Weald War Memorial a floral tribute was left for him bearing the message

 “In loving memory of Albert Miles from Mother, Father and brothers”.

 

Amos was too young to serve in the Armed forces and there are no records found for Frederick, the second son. There is a record of a happier event however as in July 1922 he was married in Tonbridge to Daisy Alice Parsons.

 

On the Commonwealth War Graves records of Albert’s death (which did not appear until after the war) it names his parents and gives their address as 5, Victory Cottages, The Weald. These cottages were built immediately after the war as part of an attempt to improve the very poor housing stock in the Weald. There were two types, one with a parlour and one without with different rents payable. According to Parish Council records it was a difficult decision to decide who could have these desirable dwellings so perhaps this family’s sacrifices were recognised in this way.

Copyright Sheila Hocking

 

 

ARTHUR MARTIN.  Died September 28th 1918

Arthur Martin was born in Eggpie Lane to James, who had been for many years a gamekeeper on the Nizels Estate, and Ann Martin who came from Great Bedwyn in Wiltshire. She was working as a general servant at Nizels where she met James. Her maiden name was Martin so no change of when she married. Arthur, the youngest of their fourteen children, was born in July 1898. Ten children from this large family survived to adulthood. The family had moved to Queens’ Head Cottage at the bottom of Riverhill by 1911 when the Census shows only the youngest three boys still living at home; 23 year old Frank, who worked on the roads for the Rural district Council, 18 year old Jim, who was an under gardener and 12 year old Arthur who was still at school. By this time James was working as a farm labourer.

Arthur made his mark at Weald School when he earned a “work prize” in 1904 at the age of five or six years. The school records do not say what form these prizes took. He left school at the age of fourteen years but what he did between that time and his enlistment is unknown. Arthur would have been conscripted in late 1916 after his 18th birthday.

David Hughes’ research for the Kent War Memorials Transcription Project (Kent Fallen) suggests that he became a Private 67249 in the 2/2 City of London Battalion, London Regiment (Royal Fusiliers). After training, Arthur joined his Regiment on the Western Front but, at some unknown time, he was captured and taken as a prisoner to Valenciennes which remained in German hands until early November 1918. Arthur had died there on 28th September 1918 and was buried by his German captors in the St Roch Command Cemetery. He would have been just 20 years old. His record shows that he “Died” rather than “Died of Wounds” or “Killed in Action” so David suggests that he may have been an early victim of the ‘flu pandemic that was to take so many lives between early 1918 and late 1920.

Searching the Commonwealth War Graves records shows up about 300 men called Arthur Martin or A. Martin. Many died too early in the war to be our Arthur and other have further details of next of kin to rule them out of the search. Without some further detail, enlistment papers, a date of birth or a link to Weald to tie this man to Arthur of Queen’s Head Cottage, doubts are bound to remain.

However, the Arthur Martin born to James and Ann is the only Arthur Martin of the right age (in fact of any age) recorded in Weald and is no doubt the Arthur Martin commemorated on our Memorial.

Two of Arthur’s older brothers, Jim and Fred, are mentioned in The Sevenoaks Chronicle as “home on leave”.

Copyright Sheila Hocking

 

Paul Beanlands: died 18 May 1919

 

Paul Beanlands, the only surviving son of Canon A J and Mrs Beanlands, was born in 1897 in Victoria, Canada, where his father was the Rector and Canon Residentiary at the Cathedral. Canon Beanlands had moved to Canada in 1884 where Paul and his three sisters were born.

 

At the age of 11 years, he was sent to Oundle School in Northamptonshire and passed into the Royal Military College at Sandhurst in 1914. Paul was gazetted to the Hampshire Regiment at the age of 17 years and went as 2nd Lieutenant to France in January 1915.

It is hard to imagine a lad of 17 years with a few months of military training leading his men “over the top” but, unlike the majority of young officers, he survived the Battle of Ypres unscathed. While on leave in 1916 he learned to fly and on 20th February he obtained his Aviator’s certificate at the Military Flying School, Shoreham in a Maurice Farman Biplane. He then transferred to the 70 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps and scored his first victory in the air over France in September 1916. After joining the 24 Squadron  as Flight Commander, he scored seven more victories in 1917 and 1918. This distinguished service earned him the Military Cross awarded on 23rd  December 1917. Shortly after his final aerial victory in March 1918 he was badly wounded with gunshot wounds to both legs after which, although making a good recovery, he did not return to combat duty. Instead he was appointed Examining Wing Officer to the 18th Wing RAF.

Sadly this also proved to be a dangerous appointment as on 8th May 1919 the plane he was flying crashed at Northolt, Middlesex and he was killed, aged 21 years.

 

He is buried with his father, who had died unexpectedly in September 1917. They lie together in St Nicholas’ Churchyard, New Ground, North West corner.

 

Copyright Sheila Hocking

 

 

 

 

ALFRED GEORGE MILLER Died 4th July 1921

 

Alfred George Miller, the fourth child and eldest son of Alfred George and Rose Miller was born in Speldhurst in 1899. Although baptised Alfred George after his father it seems he soon became known to family and friends as George, no doubt saving a lot of confusion. Before George started school his father took a job as a gamekeeper and the family moved to Bowzells. Another five children were born in the years after the move but, sadly, two of the sons died in infancy. The remaining seven children, four girls and three boys all went to Weald school, together with the youngest two Bashford children, Cissy and Leonard  and the youngest three Wynn children, Roland, Herbert and Ethel. The three families were close neighbours at Bowzells.

George would have left the village school at the age of fourteen and found employment locally. It seems likely that, early in the war, he took advantage the local Rifle and Miniature Rifle clubs at Shenden or in Sevenoaks and learned to shoot. These clubs offered free membership, use of a weapon and cheap ammunition for those wishing to learn how to handle a rifle.

However it was, when George was eventually called up in late 1917/early 1918, he joined the Rifle Brigade as Rifleman 46711.  After training he went to France to the 12th Battalion, Prince Consort’s Own. They were engaged in the 2nd Battle of the Somme in the final fierce struggle to push back the Germans who had made advances in their Spring Offensive. It was when the Prince Consort’s Own were attacking the village of Mezieres, which they finally captured, that George was badly gassed. His military records no longer exist so it is not known when exactly this happened but it must have been in late 1918. He was sent back to England and discharged from the army as unfit.

Things seemed to improve for him as he was accepted for training by the Metropolitan Police,

G Division and lived in the Compton Place Section House near St Pancras. He was engaged to marry Lily Webb but early in 1921 he became ill, finally being admitted to the Royal Free Hospital where he lay for ten weeks before his death on July 4th aged almost 22 years. His death certificate gives the cause of his death as pneumonia, empyema and toxaemia. It is possible that these could have a been a result of the earlier damage to his lungs from the gas.

 

At his funeral at St George’s church there were many floral tributes from his family and police colleagues and two from their neighbours, the Wynn and Bashford families.

Three young men from the tiny hamlet of Bowzells  died as a result of the war, all three at about 22 years of age; Leonard Bashford died in battle near Jerusalem, Herbert Wynn died from gunshot wounds in hospital in Bologne, both in 1917, and George Miller in hospital in London.

 

Copyright Sheila Hocking