Pay Days

“Nothing really seems to happen in this sleepy old town, except plenty of work….”, begins the Summer 1935 entry for Lichfield in The Royal Army Pay Corps Journal.

For at least 20 years, possibly longer, Lichfield was home to one of the army’s regimental pay offices.  The Army Pay Corps (known as Royal Army Pay Corps from 1920) if my understanding is correct, was the payroll department for the army. The office at Lichfield seems to have been based at Beacon Place, the house whose grounds formed much of what is now Beacon Park. This staff photo was taken outside there in May 1918. The photo is huge and so is in three parts.

The quarterly journal entries that I have copies of begin in Spring 1931 and focus mainly on sports, but inbetween the reports of cricket, tennis, football, bridge and table tennis there are other snippets of life at Beacon Place, and in Lichfield as a whole, during the period.

Here are some extracts from Spring 1937:

Spring must be on the way: the surest sign here is that the white lines on the tennis courts have been painted….Flannels are being sent to the cleaners, rackets are being plonked banjo fashion and sent to be restrung, and the good players are looking up the season’s catalogues and deciding on something really posh for this season….

Lichfield, in common with other great cities, is according to the press, going to do itself well for the Coronation. Flood lighting of the Cathedral and other important buildings, sports in the recreation grounds, glee-singing on Minster Pool (of course, this may be a stunt to make spome of these three-feet pike give themselves up), presentation of mugs to the children in the Market Place, after they have watched and cheered the Lord Mayor and all the City’s dignitaries. It will be a fine rehearsal for the Lichfield Bower which happens the following Monday and all who know Lichfield know what a fine day that is.

SQMS H Horan and Sgt R Mackreth have left us for Woolwich and Egypt respectively and Sgt R Tolley and L/Sgt J Duckworth, to whom we also extend the welcome mitt, have joined us from Palestine and Egypt respectively.

The decision to close the Lichfield office, due to a reorganisation of the system, was reported in The Tamworth Herald on April 24th 1937. Documents were transferred to York and Shrewsbury and it was said that,

The closing of Beacon Place, with the resultant removal of the entire staff would be a great loss to Lichfield

The last entry for the Lichfield office in the Royal Army Pay Corps journal that I have is Autumn 1937. I understand that Beacon Place was taken over by The Royal Army Service Corps during the Second World War, something I haven’t even begun to look at yet!

The photo and the journal entries were sent to me by Mr Bailey, curator of the AGC Museum in Winchester, after I made some enquiries for a walk I was doing in Beacon Park.  Mr Bailey has been incredibly helpful in helping me to discover more about the use of Beacon Place by the Army Pay Office and in telling me more about the RAPC generally. I have several other pieces of information that Mr Bailey has sent me, including lists of some of the employees at various times . One thing he mentioned that I find particularly interesting is that research by Dr John Black has indicated that following the campaign on the Somme in 1916, Army Pay Corps staff were sent to the Western Front and women were recruited locally to replace these men. Are these the women in the 1918 staff photo? Unfortunately, Mr Bailey hasn’t been able to find any records of names for the soldiers who departed or of the women who replaced them.

I’m especially interested in finding out more about the local people who worked at the Beacon Place office. If anyone has any further information regarding any of the above, it’s be great to hear from you.

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9 thoughts on “Pay Days

  1. I had no idea about any of that. It’s fascinating stuff. I love the description of the celebration for the Coronation, and the reference to glee-singing on Minster Pool – I assumed glee singing was a modern American term, but here we are, in Lichfield, in 1939, doing just that! And did they mean by the side of the pool, or does ‘on’ actually mean that, in which case did they have some kind of boat there, or build a platform out from the bank, over the water?
    I wonder if the Mercury archives contain any references to the Army Pay Corps during the First World War? When you consider that all over the country men were going off to fight, and women were doing their jobs, it wouldn’t have looked good to have too many Army personnel sitting around in offices.

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    • Hi Christine, thanks for the comment. I have done an online search of the newspaper archive and I had a look through the index. So far I haven’t been able to find anything on the pay office itself other than the snippet about the closure of the office, but it’s always worth having another look!

      The glee singing did make me smile. In Summer 1937, the journal report mentions the gondolas & glee singers on Minster Pool, so it looks as though they may have been singing in boats. Don’t think they would have been singing ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ though!

      With regard to the men in the office, I understand that after the commencement of the First World War, some of them had been on the front line and had been injured. Dr Black has said in an article he wrote that at least one of the men on the staff photo is missing an arm. I found this information about the pay offices generally on a website called ‘The Wartime Memories Project’. “The vast increase in soldier numbers during the Great War 1914-1918, required an increase in staff strength. By 1918 they numbered 844 Acting Paymasters, 138 lady Superintendents, 11,000 specially enlisted Clerks and 15,000 civilian Clerks”.

      It’s a fascinating part of Lichfield history, and I think this only really scratches the surface.

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  2. I wonder if everything in the Mercury would have been archived online, or whether nit would be worth going through the papers for specific years. The Tamworth Herald might not have had a lot, but I would have expected the Lichfield Mercury to have more. When I worked there I used to love looking through the old bound copies of the paper, the earlier the better – but the cellar was a bit spooky. Does the library still have them on microfiche?

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    • Yes it does still have it all on microfiche Christine. I am overdue a visit to the records office anyway. Only problem is that I get unvelieveably distracted looking through the newspaper archive. And now there’s a photo of Ian in 1987 to look for too 😉 Better book myself in for the whole week….!
      Bit of a tangent, but I wouldn’t mind hearing more about the cellar – coincidentally fits in nicely with our Museufy project!

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  3. Hi Kate, I know this location very well. I remember some of the chaps from the Great War who lived in the City, but I cannot remember any Pay Corps staff. I remember the chaps who survived both world wars paraded proudly on Remembrance Sunday. If I remember correctly there was a TA centre near to Beacon Place after the war, but I think it was disbanded and taken down along with the old Beacon Place buildings in the 60’s to make way for the houses that were built. The City of Lichfield has a long military connection. Incidently, the soldiers use to be based in Lichfield and the old barracks before the one at Whittington. I know the soldiers use to march from Whittington Barracks to the station in Tamworth in full kit to catch the train and then go on to fight in the second world war.

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    • Thanks. Its been really hard to find out much about the staff at Beacon PLace. There was a question mark as to whether it actually was there or not but I got a photo from the heritage centre to compare and there was no mistake. While I was there they showed me a photo of the barracks too – was it on the Birmingham Rd? Apparently there was a POW camp over by Beacon PLace too.

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    • There was a big laundry in Lichfield, and a lodge that used to be part of Beacon Place was called Laundry Lodge for a while so I wonder if they sent their flannels to one of these places?!

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