Any Old Iron?

When I was a little girl, my great (in all senses of the word!) granddad told me that the railings at the local cemetery in Birmingham had been taken for the war effort.  Ever since then it’s been my understanding that iron and other metals collected from homes, gardens and public places during the Second World War, were transformed into munitions. However, earlier this year a comment on Facebook, suggesting that the recycling of metal for the war effort was a myth, made me question this long held belief.

What is not in doubt is that places up and down the country handed over their railings, including Lichfield.  I understand that to begin with they were offered up on a voluntary basis but in 1941, the Ministry of Supply made the requisition of all ‘unnecessary iron or steel railings’ compulsory, for use in the foundries. The Lichfield Mercury carried an announcement that the Council had been instructed to make a survey and draw up a list of those to be surrendered. Compensation was available but the Ministry hoped that the majority of owners would give their railings freely! I have seen several suggestions that any reluctance was seen as unpatriotic (and perhaps there are hints of this in the discussions that follow below). Guidelines were issued on which type of railings were necessary and therefore exempt including:

1- Railings which should be maintained for safety reasons
2- Railings necessary to prevent cattle from straying
3- Railings of special artistic merit or historic value.

The remains of metal railings at Lichfield Library (the Friary Girls School at the time of WW2).

This perhaps explains why the library (then the Friary Girls School) lost its railings, but the decorative eighteenth century wrought iron gates outside the Angel Croft remained. It’s a little ironic that these listed railings were saved from the scrapheap back in the 1940s only to be left to rust away in-situ in more recent times.

Listed wrought iron gates outside the listed Angel Croft hotel – all appear on the English Heritage ‘At Risk’ register

For an insight into some of the discussions that took place at the time,  I’ve summarised part of a Council meeting that took place in June 1941, concerning the requisition of the railings that once stood around the gardens at Greenhill. Cllr Tayler argued that their removal should be deferred as they were necessary to prevent trespassing in the garden and to protect the water tank underneath, and asked why such a small amount of railings doing such necessary work should be removed when there was a large amount of ornamental fencing in the city still in place. Cllr.Taylor mentioned the railings around the Friary School in particular, explaining that there were more tonnes of railings there than hundredweights at Greenhill. He acknowledged that they were nice to look through, and that one could almost imagine they were looking at the Garden of Eden at times, but argued that if they wanted to get the serpent Hitler out, the Friary’s railings should be taken as a valuable contribution for the Minister’s appeal.

Whilst Cllr Taylor got his way at the Friary, his point about Greenhill was rejected. The Mayor felt that the council could not expect people to remove their railings if the council was unwilling to surrender their own. He also felt the removal of the Greenhill railings would enhance the beauty of that little park, creating a place where the old people of Lichfield could go for an enjoyable smoke. Cllr. Tayler remained unconvinced by this vision – he thought it was more likely to become a car park for Winterton’s auction. Alderman Deacon agreed – he thought opening up the space would lead to trespassing left, right and centre. He also voiced his frustration regarding the government’s campaign saying, “If the necessity for railings is so urgent as the Ministry of Supply said, why don’t they make a requisition for the whole of it…the Government should adopt a proper attitude and make a requisition for the whole of it”. Cllr. Moseley’s attempts to appease both sides by suggesting the decision be deferred to allow the members to visit the site were met with strong words from Cllr. Wiliams. “It seems pitiful to me. We are at war, and the Prime Minister’s speech not many hours ago gave the excuse of getting out of Crete because we did not have sufficient of this and the other. I take it we should never have attempted to recommend the removal of this scrap metal unless it was wanted, and yet these old historical people get up and say, ‘Don’t take it away as it will spoil the beauty of the city’. We have not in Lichfield felt the war, and it would be a damned good thing if we had a shot at it, and then we should realise what our army, navy and air force have to put up with. I can’t understand this spirit of Cromwell today. If we can help a little bit in Lichfield by scrapping our railings, let us do it with a good heart. Cllr Collins echoed these thoughts by adding, “We called it the ancient and loyal city and I think we can add one word – patriotic. I would certainly support the giving up of these railings on patriotic grounds and also that all other railings in Lichfield should be given up”. With these words, Cllr Tayler’s attempt to save Greenhill’s railings was defeated.

At the same meeting, Cllr. Halfpenny suggested that the railings in the Museum Grounds be salvaged and replaced by wire and fencing. The previous summer, the Council had decided to sell the old guns from the Crimean and First World Wars which were on display in the grounds. Again, this decision was reached following a fascinating and, at times, seemingly heated discussion. Cllr. Collins opposed the sale of these old war relics believing that they had been given to Lichfield as a token of the courage, bravery and endurance of the men of the 2nd Battalion of the South Staffordshire Regiment (the First World War gun had apparently been captured by them on 3 August 1918). It did not cost anything to keep them, not even a rag or a drop of oil, and he believed that there may be many South Staffordshire soldiers who passed by that gun and had a chat about days gone by. The Russian gun from the Crimea put Cllr. Collins in mind of his school days and some of the battles that had been fought. In his opinion, the guns should stay where they were and wait for the next one to come and keep them company. Alderman Bridgeman agreed, as did Cllr. Williams, Alderman Hall and Cllr. Moseley, who thought that they made the grounds more interesting.  However, Cllr. Tayler was firmly in favour of the sale. He believed that the ‘morbid sentimentality’ that they had heard that evening had led the nation into the deplorable condition it now found itself in. Too much consideration had been given to German relics and Germans since 1918. The nation needed iron and what better to have than that sort of scrap iron. He acknowledged that the guns were of interest but felt that they could not afford simply to allow them to lie about for people to look at when they were the very thing the nation and the army wanted. Cllr. Nevill added that the old first world war gun had been lying around for the last twenty years, used only as a plaything for the children. Cllr. Bather reminded the meeting that the country was having to import iron from the States at exorbitant prices and believed, ‘If that gun was turned into a new one to use against the Germans, it would be the finest thing that could happen to it’. The decision was taken to sell the guns to a local metal merchant who had been granted a license by the Ministry of Supply to purchase scrap of all descriptions. However, what became of the guns after that?

The old war guns are taken away after being sold to a local scrap metal firm. Photograph taken from Lichfield Mercury Archive

There are numerous blogs and discussion boards on the subject of Britain’s war effort. On some you’ll find tales of railings being dumped in the Thames and the North Sea and of piles of metal rusting away in fields and depots. Perhaps somewhere amongst the propaganda and the myth, is the real story of what happened to the ‘scrap’ metal collected here in Lichfield and elsewhere.

Notes: There’s a great Pathe film clip called ‘Park Railings for Munitions’, which you can watch here.

Source: Lichfield Mercury Archives

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A Life of Service

Inside St Chad’s Church is a memorial dedicated to the men of the parish who lost their lives in the First World War. One of those commemorated on the memorial is also remembered on a separate plaque alongside the memorial, featuring a statue of St George and the following inscription:

To the honoured memory of Alfred Cleveley Sergeant South Staffordshire Regiment. He was in service at Elmhurst Hall and enlisted in August 1914 and fought in Gallipoli and in France where he gained the military medal and fell in action on May 12th 1917 aged 32.

The memorial was given by Alfred’s former employer, Mrs Hamer, who was renting the now demolished Elmhurst Hall at the time. Before coming to Elmhurst Alfred, who was originally from Powick in Worcester, had been employed as a ‘house and garden boy’ at The Rectory in Shobdon in Herefordshire in 1901 and as a butler at Aldersey Hall in Cheshire in 1911, possibly the position he left to come to Elmhurst Hall.

Elmhurst Hall Source: Wikimedia Commons

I’ve found Alfred’s medal card at the National Archives (as well as the Military Medal, Alfred also received the British War Medal, the Victory Medal and the 1914/15 Star), and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission record that tells us that his name is inscribed on the Arras Memorial. However, one thing I can’t find is his name on the main War Memorial in the Garden of Remembrance near to Minster Pool.

I was wondering whether this had something to do with Alfred not being ‘a local’ as such, and then I found the speech that was read at the memorial’s dedication ceremony on October 20th 1920.  Major Longstaff, the Chairman of the Memorial Committee explained

‘This being a City Memorial, it was decided to limit the names to be inscribed to those born in the City, or whose house or permanent address at the time of joining the Imperial Forces was within the City and who lost their lives in the war…Further, the great sacrifice made by those whose names are here recorded was an equal one, and we decided that the names only, without rank or unit, should be recorded in alphabetical order’.

Presumably then, living and working at Elmhurst Hall wasn’t classed as having a permanent address in Lichfield? I wonder if this was a standard approach for those in service? I also wonder how common it was for employers to commemorate their domestic staff? Actually, I did notice for the first time that not all of the names are in alphabetical order which suggests that some may have been added at a later date?

I’m very grateful to Steve Lightfoot who has been making some enquiries regarding the time that Sergeant Alfred Cleveley spent in the 1st Battalion of the South Staffs regiment, and the regiment’s role in the Battle of Arras where it seems he lost his life.  I’m looking forward to hopefully hearing more of Alfred’s story but one final question for the time being – where are Alfred’s medals now?

Burning Questions

Before moving on to the Trent Valley Brewery, I’ve found a little more information to share on the City Brewery, regarding what happened on the night of the fire, and in the aftermath.

The Maltings survived the fire that destroyed the majority of the City Brewery in 1916.

At a Lichfield City Council meeting in November 1916, two versions of events were heard by those present. The report by Mr Salford, Captain of the City Fire Brigade, had already been accepted by the General Purposes Committee who told the meeting that they were satisfied with the work and conduct of the brigade, and proposed that the report, which I’ve summarised below, be adopted.

At quarter past five on the morning of 25th October 1916, the police telephoned him to say that the City Brewery was on fire. On hearing the news he turned out and met Fireman Gilbert in Lombard St, who was on his way to tell the Captain and the horsemen that they were needed. His own alarm bell had not rung, as it was out of order.  On arriving at the Fire Station, some of the crew had already left with the hose cart and so, with the help of two others, he attached horses to the engine. On arriving at the Birmingham Rd, it seemed to the fire had been burning for some time. The engine was set up to work from the City Brewery basin of the canal with two lines of hoses, one of which was used inside the malt house (half of which was saved), and the other used to protect the boiler room (also saved). At some point, other crews arrived  and though they battled hard against the fire in other parts of the brewery, it was beyond saving. The Captain believed that even if the other brigades had arrived at the same time as the City Brigade, the outcome would still have been the same, as the fire had already taken too much of a hold. A third line was set up at a hydrant in the brewery yard, but as the pressure was poor it was useless when trying to tackle the blaze in the high buildings and so was used on the wooden buildings between the brewery and the railway line, which were damaged but saved.

The other brigades in attendance left in the afternoon, with the Lichfield City Brigade returning to the Fire Station at 6.30pm. The Captain then returned at 8 o’clock to check the premises and was satisfied that it was safe. However, early the next morning, he received a call to say that something was burning at the brewery. This turned out to be one of the vats on the top floor and again, the poor pressure from the hydrant hindered the operation. However,the Captain didn’t believe it worthwhile getting the steamer out and left them (the brewery employees?) the standpipe and hose.

The main fire was thought to have started in the grinding room. Only one man was on duty and the Captain considered this insufficient cover. He also felt that there should have been a means for them to telephone for help immediately, without having to call for others to telephone and lose valuable time.

Other members of the Council weren’t so quick to accept the report and questioned the delay in responding, the lack of water pressure, and the out of order fire bell. The most critical of those present at the meeting, perhaps unsurprisingly, was Alderman Thomas Andrews, the City Brewery’s Managing Director. Despite initially claiming that he didn’t want to say too much, as he felt too strongly, the account he gave of the fire called into question the effectiveness of the Brigade (at one point Mr Andrews went as far as to call them ‘absolutely useless’). To summarise Mr Andrews’ version of events:

On discovering the fire, the man at the brewery told the cashier to call the police. An initial call was made at 4.45 am but due to difficulties getting through, a second call had to be made at 5.15 am. Mr Andrews admitted that as he had not been notified of the fire until just before 6 o’clock, much of his version of events was based on what he’d heard from others, but believed that it could be substantiated.  He’d been told that the brigade arrived around quarter to or ten to six and then there were delays in getting to work as the hose burst two or three times. It had also been reported to him that at this time there was ‘absolutely no discipline or method’ amongst the fire brigade.  Mr Andrews believed that if the Captain had followed his advice and sent his men into the brewery building to fight the advancing fire (something the Captain had refused to allow), then it would have been saved. He rejected the Captain’s claims that the brigade had saved the malt house, suggesting that that the hoses had only been turned onto this building at his and another brewery employee’s suggestion. Had it not been for this and the fact that the head maltster had gone inside to fight the advancing flames (with a rope around his waist in case he was overcome by fumes), then in his opinion, the malt house would also have been lost.  

The Deputy Mayor acknowledged that Mr Andrews’ statements called for very serious consideration, but gave the brigade credit for doing everything within the means at their disposal, event though their means were absolutely inadequate! He considered half an hour to turn out reasonable, in view of the fact they were an amateur brigade but believed that the telephone call issues had lead to an unfortunate loss of time. Another of those present, Lord Charnwood, was concerned in relation to the telephone service, and  the fact that there had been a serious allegation as to a mistake of judgement by the Captain (although believed that no doubt he had done his best). He suggested that a small sub-committee should be set up to examine the facts in more detail. Some of those present suggested there should be an independent enquiry, and other expressed concern that any members of the General Purposes Committee taking part in the enquiry may be biased towards their brigade’s captain. Eventually it was decided that the committee be made up of councillors, with the findings of the report presented to the whole Council (at a later date, an independent enquiry was deemed more appropriate after all).

I have found a report from the Annual Meeting of the shareholders of the City Brewery held in December 1916. The Chair, Mr H J C Winterton, stated that, due to the difficulties in rebuilding at the present time, it was difficult to know what the future had in store. The Ministry of Munitions had expressed their desire to protect and repair the partially destroyed buildings and he hoped that if manufacturing was able to resume at an early enough date, the company’s losses would be very slight.

We of course know that what the future had in store.  The City Brewery was never rebuilt and what remained was sold to Wolverhampton and Dudley Breweries in 1917. The maltings remained operational until 2005, and is in the process of being converted to apartments.

I haven’t yet been able to find anything on the outcome of the enquiry, so I am unsure as to whether or not the Captain of the City Fire Brigade was found to be negligent in his duties. However, surely true negligence and error of judgement would have been to send ill-equipped men into a burning building (even with the ‘precaution’ of a rope around the waist!). The brewery may have been lost that night, but thankfully, lives were not.

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.

Verdun Acorns

 

 

This plaque is in Lichfield’s Garden of Remembrance.  It seems that the planting of acorns from Verdun was not unique to Lichfield and that there are oaks grown from Verdun acorns at many other places in the country, including Kew Gardens, Coventry, and Reading.

In a forum (1), I found a possible explanation for this. It suggests that a box of chestnuts and acorns were sent from Verdun to the London and North-West Railway Company, so that they could be sold to raise funds  for the benefit of the War Seal Foundation (L & N-W Section). It also says that sample boxes were sent to towns and cities along the route of the railway (of which Lichfield would be one?).

I’m going to have a look throught the newspaper archive to see if there is any information on this. In the meantime, it would be great to know if anyone has ever heard of this before or has any further information. I wonder who Mr Knights was?

Oak tree thought to be grown from an acorn, from an oak tree grown from a 'Verdun Acorn'.

 

Edit 16/4/2012

I had a quick look through the British Newspapers archive and there is this snippet from the Western Times, Tuesday 24th July 1917.

“A resident of Ealing has presented the town with two chestnut trees and an oak tree grown from chestnuts and an acorn gathered by the Mayor of Verdun from the devasted forests of Vaux and Douaumount. They are to be planted in the Walpole Park as a memorial to the defence of Verdun’.

 Sources: