Sam King and the Windrush

by Patricia Dark, archivist

In May 1945, British forces in the northern German port of Kiel captured a German ship, the MV Monte Rosa, as war reparations. She was built in Hamburg, in 1936: after a short pre-war career as a cruise ship with the Kraft durch Freude (“Strength through Joy”) programme, she became a transport, then a hospital ship. Monte Rosa had been converted to a troop transport and assigned to the Ministry of Transport by the beginning of 1947. She also received a new name, one that marked her as a prize of war and highlighted a tributary of the Thames — a name that made history: HMT Empire Windrush.

HMT Empire Windrush (c) Imperial War Museums

The government commissioned the New Zealand Shipping Company to operate Windrush; she ferried British service personnel and their families between the UK, the Far East, and points in between for the next year. Windrush arrived at the port of Tilbury from Bombay on 8 April 1948. Her next voyage broke the mould, – rather than returning to the Far East, Windrush made her first – and only – trip to the Caribbean. One source claims that the trip was part of a repositioning cruise to Australia via the Atlantic; most others claim that she was sent to Kingston, Jamaica to pick up British service personnel who were on leave there. The latter seems more likely, since ads appeared in Jamaica’s premier newspaper, the Daily Gleaner, in late April, offering cheap passage to London. Travellers paid £28 for a berth on the open troop deck, or £48 for a cabin: for someone in Jamaica in 1948, that was more than a month’s pay, and would be like paying nearly £1,000 and more than £1,700 respectively today!

Windrush arrived in Trinidad on 20 May 1948, embarking local passengers as well as others who had travelled from other Caribbean islands and British Guiana (now Guyana); she then made scheduled port calls at Kingston, Jamaica, and Bermuda; however, in between she detoured to Tampico, in Mexico – where 66 Polish refugees embarked, all but one to join husbands and fathers who’d fought in the Polish forces-in-exile under the terms of the Polish Resettlement Act 1947.

At Kingston, as passenger Alford Gardner told the Guardian in 2018, there were more would-be travellers than tickets available. The Great Depression wrecked the agricultural export market Jamaica’s economy relied on; the resulting unemployment, poor living conditions, and inequality still lingered. A hurricane in 1944 meant the farm economy was still depressed, and many people took the opportunity to try their luck in the mother country. In fact, about one-third of Windrush’s passengers were either serving members of the RAF or veterans looking to re-enlist.

As Windrush steamed toward the UK, immigration was a hot topic. The mother country faced major labour shortage in many sectors, and needed to repair huge amounts of war damage. Eearlier in 1948, a government working group had ultimately advised against large-scale colonial immigration to fill this gap. Additionally, Parliament was debating the British Nationality Act 1948, which passed just over a month after Windrush arrived; this act created a single citizenship for the United Kingdom and its colonies. Even Creech Jones, the Colonial Secretary, commented on a BBC broadcast that, while Windrush’s Caribbean passengers were British passport holders with the right to settle, there was no reason to worry, because they wouldn’t last one English winter. 

HMT Empire Windrush docked at Tilbury on 21 June 1948, with 1,027 listed passengers (and two stowaways) on board. Men outnumbered women by about 3 to 1; more than 800 came from the Caribbean, and nearly half were Jamaican. Pathé News sent a reporter to interview the new arrivals – the first immigration en masse from Britain’s colonies. The transport industry and the fledgling National Health Service were both especially badly hit by labour shortages and welcomed the newcomers. However, their welcome wasn’t universal: the day after Windrush docked, a group of 10 MPs wrote to Prime Minister Clement Atlee in protest; in his response, (held at the National Archives), the PM attempted to placate them, ending the letter by noting that “I doubt whether there is likely to be a similar large influx.” 

Letter from Attlee to MPs re Windrush

While many of her passengers had plans, or had already organised housing or a job, just over 200 had neither on arrival. They were temporarily housed in the deep air-raid shelter at Clapham South tube, some 15 storeys underground. More than half had found work within a week or two; the nearest labour exchange (what we now call a Job Centre) to Clapham South was in Coldharbour Lane, Brixton, – planting the seed of one of the largest Afro-Caribbean communities in the country.

Southwark is especially proud of one of the Jamaican veterans on board the Empire Windrush: Samuel Beaver King, MBE. He was born in Priestman’s River, Portland, Jamaica, on 20 February 1926 – one of George and Caroline King’s ten children. Mr King worked with his father on the family’s banana plantation, and intended to take it over, but the Second World War changed those plans. In 1944 he saw a Daily Gleaner advert recruiting for the RAF, and asked his mother for advice; decades later, he remembered her response: “My son, the mother country is at war. Go – and if you survive, you will not regret it.” 

Mr King passed the entry exams, completed RAF basic training in Kingston, and set sail for the UK in 1944. His first posting was in Greenock, just outside Glasgow – both the cold and the devastation created by German bombers shocked him. He served at aerodromes around Scotland and England, first as ground crew and then as a skilled aircraft fitter, before being demobbed in 1947.

He returned to Jamaica, but the 1944 hurricane – which destroyed an estimated 90% of Jamaica’s banana trees – had devastated the family plantation, and there was little other work available. Once more, Mr King answered a Daily Gleaner ad, and booked passage on the Empire Windrush to re-enlist: his family sold three cows to raise the funds for a troop deck berth. On board, there was a bit of a holiday atmosphere, and special camaraderie among the RAF veterans. However, he noted in his memoir Forty Years On that there was also enough apprehension about the government turning the ship back that he organised two ex-RAF wireless operators to play dominoes outside the radio room – and monitor incoming messages.  

He re-enlisted in the RAF in 1948, serving until 1953. While Black service personnel found they were respected and supported when they were in uniform, civvy street was far too often a different story. Racism restricted job opportunities: Mr King applied unsuccessfully to the Metropolitan Police in 1953 – it took them another 14 years to appoint its first Black officer. Racial discrimination also made it extremely difficult for many Black people to find housing — and thereby start putting down roots. In 1950, Mr King, then an RAF corporal, and his brother Wilton attempted to buy a house in Sears Street, Camberwell, but bank officials responded to a mortgage request with a letter suggesting he return to Jamaica. Mr King took the letter to the owner of the house, who was so disgusted that he gave him mortgage himself; this made the Kings the second Black family in Southwark to own a home. For other Black residents, the only way to own a home was to join a savings club, known as a “partner”: Mr King took an active role in setting up many partners. 

His status as a veteran ensured his application to the Post Office was successful; his career there lasted 34 years, beginning as a postal carrier and ending as Postal Executive for the South Eastern postal district. On 26 June 1954, Sam King married Mavis (Mae) Kirlew, a student nurse at Emmanuel Church in Camberwell. They had two children, Michael and Althea, together; Mr King also had a daughter, Daslin, from a previous relationship. 

Faith and community were at the centre of Mr King’s life. He was a lay preacher who trained in ministry at Goldsmiths College; in the 1980s he actively championed gospel music, supporting a number of broadcast licence applications for community radio stations and helping organise the 1985 Songs of Praise broadcast from Southwark Cathedral that pioneered gospel music on a BBC national flagship show.

Mr King was also active in the postal union, the local Labour party, and as a community organiser. He helped Claudia Jones launch Britain’s first major Black newspaper, the West Indian Gazette, in March 1958, and served as its circulation manager. In 1959, he helped her organise the first Caribbean-style carnival in St Pancras Town Hall — the precursor to the Notting Hill Carnival. Sam’s ability to communicate with and connect the Camberwell and Peckham local communities and the police also helped avoid violence in the aftermath of the 1958 Notting Hill riots and during National Front agitation in the 1970s and 1980s. 

In the 1982 local elections, Mr King was elected councillor for Bellenden ward, and six months later, in 1983, he became Southwark’s first Black mayor (leading to death and arson threats against him from the National Front). Mae died in 1983; he married Myrtle Kirlew in late 1984.

Mr King was also active in the postal union, the local Labour party, and as a community organiser. He helped Claudia Jones launch Britain’s first major Black newspaper, the West Indian Gazette, in March 1958, and served as its circulation manager. In 1959, he helped her organise the first Caribbean-style carnival in St Pancras Town Hall — the precursor to the Notting Hill Carnival. Sam’s ability to communicate with and connect the Camberwell and Peckham local communities and the police also helped avoid violence in the aftermath of the 1958 Notting Hill riots and during National Front agitation in the 1970s and 1980s. In the 1982 local elections, Mr King was elected councillor for Bellenden ward, and six months later, in 1983, he became Southwark’s first Black mayor (leading to death and arson threats against him from the National Front). Mae died in 1983; he married Myrtle Kirlew in late 1984.

After retiring from local politics in the mid 1980s, Mr King focussed on preserving the experiences of his generation. He founded the Windrush Foundation with Arthur Torrington in 1996 to highlight the contributions of Britain’s African and Caribbean communities, safeguard the memories of Britain’s first post-war settlers, and promote good community relations. He was perhaps best known for his campaigning to make the anniversary of the Empire Windrush’s arrival a holiday, and in the process becoming known as “Mr Windrush”. In 1998, Sam King received the MBE as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations for Windrush. He published his autobiography, Climbing Up the Rough Side of the Mountain, the same year. In 2009, a public vote awarded him a Southwark blue plaque which was installed during a ceremony at his long-time home at Warmington Road, Herne Hill, on 31 January 2010, and in May 2016, he received the freedom of the borough of Southwark.

Sam King MBE died on 17 June 2016, less than a week before the 68th anniversary of his arrival on the Empire Windrush: more than 500 people attended his funeral at Southwark Cathedral. Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, paid tribute to Mr King, saying “[h]e educated Londoners with Caribbean food, Caribbean culture, Caribbean music. London is a better place, Britain is a better place, thanks to him and his family.”

On the 72nd anniversary of the arrival of HMT Empire Windrush at Tilbury Dock, the people of Southwark are grateful for Sam King MBE: his love of his community, hard work and spirit of service and the sacrifices made by him and the whole of the Windrush generation.

Sources

The National Archives of the UK; Kew, Surrey, England; Board of Trade: Commercial and Statistical Department and successors: Inwards Passenger Lists.; Class: BT26; Piece: 1237

Telegram concerning passengers on the Empire Windrush, 6 July 1948 (Catalogue ref: CO 876/88)

IWM FL9448 (Photo of HMT Empire Windrush)

Further reading

Pathé News Windrush feature, 1948

Windrush Foundation interview with Sam King

Windrush Stories from The British library

How did the Empire Windrush change Change London? From Museum of London Docklands

One of US? Windrush from the BBC

Shops and shortages: Some echoes from a former time of national crisis

by Ngaire Bushell, Producer, Imperial War Museums

I live aboard a boat built in the same year as the Imperial War Museum’s largest object; HMS Belfast. I offer this as an excuse as to why my conversations often meander into the subject of how the Second World War affected the lives of ordinary people. And so it was that in speaking with Southwark’s Harbour Master, Patrick Keating about current shortages and the stockpiling of items such as loo roll, that he suggested that I write something for this blog about rationing in the 1940s. I have decided to focus on a few lesser known aspects of how people coped with restrictions and shortages; and therefore loo roll seems a pretty good place to begin…

The story told by one Liverpool woman of a loo roll being offered as a prize during a whist competition, and the fact that the shortage of loo roll was debated in Parliament in 1944 suggests that then, as in the last few weeks, this vital article was an item rarely sighted on shopkeepers’ shelves. Paper in general was in short supply throughout the long years of the war, with orders to shops to reduce paper consumption to 30% of their pre-war usage, and employees in offices regaled by messages of ‘Don’t waste paper’. We often think that recycling is a modern invention but waste paper was pulped and then re-pulped throughout the war, although as it went through these cycles of usage it began to take on a khaki colour. Of course used paper could skip the pulping phase and be re-purposed directly for service in the lavatory; one former evacuee I know remembers being tasked with cutting up newspaper into squares for use as toilet paper. The bare shelves where once toilet paper was in abundance is a reality of our current situation, but even here there are wartime echoes. One lady in the Women’s Voluntary Services for Civil Defence devoted part of a letter home to her mother about her experience of actually finding loo roll in the shops:

May W. asked me to get some toilet paper if I could. I managed to get some thick stuff at a terrible price and commented on the price to the shopkeeper who agreed with me heartily and said it was an awful price, especially as it was only reconditioned.’

Meanwhile a woman in Croydon would let her neighbour know that the lesser-spotted rolls were on sale by calling out to her: ‘Boots have stationery in’.

Rationing IWM

Some rationed supplies and ration book, courtesy of Imperial War Museums

Keeping calm and making tea was, and remains a very good coping strategy, but with tea rationed at just 2oz per person per week, this had to be used sparingly at home and the government advised doing away with the habit of adding a ‘spoon for the pot’. Tea went on ration in July 1940, but sugar had been amongst the first items to be restricted when the national rationing scheme began in January of that year. For many the limit of 12oz per person per week was one way the war impacted on their lives every single day, and one 10 year old girl remembers her grandfather being firmly told off when he stole an extra teaspoon for his tea when he thought her mother’s back was turned.

For many a cup of tea is incomplete without an accompanying biscuit but many found their pre-war favourite for ‘dunk-ability’ was no longer available due to repurposing factories and labour, the pre-war 350 different types of biscuit were reduced to just 20! As today, with manufacturers switching production to make protective equipment and ventilators, in 1940 a series of laws were passed to ensure that raw materials, factory capacity and labour were diverted towards making munitions, and one of the seldom considered effect of this was the shortages of crockery and cutlery in the shops, which links back to our ‘tea-time theme’ because teaspoons became increasingly hard to come by as cutlery production was cut to just a quarter of the level it had been at in 1940.

Perhaps a good place to end would be the necessity, now as then, of good hand-washing, although fortunately we are not having to contend with soap rationing which was introduced to wartime Britain in February 1942 at an allowance of 3 oz per person, every 4 weeks. One housewife remembered how she stretched her family’s ration by placing the scraps into a tin with holes punched in the lid, and that this ‘when swished in a basin of hot water washed greasy plates, stockings or our hair’. If our current soap stocks on the marina ever run low I would prefer to follow her example than the advice offered in one women’s magazine, which in August 1942 printed an article that began: ‘It is very little known that any material, but particularly woollens, can be most successfully washed with glue dissolved in hot water.’ In these challenging times, and the need for children to be home schooled, this is one piece of 1940s advice I would urge you not to follow as a potential science experiment!

Join Ngaire aboard her little houseboat and learn some wartime recipes in Cakes Made From Carrots, one of the Adventures in History series from Imperial War Museums. 

 

VE Day gallery

by Patricia Dark, Archivist

daniels road victory party 1945
Daniels Road, Nunhead

By May 8, 1945, the UK had been at war for more than five and a half years. In that time, life had been turned upside down, in big and small ways.

London lost almost 30,000 of its residents and a third of its buildings to bombing during the Second World War; more than 50,000 other Londoners had been injured. Here in Southwark, nearly 2,000 people were killed, and thousands of homes destroyed. Almost every family in London would have members missing – perhaps killed, away on active service, or evacuated to a safer area, maybe years before.

Years of rationing made food time-consuming to get, sometimes scarce, and often monotonous. Everything from clothes to toys to furniture had to be mended rather than thrown away, made to make do as long as it possibly could.

But with the surrender of German forces, the threat of enemy attack lifted, and while, in the words of American president Harry S. Truman, it was “a victory only half won”, it meant that the end of the entire war was in sight.

London reacted by throwing a party. In central London, the crowd gathered at Trafalgar Square reached all the way up the Mall to Buckingham Palace – where King George VI, Queen Elizabeth, and Prime Minister Winston Churchill appeared on the balcony — singing, dancing, and rejoicing until late into the night; Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret slipped into the throng to join the celebration.

In the residential streets of Southwark, the festivities were more low-key: flags and bunting – either carefully saved from before the war or creatively produced from anything to hand – decorated homes and streets; families or whole streets pooled rations to provide sweet treats for their youngest members, who’d lost so much of their childhoods to war.

As you might expect, such a party was an occasion to bring out the camera! We hold pictures from a number of street parties at Southwark Local History Library and Archive: some of them are below. If you recognise anyone in these pictures, would like to use any of these images, or have a photo you think we would be interested in, please get in touch with us at lhlibrary@southwark.gov.uk.

Kirby Estate Victory Party PB2341

This image, our reference PB2341, shows residents of the Kirby Estate in Bermondsey during the children’s street party they threw to celebrate the peace.

Ve day party Southwark Park Road Bermondsy

Southwark Park Road Bermondsey

Victory Party 1945 (C Block Plough Way estate) - Aunt and Uncle in window, Ted one of kids below

This is the victory party C Block of the Plough Way Estate in Rotherhithe threw.

Chadwick Road, Peckham

Chadwick Road, Peckham

WW2 victory party - Chesterfield Grove, East Dulwich (P21566)

Chesterfield Grove in East Dulwich also threw a street party for the children: this picture is our reference P21566.

P21732 VE Party Pyrotechnists Arms Nunhead

The Pyrotechnist’s Arms pub on Nunhead Green staged fundraising concerts throughout the war, so maybe it’s no surprise that they threw a party for VE Day!

P21543 VE Day Party Buchan Road Nunhead

This is our image reference P21543, showing a VE Day party thrown by residents of Buchan Road, Nunhead. This photo and others in our collection suggest that local photographers helped capture memories of these celebrations.

P21524 Victory Party Nutfield Road Dulwich

Many victory parties took the form of street parties: residents set up trestle tables and made treats to share. This party was in Nuffield Road, Dulwich: the photo is our reference P21524.

Gurney St VE Day party P20715 cropped

This VE Day street party was in Gurney Street, Walworth. Mrs. Baker is at the end of the table in the foreground;  Mrs. Willis is in the background at right. Gurney Street was later demolished as part of the development of the Heygate Estate.

P16265 Evacuees returning to Oliver Goldsmith School from Dorset Jun 1945

Evacuees returning to Oliver Goldsmith School from Dorset Jun 1945 (P16265)

The Home Front

The following images from Southwark Local History Library and Archive show aspects of life during the Second World War. Digging for victory, fundraising events and parties for evacuees all helped to boost Southwark’s morale.

P17264 Southwark Central students gardening with Chair of LCC

Southwark Central students gardening with Chair of London County Council (P17264)

P21581 Walworth Home Guard Braganza St 1942

Walworth Home Guard, Braganza Street, 1942 (P21581)

P21731 Concert Pyrotechnists Arms War Weapons Week 1943

Concert at the Pyrotechnists’ Arms, Nunhead in aid of  War Weapons Week, 1943 (P21731)

P22222 War Wings Week collection Rye Lane c1942

War Wings Week collection, Rye Lane, Peckham c.1942 (P22222)

PB2095 MBB Evacuees tea party Worthing Jan 1940

Tea party for evacuees from the Metropolitan Borough of Bermondsey, Worthing, January 1940 (PB2095)

PB2096 Worthing and MBB mayors at evacuees tea party Jan 1940

Tea party for evacuees from the Metropolitan Borough of Bermondsey, Worthing, January 1940 (PB2096)

WW2 - Concert at Pyrotechnists Arms, Nunhead Green in aid of RAF Benevolent Fund c1942 (P21730)

Concert at Pyrotechnists’ Arms, Nunhead in aid of the RAF Benevolent Fund, c. 1942 (P21730)

 

 

Letters from Ernie: Private Ernest Parker of Rotherhithe in the First World War

By Jennifer Jamieson, Archives Volunteer
With thanks to Lisa Moss, Archives Officer

“Just a line to let you know I am going on alright. Hope you and all at home are the same.”

In 2014 the letters of Ernest Parker of Rotherhithe were donated by his family in digital form to Southwark Local History Library and Archive. Ernest Parker was born in 1893 to Thomas and Sarah Parker. It is likely that he left school aged 11 in 1904 after the death of his father and worked as a clerk for a produce packer.

Private Ernest Parker joined the British forces during the First World War, and embarked for Salonika in November 1916. He sent numerous letters back to his family on Hawkestone Road in Rotherhithe during his time in Greece, offering descriptions of the conditions that he was encountering, his hopes for a safe return home, and always, caring enquiries as to his many other family members (he was one of 8 children!) His notes were always signed affectionately using his nickname “Ernie.” Unfortunately, just as the hostilities had ceased and his return home was within reach, he was admitted to the military hospital with pneumonia and did not recover from the ailment, dying there on the 4th of February 1919. Right until the end, he was finding ways to send his affectionate best wishes back to his family, even asking one of the hospital nurses to write his final letter home.

Southwark Local History Library and Archive has many of these letters and Ernest’s Territorial Force identification card, showing that he was appointed to the Durham Light Infantry during the war.Ernest Parker’s Territorial Force identification card

At Christmas, Ernie sent his greetings back to his family, including this card that was addressed to his sister Ada, and an embroidered card for his Mum, Sarah Louise Parker.

Christmas Card from Salonika

Embroidered Chrismas Card "To my der mother"

Reporting back to his sister Beatrice (whom he called “Beat”) in December 1917, Ernie described his own Christmas season in Salonika, telling her “Well how did you spend your Christmas. We had a decent time here, turkey, Christmas pudding and a pint for dinner. The weather has been rotten here lately, raining nearly every day, up to your eyes in mud…”Letter to Beatrice 27 December 1917

In a letter to his Mum dated August 8, 1918, Ernie described his outlook, that he was soon “going to get leave, well I am in hopes getting it within the next few months or years. I am not sure which.” Yet a month later, in a letter dated September 14, 1918, he reported back to his Mum that “Well I thought we should stand a chance of getting a leave this year but what I see of it now I don’t think it will come off.”

But then another turnaround a few months later, as he wrote to his Mum on November 8, 1918 (image below), “As you say, we have been having some grand news lately. I don’t think it will be long now before it is finished. I don’t think it will be long now before we get home.”Letter from Ernerst to his mother 8 November 1918

He wasn’t able to get home for Christmas that year, but in January 2019, reported back to his Mum that his return home was within reach, save for a few bureaucratic details: “they have started demobilising from here and it is only by a bit of rotten luck that I am not away already. I received a letter from the firm saying that my job was still open but it was not stamped by the Local Advisory Committee at home and that is where the delay is coming in. A couple of chaps received the letters stamped and they were away a few days after. Some of the men over forty one are going home tomorrow.”

Around the same time, on January 21, 1919, he sent a letter to his older brother Tom, who was himself fighting in the First World War, showing that he was happily anticipating his return home: “Well old sport I think this about all I have to tell you now so hoping to see you shortly and wishing you the best of luck. I remain your affectionate brother, Ernie.”Letter to Tom, 21 January 1919

Unfortunately, the documents in our collections then show that for all of Ernie’s hope, optimism and readiness to return, he encountered  even more rotten luck shortly after these letters to his Mum and brother were written. His Mum received a letter written on February 2, 1919, at the military hospital in Greece, reporting that Ernie had caught pneumonia and that “he is very ill, he is getting all the care and attention possible.”Letter 2 February 1919 from Milieary Hospital in Salonika

But worse news was yet to come. On February 6, 2019, the hospital Chaplain sent Ernie’s Mum the unfortunate news that her son had died a few days earlier. In this letter, the Chaplain described how Ernie had shared his fondness for his family up until the end: “He spoke very affectionately of you all, and said he would love to get home. I did not like to tell him I thought he would die, for I did not want to depress him for fear it might go against any chance of recovery. I am greatly grieved about his death. For I had formed a very good opinion of him.”

Ernie had also made an impression on the hospital’s Sister-in-Charge, who also shared her fond words in a letter to his Mum on February 6, 2019: “I asked him the day before he died if he had been writing home, and he said “Yes”, so I said as he was not able to write himself, I would do it for him, And he was pleased, and said to tell you that he was “getting on all right” and to give you and his sisters his love. He was a good patient, always smiling till the last and was conscious right up till an hour or so before he died, which was just before midnight.”Letter from the hospital’s Sister-in-Charge 2 February 1919Blog 9

Ernest “Ernie” Parker received British War and Victory Medals and he was buried at the British Military Cemetery at Mikra, Thessaloniki, Greece “with full military honours”.

Blog 10

Photo courtesy of Janis Birchall.

 

Bermondsey honours the village of Lidice: A story for Holocaust Memorial Day

By Patricia Dark, Archivist

On 27 May 1942, two SOE-trained soldiers, acting on the orders of the Czechoslovak government-in-exile, attacked Reinhard Heydrich, the military dictator of Czechoslovakia. He died of his wounds a week later. Heydrich, the “Butcher of Prague”, ruled Czechoslovakia through the cruelty of summary execution and the terror of concentration camps. He was also one of the main architects of the Holocaust: he organised Kristallnacht, formed the Einsatzgruppen, carried out the Nacht und Nebel decree of forced disappearance, and chaired the Wannsee Conference that outlined the plans for genocide.

The reprisal for his assassination was swift, and brutal. The Gestapo suspected that residents of Lidice, a mining village about 15 miles from Prague, were hiding those responsible for the attack, because men from the village were serving with the Czechoslovak armed forces in the UK. Just after midnight on 10 June 1942, Nazi police surrounded Lidice and the villagers were rounded up. 173 men were taken to the Horák family farm and shot; another 19 who weren’t home were arrested and executed later.

Lidice’s 203 women and 105 children were taken to the village school, then the town of Kladno. 184 women were sent to Ravensbrück concentration camp. 88 children were sent to Łódź, where those considered “suitable for Germanisation” were separated, to be sent to orphanages and later placed with German families. The remaining 82 children were sent to Chełmo on 2 July 1942 and gassed on arrival. Even all of Lidice’s animals were killed.

The Nazis then tried to destroy all trace of the place called Lidice. They burned the village buildings and blew up the remains, dug up the local cemetery and destroyed the bodies. Forced labour crews then removed all trace of remains and rerouted the roads and a local stream. At the end of the war, 143 women returned home to Lidice, and after a 2 year search, so did 17 of the village’s children. They were the only survivors of the 503 villagers living there in June 1942.

The Nazis openly boasted about annihilating Lidice on Radio Berlin; the world responded with horror and defiance. A year after the massacre, in June 1943, the Metropolitan Borough of Bermondsey hosted a memorial concert for the village on the bombed-out site of Bermondsey Town Hall in Spa Road. A choir of Czechoslovak servicemen sang and Foreign Minister-in-exile Jan Masaryk spoke.

On Holocaust Memorial Day, we remember the people of Lidice, and all the other victims of genocidal persecution. And we remember those who helped create new homes for survivors. By remembering, we hope to create a better and more just world.

You can find out more about the Lidice Memorial organisation and the museum here.

Photographs of the Lidice memorial service from Southwark Local History Library and Archive

Memorial Service for Lidice at Spa Road bomb site on 10 June 1943. Crowd of people stand around a raised stage surrouned by flags and bunting against the backdrop of bomb damaged houses

Memorial Service for Lidice at Spa Road bomb site, Bermondsey on 10 June 1943

pb230x

Czechoslovak servicemen sing at Bermondsey’s Lidice memorial service

Czechoslovak servicemen in uniform from sing at Bermondsey Bomb site. Children sit watching from nearby roof.

Czechoslovak servicemen sing at Bermondsey’s Lidice memorial service as local children observe from nearby roof

pb2298

Jan Masaryk, Deputy Minister of Czechoslovakia makes a speech at Bermondsey’s Lidice memorial service

‘Silent Raid’: The story of the lost houses of Burgess Park

by Sally Hogarth, Artist

Sally Hogarth Artwork cropped ‘Silent Raid’ is a series of house sculptures commissioned to commemorate the people and places impacted by a WWI Zeppelin bomb that landed on Calmington Road, which once stood where Burgess Park is located today.

Reminiscent of the terrace houses that were destroyed in the raid and of varying shades found in traditional red bricks, each house represents one of the lives lost in the incident, with each house; large, medium or small representing each man, woman and child.

Like the bands of colour used in mapping bomb damage, the shade of each house darkens with increased proximity to the bomb site. Every house is etched with a quote from documents and reports on the incident, both past and present. The art deco font used is inspired by the lettering on the original commemorative plaque. A new plaque can be found in Chumleigh Gardens in the centre of the park.

Calmington Road 1977 p9968

The process involved meeting with The Friends of Burgess Park and investigating their thorough research archive, including recorded photographs, social commentaries and interviews with survivors and families involved in the incident. Meeting with local historians at the Southwark Local History Library and Archives, I learned about the extent of the bomb damage that the area suffered along with news reports and archives of the unfortunate event.

World War I Zeppelin Raid 1917 edit p17257

Damage to houses in Albany Road, 1917

After spending time in the park itself, I came to appreciate that the area where the park stands today had once been covered by buildings and houses which were destroyed by war. The absence of their existence and public awareness of this in the present day created a powerful feeling I wanted to convey in the work.

Another important issue I sought to address is the home face of war. The nature of this project is unusual in that it commemorates a war incident that happened on home soil rather than far away battlefields. In an age of a mounting refugee crisis, highlighting the living memory of the ground beneath our own feet facing bombs and destruction becomes a significant message.

A lot of the anecdotes and memories of the event had domestic contexts, from toys found amongst the debris, to fish and chips and piano playing. The contrast between these everyday, familiar and comforting images and the violence that disrupted them feels like a poignant crux of the incident.

This has been reflected in the project with the houses having an almost dolls-house feel. The scale of the houses, particularly the smallest, means that they have a certain vulnerability about them whilst the impressions on their surface that suggest windows and doors have a more sinister feel. The research included news reports that recall ‘windows hurled headlong’ and striking images of door frames standing empty without their doors.

Researching into Zeppelins and their bombs led me to find strangely colourful diagrams of the rings of their destruction. Also the records of WWI and WWII building damage in the Lambeth Archives used a gradient of colour to plot the severity of damage. This, paired with the difficulty of plotting the exact spot where the bomb landed, led me to the concept of creating a trail and colour code to the houses. The houses are scattered in a debris-like manner across the park darkening in colour with proximity to where Calmington Road once stood.

bomb map

Extract from the London County Council’s WWII bomb damage map series showing gradations in colour.

In all, I sought to ignite visitors’ interest to uncover the story of Calmington Road and the streets that once stood beneath their feet. I also aimed to create an experience for regular park visitors to discover a new house or inscription with each visit, creating a story that unfolds and is passed on between locals. The houses become a prop or a prompt for a story, to start a conversation that gets passed between park visitors and as such the story of this incident will be passed on to future generations.

The Poet’s Bridge in Rotherhithe

by Wes White, Library Development Officer

On Tuesday 5 December, the footbridge over Salter Road was named ‘The Poet’s Bridge’ in a short ceremony which also involved the unveiling of twin weathering steel plaques at its centre. The specific poet for whom the bridge has been named is David Jones, whose epic war poem ‘In Parenthesis’ was described by TS Eliot as “a work of genius” and by WH Auden as “a masterpiece”. It is a quote from this poem that now decorates the bridge:

“The returning sun climbed over the hill, to lessen the shadows of small and great things”

Jones was a visual artist as well as a wordsmith. These words are rendered in the shape of Jones’ calligraphic script and accompanied by a reproduction of his woodcut ‘Holy Ghost as Dove’. The panels were designed by the artist Parm Rai and finished at the workshop in Deptford. The work was funded by Southwark Council through the Bermondsey and Rotherhithe community council.

Plaque with shadows

The local area is significant in Jones’ life and in his writing. A section in his other great written work, ‘The Anathemata’, is titled ‘REDRIFF’; and this features the voice of Eb Bradshaw. In real life Eb was Jones’ grandfather – he was parish clerk of St Mary the Virgin in Rotherhithe, and a maker of masts and sails in the Surrey Docks. Furthermore, a character in ‘In Parenthesis’ is given no name but simply referred to as ‘the man from Rotherhithe’. Before the naming ceremony, Anne Price of the David Jones Society speculated that this character might stand for the author himself. It is therefore very appropriate that David Jones should be commemorated here.

The new name for the bridge, though, can also stand for all poets, and the bridge already has a lyrical history going back to the start of this millennium. Every spring half term for the last seventeen years, the staff of the nearby Rotherhithe Primary School have taken to the bridge to read poems aloud. Headmaster Mickey Kelly – who conceived of and organised the naming of ‘Poet’s Bridge’ with assistance from the ‘Cleaner, Greener, Safer’ fund – describes “letting the words hang in the Rotherhithe air”.

The lines quoted from ‘In Parenthesis’ refer to the minutes before the ‘zero hour’ of the battle of the Somme – the moment when the whistle would trigger the attack in the battle of the Somme – when “the world falls apart at last to siren screech”, as the poem has it. Whilst harking forever back to this moment, the words find new meaning on the bridge, where light shines through the stencilled iron and casts shadows where we walk.

Sign, looking over bridge

Researching the First World War: Searching for someone outside the UK

By Patricia Dark, Archivist at the Southwark Local History Library and Archive

This is the fifth post in a series exploring ways to find out more about the part your family, school, workplace, or neighbourhood played in the First World War.

The First World War was the first truly global war, and you may be looking for someone who lived in the wider British Empire, one of the Allied countries, or in one of the Central Powers who fought on the opposite side of the war. Many of the important points discussed in the second part of this series – major types of heritage organisations, digitisation of primary sources, and the challenges of using historic records – are true for records relating to the experiences of people in the Empire, Allied nation, or the Central Powers. You will also usually need to know the same basic and specific information, like full name and date of birth, service number, date(s) and place(s) of service, as you would to find British military personnel or civilians.

However, there are some challenges unique to using foreign records. In order to use undigitised foreign records, you will need to travel abroad or hire a local researcher to consult them for you – this includes many Commonwealth countries, who took responsibility for service records on achieving independence. Language may also be a challenge, both in terms of accessing documents and finding a local researcher. Finally, not all countries hold military service records in a central archive. This means that you will need to know where the person you’re interested in enlisted – and may need to travel to the appropriate regional archive to do research.

British Empire Forces

Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Force

When the First World War started in 1914, Britain administered a world-spanning empire (whose symbolic successor is the Commonwealth).  Australia, Canada, Newfoundland, New Zealand, and South Africa were self-governing units known as Dominions: each Dominion had its own legislature and made local laws, but the UK controlled their international relations. India had a more complicated system that was, in practice, similar to Dominion status; for this reason, all six of these states entered the war in August 1914. Colonies in Africa, Asia, and the West Indies had more limited self-government, and their casualties were accounted with that of UK forces.

Since the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) has a Commonwealth-wide remit, you should be able to find troops from all over the empire in its database of war dead; however, it’s important to note that men from the colonies are included under “United Kingdom forces”, Newfoundlanders under “Canadian”, and all troops from the Indian subcontinent under “Indian”. The Imperial War Museum (IWM) also has a Commonwealth-wide remit, and you can find details of those who served with imperial forces on the Lives of the First World War website.

Australia, Canada, New Zealand, India, and South Africa also have their own war museums (not all founded in the immediate aftermath, however); similarly the website Soldiers of the First World War provides access to digitised service records for Canadian and Newfoundlander troops; Discovering Anzacs, the AIF Project, and New Zealand Anzacs in the Great War do the same for Australian and New Zealander service records. Indian Army records for the time are generally at the British Library, and are not available online. You can also find some Indian Army unit diaries at the National Archives’ Operation War Diary website. South African records are available through the South African National Defence Force Documentation Centre; records of the King’s African Rifles, a unit based in Kenya, are available at the National Archives.

Allied Forces

Records of “doughboys” – American military personnel of the First World War, who joined the war in 1917– are held by the American equivalent of TNA, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). They were badly affected by a catastrophic fire at the National Personnel Records Center in St Louis, MO, in 1973: many of the surviving records are available on Ancestry or Family Search. The American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) is the equivalent of the CWGC, and its website allows you to search for burials in American military cemeteries. It’s important to note that, in contrast to British policy, American policy gave bereaved families the choice of whether or not to inter war dead in battlefield cemeteries. This means many American war dead are buried in their hometowns, and so don’t necessarily appear on the ABMC database. You may also find useful information on the website of the American National World War I Museum.

In France, the Ministère de la Defense (the Ministry of Defense) is in charge of service records, while the Ministère des Pensions (the Ministry of Pensions) is the official war graves agency. For poilus – French military personnel of the First World War – the Memoire des Hommes website provides access to digitised military and war graves records. Some of its background material and database fields are in English, but most of its results are in French and may require knowledge of that language to use.

Italy also fought on the side of the Allies in World War I. Service records there are held at regional centres, and most are not digitised; you can find more information on how to access them at Family Search. Russian records are particularly challenging to use: records are scattered, fragmentary, and generally not online. To make use of them, you will need to have good knowledge of Russian and read Cyrillic. One place to start is the World War I project of the Russian genealogical society Союз Возрождения Родословных Традиций (Union Revival Bloodlines Traditions, SVRT).

Central Powers forces

If you are searching for an ancestor who was in the military forces of the Central Powers, the situation is more complicated. At the end of the war, the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires broke into pieces; like British colonies, the military records of different newly-independent areas became the successor states’ responsibility. Many of these nations also hold military records on a regional, not national, basis; many of these records were lost in the bombings of the Second World War, and relatively few of them are online.

Ottoman service records are likely to be held by the archives of the Türkiye Cumhuriyeti Millî Savunma Bakanlığı (Republic of Turkey Ministry of National Defense). These records are likely to be very difficult to use unless you are familiar with Ottoman Turkish and its Arabic-based script.

Service records of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (which included modern Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Croatia, Slovenia, and parts of Poland, Romania, Italy, Ukraine, Moldova, Serbia, and Montenegro) are held regionally; the vast majority of them are handwritten in German. The Österreichisches Staatsarchiv (Austrian State Archives) leaflet on military genealogy (in English) contains an overview of resources available at the Kriegsarchiv Wien (Vienna War Archives), as well as contact details for regional archives. The Österreichisches Schwarzes Kreuz (Austrian Black Cross) is the equivalent of the CWGC: you can make a research request for information on an Austrian war grave. The Hungarian equivalent of the Kriegsarchiv Wien is the Hadtörténelmi Levéltár (Hungarian Military History Archives) in Budapest: its website is entirely in Hungarian.

Many German service records for the First World War did not survive the 1945 destruction of the Prussian military archive, in Potsdam, near Berlin; however, records for some semi-autonomous German forces (Bavaria, Saxony, and Baden-Württemberg) are held at regional archives. Ancestry provides online access to Bavarian service records, and the Generallandesarchiv Karlsruhe (General state archive, Karlsruhe) provides digital copies of service records for Baden-Württemberg. You may also find useful information on the First World War centenary website of the Bundesarchiv (German federal archive), including their introduction to military genealogy leaflet (German language only). The website of the Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge (German War Graves Commission), the German equivalent of the CWGC, allows you to search for a soldier buried in a German war cemetery.

This is the final post in a series exploring ways to research the First World War.

Researching the First World War: Searching for civilians

By Patricia Dark, Archivist at the Southwark Local History Library and Archive

This is the fourth post in a series exploring ways to find out more about the part your family, school, workplace, or neighbourhood played in the First World War.

Civilian men and women served on the home front, either in their usual jobs or in war service. The largest group of civilian men involved in the war effort were the officers and men of the Merchant Marine, hundreds of whom died at sea.

Women were vital to the war effort, entering the industrial workforce in large numbers to free men for combat. In some cases, they simply stepped into jobs men going to the front left behind, as they did on the Tube. The Women’s Land Army aimed to boost agricultural production by training women to work on farms. “Munitionettes” made and filled artillery shells with TNT: the chemical stained their skin a distinctive yellow, giving rise to their other nickname, “canary girls”.  Hundreds of them died, either in workplace explosions or from exposure to toxic chemicals. The Voluntary Aid Detachments (VADs) of the Joint War Committee trained civilian women in first aid and general nursing. Most VADs served at home in support roles, but some, like Vera Brittain, saw service overseas.

Personnel records for civilian workers can be very patchy. In some cases – like the Women’s Land Army or munitionettes – they simply don’t survive. Some Merchant Marine records were not systematically kept, while others were lost in the Blitz; you can access surviving ones via the National Archives, Find My Past, or Ancestry. The British Red Cross (and to a lesser degree St John Ambulance) hold VAD records. Once again, knowing the basic information of full name and birth date and place is vital to search these records; knowing date(s) and place(s) of service helps as well.

Civilian internees

As the lights went out in Europe, thousands of civilians (both visitors and expatriates) became “enemy aliens”: citizens of a country at war with their country of residence. Their hosts viewed them as potential saboteurs – men were particularly dangerous, since they could boost the enemy’s fighting strength if they went home. To prevent this, enemy aliens were usually held in internment camps, similar in purpose and conditions to POW camps. By the end of 1918, more than 100,000 German men were interned in Knockaloe Camp on the Isle of Man; among the approximately 5,500 Allied internees at Ruhleben near Berlin were English international footballer Steve Bloomer, future Nobel Prize winner James Chadwick, and media personality Prince Monolulu. The ICRC held oversight of civilian internment camps, and you can search their Grande Guerre website for more information on camps and individual internees. Very few British records on internees survive, but those that do are at TNA; they don’t usually contain details on individuals. As well as the basic information of full name and date of birth, you will need to know the nationality of the person you’re looking for. As with civilian war workers, knowing date(s) and places of internment can make searching easier.

Camberwell during the First World War (p22945)

Military service tribunals and conscientious objectors

As the war dragged on, central government instituted the draft in March 1916, as well a system of local military service tribunals. In theory, these tribunals could authorise non-combatant status, civilian service, or an absolute discharge from military service to applicants; in practice, the need to provide men for the front – and the active-duty officer on the tribunal – dominated, and their decisions overwhelmingly favoured active service.

In most cases, men applied because they were medically unfit, were already doing vital war work, or their conscription would cause undue hardship for family or business. Some 16,000 men, however, applied to the tribunal as conscientious objectors (COs). For them, being forced to serve and to kill would violate their deeply-held personal religious or philosophical beliefs. About 2,000 COs declared themselves absolutists: unwilling to be drafted, unwilling to follow orders, and unwilling to do any war-related work.

Tribunals usually viewed and treated COs as cowards, or even traitors. Often, absolutists received non-combatant status they could not accept; a CO who refused to submit to military discipline usually was sent to gaol. More than 5,000 COs spent at least one spell in prison: 35 were formally sentenced to death. More than 100 imprisoned COs died as a direct result of their imprisonment.

Records about military tribunals, and especially about COs, survive in a variety of places; however, the Ministry of Health destroyed the vast majority of files relating to individual COs in 1921. TNA holds records of the Middlesex appeal tribunal and the Central Tribunal. The Library of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) holds records of the Friends Ambulance Unit, staffed mostly by COs; the British Red Cross also ran similar ambulance units. The Peace Pledge Union archive has personal papers of COs and records of CO support organisations. Southwark Local History Library & Archive has files of presscuttings related to local tribunals.

As well as full name and date of birth, you will need to know the person’s place of residence and/or call-up date(s) to search the records for a conscientious objector. The tribunal probably focussed on, and may mention, details such as family circumstances, occupation, or religious/philosophical beliefs. Knowing some or all of these may make it easier to find someone who went before a tribunal, especially if they have a common first or surname.

Save

Researching the First World War: Searching for military personnel

By Patricia Dark, Archivist at the Southwark Local History Library and Archive

This is the third post in a series exploring ways to find out more about the part your family, school, workplace, or neighbourhood played in the First World War.

First World War recruitment (P5601)Millions of men – and thousands of women – served king and country in uniform during the First World War. Men served in the Army, the Royal Navy, and the Royal Marines. The Great War saw the creation of the Royal Air Force, after the 1 April 1918 merger of the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service. Women served in non-combatant roles, freeing men for the front. These were either in the auxiliary forces of the Army, Air Force, and Royal Navy, or in the Army, Navy, or Air Force nursing corps.

With the basic information outlined above – full name and birth date and place – you should be able to find a tommy’s campaign medal record. While these records – originally large index cards – are not very detailed, they can often provide a broad outline of your tommy’s service. More importantly, they also provide your tommy’s  service number, which can be very useful to find other records.

Silver War Badge awarded to William Thomas Graham, Rifle Brigade (LDCUM2009.009.001)The most important of these other records is his or her service record, which may contain details of rank and regiment, promotion, moves between units, evaluations from superiors, next of kin, pension, or medical status. The Silver War Badge, noted in the campaign medal records, was awarded to all military personnel released from service due to war-related injury or sickness; if your tommy received one, pension records may provide more details of service and medical history. Pension records also record details of the families of those killed or missing in action.

Unit records

War is a surprisingly bureaucratic process, and records generated by military units at home or at the front also survive. As well as official reports and forms, units created photographs and even newspapers and magazines! The most common unit record to survive is its official war diary. They collected operational information for the official history of the war – that could also inform command decisions and tactics. They chart the day-to-day life of a unit, and provide a wealth of details about life and death on the front lines. Although these are not personal diaries, they do sometimes refer to individuals, particularly those being considered for a commendation.

Unit war diaries are series WO95 at TNA. By joining Operation War Diary, you can help make unit war diaries accessible by highlighting useful information in 1.5 million pages of digitised records. You may find other records generated by military units in local record offices or regimental museums.

 

 

POW records

If your tommy was reported missing, he or she may have been one of the some 200,000 service personnel who spent time as prisoners of war (POWs). The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) formed the Prisoner of War Bureau in 1914. The Bureau took responsibility for tracking POWs, keeping their relatives updated on their welfare, and keeping communication lines open between POWs and their families in most theatres of the war; it delegated this task to the national Red Cross of neutral Denmark for the Russian Front, while information about prisoners on the Italian Front went directly through the Italian and Austro-Hungarian governments. The ICRC also inspected POW camps and interviewed prisoners to monitor camp conditions.

The ICRC’s Grande Guerre website provides more information on POWs during the First World War – including a searchable database of their records. You may also be able to find more details of POW conditions and of individual POWs at the National Archives, the British Red Cross archive, or a local record office or regimental museum.

Cemeteries, war memorials and Rolls of Honour

The First World War killed on an industrial scale. Society struggled to cope: individual commemoration at home and repatriation were both impossible. Instead, in 1917, the Imperial War Graves Commission (IWGC) buried the fallen in specially-created war cemeteries near aid stations or the front lines. Rudyard Kipling provided the epitaph “Known Unto God” for those bodies that couldn’t be identified, while memorials to the missing served as a symbolic grave for men whose bodies couldn’t be found. Pilgrimages to these cemeteries quickly became popular with those bereaved who could afford it.

In 1960, the IWGC changed its name to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC); however, it retains its role overseeing war cemeteries and memorials to the missing. On its website, you can search its databases of cemeteries and war memorials and of war dead and missing from Commonwealth countries.

War Memorial on Jamaica Road to the 22nd Battalion, The Queens (pb02322)

However, many more relatives had to grieve at home rather than a war cemetary; private organisations and local governments created mass memorials in response to this need. Some, like the Cenotaph in Whitehall, were sculptural. Others, known as Rolls of Honour, were lists of those killed; some Rolls were plaques installed in the public areas of buildings, while others took the form of hand-written or printed books. These memorials often give the name, and possibly the service number, rank, and/or unit of casualties.

You can generally find Rolls of Honour in the local record office of the area they cover, or in the archives of the business that created them. Some were published, and may be available in local libraries. It is important to remember, though, during the Great War itself “Roll of Honour” often referred to lists of people (like members of an organisation or employees of a business) who were on active service – not necessarily lists of those who had died.