This month we take a look at a selection of the stories and adverts that appeared in the local newspapers over Christmas and New Year 1916/17.
William Dart of the Devon Seed Stores, 73 High Street, was advocating the use of his “Eggmore laying meal” to encourage hens to lay during the cold damp months of winter when eggs were scarce.
Your Christmas fare could be obtained at a number of local businesses. Plum puddings and mincemeat, a large assortment of chocolates and crystallized fruit, prize cheddars, stiltons and swiss gruyere, ox tongues in tins and glass, could all be found at Chas Lock of 28 Boutport Street. “Home-made sausages, brawn and lard of the highest quality” could be found at A Frayne and Son, 34 Bear Street, pork purveyors, ham and bacon curers.
CC Dornat, North Devon Mineral Works, Tuly Street, Barnstaple offered “non-alcoholic high class cordials… a delicious substitute for ordinary intoxicating wines &c… possessing warming and invigorating qualities”. However, if you had “that creepy chilly feeling” or were feeling “stuffy in the head” you could obtain the Barum Cure from Frank Dyson, chemist of 26 Joy Street, Barnstaple.
Dunn’s Stores, at 22 and 23 High Street, offered “a huge stock of Xmas cheer”- the supply of Valencia and Jamaica oranges, Egyptian dates and Californian plums seemingly unaffected by the continuing hostilities although it was said that “owing to the War, Turkey figs (were) unprocurable”.
Difficulties of supply were also mentioned by W Dalling, tobacconist, of 11 High Street, who acknowledged that “in spite of present difficulties and shortage of supplies” that he could offer a selection PRACTICALLY EQUAL to his pre-war standard” of “the most acceptable and useful Xmas presents”.
W Manaton of Braunton also sought to reassure customers that he could “still supply pre-war indigo suitings” which when “made up with linings of a quality not now obtainable, enable us to keep up our old quality”.
Frank Rowe of Barnstaple and Braunton announced that “Father Christmas has arrived” with sacks and sacks of dolls and toys” on offer. Hellier’s Novelty Stores of 88 High Street suggested that we “throw off dull care and let us have a pleasant Xmas with our little ones” – by way of a trip to see all the “pretty and interesting things”at their shop. In the small ads Hellier’s also advised that you “always take an electric pocket lamp with you these dark nights- to be had… all prices” at their stores, of course.
Samuel Daw of 12 and 13 High Street suggested a Khaki Xmas, and the purchase of “military woollen half hose” or “warm pants or vests” among the ideas for “the man in khaki”. Walter J Thomas of 48 Boutport Street commended “something useful in these times”for men in the Services and a similar choice, including “sleeping helmets, mufflers, (and) spencers”, and sustenance in the form of Genoa Cake from Barnstaple Bakeries was mooted as”an ideal present for our boys at the Front”
The Lynton and Barnstaple Railway announced a change in its timetable to accommodate the Christmas Market being held on the Thursday 21st December rather than the usual Friday, and a Sunday service for Christmas Day itself.
Entertainment on offer at the Theatre Royal consisted of the “special War Office picture – The King visits his armies in the Great Advance” four showings on Boxing Day and Wednesday.
Those injured in the War were not forgotten, as a collection on behalf of Barnstaple War Supply Depot was to be made on Christmas Market Thursday, the depot having “established a fine record in making requisites for the wounded in the hospitals and in other directions”.
The daily cost of the War was now a staggering “£ 5,710,000 including £400,000 daily in advances to Allies”. The total expenditure of the War for the year was said to have been £1,950,000,000, £350,000,000 more than had been the Budget estimate. Mr Bonar Law pointed out that the armies could not be kept at their present strength indefinitely and that all that could be hoped for was that they would be “kept on a strong figure long enough to beat our enemies” – an estimated figure of an extra 1,000,000 men for 1916/17 bringing the total to 5,000,000 is quoted.
The effects of this mass mobilisation on families are illustrated by two brief articles. One records the death of 19 year old John Yeo, of Raleigh Park, at Aldershot, so probably in the Army, the fifth son of a family who had four sons in the Services. The other, a poignant note of sincere thanks by the three sons of the recently deceased FJ Tancock, neither of whom could attend their father’s funeral due to being on active service abroad.
The sad news reached Filleigh of the death of Private Arthur Pugsley who had been hit by a piece of shell and died on the way to the dressing station. The platoon commander, writing to his widow, also enclosed a letter written to her on the day of his death.
Another sad loss, to Chittlehampton, was of Harold Woolaway of Coombe farm, who had been home in uniform only a fortnight previously but contracted measles and died in the Naval Hospital at Plymouth.
Mr and Mrs Charles Dennis of Bedford Street, who had heard nothing for over a year of their two sons, who had survived the siege of Kut and since been prisoners of war in Turkey, had heard in the last weeks that both had died from dysentery or sickness. They had two other sons in the Army, one of those in Mesopotamia.
Mr and Mrs E Berry of Carrington Terrace, already looking after their three grandchildren after their daughter’s death. had heard that their son-in-law was now suffering from malaria and heart disease in Alexandria. They too had three sons of their own in the Army.
The suicide of Mabel Vavasour Peek, 32 year old companion help from Ilfracombe, was put down to her “temporary insanity” having asphyxiated herself in the gas oven, her employer having found her lying on the scullery floor one morning after her breakfast in bed had not arrived, nor had any answer to her summoning bell. Miss Peek’s brother had just gone to the Front and she was said to have been worried that he would never come back.
Mrs Darch of Pilton Street, heard of the death of her husband William from malarial disease and yellow jaundice in Basra. He had had the disease three times already and she had also received on the same morning, a letter from him saying that he was improving and to be transferred to a convalescent home. Aged 29 he had been married a few years but no children are mentioned. He did, however, have four other brothers serving.
Deaths from dysentery at Alexandria and Basra were also recorded in the North Devon War Items column of the newspaper as well as other soldiers being home on sick or Christmas leave. The receipt of woollen goods from two women, and also eleven shirts and thirteen pairs of socks made by a Swymbridge (sic) working party, by the aforementioned Barnstaple War Supply Depot are also noted.
The War Supply Depot at Lynton and Lynmouth had contributed 294 pairs of crutches – made. varnished, and padded locally – and 3,740 bandages and swabs. The Lynton Patriotic Working Society and the Lynmouth Working Party were also making items to be sent overseas.
WJ Buckley, serving with the Australian contingent, had just spent ten days leave from the French front with an uncle in Braunton. Only 19 years of age, he stood at 6ft 8 in and was also “splendidly developed”, his “extreme height attracting general attention” when he had been in Barnstaple on the Friday.
At home, a veteran of the Dardanelles, James Nunn of South Molton, who had been invalided out of service, had a narrow escape from drowning when he fell through the ice on a flooded lime pit at South Aller Farm after missing his footing while laying rabbit traps. “Suffering with cold and shock, he reached home in an exhausted condition, and has since been confined to his room”.
In contrast to the enticing Christmas food stuffs on offer, debate in the local press concerned the need for more potatoes to be grown with the suggestion that 50 acres of Codden Hill should be ploughed for this purpose. The Sports Ground and Pilton Park were also considered as locations by Barnstaple Town Council as well as the gardens of Ashleigh Road School. The suggestion of the Sports Ground was apparently “subject to a good deal of ridicule in the Market on Friday among farmers acquainted with the locality” with one expert saying that to break up the grassland was a waste of time and money and better suited to hay or grazing. The Council also suggested asking the Taw and Torridge Conservators to relax the restrictions on catching coarse fish in the river.
The employment of German prisoners was discussed at a meeting of the Barnstaple War Agricultural Committee and there were suggestions, by Barnstaple Farmers Union and Barnstaple Rural District Council respectively, that German prisoners of war be employed in planting the potatoes and also in quarrying.
Barnstaple Education Committee voted to pay bonuses to teachers for the duration of the War, the amount varying according to their present salary, marital status and number of children. These were to remain in place “for the duration of the War and for six months afterwards” but the article does not make clear the reasoning for this seemingly generous provision.
The tenants of properties in Corser Street, Barnstaple, formerly known as Boden’s Row, were to benefit from an improvement scheme by their new landlord, William Hutchings, whereupon the forty cottages were to be “converted into model dwellings. As the result a very striking and welcome transformation is being effected; and the enterprise of the public-spirited owner is eliciting general commendation.”
The Amalgamated Union of Operative Bakers, Confectioners and Allied Workers had written to the Mayor to offer their “very sincere thanks” for his efforts “to avert a strike in the Baking Trade of Barnstaple”. These had been successful and it was hoped that any “outstanding points of difference may be settled in an amicable way.” This pre-General Strike nod to deference and paternalism can also be seen in Earl Fortescue’s speech to the South Molton branch of the Devon Farmers Union, that they had not asked him there to sing Christmas carols, “rather that he should give them such counsel as he could as to the way to which they could best play their part in these anxious days.”
HH Taplin of Woody Bay wrote to the Journal concerned about “the unspeakable influence… that the traffic of alcohol has upon every sphere of our lives.” Arguing for the prohibition of the sale of alcoholic drinks, he continues -“the dread of the slavery to alcohol is even stronger that the German peril” and finishes – “let the New Year bring with it the death of the two greatest curses on earth – the Huns and Alcohol.”
He would have been pleased to read that, as from January 8th, all the licensed premises in Barnstaple were to close one hour earlier, at 10pm rather than 11pm, to bring them into line with other premises which had had to adopt earlier closing times due to restricted lighting. This, presumably, was the cause of the “dark nights” mentioned in Hellier’s advertisement earlier.
The recently built Barnstaple Grammar School advertised a rather surprising curriculum for boys in that it included a shorthand class besides “classical and modern education, manual instruction” for boys. For younger readers, shorthand is a way of taking notes quickly in a form of hieroglyph, a dying art these days, but one which young women of the post ww2 decades were taught, alongside typing, as a popular career option. But perhaps office work was not seen as appropriate for girls in these earlier times, who were offered their own “specially suited for girls”curriculum of languages, literature, mathematics, botany, cookery and needlework.
To finish on a celebratory note, Boxing Day weddings were not uncommon, even up until the 1950s, and in 1916 Walter Bracher and Lily Trollope had been married at Holy Trinity Church, Barnstaple. The bride “neatly attired in a tailor made blue costume with a pale blue hat to match” received a set of fox furs from the groom, to whom she gave, in return, a gold signet ring. The Journal comments that “the happy couple were the recipients of numerous and costly presents” – coming from Belle Meadow and Diamond Street respectively, not wealthy areas of the town, perhaps this was seen to be worthy of note.
We hope that you have enjoyed this look at the past and that, despite imminent staffing changes, we will be able to continue our monthly blog postings throughout the next years to reflect the progress of the Great War.
At this time of year, of “peace and goodwill to all men”, it is particularly poignant to remember that this was supposed to be “the war to end all wars” – can we not learn the lessons from the past and stop repeating the same mistakes?
North Devon Journal – 20th December 1916 and 4th January 1917 – available to view in our Local Studies Centre at Barnstaple either on microfilm or via the British Newspaper Archive online which is free to use and download, (access may be unavailable at times due to subscription restrictions), your only cost being to pay for printouts.
1916 postcard image – https://www.worldwar1postcards.com/christmas-postcards.php