This month we will take a break from our Gallipoli heroes and look back to the news from the Front and life at home around Christmas and New Year 1915-16.
These stories are all taken from the 22nd and 30th December 1915 and 6th January 1916 editions of the North Devon Journal. You can see more about these and other stories by reading the microfilmed copies available at the Local Studies Centre in Barnstaple or on the British Newspaper Archive website – a pay to view website which you can use free of charge (restricted subscription so depending on availability) at either Barnstaple or the Devon Heritage Centre, Exeter.
Christmas and New Year entertainment
The North Devon Infirmary was gaily decorated with holly and evergreens, and what with the special fare voted by the House Committee, and their every comfort ministered to by the staff, the wounded soldiers and other inmates of the Institution had indeed a happy time. The fare included turkeys, sausages, plum pudding, mince pies and cream, whilst chocolates and fruit were subsequently dispensed. Hearty cheers were given for the House Committee whose Chairman spoke of the pleasure it afforded… to entertain the soldiers… if any were entitled to any special recognition it was the men who had already “done their bit”.
Men of the Royal North Devon Hussars and the 6th Devons together with wounded soldiers hospitalised in the town were entertained at a smoking concert at the Albert Hall, on the site of the present Queen’s Theatre. The Hall was most effectively embellished with flags and banners for the occasion… a number of cigarettes and other smokes were also handed around.
At the Nags Head Hotel, Market Street an interesting presentation was made to Able Seaman E H Pugsley of Raleigh, Barnstaple, home from active service on short leave. This consisted of a handsome silver-mounted cigarette case and a large box of cigarettes, together with a beautiful mandolin and case and duplicate new strings. Able Seaman Pugsley seems to have been quite a musician as during the evening he contributed most enjoyable items on different musical instruments.
Christmas shopping on the Home Front
Suggestions for presents were numerous in the North Devon Journal where Richards and Co. of Joy Street were advertising something suitable for everyone and W Dalling, tobacconist of the High Street cigars, cigarettes and tobaccos in great variety, and in suitable packings for Presents.
Dunn’s Stores offered a huge stock of Xmas crackers… over 800 boxes to select from as well as oranges, dates, muscatels, nuts and figs although apologising that owing to the War Turkey Figs (were) unprocurable.
The Performing Bears, (born in England) were not to be missed at Helliers Novelty Stores at 88 High Street where an enormous variety of new goods and a large stock of Meccanos for boys awaited the Christmas shopper.
JF Fox offered any amount of fancy silver and electro goods suitable for Xmas presents and Hill and Son, jeweller of 2 Joy Street, a business that until recent years remained in the hands of the same family, offered a select stock of useful articles from 1/- each (5p in today’s currency) and stated We are still selling our unequalled Workman 10/6 Watch (52½p).
Xmas presents – prices from 1/- upwards – we have an enormous stock and can please everybody claimed Cummings and Son of 7 High Street who also sold officers’ canes and swagger canes and repaired and recovered umbrellas. Whilst Percival Harris offered military brushes, attaché cases, purses and Xmas cards in his showroom at of 95 High Street.
The North Devon Journal even ran an article about the goods on offer from the various local businesses. Frank Youings’ attractive establishments… in High Street and Boutport Street still survive today although rebuilt in part. However no bread was to be baked on Boxing Day, as was decided by the Barnstaple Master Bakers’ Association.
News of “our boys” overseas
The North Devon War Items column in the North Devon Journal reported local men in various theatres of war.
Trumpeter Harry Isaac, of Victoria Street, Barnstaple and the 1st Royal North Devon Hussars, was in hospital at Malta suffering from frostbite as was Philip Friendship of Chittlehampton and the North Devon Yeomanry.
Sgt Reginald Dayment of South Molton had passed an examination in musketry and machine gun practice in Satara whilst stationed at Lahore, India with the 6th Devons.
Meanwhile in France Corporal Ernest Stevens, 9th Devons, of Pulchrass Street had been promoted to Sergeant and Privates Frank Bater and Jack Cann of Chittlehampton, 6th Devons, to Lance-Corporals.
Sporting success had been achieved by Frederick Knill of Kingsley Avenue, Barnstaple, serving on HMS King Edward who was although only 17½ years of age… champion lightweight of the Third Squadron.
Privates Cyril Squire and Albert Chapple, both of Barnstaple and of the Kings Rifles, had the previous week appeared in a London illustrated paper… in a photograph… showing two smiling and typical British soldiers.
Ilfracombe ships’ carpenter F Tucker had been very much struck in seeing the Bristol Channel pleasure boats, Brighton and Harry, which he had so often seen crowded with pleasure seekers, and now doing the nation’s work in conveying soldiers to places of landing.
Trooper JW Shambrook of Instow, of the 1st RNDH wrote home from Malta to say I daresay you will be surprised to hear that I came here yesterday from Suvia Bay with frostbitten feet and legs. He continued I expect I shall lose all the toes on my right foot, reporting that they had been up to their waist in water in the trenches, followed by snow and freezing conditions.
John Furseman, late road contractor, of Torrington was noted to have had five sons and one son-in-law in His Majesty’s Forces. Three sons were in France, one in India, the son-in-law in the Navy, and another son in the ASC under Lord Derby’s scheme.
Soldiers were allowed leave from the Front. Private Frank Norman of the 1st Devons wrote home to say I shall be having a furlough between now and April. We had a very quiet Christmas; no talking with the Germans this Christmas like we did the last.
Other effects of war
The stresses of war could also be said to have taken their toll on those at home. George William Turner, an ex-soldier charged with being drunk and disorderly and assault on a police officer. Turner was said to have been in the Army for thirteen years but had been invalided out with a good character. He had twice since tried to rejoin the Army, but the authorities would not let him.
The body of Mrs Caroline Bater, an elderly lady of independent means had been found in a field adjoining the Ladies’ Mile not far from her home in South Lane (now Park Lane) where she had lived with her only son. He had joined the Royal North Devon Hussars in May and the fact of his having to leave Barnstaple with his Regiment seems to have greatly distressed her. She had been found clutching a revolver containing three cartridges, one of which had apparently been discharged in the mouth.
The efficient training of girls in business subjects was seen to be of vital importance in a North Devon Journal editorial which commented that a very shrewd publicist declared last week that the “emergence of women” was the outstanding feature of War conditions.
Twelve men were named as having been obtained for direct enlistment by Sgt Williams, the Ilfracombe Recruiter.
However the question of voluntary enlistment was obviously becoming a problem socially as it was reported that the authorities have decided to offer armlets to all who have offered themselves or presented themselves for immediate service in the Army but were rejected on medical grounds.
There was no compulsory conscription at this time and correspondence to the Journal reflected a concern that many married men had already answered the call, whilst so many single ones (had) remained behind. Signing himself One of the Married Men he suggested that to save the voluntary system these men should enlist before it is “too late”.
Lord Derby’s recently published report on recruiting noted that 651,160 unstarred single men had not offered themselves and warned that it would not be possible to hold married men to their attestation unless and until the services of single men have been obtained by other means, suggesting that the single men now in reserved occupations should be replaced by older and married men including those already serving.
It was reported that about fifty men, attested under Lord Derby’s scheme and wearing armlets had attended the Church Parade at South Molton on Sunday, which would have been New Year’s Day.
The Journal’s Occasional Notes referred to in the region of 150 North Devon men having been lost in the War thus far. And also stated that in thfew places in the country can rival the standard set by Lynton and Lynmouth in the matter of recruiting where there remain only about six eligible men who have not been attested.
There was a call for qualified firemen to work with the HM Yacht Patrol on active service. This promised 30s a week pay with 10s food allowance and a clothing gratuity of 6s. Greasers were also needed with a pay of 43s a week.
Life and death
There was a Christmas Day wedding for Philip Chugg of Combe Martin and Ethel Thorne of Arlington at her parish church.
Bombardier A W Lemon, RFA, of Queen Street, Barnstaple and S Pedler of Victoria Street were married at the Newport Wesleyan Church. Bombardier Lemon had served several years in the Army, being for some time in India but had now been home on leave from France since November.
In Ilfracombe sadness was felt at the news of the death of Trooper Alfred Edward Trathen, RNDH, killed by a sniper in Gallipoli. A restaurant proprietor he had somehow managed to rig up kitchens… wherever he went; and also it was whilst improving his last kitchen that he was shot. Rumours of his death had circulated for some days until his widow received a letter from a Captain of the Regiment who acknowledged that I do not think that I should have been able to last out… if it had not been for the care he took of me. He added – The night of the day he was killed we had an awful storm of rain, followed by a blizzard and frost …and lost a lot of our belongings… amongst them a diary your husband had kept. I am so sorry it should have been lost. The only other belongings of his were a watch and a shilling, which are being sent to you.
Another member of the Royal North Devon Hussars was being mourned in the Torrington area. Lieut J O Clemson of Stevenstone House, Master of the Stevenstone Foxhounds, had also been killed in the Dardanelles. Leaving a wife and child and exceedingly popular in the district… the best in country life had appealed strongly to him and he had spared no pains to make it attractive to all classes
Torrington had further sadness when it became known in the town on Wednesday 29th that Charles Copp had died as a result of wounds received in action in Mesopotamia. Well known and one of the first to enlist in August 1914 he was described as a true comrade and a fine soldier, his fall in battle is deeply deplored by a large circle of friends.
Other deaths recorded, news of which would have cast a shadow over the festive period, were those of Private Frederick Jones of Ilfracombe and Sergeant Walter Loosemore of Raleigh, Barnstaple both of the RNDH KIA Gallipoli. Another casualty in the Dardanelles, Private Charles Slack of Landkey, 2nd London Fusiliers, died of his wounds on a hospital ship, and Lance Corporal Mervyn Roach, whose brother lived at West Down, Civil Service Rifles, 15th London Regiment died of wounds received in France.
Fundraising for those at the Front
A football match was held at Barnstaple between the Royal North Devon Hussars and Bideford to raise money towards providing Christmas comforts for wounded soldiers in the local Hospitals.
The children of the Newtown Wesleyan Methodist Sunday School at Bishops Nympton gave up their usual Christmas prizes, and the value, together with a collection taken at the Chapel, has been expended in sending gifts to the young men who have left the neighbourhood, and are now with the Forces.
Likewise, with commendable patriotism the children of Bickington Sunday School decided to forgo their Christmas prizes, the money instead going towards comforts for Devon regiment prisoners of war and from the schoolchildren of Lynton a large consignment of “cheer-ups” were despatched to the depot at Exeter.
In Braunton it was hoped that every Brauntonian serving his country would receive a present from the inhabitants, with a call for any Braunton soldier or sailor who has not yet received… to send his name to those involved in organising this.
Private Martin of the Devons and Private Jones of the RAMC’s letters of thanks were printed in the Journal in which they expressed their thanks for the good work that the old village is carrying on for the lads in the Services and kindness in thinking about the “boys” who are doing their bit out here and elsewhere.
In Torrington Mr Blatchford, the tobacconist, had had a box on his counter to collect for cigarettes for the soldiers, and also a “guess the number of cigarettes in the bottle” challenge. These had raised £2 8s (£2.40) – “enough to purchase, duty free, 6,000 Woodbines” which were divided between the 1st, 2nd, 8th & 9th Devons and the Royal North Devon Hussars.
The Navy men of Combe Martin were remembered by the village Girls Patriotic Committee who held a very successful Christmas party with games, songs, dialect readings, refreshments and a dance.
These stories are all taken from the 22nd and 30th December 1915 and 6th January 1916 editions of the North Devon Journal. You can see more about these and other stories by reading the microfilmed copies available at the Local Studies Centre in Barnstaple or on the British Newspaper Archive website, a pay to view website which you can use free of charge (restricted subscription so depending on availability) at either Barnstaple or the Devon Heritage Centre, Exeter.