Dorset during WW1: how life in the county changed - but continued - 100 years ago

Nurses and patients outside the old Christchurch Infirmary in the First World War

Nurses and patients outside the old Christchurch Infirmary in the First World War

First published in News by

The fighting may have been several hundred miles away. But there was no Phoney War for Dorset in 1914. Within days of Britain’s fateful entry into what was to become known as the Great War, the changes started.

On Monday August 17 1914 the Bournemouth Echo explained what the newly-imposed Martial Law meant for our readers. Loitering around railway bridges ‘may be visited by severe consequences’ and there were regulations to prohibit the ‘circulation of alarming news’.

See some of the stories published by the Daily Echo during the war in a gallery

All Germans – of which there were many in the hotel trade – were given notice to register as aliens and then leave the town which had become a restricted area for them. Hungarians and Austrians were similarly treated.

Like World War II there were restrictions on shining lights at night. Royal Bath Hotel manager Frederick Latham fell foul of this by allowing a light to be shone on Boxing Day 1915. On November 29 1915 Sir Ernest Cassel, the Privy councillor of Branksome Dean in Alumhurst Road, Westbourne, was summoned for failing to extinguish the light outside his residence. “Well I must have a light on to see my friends off,” he drawled. A £2 fine was imposed.

These restrictions were not as petty as they now appear – the country had begun to endure the first bombing raids by the eerie Zeppelins. Dorset did not suffer any direct hits, but the carnage wreaked in London and on the East Coast was reported with great solemnity here.

Some of the other law changes were less onerous, depending on your proclivities. For the teetotal the 9pm curfew for the public houses of Swanage, Studland and Langton Matravers would have caused little harm, as would the restriction of the sale of alcohol elsewhere, although there was mere resignation when tea, as well as meat and sugar, went on ration in 1918.

But pigeon-fanciers must have felt miffed after September 4 1914 when, under the Defence of the Realm Act, they were ordered to obtain the permission of the chief officer of police for their birds.

Bournemouth Echo:   Soldiers outside the Union Jack Club, a recreational club for the military, in Christchurch High Street in about 1917.

Within 12 weeks of war breaking out the county found itself welcoming 60,000 troops; on November 9 1914 alone, 500 officers and men disembarked at Boscombe Station.

The sheer influx prompted the requisitioning of St Aldhem’s Institute, the Parkstone Baptist Lecture Hall, the Primitive Methodist Hall and the Branksome Liberal Club to provide accommodation for just 600 soldiers of the Royal Engineers. Other servicemen were lodged in hastily-erected camps and empty hotels, as well as billeted on the local population, which rose magnificently to the occasion.

In a matter of months, a head-spinning number of committees sprang up to raise and wrest every penny possible from the local population to aid the war effort, as well as collect all manner of useful goods or chattels. Gloves, galoshes, blankets and rugs were all demanded within the first few weeks.

By November 17 1914 the call had gone out for ‘those of your readers who have gramophone records they could spare’ to entertain soldiers while they waited to be shipped to the front. We published requests, variously, for the ‘loan of a small billiard table’ and sandbags for the trenches.

The Queen’s Needlework Guild asked women to collect suitable garments for soldiers and refugees and, lead by the Rev Horspool of Suffolk Road, an army of knitters was recruited to produce cotton slings for wounded troops.

Bournemouth Hairdressers’ Association arranged for some of their number to help shave and trim the hair of the wounded troops who started to pour back to the area’s myriad hospitals and convalescent homes following the commencement of hostilities.

Even ‘Queenie the dog’ got in on the act, sitting patiently outside the Westbourne Arcade tobacconist to collect the grand sum of £1 and five shillings for the Red Cross on November 9 1914, supervised by the redoubtable Ladies’ Field Dog Collecting Brigade.

It would be almost impossible to quantify the amount of money that was raised by public collection during World War I except, perhaps, to remember that every £1,000 donated – as it regularly was on collection and fete days – was worth around £23,000 in today’s money.

The King’s Fund, Princess Mary’s Fund, the local Distress Committee for people who were unemployed, the Home for Wounded Soldiers at 3 Bracken Road, Grand Avenue in West Southbourne, Belgian Refugees, War Horses (£570 was raised for them in one week), all had their collecting day, along with more traditional outfits, such as the NSPCC.

Pieces of crashed Zeppelin were fashioned into brooches to be sold to the highest bidders to help the war effort – the Echo was very proud to procure 60 pieces of this unusual jewellery to auction at our office.

Through the advertisements, announcements and news pages of the Echo it’s possible to trace how life changed – but continued– 100 years ago.

Bournemouth Echo:   Holdenhurst Road, Bournemouth with Stuart Road (out of sight ) to the left. Possibly recruitment, with new recruits dressed in long coats on the right and their families lined up by the shops at the rear

For many businesses the war was another opportunity to make a sale; billeting prompted a run of adverts urging women to stock up on mattresses and bedding. The A.Knight & Co motorworks in Poole was quick to advise potential clients that if their horses had been commandeered ‘for purposes of war,’ then maybe it was ‘time to consider the advantages of motor vehicles’.

Our pages were used continued from previous page to conduct ‘Piano wars’ as purveyors of the instruments – as ubiquitous as the flat-screen today – wondered what to do about the made-in Germany problem.

In a land where pet dachshunds were being routinely kicked for being hunnish and where local trader, Mr Kuhn, ladies’ tailor and furrier of No 3 The Crescent, Boscombe had paid to let his customers know that ‘he is not as has been rumoured a German, he is of Swiss nationality’, it was a headache.

The Managing director of E Price & Sons Piano Store in Bournemouth made the following patriotic – and presumably profit-squeezing – announcement.

“In view of the reprehensible action taken by Germany in deliberately and wantonly providing the war at present in progress, E Price and Sons of Bournemouth will hereby proclaim their determination, in so far as their power lies, to cease dealing in German pianofortes and from this date to promote the English pianoforte trade by all means in their power.”

It may all have been in vain. By 1917 advertisements for gramophones had overtaken those for pianos, especially something called the ‘trench gramophone’ which could be dispatched to your soldier to provide some respite from the hell of battle.

Throughout the war the Bournemouth Echo continued to report the news, from major announcements such as ’Revolution in Russia’, and the ‘Great Verdun Battle’ with ‘unheard-of violence’, to the comings and goings at the police courts. War was not enough to keep Dr Augustus Kinsey Morgan of Richmond Hill from being summonsed for keeping a ‘dangerous’ Welsh terrier.

Even as we published lists containing hundreds of names of the dead, injured and missing every week, we also glibly celebrated the ‘Wimborne Patriotic Families’ a Mr and Mrs E Loader and Mr and Mrs E Barrow, neighbours who each had ‘six sons in the forces’ and a family with seven sons serving in the forces.

But life carried on; in the same newspaper that we reported the carnage of Gallipoli, we also noted that Mr S French caught a thresher shark off Boscombe, and that Parkstone Garden Association had held a ‘successful exhibition of sweet peas’.

In national news we reported that the 1915 cup final between Chelsea and Sheffield United saw the London club ‘thoroughly beaten at Old Trafford’. Wembley Stadium, of course, hadn’t been built.

And in local news our readers learned that 1,500 rats were officially destroyed in 1914 in Poole.

The council could be that certain because they paid a bounty of 1p per dead rat’s tail.

People enjoyed attending talks about the war, the causes of war and even as early as 1915, what would happen when war was over.

In a report on Bournemouth Libraries on October 9 1914 we reported that: “It might well be expected that the issue of books would be severely curtailed but this has not been the case.”

Popular tomes included; ‘Pan Germanism’, of which there were 12 copies, and ‘Memories of the Kaiser’s Court’.

Interestingly, public works continued apace. On July 2 1915 Poole’s Town Planning Committee ‘contemplated development in the district of Sandbanks’. Attention was called to a scheme; ‘laying out for building purposes between Shore Road, Sandbanks, Flaghead Road and Chaddesley Road.’

On July 6 that year Bournemouth Borough completed the end of Southbourne Overcliff Drive and in early 1918 a move to purchase the Mont Dore Hotel (lately a hospital for recovering Indian and British soldiers) for the princely sum of £33,000 sparked lively debate, even as the war raged. The Municipality got its way and still resides there today.

Bournemouth Echo:  Music hall star Marie Lloyd played the Boscombe Hippodrome in 1917

Echo readers were entertained, too, starting with repertory theatre, but later with celebs such as contralto Madam Clara Butt, who came to sing her patriotic song ‘My Boy Jack’ and Queen of the Music Hall, Marie Lloyd, who appeared at the Boscombe Hippodrome in 1917.

Wombwells world-famous circus rolled up with its hippo-in-a-tank, while, for the higher-of-brow, Ibsen’s controversial play Ghosts was performed in December 1917 in Bournemouth, following a 23-year ban by the Lord Chamberlain.

Sport-lovers still had the cricket, and a charity baseball match at Meyrick Park between teams from the USA and Canada, as well as a special game of Aussie Rules Football, caused great excitement.

Bournemouth Echo:  Bournemouth pier approach and undercliff drive in 1918

Naturally, however, the greatest effect upon our readers was the unrelenting death and injury to their menfolk. Scores of hospitals, sanatoriums and convalescent homes opened across the district to deal with the war’s horrors which included gas attacks in the trenches.

Locals worked tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of these men.

Even King George chipped in, sending Boscombe Military Hospital 25 shot pheasants and 40 partridges which were ‘received with much joy’ in November 1914.

Joy erupted again on Monday November 11 1918 when, at 10.30am, the crowds gathered in Albert Road outside our offices – we had a private telegraph wire – to hear the news of the Armistice.

As the soldiers cheered and women danced, these poor, war-weary people could not have known that even as they celebrated they were almost certainly starting to spread the deadly Spanish flu virus which would go on to claim even more lives than the German war machine.

Comments (5)

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12:34pm Sat 2 Aug 14

Townee says...

How nice to be able to read things that happened 100 years ago, even if they were sad things.
How nice to be able to read things that happened 100 years ago, even if they were sad things. Townee
  • Score: 1

6:00pm Sat 2 Aug 14

Lord Spring says...

The picture of Holdenhurst Road appears to be taken from Victoria Place by the Dolphin Pub as the upper floors are still of the same layout in fact the 2 of the shops show entrance doors to the above premises and they still exist as such.
Yes Stewart Road ( Stuart Road ) would have been to the left a long way to the left as there was a pair of cottages ( demolished to make Mobile Petrol station 1960) which had access to Caslakes Ironworks and then there another shop and a chemist on the corner of Stewart Road. Aldi now occupies all the immediate left of this picture
Frisbys shoe shop looks to have the number 269 which is now Argee Bargies.
In my schooldays days Frisbys was on the corner of Lowther Road so they had moved by then
The picture of Holdenhurst Road appears to be taken from Victoria Place by the Dolphin Pub as the upper floors are still of the same layout in fact the 2 of the shops show entrance doors to the above premises and they still exist as such. Yes Stewart Road ( Stuart Road ) would have been to the left a long way to the left as there was a pair of cottages ( demolished to make Mobile Petrol station 1960) which had access to Caslakes Ironworks and then there another shop and a chemist on the corner of Stewart Road. Aldi now occupies all the immediate left of this picture Frisbys shoe shop looks to have the number 269 which is now Argee Bargies. In my schooldays days Frisbys was on the corner of Lowther Road so they had moved by then Lord Spring
  • Score: 1

7:34am Sun 3 Aug 14

Lord Spring says...

Another possibility for this gathering may have been for a military funeral service conducted at the Elim Tabernacle 100 yards down Victoria Place from Holdenhurst Road.
Another possibility for this gathering may have been for a military funeral service conducted at the Elim Tabernacle 100 yards down Victoria Place from Holdenhurst Road. Lord Spring
  • Score: 0

7:40am Mon 4 Aug 14

Phixer says...

"All Germans – of which there were many in the hotel trade – were given notice to register as aliens and then leave the town which had become a restricted area for them. Hungarians and Austrians were similarly treated."

The problem of immigrant workers is nothing new.
"All Germans – of which there were many in the hotel trade – were given notice to register as aliens and then leave the town which had become a restricted area for them. Hungarians and Austrians were similarly treated." The problem of immigrant workers is nothing new. Phixer
  • Score: 0

6:11pm Mon 4 Aug 14

BIGTONE says...

Have we progressed from the 11th century because of these conflicts?
Have we progressed from the 11th century because of these conflicts? BIGTONE
  • Score: 0

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