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During the war, the Dudley borough like all counties across the country was affected by the First World War. The people of Dudley played their part in the war, especially important because of the industrial heritage of the area.

 

When war was declared

Street parties were held throughout the country, and undoubtedly in our area. People were confident it would be finished by Christmas, and men rushed to enlist to have a chance of fighting before it was over. The Government asked for 100,000 men, and 750,000 volunteered. There was a deluge of propaganda, and in built up areas and towns like this, women would shame the men who stayed behind by pushing white feather into their hands, branding them cowards. German establishments in England were ‘pulled to pieces … all over England’ (Jonas Hart, Last Tommy Gallery). Germans were pushed out of British civilised society.

What was life like during the war?

For the local people, as in all throughout the country, life was difficult. Everyone from every village or town from Cornwall to the tip of Scotland knew someone who had died in the war. It was a time of great upheaval, women were starting to work and attitudes towards this were slowly altering.

Women, for the first time, were being allowed into places they had never been allowed before, the first policewomen were enlisted in 1917, and they were even going to war themselves. To avoid inviting the bombs, locals would have had to restrict light at night. The Summertime Act hours were introduced on May 21st 1916, to save fuel lighting lamps at night, and allowing an extra hour of daylight in the fields. In the munitions factories they were open 24 hours a day, day shifts taking over from night shifts and vice versa.

Land, property, canals, docks, harbours and canals were all taken under military control as part of the Defence of the Realm Act (DORA). They even enforced shorter pub opening hours, and the beer was watered down to discourage drunkenness. Spirits were virtually impossible to find. This was particularly noticeable in industrial areas producing munitions, so would certainly have impacted Dudley.

Even water was rationed. Reservoirs were watched night and day to make sure they were not contaminated by Germans. Due to increasing amounts of water being needed for munitions factories, water was cut off between 7am and 7pm. Cosely, Sedgeley, Smethwick, Brierley Hill, Dudley, Halesowen and Langley were all greatly affected by this shortage.

Accommodation for the munitions workers also had to be found. In agreement with the Town Council, the Ministry for Munitions erected 345 temporary wooden houses and 9 hostels for the factory workers. The promised children’s play area and wash houses were not built as promised, and the area soon became a slum, with fires breaking out often in the wooden houses. In October 1933, the town council decided to destroy them, and they were set alight by Alderman J. H. Molyneaux and Alderman F. W Cook. Permanent housing was built on the top of them, and now only the names of the streets hint that they were ever there at all: Arras Road, Menin Road, Haig Road, Cavell Road, Mons Road, Verdun Road.

It was a time of tension and fear and horror. Women waited at home dreading telegrams telling them their husbands, brothers, sons or boyfriends were dead, or missing. Letters got so easily lost in the post, it might be months before they were redirected to the right place, and they’d have to wait. In Stourbridge alone, 65 men were killed in the Somme, one battle among many. Across the Black Country 11,000 men were killed and over 50,000 more were injured.

What was the British army like in 1914?

Britain had the best prepared army in the world, but it was small. It had 247,432 regular troops, 120,000 of these were in the British Expeditionary Army, the rest stationed abroad. The Royal Flying Corps was established May 1912; by 1914 it had 110 aircraft and 6 airships. It may have been the most professional army in the world, but it couldn’t compete with Germany’s army of 1.5 million men. Our army was equipped even with camouflage uniform; the French went into battle wearing conspicuous blue and red, which partly accounted for their extreme losses in the first stages of the war. The Germans were originally in blue and white. They quickly changed to a dingy green, and the French to a grey blue to make them less targetable.

Local factories

Dudley Munitions Factory was authorised by David Lloyd George on 16th August 1915. Purchased from Messrs. Harper and Bean, some of the factory still stands in Hill Street today. It employed mostly women, the Government appealed for ‘women of leisure’ to do their bit. The factory women were often called ‘canaries’ because handling TNT turned their skin and hair yellow. The factory produced shrapnel and chemical shells, from 1916 repaired guns and later on also produced aero engines due to a shortage in steel.

In Cakemore, Rowley Regis, there was a factory built to produce bullets for the Birmingham Metals and Munitions Co. Trench knives were made at Robbins & Company Ltd, in Dudley. Most ironworks throughout the Black Country contributed, and miners from this area were sent to the front in order to dig underneath the German trenches and plant explosives there.

In Wednesbury, though not strictly Dudley borough, the Patent Shaft and Axletree Co. Ltd made armoured railway vehicles and gun carriages, going on to produce forgings and tanks later on. Tanks were made in Oldbury, and in the later part of the war a tank called ‘Julian’ toured the borough as a fund raising scheme. Julian encouraged people to ‘bank at the tank’ and raised £920,000 for the war effort.

Pathe video footage of WW1 tank in Brierley Hill

Fundraising

Stourbridge schoolchildren saved pocket money to buy a trench periscope for the Worcestershire regiment.

A Brierley Hill woman encouraged all her neighbours to knit socks for her son and his regiment. The Dudley National Projectile Fund committed £40 a month to the Central War Fund. Let’s not forget the efforts of Julian the tank, who helped raise £920,000.

The Stourbridge Butchers’ Association raised £25 to send gifts to the Worcestershire Regiment. They sent items such as candles, socks, wool helmets, cigarettes, handkerchiefs, mufflers, mouth organs and large boxes of Cadbury’s chocolate biscuits. In Hagley, every Monday was ‘Pound Day’ where school children would bring in a pound of food for the refugees.

Rationing

Germans intercepted the boats bringing in supplies from overseas and in 1916 Britain only had six weeks of wheat left, and had to go into rationing conditions. Land was also intensively farmed; the Government took over control of 3 million acres of land by the end of the war, which was farmed by the Women’s Land Army and conscientious objectors. However, queuing was intense, and people were still not getting enough to eat, for example by the time the munitions workers had finished their shift the shops would have sold most of their food. People started to protest and strike, demanding the Government to take action.

In 1917 a Coventry demonstration was a ‘mass parade with home-made banners and slogans and a complete sense of solidarity.’ In Cradley Heath high street a crowd insisted that a shop lower its prices and ended up smashing the windows of White’s Provision Stores. In Brierley Hill the price of sugar doubled in a week.
It wasn’t until ration cards were introduced in 1918 and people had to register with their grocer and butcher that conditions improved. The malnutrition disappeared in poorer communities and as in WW2, no one actually starved in Britain.

Germany however, despite being twice the size of Britain, struggled to feed itself. There were so few men were left in the country that they struggled to produce the food from the land. Food prices had shot up and wages had not, and so people could barely afford to eat. The British had cut off their sea access. They didn’t ration but there were serious distribution issues, the food wasn’t getting to the people, and so they starved.

Zeppelin raids

Just after 8pm on January 31 a huge German airship the L21 bombed the Black Country. Destruction began in Tipton, where it is thought that 15 people lost their lives, many others injured.

In Tipton cemetery there is a headstone that reads: ‘Benjamin Goldie whom we lost in the Zeppelin Raids, 31st January 1916, aged 42 years.’ The zeppelin moved to Bradley, Wednesbury and then Walsall, where it injured the Mayoress of Walsall, Mrs S. M. Slater and who later died from her injuries.

The bombing allegedly lit up the windows in Gornal because the flames were so big. The bombing wasn't targeted like it would be today. On this night alone 67 people were killed and 117 were injured. Later that night another German zeppelin bombed Wednesbury, Dudley, Tipton and Walsall, but though it caused a lot of damage, it didn’t cause any deaths.

After the war - the effects

On November 11 1918 there was celebration across the borough. Factory hooters sounded, church bells rang. Shops, offices and schools closed and people sang the National Anthem. In Lye the Lye Bank coincided with peace. In Quarry Bank there was a procession through the streets by a local band, and a bonfire in the evening. The evening lighting restrictions were finally lifted, and Brierley Hill celebrated with a lights procession, a bonfire and fireworks.

There were severe damages to local businesses, whose owners and sons did not return from war, and a great many women left widowed and unmarried. This war was unique, because, as John Mueller writes, it was the first war in history to have been preceded by ‘substantial, organised, anti-war agitation.’

Family life in Britain was altered after the war. It loosened family ties, and divorce rates rose to an all time high in 1921 of 3,500. But it was received with less shock; family disruption was not as horrifying as it was before. Women were resentful at being forced back into pre-war roles, as their pay had trebled during the war in the factories. There was a growing demand for individual liberty.

Also affected were the birth rates. ‘During World War One the birth rates of countries such as France, Germany, UK, Belgium and Italy declined by almost 50%’ (Guillaume Vandenbroucke). Not necessarily wholly dependent on men not coming back from war, there was also the fact that children that should have been conceived and born in 1814-1918 simply weren’t.

In France these unborn babies accounted for 3.4% of the population. There is another slump evident in 1930, where there is a deficit of men to women in the 30-50 age group, but also a ‘deficit of men and women in their teens’ (Vandenbroucke). This is not a fertility decline, but the generation that should have been born during WW1. This lack of a generation affected the 1940 consensus, because the generation that was in its peak child-bearing years (25) was unusually small due to the First World War. It was not a lack of fertility, although the Second World War definitely had some influence, but because the fertile population in 1940 was unusually small.

After the war it is also worth noting that marriage rates were ‘abnormally’ high compared to other generations, ‘a sign of “recuperation” of postponed marriages.’ (Vandenbroucke)

 

Victoria Cross recipients from Dudley borough

 

The Victoria Cross is the highest award for valour “in the face of the enemy” to be given to British armed forces personnel. It was created in 1856 and each medal is traditionally hand-made using bronze captured from a gun in the Crimean War.

Three Dudley borough men gained the Victoria Cross and on the 100th anniversary of the action for which the VC was awarded a commemorative paving stone was laid.

Dudley Council installed two in Stourbridge's Mary Stevens Park; one for Lieutenant Felix Baxter and one for Lance Corporal Thomas Bryan and a third in Coseley for Private Thomas Baxter and there are brief details about each of these below.

 

 

  • Biography

    Edward Felix Baxter was born on 18 September 1885 just half a mile from where we stand today to remember him, in a house called ‘Thornleigh’ at 15 Hagley Road, Oldswinford, part of which today forms what is now known as The Crabmill. Felix was the third of five children born to Charles Albert Baxter, a corn merchant and his wife Beatrice Annita Baxter.

    They moved to Hartlebury and Felix was educated at Hartlebury Grammar School and Christ’s Hospital School, London. On leaving he was employed as a bank clerk at The United Counties Bank and latterly a teacher in a local college in Liverpool where he married his wife Leonora Mary Cornish in 1906. They had a daughter also named Leonora Fraces the following year. Felix was a keen sportsman and he took part in many motor-cycling events including the Isle of Man TT races and was the outright winner of the London-Exeter-London Motorcycle Race in December 1913.

    At the outbreak of war Felix enlisted in the Royal Engineers as a dispatch rider in September 1914 but on finding that he was only engaged with work on home defence was commissioned on 17 September to the King’s (Liverpool) Regiment to serve in the 1/8th Territorial Battalion (The Liverpool Irish). He left for the war in France in January 1916 as a Second Lieutenant and was appointed Bombing Officer and second in command.

    VICTORIA CROSS ACTION


    Extract from The London Gazette of 26th. September 1916:
    “For the most conspicuous bravery. Prior to a raid on the hostile line he was engaged during two nights in cutting wire close to the enemy’s trenches. The enemy could be heard on the other side of the parapet. Second Lieutenant Baxter, while assisting in the wire cutting, held a bomb in his hand with the pin withdrawn ready to throw. On one occasion the bomb slipped and fell to the ground, but he instantly picked it up, unscrewed the base plug and took out the detonator, which he smothered in the ground, thereby preventing the alarm being given and undoubtedly saving many casualties.

    Later, he led the left storming party with the greatest gallantry and was the first man into the trench, shooting the sentry with his revolver. He then assisted to bomb the dug-outs and finally climbed out of the trench and assisted the last man over the parapet. After this he was not seen again, though search parties went out at once to look for him, there seems no doubt that he lost his life in his great devotion to duty.”
    Felix Baxter died on Tuesday 18 April 1916 aged 30. He was buried by German troops in the churchyard of Boiry Ste Rictrude and after the war was re-buried in Fillievres British Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France.

    No greater testimony to the valour of Lieutenant Baxter is required than that paid by Colonel Fagan, who, in a letter to Mrs. Baxter explaining the circumstances of his death, added, “The raid was successful, due to a great extent to the gallantry and resource of your husband. The men say his gallantry and coolness were marvellous. He had not been with the battalion very long, but we had realised what a splendid fellow he was. I have lost one of my best officers.”
    Similarly his fellow officers speak in the highest terms of him, and one of his men, wounded in the same raid, described him as the most popular officer in the regiment and an officer and a gentleman.

    Of such a man it can truly be said that he bought honour both to his regiment and to the town of his birth. Heroism is not an uncommon feature of the operations of the British Army, but even in heroism there are degrees, and it required conduct of outstanding merit before the award of the Victoria Cross - the highest recognition of all - was made. That Lieutenant Baxter fully deserved the honour conferred upon him posthumously is fully testified to by those who had the advantage of knowing him under actual battle conditions.

    His widow received the Victoria Cross at Buckingham Palace from King George V on the 29 November.

    Saturday 6 October at Dudley Archives

    A talk by local historian Roy Peacock on the life of Second Lieutenant Edward Felix Baxter who was awarded the Victoria Cross for his gallant actions on the battlefield during World War One. More information on the talk.

  • Biography

    Thomas Bryan was born in Bott Lane, Lye, on 21 January 1882. His father was a coalminer and as a young child the family moved to Whitwood Mere, a mining village near Castleford, Yorkshire. He later joined his father to work at Whitwood Colliery and in 1903 married Sarah Smart and had five children, two boys and three girls.

    In April 1915 Thomas volunteered at Castleford and after eight months in training was sent to the Western Front where he joined the Northumberland Fusiliers. He arrived on the 22 December 1915 and served in the 25th (Service) Battalion (2nd Tyneside Irish). They moved to the Somme but in April 1916, Thomas fractured an ankle and was sent home to recover. He returned in December 1916 and in March 1917 was promoted to Lance Corporal.


    In the winter of 1917 the German forces withdrew to the new Hindenburg Line and by April the British forces were ready to resume their advance. The Battle of Arras was not quite a repeat of the Somme as the British artillery was much more effective. It opened on the 9 April at 5.30am and four battalions of the Fusiliers were in the vanguard. On their left were Canadian forces that were famously to capture Vimy Ridge.

    VICTORIA CROSS ACTION

    On the first day of the Battle of Arras, 9 April 1917, the Fusiliers began to advance well but were held up by a German machine-gun which halted all movement. Captain Huntley with Lance Corporal Bryan set out to find it but Capt Huntley was killed by a sniper when raising his head to use binoculars so L/Cpl Bryan went on alone.

    The official citation states that he was awarded the Victoria Cross:
    “For most conspicuous bravery during an attack.
    “Although wounded, this Non-commissioned Officer went forward alone, with a view to silencing a machine gun which was inflicting much damage. He worked up most skilfully along a communication trench, approached the gun from behind, disabled it and killed two of the team as they were abandoning the gun.

    “As this machine gun had been a serious obstacle in the advance to the second objective, the results obtained by Lance Corporal Bryan’s gallant action were very far-reaching.”

    In an interview with the St. George’s Gazette, June 1917, L/Cpl Bryan said:
    “Creeping over the top, I went from shell-hole to shell-hole. Whilst making my way along, I was spotted by one of the enemy, who, letting drive, caught me in the right arm.

    Following this bit of hard luck, I decided to try a bit of rapid fire on the place where I thought the machine gun was placed and, on this being carried out, the gun which had been spitting forth its fire of death barked no more.”
    Bryan was presented with the Victoria Cross by King George V in June 1917 in front of a crowd of 40,000 people at St James Park, Newcastle.

    Shortly after receiving his Victoria Cross L/Cpl Bryan was admitted to Alnwick Hospital, Northumberland, due to the serious injuries he had sustained including a bullet wound to his right arm. In September 1918 he was honourably discharged under King’s Regulations 392 as no longer fit for military service. With war service over Thomas returned to Yorkshire, working at Askern colliery and later setting up as a greengrocer in Bentley, near Doncaster. He attended the coronation of King George VI in 1937, receiving another medal, and died aged 63 on 13 October 1945.
    He was buried at Arksey Cemetery on 17 October with full military honours.

  • Biography

    Thomas Barratt was born on 5 May 1895 to James and Sarah Barratt. He lived at 9, Foundry Street, Coseley. Sarah passed away when Thomas was very young and his father became ill and was unable to cope with caring for children and became an inmate of Dudley Workhouse Infirmary after an attack of paralysis.

    Thomas, was taken to a Workhouse under the care of the Poor Law Guardians. There were several times that Thomas ran away as he hated it there. He had a very tough childhood and went to his elder brother’s house at Albert Street, Princes End several times in a bid to stay there but, his brother and his family were not in the position to take him in and sent him back to the Workhouse. He ran away again and went to his maternal grandmother’s house, Mrs Caddick’s, she lived at 35, Darkhouse Lane, Coseley. Thomas was 12 years old when he turned up on her doorstep distressed and in tears. Thomas’s grandmother took him. She married a widower and became Mrs. Haynes. Mr. Haynes’s youngest Son, Joe, came to live with them. Thomas and Joe became great friends and would eventually enlist together.

    Thomas’s grandmother was a humble woman who could neither read nor write but she had a heart of gold and gave Thomas the love and stability that he needed. Thomas was educated at Christ Church Day Schools in Coseley and Darkhouse Baptist Chapel. Thomas worked at Cannon Iron Foundry & then at Thompson Bros., Lower Bradley, Bilston.

    Thomas’ Father, James, passed away in 1914, the same year that Thomas enlisted in the South Staffords as a regular Soldier. Thomas served at Suvla Bay and in France. He was posthumously awarded the VC for action at Passchandaele on 27 July, 1917.

    VICTORIA CROSS ACTION

    “The London Gazette”, No. 30272, dated 4 September, 1917 “For most conspicuous bravery when as a Scout to a patrol he worked his way towards the enemy line with the greatest gallantry and determination, in spite of continuous fire from hostile snipers at close range. These snipers he stalked and killed. Later his patrol was similarly held up, and again he disposed of the snipers. When during the subsequent withdrawal of the patrol it was observed that a party of the enemy were endeavouring to outflank them. Private Barratt at once volunteered to cover the retirement, and this he succeeded in accomplishing. His accurate shooting caused many casualties to the enemy, and prevented their advance”.

    “Throughout the enterprise he was under heavy machine gun fire, and his splendid example of coolness and daring was beyond all praise. After safely regaining our lines, this very gallant soldier was killed by a shell”.

    Thomas’s Divisional Commander said, “I know of no award of the Victoria Cross more richly merited. Amongst the records of stirring deeds this stands out second to none”.

    Thomas is buried at Essex Farm Cemetery at Boesinghe, Ypres, Belgium, which is not far from his gallant actions. There were rumours that Thomas was under age when he enlisted, but his birth certificate proves that he was not. Thomas was just 22 years old when he was killed. He will forever remain a true hero.

Events across Dudley borough

 

A special project called Stourbridge Old Quarter has a website dedicated to the 54 Stourbridge men who lost their lives.

:: Visit Stourbridge Old Quarter to explore the lives of these men.

 

 

Saturday 6 October at Dudley Archives

A talk by local historian Roy Peacock on the life of Second Lieutenant Edward Felix Baxter who was awarded the Victoria Cross for his gallant actions on the battlefield during World War One. More information on the talk.

2 October to 22 December at Dudley Archives

‘Their Today for our Tomorrow’ exhibition will commemorate the 100th anniversary of World War One by exploring the contributions of local people to the war effort. More information on the exhibition.

Saturday 27 October - 7pm

Stourbridge Choir and Orchestra

STOURBRIDGE TOWN HALL

Armistice Concert

Book Armistice Concert

 

Friday 2 November - 7.30pm

SSAFA West Midlands North Branch presents Time To Remember

STOURBRIDGE TOWN HALL

"Time To Remember" is a theatrical production created by Martin Barry to mark the centenary of the Armistice. Book Time to Remember

 

Saturday 3 November - 4.30pm onwards

Himley bonfire & fireworks night 

HIMLEY HALL & PARK

Hero-themed event with a unique tribute to World War I heroes.

 

Thursday 8 November - 7.30pm

Dudley Remembers - The Dudley Festival of Remembrance Show

DUDLEY TOWN HALL

The Gentlemen Songsters have teamed up with Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council, The Royal British Legion and Dudley College to pay the community's respects and to honour the fallen of the Great War on the occasion of the Centenary of the signing of the Armistice in 1918. The event also pays tribute to all other service men and women who have lost their lives in the line of duty. Book Dudley Remembers - The Dudley Festival of Remembrance Show