THE FIRST WORLD WAR 1914-18
EVERYDAY LIFE IN DARTFORD, 1914-18
Dartford's role in the First World War was threefold: as a centre for munitions factories; as the location for one of the principal airfields in the defence of London (Joyce Green Aerodrome), and as the venue for important military hospitals (Orchard Hospital and the Dartford War Hospital) used to treat injured Australians, Germans (prisoners-of-war), and Americans.
One of the earliest signs that Britain was at war with Germany in 1914 was when dozens of London buses passed through Dartford carrying troops to Dover en route for the continent. During the first few days of the war, the Regular Army arrived in Dartford and placed a barricade across The Brent close to the entrance to Hesketh Park. Armed soldiers did sentry duty and every vehicle was stopped and searched. Boy Scouts were put to work guarding bridges, tunnels and important buildings. These young lads were later employed as medical orderlies and messengers. The army commandeered horses and transport in the local area.
Reservists in Dartford were called-up for active service, and trains were requisitioned to transport soldiers to the coastal ports prior to embarkation for France, Belgium or further afield.
Large numbers of Belgian refugees began to arrive in Dartford from October 1914 onwards. These refugees were given temporary accommodation at the Workhouse on West Hill. Their stay in this rather unpleasant environment did not last very long. As soon as circumstances allowed they were transferred to the homes of Dartford families who had generously offered hospitality. Local firms gave the refugees jobs and Dartford doctors offered their services and medicines free-of-charge. Local people were encouraged to donate clothes, furniture and money to help the Belgians. No.1 The Brent, was fitted-out as a Belgian Cafe.
Dartford quickly became a centre for the manufacture of munitions. Hundreds of people came to Dartford to work in the munitions Works owned by Vickers. The Works, which also employed a lot of local people, concentrated on the production of explosives and parts for grenades and shells. There was a desperate shortage of accommodation. Many of the workers were housed at Dartford Workhouse until enough private accommodation could be rented in Dartford and surrounding villages.
The Dartford firm of J. & E. Hall also undertook war work, mainly the manufacture of Hallford lorries which were used to carry munitions across the country to ports, and also shipped abroad to carry the shells to the men at the front. The firm, which employed over 300 women as crane drivers, lathe operators and acetylene welders, also manufactured bombs, bullets, bomb-dropping equipment, and refrigeration equipment for warships. Relations between management and staff were sometimes strained. There were strikes in Dartford during the war years at Vickers and Halls. Most disputes were over the payment of productivity bonuses.
SPIES AND ALIENS
There was a great deal of concern in and around Dartford that German spies might be operating in the local area. Under the National Registration Act of 1915 every person over 14 years of age had to be registered. Anti-German feelings ran high in Dartford. The few German and Austrian families who remained in Dartford were rounded-up and eventually sent to a special internment camp for the Alien Enemy sited near Darenth Hospital. There were occasional attacks by anti-German mobs on the houses and shops of anyone suspected of being German or Austrian. Local schools were criticised for continuing to teach pupils German, and Dartford bands and orchestras were discouraged from playing German music.
Spy stories in Britain during the First World War were common. Those with foreign accents or behaving suspiciously were carefully watched. Leopold Schanz was charged at Dartford Police Court with failing to register himself to the police as an alien enemy. In May 1915, the local newspaper reported an outbreak of anti-German mob law in Dartford when the shop of an English-born grocer (with a German-sounding name) was attacked by a mob at Colney Road.
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AIR RAIDS AND AIR RAID PRECAUTIONS
Dartford played an important role in the defence of London. Anti-aircraft guns were sited on The Brent, Dartford Heath and the Dartford Marshes, and dozens of searchlights and listening posts were erected in the district. The total number of air raids in or near Dartford (1914-18) was thirty-seven. It is quite remarkable that nobody was killed in Dartford as a direct result of these air raids. High explosive and incendiary bombs were dropped in the area.
One of the most sinister threats to the people of Dartford came from the German airships or Zeppelins which made regular raids across the North Sea to bomb important military installations as well as targets which had a high propaganda value. The Zeppelins were large, could fly at high altitudes and were equipped with a deadly cargo of bombs.
The Zeppelins generated so much fear that the lord mayor of London offered a £500 prize to the first pilot or gun crew to shoot down a Zeppelin over British soil. This award was claimed by members of an anti-aircraft gun emplacement sited on The Brent at Dartford. The gun crew played an important part in bringing down a Zeppelin known as the L15.
As the London aerial defences got stronger, the Zeppelins concentrated
their attacks on the Midland counties. German Gothas started raiding London
in the Autumn of 1917. One week in 1917, the German planes passed over
Dartford three nights in succession; the Brent guns fired nearly a thousand
rounds at these raiders.
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A DARTFORD CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTOR
The local newspaper often carried reports of tribunals convened to hear the objections of men who felt, for whatever reason, unable to serve in the armed forces. Some objected to fighting on religious or moral grounds, others considered that their occupations were more important to the country than compulsory military service. The following reports of a tribunal hearing is fairly typical.
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JOYCE GREEN AERODROME
Joyce Green Aerodrome on the Dartford Marshes at Long Reach had been used prior to the First World War by Vickers Ltd. for the testing of their prototype planes. At the outbreak of war in 1914 it was decided that the aerodrome should house two FB5 Gunbuses as part of the defence of London. Later, work was put in hand to extend the aerodrome facilities at Joyce Green in order to house a permanent Royal Flying Corps unit under the auspices of No.6 Wing which was responsible for training potential pilots. The construction of hangars, workshops and ground staff quarters took place out at the northern end of the airfield alongside the Long Reach Tavern (now demolished).
Early in 1915, the construction of the Royal Flying Corps base at Joyce Green was completed and No.10 Reserve Squadron moved in. Equipped with Henry Farman, Vickers FB5 and FB9, DH2 and FE8 aeroplanes, the squadron's main function was to receive pupils from preliminary training schools for final training and qualifications for their wings. There were many accidents and quite a few trainee pilots were killed. James Thomas Byford McCudden VC DSO (and Bar), MC (and Bar), Croix de Guerre, one of the most highly decorated air aces in the First World War, arrived at Joyce Green in March 1917 to take up the appointment of Wing Fighting Instructor. McCudden had shot down fifty-seven German aeroplanes by the time he was 22. His job involved teaching combat duties to the more advanced pupils.
WAR HOSPITALS IN AND AROUND DARTFORD
In 1915 the Government took possession of the Orchard Hospital at Long Reach for the use of sick and wounded soldiers, but after only a few months it was occupied exclusively by Australians. Some thousands of Australians were treated at this hospital 1915-19, and local people did their best to make their stay as comfortable and enjoyable as possible. Special entertainments were arranged at the hospital and the soldiers were welcomed into many local homes. Some Dartford girls married Australian soldiers.
The town's Lower Southern Hospital was taken over by the government for the use of badly wounded Germans. Known as Dartford War Hospital, convoys of seriously wounded prisoners of war were treated there. Many died and were buried in the hospital grounds. Those who recovered were sent away to a prisoner-of-war camp. It was a common sight to see prisoners-of-war out and about in Dartford. They were employed doing menial jobs and helping out on local farms. In 1918 the Southern Hospital adjoining the Lower Southern was taken over by the United States government for the use of American sick and wounded.
NEW OPPORTUNITIES FOR LOCAL WOMEN 1914-18
The First World War has often been regarded as a significant turning point for women. Women were at last given the opportunity to undertake many of the jobs in commerce and industry that had traditionally been undertaken by men. Hundreds of Dartford men were called up for military service. It was up to local women to fill the gaps which resulted.
In the munitions industry women did almost every job available, making and filling shells and cartridges, labouring, cleaning, catering, driving and storeroom-keeping. Much of the work in munitions was repetitive and women were largely on automatic or semi-automatic machines. However, they were given the chance to learn some skills in engineering, which included the production of many kinds of weapons. Women also had the opportunity to work in the transport industry as bus conductors, ticket collectors, porters, carriage cleaners and bus drivers. The Royal Mail recruited a large force of female van drivers; others were trained as carpenters, plumbers and gas fitters.
Lots of women wore uniform for the first time as nurses, VADs (Voluntary Aid Detachment), WAACs (Women's Army Auxiliary Corps) or, in 1917, as members of the newly-formed Women's Land Army. Women who joined the Land Army undertook general field work or dairy work as well as ploughing, thatching and shepherding.
THE UNVEILING OF DARTFORD'S WAR MEMORIAL IN 1922
The unveiling of the town's War Memorial took place outside Dartford Library on 7 May 1922. The design finally chosen was by Arthur Walker ARA. In producing his design he had, he said, chosen a type of figure to represent "the men who won the war". Seeing such a man one day in Chelsea with the mud of Flanders on his boots, he had persuaded the man to allow himself to be modelled.
On the day of the unveiling, three bands led the hymn singing. The Air Vice-Marshal Sir Geoffrey Salmond KCMG, CB, DSC, pulled the cords to remove the flag, revealing the now long familiar life-size bronze soldier figure.
Initially, 345 names were commemorated on the Memorial. New plaques commemorating the dead of later wars have been added. It was cleaned and restored in 1982.
Previously, in December 1920, the Duke of York visited Dartford to unveil two war memorials at St. Alban's Church, and to open the Glentworth Club for ex-Servicemen close to Lowfield Street. The Club equipped with its own concert hall, billiard room, writing and smoking rooms, restaurant and bathroom, was erected in memory of Viscount Glentworth (only son of the Countess of Limerick) and all the other men of Dartford who laid down their lives in the war.