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Fletton Remembers 1914


This article will focus on Fletton in 1914, and the huge sacrifice that many men made throughout the war.

Fletton at the outbreak of the Great War

In 1914, at the outbreak of the Great War, Fletton was a thriving community. It had grown from a small rural village numbering 256 in 1841 to a working village of 4,742 in 1911. Fletton had been established on the back of the railways, the brickyards, Farrow’s Peas and Canning factory, Symingtons Corset factory, Cadge and Colmans, Celta Road flax factory and numerous other smaller concerns.

Like so many other villages, towns and cities throughout Great Britain life in Fletton was about to change.

A call to join

A Territorial Force the Hunts. Cyclist Battalion was formed locally. Lord Sandwich, of Huntingdon, was appointed the Honorary Colonel. The names of three local ‘gentlemen’ were put forward who were prepared to accept commissions. The first man, Arthur Mellows, studying Classics with philosophy at Oxford on the outbreak of war would later give his name to a secondary school in Whittlesey. The other two men had connections with the local brick industry. Lt. Col. Herbert managed the Norman Cross brickworks. He also helped run family farming operations in Norfolk. He had been a member of the neighbouring Peterborough City Council, Huntingdonshire County Council and County Educational Committee together with being a Governor of the Secondary school in Fletton.  Herbert had been gazetted a captain of the old volunteer battalion and in 1911 junior major. In 1912 he was promoted to senior major and in 1913 was 2nd in command of the 5th Bedfordshire Regiment. Mr. Charles William Dell Rowe was the son of Mr. J. A. Rowe a well-known brickmaker in Fletton. Even though he was only 20 years of age he received his commission in the Bedfordshire Regiment while at school. After attending three camps with the Officer’s Training Corps and three with the Bedfordshire Regiment he was attached at Chelsea Barracks in 1912 and gazetted 1st Lieutenant in 1913. He went on to serve with the Royal Flying Corps and in later life was awarded an MBE.

Recruiting to the Hunts Cyclists went well. The Hunts Cyclists raised two companies in Fletton, which included Stanground, F and G companies. F company was commanded by Rowe. In 1914 there were only fifty places still vacant.  Each company would have two officers, a colour sergeant and 54 men. On the evening of Tuesday 19th May Mr. Herbert Wootton J. P. presided over a large recruitment meeting in the Council School, Fletton. (For more information about Mr. H. Wootton see blog 12) Lord Sandwich and Lt. Col Herbert were also in attendance. Their aim was to encourage men to join the Hunts Cyclists. Lord Sandwich believed it would be a feather in the Fletton company’s cap if they filled their numbers that year. He went on to say that we have invited the men to ‘come because you like it’. But he felt that they should ‘come whether you like it or not. There is no merit at all in coming if you like it. There is merit in coming if on the whole you would rather not’.  Lt. Col. Herbert then explained the conditions of service which included attending an annual camp for fifteen days, payment of one shilling a day, boot allowance of two shillings sixpence, a bounty of one pound if the camp was attended for all fifteen days, a grant of one pound ten shillings and sixpence for the cycle. For married men there was separation allowance of one shilling and one penny per day and an extra tuppence a day for any children under fourteen. Lt. Col. Herbert concluded by saying that they needed 179 men, they were 111 strong so required sixty eight more men. In the event forty five men joined and signed their attestation papers.

Fletton Men Depart

Preparations now gathered pace. By June 1914 rifles, uniforms and kit were at the drill centres. In Fletton this was Phorpres House. The first camp was held in Skegness on July 12th. Women were also volunteering for the Voluntary Aid Detachment and in Peterborough there were ten officers and 111 members.

As war was declared on 4th August 1914 the Mayor of Peterborough wrote a civic appeal. He asked everyone to conduct themselves ‘with calmness and discretion’. He advised that citizens should ‘live frugally and soberly, for the coming weeks, or it may be months’.

On Thursday 6th August 1914 the Hunts Cyclists departed for active service in Grimsby. The two Fletton Companies paraded, with their cycles, to the Great Northern Railway station. As they passed through Cowgate, Peterborough they were met with a hearty cheer.

The Effect on Industry

Industry in Fletton immediately felt the effects of the Great War.

The loss of so many men left employers with back logs of work. J. P. Hall, water pump manufacturers, had moved to Fletton, from Newcastle-Upon-Tyne in 1893, and they now lost ten men from the engineering shops to the War. The Managing Director took a positive view saying that with the loss of men and new government work there would be no ‘need to fear unemployment ‘.

The Fletton Council Schools also lost their caretaker, Mr. J. Smedley as he re-joined his old regiment, the Devonshire’s and was stationed at Bisley Camp. Nothing noteworthy in this perhaps, except that QMS J. Smedley was 64 years of age. He was presented with a medal for long and meritorious service and granted a pension of £10 a year.

The War Office had representatives scouring the district for horses. This was important work as the various forces could not be mobilised without mounts. Each representative was accompanied by a policeman with a warrant as understandably businesses did not want to give up their valuable means of transport.  There were reports of horses being taken from carriages in the middle of a delivery round. However, when the representative arrived at the Cadge and Colman’s yard all the corn wagons were out, and they left empty handed. Nevertheless, each representative commandeered around 100 horses per day. The rigours of war were harsh, and few owners saw their horses again.

Local firm Farrow and Co placed at the disposal of the government houses they owned in Boston for the recuperation of Belgium soldiers. For the comfort of the men Mr Algernon Farrow sent 30 briar pipes, 30 ounces of tobacco and 30 pouches.

Defend the Home Front

Fletton was keen to ‘take the bull by the horns’ and form a ‘civic’ or Local Defence Force, in case of invasion. It was decided that the force would be made up of those who were too old, or due to other disqualifications not able, to serve in the Regular Army. At the meeting it was noted that there were many who would ‘take up a gun in defence of hearth and home’ but they would also be needed to learn the ‘rudiments, the ABC of drilling’ otherwise should invasion come the Fletton residents would be ‘helpless’.

Spy Fever

The first weeks of the war were a time of anxiety, suspicion and fear as people’s lives began to change forever. The public began to be suspicious of their neighbours and stories of spies were rife. On Friday 7th August this fear became violence as a Fletton resident was subjected to an attack. The object of this violence was Mr. Frederick Frank, his shop in Westgate and villa in Fletton Avenue. An ugly riot, which comprised thousands of Peterborough people, converged on Cathedral Square. Windows were broken at a number of sites throughout the city. On Sunday 10th August the Mayor read the Riot Act from the steps of the Town Hall and a 9pm curfew was introduced. Without common support the ring leaders were identified, and twenty five men were detained. Amongst those detained was local man Frederick Freeman, bargeman, of Silver Street. He was charged with damaging a window and fined 2s. 6d. Whilst Alfred Bent, of Water End, was charged with assembling with others and inciting riot in Fletton Avenue. Bent was subsequently fined £10 and bound over to keep the peace for two years.

Fletton - a Refuge

In October 1914 150 Belgium refugees arrived in Peterborough looking for a safe haven away from the conflict. Since July 1914 150,000 refuges had arrived in the country.

A meeting was held on the 12th October by the Fletton Refugee Committee at Old Fletton County school. It was decided that a house in Belsize Avenue should be offered for refugees. Practical minded individuals at the meeting suggested that a lace maker should be included to enable classes to be given locally and a toy maker so that a toy industry could be started in Fletton! But not all locals greeted these newcomers with welcome arms. One lady declared that Fletton already had enough poor and needy residents without taking in more.

A donation of £1 a week was assured of the cause, coming mainly from the teachers and the children’s ‘sweet money’, which it was proclaimed was ‘freely given’.

The house in Belsize Avenue welcomed a steady flow of refugees. All the families arrived dazed by their experiences as their country was overtaken by the Germans. They reported that their houses had been burnt, their animals killed, and the local churches set alight before they were forced to flee for their lives.

Soldiers Billeted

On Saturday 5th December 1914 Peterborough’s population expanded by 3, 350 as troops arrived for the winter. If the householder provided the soldier with lodgings, candles, vinegar, salt and use of a fire for cooking then they were paid 9d a night, if meals were provided, they were paid 7d and halfpenny for breakfast, 1s. and 7d halfpenny for dinner and 4d halfpenny for supper. A variety of rates were paid for stables and officers.

Within a few days the Peterborough Civic Police began issuing billet notices for nearly 5, 000 men. Many of the men arrived at the East Station in Fletton and from there marched to the recreation grounds throughout Peterborough, and local areas, which had been handed over to the military authorities for assembly grounds.

It had been calculated that if the men stayed until March the cost of feeding and housing would be £50,000, or £3, 000 a week for local tradesmen.

At a meeting of the Fletton Council Mr. Kellam observed that the billeting of soldiers would be extremely beneficial to the Fletton economy.

A Lucky Escape

Much of the information we have about Fletton in the Great War comes from newspaper reports. One such report tells the story of Lieutenant Sharpe of Fletton, from the King’s Royal Rifles. He had a lucky escape, at the front, when a bullet hit his haversack. If it had not been for his box of tobacco and a pair of strategically placed scissors the outcome may have been very different.

The Ultimate Sacrifice

The devastating loss of life experienced by Fletton families in the Great War is shown in the figures below. Street by street, road by road the addresses of those who made the ultimate sacrifice are listed. These represent not only those whose names were immortalised on the memorials in the Fletton parish but also those whose names are honoured elsewhere and who for personal reasons are not recorded on memorials. (Each appearance of a house number or house name represents one death) The total number of men currently stands at 113.

Railway complex (3 men)

GE Railway Cottages, Inspector’s House, Bridge House

George Street (1 man)

House number 27

Park Street (1 man)

House number 9

Silver Street (9 men)

House numbers 1, 11, 11, 12, 35, 49, 51, 53, 72

Tower Street (5 men)

House numbers 11, 42, 42, 63, 75

Grove Street (2 men)

House numbers 25, 44

Bread Street (2 men)

House numbers 10, 32

Queens Walk (1 man)

House number 57

Orchard Street (7 men)

House numbers 8, 27, 29, 50, 55, 56, 62

Hicks Lane (1 man)

Brewster’s Cottages (1 man)

House numbers 29 and 45

London Road (5 men)

House numbers Medehampstead, Medehampstead, 6 South View, 30, 46

Victoria Place (8 men)

House numbers 2, 5, 14, 14, 16, 22, 22, 28

St. Margaret’s Place (2 men)

House numbers 5, 14

St. Margaret’s Road (11 men)

House numbers 1, 7, 7, 8, 22, 26, 49, 50, 50, 51, 51,

High Street (16 men)

House numbers 46, 53, 57, 59, 59, 75, 103, 103, 119, 123, 139, 171, 177, 181, 189, 197

Fellowes Road (2 men)

House numbers 29, 45

Milton Road (2 men)

House numbers 23, 25

Duke Street (7 men)

House numbers 11, 26, 26, 29, 29, 36, 45

Princes Road (6 men)

House numbers 5, 7, 7, 11, 15, 21

Queens Road (10 men)

House numbers 20, 42, 43, 45, 49, 50, 52, 53, 66, 67

Fletton Avenue (8 men)

House numbers 132, 136, 147, 185, 187, 187, 187, Roscot, 215

Church Lane (1 man)

Kings Road (2 men)

House numbers 5, 5

The first Fletton men to die in the Great War were William Cunnington and Furbank Savidge on 10th November 1914. 

William Cunnington, of 5 Victoria Place, was a private with the 1st Northamptonshire Regiment. He was killed at Ypres, Belgium and is commemorated on the Menin Gate, panels 43/45.

Furbank Savidge, of 50 Orchard Street, was a private with the 1st Northamptonshire Regiment. The son of Furbank and Elizabeth Savidge he was killed on the Ypres Salient and is commemorated on the Menin Gate, panels 43/45.

The last man to die under fire was Reginald West on 31st October 1918 near St. Quentin. Reginald of 191 High Street was a private in the 17th Lancashire Fusiliers. He is buried in Vichte Military Cemetery, grave 111.A.7.

The last Fletton man to die due to the Great War was Thomas Butters on 15th February 1919. Although further information about him is unclear.

Within Fletton 13 families experienced the loss of two or more sons. These included Herbert and Fred Anthony, John, Harry and Arthur Bright, Arthur and Frank Bradley, John Cecil and Robert Douglas Foster, Charles and Bertie James Hills, Alfred Walter and John William Holmes, Albert William and Isaac Reginald Hughes, Harry and John Ernest Jakings, Horace and John William Moulds, Joseph and Robert Oxby, George and James Parrott, Walter and Zaccheus Simpson, and Harold and George Burchnall.

The blackest day of the Great War for Fletton was the 9th May 1915. On that day, at the Battle of Aubers Ridge, five Fletton men lost their lives and none of their bodies were recovered. They were, Jack Anker, Harold Birchnell, Christmas Hardiment, Joseph Oxby and John Ward.

Jack Anker, of 25 Milton Road, was a private with the 2nd Northamptonshire Regiment. He is commemorated on the Le Touret memorial, panels 28/30.

Harold Birchnell, of 7 Princes Road, was a private with the 2nd Northamptonshire Regiment. He is commemorated on the Ploegsteert memorial, panel 07.

Christmas Hardiment, of 67 Queens Walk, was a private in the 2nd Northamptonshire Regiment. He is commemorated on the Ploegsteert memorial, panel 07.

Joseph Oxby, of 29 Duke Street, was a corporal in the 1st Northamptonshire Regiment. He is commemorated on the Le Touret memorial, panels 28/30.

John Ward, of 39 Duke Street, was a private in the 1st Northampton Regiment. He is remembered on the Le Touret Memorial, panels 28/30.

Unfortunately, the lives of those men, and women, who survived the war are often less known to us than those who died.

Each year, in September, there is a Heritage Festival held in St. Margaret’s church, Fletton. As part of this festival the lives of many men who served in the Great War have been researched. If a relative of yours served and you have information please get in touch, we would love to hear from you.

They shall not grow old

as we that are left behind grow old,

Age shall not weary them

nor the years condemn,

At the going down of the sun

and in the morning,

We will remember them.

My thanks to Derek Smith and David Gray, without whose research I would not have been able to write this blog. Thanks also to Tui Smith, whose flower display I photographed.

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