As the Centenary unfolds, a range of newspaper and other records will appear here to give an idea of how the war was revealed at home primarily focused on Kent for our purposes .... fairly random. If you have other snippets to share, please let us know using the dedicated email account:
January brought the changing role of women into sharp focus in our local communities. The story of Alice Post (Greenstreet-Teynham) is a deeply personal tragedy for her, her child, family and community. Her story also provides a sobering reminder of how women (and children) found themselves caught in the eye of the storm on the Home Front. We have added to Alice's story a selection of pages to place her life and death into a wider perspective.
During January, the Western European Theatre was very quiet.
As 1916 opened on the Home Front news was dominated by reports about events in Mesopotamia and the Seige of Kut-al-Amara. This seige trapped about 8,500 Anglo-Indian troops who took refuge in the town after retreating from a disasterously flawed attack (December 1915) on Ctesiphon. The Anglo-Indian troops made a rapid retreat pursued by the wholly under-estimated Turkish forces. Between 4th and 21st January, an attempt was made to relieve the seige but failed. On the Gallipoli front, the evacuation completed on 8th January and, on 9th January, General Sir Charles Monro vacated command of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force and General Sir William Birdwood vacated command of the Dardanelles army. The 'old leadership' stepped aside as General Sir A.J. Murray also took over command of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force on 10th January. Winston Churchill was also a political casualty of this episode in the First World War.
The machinery for the detailed monthly compilation of Military Statistics did not take place until later in 1916 (October) after the intervention of Lloyd George (then Secretary of State for War). Statistics up until then were somewhat haphazardly recorded. However, the War Office bound together those War Statistics in March 1922 adding available data for earlier months. Headline figures were available monthly for the whole war period. For example, at the advent of the First World War (August 1914) the regular army strength was given as 232,763. By the 1st January 1916, that figure stood at 1,786,483. As more recruits flowed into the Army, in January 1916 alone, 3,925 died, 11,172 were discharged (reasons varied from having completed their service, to misconduct and invalided out). 3,167 men were lost to desertion that month (the peak in desertions ran from around May/June 1915 and declined again after January 1916). By this time, local newspapers began to list "absentees" to discover their whereabouts to make good the losses.
Reported in the Herne Bay Press on 1st January: FAVERSHAM. Three Officer Sons.- The three sons of Dr. R.G. Selby Medical Officer of Health for the Faversham District, are now all serving as officers in H.M. Services. The youngest, 2nd-Lieut. C.W.P. Selby, has recently gone to the Front as an observer in the Royal Flying Corps. Of the elder two, one is in the Navy (H.M.S. Lion, which was in one of the North Sea engagements), and the other is in the R.A.M.C. Dr. Selby himself is Assistant County Director of the V.A.D. (Kent).
Reported in the Kent Messenger of 1st January 1916: "The Faversham Rural District Council has decided to call the attention of the Bishop of Dover, as Archdeacon of Canterbury, to the case of a non-resident Rector in the district taking the tithes of the parish but performing no work. The parish concerned is Buckland, which has an acreage of 336 and a population of 103, but it has no church (the old one being in ruins), mission room not school. It is here that the Rural Council's Isolation Hospital is situated, and the Rev. W.A. Purton, Vicar of Teynham, has offered his services as chaplain without remuneration, which have been accepted. The Council resolved to inquire of the Archdeacon whether, in the circumstances, a portion of the tithes cannot be diverted to the clergymen who does the work. Formerly, the Rector conducted a service once a year at the old ruins, but even this has not been done for some years.
The Rector of Buckland is the Rev. J. Mayo, who resides at Cambridge, and he has held the Rectory since 1874, the patron being Mr. J. Druitt. The value of the tithe is returned at £125 gross and £100 net. Mr. Mayo was ordained by the Bishop of Winchester, in 1865, and he held the curacies of Romsey, Bircham Newton and Olny. He retired from the last-named in 1871 - 44 years ago, and has apparently held no benefice since beyond the sinecure of Buckland. Forty-four years at £100 per annum gives a total of £4,400, or at a compound interest very much more."
Also reported in the Whitstable Times and Herne Bay Herald on the same day: A CHURCH SCANDAL. The Council accepted the offer of the Vicar of Teynham (the Rev. W.A. Purton) to act as honorary chaplain at Beacon Hill hospital.
It was also decided to write to the Archdeacon of Canterbury drawing attention to the fact that the Vicar of Buckland, who lived at Cambridge, and did not do any work still drew tithes, and asking that a portion of them might be devoted to the chaplain who was doing the work.
In reply to Mr. Amos, the Chairman said he believed the Vicar of Buckland was receiving £160 a year.
Mr. Amos - A very good pension. It was also stated that he had no church as it was in ruins, but that formerly he used to come down once a year and hold a service, a practice he had now discontinued.
Mr. Amos said that was no doubt the Vicar remembered his parishioners in his prayers.
The Vice Chairman-I hope it is effective.
Reported in the Kent Messenger of 4th January 1916: SITTINGBOURNE. KILLED AT THE FRONT. News has reached Sittingbourne that Private Frederick Charles Mead, of the 1st Buffs, who belonged to Sittingbourne, has been killed at the Front. Pte. Mead, who was 26 years of age, prior to the war was a postman attached to the Sittingbourne postal staff. For three years he did duty in the Lynsted and Newnham districts, where he was much liked. Mead was also a well-known footballer, and had played for Sittingbourne Wednesday F.C. and the Post Office teams. Of 18 men of the Sittingbourne postal staff who are serving the Colours, Mead is the first to lose his life.
House of Commons 1916-01-05 "[cf 8th January; also "MILITARY SERVICE BILL" debate] LORD DERBY'S SCHEME (REPORT). Vol 77 c939: Mr. PRINGLE asked the Prime Minister whether he is aware that the figures under the Derby scheme have been given to the Press over the signature of a member of the Join Labour Recruiting Committee, and, if so, will he say what action he proposes to take?
The PRIME MINISTER (Mr Asquith) My attention has been called to the incident to which my hon. Friend refers. It was, I am informed, due to an unfortunate misunderstanding, and I do not propose to take any action in the matter."
Reported in the Kent Messenger of 8th January 1916: DEPUTY CHIEF CONSTABLE AND THE MOTOR BUS.- At Sittingbourne Police Court on Monday [6th January], Frederick Stephens Marsh, a motor bus driver, of Faversham, in the employ of the Maidstone and District Motor Services, Ltd., was summoned for driving a motor bus at a greater speed than 12 miles an hour, at Bapchild, on December 14th. He pleaded not guilty.- Captain S.Clark, Acting Chief Constable for Kent, said he followed the motor bus in his police motor car, and checked the speed, and from Greenstreet to Sittingbourne the speed of the bus averaged from 15 to 20 miles an hour. Considering the darkness (it was nearly 7 pm), and the state of the roads, he considered that the bus was travelling at a pace that was dangerous to the public.- The driver of the police car corroborated.- Defendant said his firm did not provide him with a speedometer, and he did not know he was going so fast.- The Magistrates imposed a penalty of £5.
Reported in The Times on the 7th January 1916. LABOUR AND THE BILL. The First Reading of MR. ASQUITH’S Military Service Bill was carried last night [6th January] in a crowded House of Commons by the overwhelming majority of 403 votes to 105, which included the Irish Nationalists. That is the most important fact to be recorded in a day which was full of incident. The second fact is that the Labour members of the Government – MR.HENDERSON, MR.BRACE, and MR.ROBERTS – have felt bound to resign their offices – not because they object to the Bill, but because they support it. There will be other opportunities hereafter to discuss the theory of representative government on which these resignations are based. For the moment the essential point is to understand the proceedings of the Labour Conference held earlier in the day; for it was the vote of that body which unquestionably influenced a subsequent meeting of the Labour members of Parliament, and it was the decision of the Labour Party which left no alternative to MR.HENDERSON and his colleagues.
Reported in the Kent Messenger on 8th January 1916: "MORE GROUPS CALLED UP. Four more groups of men attested under Lord Derby's Scheme are being called up for service on February 8th. These are Groups 6 to 9 inclusive, and consist of single men between 23 and 26."
"THE DERBY REPORT - Lord Derby's report on the result of his recruiting scheme reveals the fact that out of a total of 5,011,141 men of military age still available no fewer than 2,829,263 - nearly three millions - offered their services to King and country. This total was composed as follows:
|Men of military age||2,179,231||2,832,210|
|Number of men enlisted||103,000||1,124,331|
This leaves 1,029,2311 single and 1,152,947 married men unaccounted for. Of the single men, 378,071 have been starred, thus reducing the total available who have not come forward to 651,160.
As to the deductions to be properly made from this number there will be great difference of opinion but this figure includes every sort of ineligibles."
Reported by the Kent Messenger of 8th January 1916, "Private Frederick Charles Mead, 1st Buffs, who before the war was a postman in the Lynsted and Newnham district, has been killed by a shell at the Front. The youngest son of Mr. and Mrs. Mead, of Sittingbourne, he was 26 years of age, and has two brothers in the Navy. Deceased was a well-known footballer. He had been in Flanders over a year, and was home two months ago in the best of health. Out of the staff at Sittingbourne Post Office there are eighteen on naval or military service, and Private Mead's death creates the first blank in this roll of honour."
Reported in the Daily Telegraph of24th January, the Allies were removed from Gallipoli with few casualties. "THE EVACUATION OF CAPE HELLES -
Reported by the Kent and Sussex Courier on 14th January 1916: The Hon. Christopher John Henry Roper-Curzon, who has been gazetted acting Sub-Lieutenant to the Waveney, is the son and heir of Lord Teynham, and entered the Navy as a Midshipman in 1913. Lord Teynham will be remembered as a Kentish peer with estates in the Sittingbourne district, and as an officer in the Royal East Kent Mounted Rifles. The Hon. C.J. Roper-Curzon is only 19 years of age.
14th January, German Zeppelin raid over Tyne. Added here only because it would chime locally as Kent saw several raids by airship and aeroplane.
Reported in the Whitstable Times and Herne Bay Herald on 15th January 1916: THEFT FROM A MOTOR CAR. Albert Rogers, of Frogs Bottom, Boughton, was charged on remand with stealing two rugs and a waterproof coat, value £6 10s., the property of George Sargent, landlord of the Chequers Inn, Doddington, at Boughton, on December 26th. It will be remembered that the things were stolen from the car whilst it was in the yard of the Queen's Head, at Boughton.
Prisoner pleaded guilty, and said he was beery.
There were seven previous convictions, the last being in 1911.
The Bench sentenced prisoner to two months hard labour.
The Chairman told P.C. Harlow, who arrested prisoner, that he made a smart capture, and the Bench were glad he did his business so well.
Alice Post (of Greenstreet, Teynham side), Died of TNT poisoning, aged 22 years
Reported in the Whitstable Times and Herne Bay Herald on 22nd January 1916: MUNITION WORKER GETS DRUNK AND ASSAULTS AN EMPLOYEE.- On Tuesday [21st January] at the Faversham Country Police Court, before Dr. S.R. Alexander (Mayor), and E. Chambers, Esq., John Richard Reader was charged with being discovered in a state of intoxication on a licensed area, the Cotton Powder Works, and with assaulting Richard Emery, on the 17th inst. - Prisoner pleaded guilty to the first charge and not guilty to the second.
P.C. Brooks stated that at 5 p.m. on 17th inst. he was on duty at the Cotton Powder Works when his attention was called to prisoner, who was trying to enter the main works through the gate where the vehicles went. On examination prisoner he found he was the worse for drink. He refused him permission to enter the works and advised him to go home and return to work the next night. He went away but returned shortly afterwards, and witness again advised him to go away. The charge man on the night patrol, Richard Emery, also advised him to go home, and after a few words prisoner deliberately struck him. Witness closed with prisoner, who became very violent, and he had to handcuff him.
In reply to prisoner witness said Emery did not knock him to the ground first.
Richard Emrey, of 6, Plantation Road, Faversham, stated that he told prisoner he was not allowed to go through the gate as he was the worse for drink, but he said he was determined to go. Witness told him to go up the road, and he did so, but returned, and again tried to get through the same gate. Witness then told him he would not be admitted to the factory at all and to come the following night sober. He again argued, saying he was not drunk, and while witness was back to him he struck him a blow at the side of the face.
In reply to prisoner witness denied that he knocked him flat on the ground.
John Stevens, an ex-police-sergeant, living at Boughton and employed at the Works, stated that he heard the constable and Emery advising prisoner, who was drunk, to go away, but he became very violent, used threatening language, and hit Emrey.
Prisoner said he was sorry to find himself in this position. He had been working for the Explosive Loading Company for six weeks, and on the day in question he had had trouble about getting his furniture removed from Broadstairs to Faversham. He did not have any proper food and he had a glass of beer at Broadstairs and a pint in Faversham, and this no doubt upset him.
Mr. F. Cooper, of Station Road, Faversham, said that prisoner had been lodging with him and had always been a gentleman in his home and never been the worse for drink.
Superintendent Lawrence said that prisoner bore an excellent character at Broadstairs. he knew him when he was there and he was surprised to find him in this position.
The Mayor told prisoner that to go to a munitions work drunk was a serious matter, but to assault one of the men in charge was a still graver offence, and they will impose a fine of 10s. in each case of seven days.
Prisoner asked for time to find the money and the Bench gave him a fortnight.
Reported in the Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette (and in many other newspapers) on 24th January 1916. AIR ATTACKS – ON COAST OF KENT – TWO AEROPLANE VISITS – Fires Caused and One Man Killed.
The Secretary of the War Office yesterday made the following announcement:-
Taking advantage of the bright moonlight a hostile aeroplane visited the East Coast of Kent at one o’clock this morning (January 23rd), and after dropping nine bombs in rapid succession made off seawards.
No naval or military damage was done, but some damage was caused to private property, and an incendiary bomb caused fired, which, however, were extinguished by 2a.m.
It is regretted that, according to reports received, the following civilian casualties occurred:-
One man killed.
Two men, one woman and three children slightly injured.
The following was announced last night:
Following upon the serial attack upon the East Coast of Kent in the early hours of the morning two hostile sea-planes made a second attack upon the same locality shortly after noon to-day.
After coming under heavy fire the raiders disappeared, pursued by our naval and military machines.
The enemy effected no damage. No casualties have been reported."
24th January was passed by the House of Commons (later enacted on 10th February).
Editorial in The Times on 25th January 1916: Labour at the Cross-ways.
In spite of a weighty and well-reasoned appeal from the Westminster Gazette the opponents of the Military Services Bill insisted last night [24th January] on dividing the House of Commons on the third reading. The result was that the Bill passed by 383 votes to 36, or a majority of 347. It was an empty demonstration which can do no good and may possibly even do harm by stimulating opposition outside at a critical juncture. We have come to a crucial moment in the conduct of the war at home, and much depends on the way things turn within the next few days or weeks...........[read full text of Times Editorial - below]
Reported in The Times of 25th January 1916. Mr. TENNANT, replying to Colonel Greig (Renfrewshire, W., Labour) said:- I have received the following telegram:- The following is the information with regard to the working of the Royal Flying Corps during the last four weeks:-
(1) Number of machines lost by us 13
(2) Number of enemy machines brought down certainly nine, and probably two in addition.
(3) Number of bombing raids carried out by us six.
(4) Number of bombing raids carried out by enemy 13
This comparison is modified by the fact that we have used 138 machines, including escorts for bombing raids while enemy have used approximately 20.
(5) Number of aeroplanes which have crossed enemy lines, 1,227.
(6) Number of German aeroplanes which have crossed our lines estimated at 310.
The last figure is determined by reducing actual anti-aircraft observations to probably number of individual machines. It is pointed out that practically all aircraft fighting takes place over or behind the German lines, and owing to the prevailing strong west wind German machines hit can plane homewards while ours often cannot. For this reason it is not possible to give an accurate comparison of the relative loss.
Hostile machines are reported as “brought down” when they are seen to fall to the ground uncontrolled, but the enemy probably suffers many casualties of which our officers, who are scrupulously careful in their reports, are not certain. In many cases the Germans break off combats and descend rapidly to their own lines; in such cases no claim of causing a casualty is made.
Mr Tennant added, in reply to Sir H. Dalziel (Kirkcaldy Burghs, Labour) that he had received no complaints from flying officers at the front that they were asked to perform tasks when the weather was entirely unfavourable.
Whitstable Times and Herne Bay Herald of 29th January 1916 reported on local cases:-
[Thursday 27th January] Before W.W. Berry Esq. (in the chair), General Jeffreys and E. Chambers and T.G.Gillett Esqs.
FACTORY ACT PROSECUTION. H[Henry] Smith, of Teynham, was summoned for that he being the occupier of a factory did not have it kept in conformity with the Factory Act by not having a steam boiler examined thoroughly at least once in the previous 14 months, and also with not having a report on the examination of the boiler entered on the general register within 14 days. – Defendant pleaded not guilty the first offence and guilty to the second.
Mr. P. Heath, H.M. Factory Inspector, who prosecuted, said the charges were alternative ones, and as defendant had pleaded guilty to the second he asked leave to withdraw the first one.
The Bench agreed to this.
Mr. Heath pointed out that under the Act a steam boiler must be examined every 14 months and report on the prescribed form attached to the general register within 14 days. Defendant, it would no doubt be within the recollection of the Bench, was convicted about three years ago for a similar offence at the same factory. Having detailed numerous visits made to the factory without any result Mr. Heath said that as matters were getting serious he sent defendant a registered letter on September 24th last year asking him to attach the report to the register within 14 days and send it to him. On October 2nd he replied that 17 new tubes were put in last year, that it was a difficult job to get boiler makers at present, and that he was only using the engine two days per week.
Defendant said he had been working for the past 15 months for the Government and had been pressed very closely by the contractors to do this work, so that he stood as it were between two fires. He had been trying to get a boiler maker, but until last month he had been unsuccessful. He had no wish to break the law, but he had not been in a position to get the certificate from the National Boiler Association as the Bench would see from the letter produced.
Mr. Heath said this letter made it worse for defendant because they said the engine was not fit for use and they would not renew the insurance.
Defendant said he had been very short handed, and had had to work at the bench himself nearly night and day.
He then called a boiler maker named Bond, who stated that defendant asked him last August to attend to the boiler but he could not come until recently. The boiler had been working very tight. He could not say if it was safe as one never knew what might happen.
The Chairman told defendant that he was liable to a penalty of £10. The Bench realised that he had been rushed and had a difficulty in getting his work done, but he must understand that these laws were passed to protect the life and limb of those working on his place. Under the circumstances they would only inflict a fine of £3.
THEFT OF COAL.
Harry Weller was summoned for stealing a quantity of coal, value 9d., the property of Messrs. Topham, Jones and Railton at Oare, on the 12th inst.
Sidney Wright, secretary to the agents in charge of prosecutor’s works at harty Ferry proved the value of the coal, and stated that defendant was working for some haulage contractors employed by his firm.
P.C. Golding stated that about 1 p.m. on the 12th isn’t he was standing in a shop in Church Road, Oare, when he saw defendant who was riding on a truck of coal drawn by a steam tractor, shift a piece of coal to the side of the truck. Witness then looked out of the shop door and saw defendant put a piece of coal in the doorway of No.1, Providence Place. He then walked alongside the engine towards Harty Ferry. Witness went to the cottage and was handed the piece of coal produced by Sarah Lennard. He then went to the Harty Ferry extension works and saw defendant about the matter, and he admitted giving the woman coal on that day and the 11th inst as a well.
Defendant pleaded guilty, and said he did not think he was doing any harm.
Mr. Wright said his firm prosecuted with the utmost reluctance and they would be glad if the Bench dealt as leniently as possible with defendant.
The Bench fined defendant £1 or seven days.
A summons against Sarah Lennard for receiving the coal knowing it to have been stolen was adjourned until the next sessions as it was stated that she was too ill to attend, but the Chairman said that if she failed to appear or did not send a medical certificate a warrant would be issued for her arrest."
From the outset of the First World War, the Belgians bore the brunt of the German assault on the rest of Europe. The Belgian reliance on neutrality counted for nothing against a German realisation that an attack to their West would meet stiffer resistance along the prepared defences of France. Kent saw a steady flow of Belgians fleeing the war as it engulfed their country. Others remained but faced starvation as their needs were ignored by the German army as it drew on all resources available to support their assault.
One response was the creation of the Kent County Fund that was tracked in local newspapers. One example is reproduced here from the 29th January 1916 edition of the Kent Messenger for the purposes of illustration:
"We are informed that the Kent Country Fund opened by Lord Harris, G.C.S.I., Acting Lord Lieutenant of the County, in co-operation with the National Fund now being raised by the National Committee for Relief in Belgium, has reached a total of over £7,737.
In answer to the appeal of the Lordd Lieutenant and of the County Committee, local funds in connection with that of the county have been opened by the Mayors of Chatham, Canterbury, Folkestone, Gillingham, Hythe, Maidstone, Margate, Ramsgate and Tunbridge Wells, and the Chairmen of the District Councils of Broadstairs, Dartford, Elham, Eastry, Footscray, Herne Bay, Hoo, Malling, Penge, Sheerness, Sevenoaks, Tonbridge, and Wrotham. Collections have also been organised by the employees of Foster Clark, Ltd., Springield Paper Mills, and the Church of England Men's Society in Maidstone, and the employees at the Dockyard, Chatham. A similar fund has also been opened in the parish of Sutton Valence.
In addition to the above mentioned funds, special parish collections have been made in many of the parishes of the county, including All Hallows, Alkham, Bonnington, Bredhurst, Crayford, Crofton, Detling, Doddington, Edenbridge, Emstead, Guston, Garyne, Hawkinge, high Halden, Hartlip, Higham, Kingston, Kemsing, Kenardington, Leybourne, Lynsted, Little Chart, Minster, Newinton, northay, Ospringe, Preston, Shipbourne, Southfleet, Speldhurst, St. Peters in Thanet, Swanley, West Peckham, Westbere, West Malling."
"... Faversham £59; Lynsted £12; Ospringe £20; Sheerness £220; and Sittingbourne £50."
The Whitstable Times and Herne Bay Herald reported on 5th February 1916. "At the Faversham Borough Police Court on Saturday [30th January], before F. Austin, T.G. Gillett, and H.R. Child, Esqs., William Pye, a gunner in the 3rd Lancs., was charged on remand with inflicting grievous bodily harm on Percy Sidney Parnell, of Ospringe, by kicking him on the 8th inst.
Superintendent Lawrence said he had interviewed the house surgeon at the Ophthalmic Hospital, Maidstone, and also seen the lad, who had his eye removed on Tuesday last. He was not fit to attend that day, and he would ask for a remand until Friday when the house surgeon and the lad would be able to attend.
The Bench accordingly remanded prisoner in custody until Friday.
The prisoner was brought up again on Friday morning [1st February], before Mr. F. Austin.
Dr. Rothwell, surgeon-physician at the Ophthalmic Hospital, Maidstone, stated that when the lad was admitted there was no hope of saving the left eye and it was removed because it was absolutely useless on the 18th inst. The lad was discharged five days later. If the damaged eye had remained it would have affected the right eye.- The prosecutor also gave evidence, stating that on the night of the 8th January he met a number of soldiers in South Road. They were rolling along, singing and enjoying themselves. When they had got past he looked back, turned round and went on. He had got about six yards away when the prisoner came back and said “What are you looking at?” Witness replied “Nothing”. Prisoner then struck him a violent blow in the left eye with his fist and ran off towards Ospringe. The blow sent witness straggling into the road, and he was in great pain. He managed to get to a lamp-post. Two other soldiers of the same battery came along and took him to College House, where he picked out the prisoner from several other soldiers as the man who had struck him. Sergeant-Major Kenyon, 3rd West Lancashires, said the prisoner told him that he struck the lad under great provocation. Someone flashed a light at him; he hit out but did not know who it was he struck. He and the boy had been very friendly before.- Prisoner said he did not remember anything until the next morning, when he was given to understand that he did it. He could only apologise. It had turned out a bit unlucky for him.- The magistrate committed the prisoner for trial at the next Assizes."
[Note: You can read the outcome of this case including sentencing in the Home Front, February 1916]
The Times, 25th January 1916: Labour at the Cross-ways.
In spite of a weighty and well-reasoned appeal from the Westminster Gazette the opponents of the Military Services Bill insisted last night on dividing the House of Commons on the third reading. The result was that the Bill passed by 383 votes to 36, or a majority of 347. It was an empty demonstration which can do no good and may possibly even do harm by stimulating opposition outside at a critical juncture. We have come to a crucial moment in the conduct of the war at home, and much depends on the way things turn within the next few days or weeks. The supply of both the men and the munitions necessary for the effective prosecution of the war is at stake, and the question is whether it is to be made easier or more difficult. The answer lies with the trade unions. It depends on the amount of support or opposition they offer to the measures enacted by Parliament for effecting these objects. Two events this week indicate that the time has come for a decisive turn in regard to both. One is the appointment of Commissions to carry out the Government’s scheme for the “dilution” of skilled labour in the war factories of the North. The other is the annual conference of the Labour Party, which opens to-morrow at Bristol. The first is concerned with the industrial, the second with the political, side of the problem; but they are part and parcel of the same issue, which is whether the national cause is to be helped or hindered by certain sections of organized labour. The same influence is being brought to bear to prevent the supply of munitions and of men, and it rests with the workmen themselves to decide whether they will yield to it or resist it. They are at the cross-ways, and must choose which path to follow. The choice has been before them all along, and the great bulk have never hesitated. But the recent course of events has tended to obscure and complicate the issue, while it has at the same time brought matters to a more urgent pass. It is impossible, therefore, not to feel some anxiety about the forthcoming proceedings.
The question of military service will be raised in a direct form at the Labour Party’s Conference, and no one can tell what will happen except that the sharpest division of opinion will be shown. In effect it will be a division between the two elements which compose the Labour Party and come together in it, but which have never coalesced. This body, we may remind the reader, is a political organization formed of trade unions and Socialist societies. The former supply the numerical and financial strength, but the latter have generally controlled the policy and carried the sway. There has always been a latent antagonism between them, though a considerable number of men belong to both. It is a deep-seated antagonism, arising from the fact that they rest at bottom on two mutually contradictory principles, but it only coms to the surface occasionally, when those principles are touched. The war has brought out this antagonism into sharp relief, as it has many other latent differences. The Labour Party has not stood the strain in Parliament, where it split almost immediately into two actions. The larger, or trade union section, has thoughout given the most active and energetic support to the Government in the prosecution of the war, as have most of the trade union leaders outside. The line of cleavage does not exactly divide Socialists and non-Socialists, for some of the former have been as patriotic as anyone else. The real difference lies between the Independent Labour Party and the rest. This mis-named body is the largest Socialist society affiliated to the Labour Party, but it has exercised an influence out of all proportion to its numbers, partly through its own direct representatives and partly through trade union delegates who belong to it and manage the business of their unions or branches. The difference between the Independent Labour Party and the trade unions, which has split the Labour Party in Parliament, will now be submitted to a formal trial of strength at the forthcoming conference. The question between them is nothing less than the war – the victory or defeat of our arms and those of our Allies. The particular issue of compulsory military service, which is apparently to form the chief subject of debate, is merely an occasion. Whatever the intentions of the Independent Labour Party may be, the policy and conduct of its most active members have consistently served one object, which is the interests of the enemy. They have served his morally and materially to the best of their ability. They began by finding excuses from the first for Germany’s declaration of war and violation of Belgian neutrality, and by befouling their own country. They have blessed by faint blame or pretended doubts or silence all the German outrages in turn – the Belgian horrors, the sinking of passenger liners, the slaughter of civilians by the shelling and bombing of watering places, the execution of EDITH CAVELL, the ill-treatment of prisoners. They have sought to help him and hurt the Allies materially by encouraging strikes and urging the maintenance of trade union restrictions on output, by opposing the Munitions Act and hindering its operations, by influencing the prejudices and the grievances of workmen, by discouraging recruiting, by opposing the Military Service Bill and urging them to resist its operations by force when it has become law. It is to these people that M. GUSTAVE HERVE, the most extreme and uncompromising Socialist in France, recently referred in his scathing remark:-
“On the day of victory we shall be able to render this justice to certain English Socialists and Labour men – that if we have not been beaten, it is not their fault.”
Why they should seek to save the German military machine from being broken up is a mystery, because so long as it exists it makes the realization of their ideals impossible, and if it emerges intact from this war it will be stronger in prestige and more unassailable than ever. But that is what they are doing. And this week they will do their utmost to induce the general meeting of the Labour Party to help them. They may succeed, not because they really have the support of the men, but because the delegates do not really represent them. How little they do so was shown in the interesting letter we published yesterday from a Rhondda miner who gave the details of three lodge resolutions passed against compulsory service and supposed to represent the unanimous opinion of 2,700 miners. The actually number of votes cast was sixty-three-thirty-six against compulsion and twenty-seven in favour of it. That is how lodge meetings are carried on. The disturbed meeting at Abertillery, another supposed stronghold of extreme opposition to the Bill, and the strong difference of opinion displayed, is further evidence to the same effect. The truth is that we shall not know what “Labour” really thinks or wishes until a vote has been taken; and if the un-representative Socialist element continues to give trouble the Government may be driven to take that course.