ID: DJG_WWA / Douglas J. Gurton

Title1914 - Tollesbury
AbstractYear 1914 so far as weather was concerned was similar to present. but in other respects was most dissimilar, especially as it affected this remote village of Tollesbury. Starting off with a cold snap and fairly heavy fall of snow we children enjoyed skating on the brickfield pond and tobogganing on the slopes of "The Mount". It is strange how things appear to be so huge and vast when one is young. For the older folk there was the travelling repertory company headed by Mr Dollman and his artistes, who gave much pleasure to the adults by repeated performances of "Maria Marten, or Murder in the Red Barn", and other well known classics of that time. The shows were staged in the "Hippodrome", a portable wooden building erected on "The Mount" by permission of Mr George H. Wombwell, C.P.A., who was also instrumental in sponsoring film shows in the "Cinema", Woodrofe Road, and also had the swimming pool constructed at Woodrolfe. The weekly film shows were very much enjoyed, especially the Saturday afternoon matinees when admission was 2d for seat on a form of 1d for seat in front on the floor. Musical accompaniment on the piano by one of the Wombwell family was most appropriate [ unreadable words missing here ] I cannot recall the film titles, but remember seeing "Battling Jack Johnson" in a fight, and a train scene when the local appeared out of the screen. One wag shouted "Duck boys, here she comes", and there was a general scramble to get out of the way. Our pleasures were simple but very entertaining. In addition to our seasonal pastimes such as whipping toys, bowling hoops, conker, and roller skating in the streets, fortunately no longer possible in this day and age, there were the usual "peep shows" held in various garden shes, where we were regaled with magic lantern specialities, egg, butterfly and sea shell collections, also cigarette card albums, all for the price of entry of a button or couple of pins. The opportunity to swap cigarette cards or comic papers was also much appreciated.

August 1914 was a pleasantly sunny and warm month. Far removed from the summer's events in the Balkans, all was serene and quiet. The tall Prussian officer, some say 7ft tall, who had come down earlier in the year to collect his small black and white cutter from Woodrolfe and given his skull a resounding crack on the low oaken beams of the old "Hope" was generous in his praise for the quiet calm and beauty of Tollesbury. The outlook for the village in the future was good. Sir Fortescue Flannery, the local M.P., had presided at a public meeting in the boys' school, where it was unanimously agreed that Woodrolfe Creek should be deepened and widened to allow its use at all states of tide, and thus provide more employment. Sir Fortescue promised his utmost support. Possibly what was most heartening, and welcomed by the women folk, was the fact that at long last after repeated endeavours by the local M.O.H. and doctors, tenders were being sought for the provision of a piped water supply for the village. No more trudging with yokes and pails to and from the four parish owned water pumps in the village. What was more important from a health point of view was the fact that the sometimes frequent visits of the horse drawn ambulance or "fever van" during the summer months would cease. As doctors had suspected and proved that for long past that water being used by the villagers contained harmful bacteria.

Tuesday, August 4th, found the village quietly going about its daily tasks. Most of the men were away yachting. Cowes week had opened spectacularly under the patronage of Royalty. At the same time Kiel regatta was being held at which a number of British yachts were present. German yachts were conspicuous by their absence froa Cowes. For some days rumours of war breaking out were rife, when the ha-penny daily this date carried the banner headline "Great Britain declares War. All Eyes on the North Sea".

Meanwhile down in the Solent, the sleek brass bell funneled steam pinnaces sped around the moored yachts calling on all Naval reservists to report at once. Charlie Potter, now aged 78 years, and a reservist at that time, was taken off his yacht at Cowes, and found, himself in the R.N. Barracks, Portsmouth, being prepared for war-time service. Others were more fortunate and permitted to return home in order to report. The 15 metre "Pamela" skippered by Capt. Wm. Rice, was out in the North Sea bound from Kiel to Harwich. The owner, Mr. Genholme Bradley, did not like the atmosphere in Germany, and had decided to cut short his visit and return home. On arrival at Harwich they were told that war had been declared, and arrangements were made to lay the yacht up at Tollesbury at once. One crew member, George Leavett, then 18 years of age, with other young men in similar circumstances to himself, went post haste to the Coastguard Station, Mell Road, to volunteer for the Royal Navy. The officer-in-charge told them that there were no vacancies in the Navy at that time as the authorities had as many volunteers as could be readily absorbed for training, and suggested that if the young men were so keen they should try the Army. He ventured to suggest that Sir Laming Worthington Evans, M.P. for Colchester, was at that very moment staying at Guisnes Court, and he could, arrange an interview if so desired. This was done at once, and twenty three young men, aged between 17 and 20 years, duly reported to Guisnes Court, where they were welcomed by Sir Laming and entertained to luncheon. Sir Laming much appreciated their loyalty and eagerness to serve, and suggested he would be pleased to nominate them for the South Staffordshire Regimant in which he was particularly interested. The wheels for enrolment were set in motion.

Within a short time the preliminaries were completed and the young men were instructed to report to Regimental Headquarters at Lichfield, Staffs, on Monday 7th September 1914. At mid-morning break this date, the children at the three schools in Tollesbury at that time were formed up and marched to The Square, where it seemed the whole village had assembled to bid God speed to Tollesbury's first volunteers. Present were Sir Laming, accompanied by the Vicar, Rev. Wm. Carter, and other notable local personalities. With flags and bunting in plentiful array it had the appearance of a gala day.

Little could be envisaged of ultimate events at that time, or that within a quarter of a century some of the children present would again be enacting similar scenes, for two boys present were lost in the "Rawalpindi" and another two in the "Jervis Bay". Amongst the children dressed in the uniform of the Mercantile Marine, was a young man, Nelson Rice, who in World War II whilst in command of the "Orari" on the Malta Convoy run, was to be awarded successively the O.B.E., C.B.E., and Lloyds War Medal, for outstanding service and superb heroism. Not one of those young men present would have given one thought that they were doing anything at all spectacular or the sacrifice they would be called to meet. The party was over and the children were marched back to school, although some considered that they were entitled to a half day holiday, but were called to account the next day.

When the volunteers reached Lichfield they presented a problem to the authorities, as they did not have the occupations of "fishermen or yachtsmen" listed, so they had to record them as "labourers". However, the young men soon proved that they were something out of the ordinary and the N.C.O.s were particularly inmpressed by the camaradie and esprit de corps displayed by the Essex men, who were soon dubbed "Winkle Brigade". Several of the young men , who had had experience as yacht stewards, were soon commandeered for HQ officers' mess. In the weeks that followed, drills and route marches were the order of things. Those who were employed in the messes were enjoined not to pack part bottles of spirits on breaking camp. This was considered an awful waste of good liquor. It is not surprising that the men's water bottle could accommodate the spare liquor, and brought forth the comment from the R.S.M., that the "Winkle Brigade" displayed remarkable steadiness and fortitude on the march.

Within a fortnight the tragedy of the war was brought forcibly home to the village when it was announced that three warships "Aboukir", "Hogue" and "Cressy" had been sunk on the 22nd September in an engagement in the North Sea. Two brothers, Walter and Fred Ingate, had perished in the "Hogue" and "Cressy". of all the families in the village this family was to be hurt the hardest, Joseph was to be killed later on the Western front, and the cruelest stroke of all was that their father William Ingate was to be knocked overboard from his smack on the Armistice Day anniversay and drowned. All villagees could feel very keenly for Mrs Ingate and her surviving family in their great grief. Another family hard hit by the Great War was the Service family, Harry, George and Arthur.

Meanwhile events proceeded apace in the village, yachts which had left in the Spring returned and were being laid up as fast as the yardmen could work 12-14 hours a day. Some 150 men had left the village for had left the village for the forces, and Mr J. Phillips painted a roll of horour board, surmounted by the Union flag and White Ensign, with names of the volunteers in gold leaf, which was erected in Mr David Brand's yard at the corner of the Square. Needless to say the board soon had to have additions, and rapidly became out of date.

On November 18th at 10am, a biplane made a forced landing at Mell Farm. This was the first aeroplane to hae landed in the village, and the schoolchildren were allowed to leave school to view. The plane piloted by a young Naval lieutenant was soon supplied with the necessary petrol from the Garage in the village by Mr George Fisher's "De Dion Bouton", and a number of yacht skippers and others linked hands to swing the propellor. The take-off was far more spectacular than the observation baloon which landed later at Carrington's Farm. It descended like a huge sun late afternoon, and was also crewed by Naval personnel. The huge orange coloured balloon was folded up and bundled unceremoniously in a farm wagon and taken off to the train.

AuthorDouglas J. Gurton
SourceMersea Museum / Cedric Gurton
Related Images:
 The first Tollesbury Volunteers. Postcard mailed to Private M. Juniper, No. 1801 F Company, Late G Company, 7 Essex Regiment, Costessey Park, Norfolk. Date unreadable.
 This photograph, taken outside the King's Head at Tollesbury, shows the first men from that village to volunteer for the army and navy. Seated on the car is Sir Laming Worthington Evans, M.P. for Colchester and with him, in a straw boater, is the Rev. William Carter. 
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ImageID:   CG10_615
Title: The first Tollesbury Volunteers. Postcard mailed to Private M. Juniper, No. 1801 F Company, Late G Company, 7 Essex Regiment, Costessey Park, Norfolk. Date unreadable.

This photograph, taken outside the King's Head at Tollesbury, shows the first men from that village to volunteer for the army and navy. Seated on the car is Sir Laming Worthington Evans, M.P. for Colchester and with him, in a straw boater, is the Rev. William Carter.

Date:7 September 1914
Source:Mersea Museum / Cedric Gurton Tollesbury