In Times of War – World War One.
Bomb carrying party of the 1st Battalion Sherwood Foresters going up to the front line at La Boisselle France, 6 July 1916.
When the 1911 census was taken in Derby, the 114,848 people in the County Borough of Derby would have had no idea of what the world was about to experience in a few short years’ time. Industry was booming and even as we moved into 1914, there was no anticipation locally of the storm that was to arrive.
Suddenly, however on August 4, 1914, war was declared and the world, and the local area, was changed forever.
‘Britain at War with Germany: Europe faced with a life and death struggle’, ran the headline in the Derby Daily Telegraph.
Three days later, on August 7, it was announced in the same newspaper that the ground floor of Devonshire House had been placed into the hands of the British Red Cross by the Duke of Devonshire – it was their London townhouse.
Shortly after war had been declared, the Defence of the Realm Act (DORA) was passed on August 8, 1914. It gave the government wide-ranging powers that affected the whole of country, including, of course, Derby and Derbyshire.
Topics of conversation were censored with the Act stating that ‘No person shall by word of mouth or in writing spread reports likely to cause disaffection or alarm among any of His Majesty’s forces or among the civilian population.’ What would seem to us now as trivial activities such as flying kites, starting bonfires, buying binoculars and feeding wild animals were banned.
When looked at more deeply however, the reasoning behind the banning of such activities was not so trivial. For example, flying kites or starting a bonfire could aid enemy aircraft and feeding wild animals was a waste of food.
In addition to this, alcoholic drinks were watered down and pub opening times were restricted to 12pm–3pm and 6:30pm–9:30pm.
Other laws were passed during the war, notably the Military Service Act in 1916. This imposed conscription on all single men aged between 18 and 41, but exempted the medically unfit, clergymen, teachers and certain classes of industrial worker. At the start of the war however, many men readily enlisted voluntarily.
Invasion was, of course, a fear and in Derby on December 8, 1914, a meeting was chaired by the Duke of Devonshire to agree on the steps to be taken in the event of the enemy attempting this. It was decided at the meeting that the various Volunteer Training Corps which had been formed, for example on September 10, 1914 the Derby Physical Training and Rifle Club had formed for the purpose of Home Defence, would all be co-ordinated. By doing this, by the end of January 2015 the Derbyshire Regiment of Home Guard came into being. Many of the men in the Home Guard were older men who had seen service in previous wars such as the Boer War.
Locally, fundraising took place to raise money for various aspects of the war effort and people were also given the opportunity to invest in ‘war bonds’ – a government bond which paid a fixed rate of interest.
Many of the local companies were to contribute to the war effort. Rolls-Royce made and developed engines, the Midland Railway Locomotive Works made howitzers and shells and the Derby Carriage & Wagon Works built ambulance trains, army wagons and parts for rifles.
Particularly after conscription was ordered in 1916, the men from Derby and Derbyshire served in many regiments, with most of them serving in the Sherwood Foresters. Throughout the war, over 140,000 men served with the Sherwood Foresters and the majority were from the local area. As in peacetime, it recruited predominately from Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. During the war, the recruits saw action in many battles such as the Battle of Loos in 1915, the Battle of the Somme in 1916 and Passchendaele in 1917. Altogether more than 11,000 Sherwood Foresters did not return from the war.
The Derbyshire Yeomanry, mainly farmers, quarrymen and colliers, were also ordered to mobilise on August 4, 1914, and saw action in places such as Gallipoli and Salonika.
Back home, rationing and food shortages were becoming an issue although the rationing was not as lengthy as it became in the Second World War. In 1916, a voluntary scheme, which asked for people to reduce their food intake, was introduced but it wasn’t very successful and consequently full food rationing was introduced in 1918. By the end of April 1918, sugar, meat, butter, cheese and margarine were all rationed.
Local sport was, of course, disrupted, although to the surprise and criticism of many, the 1914/15 football season was completed. The league was, however, then suspended until the 1919/20 season. Six Derby County players died in action during the war – Thomas Benfield, George Brooks, Reginald Callender, James Stevenson, Bernard Vann and Frederick Wheatcroft. Six cricketers who had played for Derbyshire CCC, also lost their lives – Captain Frank Miller Bingham, Charles Barnett Fleming, Captain Geoffrey Laird Jackson, Arthur Marsden, Charles Niel Newcombe and Captain Guy Denis Wilson.
The war came much closer to home at the beginning of February 1916 when a German Zeppelin dropped its bombs on the town. After receiving a warning about an impending raid just after 7pm, the authorities had doused street lighting, halted tramcars and closed businesses. Although this deterred other Zeppelins en route to their targets of Liverpool and Birmingham, just before midnight the Zeppelin captain, Captain Boeker, believing he had reached his target of Liverpool, dropped his bombs on the town after the workshops, thinking that danger had passed, decided to turn their lights back on. Three men were killed and two injured, one dying later at the Loco Works, and a Mrs Constantine, who lived nearby, died of a heart attack during the raid.
In the course of the war, five Victoria Crosses were awarded to people with strong local connections.
Born in Kilmarsh, Derbyshire, Corporal Fred Greaves VC of the of the 9th Battalion Sherwood Foresters was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions on October 4, 1917, at Poelcapelle, east of Ypres, Belgium. Greaves, when his platoon was held up and the platoon commander and sergeant were casualties, attacked a machine gun at a concrete stronghold with bombs and, later the same day, took command of the company and organised defences in event of a counter-attack. He died in Brimington in 1973.
Bombardier Charles Edwin Stone VC, born in Ripley, Derbyshire, and of the 83rd Brigade Royal Field Artillery, was awarded the Victoria Cross due to his actions on October 21, 1918. On this day, after working at his gun for six hours under heavy gas and shell fire, he was sent back to the rear with an order. He delivered the order and then, under a heavy barrage, returned with a rifle to assist in holding up the enemy. Later that same day he was one of a party that captured a machine gun and four prisoners. He died in 1952.
Sergeant William Gregg VC, born in Heanor, Derbyshire, and of the 13th Battalion of the Rifle Brigade, was honoured for his actions of May 8, 1918, in Bucquoy, France. Whilst all the officers of his company had been hit during an attack on an enemy outpost, he took command, rushed two enemy posts, killed some of the gun teams, took prisoners and captured a machine gun.
He then consolidated his position until a counter-attack drove him back. Undeterred and aided by reinforcements, he led a charge, personally bombed a hostile machine gun, killed the crew, and recaptured the gun. Driven back once more, he led another successful attack and held onto his position until ordered to withdraw. He died in 1969.
Private Jacob Rivers VC, born in WIdeyard Gate, Derby, and of and of the 1st Battalion Sherwood Foresters, was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions during the Battle of Neuve Chapelle in March 1915. On March 12, he attacked a large enemy group with bombs as they were preparing to attack his battalion’s flank. He repeated this later the same day but was killed. He was buried in a battlefield grave which was later lost and is now commemorated on the Le Touret Memorial.
Brigadier Charles Edward Hudson, VC, CB, DSO & Bar, MC was born in Derby in 1892 and was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions on June 15, 1918 near Asiago, Italy, during the Second Battle of the Piave River. It was here that he led a group of orderlies and runners in a counter-attack against enemy troops that had penetrated the British line.
Even when he suffered a serious injury when a bomb exploded on his foot, he continued to lead his men and drive the enemy away, capturing around 100 prisoners and six machine guns. He died, aged 66, in 1959.
Hostilities in the war ended on November 11, 1918, and the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, in the Palace of Versailles, ending the state of war between Germany and the Allied Powers.
Sometimes referred to as ‘The war to end all wars’, we now know that World War One was unfortunately anything but.
In Times of War – World War Two.
With tensions simmering for a long time due to the German leader Adolf Hitler annexing territories, World War Two was not entirely unexpected, and on September 3, 1939, in response to Hitler’s invasion of Poland, Britain and France, both allies of the overrun nation, declared war on Germany.
On the same day, the National Service (Armed Forces) Act imposed conscription on all males aged between 18 and 41 who had to register for service, and by the time Victory in Europe Day (VE Day) was declared on May 8, 1945, Derbyshire had suffered many casualties both in the theatre of war and back at home.
Air raids across the county claimed 75 lives during the war, with 300 injured. In Derby alone, 45 people died and between 3,000 and 4,000 homes were damaged or destroyed. This was despite Derby being given barrage balloon protection due to the presence of Rolls-Royce. The largest single-event casualties were caused on July 27, 1942, after a bomber broke through the clouds to bomb the Rolls-Royce factory in Nightingale Road. This left 22 people dead, with another 40 seriously injured and 72 with minor injuries.
When the British and French armies were defeated by the Germans in May 1940, the prospects looked bleak and an invasion seemed almost imminent. Nationwide, a volunteer army was set up, originally called the Local Defence Volunteers but later known as the Home Guard. It gained the nickname ‘Dad’s Army’ as many of the volunteers were too old to serve in the regular army. In Derby, 450 men volunteered on the first day and within a week the number had climbed to 1,000.
As with the First World War, the Sherwood Foresters and the Derbyshire Yeomanry both fought again. The Sherwood Foresters fought in the Norwegian Campaign at Dunkirk, as well as in the North African, Middle Eastern and Italian campaigns. Across their 17 battalions, 27,000 men served and over 400 won decorations, but 1,500 tragically died. The 1st Derbyshire Yeomanry fought in North Africa (Tunisia) and The 2nd Derbyshire Yeomanry fought at El Alamein during the early part of the war and in Western Europe towards the end. They lost just under 100 men.
The equivalent of the DORA Act from the First World War was implemented on August 24, 1939 – the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act – and blackouts were introduced on September 1, 1939, though blackout rehearsals had taken place throughout 1938 as tensions built in Europe.
Under a blackout, windows and doors had to be covered with a dark material and any light that might aid an enemy aircraft had to be extinguished or at least darkened. The use of torches was forbidden and streetlights were turned off. During 1938 the government had begun to issue people with gas masks to protect them in case the Germans dropped poison gas bombs on Britain.
Before the war had even begun, on September 1, 1939, a programme of evacuation had begun for children. In total, Operation Pied Piper, as it was known, was responsible for the movement of around 1.5 million people, with many children being evacuated from cities such as Manchester to places in Derbyshire including Buxton and Matlock. Children from schools in Derby itself, such as St James’ School and St Joseph’s School in Normanton, were evacuated to Chellaston and Ripley respectively.
Food rationing was introduced much earlier during World War Two – in January 1940. Basic foodstuffs such as sugar, meat, fats, bacon and cheese were rationed on a coupon basis and housewives had to register with particular retailers. Other items of food such as tinned goods, dried fruit, cereals and biscuits, were rationed using a points-based system. The number of points allocated was changed regularly, based on the availability and consumer demand.
Other communities were rationed on different dates. Petrol was rationed in 1939, clothes in June 1941 and soap in February 1942. Bread, which was never rationed during the war itself, was added to the ration list in July 1946. It wasn’t until the early 1950s that most commodities came off the ration list, with meat the last item to come off in 1954.
As with the First World War, sport was again disrupted. Jack Stamps a Derby County star, who in 1946 would score two goals for the Rams as they beat Charlton Athletic at Wembley in the 1946 FA Cup Final, was one of the last British soldiers to be rescued from the beaches of Dunkirk in June 1940. The last match that Derby County played before the war was on September 2, 1939, when they beat Aston Villa 1-0. That would prove to be the last time they saw the Rams in action for seven years as all top-flight football was suspended for the duration of the war. The year 1939 also proved to be the last season for Derbyshire CCC until the County Championship resumed in 1946.
During the war, Derbyshire proved to be an ideal location for prisoner of war (PoW) camps due to its many remote locations. Consequently, over the course of the war, varied nationalities including Italian, German and Russian prisoners were held in locations such as Dove Holes, Stoney Middleton, The Hayes at Swanick, Nether Heage Camp in Belper, New Drill Hall at Clay Cross, Alvaston Park, Allerton and Oaks Green at Sudbury.
The Derwent Valley also played a major contribution in 1943 to the war effort. Clouded in secrecy, the elite 617 Squadron of the Royal Air Force (RAF) had trained there after the Derwent Valley Water Board gave permission to use the reservoir as a practice bomb site for their ‘bouncing bombs’ – a new type that would be targeting three great Ruhr Valley dams: the Möhne, the Eder and the Sorpe. The inventor of the bouncing bombs – Barnes Wallis – was himself born in Ripley, Derbyshire.
When victory in Europe (VE Day) was finally declared on May 8, 1945, people celebrated across Derby and Derbyshire. When people knew that German surrender was imminent, around 2,000 of them had gathered in Derby Market Place. Although a violent midday thunderstorm sent people scurrying for cover, by 2pm the sun had returned and celebrations were in full swing, as they were all over the streets of Derby and Derbyshire. The war itself continued until the Japanese surrendered on August, 15 1945, with many brave soldiers still fighting, but it was on May 8 that people first began to breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that the ever-present threat to their country and homes that had existed in recent years was receding.