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History & CommunitySoldiers of the King, My Lad

Soldiers of the King, My Lad

As a child we lived in a small village not far from my paternal grandparents house and a little further from an uncle and another aunt and their families. On Mondays my mother washed our clothes, which was stressful for most ‘Mums‘ then. She had to light the fire in a grate under the “copper” to boil the clothes in, then use a mangle to remove excess water and finally hang the clothes on a long line some way down the garden. Washing machines were unheard of then. Occasionally the fire would not light and on a couple of occasions the drying line broke, necessitating repeating the process. If it rained, then the clothes had to dry indoors on a clothes horse in front of an open fire. Before I was of school age I would be taken to my grandmother, to “get me from under mother’s feet”. Grandmother always seemed to be pleased to see any of her grandchildren and often three or four of my female cousins, all older than me, would come in after school. They would play with me, to relieve grandmother for a while. Unfortunately, with the difference in age and gender, they seemed to “boss me about”.

I remember they made me march, like a soldier, whilst they sang “Soldiers of the King, my lad”. Needless to say I did not start off on the correct foot and could not keep in step and so they continually shouted commands to me, which I could not always understand. I was pleased when they went left!

This early episode, between the wars, left me with a dislike of military drill, but I was able to “pass out” correctly from “square bashing” during my later National Service. I must leave my experiences of that until a future date, so that I do not steal Derek Stevens thunder!

As this year is the anniversary of the start of the Great War, I have turned to a book from 1923 by J W Rowson, “Bridport and The Great War”, which came to me via a Charity Shop. I am sure we shall have plenty of the “hard stuff” by the end of the year, so was pleased to find a chapter headed “Amusing Incidents”. Apparently it was reported to Scotland Yard from Lyme Regis that a German submarine base had been established in Pinhay Bay because a man was found unconscious and on recovering said he had been knocked on the head from behind. It was immediately suggested that a German submariner had landed, assaulted him and then returned to the sub. Another Lyme story was of an elderly visitor who saw a man on the same rocks daily and assumed he was in wireless contact with “U” boats, but it was discovered that he was picking limpets. Another report said that Lyme boatmen were accepting money to take petrol to the “U” boats, which turned out to be a man selling fossils. Apologies to Lyme Regis, this must be the local town rivalry of the time. We are sorry that the town lost its magnificent cannon to the waves in the weather this February.

In Bridport there is a story of  an invention which helped the war effort. Early in 1915 the Admiralty contacted Bridport net manufacturers asking if nets could be made of steel wire. Mr W S Edwards,  principal of  W Edwards & Son, went to London for a discussion with Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty and Sir John Fisher. The proposal was for steel wire nets to catch submarines to be blown up by a torpedo boat destroyer. Edwards produced a prototype net in two days, made of thin galvanised steel wire, with a mesh of 10 to 12 feet and 100 yards long. The nets had depths of 30 feet to 180 feet, depending on the depth of water. Ten nets were to be joined together to produce a 1,000 yard length. The nets were suspended from a series of hollow glass balls. Presumably the nets met with some success as apparently the German subs were later equipped with saws to cut through the horizontal wires, which were then made thicker to make this more difficult. Another modification was to allow some of the meshes to slip to make them difficult to cut. Manufacture of these nets ceased in March 1918 following advice from the Admiralty that no more would be required, with appreciation of the help of the firm in producing the “Indicator (Anti-submarine) nets“.

Another order came for beacons to be lighted on the coast, if German warships were sighted. Beacons were built on East Cliff (West Bay), Thorncombe Beacon and Abbotsbury, but remained unlit throughout the War. Food, coal and gas were rationed and War Savings were introduced.

Dorset Territorial Forces and Yeomanry fought against the Turks. The Dorset Battery of  Artillery and the Dorset Regiment were posted to Mesopotamia and India. This is covered in detail by J W Rowson.

The book concludes with the building and dedication of Bridport’s War memorial, together with a listing of all the fallen recorded.

Bridport History Society will discuss members stories and memorabilia of World War One in Bridport United Church Main Hall, East Street at 2.30 pm on Tuesday 8th April. Contact Jane Ferentzi-Sheppard on 01308-425710 to discuss proposals. All welcome, visitors £2-50, including refreshments.

Cecil Amor, Chairman, Bridport History Society, Tel: 01308 456876

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