In last December's€™ Brumration I examined how one newspaper, the Sutton Coldfield News, reported on events in late 1916.  I have returned to see what changes one can identify in the late 1917 issues.

In 1916 there were reduced courses and meatless days in restaurants but in July 1917 Lord Rhondda, on behalf of the Local Government Board, gave detailed instructions to local authorities on how a new scheme for sugar distribution (rationing) was to be managed. Food Committees were to be set up which would not only administer the scheme but continue to campaign for food economy.  When properly constituted, they would also deal with other foodstuffs such as bread and meat.  Each Committee would have up to twelve members, including ‘at least one woman and one representative of labour™.  By the 10th November edition of the Sutton Coldfield News, a comprehensive list was published of the maximum prices per pound for meat which would be fixed by the Local Control Committee.

For the supply of sugar, ˜sugar cards™ would be sent to every household, and these households would then have to register with a local grocer.  They would be entitled to purchase from that grocer a weekly allowance of sugar. The scheme was to be effective by 30thDecember 1917, and heavy fines and imprisonment with hard labour could be imposed if any fraud was proved.

An Editorial on 3rd November stressed the need for economy in the consumption of gas.  Apparently demand had increased by 30% over the last twelve months and the supply issues could only get worse due to the shortages of coal and oil.

Sutton Park was placed at the disposal of the military from 1914, and until mid-1915 had been used by the City Battalions of the Warwickshire Regiment.  After their departure it was used by a variety of units and also as a convalescent camp for officers and men.  There are few references in The Sutton Coldfield News at this time to the Parks military use, but there is a reference to Brigadier-General A C Becher (O.C. Command Depot, Sutton Park) attending a fund raiser for the Haven for the Homeless Little Ones Charity at the Town Hall.

The Town Hall was also the venue in November 1917 for a ’Khaki Concert ‘by ‘Sergeant Sarson's Khaki Concert Party.  They had been providing regular entertainment for the men in the Camp in the Park and local V.A.D. Hospitals, but this was their first public performance. The 10th Hussars Band was also present.  Brigadier-General Becher remarked that beneath the paint and the pierrot costumes ‘nearly all the artistes bore the scars of wounds received in fighting for their country. 

There were a number of references to the V.A.D. Hospitals in Sutton.  There were two, Allerton on Lichfield Road, which had 54 beds and was opened in January 1916, and The Hollies on Four Oaks Road which had 32 beds and was opened in October 1917. Over 350 men were treated in these hospitals.

The 15th December Sutton Coldfield News included an emergency appeal for beds in local houses within a quarter of a mile of Allerton or The Hollies.  Ten more beds were required for each hospital.  It is clear that this was not the first appeal of this nature.  The V.A.D. Commandant in Sutton Coldfield was Beryl Ryland.Alan Tucker in his book ‘On the trail of the Great War in Birmingham; 1914-1918’ noted that Beryl Ryland was a member of one of Birmingham's leading families.  They lived at Moxhull Hall which is now a hotel.  Before the outbreak of war she was a leading Suffragette and had attacked a painting in the Birmingham Art Gallery.

Despite the Military activity in the Park, the 15TH December issue of the paper had two important notices for residents of the Borough.  They were reminded that any householder could obtain a bundle of holly from the Park without charge.  Any Burgess, ratepayer, or resident within the Borough could also obtain a permit to trap and take rabbits in the Park on 26th, 27th, and 29th December 1917 from 8am to 4pm.  Permits would only be granted on condition that no shooting would be allowed. 

The contribution of women to the War effort was recognised in a Ministry of Munitions exhibition entitled ˜Women's Work.  The exhibition at the City Art Gallery, Birmingham in November 1917, illustrated the various types of work in which women were employed in the munitions and engineering industries.

Perhaps the most intriguing advert which appeared in every edition of the Sutton Coldfield News, was that for the Cunard Line which continued to offer regular mail, passenger and freight services, from Liverpool to New York and from London and Bristol to Canada and New York.

What was most noticeable in every edition of the Sutton Coldfield News in late 1917 was the increasing number of war casualties reported in the paper.  These often contain details from a last letter home or a tribute from one of their comrades.  Above all, it highlights the loss that yet another family had suffered.

Just one page of the 27th October edition contained six such accounts:

Second Lieutenant John Hickman Davies, Royal Warwickshire Regiment, was from Orphanage Road in Erdington and was reported to have been killed in action.  He had joined the City Battalion at the outbreak of war and after service in France had obtained a Commission in November 1916.  His Colonel wrote to his mother, ‘ He was a keen and clever young officer , beloved and respected by the men of Signal Section which he commanded, some of whom shared his fate when he fell at his signal station, killed instantly by an enemy shell.

Second Lieutenant Davies had three brothers.  Captain Evan Davies was captured at Mons and was in a POW Camp.  Captain R. Davies was killed in Mesopotamia in April 1916, and his younger brother was at a Royal Field Artillery Cadet School.

Private Harry Wilcock, Royal Warwickshire Regiment was also reported as killed in action.  He had lived in Orphanage Road, Erdington, and before enlisting sold newspapers outside Gravelly Hill Station.  He had recently written home :Things seem to be pretty hot just now as we are slogging at the Boche  night and day, and he's getting it in the neck pretty thick.  If it had not been for the bad weather we should have been well on the way to the Rhine.  His brother Private Frank Wilcock was serving in India.

Mrs Ward a widow who lived in Gravelly Lane, Erdington had just heard news that her son Harry, aged 24, had been killed in action.  Her son Alfred had been killed in an earlier action and, her third son Ernest was wounded and in a War Hospital in Lincoln.

Driver W. Bicknell, Army Service Corps, had been badly wounded in a German bombing raid on 7th October and had died in hospital the following day.  Lt. Colonel Arthur Roberts ASC had written to his mother, a widow, and he  described the bombing raid but also paid a  glowing tribute to her son who had been his groom.

Private Coleman RASC had died in Salonika, and Private A E Good, Ox and Bucks Light Infantry, had been killed in action on October 7th.  He was 37 and married with two children and had only been in the Army since May 1917.

For many families, Christmas 1917 was to be a very difficult time.

Richard Lloyd