A LAND FIT FOR HEROES
For many of those that had returned from the War it would take more than a few months to recover from the trauma and some would never recover. I was anxious to see if the plight of these men was reflected in any way in the newspapers of the time. I looked at The Sutton Coldfield News and a selection of newspapers from the rural area of Ceredigion in West Wales for November 1919.
My starting point was to see how the Armistice had been commemorated. After a careful search I found two short paragraphs in the middle of the Sutton Coldfield News titled ‘Tribute to the Dead’
‘As in every town and village throughout the country the two minutes silence was observed in the Royal Town of Sutton Coldfield and many impressive scenes were witnessed. Everywhere, exactly at 11.0am everywhere in shop, school and house a great silence fell – a reverent silence. A muffled peal was rung on the Parish Church bells in the evening.’
A later edition the paper reported at some length on the progress of discussions for a War Memorial in Walmley. There was also a report that at a recent gathering in the Anteroom of the Birmingham Council Chamber a memorial tablet had been erected in memory of three members of the Council ‘who made the supreme sacrifice in the Great War’. It was unveiled by the Lord Mayor and the inscription reads ‘In memory of Captain Norman Chamberlain, Grenadier Guards, Captain Henry Lynn Shaw, Royal Warwickshire Regiment, Thomas Silver, Lt. Royal Garrison Artillery members of the Birmingham City Council who gave their lives for their country while on active service during the Great European War 1914/1919’.
Local heroes were also featured as they received medals ‘for bravery in the field’. Mr George Jones of Frederick Road, Sutton Coldfield received his medal in the Town Hall during a meeting held to elect a new mayor. His Military Medal was presented by the Lady Mayoress. George Jones had volunteered and joined The Royal Warwickshire Regiment in August 1914 and received his initial training in Sutton Park. He was one of only a few of the original recruits that had returned. George had remained with the Battalion throughout the war but had received his medal for actions in the ‘last push’ before the Armistice. He was described as a very modest man and declined all requests to speak or give any details of his actions.
Another headline in the December 6th issue of the Sutton Coldfield News was ‘Erdington Hero Honoured’, and reported the presentation at The Red Buck Hotel in Erdington of the Military Medal and Bar to Sgt. Edward Tranter for Distinguished Bravery in the Field. The medal was presented on behalf of His Majesty the King by Brigadier-General Sir John Barnsley. The presentation was followed by what was described as a ‘Smoking Concert’.
A Sgt. Major B H Ladkin wrote an account of a Trench Raid opposite Aubers Ridge in 1916. It had been decided by GOC that a Trench Raid was required to ‘put the wind up Fritz’. It was of course to be of an entirely voluntary nature but forty men were selected, attracted perhaps by the extra rations given to raiding parties. Despite some evidence of planning and support from Royal Engineers they were spotted as soon as they emerged from a sap and had to attempt to achieve their objective under heavy shell and machine gun fire.
The front pages of Newspapers at that time were filled with advertisements of all descriptions. The Situations Wanted Columns are of particular interest. A demobilized officer required evening work, clerical or secretarial but could also do book keeping and described himself as ‘a splendid organiser’. Another ex-soldier was looking for a situation as a Chauffer in the Sutton area and pointed to his two years driving experience in Mesopotamia.
The Housing shortage was highlighted by another story. The Austin Motor Company had applied to the Ministry of Health for possession of the Munitions Hostels at Longbridge for their workers. The Ministry replied that workers might be accommodated in the hutments in Sutton Park. The Birmingham Housing Committee had previously believed it was the intention to remove the Huts and were anxious that this was not done. The Committee would wish to take over the 100 huts and convert them into temporary dwellings. A letter in the following week’s edition from a ‘Demobilized Soldier’ welcomed the proposal to take over the huts. He wrote’ I have had three years of rooming and still there seems no hope of getting my home together again’.
An Editorial criticised the Government scheme for training ex-servicemen and believed it was a ‘sacred duty’ on the part of the nation to train these men. It claimed the current scheme ‘had too much red tape’.
The Reports on the website Cardiganshire and The Great War included many reports of demobilized soldiers being welcomed home to their towns and villages. The Welsh National Federation of ex-servicemen claimed it was proving of value to its members with over 23 grievances remedied. These were mainly issues relating to non-payment of pensions.
The Women’s Land Army were being de-mobilized, but farmers were anxious to keep them where possible. It was also reported that County Councils had provided 8,627 acres for the purpose of creating small holdings for veterans.
It was also announced that the Government were committed to maintain and complete the absorption of all disabled men. Every employer with more than 10 workers was urged to undertake to employ as many disabled men as possible with a minimum of 5% of the total workforce.
Following the number of women medical students who had trained during the war, London Medical Schools were, for the first time, allowing women to study.
The Countess of Lisburne of Crosswood Park opened an exhibition in Aberystwyth of the paintings of a Belgian refugee who had settled in the town during the war. M.de Saedeleer expressed his gratitude to the town for their kindness to him and his family during their ‘long war time exile’. Crosswood was one of a number of Country estates in the area that were ‘lost’ in the post war period as the tax laws in post war Britain changed.
A story in Welsh reported on the work being done in France and Belgium to identify graves and those buried within. It claimed that they believed their work would be completed by March 1920!
Two stories from abroad that caught my attention from the Sutton Coldfield News highlighted issues we still grapple with. A Vienna correspondent for a Berlin Newspaper reported that a proposed sale of art by Austria has been abandoned as a result of a protest from the Reparations Committee. Closer to home Sir Arthur Steel-Maitland gave a lecture in Sladefield School, Saltley on The Russian Problem. He was heckled by a few people, including a woman, who expressed their doubts as to whether Bolshevism was as bad as it was painted.